When Tyler Mitchell started his senior year at Furman, he was looking for a challenge.
His theatre professors were happy to give him one: a chance to direct a full-length play.
“We encourage students to take on projects that may be beyond their current skill level,” said theatre arts professor Jay Oney ‘78. “You have to start somewhere. You can’t direct the best actors in the world having never directed before.”
Mitchell is the latest in a long line of theatre arts students who has taken their turn in the director’s chair. The theatre arts department holds three major productions each academic year that are led by faculty. However, the department also stages a variety of all-student productions so that students can get a taste of what it’s like to take on a leadership role.
Mitchell became interested in directing when he took a course on the subject. After directing a pair of 10-minute films, he chose “Beautiful Child” by the American playwright Nicky Silver for his first attempt at directing a full-length play. After three months of rehearsals, Mitchell had one weekend in November to show the world what he could do. He was in charge of five actors as well as three designers and managers.
To make things even more difficult, Mitchell chose a play that deals with a difficult subject matter: pedophilia.
“I chose ‘Beautiful Child’ because it deals with issues of desire that aren’t typically considered in theatre or general discourse,” Mitchell ‘13 said. “There are only five characters and they’re all very different. So that provided a difficult range of directing and acting, but it gave me a chance to work individually with the actors.”
Mitchell was responsible for finding and supervising classmates who would handle every facet of the performance, from costume and set design to stage management and publicity. However, his largest task was getting the performance he wanted out of his actors, many of whom were new to the craft.
“My directing style is definitely evolving,” Mitchell said. “I’m more likely to get up and move around and talk with actors, which has been helpful since I’ve had new actors in this play. Doing acting exercises with them and reminding them how the body is part of acting has been particularly effective.”
Even though the play was Mitchell’s vision, he had to balance being both a director and peer. His classmates understood.
“We’re friends, but I have to remember Tyler’s the boss,” said Lizzie Dockery ‘16 (Dallas, Texas), who acted in the play. “It’s really cool the students are taking responsibility for the show. So if it’s a flop, it’s on us. You want to do your best for your friends so your show will reflect well on them.”
So did Mitchell meet his challenge?
“The play went fairly well,” Mitchell said. “The educational experience was useful. There were some things I felt could have gone better, but you learn as much from your failures as you do from your success.”