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“Camille, do you have a pencil? Not a mechanical one, a regular pencil.”
Senior Camille Breckenridge rifles through her backpack, eventually giving up the search and returning empty-handed. Director Brian Cappello brandishes a pencil and wipes it off with a napkin.
“You can use this one,” he says.
The upperclassmen exchange knowing glances while the younger actors watch intently. Breckenridge inserts the pencil in her mouth and bites down.
“Now say your lines,” Cappello says.
It’s an age old exercise: the obstacle of the pencil forces the actor to open their mouth wider and put all their focus on projection and diction. As a seasoned thespian, Breckenridge has been through this many times, but Cappello uses the same methods on his freshmen as his seniors. The Spring show, “Durang, Durang,” continues to be a learning experience for everyone — it’s a show unlike any before.
That much was evident from the instant the cast list went up. Hopeful actors huddled around the call board, with one question on their mind:
Did I make it?
After scanning the list, junior Ali Felman left with more questions than answers.
“I saw the cast list, and at first I only saw the underclassmen list,” Felman said. “I saw these names and thought, ‘Oh my God, these are all underclassmen, what happened?’”
Double casting happened. For the first time in the Shawnee Mission East theater program, there are two casts putting on the same show: an underclassman cast and an upperclassmen cast. Felman found her name on the adjacent list and her moment of horror quickly faded to feelings of excitement and confusion. She is sharing the role of “Prunella,” a devious ex-wife, with sophomore Emma Calvert.
“The show has 18 roles – there are five different one acts – and we had about 65 people try out,” Cappello said. “It’s an incredible number for a Spring show, which tells us that the interest is there and we don’t want to destroy that interest.”
After witnessing the abundance of talent in auditions, the director concluded that double casting the show would be the easiest way to involve as many people as possible while fostering a passion for theater amongst the underclassmen. There are now two actors for every role and each actor will perform twice during show week, instead of the usual four performances. Cappello has considered double casting in the past, but found “Durang, Durang” to be the perfect fit because of its simplicity and lightheartedness. The Spring show is centered around the sketch comedy of the American playwright, Christopher Durang.
“It’s just funny people in funny situations, and that’s what pulls the whole show together,” Cappello said. “Sometimes, theater is just about fun.”
While the cast size has doubled, the number of rehearsals has drastically decreased. Main stage shows typically rehearse four or five times a week — but each act of “Durang, Durang” is only rehearsing four times total. Junior A.J. Orth plays Lawrence in “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” the longest act of the show, and finds the schedule to be ideal for sketch comedy.
“We’re trying to avoid over-rehearsing one-acts since they are shorter,” Orth said. “If you schedule too many rehearsals, it can look overworked and lack spontaneity.”
Orth has earned leading roles in several main stage shows, but the shortened schedule has caused him to approach his character in a different way.
“I’m taking a lot less time to analyze everything I say and how to say certain lines,” Orth said. “With a one-act like this, and such a funny one, you kind of just have to go with it.”
Freshman Austin Dalgleish, who is also playing Lawrence, was initially shocked when he saw the cast list, but is up for the challenge of playing a lead. He has looked mainly to his director for instruction, instead of his upperclassmen counterpart.
“Mr. Cappello is pushing me to make my own character rather than follow A.J.,” Dalgleish said. “It’s really important to develop your own style, not just watch someone else and do what they do.”
The two actors rehearse the same role on the same day, but they are determined to create two distinct interpretations. While Cappello gives many personal directions to Orth and Dagleish, he also emphasizes bigger points which apply to both actors. In one particular rehearsal, the director describes the difficulty in portraying a disabled comedic character like Lawrence.
“You know when you’re in the lunch room and you see a freshman drop his tray?” Cappello asks. “You feel kind of bad for him, but it’s also the funniest thing ever. That’s what this comedy is — cruel.”
As a freshman himself, Dalgleish finds the example slightly less funny, but nevertheless, takes the point to heart. Now it is up to the two actors to shape their own version of Lawrence. While Orth and Dalgleish intend to work together as the show progresses, some acting duos have already begun to form a bond.
Senior Sara Cooper and freshman Bailey Camp have cooperated closely in their shared role as a scornful DMV employee in “DMV Tyrant.” Cooper plays the role as a sarcastic, older woman; Camp, as a chipper and younger nuisance. Though they differ in their character, the two actors have benefited from their close relationship.
“It’s really nice to have someone to run lines with and we can bounce off of each other’s characters,” said Cooper. “We’re playing this completely different, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get ideas from one another.”
Cooper knew what she wanted from her character by the first rehearsal; Camp, however, required more fundamental direction before diving into character analysis. Cappello says that freshman tend to worry more in the early stages.
“They’re not really focused on how to approach a character, they’re more concerned with ‘Am I doing this right?’” Cappello said. “What Bailey is doing, Sara was doing three years ago.”
Camp is showing rapid growth as an actress — she even had her lines memorized before her senior counterpart. Both casts are reaping the benefits of one-on-one time with Cappello, but each member is also responsible for memorizing lines and practicing independently.
“As much as we need direction, we really need to be able to pull this together ourselves and improve as actors,” Camp said.
Dalgleish and Camp weren’t confident that they would even get a role in “Durang, Durang,” but they have risen to the challenge of playing a lead. Cappello has been very pleased with their progress. The Spring show has brought growth not only to the underclassmen, but to the theater program in general. Upperclassmen like Ali Felman are open to trying new methods to accommodate the expanding program.
“Theater has grown exponentially in the time that I’ve been here and there’s much more enthusiasm,” Felman said. “If this growth continues, we’ll have to keep doing bigger shows. Maybe it will be double casting again, and maybe they’ll do something else.”