Actually 14 minutes and 50 seconds.
I am staking the fate of three applications on a play that ran 14 minutes and 50 seconds in length.
The backstory: last season I directed three youth productions at Encore Arts in Fulshear, Texas. My producer approached me and asked if I would be willing to throw together a one-act play for the Texas Nonprofit Theatres’ one-act play festival. She said if I could pick a play and rehearse it, she would provide technical support and transportation.
So, I picked a show that was 15 minutes long and only required two actresses, The Stronger by August Strindberg. I cast my friends Leslie and Paige (and Michael, one of my students from Encore Arts played the waiter). We rehearsed in my grandparents’ house, which was where I was living at the time, and later my apartment. Lori provided the set, costumes, and props and dealt with all of the competition paperwork.
I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of how we rehearsed and performed the show, but the work we did on The Stronger made me feel incredibly confident in my abilities as a director. In the script, only one woman speaks, though it is very much the story of both of them. I had to balance working with really heavy text work with Leslie and extremely detailed physical work with Paige. I also ended up calling cues and running sound in the booth during the performances, and had one of my very first “demanding director” moments during the second round of competition (there had been some miscommunications with the staff regarding the light board in our first round of competition.)
One of the greatest triumphs that came out of the brief run of The Stronger, however, had nothing to do with me. Paige’s boyfriend, Jarred, who came to the first round of competition, secretly filmed the show and took screenshots on his phone and took a bunch of pictures of the girls doing their hair and makeup. I never ever ever endorse filming a show without the producer’s consent, but the fact that I have a recording and production photos is just incredible, and I am eternally in Jarred’s debt.
Anyway, back to grad school. There are a few different ways that schools try to tell where you are in your directorial career. Some assign a play and ask you to write an essay about how you would direct a production of it (DePaul.) Some ask for a portfolio of your work (Texas State, Northwestern, Columbia.) And some want a “production notebook” of a show that you directed recently (Brooklyn College, UCLA, Boston University.) I chose The Stronger because I have not only my pre-production materials, but evidence that I actually followed through on all of my plans and ended up with a decent performance. Now, I only have evidence of one performance, before I fixed the costumes and changed some of the blocking at the end of the show. But still, evidence.
I spent all weekend concocting this production notebook. It is 46 pages long. Not perfect by any means, but I wasn’t recording every decision I made with the idea that a grad school admissions committee was going to be scrutinizing the annotations on my script. On paper, maybe someone could figure out my process as a director and see how that translated on stage. But what they don’t see is the discoveries we made in rehearsal, the random ideas that popped into my head as I was driving to work, the tears we shed for whatever reason, the late nights—everything human that actually goes into the creation of a show that isn’t scribbled on a piece of notebook paper.
Applying to graduate school is a major practice of self-reflection. It is very easy for me to tear myself to pieces. Looking back on The Stronger helped my confidence a little bit. I know it was a good show. I know the work we put into it showed on stage. I hope Leslie and Paige had a good experience (they’re still speaking to me, so I think they did.) So even if none of the reps from the schools I mentioned actually find our 14 minute and 50 second show that impressive, I know it was awesome, and now I have a beautiful production journal to prove it.
I’m going to sign off with this lovely text I got from my cousin Anne this weekend. Anne is slightly older than me and has always been my source of advice as she reaches life checkpoints a little bit before I do (she pretty much singlehandedly talked me down from transferring out of UT my freshman year, and if she hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have made Pride and Prejudice and Perms or met Nick, so I trust her judgement.)
“Just focus on what you can control. And keep your mind on why you want to go to grad school, it helps get through all the doubts and anxieties when you’re doing the apps. You’re meant to do this!”