by Devon Musgrave-Johnson
I’m a control freak. And I might venture to say that my co-director Laurel Waller ’19 is, too. Yet, last weekend we sat together in the Black Box Theater and surrendered all of our control to the four actors we had picked just eight weeks before
Waller and I chose the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre because it was relatively short, involved only four actors and piqued both our interests. The play centers on three strangers who find themselves stuck in hell, and have to try to figure out why they each ended up there. We interviewed with the Renegade board and tried our best to seem like people who maybe knew what they were doing.
Suddenly, it was eight weeks later and we were asking the audience to turn off their cell phones.
And that was it. The play was completely in our actors’ hands.
“So, this is it,” Brent Matheny ’19 started the play by saying. He was our Cradeau, a journalist and ladies’ man who had recently wound up in hell.
When I went up to my soon-to-be-co-director and asked, “Do you want to do a play with me?” I never could have anticipated the amount of work we would need to put into it. Between the two of us, our directing experience was limited to short one-acts and assistant-directing musicals in high school — and none of that was me.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to act in a theater production for directors who had little previous experience,” Diego Fajardo ’19 told me. “It was collaborative in a way that it wouldn’t be for some of the other productions here at Kenyon.”
For five weeks before spring break we clambered around the Horn, trying to block the movements for a 75-minute play. After two weeks without a rehearsal due to break, we spent a week in the Black Box scrambling to piece together a show.
Much of Waller’s previous experience with theater was with acting rather than directing.
“It was an interesting experience, to be sure,” Waller said. “To be on the other side of it, it was completely out of my hands. There wasn’t anything I could do at that point. If I noticed that something went wrong, I just had to sit and trust that the actors would figure it out for themselves.”
Thankfully, they did. As we sat in the back row of our audience for each of the three performances, one on Saturday and two on Sunday, we watched our actors deal with faulty sound effects, laughter where we didn’t expect it and basically anything else that could possibly happen in the Black Box Theater on an unreasonably warm March afternoon.
When the doorbell didn’t ring, Fajardo, playing a bellboy, changed his lines to make the audience think that was exactly what was supposed to happen all along.
When a cushion from one of the benches I had built over spring break started to fall out of place, Mollie Greenberg ’19 casually pushed it back, all while maintaining her character Estelle’s desperate seduction of Cradeau.
When the audience laughed unexpectedly, Rebecca Simantov ’19 rolled with the punches and allowed her otherwise harsh and manipulative character, Inés, to see the humor in the moment as well, drawing an even stronger reaction from the audience.
“It was tough at times because of the cramped schedule and because it’s all first-year students who are still trying to work their way through courses and balance their courses with extracurriculars,” Waller said. “But I would have had no other way to get this experience without doing it with Renegade.”
Following eight stressful weeks, on Saturday at 4 p.m., the directors’ jobs were done. We sat down next to each other, held our breath, and waited for the moment when we would finally realize, “This is it.”