Episode 88: Tips and Tricks for Directing Youth and Steven Stack
Playwright Steven Stack is a long time director. He shares his tips and tricks for directing youth. Bonus! Steven also shares some writing tips when you can’t wait for inspiration.
Welcome to TFP, The Theatrefolk Podcast. I am Lindsay Price, resident playwright for Theatrefolk. Hello, I hope you’re well. Thanks for listening.
Welcome to Episode 88! Woohoo! Yeehaw! Oh ho!
You can catch the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode88.
Today, I’m talking to playwright Steven Stack whose new play, Ashland Falls, has found a lovely home in our catalog. But he’s also a long-time director so we’re going to get him to share his tips and his tricks for directing youth and student actors. How do you do it? He’s also going to share some bonus tips for how to write when you can’t wait to be inspired. Now, that is a trick. Let’s find out how he does it.
Lindsay: Hello everybody! Welcome to the Theatrefolk Podcast. I am very happy and thrilled today. I’m looking out my window. There’s snow on the ground but I can see green. I can see green and the sun is warm so that’s good.
And I’m very happy to welcome Steven Stack to the podcast. Hello, Steven!
Steven: Hi, Lindsay!
Lindsay: How are you?
Steven: I’m doing great. Been sitting at my computer since 4:00 this morning.
Steven: Well, because, at the studio I work for, we have an end of the year show, and I need to write seven scenes and I’ve only had six days to do it because of planning issues and stuff. So, I’m in the final, like, stretch now.
Lindsay: So, Steven is one of our playwrights but he also directs youth and we’re going to talk all about that – some tips and tricks about working with youth. But you’ve just said a very interesting thing which I think also would be good for others.
So, you need to write, you can’t wait for inspiration, you have a deadline, you have to get this stuff done. How do you do it? How do you propel yourself to write those seven scenes?
Steven: Well, basically, it’s just make myself. I sit in front of the computer and then I start writing regardless because one of my writer friends, Alex Bledsoe, once when I was talking about writer’s block, he basically just said, “You know that’s a myth, right? If you want to write or need to write, then you write,” and, at that point, it was pretty much done. So, I need to write so I do and, basically, you get a semblance of an idea and then you just run with it and get that first draft out of the way and don’t go back. When you write a terrible line, don’t go, “Oh, that’s awful, I need to fix it.” Just keep going until you finish it and see what happens.
Lindsay: I’m a firm believer in ugly writing and ugly first drafts and that’s the only way to write. So, do you create on computer?
Lindsay: Yeah? Why does that work for you?
Steven: Because, usually, I listen with my headphones with music, too – which, there’s no one here, I don’t know why I put on my headphones but I do – and it’s just easier for me because I like the bright screens, I like my comfortable chair. But, I mean, I also use, sometimes, when I have more time, I use my memo pad, too. I don’t like writing just on notebook paper but I’m a huge fan of, like, the flip notebook. I have tons of them and I get more and more for, like, birthdays and Christmas even though I have a lot already.
Lindsay: I use to, in my temping days, I temped a lot at lawyers’ offices and government offices and I have a very fond affection for yellow legal pads.
Steven: Oh, nice, yeah!
Lindsay: You know? So, it’s a little bit longer and it’s just, you know…
Steven: Well, I like the white better just because I’m mesmerized by the yellow. And then, when I write with different colors, I get kind of carried away and distracted because I get distracted very easy with those things and I just like, “Oh, that yellow and red just blends really nicely,” and then I’m not writing anymore.
Lindsay: Then you’re just in your own little mesma-world, right?
Steven: Yeah, and it happens a lot so I have to go white there so it’s less distracting.
Lindsay: That’s interesting, too, that you listen to music when you write. Do you find that’s a good focuser for you?
Steven: Absolutely, because I can’t watch TV at all. But, when I have the music in, it just kind of fades into the background and, because I don’t like working in silence because then I end up just talking out loud and that’s just kind of weird for me because I’m not talking about what I’m writing. So then, listening to music just makes it like a little perfect world.
Lindsay: I’m a silent writer. You know, sometimes I listen to – it sounds very ooky spooky but I listen to – mantras. Those go into the background for me. They’re on YouTube everywhere. But music? I will listen to. But here’s a site which is really interesting. I think it’s called Focus@Will. The music, apparently, is very specifically designed for focused writing or focused work on computer or whatever and I’m going to put it in the show notes. I’ll make sure I have the right website. Craig uses it and you put a type of focus that you want, you know, and the music will play – you know, excited or soothing or driving – and he loves it.
