Student-led productions are taking the (virtual) stage this semester.Gloria Bontrager-Thomas, a third-year theater major, and Abigail Greaser, a fifth-year theater and music major, are preparing to direct productions for Goshen College’s 2021 Winter One-Acts performance.
Bontrager-Thomas is relatively new to directing, but not to the realm of theater. She is currently serving as stage manager for GC’s spring mainstage.
“I’m a stage manager by trade and practice,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in directing but haven’t really had the opportunity until now. I took a directing class last semester and was able to … learn the craft.”
Greaser has “dabbled quite a bit in directing” and views directing as a possible future career path.
Like Bontrager-Thomas, she is involved in GC’s spring mainstage this semester as assistant director.
“I’ve always been drawn to directing and acting,” she said. “I directed two shows when I was in high school and one show when I was at Eastern Mennonite University and I directed the winter one-acts two years ago.”
Greaser also undertook an internship this past summer to further her interest in the profession.
“I worked with Wabash College and assistant directed a production,” she said. “It was super motivating and super awesome and made me feel even more drawn to the directing path as far as future careers.”
In order to direct the winter one-acts, Bontrager-Thomas and Greaser had to write a show proposal detailing almost every aspect of their plan for the productions.
“It specifically outlined why we thought we should do [each] specific show,” Greaser said. “How we were going to alter them to meet COVID-19 protocols, what our schedule would look like [and] why we were interested.”
The next step in the process was choosing the one-acts that would be performed.
“A bunch of people submitted [one-acts],” Bontrager-Thomas said. “They were sent to a panel from the theater department and chosen from there.”
Bontrager-Thomas will be directing “Smiling in Place” by Dale Dunn, which she describes as a play that “really gets into the harder stuff.”
“[Dunn] uploaded this play to a website where playwrights upload mini scripts for people to [perform] in their homes during quarantine,” said Bontrager-Thomas. “It’s about COVID-19; it’s about people in quarantine going through that now.”
Greaser will be directing “I’ve Hit an Iceberg” by Danna Call. She chose this production in part because she “felt like it was really workable for 6-feet-apart acting.”
Bontrager-Thomas and Greaser have both had to take COVID-19 restrictions into account while planning their productions. For the safety of her actors, Bontrager-Thomas is conducting initial rehearsals completely over Zoom.
“But when we do move to in-person rehearsals,” Bontrager-Thomas said, “we’ll stage it 6 feet apart, make sure the blocking [has] people crossing at different times … take 30 minute breaks, switch rooms when needed, and [wear] masks all the time.”
Although COVID-19 has made live theater a challenge, Bontrager-Thomas and Greaser both view the opportunity to direct one-acts this semester as an important part of their theater education.
“I think that theatre is just so tactile and hands-on as a trade that there is no other way to learn to do it … other than to do it,” Greaser said.
“Whether you feel prepared to or not, you just kind of have to jump into it. So for aspiring directors, you can look at all of the theory and say, this is how I would run it, but … it’s so different in a rehearsal. I think it’s really, really important to give that opportunity to your peers, to have that power and control over the creative process and to get to conceptualize something and see it from start to finish.”
“It also gives students a way to practice in a safe, controlled environment before you get out into the world,” Bontrager-Thomas said. “It gives you a chance to try out new tactics on others … and get feedback from advisors, and you’re able to make the mistakes that you can make now and correct them.”
Greaser wants to see Goshen College offer even more opportunities like this to students: “The more ways that people can get involved, the better.”