November 2023

Adventures in Student Directing

In August of 2023 nine ambitious Cabrillo College students were selected by Professor Don Williams and his assistant producer Riley Hartmann to direct eight ten minute short plays for Cabrillo College’s “Authentic Creative Works” festival. A night of (mostly) student-written short plays put on by the school’s theater arts division.

Students include: Tamaya Okumura, AG, Alexandra Perez, Diana Torrez Garcia, Sebastian Hardison, Gill Baker, David Hamilton, Mitch Truong, and Mathew Chipman
There’s an old saying in theater: “If the show fails, it’s because of the directors if it succeeds. It’s because of the actors.”

The sheer turnout for our auditions and the talent of the students who stepped in front of us with a monologue was mind-blowing. Minutes before we opened the doors, my ears were ringing like a tea kettle left on for too long, stress boiling over with worries about whether or not I’d find what I needed—listening to the faint clamor of our future actors waiting beyond the doors of room 4111, filling out contact forms. Mr. Williams’s reminded us to remain unbiased and humble, knowing most of the actors coming in are our friends, and fellow community members, this brought me back to my time on the Football field when my coach would give a speech reminding us to put the team first before a scrimmage, when we knew we’d be facing kids from other schools who were our friends or family. When the actors filed in, we knew they would make our choices difficult in the best possible way. I was especially impressed by a kid who monologued about dungeons and dragons; he melted entirely into the character of a larger-than-life teen, his mannerisms shifted, and his eyes lit up. It was so fun to watch. The kid is gifted, and I will eventually cast him as my lead.

As we sat in silence after three days of auditions, I was beginning to panic because my phone had died, and it was notorious for taking whole days to charge, which is incredibly annoying when you need to send out a cast list in the morning. Looking around the green room of Cabrillo College’s VAPA building, our impromptu base of operations. A whiteboard with each of our cast lists written out on a grid, looming with an almost sacred air, akin to the inscriptions on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in DC. I noticed that the deep eye bags, which had become a seemingly permanent fixture on my face in recent weeks, were commonplace among my fellow directors. In their tired yet giddy expressions, I realized we’re all fighting the same fight and grappling with wavering uncertainty about whether or not we could pull this off, each of us with our own shows intricacies and challenges. The reality was that while we were all happy with our cast choices, we had only taken the first step of a thousand. Our journey was barely beginning. A tremendous familial bond was forming between us, Something that would last a lifetime. We successfully cast a show together! And for better or worse, our choices would impact our lives and those of the actors we were now responsible for for the next three months and beyond.

Interview with Dulyn W., Actor in Sebastian Hardison’s Human

When I sat down with Dulyn In the VAPA hallway underneath a metal print of The Hunchback of Notre Dame the building was bursting with people wrapping up their rehearsals and going home for the night. I was very excited to have been able to interview him about his own experiences as a student actor working with a student director.

Matt: What are some of the pros and cons of working with a student director rather than faculty.

Dulyn: Some of the pros are that students who wrote and are now directing their piece seem to have a more personal connection to the cast as it is their art and it comes from a place within themselves. Working with a piece that has fluidity and can be changed is fun because oftentimes a small change can come about that improves a moment.

Some of the cons are there are Organization issues, Students are much less organized than faculty members and are less experienced with managing schedules and maximizing time so it is often chaotic.

Matt: What’s been your Favorite cast moment so far?

Dulyn: When Sebastian set up cast bonding between me and Ian (colead) to get us on the same page and make sure that the two of us are connecting and working well together. Cast bonding is a huge deal especially when you’re intimidated by your costar, I’m really glad Ian isn’t listening to this. (Points to ian who is sitting at another table)

Ian: What?

Dulyn: Nothing!
“No one said this would be easy”

October 4, one of the hottest days in recent memory, and we weren’t spared from the heat in Cabrillos Design Studio, rushing out of that hot room after the weekly production meeting to run rehearsal was a blessing. Combining the stress of the meeting with spilling coffee on my favorite shirt, I was in a cautiously excited mood for our first full-cast rehearsal. People had gotten periodically sick, and until then, the cast had only ever been together once at the start. I began by explaining why I wrote my story and where it came from. I trusted my heart to the cast so they could better understand what they were performing. We ran through the entire scene and finished ironing out the actors’ movements. Their delivery was powerful, their chemistry precisely what I envisioned, and infinitely more. We still had a few bumps in the road but had come a long way from the initial reads. After sharing why I wrote a beat without a drum with my cast, I felt a deeper connection with them and a shared duty to tell this story in the best way possible. I feel ready and excited to share it with the rest of the cast and crew next week on our “show and tell day.” in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “This is where the fun begins.”

“Show don’t tell”
“Show and tell day,” as Mr. Williams referred to it, had arrived, our first opportunity to watch all eight shows unfold in running order. For many in the cast, this was their first time seeing anything other than their group’s short play, so it was exciting for everyone. “Show and tell day” was my first time working with my “backup “QB, an outstanding young actor named Andy who will be understudying the role of “The Phantom.” In a mountainous and inspirational display of courage and enthusiasm, he stepped up and read his character for the first time with my cast in front of an audience. When it was over, I hugged my friends and team, who had become a second family. We congratulated each other and gave criticism. Looking into their eyes, I saw passion, love, and enthusiasm for something much bigger than ourselves. It reminded me of a video I watched once as a kid where mission control at Johnson Space Center broke into celebration after successfully landing Apollo 11 on the moon. While directing a show is not rocket science, that connection between the cast and crew, knowing we’re in this together, keeps me returning to the theater.

If successfully running the show for the first time was like landing a rocket on the moon, We still have a long road ahead of us, and if we keep moving forward with patience, passion, and precision When we open. It’s going to be like landing a rocket on Mars.

“Upward and Onward”

Throughout this project, I’ve often felt like Peter Parker writing a story on Spiderman for The Daily Bugle, and I’m excited for what the future holds. With tech week, when all the lights, sounds, and costumes come together on stage and opening night looming on the horizon like a sunrise over foggy mountains, I still have a gigantic amount of work to do before we open. However, I couldn’t be happier with the cast and crew of our show. If you want to know how this story ends, you’ll have to see us at Cabrillo College’s Black Box Theater this November!

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