I love teaching and directing high school actors. They are creative and enthusiastic and open-minded. They work hard for me, and they genuinely want to improve at their craft. At times, I select shows in which high school students need to play older characters (most recently, in The Giver, we had seniors playing a mother, a father, and The Giver himself). To their credit, my students have always dedicated themselves to understanding their characters so as to accurately portray the roles they are given. The reality of their age and experience prevents them from knowing first-hand what it's like to be a mother or a father, but they try their best to relate to how those characters might think and feel, based on their observations of life around them.
Because of my involvement in our community theatre, I am fortunate enough to direct adults from time to time as well. Last night, I held my first real rehearsal for a show called Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz. We will perform this show in the Jason J. Moyer Studio Theatre at the Community Academy of Stage and Theatre in June. The cast consists of 5 adult actors, and I could not be more excited to work with and learn from these talented people. We will be staging the play in the round, which is new for me as well.
When I first read the script, I was immediately intrigued by the driving questions. Set in Palm Springs, Other Desert Cities is about a writer who returns home for Christmas after having written a memoir about her family. And not just about her family, but about the darkest part of their lives -- about the Vietnam protestor son who was implicated in the bombing of an Army recruitment center, the son who later committed suicide by jumping into a freezing river, the son whose body was never found. As Brooke's mother, father, younger brother, and aunt read her manuscript, old wounds are reopened and the family is left with more questions than answers. Questions like When a family is involved, who owns the story? Is a writer responsible to her art more than she is responsible to those who may be affected by that art? Is any work worth splintering a family? Are there secrets that should be kept?
I was also intimidated by the time period of the piece. Most of the actors in my cast lived in these times -- the man playing the father was 16 numbers away from the draft himself. I was born in 1980. But, hey, I've also directed The Crucible, and I certainly wasn't alive in 1692. I'll be fine.
Last month, the cast met for a read through at our house, and last night, we met to discuss the script before getting on the stage and working on blocking. And the conversation was amazing! Each member of the cast present had a journal with notes about their character and had thought in depth about their back stories and relationships with each other. I had researched the role of Henry, the deceased brother, since he is a significant character, despite never being on stage. My actors, because if their age and experience, are able to draw from their own lives as they create characters who are married, who parents, who have gone to college or worked in a professional field. Also because of their age and experience, the characters they create will be rich and full and compelling to the audience -- exactly what this remarkable script needs.
While I truly love working with kids, I am energized by the prospect of working with these adult actors who make Other Desert Cities come to life on stage. This is a great place to be after one rehearsal!