The New Visions, New Voices festival is presented by the SMU theater department every spring. It is entirely student-run: the playwrights, directors, and actors are all undergraduate theater students. Amelia, a director, journals about her experiences directing her fellow students. She is directing Locust, a play about the nature of war, specifically the genocide in Sudan.
Now that New Visions New Voices is over I have been able to catch up on rest and think about how the process went. I can see parts of rehearsal that I could have done better — giving the actors more freedom to explore before setting blocking, asking questions that have open endings rather than implied answers, etc.
As I grow as a director I will continue to look back over the LOCUST rehearsal time with ideas about what I could have done better. Regardless of what I would do differently now, I have no regrets about the process. I feel that I became a better communicator, a more precise decision-maker, and a more courageous artist.
In a way I was blessed to be given a show with such immediate need and social/personal responsibility. The genocide in Sudan always put my work in perspective, no stress of mine was greater than that of a person living in Darfur. I think this is partly why the cast bonded as well as they did, no problem seemed great when compared to the problems of the characters they played. Our common goal was worth all of the hard work.
And it's not over yet! SMU's branch of Amnesty is hosting a conference about Darfur next fall, and we are talking about doing LOCUST at the conference. This kind of collaboration is exactly what I want to be doing with my life. I believe that good storytelling is the most effective way to stir change in a community.
I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity to tell such a powerful and vitally important story.
Meetings and emails about the play consume all of the "spare" time I have: talk to the costume designer about the head pieces in the second act, email the IRC about setting up a table in the lobby, email the producer about program notes.
Thoughts of notes for the actors pop up unexpectedly in my head all day long: tell Jenny she needs to crawl rather than stand after she enters in the fourth scene, move the actors upstage in the second first scene of the second act so they can be seen better, work with the actors on this scene to reach a the climax that the text requires, etc.,etc.,etc.
I am both ready and terrified for the show to open. Part of me wishes I could have another week to work on the show, but another part of me knows that the timing is perfect and we are all ready. This is the part where I start to let go of the "control" of the director and become an audience member.
As soon as Marlon's play Locust was chosen to be produced as a New Visions New Voices show, I got a phone call from our playwrighting professor and New Visions, New Voices producer, Gretchen Smith, asking me if I would like to take a look at the play and consider directing it. Each of the playwrights gets to select a director they would like to work with, and Marlon chose me. I read over the script that night and gave Gretchen a call, telling her I would love to be the director of Locust.
Accepting the offer was an easy decision for me because I respect Marlon as an artist. I immediately fell in love with his style and sensitivity in writing, and I felt a need to produce a play with such a powerful message.
Locust is a play about the nature of war, specifically the genocide in Sudan, and its affect on the entire world. Marlon so beautifully illustrates the humanity in the center of war in order to point out that basic human needs and emotions are both the differences that divide us and the similarities that unite us. Marlon tells this story through day-to-day glimpses of life in the states and in Darfur, he couples these scenes with strong choral odes that move us through the story with reminders of the essentials of humanity and the distractions of society.
Beginning work on this play was both intimidating and exciting. I dove into research about the conflict in Darfur and began searching for the "why" of the play. In order to direct this play with sensitivity that will stir hearts rather than bash them with guilt, I needed to find out what question the play was asking, rather than what statement it was making. A question sends us into thought, and thought into action, but a statement is often just filed away in a to-do list or a "someday" drawer. Thus, my first task was to figure out what question this play made me ask about myself as I read it.