Every year, BFA Performance Directing students have a capstone class: Senior Thesis Directing Project. Each senior usually chooses a text (play), assembles a production group (designers, assistant director, stage manager, etc.), and casts the production. They draw on the contacts and relationships they have built over their first three years and reach out to new collaborators. Rehearsal and performance spaces are assigned. They receive start-up funding from the Theatre & Drama Department but write grants to increase their budgets. The main requirement is that they challenge themselves. For many years this system has, for the most part, been unchanged. But with the restrictions of the pandemic, everything had to be re-imagined. In the summer of 2020, it remained uncertain how the academic year would play out. With masking, social distancing, room use restrictions, and the effect upon students taking classes and working on Zoom it was clear that a new approach was needed.
This was an opportunity to develop new sensibilities, new skills, and above all to reach a little deeper into what it means to be an artist/director. When Stan Lai, a US-born Taiwan-Shanghai-based playwright and theater director, visited our program a few years ago, he shared that he preferred the designation “Facilitator”—a director who can have a vision, bring others to this vision, and open the door to their creativity so that it can enrich the project. To truly collaborate one must be open to one’s vision being changes through interactions with other artists.
These senior directors have discovered unique approaches to their projects: one using an original text, and two devised works. They have explored puppetry, movement, music, and writing. They have overcome obstacles such as changed resources and actor illness. They have filmed and/or edited their own materials. I could not be more proud of these three artists. Please find the time to watch each of these projects over these three days.
Head of Directing, Dept. of Theatre & Drama
Directed and Edited by Kellie M. Beck
Devised by Omer Barkan, Kellie M. Beck, Alix Curnow, and Emerson Smith
Silver Child is a product of questioning. The question, you may ask? We landed on this: how do we begin again? (Also, can we at all? What does beginning again even mean if all we have is one life? On and on it goes.) From that question, we found ourselves Frankenstein-ing together characters who were faced with the choice to continue or to start again. We worked with them to grapple with that question, and this is what we came up with. I know, not a very definitive answer. But important questions don’t tend to have definitive answers, in my experience. We had some fun here. We hope you do too. This thesis was made in cooperation with the SMTD and University of Michigan COVID-19 guidelines. The performers of this film are members of the same household. All shooting done in public places was masked.
Written by José Cruz González
Directed and Edited by Magdelynn Jeanette Miller
“In The Highest Heaven [Cruz] created a fable that is as appetizing for adults as it is for young people. It is a cautionary tale of greed, passion, and cruelty and, at the same time, a magical enchantment that sends the senses soaring along with the monarch butterflies that are the focus of the story…Even at its most dazzling, the magic in The Highest Heaven has meaning. Sometimes that meaning is subtle, but the assumption is: If the younger members of the audience don’t get it, the older ones will explain it” (The Arizona Republic). The play is a gorgeous and heartbreaking story that follows a young boy, Huracán, trying to find his family after the forced repatriation of Mexican Americans during the Great Depression. Along the way, he meets a man who acts as a caretaker for the monarchs, and together the two take care of each other. It explores the fallibility of borders, the concept of home, butterflies, the Depression, growing up, and the importance of Latinx – Black relationships, among other themes!
Magdelynn (Milo) Miller is a BFA performance major concentrating in directing, who focused heavily on physical theater, movement, and dance in their studies. Milo has explored many types of theater, including devised theater, puppetry, and theater for social change. Despite the challenge, they are so grateful for the experience of creating their thesis and for the shared energy of their collaborators. Milo can truly say this is their dearest project and is so grateful for the closeness and intimacy that the cast built together. Milo is employed as the production manager for the La Carpa Theater Project in Southwest Detroit funded by the Knights Foundation and will be living and working in Detroit for the next few years with the hope of establishing a permanent nonprofit theater. Milo is grateful to Malcolm Tulip for his mentorship and understanding, to José Casas for his warm encouragement and for introducing Milo to Theater For Young Audiences, Anita González for her kindness, affirmations, and contagious strength, and to José Cruz González for being so generous with his time and energy in helping the cast and crew discover the spirit of The Highest Heaven.
Written by Ty Bock, Simone Clotile, Steven Jean, Patrick Rutkowski, and Chris Tamayo
Directed and Edited by Skylar Starrs Siben
Cast and Program Notes
The Long Months is a completely original visual album conceived, devised, and performed by student musicians and performers. The album consists of thirteen songs spanning across the emotional experience of the long months of winter, that time when the holidays are over but spring has long yet to arrive. Filmed around Ann Arbor to capture a uniquely Michigan experience, The Long Months begins at sunset in a January sequence full of hope, fear, and regret. Then midnight arrives and launches us into a February sequence of dreamlike memories, and aching loneliness. The night stretches on, reaching the three o’clock hour, but sleep still evades us as our anxieties take their toll and manifest in strange visions. Finally, the early morning comes and March arrives bringing comfort and healing. The sun rises and with it, spring and hope for the future. This project has made our hearts full to work on and we hope it will do the same for those who watch and listen. You can find all of the original music from the piece on all streaming services soon under The Long Months Project.
Skylar Starrs Siben is a directing major originally from San Diego, California. At the University of Michigan, she has directed This Is Our Youth for Basement Arts, as well as The Skriker as part of University Production’s Caryl Churchill Festival. She also dabbles in playwriting and has written Hopwood Award Finalist, Damn Good TV, workshopped with Blank Space Workshop, as well as Party Princess, which will be featured in University Production’s Playfest, coming May 19th. It has been an absolute joy for her to work on this visual album with all of these brilliant collaborators. Producing an album as her senior thesis was something she never expected to do, but all of the amazing people who came together to work on it, made this not only possible but beautiful as well. She wants to thank all of the musicians, performers, and her stage management team for believing in her vision and pouring their hearts and minds into making it come to life.