When Life Gives You Lemons, Become A Director
Rebecca Rovezzi’s ‘18 hands are covered with (fake) blood when I walk into JKB at five o’clock. She is the arts director for Let the Right One In, and is in charge of the blood effects. Rebecca knows who I am immediately, though we have never met. As a self-declared big picture person, Rebecca has found her place as a director. She is currently directing one of this fall’s studio lab play: Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons (Lemons 5x). As a senior, she has had a lot of experience in the theater world, finding her niche spring semester of her Sophomore year.
“I was always involved with theater my whole life, and I knew I wanted to study theater in college. When looking at colleges, I was looking at a mixture of BFA programs and BA programs and I wasn’t really finding anything that would fit for me. Up to college, I had only acted. And I liked acting, I was into it but I knew I wanted to try other things. I knew I wanted to get great training but I didn’t want to be locked into one area of theater, I wanted to be able to try as much as I could,” said Rebecca.
Essentially, Skidmore was her perfect fit. The program is a Bachelor of Science, versus the traditional Bachelor of Fine Arts, the program not only allows but encourages students to dip their feet into whatever interests them. If not for Skidmore’s program, Rebecca may have never discovered her true life path.
“I acted my freshman year, went abroad fall semester of my Sophomore year, and when I came back I took introduction to directing and everything clicked -- [directing] is what I wanted to do. I felt the puzzle pieces fit. [Intro-to-directing] was a great AHA moment for me. ”
Directing is an art for the stronghearted, and Rebecca exudes a confidence that only comes from years of experience. Directing involves constant defending of your ideas, and inevitable disappointment when that idea you once had in a dream turns out to be impossible. But for those who find themselves in this position time and again, it is because there is no other artform for them.
“There’s nothing really like it when the moment an idea works, or something clicks with the actor and a note makes sense. For me, it brings me pure joy, I just get really happy. I think directing is a lot more of a subtle art than people give it credit for,” explains Rebecca. “You have to learn really quickly how to read people because different people communicate and hear things in different ways. You need to understand how to best serve the actor and serve the piece at the same time. The moment where you get to sit back and it’s working, is a rush.”
Lemons 5x is not Rebecca’s first time directing her own show, and it surely will not be her last. Because of the way Skidmore’s theater department works, she has also had the chance to work with established visiting directors.
“I’ve assistant directed twice now; the first time was last spring for Balm in Gilead. Getting to watch the director's work was amazing. The first time we worked together I panicked because he does things in ways I would never do, never. I realized I could take what I can from whomever, but still find my own voice and way of doing things. In that way, directing is a very individualized art.”
As she should be, Rebecca claims she is always learning. A growth environment is fostered by Skidmore’s studio lab department. With it, students have the ability to test out ideas in a safe space. Whether a director or not, students have the freedom to “just get into a room and try things; to get into a room and try out what you feel like your voice is,” explained Rebecca. “You learn so much in the three weeks, they’re an earth-shattering three weeks.”
The studio labs also work around many constraints: it has to be an hour in length, it has to work within the studio space, a minimal set with minimal tech, and a small cast. Which means searching for the play initially is the hardest part. Lemons 5x is a story following a couple in a society where individuals are limited to 140 words per day. Audience members watch the couple struggle with communication -- attempting to conserve their word count for the end of the day when they are together. What happens when one partner really needed to speak during work? Are they considered less devoted to the relationship?
“[Lemons 5x] was the first play I immediately wanted to read again. I kept putting it down, then picking it up again. It’s billed as this play that's all about language and political oppression, it has a lot going on, but at the heart of the play it’s about how we communicate with the people we love. I think it’s such a human [issue] that the play delves into with such honesty, and sometimes brutal honesty.”
The play’s structure, of short scenes and no transitions, is common among young British playwrights. Plays like Lemons 5x can be jarring, throwing audience members into the thick of plot without much cushioning. But that’s exactly what draws Rebecca to this style.
“I really wanted to dig into this difficult structure, I’ve always been really interested in playing with space and spacial relationships, and the idea that where you are on stage is just as important as what you are saying. There’s a lot you can convey nonverbally through spacial relationships.”
The play is relatively new; it first entered the mainstream in 2015, and was quickly developed by a group of students straight out of undergraduate. The play was conceived collaboratively, and has continued to be a labor of love for all who engage with it.
Because of the play’s newness, there are not many productions for Rebecca to look back on or draw inspiration from. But for her, that’s more than okay. Having the personal liberty to absorb the material and create her own image actually drives Rebecca’s creativity.
“I really try to stay away from looking at other material for plays I want to do. I love doing new plays that are not perfect, that have things to add. I like plays that give me ideas. I would rather have a play with absolutely nothing and a big problem to figure out -- I want the play to challenge me and give me the feeling of digging my hands into it.”
What interested me personally the most about Rebecca’s position is the power dynamic between her and fellow students. The studio labs are completely student driven, and can create challenging environments if all players are not under the same impression. Being director, Rebecca is truly the ringleader of Lemons 5x, but she also relies heavily on what her two teammates bring to the table -- her vision developing and expanding based on the space she is in.
“It is very funny directing your peers, and a little nerve racking. You have to be able to get into the room, address that I am your friend, I am your peer. Then there needs to be a moment where it's like okay, now we’re going to work. I take pride in professionalism, and that’s something I’m very conscious of when casting. There needs to be a fluctuation between hey we’re working now, and i’m not telling you what to do because I think I’m better than you, I’m telling you what to do because that is my job and I want to help you,” explains Rebecca.
Being a student director can often mean being a parental figure. There’s a sense of power, but in a supportive and malleable way. For Rebecca, the most important feeling to establish is trust. With that, the play’s big picture can come into fruition.
“When you’re directing your peers, the first thing you need to establish is trust. You need to have a room where everyone not only trusts you, but trusts each other. Otherwise you’re not going to get anywhere. It was a little bit easier this time because I’m working with two people who I have worked with before, from the lab last fall. I’m so grateful because we have a mutual understanding and a mutual trust.”
Lemons 5x provides an interesting look into a couple’s struggle with communication, almost paralleling the pressure felt by Rebecca to relay her mental pictures into a reality.
A couple years ago, one of Rebecca’s teachers told her “you never make this easy for yourself, do you?” To which she replied: no, that’s not my style. This attitude has remained steadfast, and has driven Rebecca to always go after even her most daring adventures. There is something about her oozing confidence that is undeniable, and will continue to be.