October 9, 2003
Working on short schedule, director is up for challenge
The YSHS drama club got the answer to its 11th-hour prayers two weeks ago when Principal John Gudgel announced that a new director had been selected for the fall play.
With just over one month to choose the play, hold auditions, find a performance space and put up a production, most of the getting-to-know-you will have to happen along the way.
The new director, Adam Marple, has few reservations and is trusting that leadership and ideas from the students will ensure the production has a successful run.
The first thing the Yellow Springs High School theater club did after Marple’s selection was meet to jointly decide on this fall’s play. The students said they wanted both drama and comedy, a small cast as well as a strong technical role, and the physical challenge of stage combat, Marple said. And they wanted to do something by Shakespeare, which would be a first for the students. Marple went home to think about it, and somewhere between the 80-minute drive home to Cincinnati and the drive back up for auditions, he came up with Shakespeare’s last work, The Tempest.
“I’m thoroughly excited, and the students are gung-ho,” Marple said. “We’ve got a bit less than a month, and it’s going to be a challenge. That’s good, I like challenges.”
Sliding in at the last minute as an unknown young director to a position formerly occupied by a successful and well-liked Marcia Nowik presented its own challenges, Marple said. He was scared at first, he said, because he had heard from many parents and administrators that the students loved Nowik.
“But the parents were more worried than the kids,” Marple said. “I’ve been completely welcomed in by the students, and I want to create as many opportunities for them as I can.”
After 10 years of working on YSHS theater productions, Nowik was not selected to direct the fall play because members of the tech crew last spring spent one night at the Antioch Theater. While the students had parental permission for the overnight, Nowik failed to approve the activity with either school officials or the Antioch Theater.
In addition, YSHS must find a new performance space this year after Louise Smith, chair of the Antioch Theater department, decided Antioch needs to take a “break” from hosting YSHS productions.
This fall Marple wants students to add input and have as much say as possible in creating their characters and designing costumes, the set and lights. He wants to create a collaborative atmosphere so the students feel like they own their work.
“Everyone’s more committed, you’re more willing to sacrifice and invest yourself and your time for something that is yours,” he said. “You leave carrying it with you and you can look back and say, ‘that was mine.’ ”
Though the students haven’t had much time with their new director, they think they will like working with him and having some influence over their project.
“He’s young and he’s easygoing, that’s what I liked,” thespian officer Rose Byrnes said. “But I think the most credit is due to Mr. Gudgel for including us in a lot of the decision making.”
The change in both the process and the director is something Valerie Blackwell-Truitt, president of the Yellow Springs Theater Arts Association Board, said will improve the program. After a decade of working with mostly one director, allowing students to experience someone with a different style and different ideas teaches them to adapt and gives them confidence to work with others, she said.
The board also wanted students to understand that they could create a good production no matter who the director was, Blackwell-Truitt said.
“We’re doing our best as a community to make sure the theater continues and to keep moving forward for the kids,” she said. “Adam has a ton of enthusiasm and a lot of fresh ideas, and I think he’s going to be great.”
In contrast to recent high school productions, Marple said one of his strengths is putting on cheap, simple shows. He uses a method of paring that he learned from an Italian director while he was studying abroad as a Wright State University acting major. He learned to simplify by asking what can be left out and what is absolutely necessary to convey the idea to the audience.
“I do poor theater,” he said. “I feel confident in my ability to adapt, work around obstacles, to improvise.”
All that is necessary for theater is actors, an audience, a space and lights, he said. He said that lights are especially important in a large space such as the high school gym, where the drama club is considering staging the show. The Glen Helen Building and the Mills Lawn School gym are other options.
Adapting to any new space will take a large technical crew, which is good because the cast consists of just 11 people, while there are 20 on the tech crew. When he asked students whether they would prefer tech or acting, Marple was happily surprised to learn that every single person agreed to do either, or both.
The big crew will have a new tech director to work with as well this year. Marple recommended Wright State University student Janice Potter, who was the tech director for his senior production, The Inferno, last spring. He said that Potter is “more than qualified” and that she will simplify, expedite and serve as a voice of reason for the show.
Blackwell-Truitt said that several other local and regional directors expressed interest in taking on the YSHS play this fall, but due to the short notice of the three-week search, Marple was the only person who applied for the position. He came highly recommended by local actor and WSU theater professor Bruce Cromer, and he is fired up to make the Nov. 6 opening.
“It’s crunch time, but we’ll just have to make it work,” Marple said.