Steven: Oh, that’s really cool.
Lindsay: Yeah! And it’s always interesting, I always like to have these kinds of discussions because, you know, there’s all that big myth about how writing happens the same way for everybody and, if you don’t write a certain way, or you don’t like silence, then you’re not a good writer and it’s like, “Nope, that’s not the way it works.”
Steven: Yeah, because, I mean, in the end, that’s what you have to do. You’ve got to find what works for you. And, I mean, at different times, different things will work for you because there’s times when we’re getting near the end where I’ll go upstairs and I will just have nothing and then, as I’m editing and as I’m writing, I’ll be playing all the characters out loud which is highly entertaining for my kids and that’s one thing I really enjoy doing.
And, sometimes, I do that early on in the project. Like, for one of the scenes I just wrote today, I turned off the music and I just played all the characters as I wrote. And then, I established that nice flow which I have to because they audition Wednesday and they have to have the final copy before Spring Break.
Lindsay: Yup, got to get it done! And, you know, for you to speak out loud, this is what we do. Plays are meant to be said aloud. You can’t just leave it on the page and never have put it out there.
Steven: And it’s really fun to do, too. Like, it’s highly enjoyable – unless it’s bad and then you go, “Ah, man.”
Lindsay: Or unless you’re in public and people are like, sometimes I catch myself because I’m really good at inner talking out loud and I will actually gesture and I’ll start to do that and see rhythms in my head and, if I’m in public, because sometimes I like to change up my location just to go choose a different location and that jogs things a bit, and I have caught, I have been stared at and I’m like, “Oh, shoot! No, I’m not crazy. I’m just writing.”
Steven: Yeah, I tend to embarrass my older daughter sometimes when I’m doing and it’s like, “My bad and I’m sorry. It’s just really fun. Let me write that down.”
Lindsay: So, this is a nice segue into what we’re going to talk today about – you know, having plays and not leaving them on the page – getting them not only said out loud but getting them produced. You direct with your studio so you direct the first production of all your plays, correct?
Steven: Right, and that does help out a lot.
Lindsay: I imagine, just because you can, well, you have a testing ground to see what it’s like when your plays are brought to life.
Steven: Yeah, it’s a little nerve-racking, too, because, basically, I have my first draft and then I make the edit and then it has to be ready to perform almost instantly because, you know, the actors need more time and then we have a show coming up and an audience that expects the show to work and it’s a little stressful at times but it’s also really cool to see if we can all pull it together in basically one take in some ways.
Lindsay: Do you do a lot of rewrites in rehearsal?
Steven: I started that this year because, when I did, for the first couple of years, I just did random scenes and that was cool. Well, this year, I decided that I want a play. I wanted a play to tie it all together with the scenes and so that made it. There was a lot of times where they would be rehearsing – and this happened all the way, like, a week before the show – and I go, “That doesn’t work for me anymore. Let’s go with this.” But, the thing is, they were just so, like, amazingly excited about doing it. Like, they enjoyed the changes even though it caused them stress. But they liked the aspect of “Okay, the show’s not finalized until almost opening night.”
Lindsay: I find that, particularly with high school students, they don’t have a preconceived notion about what it’s supposed to be and they’re so adaptable and they work on the fly really well.
Lindsay: I’ve been to shows and have learned that, well, the lead in this show had to be replaced, like, two days beforehand. In fact, the last play that I just premiered in February, that would happen – the lead wasn’t memorizing her lines, a week before the show, a new girl came in, she was in grade five, she learned an entire full-length play in four days and she had no concept and she was fantastic. And it’s like they’ll work with what you’ve got.
Steven: Oh, yeah, because I also work with seven to nine-year-olds and they had the same thing. Like, I was changing their lines and one of them happened to be my daughter who’s in the class, too, and they got so excited because they felt like they were the teen class, like the older kids, and their professionalism at that age was fantastic.
Lindsay: Aww. I love that, that’s awesome!
Steven: It was really great to see.
Lindsay: So, let’s talk about what it specifically takes to direct young people and youth because it’s quite different than directing adults, wouldn’t you say?
