Rocki Hudson: Stage Manager, Center Stage

By Jay Hemphill

Attend IU Theatre’s production of Three Sisters and you will witness talented theatre students breathing life into some of Chekhov’s classic characters.  Someone you won’t see on the stage, someone who is just out of view in the shadows, is the show’s stage manager Rocki Hudson.

Rocki (aka Rochelle) Hudson is a lover of lasagna, pandas, Costa Rican vacations, ice cream (even though she says she is lactose intolerant), and the color purple. Currently a junior at IU, she is majoring in Theater and Drama with a specialty in stage management.  Originally from Indianapolis, Rocki was first introduced to theatre in the 6th grade, when she saw a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

When preparing for life after high school, Rocki had not planned on attending IU or studying Theatre and Drama. Inspired by her own personal struggles with dyslexia and her special education teachers, Rocki initially planned to major in Special Education/Primary Care.  However, after participating in a Groups Scholars summer program, her plans changed.  During the six-week program at IU, Rocky took a theatre class.  In the class she was introduced to some MFA and BFA students and worked as an assistant stage manager (ASM) for a production of The Colored Museum.

In her time at IU, Rocki has stage managed for several productions. On the IU Theatre mainstage she has worked as an ASM for The Drowsy Chaperone, Dancing at Lughnasa, and Macbeth. She has also stage managed several independent productions, including The Tempest and These Shining Lives.

When asked to name her favorite IU production, Rocki promptly says, “Three Sisters, definitely.” Continuing on, she explains, “Because I get to play a major role in a mainstage production, with all the responsibilities that entails.  This production has taught me a lot about myself and allowed me to utilize the stage managing skills and knowledge I have acquired at IU.”

Stage managing her first mainstage show hasn’t come without its challenges. “One of the hardest parts about of being a stage manager is balancing all the personalities,” said Hudson. “For example, in Three Sisters there are 17 actors, two musicians, three assistant stage managers, and two directors.  As a stage manager, it is my job to understand everyone’s needs and quirks, and how best to communicate with them.”

As she nears the halfway point of her junior year, Rocki is making plans for her future. After visiting Las Vegas with Trish Hausmann’s class last year, Rocki was drawn to the city and its large scale productions.  Following her graduate, she hopes to relocate to Las Vegas and work at one of the big casino theaters, stage managing for shows like Cirque du Soleil or Blue Man Group.  Graduate school is also in her future.  After taking a gap year, Rocki would like to pursue her MFA in Stage Management at UNLV.

Rocki’s advice for other theatre students, or anyone considering a career in the theatre, “Just go for it. I did.  Someone else saw something in me and said, “You might be good at this.”

Jay Hemphill is a first-year M.F.A. actor who will appear as “Mrs. Bumbreck/Teacher” in the upcoming Peter and the Starcatcher at the end of October in the Ruth N. Halls.
Jay has appeared in productions at Indianapolis’s Phoenix Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, and 2016 IndyFringe Festival, and at Music Theatre Louisville and Clarence Brown Theatre. 
Jay is from Indianapolis, IN.

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Theatre Geek of the Week: Elizabeth Allen

Theatre Geek of the Week is a new IU Theatre blog series where you can meet some of the wonderful students, faculty and supporters of IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance!

Meet Elizabeth Allen!

1.  What do you do at IU, and why do you do it?

I am a stage manager here at Indiana University, and I honestly can’t imagine what I would be doing if I weren’t a stage manager. I have been stage managing since I was in 7th grade. Ever since I realized I could pursue this as a career, I’ve known that I wanted to stage manage professionally. Part of what I love about the program at IU is that there is no graduate stage management program, so undergraduates like me get the opportunity to work on full-scale productions from freshman year on.

 

2.  When did first you realize you were a theatre geek?

I don’t know that I had any light-bulb moment of realizing I’m a theatre geek, but I think definitely the moment I started making puns about Shakespeare was the moment I became one of “those theatre people”. But no specific “Shakespearience” made me realize it.

3.  What is your favorite thing about the theatre, and why?

I think my favorite thing about theatre is its ability to suspend your reality for two hours, where the only focus is on this insanely collaborative and dedicated group of artists pulling a story out of thin air. Our ability as artists to embody these characters and their stories and convey them in a meaningful way in such a fleeting manner is a very unique experience to the theatre. Nothing is more rewarding than pulling together a flawless show where the creatives, cast, and crew are all able to work effortlessly as a team to draw the audience into a two hour story they can never see exactly the same way ever again.

