“Ready,” the students under the stage lights said.
“Actors go,” senior Elena Creed replied as she paced the audience rows in Markel Auditorium with the discerning eye of a director.
Creed is in her final stretch of directing “An Italian Straw Hat — A Five Act Comedy With Song,” which opens April 25. Overseeing a cast of 16 actors, an original music score, and a technical crew, Creed chose one of the most demanding senior projects for her theater major. So demanding that within the last 20 years, Creed will be the fourth theater major to undertake such a challenge.
“Directing a full-length play is a huge responsibility because everything for a director is a compromise, as you move from the theoretical into the realm of what is possible. It has to be the right student with the right preparation. Elena has that,” said James Brandon, chairman and professor of theatre and dance and Creed’s faculty advisor on her senior project.
Creed’s senior project began last April when Brandon handed her a large binder of plays to peruse. Laughing as she read the script for “An Italian Straw Hat,” Elena chose the French vaudeville play for its humor. Thinking of her stressed-out student body in the final weeks of April, Creed said she wanted to provide students with an opportunity to “blow-off steam and forget about all the things they have to do.”
“It’s really a fun play with lots of mistaken identity and slapstick humor delivered by fantastic actors,” Creed said.
Written in 1851 by French playwrights, “An Italian Straw Hat” originally featured a music score of popular songs of the time period. Creed’s production of the play features an entirely original score written by students. Among the three student composers is senior Jonathan Henreckson, Creed’s stage manager, primary composer, music director, and also her boyfriend. In his words, he’s “her man that does whatever needs doing,” and he composed ten of the sixteen songs.
“Elena is very good at what she does. It’s been amazing to see her work with actors and really get them to think more deeply about their character,” Henreckson said.
It’s exactly this trait which lead actor John Szczotka values in Creed’s directing.
“She’s a very smart director, and although I’ve taken many theatre classes previously, she has taught me a couple new things, especially with acting monologues, which is something I’ve always struggled with,” Szczotka said.
As a freshman, Szczotka appreciated Creed’s talent for creating community among the cast members.
“Elena is a perfect middle for a student-director, with an easy-going attitude that allows us to bond as a cast, but also not afraid to call someone out. I would like to say that everyone in the cast is my friend and Elena has been instrumental in creating that community,” Szczotka said.
Although Creed is entering the most demanding final weeks for a director, the high-stakes environment guarantees invaluable life lessons, Katherine Denton Pomerantz ’14 said. Also a theater major, Pomerantz student-directed the full-length play “Woyzeck” for her senior project in the spring of 2014.
“Directing ‘Woyzeck’ was one of the most valuable things I ever did. I learned how to jump into a project, get really involved, and keep an entire team focused on a goal; those are killer skills that I immediately used in starting my own business after college,” Pomerantz said.
Speaking from her own experience, Pomerantz encouraged students to attend the play because student productions are “real passion-filled projects” that reflect an ambitious student director.
“I wish all the love and respect in the world to Elena and her cast,” Pomerantz said.
Performances begin next week with showtimes at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday in Markel Auditorium. No tickets are required.