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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Directing Laramie

Published: October 13, 2006
Section: Arts, Etc.

This week Michael Carnow 07, director of Brandeis Ensemble Theatres production of The Laramie Project that will begin the Undergraduate Theatre Collectives mainstage season, was kind enough to spare a few minutes for an interview with The Hoot.

Hoot: What made you choose to direct The Laramie Project?

Michael Carnow: I wanted to direct once more before I graduated. After Water Children, its very hard for me to do a play that doesnt really have any social commentary, something that I feel is in just a little way making the world a better place, or helping people think and evaluate themselves and the world around them. Obviously I dont want to preach, but I do want to foster discussion. I saw one of the first West Coast productions of The Laramie Project and the play really stuck with me. It is a phenomenally constructed piece. You cant really say its a well-written piece because it is essentially patched together, but it is phenomenal in that these are peoples real words. You cant really read it and say, This is not a good play. As a director, its an exceptionally challenging piece, just figuring out how to cast it, how many people, what types of actors are needed since there is something like eighty roles throughout the show, and how to stage it. I don't want the play to be just one person walking up, saying a monologue, and walking back, then another person walking up to say another monologue. It is challenging to both create an ensemble and create that arresting visual aesthetic while not having much direct character interaction in the show. In The Laramie Project, the conflicts are somewhat internal or societal and rarely directly person-to-person, so its a great challenge to keep that up… I think there are some pieces that should just be done every so often, ones with messages or ones that make you reflect, because we do sometimes need to be reminded and have that moment where we say, Oh, let me look around. One of the characters says, We dont do things like that here, but we did, so how is it here? and that makes other people think, We dont do that here, but how is it here? Just kind of double-checking to see how things are.

Hoot: This is your third time directing a major UTC production (The Underpants Spring 05, The Water Children Spring 06). What lessons have you learned from these experiences?

MC: I think that, to be a director, theres just a certain level of intuition, of just trusting your gut, and the more you do things, the better your instincts get. The summer before Water Children, I worked at a theatre and a performing arts camp, so I got to talk with a bunch of directors and I think talking to a lot of people helped. For Water Children, I thought there was a different confidence that I brought into the rehearsal process. With Underpants, it was like, Oh, theres this big scary thing that Im trying to put together, oh my God, what am I doing? With Water Children, it was more Okay, I did this, now Im going ahead with this. The Underpants as a script has some difficulties. Naively, I had decided, Oh, Ill do a comedy because that will make people laugh, and then Ill feel like I did a good job! I learned from that that comedy very frequently is much harder than drama, especially something thats kind of farcical like The Underpants. In The Water Children, although there were some stereotypical characters, there was also a lot of work to make those characters real and to make them much more complex. I think during Underpants I tried to direct every actor the same way and in Water Children I figured out that you cant do that. Its the directors job to get the best performances he can from the actors, and to do that you have to treat different actors differently. Another valuable lesson is to figure out your schedule, especially in regard to set construction, so that that last week you arent spending fourteen hours in the theater every day. Also, go into casting completely unbiased. Sometimes directors arent receptive to new people or write other actors off because they saw the actors in other shows and were unimpressed. I think going into casting open and unbiased is exceptionally important because there are so many good people on this campus. If you only stick to a few people, youre going to hurt your show. I somehow lucked into a very experienced cast for The Laramie Project, but for two of the cast members who happen to be seniors this will be their first time on a UTC stage.

Hoot: How has working with your cast been?

MC: This cast has really been such a gratifying cast to work with. Ive never had a bad cast, but theres something about the way theyre just embracing the challenge.

Hoot: I have heard you are also running an interesting charity fundraiser with the show.

MC: There will also be a silent auction accompanying the show with all the proceeds going to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Its a charity that supports diversity education in elementary, middle, and I believe high schools as well, in addition to giving money towards creating safe after-school environments. Theres a lot of cool Brandeis stuff, I believe there will be things like lunches with professors at the Faculty Club, were trying to get some tickets for other shows, you may be able to win the right to be an answer in the Blowfish crossword puzzle…

Hoot: What shows are you looking forward to seeing?

MC: Well, Im looking forward to seeing The Laramie Project, because I think it will be a fantastic show! Im looking forward to seeing the UTC shows, I know Dave [Klasko 07, director of The Goat] very well, I know Hannah [King 08. director of Seussical], and Betrayal should be an interesting show too. Im also looking forward to what Katie [Nadworny 09] is doing in the Gluck Lobby with Summer Evenings in Des Moines. I worked with Katie last semester. She is probably one of the most avant-garde theatre minds on this campus, so Im very interested to see how she uses the space.

Hoot: Where and when is the show, how much are tickets, and where can we get them?

MC: The Laramie Project will be in the Shapiro Theater Oct.19-22, Thurs. through Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m. You should be able to begin buying tickets in Lower Usdan on Monday, tickets are $5 in advance and $6 at the door.