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Elizabeth at the Gaillard Center in Charleston, SC during her apprentice stage management job at Spoleto Festival USA this past summer.

4.  What is one project you’ve undertaken at IU that has taught you the most?

Last year, I worked on The Tempest with Henry Woronicz, whose incredible vision and knowledge of Shakespeare pushed our production to the next level. Our design team created a raked circular boardwalk with two large uneven sand mounds in the middle, and three aerial silks suspended above which were able to freely move stage left and stage right by our actors and fly up and down by our stage crew. Technically, this project was absolutely the most challenging show I’ve had the chance to work on, with safety being an omnipresent concern for the entirety of the production. It was also absolutely one of the most rewarding shows to present to audiences because of those challenges, and the hard work our team put into it. Seeing the final product was breathtaking, and it was such a fantastic show to work on and call.

5.  When no one is watching, what song do you love to dance or sing along with?

I’ve got a really great playlist called “Classic Jams” that I swear by, and will sing along with anytime anywhere. Those songs range from “Rocket Man” to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” to “Ignition”. So if the song is a jam, I’ll always sing along.

6.  Who in the theatre world inspires you, and why?

I don’t think I have one specific person in the theatre world that inspires me, but I think that the people who inspire me in this industry are the ones who are succeeding in what they are passionate about. Seeing people living their dreams because they put in the work and time is really inspiring to me, because it gives me hope that if I continue to work hard I can achieve my goals as well.

Elizabeth stage managing her 8th Grade production of “Cinderella.”

7.  Do you have any words of advice for new theatre students?

My advice for new theatre students is to get involved as soon as you can. The best thing you can do is throw yourself into your craft and learn as much as you can from the people around you. The sooner you can get involved, the more people you’ll meet, the more you’ll learn from the experiences you have, and the more you can determine what you really want to do moving forward in the theatre.

8.  What is one exciting project you are currently working on, or have coming up?

Currently I’m working on Peter and the Starcatcher, which opens at the end of October. I’m extremely excited for this project, it’s definitely got its unique challenges with such an imaginative and ensemble-focused script.

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H-T Review: ‘Three Sisters’ — a play broaching boredom — doesn’t bore

By Connie Shakalis

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Abby Lee, left, portrays middle sister Masha, and Meaghan Deiter plays the maternal eldest sister in the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance’s production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.”

Anton Chekhov’s four siblings, in his “Three Sisters”, want more than anything to move to cosmopolitan Moscow instead of staying stuck in their current puny town 18 miles from a railroad. So go already! Why don’t they?

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Julia Klinestiver as Natásha

This will always be one of the searing questions the play, written late in Chekhov’s short life, raises. The Prozorov family has the means to go; they have money, intelligence, health, connections. But they remain mired in their various disappointments and unfollowed dreams. The only character who attains her goals is Natasha (Julia Klinestiver), the uneducated local girl who marries upward and into the family.

Unlike members of the Russian aristocracy, which as the play begins has been declining, Natasha has the emotional tools she needs to follow through on dreams. Instead of lounging about sighing, deliberating and reading books or playing violins, she, as a good proletarian, rolls up her lace cuffs and works her plan. Nor is it a detriment to her goals that she steamrolls over anyone in her way.

“Three Sisters” was produced in 1901. When he wrote it Chekhov was suffering from illness, which would soon kill him, and it is gloomy. A central theme is the characters’ boredom with their chosen lives. Middle sister Masha, played movingly by Actors’ Equity member Abby Lee says, “Winter is a bore” and, another time, “I’m bored, bored, bored!” The sisters’ handsome brother, Andrei (Devin May), cautions, “Nobody should get married; it’s boring.” Youngest sister Irina (Tess Cunningham) blurts, “I’m bored and I hate that room.” The baron, played by a very likable Reid Henry, complains about the “God-awful boredom.”

