For most classes at Maryville College, students show what they have learned throughout the semester by completing a final exam or writing a term paper. However, students enrolled in MC’s Directing class taught by Dr. Heather McMahon won’t be studying for an exam or looking up sources in preparation for finals week.
Instead, on Dec. 5, 6 and 7, students in the Directing class will put on a series of both comedic and dramatic short plays. Each student director in the class will direct a single play that they have chosen, designed, analyzed and cast as part of their final project.
Directing, however, is not a simple task — as the student directors have learned throughout the semester.
“I knew the amount of work a director does even before casting a show, but I hadn’t really thought about it,” said Haley Sullivan, a junior Theatre for Teacher Licensure major in the class.
“There is so much you have to do,” agreed Trevor York, a sophomore Theatre major. “We have to use all of our past classes like Acting and Play Analysis. You really use every aspect of theatre when directing.”
While the idea of directing a play as a student may be intimidating, what the students have worked on in Directing has prepared them for this project. Throughout the fall term, students have been taught the basics of directing through readings and a variety of miniature projects.
Some projects like the “power chair” focused on teaching students about the importance of set design.
“It was my favorite project,” Sullivan said. “We designed a set using six chairs, one table and one bottle, and we had to make it clear just from looking at it which chair was the ‘power chair’, the chair with all of the attention and power, in the scene.”
Other projects, like the “justifying movement” exercise, focused on different aspects of directing. Students had to write their own script, give directions on how actors should move throughout the script and then justify why they had to move a certain way. This exercise was meant to help them learn how to write blocking, the technical name for an actor’s movement, for scenes.
After learning the basics of directing, students began to prepare for their final projects. The first step was to choose the play that they wanted to direct. The only parameters they were given were that the play needed at least two but no more than six characters, the play had to be between 10 and 30 minutes in length, and it had to be contemporary.
Some students, like Sullivan, knew exactly what they wanted to do. Sullivan had read her play in high school, and she almost immediately knew that it was the play that she wanted to direct. Others, like York, had a little bit more difficulty choosing their play.
“Dr. McMahon said ‘no’ to my first three plays. But then I found my play, read the synopsis and I really felt that some of the big themes and concepts in it tied into my personal life,” York said.
Even with all of the knowledge that Dr. McMahon has given them and their own experience with the different components of directing through projects, actually directing their own plays has been a difficult process for the student directors even before working with the actors.
“You have to come up with a vision when you’re analyzing the script,” York said. “You’re breaking it down, reading it a thousand times, changing your mind a thousand and one times… it’s hard to have a vision because it’s always changing.”
“Designs should be set, it should already be blocked, the set has to be designed… The show’s basically done before you get a cast,” Sullivan agreed. “And even then it changes, so you have to be prepared.”
However, that is not to say that directing isn’t fun for the students. For all of its difficulties, the class has been a learning experience for the student directors, and they look forward to having a chance to show off all of their hard work.
“For us it’s a huge achievement because we’re learning so much about directing and we’re going to learn so much more,” Sullivan said, “We’re getting better every time we get to direct.”