The greatest act of courage is to love: Directing ‘Smokefall’ with Lindsey O’Connor ’21
By Ella Spoelstra ’21
The Carthage Theatre Department has completed an incredible feat in successfully performing two shows this fall season in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Lindsey O’Connor ’21, a senior theatre major with a secondary education minor, has been one of the two directors to lead casts into this new world of theatre. Smokefall, written by Noah Haidle, opened and closed this past weekend with each performance sold out. I had the pleasure of seeing the show and of having the chance to chat with Lindsey and learn about her creative process and what it was like to tackle her directing debut.
What made you choose Smokefall? What resonated with you about this show?
I actually saw Smokefall when I was in high school at the Illinois High School Theatre Festival and really enjoyed it. And, it’s always stuck in my mind since then. What really resonated with me about it was that it’s just so truthful- in that it’s what real life is like. It’s both funny at times, and then a moment later really sad. And that’s how real life is: especially in 2020, doing a show where things can be funny while also being really sad just seems appropriate and accurate to what life is right now. What just really sticks out to me from the show is the Colonel’s line, “The greatest possible act of courage is to love, and anyone who says different is an asshole”. Anytime you do choose to love anyone, it’s destined to end. Everything we do is going to end, but it’s still ultimately worth doing. So, this is the type of show I really wanted to do; a show that’s about endings, but about choosing your endings. And deciding that it’s ultimately worthwhile.
What is it like to be a student director at the collegiate level? What were some of the challenges and joys of this experience?
I think it’s really interesting to be a student director at the collegiate level because it’s kind of the only time where you’re learning and you’re directing your peers who are learning alongside you. And that’s something I really like because it makes it an extra collaborative process, and that’s the kind of theatre I like making. A challenge was that this was my first time directing so I had to learn what to do day to day to make rehearsals as productive as possible. And that also made it a great joy. I’ve been a part of many other aspects of theatre, like being a stage manager, a scene shop employee, and a sound designer. But this was the first time I’ve been the head of the dragon, so it was really great to learn how to be in charge of everything and creatively focus the project and lead it. And that was both challenging and very rewarding.
As someone who is getting her teaching certification, how has this experience prepared you for becoming a teacher?
This experience has been great preparation for becoming a theatre teacher because I took on a lot of responsibilities that a high school director might with this show. High school directors might take on being a little bit of the technical director, the sound designer, the set designer, and they might have to help with costumes. And this experience also helped me learn to communicate with theatre artists who are learning and how to help them grow as actors and as people. I did the show without any props, so every day as part of our warm up I would have them “make food”, but have them pantomime the process. And I think doing it every day helped me learn how to communicate the things I wanted and actually teach acting, which is something I’ve never had to do before.
What is your favorite part of the process of crafting a show? Do you have a favorite memory from this experience?
My favorite part of the process is definitely the rehearsals. Of course I went into it with a lot of ideas about what I wanted it to be and what I wanted it to look like, but I really enjoyed going from those ideas and having my actors and my stage manager and everyone else craft the show together. As far as favorite memories, we had a rehearsal where for like an hour we just worked on physicality. I narrated a story about the actors as the characters going to the store and buying a gift and going through that whole process; it really helped them get into their physicality. That was a day I felt very proud of myself as a director because I saw such a big improvement in the actors afterwards.
What has Carthage theatre meant to you as a student and as a theatre maker? What will you miss and cherish the most about your time here?
Carthage theatre has been a place for me to grow both as a person and as a person studying theatre. I’ve definitely become a lot more confident in myself socially and in my abilities. I’ve also become confident in my actor skills. I’ve gotten better at using power tools and I’ve learned to sound design, which was not something I knew how to do before, on top of many other practical theatre skills I’ve learned. Like for one, I had never stage managed a show before coming here and now that’s something I can easily do. I will definitely miss and cherish the people. I’ve learned a lot from my peers and from having conversations with them. It’s been lovely to be around a group of people with similar interests and being able to discuss theatre and life things, and to joke around with everyone and to laugh and cry with them. So I’ll miss the people the most. I’ve gotten to travel the world with some of the people here and that’s not something I’ll get to do ever again in the same way. I really appreciate the community that the students have together, and I’m definitely going to miss having that when I graduate.