When the final production of the UOG Theater’s fall semester draws back its grand curtain on Nov. 16, nine fledgling directors – Auston Dennis, Justine Losinio, Jennifer Bruan, Anna Prelosky, Chanel Jarret, Hannah Elmore, Dominic Cawili, Rayanna Guzman and Marlo Abrenilla – get their grand theatrical debut as part of the final project of their directing class.
Each of the students has spent an entire semester learning the fundamentals of leading a stage play, from preproduction logistics to the execution of an artistic vision.
On Nov. 16, they will kick off an extended weekend run of nine plays showcasing their directing talents.
Titled “Cracks,” this collection of plays has been eye-opening for some of the directors and stressful for just about every one of them; although, looking at the students of professor Michelle Blas, they are excited to share their hard work with the rest of the island.
According to Prelosky, the production got its title after searching for a common theme among the variety of plays being showcased by the directing students.
“Throughout all the different plays there are these different cracks where you get to see through to these characters’ vulnerabilities,” Prelosky said of the plays as a whole. The play she is directing, “A Bad Idea,” is written by local playwright CJ Ochoco. It centers around a major dilemma faced by a groom and his best friend minutes before the wedding, which includes dealing with the repercussions of years of missed opportunities.
But it isn’t just fictional characters whose inner worlds are being revealed – the directors themselves are finding new inner qualities that have been revealed through the demands of their authoritative roles.
“When you’ve been an actor, you know your place,” shared Prelosky, who has acted in a number of UOG Theater productions. “You always know there’s someone you answer to, but now, being in the position where I am the one that people answer to, it’s been very different.”
For Prelosky, she’s become more assertive, more able to get a point across in order for a direction to be followed.
Dennis likewise feels that wearing his directing hat has broadened the way he approaches the theatrical world. He will be directing an excerpt from the Arthur Miller classic “All My Sons."
“So far it’s been a beast that’s unlike any other in theater,” Dennis said of facing the challenge of directing.
He has a wealth of experience in the technical, management and acting side of the art, but this first foray into directing has been a steep learning curve.
“I’ve done so many other positions in theater and none of them requires this much knowledge,” he said. “I have to be able to kind of think like an actor, but to think about the scenes as a whole – as opposed to just one character – has been kind of crazy ... and then I have to go into things I don’t like looking into like costumes and make-up. I like having other people to rely on that.”
But in the end, Dennis says there may be a future for him in directing.
“I could do this. It’d be a lot of hard work, but I could do this,” he said.
‘Wild emotional ride’
Their professor, Blas, says that – as is the norm in the directing class finals – this year’s batch of plays will take audience members on a wild emotional ride.
“There’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster of emotions,” Blas said.
One director who promises to be tugging at audience’s heart strings is Losinio, who will be directing "Hour Glass" by David Matthew Barnes.
Losinio says his actors play the “It” couple, who are the high life of their town. But, unbeknownst to their community, the character’s personal relationship is “itching to explode and implode on itself,” according to Losinio.
Both his actors are theater program alums who have stared in numerous productions inside and outside UOG Theater and have taken directing classes with Blas.
Losinio’s challenge has been to formalize the strongest version of his artistic vision in order to provide a productive space for his seasoned actors.
“I want to give them the best,” he shared, adding that he’s learning to trust his instincts more.
A play to resonate with the audience
Also directing a work by David Matthew Barnes, Jarret chose “Threnody” which features the complicated and volatile relationship of a young, toxic couple.
“I had a really hard time choosing plays, and I even told Michelle (Blas) that,” Jarret said. The student director said she was looking for a play which would resonate with people. “I wanted something with a twist. I wanted a powerful, dramatic scene.”
With Blas’ suggestion, she chose “Threnody,” and it’s been a match made in theater heaven.
“I felt like there was such a deep meaning to this play that I wanted to portray and hopefully people will see that message.”
Losinio’s and Jarret’s works fall on the heavier side of the spectrum of theatrical offerings in “Cracks,” but just like an emotional roller coaster has steep plunges, it also has peaks of laughter, which Elmore is excited to be bringing to the table.
The student director of Anton Checkov’s “The Proposal” says her selection is “ridiculously hilarious.”
A huge Checkov fan even before beginning directing class, Elmore knew in an instant that “The Proposal” was meant for her directing debut.
Set in late-1800s Russia, “The Proposal” centers around a wedding proposal that goes terribly awry for the main characters – but wonderfully hilarious for the audience.
“It’s one of those things that’s going to crack up the audience,” she says.
It’s a huge plus that her work brings a touch of variety into the overall mix of plays being offered for “Cracks.” Elmore says she and her classmates have worked as a team to bring together something great for the community.
“That’s what’s so cool about everybody’s pieces,” Elmore said. “I think our directing team has worked really well together at understanding what we want as a whole. I think we’ve been pretty good about expressing our opinion and collaborating, because that’s what theater is: collaboration.”
The final director able to speak to the Post on the day we visited her class, Abrenilla has been trusting in her artistic prowess as she blossoms into a director.
Abrenilla is an art major who specializes in sculpture, but come Nov. 16, she’ll be bringing local play “Creating the Native” to life.
Of the difference between art forms, Abrenilla says that clay and other material are easier to mold than actors.
“As an artist, when I work with sculpture, I’m like, ‘Stay,’ and it stays there,” Abrenilla says. “It is a challenge to have real, live people become the characters I picture in my head, and putting them on stage and having them do stage directions.”
But she says she’s trusting in her process, the most joyous of which occurs when she hears lines and sees characters come alive on the stage.
The play she is directing is one she connected with intuitively as a visual artist. “Creating the Native” is about an painter who has two distinct conversations with stakeholders about the unfinished centerpiece of his gallery.
Abrenilla has been bringing her real-life art experience into the directing role and says she is happy to put on a play by a local playwright.