In December, the joint Rutgers-Newark/NJIT Theater Arts and Technology Program will feature 22 actors and the works of 11 students in The Directors’ Project. According to Louis Wells, director of The Center for Applied Improvisation and Theater and senior lecturer of theatre arts and technology, the project is a “series of student-directed and performed one-act plays… The students are in charge of picking the material, casting the show, and coming up with a vision of how the show should look and feel for an audience.” There is then the rehearsal process which takes about three weeks; each director collaborates with their respective two actors to effectively portray the story that they came up with.
This year, the project will feature directors Ashley Bourne, Alana Garcia, Adam Hassan, Latifa Hinds, Wilson Lee, Yesi Rodriguez, Katarina Schmidt, Imani White, Nicholas Cheney, Ketheisia Parris and Shamika Dhar. Rachel Schlesinger, a third year cyberpsychology and theatre major, is the production stage manager, playing a vital role in the performances to be shown. Due to the pandemic, all the rehearsals are online, making platforms like Webex and Zoom the ‘stage’ for the actors. Wells commented, “Theaters across the world have had to adapt in the same way. In this regard, we are maintaining the training of our students by participating in the same approach as many professional theater companies.” He said that the most difficult part consists of getting the logistics together, which includes the set decorations, props, and costumes being transported to the actors in a safe way.
Fourth year theater and communications major Alana Garcia is directing “The Check-Up” by Scott Mullen, which focuses on a doctor appointment conducted on Zoom that does not go as expected. Garcia believes that the pressure of time management is the most prominent concern she has, but she still is enjoying her first time not being behind the camera. Regarding the whole process of directing, she commented that “I think the proudest or best moment so far is just building relationships with people. I think people assume that being a director is being a ‘boss’ of some sort and to a certain extent, that is true, but I believe that at the end of the day, theater is an art of collaboration and working with others.”
Yesi Rodriguez is a senior theatre arts major and is directing a comedy called “Carolina in the Morning” by Bara Swain. The play is very relevant to this year’s situation, as it is about two best friends quarantining in different states with the lockdown to be lifted shortly. Rodriguez is excited about the final product; she said, “My actors will be the ones to bring this performance to life and it is my job to equip them to the best of my ability.” She also recognized that “The pandemic created a specific set of limitations in some regards but I believe that art thrives when we are forced to be creative and we’ve definitely had to do that.”
A parody of “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare, “Something This Way Comes” by Eric Pfeffinger, is directed by Katarina Schmidt, a third year theatre arts and technology/communications and media major. She believes that “most of the actual work [of directing] is planning,” but the most difficult part is trying to get her actors focused and motivated in order to have “them to see the play through [my] eyes.” Schmidt is grateful to be able to continue the project during the pandemic. “Being able to direct for the first time has confirmed for me that this is what I want to do as a career: directing shows alongside teaching theatre and literature. There is almost nothing else that makes me happier than this.”
Second year chemical engineering and theatre major Nicholas Cheney is directing “A Dave with Destiny” by Ken Preuss, which focuses on two characters attempting to figure out why the other one looks so familiar to them. Like Schmidt, Cheney recognizes that there has been a lot of prior research and work put into the production before the rehearsals can even take place. During the rehearsals, however, he noted that timing is a prominent concern while being on a virtual platform. Despite this, he is very pleased to be a part of this project, saying, “I think I’m proudest of this being a ‘directorial debut’ of sorts– that this is my vision I’m getting to share, which is an experience I’ve never had before.”
Keitheshia Parris, a senior civil engineering and theater arts and technology major, is very proud of the actors she has chosen for her play, “Dorm Zoom Party”. She said, “All the people that have auditioned were superb, and I could’ve definitely casted in my play, but maybe they wouldn’t have embodied my characters the way that I wanted them to. However, the two wonderful women that I chose are fascinating and are doing a great job thus far, and I’m very proud of them. As their peer, I am also proud of the way we communicate and our cohesion during rehearsals. I wasn’t expecting the respect, and I honestly thought that it would’ve been a struggle to ‘direct’ people my age.” Like most of the other directors, she noted, “this is my first time being a part of this and I am glad for the experience. I really wish that it was in person but I am quite satisfied to even have this opportunity.”
Wells recognizes the hard work that all of the students involved are putting into this project. “This is an unprecedented way of working, and I’m proud that the directors are doing such a good job of learning a new format, learning to collaborate and to deal with the problems that inevitably occur on any collaborative project. They have brought humor and humility to the project,” Wells remarked. “I hope our audience enjoys the joy and resilience these shows reveal about our students. In the middle of a pandemic, when nothing at college is familiar, we are doing something old-fashioned; putting on a play. It’s just in a new location and context. I hope everyone will meet us over there.”
The Director’s Project results will premiere the between Dec. 2 and Dec. 6, and will be posted to the NJIT Theatre Department’s Youtube, which can be accessed on their website.