The players of the Montezuma-Cortez High School drama department are finding out the hard way what directing is all about.
For the third installment of the M-CHS theater year, the One Act Festival will be held Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2 at 7 p.m., with a matinee on Saturday at 1 p.m.
These plays are adaptations or original scripts, produced, written and directed by theater students. Helpful advice is all they get from the department's director, Nicholaus Sandner who says he steps back completely and lets the students handle everything.
The directors are all veteran actors, technicians and theater junkies. Rachel Faught, Caden O'Brien and Joshua Martin are in their last year with the department. As seniors, these three couldn't be any more different. As directors they are one in the same. All are finding out what leadership is all about.
"This is completely in our hands," Faught said with delight. "It is different ways of direction and different ideas. Rather than seeing general direction from your teacher who has done this before, we get to use our own ideas. It's the students' personalities coming together."
Faught, 18, is possibly choosing a career in teaching. Maybe even in teaching theater. Right now, her adaptation of the classic tale of "Alice in Wonderland" has been the only thing on her mind. In order for a student to be able to direct a show, they must have previously assisted in directing and they have to present their scripts and stage ideas to Sandner and a panel of drama students. Faught had prepared her adaptation only a week before presenting.
"The beginning was pretty hectic because I had to take the ideas from not only 'Alice in Wonderland' but also 'Through the Looking Glass' and minimize that into 30 or 40 minutes," she explained. "Then I had to make my costumes and sets seem non-extravagant, which there isn't much of in 'Alice in Wonderland.'"
Once Faught got past the interview process, she was ready to bring her work to life - in four weeks time.
Sandner said the students have to take care of their scripts, casting, costumes and other technical aspects all on their own time. The four weeks of rehearsal is not realistic for grand ideas, so students had to get creative.
Caden O'Brien prepared an original script, with the help of Dallas Sellers, and left his sets as simple as possible. All of his props are people, which may have been an easy solution but it turned out to be a bigger problem. "My cast members and technicians like to not show up," O'Brien said with a chuckle. "Some of my scenes have no one here to run through. My cast has their lines down, they're just missing."
Sandner said a lot of students had been out sick over the last few weeks making it more challenging for the directors. He's a little nervous about this weekend but has confidence in his seniors. O'Brien though, is feeling the stress. The first night of tech week rehearsals - meaning lights, props and stage direction - and his lead was home sick. But he is a good sport throughout the chaos.
"I guess if he can't do the show, I'll have to," he said. "Hopefully that won't happen."
O'Brien, an aspiring musician, plans on heading to Denver once he graduates to try his luck in a band. As a drummer and vocalist, O'Brien wants to hold off on college for awhile.
His one act play is loosely based on the State Farm commercials. Titled, "A Day in the Life of a State Farm Agent," the comedic and sometimes dramatic play follows an insurance agent, Jake, around as he bounces back and forth between family and insurance calls. With no balance between the two, Jake finds himself in a thick web of confusion between his family and his career, with no easy solution in sight.
Sandner said one of the hardest feats of the One Act Festival is having plays that are completely unrelated. This year there will be a children's book, a comedy and a dramatic horror. At the same time it is rewarding because his students surprise him with how creative and thoughtful they get.
"We get a full range of shows and it can be hard to market," Sandner said. "But it's a great way for them to pull shows together from scratch and it's fun to see the different ways they represent their ideas."
The third one act, written by Joshua Martin, combines the secrets of immortality and the grisly effects of playing with death. Martin is not all guts and gore. He plans on studying biochemistry at the University of Colorado in Boulder after he graduates this year. He won't be participating in theater during college but he can say he will apply the experience elsewhere.
"I've learned a lot about leadership in this role (director)," Martin said. "I've gained a lot of confidence. (Theater) is always good for motivation, to have somewhere to go even on your worse days. Some place to bring you back up."
Martin said in his retirement days he hopes to get back into community theater to play the three big Shakespeare leads.
"I've already got one out of the way," he said with a grin.
For now he is concentrating on keeping his cast in check and making sure his one act play runs smoothly. All three of the directors are sharing actors and technicians. O'Brien is acting in the other two plays and Faught has a small role in his play. The department is working hard to get by with what they have and the young directors are learning more and more about what they can accomplish. "We have to be in charge of people our own age so sometimes they don't have that sense of seniority about you," Martin said. "We may have to act a certain way to hinder their actions and it can be hard."
Still, Martin, Faught and O'Brien fit right in as leaders. They envision what they want and they go for it. They each credit the theater department in giving them the determination and audacity to get through their high school days.