Steven: Oh, absolutely, and I enjoy it a lot more. Like, nothing against directing adults. I mean, it’s fine, but directing kids, like, they just seem to be more into… The ones I’ve worked with, because some adult actors have been fantastic, but the students just seem to go, “Okay, let’s do this,” and their ego hasn’t taken over as much.
Steven: And they accept direction really well.
Lindsay: What do you do? Do you ever have to deal with shy students? Like, how do you bring a shy youngster out of their shell?
Steven: Well, basically, what I do is try to put them in a position where they’re going to succeed and, with rehearsals, it starts, like, in rehearsals, at the beginning where we do things where they get more and more outside of themselves, and a lot of what we do, too, is focus on letting them understand that it’s not about one person; it’s about everybody and everybody has to do their part.
And then, we also taught, too, one of my beliefs is that self-consciousness comes from putting the focus on yourself and, when you take the focus off yourself and you put it on the character or on the work, what happens is you’re not self-conscious on stage or you’re not shy on stage anymore because you’re focusing on what that character wants and you’re working for that.
So, what I do is push them in class and in rehearsal just to keep taking the focus off themselves – not to make it about them, to make it about what the character wants or needs – and it’s amazing how that, when they’re actually doing that, it changes. Like, we’ve had a lot of breakthroughs, just this year, with certain students who have been the quietest, shyest students.
We had one with this one girl in a very serious scene, like, for weeks, nothing, really. But I was like, “I know she’s got it,” so we stressed it and kept doing it. And then, one time in rehearsal, she just busted it out and I stopped rehearsal and I was like, “That is it. You’ve had your moment where you just dominated that character.” It was beautiful and she did it in the show, too.
Lindsay: I think that’s amazing. I wonder if that’s the same reason why, a lot of times, young students, when they put masks on, they can find themselves because it’s not them; it’s somebody else.
Steven: Well, yeah, and I think that is, and one thing we’ve stressed, too, like, this always sounds rough at the beginning but, when I talk to my class, I’m like, “This class is all about you. But, we start rehearsal, it’s all about the character. It’s not about you anymore. It’s about the play and then it’s about each other creating that world.” And there’s some kind of relief that actually comes from knowing it’s not about them. That it is about the character and about creating this magic on stage. It’s kind of freeing.
Lindsay: Are there any specific exercises that you do or is it just in the process of rehearsal?
Steven: Well, we do a lot of that in the process of rehearsal and we do a lot, like, I’m a huge fan of character bios and talking about what the character wants and getting those action verbs in there and stuff. So, that allows them to start thinking that way. So, before a scene starts, it’s like, “Why are you coming on stage? Why do you say this? Why do you say that?” and, if the focus is on themselves, they can’t answer the question.
Lindsay: Yes, awesome!
Steven: And, the more that we do it, because, you know, it’s like anything in life. The repetition of it, the constant pushing and the constant to go deeper and deeper because the whole thing, one thing they’re used to, they actually laugh at me sometimes when I go, “Hey, that was a really great show,” and we talk specifics and then they would go, “Well, I know what you’re going to say now.: now go out and do better.” It’s like, “You did this today, what are you going to do tomorrow? Like, what are you going to discover about your character?” and the more your push that, you know, since it’s a process, and if you push it and you have kids that are willing to work and willing to get better, it’s just amazing what they’re capable of.
Lindsay: Where do you lie in the process product about which is more important when you’re working with students?
Steven: Oh, it’s actually really interesting. When I first started directing, I felt it all came down to the product and that it was all about the product. And then, as time went on, I realized I became more obsessed with the process. And then, I read a book about John Wooden and he was talking about they were asking him about his undefeated seasons in basketball and he said, “I don’t necessarily care whether we win or lose. I care that we got into a position at the beginning of the game, that we could win, that we were going to do our best, that we practiced as well as we could have to do everything in our power to have a chance at winning.” And, in the end, that’s what I really value.
Like, in our rehearsal, like, I love rehearsals so much now because you focus on that process – developing these characters – because, in the end, there’s so many variables that go into that final show – like, you know, the actual performance – that, sometimes, you just can’t control props and things. You’ve got interesting audiences and stuff but you can’t control that but that, you know, when you go through the whole rehearsal process and get where that last dress rehearsal and you go, “This is your show,” it’s one of my favorite moments when I just give the show to them and I just say, “This is your show. Be there for each other. Come through for each other. And then, when you take your curtain call, know that you deserve it.”