But the production by the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance failed to bore me. Chekhov is glorious at pinning down personalities. I have known all these characters, in myself and others. Director Dale McFadden highlighted Chekhov’s fascination with the human condition and kept the pace active on Jeremy Smith’s appropriately sedate brown and tan set, graced by five bare (one “is dead”) birch trees. Katie Cowan Sickmeier dressed the soldiers in military green and the family in sepia-suggestive black, white and brown. An exception, of course, was Natasha’s unfashionably (to the three sisters) garish outfits. Defending her choice of belt color, she says, “It’s not really green. It’s more — greenish.”

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“Officers” Sean Puent, Nicholas Munson, Kevin Tognetti, Reid Henry and Ethan St. Germain

Zack Rocklin-Waltch as Kulýgin

IU freshman Zack Rocklin-Waltch was an endearing Kulygin, convincing himself that he loves his difficult wife, Masha, no matter what. Justino Brokaw showed his range of emotions and made a robust Chebutykin, the military doctor. Nicholas Munson was a rousing Solyony and added spark to the play’s darkness, talking about eating babies and drinking insect innards. Meaghan Deiter, was good as the maternal eldest sister with a continual I-do-too-much headache.

Julia Klinestiver was lovely as Natásha, and we could see why Andrei fell for her, at first. Later he says, “I can’t understand … why I used to (love her).” I wish their courtship scene had been longer, so we could see more of her transition from self-conscious teen to self-entitled matron. Natasha’s character is central to the story, and we need to absorb who she was before she changed. Her character is the contrasting backdrop against which all the other characters act. It is her cohort’s babies (we keep seeing poor Andrei push that stroller around) who will grow to be the new Russia.

Nicholas Jenkins played a kind and engaging Vershinin, and our hearts ached at his departure. Reid Henry was an earnest baron desiring the hand of Irina.

As usual, the Indiana University Theatre, whether or not we have siblings, keeps us thinking.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. See this review and more local arts coverage at heraldtimesonline.com.

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Check Out Chekhov!

By Greer Gerni

Production Dramaturg Greer Gerni

New to Chekhov? Avoided Chekhov’s work after hearing how boring it is? Maybe you’ve heard that nothing happens or maybe you’re wondering how a play written in Russia over one hundred years ago is worth your time.

I’ve heard it all. When I proudly proclaim that Chekhov is my favorite playwright I get plenty of stares and groans. Sometimes people are even shy to tell me that they don’t understand Chekhov for fear of offending me, or worse, sounding stupid.

Let me tell you a secret — I love Chekhov because I don’t understand his work entirely. For me, that’s thrilling. By now, one would think that I have him all figured out. I’ve read Three Sisters at least 100 times (I was recently asked to calculate the figure), I’ve seen at least 10 productions of the play, and have worked as an actor on every single one of the play’s female characters. On top of all of that, I’ve been working as the dramaturg for IU’s production of Three Sisters since Spring 2017. As a dramaturg, it is my job to research and contextualize everything within and around the play that may be useful to the production team. By this point, I am deeply saturated in the world of the play and probably know way too much about subjects such as the Russian educational system at the turn of the twentieth-century, the use of naphtha in early dry-cleaning and cloth preservation, and the distribution of military pensions in 1901. Even after all of this deep research, I still cry every time Tuzenbach tells Irina “I didn’t have any coffee this morning. Ask them to fix me some, will you?” (because I know what happens next and therefore what he may really want to say) and I still smile every time I make a new discovery about the world of the play (because after all this time there is still more to discover).

 An Example of Subtextual Complexities

What happens on the surface of the play: Vershinin moves to town to work as the new Battery Commander. He visits the Prozorov house where three sisters (Olga, Masha, and Irina) and a brother (Andrey) live. The girls exclaim in their excitement that he comes from Moscow (their hometown).

MFA Nicholas Jenkins as Vershinin

Some meaningful context of that simple moment:Vershinin is replacing the position that Sergei Prozorov (the father of Olga, Masha, Irina, and Andrey) held until he died exactly one year ago. Vershinin arrives in town on this anniversary of the death of his predecessor and comes to the home of his children (by invitation of a colleague and friend of the family). He comes from Moscow, with his wife and children, just as Prozorov had years before. Ever since the Prozorov children left Moscow, they have always talked about returning one day. The Vershinin family is the continuation of the very same cycle that brought them out of Moscow. Vershinin is exciting to the sisters because he comes from Moscow, and yet, it would seem that it might be very painful for them to invite him, their father’s replacement, into their home on the anniversary of his death. So why do they do it? And why do they focus on Moscow? Is it an example of how it is easier for them to deal with the past than the present? I think so. But in Chekhov, everything is complex and multidimensional. There can’t be only one meaning to anything.

