Student Directors Flourish in FHS Theater Department

In early November the Fauquier High School Theater Department gave eight seniors three days on which to prove their directing skills. On November 1, 2, and 4, audiences entered the FHS auditorium to see four polished one-act plays. Unusually, this fall’s productions were chosen, casted, and directed by two seniors each, with only minimal guidance from theater teacher Emmett Bales (who normally would direct one full play in the fall). One play’s student-directors were also its authors.

Directing is a complex task that combines set design, blocking, and coaching of actors and crew.  “I could probably improve on choreography,” said Johanna Huber, co-director of a condensed version of “Snoopy! The Musical,” by Larry Grossman and Hal Hackady. “I’m not really a dancer, so choreographing the songs for Snoopy was kind of a challenge and it’s definitely something I’d like to get better at.” Bryce Moore, who with Fenris Foerster, co-wrote and co-directed “Landslide,” describes the challenges of planning ahead: “A lot of things we didn’t plan for came up late in production.” For example, props sometimes went missing or lighting design wouldn’t turn out how the directors had envisioned it.

Having only two months to rehearse increased the pressure on all involved — but especially on those students for whom this was the high point of their high school theater careers. “I’m looking forward to seeing all our hard work on stage and to seeing the audience’s reactions,” Zach Bern commented before opening night.  Bern and Ashleigh Champlin first abridged and then co-directed Neil Simon’s romantic comedy, “Barefoot in the Park.” Huber explains that opening night is “like the reward at the end of the journey.”

By 6 p.m. Sunday, November 4, all of the one act plays had run their full course. All eight of the student directors left the auditorium having learned a lot. One surprise was how much work it took to direct a full show. “I realized that people came to me for everything about [the show] and I had never experienced that. It was weird and gave me newfound respect for other directors.” Camden Gillespie, co-director of Almost, Maine, a romantic comedy by John Cariani, said, “I think all directors go through a phase where they believe the show could be a failure, and thankfully my cast and crew pulled everything together to the best of their ability.”

Why bother with all this hard work? “Directing is an aspect of theater that is so important. It often gives you the opportunity to learn and teach things you might miss out on as an actor or crew member,” explains Moore. Huber reflects, “I think it’s a really good learning opportunity for other people who are seriously interested and dedicated in the arts.” When asked how he felt about giving the reins to his students on this large production, Mr. Bales responded, “I knew every one of them would succeed.”

by Niamh Kierans–Contributor