Acting While Directing

Life with a BFA – the title of my blog. Four years ago, I was getting ready to move into my freshman year dorm, meet a whole bunch of strangers who would turn in to my best friends, and learn that I knew nothing about acting. Acting class consisted of learning about objective, really digging into who my character is, developing an inner monologue, etc. Throughout my training, I studied really complex characters, analyzing their every thought and back story. It was a long way from my audition into the program, when I broke down my monologue by thinking “it would sound convincing if I said it that way.”

Fresh out of my university bubble, I have been given this unique challenge of acting and directing children simultaneously. Every week, we teach an entire show to a new group of kids. Here’s the breakdown:

Monday – 2 hours of audition, 2 hours of teaching one group of the cast everything they need to know for the show

Tuesday – 2 hours of teaching a new group of the cast, 2 hours of another group

Wednesday -The groups that I’ve taught + the groups that Kevin has taught unite, and we have a 4 hour rehearsal to put the entire show together

Thursday – 2 run-throughs of the show

Friday – Get kids fitted into costume, dress rehearsal, dinner break, get them in makeup, and finally a performance

Saturday – Performance #2

So much of my energy goes into making sure that these kids learn the material, remember everything, and, of course, are quiet backstage. Directing is definitely the main part of this job. During rehearsals, my inner monologue during my solo is not about trying to convince Pinocchio to plant his money into a magic field in hopes of stealing his money. Instead, my mind is on the vermin: “TURN – TURN NOW! WHY CAN’T YOU REMEMBER THAT?! SEMI-CIRCLE!!!!!!!!!!!! NO, DON’T SQUAT YET!”

My very first week, my own lines were still fresh in my head and our cast was small in number AND in age. Kevin and I were improv masters for that week, as there were just too many lines for those little ones. There’s one particular scene where I say a line, praising Pinocchio, saying he has “grace, poise, and statuosity.” After, different vermin have lines basically restating mine. The kid who played the head vermin that week was probably 7 or 8. Like I said, a young cast. He couldn’t remember pretty much any of his lines. Because I was so frazzled and I was still new (and likely the scene before had been a train wreck), I somehow jumped over that one line and skipped ahead in the scene. Later, he asked me backstage, “Samantha, when do I get to say, ‘Yeah, grace’?” Bless his heart, there was ONE LINE that he remembered, and I RUINED IT FOR HIM!!! It broke my heart to confess, “Oh… you don’t get to say that line. That scene already happened.” Since then, my lines have been correct so that I don’t destroy the dreams of small children.

Our scripts were mailed to us prior to training week. We were told to come in with our lines memorized so that during training, we could focus on learning the rest of the show. I did my usual actor homework and made all of these plans in my head about the Fox and motives and all of that. Halfway through this tour, I remembered that and chuckled a little. Then, however, I remembered the main note that I received at my freshman year assessment. I tend to over-analyze things, so my professors wanted me to continue to analyze prior to a performance, but then trust that all of the homework I did will be there and simply act. I think it took a bunch of kids distracting me from my own head to really let loose and trust my acting, even if it is children’s theatre. Because, I realized, I have been simply acting. Yes, the dialogue and subtext is a lot simpler than Chekhov, but still…. using that BFA for good.

Tonight is Thursday, which means that tomorrow I will once again be in director mode for the majority of the day, but by 7:00, I will share that opening night with those kids. I will put on my costume, and I get to perform.

I realize that the audience consists of parents coming to see their children and so much of my energy during the week is focused on making said children look good. Still, I share the stage with them. I get to sing a solo and most weeks no one applauds because the parents are probably tired and also because Pinocchio has the next line and he usually goes straight to it. I’m not offended – mostly I’m relieved that Pinocchio knows his line! Last week, however, the audience applauded and I had a moment of gratitude as I realized what a gift it is that every single week I get to sing and act and be silly for a different community. After the show, one of my sweet little “spirits of the enchanted forest” came up to me and said, “Samantha, good job. You’re a really good actor.” I think that’s the best compliment I’ve gotten all summer!

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I can’t neglect to mention that I was lucky enough to one week have audience members there for ME! Much love to my mom, brother, and future sister-in-law!

Today at break in between our two run-throughs, one member of the cast was very confused. She said that she knows we’re directors/actors, so she wanted to know if I’m the actor or the director. Then I was very confused because I had just spent the last two hours yelling counts to her choreography and then appearing onstage saying my own lines. Both, little girl. I am both. And I love it.

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