Honing Their Craft


December 2016—As the curtain rises on a live performance, it’s not only the audience who is about to change, but also the actors. In these moments, actors are prepared to step inside the story and bring it to life. The fall season at Santa Fe University of Art and Design’s Greer Garson Theatre included classic and contemporary plays and musicals, pushing students to grow and learn in rehearsals to present polished performances. Here, two guest directors share the growth they saw through the preparation and execution of the works they directed:

Dallett Norris
“Company,” Oct. 7-15, 2016

Why did you choose to direct “Company”?

This is a difficult show because it’s centered on what happens in people’s lives in their 30s and 40s. It’s not information young actors necessarily have firsthand. We chose the show because we wanted something that gave the actors real work to do.

Company has 14 separate characters and at any given moment, each person has to carry the show dramatically by themselves. You’re looking for 14 people who have the ability to tack down the stage and hold the audience. The casting went very well and in rehearsal each actor had a real handle on the character they were playing.

What is your approach to your work as a director?

I’m the surrogate for the audience. I want to believe in the action I’m seeing onstage. You want the actors to bring their own feelings and perceptions to each role. The minute students are directly involved in the process the adventure begins. Words on the page come to life, often in a way I hadn’t considered, because of an actor’s approach.

We work, we rework, we change motivations, staging and line readings until we have something that makes sense to all of us; that in theatrical terms, feels “real.” It’s a process of discovery for both the actors and for me. In the end, the actors take total possession of the show. That’s always the goal.

I wasn’t familiar with the work ethic students have at SFUAD before I directed “Company”. It is very, very strong. The students were always on time, knew their lines, and worked very well with me and the musical director. I feel the university has done the ground work to prepare students to enter the profession with well-developed skills.

Bill Wesbrooks
“The Laramie Project” and “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later,” Oct. 19-20, 2016

These works can be difficult to watch because they address the murder of a student at the University of Wyoming because of his sexual identity. Why did you choose to direct these plays?

These pieces are relevant because they are about how we look at people who are different than us. They are like documentaries on stage. The actors play characters who are members of the town interviewed months after the event. It was interesting to watch the actors start to discover that the source of the drama is in the telling of the story itself, not just that it relates to horrific events.

For example, if I’m reporting to you events in which I was involved, my relationship to you, my need for you to hear it in a certain way and be persuaded that my point of view is the most accurate, is the source of the drama, more so than my relationship to the event itself. These projects showed me again how stories reveal, illuminate, and explore human behavior. You have a sense of “this is happening,” and in the theatre, it happens right in front of you.

How do you view your role as director?

The job of the director is to make it clear to the student what their specific task is. A lot of young actors want to be in the play, to tell the story, but haven’t broken that process down into steps to live inside that story. Young actors may get caught up in needing feedback about how they’re doing instead of asking questions about how to discover what’s meant to be done—and I see huge changes when I have discussions about this with students.

I am always looking for a point in the process where it feels like the momentum is in the hands of the cast. As director, I become an observer. That’s what really started to happen at the end of the rehearsals. Working with students in the arts is particularly gratifying. They get a new sense of how they can live on stage. You hope this new sense of self informs their next audition or the next time they are cast.