To add yet another layer of intrigue — Masha falls in love with Vershinin, a man who has replaced her father in their town.

Woah. Suddenly a light moment just became very complex and dramatic. Chekhov packs as much into four acts as is packed into four seasons of your favorite TV drama.

Still not convinced? See for yourself.

So, how might you jump in and fall in love without the decade of research that has brought me to this point? Easy– check it out — without any expectations or preconceived notions of what you think the play should be.

Tess Cunningham (Irina), Meaghan Deiter (Olga), and Abby Lee (Masha)*

Look at the characters of the play beyond the setting of the play and the text that they say. Each character has a deep complex story to tell and their existence together and their relationships to each other create further complications.

Olga’s final line of the play “If only we knew” says it all — like life, Chekhov’s plays are complicated, but an adventure worth experiencing.

* Abby Lee appears by special permission of Actors’ Equity Association.

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Observing a Curious Incident

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By James Nelson

“I see everything,” says 15-year old Christopher Boone in Simon Stephen’s theatrical adaptation of Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Christopher is looking out a train window, and unlike the average person who glances and takes in a quick image of what they’re looking at, Christopher can count and describe every single object he sees in the distance: 19 cows, 32 houses, 3 different types of clouds… until the sheer act of taking in so much sensation overwhelms him and he wets himself on the train.

For a director, “seeing everything” is a sort of impossible ability you strive for in the rehearsal room. As you watch your play take shape, you want to notice every single choice that’s being made, and you want to imagine every potential choice that could be made. At the same time, you’re trying to monitor the overall effectiveness of your work, surveying the tone, pace, staging, etc. Of course you can’t actually “see everything”, but you can’t afford to stop looking, just in case that perfect piece of untapped theatre gold is waiting for you to discover it.

Also, for a director, it’s an absolutely fascinating experience to be in the rehearsal room for a play that you aren’t directing. Which is what I, along with my directorial colleagues Liam and Rachel, got to do over the last couple months for the Indiana Repertory Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeWe took part in an ‘observership’ (arranged between IU and IRT), which meant that the three of us drove up to IRT together, sat in on a few rehearsals over the span of a few weeks, and, well, observed.

Walking in to somebody else’s rehearsal room means you’re missing a lot of context: how the production has been introduced to the team, the initial discussions around the table that preceded the work, and what mistakes and discoveries have already been made in previous rehearsals, just to name a few. Also, you don’t have a clear sense of where the production is going because it’s not your production. So you’re simply watching one cross-section of a rehearsal process in a vacuum.

During the first rehearsal I observed, director Risa Brainin was refining a particularly interesting sequence, in which the character of Christopher travels to London all by himself, despite his fear of strangers and difficulty understanding transit systems. In this sequence, the ensemble of ten actors has to represent whole crowds of faceless people, all moving around the space quickly with different paths, and resetting frequently to populate the next environment that Christopher reached. It was a flurry of activity that was meant to represent the overstimulation that Christopher felt traversing the world.

While working the sequence, Risa would stop frequently, adjust one or two pieces of business, restart at the beginning, and run it again. The actors would often chime in their suggestions for how to make their own choreography more efficient, knowing full well that Risa couldn’t possibly have her eye on all ten of them at once. Even though I hadn’t seen the rest of the play, I could tell right away what the context of this scene was, and what Risa’s “rules” of her world were: this was going to be a play in which the actors worked as an ensemble to create a stylized reality, with Christopher being our lens to the world.

Where I saw the “director’s eye” most clearly in watching Risa’s work was in the direction of focus. At all times, despite the flurry of activity across the whole stage, my eye was clearly drawn to one event at a time: Christopher bumping into somebody, Christopher losing his pet rat, Christopher getting overwhelmed and curling into a ball while looming figures surrounded him. The actors knew when to draw focus and when to yield it, and their actions were very carefully arranged so that in the orchestra of movement, we could still hear a very clear melody. It was very impressive, focused, and complex work.

