Drama students experiment with theater
|“Magic happened.” That’s how cast member Faith Hurley described the Drama Department’s experimental production of “A Devil Inside,” directed by assistant professor of movement Marianne Kubik (middle). The cast members, all M.F.A. students, were (at top, from lower left, clockwise) Gil Gonzales, Ebenezer Quaye, Chris Cannon, Maura Malloy, Hurley and Katie Liddicoat. Performing a scene from the play (bottom, right) are Quaye, Hurley and Malloy.
By Jane Ford
Imagine having to memorize every line in a play.
Now imagine having to be a different character in a play on any given day of production.
Finally, picture yourself 10 minutes before the curtain rises when the audience has just revealed to you which character you will
With hearts racing, this was the reality for six graduate acting students who performed in the production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “A Devil Inside” in early November.
The production of the play, performed in U.Va.’s Helms Theatre, served as the thesis project for six of the eight graduate acting students in their third and final year of study, and also as an experiment for students and the drama department.
Rather than auditioning for the lead in one of the department’s regular season offerings, the traditional thesis project, the M.F.A. students wanted to explore the notion of working on a project together.
The collaboration wasn’t a stretch for the close-knit group that had hit it off from the first day they arrived at U.Va. two-and-a-half years ago.
“Magic happened,” graduate student Faith Hurley said. “The stars were aligned right for this group.”
The acting students thought their biggest challenge with the project would be to convince the faculty of its legitimacy. They searched libraries and scrutinized plays until they found just the right one. “A Devil
Inside” has six equally weighted parts for the three female and male actors. As they read through the lines together and swapped parts to get a feel for which role each would play, epiphany struck. They could each prepare and perform three roles. They all felt this would add weight to their proposal.
“We liked the idea of a modern comedy,” said student-actor Maura Malloy.
“We have done a lot of classical training, and there’s a place for these kinds of roles in theater today.”
“‘A Devil Inside’ is a play that breaks barriers,” said assistant professor of movement Marianne Kubik. “The characters are quirky.”
“I’ve never seen a production where an actor took on three separate performances,” said Richard Warner, associate professor of acting. “It’s rare.”
The actors faced a second hurdle: They also were going to have to take on all of the production work because the set designers, costumers and lighting technicians were already busy with the season’s scheduled productions — all without any budget.
“We did it like a small theater group where you need to do all the components,” Malloy said.
The thesis project proposal, which all eight of the graduate acting students signed in a show of support, won the committee’s
“This group has a balance of talent, so we knew they could learn from each other,” Warner said. “They have a stick-to-it-iveness and a way of talking to each other.” The committee had a big question for the students, however. “Do you realize how tough this will be?” they asked.
“We knew we would take on a lot, but we really didn’t know how much,” Hurley said. “The amount of work is just shocking and everyone had to learn how to pull their weight. We had to work as a team — as a
Malloy said that she felt the hardest thing for her was to take off one hat and put on another, while keeping in mind that the primary goal was to focus on the acting. “Rotating roles was new to us,” she said. “It took us a while to adjust the rehearsal process and make it as efficient as possible.”
The actors felt they had a kindred spirit working with them when Kubik signed on as director. She has been working on an experimental work of her own for more than five years — “The Waltz Project.” She is only now writing the final script for the large show, which has evolved and been performed three times. It explores stories about relationships in the three-quarter time of the waltz.
“Her sense of how things need to move on the stage is wonderful,” said Malloy, who worked with Kubik two summers ago in a Heritage Repertory Theatre production.
“She loves experimental theater and has a knack for seeing our impulses and helping us realize them.”
“I did not believe Marianne when she told us there was no one way [to play a character]. Until you see it and feel it for yourself, it’s hard to accept,” Hurley said,
The actors added a third challenge: during the last three performances, they let the audience choose who would perform each part. With only 10 minutes to prepare for the night’s show, they had to rely greatly on their improvisational skills and trust one another. Even though they each had rehearsed and performed three characters, this new twist meant they would be in many scenes with actors they had never before played against. In many cases, the actions, line delivery and blocking also were different.
“It was really good training to be ready for anything,” Malloy said. “It will be a luxury to just have one character to worry about” in the future.
“It was a huge, huge learning experience,” Hurley said. “I could not fathom learning more from a thesis.”
“This is a wonderful experience the graduate students have given to the undergraduates,” Kubik said. “There are so many different ways to interpret a play, and this is a good example of it.”