It’s no secret that one of the best things about Wesleyan is the student initiative. This newspaper you’re reading? It’s completely student-run. The café I’m writing from? Espwesso, a late-night coffee shop that is, you guessed it, completely student-run.
One of the most expansive student-run parts of campus culture is the performing arts scene. Almost every weekend, you can find a concert, play, or dance show that’s put together entirely by students. After my first semester at Wesleyan, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this go-getter culture and direct my own show.
Every single aspect of directing “Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” has been a collaborative process with other students. From putting together my cast and crew to asking other student directors about their experiences, it was a joint process. Even the decision of which show I would be directing came with the help of a friend who had read “Five Women” and thought that it was just my style.
And she hit the nail on the head. While the concept may seem obvious from the title (although I’ve had a surprising amount of people ask me if all five women are wearing one dress, which is not the case), “Five Women” is so much more than a story about a bunch of bridesmaids. It’s a story about the female experience that transcends across generations. The play was written in 1993, making it as old as I am. Performing it two decades later and seeing how relevant it remains makes it even more important to me to tell this story.
To me, the play embraces the experience of being a woman in everyday life, something that strikes me both in my academic studies and in my personal introspection. It’s easy for me to identify why the play is important to me, but one of the challenges of being a director is being able to assemble a cast and crew who take your play as seriously as you do. I was lucky enough to have no trouble with this. My stage manager, Helen Handelman ’16, has put all her effort into making the show a success, and my assistant stage manager, Rachel Kaly ’17, followed her lead from the beginning. Even more importantly, we put together a cast of actors who were not only extremely talented but also completely invested in making the show come alive.
By the time you’ve been doing shows at Wesleyan for two years, it’s easy to cast actors whom you’ve seen before, who you know will give a great performance. I admit that I did this with Wesleyan theater pros Ali Goldberg ’15 and Conor Boughton ’15, both of whom I’ve seen give beautiful performances in past semesters. They nailed their auditions, and I knew they would be fun and easy to work with.
But Helen and I could not ignore the large amount of freshman talent that overwhelmed us at auditions. It seemed risky to cast actors that I had never met, especially on a campus where it sometimes feels like you know everyone. Are they fun to work with? Do they work well under pressure? Are they even nice people? After several short auditions, Helen and I felt that we had picked the best when we cast four talented freshmen: Annie Cooperstone, Connie Des Marais, Rebecca Hutman, and Jessica Wolinsky.
These ladies recognized that you only get one first shot, and they’ve been determined from day one to make this show an epic start to four years of theater at Wesleyan. The cast as a whole put in an amazing amount of work both in and out of rehearsal, and every time I got a selfie from them practicing their lines in their dorm rooms, my heart melted. Having so many people work so hard to make your vision come true is a humbling experience, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
Even with all this talent and enthusiasm, directing was no easy ride. I’ve acted in my fair share of shows, but my behind-the-scenes work is limited. The cast and crew relied on me for everything from an opinion about which lighting captured the mood of the room to the number of flowers on the tacky bridesmaids dresses: I was overwhelmed. I felt like my opinion was no more informed than anyone else’s, but it’s the director’s job to make the final call. Character work comes easily to me, but decision making in general does not. Giving the final word on most decisions regarding the production proved an immense challenge.
This may be a love letter to the cast and crew I’ve worked so hard with for the past two months (forgive me, it’s tech week, so emotions and exhaustion are running high). But I also have a few words of advice for those who think they may direct during their time at Wesleyan, which I highly recommend.
First, take some risks. Whether that happens during casting, rehearsals, or crew meetings, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone. Second, don’t be afraid to ask for help, because there are a million people on this campus who are more than willing to lend a hand just to be a part of something special. Third, be prepared for things to go wrong, and look forward to the satisfaction of finding a solution. Fourth, take your position seriously, and remember that being a director is a leadership role before anything else.
And, lastly, laugh with your cast. It’s important to remain focused, but I’m so grateful for the times that rehearsal got a little off topic. A close cast makes for a great show, so taking the time to get to know one another is just as important as solidifying blocking. And which are you going to remember more: who stood where during the performance, or the wonderful stories you shared?
“Five Women Wearing the Same Dress” will be performed in the Downey House Lounge this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.