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Christopher (Mickey Rowe) makes his journey to London in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (Photo: Alexis Morin via Indiana Repertory Theatre)

We returned to the theatre the following week to watch a few hours of a technical rehearsal. The show is intensely tech-heavy, so it was a slow-moving process. The floor is lit from above along painted gridlines to isolate different areas of the space, and the setting immediately changes from scene to scene. The sound design is very integrated with the action of the play, and actors time their movements and lines to sound cues. Projections are timed with lines of dialogue as well. Because of the sheer amount of technical precision the show requires, we only saw the director work through less than 15 actual minutes of show time in the three hours of tech that we observed. Every last detail was being worked out: such as the way in which an actor laid a beach towel across a table so that it would take as little time as possible.

A few days after we sat in on tech, we attended the first preview of The Curious Incident, and it was exciting to see all the work culminate in an actual performance. As I watched the play, it was cool to see little details that had been worked in to the show during the rehearsals we watched. For example, on our first day, one of the actors randomly pulled out a Scottish accent for one of her small characters, much to the surprise of the leading actor (who broke out laughing in response). Sure enough, Scottish Lady became part of the finished product, like many other pieces that had been layered on in the few hours of rehearsal that we’d watched.

Even though our observership only entailed a few rehearsals and a performance, it was definitely a great way to see a professional director in process, including how Risa communicated with the actors, ran the rehearsal room, and worked toward creating a cohesive experience for her audience. It was an educational and exciting opportunity.

And, as an added bonus, I got to spend quite a few hours in the car hanging out with Liam and Rachel, who are the finest colleagues a director could ask for!

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The MFA directors unite! (From left to right: 2nd year James Nelson, 3rd year Liam Castellan, 1st year Rachel Hoey)

James Nelson is a second-year MFA directing candidate. He will be directing IU Theatre’s production of MACHINAL in Spring 2018 in the Wells-Metz Theatre.

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Theatre Geek of the Week: Sam Sanderson

Theatre Geek of the Week is a new IU Theatre blog series where you can meet some of the wonderful students, faculty and supporters of IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance!

Meet Sam Sanderson!

1. What do you do at IU, and why do you do it?

I am a BFA Musical Theatre major at Indiana University. I am studying this because I love musical theatre! I couldn’t see myself doing anything else to be honest!

2. When did first you realize you were a theatre geek?

I’ve been a theatre geek practically since the womb! I grew up with musicals playing in the house and with my family taking me to live productions – those outings always stuck with me! I guess I first knew I was a theatre geek when I kept on performing and obsessing over different cast albums while my siblings found different interests.

3. What is your favorite thing about the theatre, and why?

I love the chemistry between an audience and the action onstage. That’s what separates our medium from all others – what’s happening onstage is happening to the players and viewers in the moment, and no one can hide from that spark. It’s all live, and anything can happen!

4. What is one project you’ve undertaken at IU that has taught you the most?

I’d like to think that the project that teaches me the most hasn’t happened yet! I will say that all three of the main stage musicals I’ve been involved with have each taught very valuable lessons about character development, rehearsal etiquette, and how to balance schoolwork and rehearsal preparation! I should also mention that being in the ensemble of The Drowsy Chaperone really reminded me to stay focused and to remain open and flexible to changes!

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Sam Sanderson as Mr. McQueen in Urinetown.

5. When no one is watching, what song do you love to dance or sing along with?

“Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” as sung by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. I want that song played at my wedding.

6. Who in the theatre world inspires you, and why?

Joel Grey, Christopher Gurr, and Laura Benanti. Joel Grey is someone who I feel similar to artistically, Christopher Gurr is a character actor with a fabulous work ethic and is very comfortable with himself and his journey (not to mention the fact that he is a total sweetheart), and Laura Benanti just has the greatest sense of humor I’ve ever seen in another actor.

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Sam Sanderson and friends performing “Willkommen” from Cabaret in Ladek-Zdroj, Poland.

7. Do you have any words of advice for new theatre students?

You can really do anything you want here. These are your own four years, and you don’t want to look back with a woulda-coulda-shoulda attitude. You wanna sing? Sing! You wanna design? Fabulous. There are plenty of students, faculty, and other resources around who will be able and willing to help you!

8. What is one exciting project you are currently working on, or have coming up?

I recently closed Urinetown on the main stage! This November/December I’ll be working in Front Page Flo at the BPP! I’ve never been in a new work before, so I’m excited to get to explore something brand new. Plus, this musical will be a very fun way to close out the semester!

