EC student direct "The Other Side"

Photo courtesy of Rick Arnold.Imagine what it is like to be the director of a play.There is the stress of succeeding and proving that you could be a leader in an intense environment. Imagine doing all this and being a full-time student at Elmhurst College as well, and you will begin to picture the challenges Amanda Baker, the director of “The Other Place”, had to face. Baker is not the kind of person you would imagine when you picture a director. She does not wear a beret, or speak with a foreign accent, or fly into fits of emotion at the drop of a hat. Baker is the kind of person you know you can trust in command. A director has to worry about many things, from making sure all the actors know their lines, to deciding what kind of lighting and scenery to use, to finding the true meaning of the play. Baker had an extra component to add to all that — a grade, for “The Other Place” was Baker’s senior capstone project. “This semester is my last semester involved fully in the theater program,” she said. “I wanted it to be my big hurrah before I leave.” A big hurrah requires a lot of preparation, something Baker learned firsthand. She started working on her Senior Capstone in the fall semester of her junior year. Her first task was to find a play to direct. “I found the play by accident,” Baker recalled. “I was on a search engine where you go to look for plays, and Sharr White [the author’s] name popped up based off my previous searches. I was intrigued by the little blurb on the website, and bought the play on a whim.” It was one of the best spur-of-the-moment purchases of her life. Once Baker read the play, she knew she had to direct it. “’The Other Place’ is a story about a woman’s journey with dementia, from denial to acceptance and healing,” Baker said. “The story itself is powerful, but it had a special meaning for me because my great-grandmother is currently suffering from dementia.” This closeness to the topic worried Professor Richard Arnold, her faculty advisor for the project. “Sometimes when a director chooses a topic that is too personal, they can become too focused on their personal relationship with the play and lose perspective of the big picture. Amanda did a great job of this, though and kept the play in focus.” Once she chose her play, Baker then had to get the play approved by the faculty in the theater program. This is to ensure that the students understand the components of a play, such as what the play is about and how to convey that meaning, something a director in the theater world would have to do on his or her own. “Usually when students are going through this process, we are continually seeing drafts of their proposals and are helping them work through their ideas,” said Professor Arnold. “With Amanda, it was different. She wanted to do everything independently.” Independence was a major goal for Baker in this project. “I knew that once I entered the theater world, I would not have anyone looking over my shoulder, constantly checking my work to see how I am doing,” she said. “I wanted to use this project to gain that experience. It was a little nerve-wracking at first, but it was a great experience for me.” The play was approved in Spring 2015. Baker could finally start to put her vision into action, starting with auditions for actors. “For me, this was the hardest part of the whole process,” Baker said. “So many of the people I auditioned were my friends, and I only had five roles to fill. I had to remind myself to set aside personal friendships and give everyone, best friends as well as strangers, the same opportunities.” For three weeks there were rehearsals five days a week for four hours each day. Sets had to be built, costumes chosen, lines memorized and technical difficulties ironed out. Although it was a lot, she said it was worth it. “I loved working with Amanda in this play,” said Sarah Eckel, one of the actresses. “In the other plays I’ve been in, the directors have all been faculty members. These rehearsals feel more like a class. With Amanda it was different. It was a collaborative project; she was very open-minded and trusted our judgment as actors and actresses.” Opening night finally arrived, and Amanda was able to see all her hard work pay off. At about fifty people per show, it is rare for student-directed shows to have an audience this large. “I think people were really drawn to the subject of the play,” said Amanda. “So many people know someone suffering or who has suffered from dementia, or some other mental illness; it was easy for them to connect with the story.” After completing her project, Amanda has no qualms about her career choice. “It was hard, but I have no doubt now that directing is what I want to do.”