The BarnStormers are a very unique group. They act, collectively, as the artistic director of a production company. They elect officers, delegate duties, vote on a proposed season and hire outside professionals. They are students running a small-scale company (tackling large-scale projects) with impressive amounts of outward ease. I worked with all nine of the 2017 Barnstormers board members on Spring Awakening. Three of them were actors and six were production and design heads. From casting to opening I have felt welcomed and supported by the whole Barnstormers team.
I’ll address the production team here because it’s so easy to watch the play and not realize how much work went into the solutions that seem so simple— it requires intense amounts of focused collaboration, creativity, and constant communication. I was readily welcomed into that process. Midnight revelatory emails: light coffin is very doable. Mid-day texts: we fixed the SL speaker! Early morning check-ins on velcro supplies and chalkboards. Constant updates on actor health and scheduling. After-class mosh-pit choreography work and research meetings on the history of girls’ education. Mini-meetings to choose wood stain. Mic swapping plots, or, we-have-17-actors-and-10-mics, over coffee. Unscheduled chats on what makes a piano look like a piano, old school bell sounds, blue-outs vs. black-outs, lifting dye from fabric, baby’s breath vs. woodruff and endless triangle tracking. Late night correspondence about skate T-shirts, album cover aesthetic, and women’s hair in the 1880s. Each department lead dreamed big, weighed their resources, handled their budget and made the best decision for the show. None of the answers were handed to them—I wanted the team to make this show their own, and they did, all between their classes and work-study hours.
2. What was your favorite aspect of this working on this show?
My favorite piece of the process is what I guess I would call “building” the play, where my work moves from intense amounts of reading, research and study of the script and score to scrawling on a giant drawing pad. Some plays allow for a much more “organic” staging process, where I ask the actors to move on impulse and go from there— but with an ensemble of seventeen, a nearly furniture-free stage, and purely actor driven transitions, this play demanded a good deal of “pre-staging,” or, deciding who would be where, when… and why. I draw patterns and shapes. I draw pictures and draft paths of movement. I make initial ideas about how things could feel, look, read and move.
This is a testament to a clever and willing individuals who hold the play in their hands. I brought a copy of Faust to our first staging rehearsal to lend to our Melchior, and his own copy was already on it’s way in the mail. Our two featured dancers in The Dark I Know Well developed half of that movement on their own impulses. Our Wendla made regular time to meet with me to dissect her poetic lyrics, in constant search of her truth. Our Ernst plays lead guitar throughout the show, not out of initial concept, but because we were short a guitarist—and what I did have was a particularly ambitious performer. It makes so much sense to me that I wish I could claim it an idea we had square one. Everyone was is so collectively committed that rehearsals were a dream.
3. Do you have a favorite memory from rehearsal?
I will not soon forget the night that we choreographed the somewhat infamous Georg/Piano Teacher “motor-boating” fantasy sequence. I was 100% prepared to water it down. The actors were having none of it. Finally I was like, “So you guys are game?” and they said, practically in unison, “We’re so game.” We proceeded to discover all the different ways Liz could dance all over Daniel. We all collapsed into such intense spasms of laughter that we could barely communicate— but the sequence looks great.
In general, it was important to our stage manager, our producer and I that we allowed this process to be very light hearted. The content is so heavy that we needed rehearsal to be a fun part of the day, a space where we could laugh and be irreverent and not too serious with each-other most of the time. I think the whole process was much cleaner and easier for that conscious decision.
4. What made you apply to direct this show?
It’s a great play. It’s relevant. I think I am an appropriate translator for the material based on my person and experiences.
5. What have you learned from working with the Barnstormers?
I’ve snuck into the minds of the nation's overachievers for a couple months, and boy, has it been a ride. It’s not easy to be studious yet social, the smartest person in the room, well-liked, poised, and effortlessly witty. Directing gives you a unique opportunity to peek into people’s psyche when they are sometimes at their most vulnerable. I have never met a group of people so young that demanded such extreme success from themselves.
It’s scary, in a way, because humanity isn’t designed for perfection and most humans require about eight hours of sleep per night, but it makes me glad to be making theatre, in that theatre is the antithesis of guaranteed perfection. Teacher’s canes break, guns fall out of pockets, words leap from our mouths in unexpected ways, things are tripped over— but still we play the scene. Some nights the circumstances hit you hard and some nights you have to fight to connect. In a world where almost everything is unbelievably easy to duplicate, a human being’s inability to attain perfection is maybe the only thing that makes theatre what it is— I think the Barnstormers taught me that.