Theatre Production Opens Opportunity for Student Director

Student assistant director explains how she gets to do the fun stuff. Like the fight scenes.

November 02, 2011

Knox College Theatre Rehearsal - Mary Stuart
Neil Phelps wields a knife in a rehearsal scene for Mary Stuart

Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller.
Nov. 2-5, Harbach Theatre, Knox College
Tickets: $10 adults, $5 senior citizens and Knox alumni, and free to all Knox students, faculty and staff.
Information and reservations: 309-341-7472

The student assistant director of Mary Stuart gets to do lots of fun stuff, like fine-tune the choreography of a fight scene, while the faculty director has to worry about things like a rehearsal scene that ran ten minutes over schedule.

That's how Neil Blackadder, professor of theatre and director of the Knox College production of Mary Stuart, explains the duties assigned to assistant director Avery Wigglesworth, a junior from Lexington, Kentucky.

Knox College Theatre Rehearsal - Mary StuartPhoto, right, assistant director Avery Wigglesworth watches two actors in rehearsal for Mary Stuart.

"Working as an assistant director is an opportunity for students to be involved in directing a major production," Blackadder said. "The casting of this show has also opened up a number of opportunities for first-year students. Six of 15 in the cast are first-years."

The play, originally written in 1800, retells the history of the rivalry between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who is imprisoned and eventually executed in a power struggle between the royal cousins in 16th-century England.

In an interview before the show, Wigglesworth talked about her work on the production:

 Q: How were you selected for the assistant director position?
A: Neil asked me to assistant direct over the summer. Initially I did not accept the position, because I wanted to audition, and my career path is to become an actor -- at least it was at that time. Last year I assisted with two mainstage productions, The Serpent (center, in photo below right) and A Lie of the Mind, and I directed my own show, Phaedra's Love in Studio Theatre.

Knox College TheatreQ: How has the experience transformed your plans?
A: Last year I discovered the director in me when I took the class in directing, taught by Elizabeth Carlin-Metz [theatre professor and director of last year's production of A Lie of the Mind]. Apparently, I have taken to it because I can't seem to leave the field! However, what I have discovered is not that I want to be a director per-se, but that I do very much want to teach at the college level. I think that it is something I have a knack for. It involves directing, but it is more about training the actor through process.

Q: What parts of Mary Stuart are you working on?
A: Neil has to focus most of his attention on the whole production, the arc of the story, and the world of the play. I have been focusing on the individual performances, character movement, and the emotional connections. This process for me is about helping the production be the best that it can. The more I can see, analyze and correct what other people are doing, the more I can do those things for myself, and the stronger actor I will make.

Knox College Theatre Rehearsal - Mary StuartI love working with the actors and helping them to develop their characters. I have also loved being able to tackle the two most physical scenes of the play. I like to get my hands dirty, and that has certainly been a challenge that Neil has let me take on, and I think, with some guidance, I have succeeded.

Photo, right, director Neil Blackadder works with two actors in rehearsal for Mary Stuart.

Q: How have you worked with the director to define the division of responsibilities?
A: Neil told me from the beginning that I could jump in whenever I had something to add, and I most certainly took him for his word. Of course, Neil has the last say on everything, but we work well as a team, and he has made me completely comfortable in feeling like I can voice my thoughts openly with the knowledge they will be considered and valued.

Knox College Theatre Rehearsal - Mary StuartQ: When you came to Knox, what were you expecting from the theatre program?
A: I expected Knox to challenge me, and it certainly has. Outside of theatre, two of my all time favorite classes have been my FP [First-Year Preceptorial] class and my Gender and Women's Studies class. I could discuss the social issues of this world all day and hope to, in my artistic future, have my voice heard.

Photo, right: Alyssa Kennamer as Hannah, Grace Moran as Mary Stuart, John Bird as Sir Amias Paulet, in rehearsal for Mary Stuart.


 

Mary Stuart, by Friedrich Schiller
Nov. 2-5, Harbach Theatre, Knox College

Knox College Theatre Rehearsal - Mary StuartProduction Team:
Director ~ Neil Blackadder, professor of theatre
Assistant Director ~ Avery Wigglesworth (photo right, with actors Isaac Miller and Neil Phelps)
Set and Lighting Designer ~ Craig Choma, associate professor of theatre
Co-Costume Designer ~ Katie O'Connor
Co-Costume Designer ~ Margo Shively, lecturer in theatre
Sound Designer ~ Andrew Stocker
Stage Manager ~ ~ Rebekah Heusel
Assistant Stage Manager ~ Megan Young
Assistant Stage Manager ~ Jen Gee
Assistant Costume Studio Supervisor ~ Allison Smith
Props Master ~  Oakton Reynolds
Master Electrician ~ Emily Harvey
Sound Board Operator ~ Katrina Rudolph 

Cast, in order of appearance:
Hanna Kennedy, nurse to Mary ~ Alyssa Kennamer
Sir Amias Paulet, Mary's warder ~ John Bird
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland ~ Grace Moran
Mortimer, Paulet's nephew ~ Neil Phelps
Lord Burleigh, High Treasurer ~ Chris Bakka
Elizabeth, Queen of England ~ Kate LaRose
Lady Aubespine, French Ambassador ~ Sam Auch
Lady Bellievre, French Envoy ~ Missy Preston
Earl of Leicester ~ Isaac Miller
Earl of Shrewsbury ~ Jon Hewelt
Earl of Kent ~ Andrew Purvis
Sir William Davison, State Secretary ~ Toby Santerelli
O'Kelly, Mortimer's friend ~ Jamie Ruml
Page to Elizabeth ~ Emily Antoff
Melvil, Mary's chief steward ~ Rodrigo Arcibar

Below, Isaac Miller as Earl of Leicester prepares to start a rehearsal scene that will culminate with an intense argument with Neil Phelps as Mortimer, in the background.

Knox College Theatre Rehearsal - Mary Stuart