Lindsay: I love that. Really, that whole notion, it’s very true. You can’t control what happens in a performance all the time but you can certainly control your process.
Steven: Yeah, and that’s what I have and I realize I wish I would have known that earlier when I first started, but now I do, so I fixed it from there. You know, it’s like, getting better and learning new things.
Lindsay: You know, it’s funny, we just did a Google Hangout about what I wish I knew when I was starting out as a drama teacher and I think that is a really good one about look at process and product – that’s what the difference is. You can control process and then let the product happen and where the chips fall where they may.
Steven: Yeah, exactly, and it takes a lot. It puts some added pressure on them but, at the same time, it also knows, lets them know that they’ve done the work, that they deserve success – and knowing that you deserve it, like, you deserve the success because of what you’ve done is so powerful.
Lindsay: So, a couple of times, you’ve been really brought up about the notion of the community of your players – your students – and how they sort of have to work together and that it’s not about you as an individual; it’s about a “we.”
So, talk about how community you think is important for student actors.
Steven: Well, I think it’s vital. One of the things we do in all my classes that we do in all the rehearsals is a check-in where the students are allowed to, at the very beginning, we do a check-out afterwards, but where they’re allowed to share whatever they want. Like, how their day’s gone or something funny that happened to them or something they’re struggling with and they share it with the whole group. They don’t have to share and we talk clearly about how it stays in there and what happens is and what’s amazing to watch is that these students really open up and they share things about themselves and they share what they’re going through and it helps just to create that community of one, basically, that we’re not alone.
And then, we also do an activity called “Who Am I?” where the students walk around and then they think about who they really are – not just what the people, the teachers or what I think of them or what their parents think of them, but who they really are – and then, when they know, they share it with everyone and it is amazing how you do, like the check-in and the “Who Am I?” activities that, after those are done, just the first couple, like, the first time or the check-ins constantly, you really see people wanting to come through for one another and it changes the whole spectrum of the rehearsal process. It’s actually probably the most important thing I do with like the who are you and the daily check-in. I mean, some check-ins are completely ridiculous, but those are important, too, just as the meaningful, like, the really serious ones, too.
Lindsay: Well, yeah, you need that balance. It sounds like what you’re doing, too, is creating an atmosphere of trust.
Steven: Yeah, and you have to because, if you really want to transport your audience to the world of this show, that means that every single actor has to be in on that, too – that they have to trust each other to be able to take that journey with each other – because it can’t happen if, you know, a couple of people don’t feel like they’re involved or they don’t trust the other actors, they’re not working as hard. Because, if we can create that magic on stage, then we can create that magic for the audience, too.
Lindsay: Ah, it’s awesome.
Steven: So, we really push for that because it’s so much more fun to watch and it’s so much more fun to act when you actually feel that, like, “Wow! We created that magic tonight!”
Lindsay: For sure. Okay. So, what would you say is your biggest challenge with directing youth?
Steven: Well, I think the thing is that you want to. I actually talked to a parent a couple of days ago and he was seeing, like, they really try, because I really focus on the process, sometimes when I’m casting, I put actors in a position that they’re not necessarily ready for. Well, I know it’s going to help them grow if I get them there. So, I’m like, “Okay. You know, if the show doesn’t work, that’s okay because it’s a learning thing.” And then, you talk to parents and then they talk about other actor’s breakthrough and then you see or you hear them go, “I really want this for my kid, too. Like, I feel like they’re on the edge of something.”
Because, when I had this conversation with this dad, I thought about my own kids and I was like, “Okay. This is what we’re going to do.” And then, you want to get them all to that next level so it becomes so much more than about the play because it’s their life. It’s like they’ve chosen to spend this part of their teenage years or their childhood with you and you really want to come through for them to make sure you get to find all the talent they have and just get them ready for the next step – whatever that may be.
And so, that’s the challenge because, sometimes, you know, you look back and you go, “I could have done more with this student.”
Lindsay: Yeah, and it’s hard, too, when you put them in a position and they don’t always step up, you know?
Steven: Right. And it’s like I had this conversation with the play we did just recently where I told the lead, I was like, “You have the potential to pull off this role. You also have the potential not to pull off this role and you’re the lead. So, here’s your part. I’m going to work you and you’re going to do the work. But we’ll see what happens,” and you see their eyes grow big and they’re like, “Okay. I can do this.” She totally nailed it, too. She has huge breakthroughs. But, yeah, I’ve had it happen before where I put someone in that position and did, well, it didn’t go that well.
Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, and do you ever get the other thing where parents aren’t so interested in the breakthrough? They’re like, “Well, Jimmy should be the lead. Why isn’t Jimmy the lead?”
Steven: Oh, absolutely. But the way I deal with things, and I tell them, like, when we’re casting, I say, “Look, I promise you this: I will cast this play not of what’s necessarily best for you – except for those exceptions where you’re really pushing – but what is best for the characters.”
That’s what it’s about for me because I would never cast someone that had no chance to pull off a role and I tell parents that, too, when they come up to me. I’ve had parents come up and I was like, “Well, it’s not about your daughter because this person was better for the role,” and, you know, when they get that, some get angry and I was like, “But I put your daughter where she’s best. It may not be the biggest role but this is where she’s best at right now.”
Teaching middle school, I’ve dealt with some really interesting parents so I’ve had a lot of moments where you have to go, “You know what? It’s just better to deal directly with them and just be very matter-of-fact.
Lindsay: They’re coming from that emotional place and, if you match them, that’s not good. That’s just not going to end well.
Steven: Oh, yeah, because I found out in teaching middle school, too, like, I never yell as a teacher at all because it just never worked for me because, when I was growing up, my dad, when I was about to blow off a course in college. He called, I talked to him and I thought he was going to yell at me and it would have made me not care.
But, instead, he just said, “Just so you know, you can do whatever you want but I’m extremely disappointed in you.” And I was like, “Oh.” And then, I stayed up the rest of the night to do that paper and did not blow off that class only because of that. Like, I could tell that he cared and then I’ve used that in my teaching and parents see that, too. You know? That you care about their kids but there’s just some things you have to do.
Lindsay: I like putting it on the character because, well, there’s really no argument.
Lindsay: There’s just no argument. It’s like, “This is what is best for the characters.”
Steven: And having, you know, written most of them, too, they understand that I’m going, like, I like these characters so I want to see them represented well on stage, you know?
Lindsay: That’s right. Absolutely. Oh, you segue me so well! So, let’s get into, speaking of talking about your plays, you’ve got a new one with us and it’s called Ashland Falls. Do you generally do full-lengths when you write? You seem more like in the hour – or is it? Yeah, because She Wrote, Died, And Wrote Some More is a one-act. The Bottom of the Lake is a longer one-act.
And then, we’ve got this really full – and I mean that as in wonderful as opposed to full-length – piece called Ashland Falls which takes place at a high school and there’s a lot of mystery behind it. We have students who are putting on a play but it was mysteriously delivered and their original director disappeared and then there’s another director kind of shows up with an English accent and then mystery gets deeper and deeper and deeper.
So, do you usually do full lengths?
Steven: Not normally, and this one actually came out from the fact that last year was my first time teaching a three-week high school summer camp at UW-Madison so I was like, “I want to do something different than I do for my middle school.” And so, I was like, “I’m going to write a two-act. I haven’t written one before but let’s just do it anyway.” So, I was like, “What do I want it to be?” and, instantly, I thought of Noises Off because that was my favorite show to ever do, and I have a really funny story about that at some point about the rehearsal process. It’s really funny. So then, I was like, “I want to do the first act similar to Noises Off where it’s a rehearsal process. It goes awful.” And then, I’m obsessed with English accents and ghost stories so I was like, “Well, I want the second act to be an English ghost story then.”
Lindsay: Ah! Well, and it’s what you’re good at, and I love that it is very much inspired by Noises Off but it’s not a comedy and, well, except that it’s got so much humor to it but that second act is just very genuinely intense.
Steven: It is, and when the actors were working with it, because they were having a lot of fun with the first act, and then, the second act, and that’s where the challenge comes in as an actor because the vibe is totally different.
Lindsay: You have to switch gears very, very abruptly between act one and act two.
Steven: And it was so much fun for me to write, too, because, in the first act, you have hints of that they’re similar in a lot of different ways but, in the second act, you get to deal with some very serious life issues, like, non-directly and stuff which made me happy because I love when I see a play or when I watch something or I read something, that you’re getting all the different kind of emotions that we deal with on a daily basis. It was so much fun to write, too.
Lindsay: So, when you came to direct it, what were your challenges?
