Applause and cheers filled the UC Santa Barbara Studio Theater this past weekend, May 5- 7, at the annual Spring One Acts. Every fall and spring quarter, the theater and dance department at UCSB puts on their student-directed one-act plays. These one-act plays are opportunities for students in the Theater B.A. Directing Concentration to put on their own shows and showcase their talents and skills as they wrap up their degrees. This spring, the three one-act plays showcased were “The Pretty Trap” by Tennessee Williams, “Waiting” by Ethan Coen and “English Made Simple” by David Ives.
The first play of the night was “The Pretty Trap,” directed by fourth-year directing student Sophia Papalia. The longest play of the night, this show is based on the full length play “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams. In an interview about her experience directing this show, Papalia explained, “one thing that we really tried to focus on in this is separating ourselves from that play as they are two very different plays with different outcomes.” “The Pretty Trap” follows a southern mother who is attempting to set up her extremely shy and neurotic daughter with a boy. There is a lot of conflict between the two of them, with the daughter wanting nothing to do with the future her mother envisioned for her. However, after meeting the boy and getting to spend some time alone with him, the daughter is able to be authentic and open up to him — something she had never experienced before.
The audience was incredibly receptive to the ridiculous nature of the mother — her ability to talk nonstop and have strange expectations for her children. They also sympathized with the daughter and were giggling in excitement about her strange personality being accepted with open arms. Overall, this play can be summarized from a single line from the mother, “all girls are a trap, a pretty trap.”
When asked about what inspired her to get into directing, Papalia explained, “I have done theater my whole life since I was in third grade; I always really enjoyed acting. But in high school, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to sit behind the table. And so in college, I really wanted to branch out and do some other things that weren’t just acting.”
Papalia has been in the directing concentration for almost two years now and expressed that it has been a lot of fun for her. Along with the fun experience of directing, however, came some challenges with this play. She expressed that “the show for me was just more difficult because there’s a lot of technical elements. I had a lot of props to procure. I got a lot of outside set pieces.”
Once the show started, it was clear to see that the technical elements of this show were quite intricate as Papalia described, and they helped to create an immersive experience for the audience members. One specific struggle she encountered was that her play had a salmon loaf in it, and she was “very much trying to figure out how I could bring that onto stage, and I found out that it looks exactly like a banana bread.” Just this small detail about the play goes to show how many moving parts go into putting these pieces together and how much these student directors have to keep track of.
After a brief intermission, the night continued with “Waiting,” directed by fourth-year theater and English double major Hannah Froman. Despite the main theme of this play being death and the afterlife, it was a comedic play that had the audience roaring with laughter and then promptly filled with existential dread. The show followed a man entering the afterlife and being met with a waiting room in which he had to spend hundreds of years before being allowed to enter heaven. It’s filled with plot twists, as the man’s sentence gets extended multiple times before he eventually learns that he is actually in hell and there is no escaping. The audience found these plot twists to be incredibly hilarious and were howling with laughter at the desperation of the poor man.
According to Froman, the process of putting this play together was just as funny as the final product: “Being that ‘Waiting’ is a comedy, many of our rehearsals ended up with all of us in tears laughing just because there were very funny moments, and sometimes awkward moments, as the writing is a little bit awkward at times, but in the best way.”
Similar to Papalia, Froman has also been involved in theater from a very young age. Her directing experience started in high school.
“I kind of gave it a shot, my senior year of high school and I really fell in love with it.” Froman explained that they “started out acting, and throughout the years, I just found out that it was not for me, and I had always been intrigued by directing.”
The directing concentration has allowed Froman to explore this passion further and gain the skills to put together a play such as “Waiting” together, which is actually the first comedy she has ever directed. In regards to the directing program, she gave the following advice:
“If you’re interested in directing, definitely give the directing concentration a shot because it is a lot of fun. And you learn so much in the two years that the program is awesome.”
Finally, the night ended with “English Made Simple,” directed by Grace Kimball, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Theater and Dance. Although it was a rather short play in comparison to the others, the play was very humorous and full of quick and witty dialogue. When asked about funny moments in the rehearsal process, Kimball explained, “our funniest moments are always the slip-ups” due to the quick dialogue. She also mentioned, “sometimes my actors will say each other’s lines, which is something I don’t always experience in other shows. So that’s been a constant source of humor for us.” This play followed a couple meeting for the first time and all the different outcomes their relationship could have, with an English professor using them as a guide for all the oddities of the English language. Overall, this play was fast paced, hilarious and a demonstration of just how ridiculous we can seem when communicating in English. This was definitely one of those plays that is conveyed effectively live and leaves the audience in awe.
Lastly, Kimball had a lot to say about the whole directing process and her love for theater as a whole. Similarly to the other two, Kimball has been involved in theater since being a kid and was “curious later on in life about what it was like to sit behind the table and make the big decisions.”
She also explained that a big inspiration comes from seeing the final product on opening night: “And it’s nights like these that I just, you know, the adrenaline gets pumping; you get to see your work come alive; you get to see the honest reactions. And that’s something that’s hard to forget.” However, getting to that final product and moment of satisfaction comes with a lot of struggles to overcome.
One of these struggles for Kimball comes with the collaborative aspect of directing: “I think it’s always difficult to collaborate, even in the best of moments. It’s always about finding balance, finding where you can put together the actors’ view of the characters and your own vision and finding ways to make it work.”
There is a lot of respect to be had for the work these directors put into these plays, as they work to navigate the directing process and collaborate with so many different actors and crew members.
Despite this, Kimball reminds us that all the work that goes into these shows is worth it in the end: “Theater is just such a joy. It’s always a source of fun for me, and I hope people really enjoy my work. And there’s always surprises in live theater. Live theater is such a unique medium, unlike other forms. Yeah, I just hope people feel like they can relax and come and enjoy a new world for a little while.”
Although this year’s student-directed one-act plays have come to a close after this weekend, they happen annually during fall and spring quarter, are free to all and are a great way to show support to UCSB theater and dance’s directing concentration students.
This appeared in the May 11th Daily Nexus printed edition.
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