Behind the scenes: students share process of producing play


Jeremy Hu

Student director Sofia Fey, a theatre studies major with an emphasis in directing and playwriting, has a discussion with actors about ways to enhance performances on Thursday, March 2nd.

By Kayla Martinez, Staff writer

Before a story is born onto a stage, it is the past, it is print on paper and it is a group of people sitting in a circle in a small room somewhere under the Krannert Center for the Preforming Arts.

Beyond that circle, it begins with one person.

Sofia Fey, junior in FAA, began her theater endeavors in middle school and didn’t know she would become a theater major.

“Someone was taking a survey and came up to me and asked me, ‘What’s your major? I’m taking a survey to see what everyone in the senior class is going into,’” Fey said. “And I said theater without thinking.”

During her time at the University, Fey has participated in several practicums where she helped with the wardrobe crew and sound board. Fey has also been a director for her play and her directing class prior to her upcoming work.

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Fey is currently directing two plays — “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Trifles”— in one show that will run this spring.  Performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. and midnight on April 7, and at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on April 8 at the Armory Free Theatre.

The first play, “The Yellow Wallpaper,”  was adapted by a graduate student from a short story about a woman who has postpartum depression in the 19th century and is put on bed rest.  The other play, “Trifles,” is about a woman who murders her husband and the trial that follows the murder.

Fey was inspired by the similarities between both stories and the way they spoke about women’s place in society back in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“I was like ‘Oh, I could look at ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ because we were supposed to pick a short story, and then I realized, because I had just read ‘Trifles’ recently, how well they fit together,” Fey said. “And I had a vision of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ set opening up and turning into the set of ‘Trifles’ which is what’s gonna be happening. Once I had that epiphany, I just knew I wanted to do this project.”

After Fey’s epiphany, research and auditions began.

“Part of my degree in theater studies is that I could actually go into casting,” Fey said. “So it’s really part of my process to hold auditions, to constantly be viewing auditions and going through the audition process because that’s something I might end up doing later on.”

After a day of 12 people auditioning and callbacks, Fey finished casting that night. The read-through of the script began the week after.

In a small room called “the AV room” in the lower levels of the Krannert Center, Fey sat in a circle with her cast for “tablework,” where the cast gets to know the show by reading through the script and discussing the characters where they are in the story.

The process is heavily based on research for Fey, as well as the actors.

“I have a huge tote-bag full of library books,” Fey said. “If anyone is trying to get library books on ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ or ‘Trifles,’ they’re probably all gone because I have them all.”

In “Trifles,” Lauren Farbota, junior in FAA, plays the role of Mrs. Hale, the clever wife of an officer who is investigating the evidence of a murder.

“For a piece like this where it’s in a different period where it’s set like 100 years ago,” Farbot said. “You also have to look at what it was like to be a woman in this time, in this place, in a town that was this wealthy and had societal expectations.”

Fey asks her actors questions during tablework that consist of qualities each character has: “How old is your character?” and “What do you think their maiden name is?”

Farbota refers to this as character creation, a way for actors take information from the script and create their character’s identity.

“I love it,” Farbota said. “Especially because you can change it to sort of frame how the circumstances in the play affect you.”

Fey described this process as collaborative, getting input from the actors and later seeing it come together.

“I have a lot on my mind before going into a show,” Fey said. “But once I actually see (the actors) up on their feet and doing it is when my vision comes together through them.”

Caylei Hallberg, freshman in FAA, is Fey’s assistant director for “Trifles.” Working together, Hallberg serves as a second opinion and a mentee, having Fey guide her through her first role as assistant director.

“She gave me a list before we went on winter break and kind of was like, ‘read all these,’” Hallberg said. “And I just had to be familiar with the history of it so I could have a better understanding of the time period and what we exactly need of the actors.”

Pat Weber, sophomore in FAA,  plays Sheriff Peters, the comic relief in the small town setting of “Trifles.” For Weber, it is important to “fall in love” with the character.

“I really love to assign my own memories and really, really personalize the hell out of a character because the character is a branch from you,” Weber said. “So the more that you can bring from the role that fits with the role, the better it will be.”

Weber uses music and images in order to personalize his character.

For this role, Weber listens to country music with an “up and going jolly” feel and uses images of a small town barn for visuals.

“Tablework is key. Sitting down, going over a script, dissecting it a little bit,” Weber said. “What do you want, what does the other character want, because the more you know the other characters the more you’re going to know the other characters, so really getting into the script, understanding it and personalizing it and just playing with it.”

Research on the characters comes from research in the setting.

“If you are going to do a show, you better know it. Otherwise, you’re not doing it justice,” Fey said.

From tablework, the cast moves on to “stumble-throughs,” the time when the actors “get up on their feet” and run through the play without interruptions to see what it would look like for the first time.

Later comes tech week, the week before the show in which the set is built, lights are hung and everything is prepared for dress rehearsals where the actors are in costume, on set.

Since last semester, Fey has collaborated with the production — presenting ideas of designs, sets, costumes and lighting that will be put into the play.

“Since we had that meeting, we know what everyone is looking into, what vision they’re gonna be putting in on the show and what they’re gonna be adding so we could work with each other that way by knowing what the others’ intentions are,” Fey said.

When directing, many close relationships between the cast and crew start to form. Fey believes in the importance of communicating with everyone for the success of the play. 

“A lot of my professors say the best director is succinct, so they know how to say something in the best way, in the simplest and shortest way,” Fey said. “That’s like a gift a director has. It’s really hard, but I think that comes in time and perfecting your craft.”

Ultimately, to direct is a process, a “trial and error” as Fey puts it, without a right or wrong.

“Thankfully my cast is really willing and really dedicated and hardworking,” Fey said. “So they really want to be doing this work, they want to be having rehearsals, they want to be doing their research. So that’s been a really helpful part of this process.”

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