Pegasus Players to put on 5 student plays

pegasus

Nick Veldey is directing one of the student one-act plays to be performed in April, and also wrote one of the plays. Picture by Hoainam Nguyen

As one of the oldest members of Norwich University’s Pegasus Players, Nick Veldey has been a part of Pegasus since before the completion of Mack Hall and before a new director for the Pegasus Players.

Throughout his four years as a member of the club, the native of Indio, Calif., has played roles on stage, helped build sets, and coordinated with the cast and crew as a stage manager. Now Veldey, sitting among the rows of seats in Mack auditorium, is about to undertake a whole new role.

The-21-year-old criminal justice major will be directing a play for the first time.

The Short Play Festival, dated to take place from April 4-6, will feature plays written and directed by students to “provide students unique opportunities that most theatre presentations don’t provide,” according to the Pegasus Players’ Director, Jeffry P. Casey.

“In most university theatres, students only get to direct if they’re admitted to the program as graduate students in directing programs,” said Casey, who is also an English professor.

The Short Play Festival was an idea that Casey brought over from his time teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Plays were required to be ten minutes in length for them to be manageable for students.

“The work’s more evenly distributed, it’s a slightly easier rehearsal process,” Casey said. “It’s the students own work, which I think makes it more engaging and exciting for them.”

Hopeful playwrights submitted their work during the fall semester and they were reviewed by a panel of judges including Prof. Casey. The Short Play Festival will feature five plays: two of them will be directed by students, Nick Veldey and Carli Harris.

“I would’ve picked anyone who’d worked with me a couple times and demonstrated follow through,” said Casey.

Applicants were required to have worked with Casey on at least two shows before becoming accepted as directors. Although the requirements were relatively easy to pass, Casey did warn that the job is “like a management position.”

“It comes with great power, but it comes with great responsibility,” Casey said.

A director needs sharp organizational and communicative skills, as well as a sturdy work ethic in order to successfully direct a play. Casey felt that it was an easy decision to give Harris and Veldey their positions because they’ve demonstrated those qualities in previous productions.

“I’m fond of projects and I always thought it’d be fun to bring something to life in my own flair, so I thought being a director would be really cool,” said Carli Harris, 20, a sophomore English major from Barre, Vt.

Harris has been in theatre since she was eight years old and played Sally Bowles in the Pegasus Players’ Fall 2018 production of Cabaret. Besides acting, Harris writes creatively as a pastime and got two of her own short plays to be featured in the festival—The Whole Turkey and Family Bonding.

“The ones that are in the festival I wrote in high school over the course of maybe two months with three different drafts,” said Harris.

Comedies were Harris’s favorite genre, so she gladly accepted the opportunity to direct Naming Opportunities by the late Lars Nielsen, whom the Short Play Festival is dedicated to.

Nielsen was a poet, playwright and 2006 Norwich alumni. Nielsen passed away in June 2018 from brain cancer, having written hundreds of poems including “The Hockey Game” and prominent plays such as Haiku and The Aspirants.

“In rehearsals the first thing I’m going to tell everyone to do is overreact,” said Harris “because this is a ridiculous play and all the characters are supposed to be ridiculous.”

One way Harris hoped to help the cast convey the energy of Naming Opportunities is by helping them dispel their fear of making mistakes; Harris believed that collaboration would be vital to helping actors master their roles. Harris’ own plays were placed under the direction of Casey and Veldey.

“I want to approach it as what it is,” said Veldey.

A director’s interpretation of a play can differ from the playwright’s vision, but Veldey intended to remain faithful to The Whole Turkey’s image as a “light-hearted comedy” without adding his own embellishments. He made it his goal to perfect the interactions between characters to help the comedy’s humor.

“The punchline of jokes isn’t just the words people say but how they look at each other or what they do,” said Veldey.

Veldey’s play, Josiah Moses, is about a cult member’s realization of the cult leader’s true insidious nature. Veldey wrote Josiah Moses out of his interest of “darker subject matter” after reading about infamous people like Jim Jones and Charles Manson.

“I was always fascinated by how these individuals were able to strip the common sense from people,” said Veldey, “and get them to believe what we believe to be false things.”

Student directors weren’t allowed to direct the plays they wrote in order to focus on their responsibilities. For Harris and Veldey, the purpose of the Short Play Festival was to find their own directing style and cultivate it.

“It’s disadvantageous for students with an interest for acting to go out in the world after spending four years with only me working with them,” said Casey.

Casey invited Ward to direct one of the plays so that Harris and Veldey could be exposed to a different style of directing. Kim Ward was the founding member of The Vermont Playwright Circle and her short poetic play, Light, was produced by MOXIE Productions as part of their Contemporary American Playwrights Series in ٢٠٠٧.

“I’m doing it on a mix of directors that I’ve worked with like my high school director,” said Harris.

Harris admired her high school director’s organized methods and Casey’s way of provoking actors into thinking about their characters. Harris wanted to have fun being a director and enjoy what surprises may come her way but has also already begun work on her “inspiration boards.”

“I will drop into their rehearsals just to see how they’re going,” said Casey, “but at the end of the day, part of being a director is being out there on your own.”

Casey reiterated how crucial “coordination and communication” are for directors and that not all the students he has worked with before had demonstrated those qualities consistently. A director needed to exemplify the behavior he expects from his cast.

“Actors could tell when you’re not prepared,” Casey said, “and they will immediately lose respect for you because they prepared.”

Directors are the emotional pillars for the cast and crew because they’re expected to “command mastery” over the script and the production. Veldey’s work as a stage manager during Cabaret and Harris’ duties as publicity officer secured Casey’s confidence in them.

“Knowing the mistakes we made when planning, rehearsing for and performing Cabaret,” said Veldey, “have gotten me to consider other approaches that could help us put on a good show and have fun doing it.”

Harris and Veldey will be operating with all the same resources and under the same time constraints Casey would have if he was in charge; this would include plotting the lights from Mack auditorium’s booth.

“Lighting design begins with communication with the director about what their vison for the play is,” said Grace Rodriguez, 21, a senior political science and Spanish major from Hialeah Gardens, Fla.

Rodriguez oversaw the light board in Cabaret and will supervise two other members working on lights for the festival besides overseeing other activities as stage manager. Plotting the lights in each play incorporates the lighting designer’s and director’s visions.

“For me lighting design begins with communication with the director about what their vison for the play is,” said Rodriguez. “It also involves a deep understanding of what they play is about.”

While learning the basics of the lighting board can be relatively simple, “it takes experience to know what truly works or doesn’t work on stage.” A lighting designer should display creativity and the communicative skills to effectively explain her reasoning to the director.

“I ultimately let my mind run wild and use the director’s vision for the play as some sort of parameter that I fit my ideas in,” said Rodriquez.

Even though Veldey intends to use the standard wash lighting for The Whole Turkey, the lighting designers will still have to adjust the play’s lighting plot based on actor’s costumes and stage props. The student directors need to coordinate closely with the technical like the lighting designers to ensure their plays operate smoothly.

“I want them to own their play,” said Casey, “they succeed or fail on their own terms and I just have to make sure they have the resources they need to succeed.”

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