UC Berkeley’s department of theater, dance, and performance studies, or TDPS, puts on multiple productions throughout the year that showcase the immense talent within the department. But whereas most productions are led by experienced faculty, TDPS’ upcoming studio production is different in its creative process, as every single person involved is a student, including the top position of director.
The production is “All in the Timing,” a compilation of four one-act plays by the comic playwright David Ives. For Tanvi Agrawal, Ceylan Ersoy, Angelina Steshenko and Carmel Suchard — the four directors helming this production — the significance of this opportunity did not go unnoticed.
“What an amazing opportunity for a university to give us a budget and these resources and a space to put on a full play,” Steshenko said in an interview with The Daily Californian.
Steshenko and Agrawal had prior directing experience, but not with anything close to a production of this scale.
“I wasn’t going to pass that up. You don’t get this opportunity as a student,” Steshenko added.
With an entire department behind them, the directors can solely focus on directing — if this were a smaller production, a director might have to search thrift stores for costumes or go scouring for props, playing the role of producer or set designer. In this case, directors delegate students to fulfill the role of every job behind the production, all in service of a cohesive vision.
Meanwhile, Ersoy and Suchard have never sat in the director’s chair before, but they were eager to gain the experience of being behind the scenes.
“I took the department’s class on directing last semester, but other than that, it’s been me in plays, thinking I could do it better” Suchard said.
The four of them all agree that their acting backgrounds are not only beneficial toward taking on the role of director, but in fact necessary for leading the plays as efficiently as possible.
“Coming from an acting background, it makes it easier to relate to the actors I’m working with. I notice when they’re having difficulty, such as figuring out where an emotion is coming from. I can refer to the processes I would use as an actor,” Ersoy said.
Suchard agreed with Ersoy, noting the importance of being an actor’s director and suggesting that no one should be allowed to direct without having prior experience in acting.
Moreover, the directors have found motivation and inspiration through the content of Ives’ short plays, as their comedic foundations and off-kilter premises offer ample opportunity for experimentation.
“(His works) are completely suspended realities, and within that is a lot of opportunity,” said Agrawal, who is directing “The Universal Language,” which revolves entirely around a made-up language called “Unamunda.”
Steshenko — the director of “Time Flies,” which features two mayflies as its protagonists — found creative freedom through characters and a setting that exists outside the human world.
“You’re taken to a different world and, for me, that means so many possibilites I get to explore as a director when it comes to thinking about their physicalities and how they see the world and how they react to everything,” Steshenko said.
Despite the absurdist concepts driving Ives’ stories, each director found a surprising amount of relatability in them, which ultimately helped convince them to undertake the production. The play that Ersoy is directing, “English Made Simple,” involves a narrator revealing the thoughts behind an onstage conversation, which reminded Ersoy of situations she herself has been in.
“I literally saw myself within the script,” she said. “I wanted to play around with it and make these situations seem even more real so that the audience would get the chance to see themselves on stage, which was really exciting for me.”
More importantly, the relatability of each story results in a genuine sincerity that will surely resonate with audiences. Suchard’s play, “Sure Thing,” chronicles a date in which the conversation will restart any time someone says something that doesn’t go over well with the other person, with their words cut off by the ringing of a bell. Suchard believes that behind the humor and wit at the forefront of the story is a profound message of individuals being defined by more than the little details about them.
With opening night approaching, Agrawal, Ersoy, Steshenko and Suchard didn’t just reflect on the opportunity to direct, but also their ability to take part in a production solely put on by students. The directors talked about the chance to collaborate with their peers and how much they enjoyed the chance to create together. Everyone within the department — including sound designers, costume designers and actors — all bring in their own talent, as well as ideas, making for a fully compelling collaborative environment.
The four of them have loved their experience directing for this TDPS production, especially being such fans of Ives and his works, which they believe will allow for a genuinely enjoyable night for audience members.
“I think, even if people have never seen a play before, this would be a really good first. It’s not Shakespeare, it’s not scary, it’s not overly literary in any way. It’s just funny,” Suchard said.
“All in the Timing” opens March 15 at Durham Studio Theater.