If YOU would like to be considered for Theatre Geek of the Week, we invite you to fill out our questionnaire (https://goo.gl/forms/bkJBWuR5KuHgV5yV2).

Come geek out with us!

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Faculty spotlight: an interview with our newest faculty members

By Rinjisha Roy

We are also excited to welcome two faculty members, Jenny McKnight and Hank McDaniel, to our IU Theatre & Dance community!

Jenny McKnight, Professor of Practice, Acting and Directing

This summer, SPEA Arts Admin graduate student Rinjisha Roy got an opportunity to speak with Jenny and Hank, and they are both excited and eager to be with us this year.

Jenny McKnight, who has performed as a company member of IU Summer Theatre for the last five seasons, is glad to return to Indiana University this Fall as Professor of Practice in Acting and Directing. In a brief meeting with her, she shared some interesting details about her background and interests. Below are excerpts from our conversation:

Tell us something about your background.

JM: I grew up mostly in Alabama and Florida, and then when I finished graduate school, I moved to Chicago and I lived there for almost twenty years. I worked there as an actor and director and then I started doing full-time teaching positions. Thereafter, I lived in Oklahoma City for a little while and taught at Oklahoma City University. Most recently, I was at the University of Arkansas which is in Fayetteville, Arkansas. So I have been all over the place, but primarily in the Midwest and the Southeast.

Do you remember how you became involved in acting?

JM: Yes. I remember when I was in high school and we moved – I was a sophomore then – from a high school in North Carolina that didn’t have a theatre program to a high school in Alabama that had a really strong theatre program. So after moving to Alabama, I started to get involved in it. I had a fantastic teacher and a lot of other great faculty members who did things like lighting design and costume design and supported the theatre and that was when I really started getting interested in it. Later, when I went to college, I majored in English and minored in theatre and then in graduate school I concentrated on theatre.

Did you have a favourite type of role that you enjoyed doing earlier, and a kind of role that you enjoy doing now?

JM: That’s a thing that I developed over the course of my career. When I was in high school, we did a lot of family friendly plays, a lot of musicals and I was always happy to be in those. As I got into the professional world, I got involved in new play development and that is one thing I really love. Being part of a new play that a playwright has just written and is perhaps doing workshops of that play to help spread awareness on the work before it actually gets produced. I like being part of that whole process, it’s really exciting to me. I also love American classic theatre found in works by playwrights like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Their works are always very exciting to me, and I enjoy being involved in something historical, but also uniquely American.

Within American realism, which are the works that stand out for you?

JM: I enjoy Tennessee Williams’ plays and one of the reasons I like him so much is that he writes women really well. He has a lot of really strong, interesting, complex women characters and now that I am getting older, I am finding he has a lot of older, strong, and complex women characters, not just young ingenues. I love the play The Night of the Iguana which has two very strong female leads that are very different from one another. His plays are interesting in terms of the female characters and the female dynamic – it’s usually either a woman who is very strong on the outside but very vulnerable on the inside or vice versa- someone that you think is very weak and sort of vulnerable, subservient but has actually a core of iron. I like that in his plays a lot.

Tell us about some of your most memorable roles.

JM: One that leaps to mind which I did maybe five years ago was a play called Clybourne Park by American playwright Bruce Norris. In that play, I played two roles and for me as an actor it was very challenging but also very rewarding, a lot of fun.

Jenny McKnight in IU Summer Theatre’s 2017 production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

I also love the opportunity to come here to do IU Summer Theatre because I get to play roles that I ordinarily probably wouldn’t get to play. IU Summer Theatre gives me the opportunity to do Shakespeare which I do not get to do a lot – I  have directed Shakespeare but I have not performed a lot of Shakespeare, quite unlike my husband who is a member of the company. I think he has done almost all the plays except for maybe four or five and I have done only four or five (laughs).

What are some of the works you are looking forward to do at IU?

JM: I am going to be directing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. There is a lot of buzz going on about that play right now. With the productions happening around the country, there is focus on the political nature of the play. For us, we will have to figure out how to illuminate the political elements of the play in a way that’s fair and interesting but that also does justice and honour to the original story of Julius Caesar. So I’m very much looking forward to teaming up with some great student actors, student designers and faculty designers to get that going.