Steven: Well, basically, one of the challenges was to do a two-act play in three weeks where you only could rehearse in the afternoon for three hours because, in the morning, you were doing class.
Steven: That was the biggest part. And, also, like, when the summer came, you don’t know necessarily who’s going to be there and you have to cast on whoever signs up for the class.
Lindsay: Right, because, usually, in your studio, you have been working with a lot of your students for years.
Lindsay: So, you can write specifically to students. So, this is a much different situation where it’s a normal situation.
Steven: Exactly. Right! So, you knew that everybody in the class was going to get a part. So, I mean, you know, because I make sure the numbers where I needed a certain number of guys and, you know, girls – I needed that. But, other than that, it was just going, “Okay.” So then, we had, basically, that one day for auditions and then you have to cast people where, you know, you’re making judgment calls on “where could they go?”
Lindsay: I find it really rewarding when I write something and then I go see it and I’m like, “Well, I never saw it that way,” and how awesome is it that it can be interpreted that way and it can be that the text supports it meaning you’ve done a good job. How is that when you put your hands, your work in hands of people that you weren’t quite sure and then it came to life?
Steven: Well, I love it, like, when the actors make your work better than it is which is one of the things that I’d go, “Oh, wow! You just made that way better. You took that writing to a whole new level,” and that’s really fun to see, especially when you have that, like, very first draft to something, and it’s fun when they interpret it a way that you, like, when I’m reading all the characters out loud and, you know, in the early stages, and then they take it in a brand new direction and you’re like, “That is really cool!” So, there was a lot of compliments there. Like, I got to see those actors do that and then, some of the actors, I just got blown away, like, by the time of the performance because, you know, in a short amount of time, it doesn’t really come together until probably opening night, you know?
Lindsay: As it should be. That’s all right.
Steven: Exactly! It’s where you go, “How is it going to work out?” So, yeah, that was really cool and it was a lot of fun to do and to see it because the actors really enjoyed the fact that they got to have more fun, like, just goofy kind of fun, like, be high schoolers in the first act.
Lindsay: And then, just not. Be English aristocrats.
Steven: Exactly, yeah! And it was so cool because, when they first found out they have English accents, they’re like, “I can’t do one!” I was like, “All you have to do is get one close enough to play a high school actor who’s not actually British doing this accent.”
Lindsay: Did you do any exercises to help students sort of gain confidence with those accents?
Steven: We would practice. We’d go over various words on how they basically should sound. We would listen to a few dialect tapes but not a lot because we just didn’t have the time. So, it was really interesting. And we would do those were parts of our warm-up where a line that they were having trouble saying and then they would just go for it because really what I pushed is basically the character stuff because, in that second act, they have to really – well, in the first act, too, but in a different way – in the second act, they have to develop that character.
Like, why is that character the way they are? Why did they get to this point that all of this stuff is happening? And I was like, “And then, what’s going to happen is, the more you know about the character, basically, the accent’s just going to come from that because you’ve got it already in you because of the little practice we’ve done. But, also, you’re playing that character and everything else is just going to blend together if you push it enough.” And then, they did.
Lindsay: Well, it’s a multi-layered thing because, if we connect to who those characters are when you’re the actors and then we want to see and we see the little snippets of who they are in the play within the play and then we see them – and then, of course, because it’s a full-length – things happen at the end of act one. And then, we get to act two where they’re playing the character in the play, we have to have connected to them.
Lindsay: So that we are on for the ride.
Steven: And the only way that can happen, it’s like you brought up, for the actors to connect, and that connection actually happens in rehearsal because, you know, the connection that the actor forms with the character can’t happen on opening night. The work had to be done beforehand.
Lindsay: And all that stuff we’ve been talking about – character profiles, just community building.
Steven: Oh, yeah, and because it’s so many things factor in to creating that, you know, the magic on stage – so many things – and it’s just fun, like, all of the process. If you look at all of the variables that just go into creating a show, it’s really cool.
Lindsay: I like it. It’s kind of the reason I’m in this field. I think so.
So, just before we go, what advice would you give to a director who’s looking at your play Ashland Falls?
Steven: I think the main thing is to just go into it and look at it first, the first act and second act, completely differently. But then, just go into creating, like, spending a lot of time on character development and that they have two distinct characters that they’ve got to create. But allow the character actors to explore and really work on developing that community where they feel, all the actors feel safe with one another and that they’re all on the same page and just to make it a journey.
