University of Missouri Graduate Student Directs Westminster’s Spring Play

Cast members improvise a scene as an exercise in creating their characters. PHOTO BY STEFANIE EGGLESTON.


This year’s spring play is a devised theater piece created by a nine-person cast of students and directed by a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri.

In previous years, Westminster’s play in performance class put on a professionally written play directed by Dr. Nate Leonard, assistant professor of English.

“By happenstance, I got put in contact with faculty at Mizzou,” said Leonard of how he came to invite Jennie Pardoe to direct this year’s play.

Leonard said that university graduate students “don’t get the opportunity to direct, because faculty direct.” He added, “From my perspective, it was a great way to get a very qualified person.”

Pardoe said that she has never directed a play on a large scale before, but she has a routine for rehearsal and engages the cast in many activities to help them create their own play.

Several steps are involved in creating a play from scratch, especially when the whole cast is working together. The first step is to decide which topic the cast members want to cover.

“[We] came up with the idea of how media affects how we look at the world,” said Annabelle Ginter, ’20, an actor in the play.

After deciding to concentrate on media, the class started looking into recent news stories relevant to college students to help them choose a topic. One of those stories was about Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student who was convicted of three counts of felony for sexually assaulting an intoxicated female student on January 18, 2015.

Turner’s story motivated the cast to focus on how social media shape ideas of sexual assault and domestic violence, Ginter said. She gave the examples of how Snapchat videos can skew the reality of domestic abuse because the app can record for only 10 seconds and how social media users “go crazy” in reaction to videos of women being beaten but use the hashtag #beaman when they see similar videos with male victims.

Once the cast members knew they wanted to focus on sexual and physical abuse, the story started unfolding quickly.

“That’s what happens when you’re devising,” Pardoe said. “The story just comes out.”

The cast begins every rehearsal with yoga and stretching. Then they move into improvisation to work on developing the characters they have created.

There is a period between creating the characters and casting the actors when members of the cast have the opportunity to take turns playing different characters. The actors choose how to play their characters. This differs from the casting process of most plays, in which actors are cast into roles at the beginning.

“It’s very fun to see people do different characters in totally different ways than someone else did,”  Victoria Freeman, ’18, said.

“When you have a script, you know your relationship with everyone in the cast,” said actor Madison Loescher, ’20. “Here, you all start on a level playing field.”

The play, titled “The Things You Don’t Know About Me,” will be performed April 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. in Champ Auditorium. Admission is free for all.

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