Hank McDaniel, Visiting Assistant Professor, Voice and Speech

With Jenny, we are also happy to welcome Hank McDaniel, who has an M.F.A. in acting from Indiana University and is excited to join IU Theatre as assistant professor in Voice and Speech. In the following excerpts, Hank shares the kinds of roles he enjoys doing, and what he is looking most forward to at IU:

Tell us something about your background.

HM: I grew up with a father who was chairman of the Theatre Department at Tennessee. In college, I got my degree in performance and psychology and moved to Tuscany, Italy for about three years where I studied movement and taught English. I came back thereafter and tried my hand as a regional professional actor in different places in the country. After that experience, I decided – because of some of the teachers at the time – that IU was for me. Consequently I came here for my M.F.A. and then immediately moved to London where I got my M.A. degree from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Voice Studies. It was an intense program and I loved it. That is where I decided that I loved teaching. And when I was here, Nancy Lipschultz let me teach some undergraduate voice classes. She encouraged me later to audition to New York for Central School. I got into the program, went over there and have been acting and teaching for different Shakespeare programs around the country since. I have acted in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, here at IU Bloomington and also at Oklahoma Shakespeare Festival.

How did you find your true calling?

HM: Well, my father was involved with theatre but for a while, I tried doing everything for a living apart from what my father did because I thought, “Well, everyone expects me to be an actor!” But the problem is I really enjoyed it, and so couldn’t walk away from it. I would always find a job playing a character somewhere and I thought, “ Well, I keep coming back to this thing that I love so much.” I grew up going to the costume and prop shops when I was a kid. Also, my sister is in theatre, my parents were both in theatre in some way, and my brother is a nurse! We don’t know what happened to him [laughs]. So it is just a family thing and something I have always loved to do.

What sort of roles do you enjoy?

HM: I’m drawn to characters that are going through intense transformations, and that’s such a cop-out answer for every actor because if you read a script and the characters are where their transformation is strong,  it’s clear and they are easier to play. Since I’m rather tall, I have never been the leading man type of character simply because then you have to find a woman six feet or taller usually [laughs]! So far my favourite characters have been Prior Walter in Angels of America which I did here and I also loved to play Matt Poncelet in Dead Man Walking. I also like funny, silent characters like the stage manager in Noises Off. I also got to play the Friar in Romeo and Juliet and Brutus in Julius Caesar. When I was here my first year, they gave me a golden potato award and I don’t know if they still do that but this is an award that you get for being funny that they used to give out at drama prom. A golden potato is what they called it and in my first year, I played three bad guys, back to back. People wouldn’t walk down the same hall I did, because I would play a lot of bad guys.

Your interest then is in playing characters going through some kind of transformation, and not necessarily labeling them as good or bad.

HM: Yes, that is true. For example, we did Oklahoma here and I played Jud. Jud is usually played as a purely evil human being. However, I don’t think he is that- I think he is a guy who is trying to get by in the world and is really confused by the world he is put in. He does some horrible things but deep down I think he misunderstands what is going on. I have a lot of sympathy for that kind of character.

What are you looking most forward to at IU?

HM: Working with diversity is something that I am really looking forward to. I am also excited to work with the grads on their voices and I’m looking forward to working with Jenny McKnight and Nancy with the plays here. I am quite interested in looking at voices as identity, what is it that gives us the voice that we have. Somebody said that if your eyes are the window to the soul, then your voice is its mirror and I completely agree with that. I think about aspects of voice: the voice that we choose, is it purposely chosen or is it a product of the group of people you associate with, or because of something that happened in your childhood; how does breath inform identity; what does your voice say about you as an individual and how can we use those attributes to figure out character on stage. That’s my whole approach to voice and I also do a lot of research in minority voice as well, including lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer voice work. I was just doing a project with a transgender individual and he has started taking tea therapy. I have been documenting the change that his voice went through and it was fascinating. He is an incredibly open young man and to have that be a part of his gift to his trans community was just really humbling.

You can catch Hank McDaniel at Bloomington Playwrights Project in Beating a Dead Horse, now through October 14th.

We would like to thank Jenny and Hank for sharing their stories. Please take time to welcome them to IU Theatre & Dance!

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