Like, go, “We’re about to embark on a journey that’s really, really awesome. It’s going to be serious at times. It’s going to be funny at times. It’s going to be scary at times. It’ll never be boring.”
Lindsay: It’s a rollercoaster.
Lindsay: It’s a rollercoaster.
Steven: As we create this world and just go with that because they really, I mean, once you set it out like that, the actors just jump at it and you’re like, “All right. Let’s do this,”
Lindsay: Yeah, yeah, let’s do it! It’s awesome.
Steven: Hey. Can I tell you my Noises Off rehearsal story?
Lindsay: Of course!
Steven: Because it’s pretty awesome and painful. It’s ridiculous, too.
So, I did it, originally, like, a year after college and we had such a great cast that we’re like, “Ten years later, let’s all get back together and do it again.” So, we did! Because I figured, like, it would just be talk. But we did. We got all together and then, one weekend, we had a rehearsal, or one week we had a rehearsal and then we were going to get back and perform it a month later. So, I was Gary which meant I had to fall down the stairs.
And, when I got there and I saw the set, it was all, like, the stairs were really small and really steep and wooden and sharp because it wasn’t finished. And, if I fell down the flights of stairs right, when I got close to the bottom, there were two drops – to the left, there was a six-foot drop, to the right, there were three steps and I’d be happily laying there at the end.
Lindsay: I can see where this is going.
Steven: Exactly, right? So, during the last rehearsal, I have done perfectly well. I mean, I was covered in bruises because of the way the steps were built but, the last time, I started going all the way down the stairs and I’m like, “Oh, whoops! I have now lost control of my fall.” Had no control over it at all so I fall off the other side, fall six feet and landed on my back. So, the other actors, I think, think I’m dead and I’m just like, “Uh, hey, uh-huh… keep going, I’m good.” So, we kept going and I’m in serious pain.
And then, after the rehearsal is over, the director – one of my friends, too – he looks at me, he goes, “That was a good fall.” I’m like, “Thanks.” He goes, “Can we keep that fall for the show?” I’m like, “Are you serious?” He’s like, “Yeah, it looked really good,” and I was like, “Okay?” So, when we did the show and we had one more, I guess, one more rehearsal, I had to fall off the six-foot drop each time and it worked though because it did look really, really cool. But, man, it was painful.
Lindsay: Ah, it’s only good if it hurts. As my friend says – my friend who’s an aerialist – it’s like, “All the good tricks hurt.”
Steven: That’s right!
Lindsay: Awesome. Okay. So, thank you so much, Steven! It’s a really great conversation. I think it’s really good to just get out there about directing and what it’s like to build a community and how important characters are. Actually, I think those are the only two things as a director of high school or middle schoolers – community, character – that’s it.
Lindsay: You know what?
Steven: And that’s where the most fun, too.
Lindsay: Oh, yeah, absolutely! And so, Ashland Falls, and that’s Ashland Falls by Steven Stack. We will have the link in the show notes so that you can go and read the wonderful sample pages because it is a rollercoaster – I think that’s the only way to describe it, with an accent! So, you know, awesome!
Thank you so much!
Steven: Hey! Thank you!
Thank you, Steven!
Don’t forget; you can find the links for this episode at theatrefolk.com/episode88.
Before we go, let’s do some THEATREFOLK NEWS.
So, what have we been doing? What is new? Well, there was an in-depth blog post last week about preparing middle school students to perform monologues; we did a Google Hangout, Drama Teacher Hangout all about finding, choosing, and performing monologues; and there was – well, now I’m tooting my own horn, I was just about to say “pretty awesome” – okay, well, I like it and I think it’s okay – it’s a shark tank meets monologue exercise. You can find all the links to all of these in the show notes, theatrefolk.com/episode88, and you may have guessed, April is all about the monologue. Monologue, monologue, monologue, and we are going to have something pretty special coming your way later in the month. Stay tuned.
Finally, where, oh, where can you find this podcast? We post new episodes every Wednesday at theatrefolk.com and on our Facebook page and Twitter. You can find us on YouTube.com/Theatrefolk. You can find us on the Stitcher app and you can subscribe to TFP on iTunes. Go there, search on the word “Theatrefolk.”
And that’s where we’re going to end. Take care, my friends. Take care.