Fourteen and half hours. that beats my personal record by thirty minutes. almost thirteen years ago, when I had returned from the one and only trip ive ever taken to italy, I slept for fourteen hours. that's understandable, 9hr flight, two layovers, long trip. this time, the drive was much shorter, about six and a half, but the week that preceded this episode of slumber was derserving of such a long rest.
KCACTF, XLI. for those that don't know, Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Forty-one. The setting? CSU Fullerton. When? last week, Feb 10 through the 14th. What? the short version? colleges from five different states, guam, and american samoa for Region VIII's week long extravaganza of theatre students, faculty, visitors, and general lovers of the craft. Why? well…let the story begin.
Fall of 2007 I had signed up for Principles of Directing with Big Ed Trujillo to learn about the process of Directing, what directors look for, and well, my main reason, to learn about directing so I can be easier to work with as an actor. What came about was a new aspect in the industry that I love that I discovered I was able to succeed in. A couple of classroom directing scenes that semester, and well, time to start presenting publicly performing scenes. Spring Semester, 08. Advanced Student Directing Projects, mentored by Nicole Hess-Diestler. alongside zarif, cyle, armando, chance, aman, and dori, we all grew as aspiring directors. My first chapter of that semester involved an arena drama with a fantastic group of actor-mackenszie, kaela, mariel, jordan, and kelsey. The rehearsal run and performance taught me so much about myself as a director. I discovered that, being an actor first, my strength lies in character development, establishing relationships, and well, constructing an indestructible level of cohesion and professional among the group. Whether an actor hates me or loves me, for whatever reasons they possess, the actors come ready to work, often when they are not called, just so they can participate in the process. The second half of the semester brought even more work with Christopher Durang's A Stye of the Eye, Pat Montley's Madrigal in Black and White, and Assistant Directing for Ed's compilation, The Clash and Celebration of American Cultures. ladies and gentlemen I worked with were fantastic and understanding, especially with having to re-cast a lead in Stye at the last minute, and having a first with an all-female cast in Madrigal. As the semester went on, my confidence as a director had grown, my versatility in strengths had increased, and I was becoming more aware of points to work on and ways I can grow.
Then it was posted in the green room--The Student Directing Project for 2008-2009 school year would be Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train by Stephen Adly (not Adley) Guirgis. none of us had heard of it, but I wanted it, as did Armando, Cyle, and Bryan. After reading it, I knew I wanted to direct it more than I have wanted to play any role or direct any other play I had read thus far. The characters were deeper than any others I had read of, the play was contemporary, intense, and soulful…like a young Al Pacino. This was also the first play I had ever read that I didn't look at as an actor, I was in complete director mindset, and I knew I wanted it--bad. In order with the application process posted, I had submitted an application letter to the Search [for a Student Director] Committee, and prepared for my presentation/interview. The letter induced a level of professionalism in myself I had not accessed since I've moved back here and started school. A level that was as common as breathing when I was in the Navy, a level that many had not taken me for with my disney tattoos, TMNT jackets, and little yapper dog attitude.
Last week I had said, "eighty percent of professionalism is a handshake and remembering names" and well, that's how I roll. The presentation of my vision pitch for the Drama Faculty had gone well, and the next morning, as I sat and smoked a cigarette before class on the back patio, I was asked, "So, would you like to direct 'Jesus'?" And with my eyes I had answered before the words, "um, ok!" could escape my mouth. This is exactly what I needed. My faith in my own personal talents in theatre had started to wane, and being selected by professors whose opinions I value and respect, gave me a boost I needed deeply.
And so, the journey began, and alongside Nikki and Megan, we began to lay out tracks for a train whose journey we had no idea how long it would be. Fast forward--auditions. Probably the easiest part of the entire process. If you saw the show, you know how it played out. Nathan Smith, Inmate #1/Guard "Ricardo", Andrew Banks, Inmate #3/ Guard "Brutus", Meredith Slater-Peyton, Mary Jane Hanrahan, Dan Rubio, Charlie D'Amico, Mackenszie Drae, Officer Valdez, Armando Ramirez, Angel Cruz, and Michael Alexander, Inmate #2/Lucius Jenkins. Myself as Director, Nicole Hess-Diestler as Faculty Advisor, and I cannot forget to mention, Megan Adele Howe.
I had ideas and visions for where I wanted the show to go, the messages, the character, the highlights, and the low points, and each and everyone one of the actors to their character, built it up, developed it, and made it proliferate to levels I had not fathomed. Sure, yes, as with any show, there were bumps in the road, and walls that needed to be scaled, but each and every one of the stood up to the task at hand and literally owned it and made it their own. Before our first read through I had told them, "we are not playing characters, you're playing peoples lives, they aren't real people, but they need the depth and background as if they were" it's easy to play a character, a caricature, a cutout, but these actors took their scripts and asked questions, gave them personalities, voices, mannerisms, catch lines, and lives. The show that had congealed among the cast and crew had been maginificent.
Of course, it was not just them, Tim Nottage, Ricky Kerckhove, Martina Jeans, Lavale Davis and Jordan Delong all contributed as well to their technical design aspects, and everyone has their highlights. This production, with Scott Heiden had all designed not just an environment, but a world, a true-to-life setting in which this chapter of life at Riker's would unfold before our eyes. Some have told me that the lights and set would ring true to them, one lady from the festival had told me that the sound of the cell doors closing reminded her of the ten different doors she had to walk through as a child just to visit her uncle in prison. Each facet of this technical world was constructed in such a way to engage, captivate and hold the audience to be a part of our world.
