Hello from Chapel Hill! I’m writing this on the day we’re opening PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, the play I’ve been assisting on at PlayMakers Repertory Company. It’s been a pleasure to be part of this production from the moment I came on board. From being invited to attend auditions in NY to being fully integrated into the ensemble, I have felt welcomed into the fold the entire way through.
One of the reasons I was excited to do one of my DL assisting gigs outside of New York was to experience the inner workings of a regional theatre. My only other experience working out of town was at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, but OSF is such a large operation that it’s not your typical set-up. Being at PlayMakers gave me an opportunity to witness a medium-sized company in action (and on top of that, one that is currently going through a transition in leadership).
PlayMakers is unique because it’s the company-in-residence at UNC Chapel Hill. As such, their casts are a combination of professional actors and graduate acting students. The cast for STARCATCHER was made up of company members (some of whom are the students’ professors), students, and professional actors from NYC. It’s a fascinating mix that could potentially be a disaster but actually made for an extremely nurturing and supportive environment.
One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival was how welcoming everyone is. There is a true sense of the company being a home, and as an outsider coming in I was impressed when everyone from administrative staff to actors went out of their way to personally welcome me and tell me how excited they were to have me there. The sense of community was prevalent, and everyone in the company took their responsibility as a host seriously and joyfully. It is a testament to the strength of the company that everything seemed to be running without a hitch despite the new artistic director not coming in until the new year.
Because the students and professors have class in the mornings, our rehearsals started at 1 p.m. and finished at 10:30 at night (as opposed to the more common 10 a.m.-6 p.m. schedule). I’ve been blown away by the stamina and dedication of the students, who were focused and prepared at every rehearsal despite simultaneously juggling early classes and outside homework assignments. I was also blown away by the professors, who were not only a model of professionalism but treated the students as bona fide colleagues in the rehearsal room. The moment 1 p.m. rolled around, every single company member in the room was on equal footing, and I never witnessed a professor giving a student a note on their performance. Instead, the teaching that happened in the room happened by example.
The director, Brendon Fox, created a truly collaborative space in the room. I was reminded of our Drama League retreat in August, when Mark Brokaw encouraged us as directors to always say yes. Brendon did exactly that- every idea that was thrown out was seriously considered and almost always tried out. Since it’s a play with a large ensemble and lots of physical activity, Brendon came in with a solid starting point for staging each scene, but once the skeleton of the play was sketched out, the company was free to experiment and play. It was wonderful to see how completely the actors trusted him and the joy the company felt from being part of this production.
(There was no shortage of snacks at the director/AD table at these rehearsals!)
Overall, this was a fantastic experience for me and I’m going to miss everyone here. But now I’m turning my attention fully to DirectorFest, which is coming up in just a few short weeks! I’m so excited to be directing Cassandra Medley’s play CELL, which is a timely look at the U.S. immigration detention system. More on that soon!