Students at South know Alex Brooks as just the Project SUCCESS guy, but now South will not only see him as a teacher, but also as a director. The upcoming South play “The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew” is swapping usual director Freida Boorman with new director Brooks. He is not only new to directing at South; he is also new to directing in general.
“I have actually never directed a full show before,” said Brooks, “One of my favorite classes in college was directing though, and I had directed several small projects, as well as co-directed some theater pieces with friends after graduating.”
“The theater department at South asked me if I wanted to direct something a few years ago because I had a theater background and I already knew most of the students,” continued Brooks. “It wasn’t a good time then, but it worked out this year. So, the play is in no way related to Project SUCCESS. Also, I have simply found that the manner of work in rehearsal is very different than in the class during a Project SUCCESS workshop. Rehearsal tends to be much less planned out.”
Every rehearsal, Brooks starts with a question and a review of the day: “The questions at the beginning of rehearsal are actually a mix of theater and Project SUCCESS. I had a director in college who had us check in every day,” said Brooks, “It helped us kind of process the day and acknowledge where we were at beginning rehearsal, and it helped us to get to know each other better over the course of the rehearsal process, which is important. You have to be able to trust the people on stage with you.”
“Katie Jerome, the assistant director, came up with a huge list of excellent questions designed for us to connect and get to know each other,” commented Brooks. “She runs those check-ins and the warm-ups daily, as well as rehearsal when I am at production meetings.”
“Alex has done a lot to do cast bonding with our show,” added junior Katie Jerome.
One of the biggest changes that Brooks brought with his directing was the engaging and fun environment. “This play is a lot different for me than the other ones we’ve done,” said freshman Liam McLaughlin, “[Brooks] is a lot more flexible and lenient, and I’m used to Frieda or Ellen having a decisive view of what they want.”
The best piece of advice that Brooks has ever gotten is to “‘let the actors own their work’ meaning you can’t just tell them how to be or show them exactly what you want them to do,” he said, “because then they will be mimicking, and their performances will not be genuine. The actors have to make their own discoveries with their characters and their motivations on stage.”
Brooks’ directing advice and style is what the actors look for as well. “I look for someone who is fun and someone who likes to be helped out and lets them have some input into what they’re doing,” said McLaughlin, “I have experienced a different direction and I admire that he gives us free reign.”
“This said, this has been one of the most challenging aspects of directing for me,” said Brooks. “Since we have relatively little time to get a show up and running, it can be hard to give the actors the time and space to do this. It will take more than directing one full show for me to be good at this!”
Brooks’ biggest challenge as the director is juggling the mix between fun and logistics. “When Alex started, he needed to figure out how South works,” commented Jerome, “just to be flexible and work with peoples’ schedules.”
“I am learning that logistics is a big part of directing that I didn’t expect,” said Brooks. “Creating schedules and keeping the scenes straight has not been my strong suit. Having fun is huge, as is being okay with a certain level of chaos.”
“It has been an interesting shift, working with the students in a way that is outside of Project SUCCESS,” continued Brooks. “In workshops, I usually have every minute planned out, but in the rehearsal room, things are in constant flux. It has been quite the learning experience, but I am just really thankful for being able to hang out with, and get to know better, such funny, brave, and committed students every day after school.”