And so, after a successful two week run at home, we find out that we are one of ten shows invited to perform at KCACTF XLI out of hundreds of associate productions. This was a DVC first. No other show in Diablo Valley College history has ever been given the opportunity to perform before our region, and the 'A' Train crew deserves it. Some had been to festival before, others, including myself, had not, but we were all excited beyond words to discover that we are all invited to come together and show the others what we had worked so hard to create.
And so, alongside 30 or so other students, DVC brings a gang of 40 students and two faculty members to the festival. cars, vans and a truck with the set and luggage drive down to CSU Fullerton last monday to get ready for XLI. The festival had not even started yet, but the buzz had already begun about "Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train."
I had no idea what to expect, being my first festival, I was excited and wide-eyed awaiting the gargantuan opportunity before all of us. Some were auditioning for Next Step, Irene Ryan Auditions, I was participating in the inaugural SSDC Directing event, Will had his make-up design in the running, and well, any combination of any of the aforementioned events, and others I hadnt mentioned. 'A' Train started the week, first to load in and perform, and so, the week began. the cast members were being recognized all over campus, the buzz was growing, and well, after the third and final performance of our baby Jesus, all we could do was wait. Our response was fantastic, the stories were clear, the characters were well developed and were all round amazing. the set, lights, sound, and costume were all touted to hold their own and do nothing but good things, adding to the already magnificent story.
Since october, 'A' Train had grown as a family, and here, despite the fact that were not the only DVC members there, we had all stuck together, well, except for me--I was busy running around to different workshops and responses, networking my butt off. other student directors, designers, stage managers and actors from throughout our region, American River College, BYU, CSUF, Fresno State, Southern Utah, and elsewhere. When else would I have the opportunity to meet and talk with people from outside my small circle of experience here in the east bay? exactly. Meeting others from other community colleges we shared a struggle, a form of racism, but, the level of education was our race. Collegism I guess you could call it. some, not many, but enough to piss me off, looked down on us, as if we were maimed, unable, or simply too dumb to be able to participate or even comprehend what a "university" student was doing. so what, we had a show here, and half of the SSDC directors were from DVC, ARC, and MiraCosta, all community colleges…what was that? community what? right. community COLLEGES. point taken. To use a common analogy from last week, we were "the kids playin stickball, traveling to the big leagues" stickball or not, if you're playing in the big leagues, you're obviously doing something right.
Many of us received call backs for Next Step, none of the candidates for Irene Ryans advanced to the semi-finals, and I did not advance into the finals for SSDC event, but Amy, Ellery, and Ricky, thank you for working so hard to show them what we can do. Will Katzman however, advanced to the Make-up design finals, and ended up winning as the regional winner to advance to the Kennedy Center for his design for Frankenstein. Congratulations, Will! you deserve it, your work and art are phenomenal!
The big question for 'A' Train was, how and when do they announce who is going to DC for the national festival in april? friday night I found out--after the Irene Ryan winners are announced, they will mention which of the six invited shows are being held for consideration to go to DC. Four were held, and we were not one of them. However, Michael Alexander did win the award for Best Performance IN THE ENTIRE FESTIVAL. over everyone, his portrayal as Lucius Jenkins struck so strongly in the hearts of adjudicators, judges, and respondents, and he was bestowed this great honor in the most competitive region in the nation. Congratulations, Michael, it is well deserved, and I'm glad you earned it.
And so, this is the end of the line for our production of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. I'm not mad that we aren't going, and I'm far from disappointed in the cast. If anything, I'm proud beyond words that we even made it this far. I learned so much about myself, as a director, as a person, a friend, a colleague, and an actor. Like I explained to a couple people saturday night, "it's like an audition. you prepare as much as you can. you polish and clean and prepare. but when you say 'thank you' and bow out, it's out of your hands. we did all that we could, and well, this is what happened" This is not the end for any of us, nor should it be, if anything, this production will launch all of us into realms we had not thought of before we started on this journey. I will say that I feel just as important to this show as you should, this is not "my show" nor does it belong to anyone, not even Stephen Adly Guirgis. It is his play, and his text, but I had a vision, the DVC Faculty believed in me to drive it, and like I told many of you, I feel like Danny Ocean, running around town recruiting the best at their task to complete a job that no other group can the same way we did. You're all important, you all have a specialty, and we all came together as classmates, friends, and family members to put forth the best show I've ever been a part of. we all made this happen, and I'm proud to say that I'm a part of it. and even though we were not considered for DC, hell, it's "just DC." we've already shown ourselves and hundreds of other people this powerful work and how it can affect your lives, let's allow ourselves to ring that through our own lives, even without the script.
Congratulations cast and crew of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, and thank you to everyone who participated in any way, audience member, tech, house manager, walking billboard. It's been a long road, and I will never forget this once in a lifetime experience. it's, well, irreplaceable. let me use a few words from the script to close this off. this isn't the last time you'll see me work, and I hope this isn't the last time any of us does. never let go of this experience, but don't hold on so tight you can hold onto anything else. but remember:
"people think everything is replaceable. everything is not replaceable. people believe they go through life accumulating things. that is incorrect. people go through life discarding things, tangible and intangible, replaceable and priceless. what people do not understand is that once they have discarded an irreplaceable item, it is lost forever..."