Let me tell you about my “non-traditional” theater student experience at Southern Oregon University. I originally visited the campus while ushering my son, Cole Robinson, around to various college campuses as he was getting ready to graduate from Newport High School on the Oregon Coast. He chose University of Oregon, and for myself, I chose SOU. I applied for post baccalaureate status and moved to Ashland.
Wandering into a drama in Western culture class one sunny day, I met the professors, picked up the books, went home and read the first plays assigned, Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” and then “The Oresteia.” When I put down the plays, I was smitten. It’s been a peek-a-boo romance with academic theater ever since. It would have been total engagement, except for the usual problem of making a living.
After three quarters of drama in Western culture (the history of theater within the context of world history), I found that my next course, lighting design, involved climbing ladders, walking and riding the catwalks, putting up lights (with my very own wrench), selecting colors, putting in gels, reading and selecting plays, creating my own lighting design for an actual production, programming light cues into a computerized lighting board and, most important of all: finding a central theme, within the play, upon which to hang my design.
In the intermediate directing class with Professor Dale Luciano, six young, intelligent, talented, attractive undergraduates and I selected and produced our own one-act plays or carefully edited scenes from full-length plays. This was a huge culminating project worked out in collaboration with the acting and lighting design classes.
The plays chosen: “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” by Sarah Ruhl, “Curse of the Starving Class” by Sam Shepard, “Endgame” by Samuel Beckett, “Sailor’s Song” by John Patrick Shanely, “W.A.S.P.” by Steve Martin, “Absurd Person Singular” by Alan Ayckbourn and “Suburbia” by Eric Bogosian.
We auditioned more than 75 actors with three- to five-minute auditions. Auditions came on the same day as my bill for tuition which, for graduate units, runs approximately double the cost of undergraduate units. So, for the price of my directorial debut, I probably could have relaxed for a week in an exclusive, all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta (excluding air fare).
However, sitting there in the midst of all this talent, surrounded by all those resources, creativity and imagination, I realized that I was having much more fun than Puerto Vallarta could ever provide. This unique experience was more than worth it.
Stage managers pull all people, props and places together. Master stage managers Kristen Mun and Karen Kuran tied this enormous project together with double bows.
The play cast and, with my experienced stage manager, Elisabeth Campbell, by my side, we went into rehearsals with six talented young actors, four nights a week, while assembling props, costumes, furniture, etc., meeting the lighting and sound designers, choosing music and sound effects — all that goes together to make theatrical magic.
As I was working with the actors, creating characters and staging the play, I was struck by the fact that actors are superbly inventive and giving people. They embody LIFE on the stage more than any director could ever possibly imagine. They are risk-takers. They reveal their inner lives and routinely put their self-esteem on the line.
In performance the play has a life of its own. It can run without the director. It’s autonomous. It’s like sending your kid off to college; you’ve messed with him enough. This bird has flown.
There is applause. The play is over. The lights are taken down. Props and costumes are put away. We (director, cast, crew) have collectively created and communicated a unique world view through theater.
An audience member tells you how much he enjoyed the performance. Wow. SOMEBODY OUT THERE UNDERSTANDS. What an adventure. There’s nothing like it.