UVa Drama

One of my favourite things about being here is the amount of theatre I’m able to do. As well as doing stuff with student drama organisations, like I do back home, I can also get involved with the drama department shows, which have big budgets and professional faculty, and also take classes in the department. Last semester I took a Directing class which was great, and this semester I’m taking Senior Seminar, which is even better.

Senior Sem is a class for fourth-year drama majors in their final semester and is meant to be the culimation of their college drama career. I was very lucky to be invited to join it by the professor, who had taken me for Directing. The class varies each year in content but this year we’re devising our own 30 minute performances in three groups. After spending the first week or so talking and watching interviews with theatre professionals we spent a couple of weeks learning about devising methods and exercises from one of the Acting grad students who has lots of professional experience in this field. Then we were split into our groups and have had three sessions so far working on our pieces. And it’s going amazingly.

I’m very fortunate with my group. Three of us have specific jobs – a Production Stage Manager, an “Outside Eye” (like a director but more of a general facilitator and decision-maker) and a “Text Architect” (to help shape and structure the play that emerges through our exploration). I’m lucky to be the Outside Eye for our group, and my Text Architect is a very talented guy who has already written numerous plays and had one performed by the department last semester. Everyone else are general actors and they are all great. In my previous experience of devising it has taken weeks to come up with a solid idea, hours of frustrated discussion and has generally been very difficult. This time we came up with our idea within the first five minutes, all loved it and are running with it. It also helps that I and my group are a fair bit older than the last time I did devising, with significantly more tools at hand: acting exercises, methods of working, a greater understanding of theatrical styles, etc.

One exercise I hadn’t heard of until recently is Viewpoints, which is pretty non-existent in the UK but is a major way of working over here. It’s very hard to explain but is an acting exercise to essentially examine your kinaesthetic response to your surroundings and the people around you, using the basic tools of gesture, shape, tempo, space, and more. It gets you to stop thinking too much and just see what your body does, and can generate ideas for character, story or blocking. We did it as a class a few weeks ago and my group had decided to use it today, and I was a bit sceptical, not fully understanding it (also it can seem a bit wishy-washy and meaningless). I did a lot of research about it but still didn’t really get it. We did it this afternoon and I still don’t completely (at least not the ‘proper’ Viewpoints technique) but it was incredibly useful and eye-opening to watch. Trying it along to specially selected songs and with vague ideas of character and emotion in mind, a ton of interesting and constructive material came out of it. So I’m now a bit of a convert, in this context anyway. Later this week we’ll be doing some good old-fashioned character exploration and improvisation, which I’m much more ¬†familiar with!

I’m so ridiculously lucky to be here doing this, and as part of an American Studies degree! And I am, of course, fully aware that this kind of drama work is going to be much more useful to my career than reading about the American Industrial Revolution or whatever. But that was always my plan.

I’m also doing the play ‘Vinegar Tom’ in the department, and we’re half way through the run. My job is to operate the automated trap/lift, which is fairly easy but important enough to feel useful! I don’t love the play but it’s a very good production and the cast and crew are all really friendly. Although it takes up every evening, it’s great to get into a routine with a show, knowing what you have to do and where you have to be and feeling like you’re part of a team. All stuff I miss when I’m not doing one.

So this hasn’t been particularly newsy or image-filled, so I apologise – the motivation to write a post doesn’t often strike, but today it did since I needed to spill out my feelings about how awesome what I get to do here is. I’m dreading leaving more and more every day.

Theatrical love,

Natalia xxx

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