Dordt University actors are shifting mindsets mindsets from acting to directing

Jaclyn Vander Waal — Staff Writer

Student directors took turns shouting prompts.

“Walk like a small child who just had a Pixy Stix!”

“Walk like a dad on a road trip!”

“Walk like someone is chasing you and you are terrified!”

Eight directors from Dordt University’s directing class brought in groups of students every half hour into the New World Theatre black box on Wednesday, Oct. 23 for One Act auditions. In addition to shouted prompts, the 44 auditionees spoke tongue twisters, ‘passed’ sound and motion from actor to actor, enacted a two-person scene, and delivered a monologue.

This audition process resulted in eight casts for one-act plays that were performed Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 4-5, and Saturday, Dec. 7.

The process started long before the Oct. 23 auditions, however; Dordt’s directing class began the semester by reading a variety of scripts in search of the perfect story. By Sept. 17, they proposed which show they planned to direct.

Laurel Koerner, associate professor of theater arts, said the one acts provide the directing class students a chance to put theory and practice together. Throughout the process of the one acts, they are given the wonderful opportunity to use all the skills and techniques they learned during the first half of the semester.

“That’s the exciting thing about this class,” she said. “It isn’t just theoretical. They are applying it in a very immediate way.”

Koerner devotes class time to expose the student directors to the “art and craft” of directing while opening their eyes to the many dimensions of putting together a production. They are expected to handle every aspect of the process — choosing the one act, designing the set and costuming, handling prop items, advertising for auditions and performances, and coaching actors. Through this project, Koerner also hoped these directing students would develop their script analysis abilities, growing as interpreters of plays and conceptualizers of productions.

The directors learned to switch their mindsets as they shifted from actors to directors.

“It’s a really interesting transition from acting to directing,” said senior elementary education major Ally Visser.

As an actor, Visser expected the director to lead her through the process while adding bits of her own interpretation into the character. As a director, she discovered that she wants her actors to take initiative in their characters and have the main responsibility.

Gerrit Van Dyk took a different approach, focusing on how directing is a “bigger picture deal.” Work flows from the directors to the actors, so he, as a director, had to have a wider mind. He showed his actors his vision for the play and then shaped and molded his plan as the actors added their own interpretations.

During auditions, the directors looked for actors who are flexible, committed, enjoyable to work with, able to make choices, and willing to work hard — in addition to finding actors that fit the specific roles. The directors also looked for actors who can easily shift from one character to another, valuing versatility.

The next big step was casting, with the eight directors picking from the same 44 students who auditioned. They used a whiteboard to list their top picks and then worked together to create their cast lists.

Over the next month, the directors were allotted 20 hours with their actors to read through, block, rehearse, and perform the plays.

Visser took her own, original approach to directing, believing that her actors must be fully immersed in their characters. She had her actors draw and write what they believed a good character interpretation to be, calling them to focus on their personal ideas throughout the play.

VanDyk also learned that directing relies heavily on directors working well with their actors. He realizes directors must come to rehearsals with their concept for the blocking — which is the movement of actors on stage — but also understands that actors have creative minds and come up with their own brilliant ideas.

“It is first and foremost a collaboration,” he said. “You need to be as flexible as the actors.”

VanDyk thinks directors and actors should never settle for what they had rehearsed the previous week. He wants outsiders to understand that what they see on stage during performance night likely was not what had been worked out in each rehearsal.

“Things are always changing,” he said. “We are trying to be as true to the story as we possibly can and it takes a lot of tries to get there.”

In each rehearsal, VanDyk worked toward the concept he had in mind. In order to create a “sophisticated and polished” product, he put much energy into characterization. He wanted his actors to deliver the themes of the story by getting into the minds of their characters and understanding who they are.

Visser chose to break up her script into rehearsal-sized sections so they could focus each session on refining one part at a time. She came to each rehearsal with blocking ideas that she could imagine working effectively and then let her actors tweak the movements in a way that was natural for how they interpreted the characters.

Visser, with her last rehearsal, chose to focus on the “knit-picky” details of the show. She enjoyed watching the show come together after not having rehearsals throughout Thanksgiving break.

VanDyk, on the other hand, “let the piece loose” during his last rehearsal. The time was used for run-throughs with minimal notes.

Opening night of the performances held an array of emotions for the directors. They were excited to share with the audience what they had worked so hard to create, but they were also anxious about what people would think of their show.

In the end, the directors respect for other directors grew substantially, learning that there are many aspects to directing and that is a collaborative process.

“At the beginning I had all these grand ideas and huge notions of what was going to happen,” VanDyk said. “I very quickly realized things weren’t going to work exactly how I wanted them to – and that was okay. I learned to work with what I had – which fortunately was pretty easy given how great my actors were – and collaborate.”

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