Student-directed production offers new experiences for both director and actors

February 14, 2019 — by Anna Novoselov and Emilie Zhou

During the weekend of March 1, a tragic love story starring junior Marly Feigin as Anna Karenina and senior Raghav Malaviya as Governor Konstantin Levin will unfold in the Little Theater, with senior director Shasta Ganti in the audience watching months of hard work pay off.  

“I want it to do well. I want it to succeed,” Ganti said. “But more importantly than that, I want my actors to feel like they’ve worked on something worthwhile and that they’ve contributed to something that could be truly amazing.”

Directing a student production is one way Drama 4H students can complete a required Honors project and earn their Honors credit for the class. Students can also earn their Honors credit by working as a stage manager or technical director for either black box shows, such as student productions, or McAfee Center shows, such as musicals and plays.

Ganti is directing the play “Anna Karenina” and it is the only student production this year. The play, set in 19th century Russia, is based on Leo Tolstoy’s novel by the same name and juxtaposes the lives of Anna, a married mother who feels incomplete because she did not marry for love, and Levin, a young unmarried man with overwhelming existential questions and a general dissatisfaction with his life. Ganti stumbled upon the book in his father’s library, and after finding an adaptation of it in the drama room, decided to choose it for his production.

Ganti thought a dramatic tale like “Anna Karenina” would make a great student production because it involves a relatively large cast, and he wanted to give students who had less experience in dramas the opportunity to participate in something a little more serious.

Auditions were held in late November and 11 students were cast. Senior Dermot Gleeson will play Alexei Karenin (Anna’s husband), junior Matilda Hickman-Smith will play Dolly (Anna’s sister-in-law), and senior Mateo Morgenstern will play Alexei Vronsky (a military officer with whom Anna has an affair with).

Student productions are directed by advanced drama students and generally have a much smaller cast than regular productions. According to Feigin, there is a different dynamic between the actors and the director, as it can often be “easier for [the cast] to communicate” with a student director than a teacher. In addition, the smaller cast size allows the group to “get a lot closer” and build stronger connections with each other.  

“I really like how Shasta is very relaxed and still lets us have fun while he directs.” Feigin said. “He can relate to us very well because he is a student as well, and he is very understanding in general.”

As director, Ganti is responsible for casting roles, planning a schedule, designing the set and stage, working on costume design, coaching actors and helping students deliver an authentic performance. He said the best part about directing has been seeing his actors come out of their shells and overcome what they’re struggling with.

“I really love it when I can give them notes and when they run it again, it’s exactly what I wanted to see. That really makes me feel like I can do this,” he said. “It’s always really rewarding to see people succeed and do things that they didn’t think they were capable of.”

However, during this time Ganti has also learned that the hardest part about directing is having to “alter [his] style of teaching and even of acting” to fit different people and their various acting methods.

Although Ghanti does not know for sure how big of a part drama will play in his future, he knows that he will keep acting and be involved in the arts, as they “will always be a part” of him.

Feign, on the other hand, knows that her dream is to major in drama in college and become an actor. She said that the student production will help her grow personally as an actor and prepare her for future roles.

Although the foreign setting of the play and Anna’s background makes it difficult for her to relate to Anna, Feigin has enjoyed learning her character’s viewpoint on life and assuming an identity so different from her own.

“Anna is faced with a lot of hard decisions, so it’s very interesting to see how she thinks about every decision and how she goes through the process in her mind,” Feigin said. “Anna is definitely a challenge, as with most characters in this show, so I’m looking forward to growing as an actor.”

For the cast, the hardest part about being in the production has been the time commitment, Feigin said. The cast has rehearsals four times a week, from 2:30-6:30 p.m. on Blue Days and 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Red Days.

“My actors are held to the same standard as they would be in the fall play or the musical,” Ganti said. “It’s as much of a commitment, and the quality of production I expect of my leads is the same Ms. Thermond expects of us in the McAfee.”

For now, Ganti is looking forward to seeing everyone’s hard work pay off when the lights dim in the Little Theater and the cast performs the play the first weekend of March.

“Directing has been a really fun experience,” Ganti said. “While it’s been challenging at times, it’s been very rewarding and I hope all of you enjoy the show!”

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