Off-campus directing grows pool of experience
The creative process for a theater director begins a year before the opening-night curtain goes up. There are lighting and scenery decisions to be made; auditions, callbacks and rehearsals; and, of course, consideration of how those decisions will ultimately affect the emotional response of the audience.
This past summer, Michael Swanson, Elizabethtown College director of theatre and dance and associate professor of theatre, took on the role of director for David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” performed at Ephrata Performing Arts Center (EPAC). It’s the fourth show he’s directed at EPAC and one of many he’s been involved with off campus, he said. One show at EPAC took BroadwayWorld.com best-of awards for south-central Pennsylvania.
By being involved in productions beyond Elizabethtown, Swanson said he broadens his knowledge base and, therefore, his ability to better teach his students. In addition, community theater gives Swanson an opportunity to take on edgier productions—a play with flagrant use of obscenities, for instance, or those with adult subjects or unique cast configurations. EPAC’s Glengarry Glen Ross, with an all-male cast, is an example.
… it’s a process of analysis and synthesis. The synthesize is putting it all back together again.”
Directing off campus offers the opportunity to work with “actors who are actually older adults” rather than students who must play parts decades beyond their years. “This broadens my experience of working with actors on varying levels,” the professor said.
“Dr. Swanson’s work as a director … gives him the chance to interact with actors with a broad range of experiences,” said James Haines, Fine and Performing Arts department chair. “The exchange of ideas and points of view in planning and rehearsing a show, particularly shows he may never get to direct on campus, help him to continue to develop as a director.”
Production of a show typically begins with a full read through, Swanson said. Then, the show is broken down into smaller bits focusing on various actors and various scenes. “It’s five lines here, a few lines there, listening to make sure the exchange is clear,” he said.
Swanson referred to this process as “a form of murder”.
“You tear it apart in small components,” he said. “Then, it’s a process of analysis and synthesis. The synthesize is putting it all back together again.”
Swanson, who directs two shows at the College each academic year, explained that taking on these extracurricular opportunities helps him teach others how to more effectively direct. “When I’m directing a play, I get to work with everybody,” Swanson said. He gets involved in wardrobe, lighting, scenery.
“I get to have a hand in all of that – standard stuff a theatre student will be learning” at Elizabethtown College Theatre.