By James Nelson
Just like that, my first year of grad school is over. It seems to have flown by, but I can’t even wrap my head around everything that I’ve done this year.
Actually, scratch that. I’m going to make myself wrap my head around it. Because before I came to grad school, I didn’t have a clear idea about what I’d actually be doing here, and for anyone looking into doing a similar program, it might be cool to see an example of how you’d spend your time.
So, here’s a recap of the first year of my MFA program:
-My big first-year project was a full studio production of a play I adore, Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation. It let me work with some incredible undergraduate actors, conceptualize a play for a unique theatre space with few resources, and engage with a challenging text that reveals its complexity the deeper you delve into it.
-I collaborated with 1st-year playwright Aaron Ricciardi on three projects: staged readings of his full-length plays Can I See Your Face? and Nice Nails, and a fully-produced production of his one-act play Resting Bitch Face. Working with Aaron was great experience in new play development and rehearsing with a playwright in the room.
-As a bonus project, I directed a production of a one-act play (Richard Greenberg’s The Author’s Voice) with several of my MFA actor colleagues.
-I took two directing courses: an intensive project-based course and a directing lab in which I received feedback in the rehearsal room while I worked with actors and produced two plays.
-I got to teach my first college theatre course, a section of Acting I. It made me realize the deep layers of technique that help new actors approach the work as a trainable craft, and helped me practice these fundamentals in a variety of ways.
-I took 8 weeks of period dance training, a couple specialty acting courses, a seminar on Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill, and an ensemble creation course with devised theatre elements.
-I took a Shakespeare course with Henry Woronicz, who is just a gem, and it helped me feel way more confident approaching and breaking down classical text.
-I had extensive training in stage combat and got to take a certification test in rapier/dagger and unarmed combat.
-I assistant-directed Dancing at Lughnasa, which oriented me to the casting, rehearsal, and production process of the main stage productions here.
-I worked in the marketing office, writing press releases and marketing materials for the shows.
-I took an oral exam over my 30 book/play reading list and a written exam covering 10 directing theory books.
Whew! There was a lot packed in to these nine months! And it only gets crazier from here on out: I’m directing for the main stage next season, and the reading lists and courses get more difficult from here on out.
Let’s go, Year Two: I’m ready for you! Uh, well, I mean, let me have a couple months off first?
See you in the fall, IU!