One-Act Festival offers education and expression for all

  • Charlotte Kearns (left) and Aiden Castillo (left) perform Joshua Brewer's "Dirt" during the 2019 One-Act Festival.

  • Josie Bourelly in "The Door" during the 2019 One-Act Festival.

  • Alex McCauley (front row, left) with the cast of "Fortress" after their 2019 One-Act Festival performance.

  • Mikhail Yarovoy (right) performs "Remember the Way" during the 2019 One-Act Festival.

  • Andy McGinn (right) with former Instructor of Theatre Robin Ellis (left) in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in 1994.

Each January, the Interlochen Arts Academy Theatre Division presents the One-Act Festival.

The One-Act Festival was born from intrepid students who wanted to test their own ideas about acting and directing through student-led productions. Free from the guiding hands of their faculty members, they took the theory that they had learned in their classes and applied it on the stage, behind-the-scenes or at the board.

In the spring of 1994, current Interlochen Arts Academy faculty member Andy McGinn (IAA 93-94, IAC 93) and his fellow theatre students produced one such production, a full-length performance of the play Equus.

“It was 100-percent hands-off from an instructional element,” said McGinn. “That show was the first play I ever did where there wasn’t a teacher in the rehearsals. It really was us and our true intentions.”

Though it would be several more years until the concept of student-directed productions was formalized into the public event that we know today, that sense of freedom and student ownership is still central in today’s One-Act Festival, an annual series of short plays directed, performed, and designed by students.

McGinn, who joined the Interlochen theatre faculty at the beginning of the current academic year, oversees the One-Act Festival through his position as the instructor of the fall semester directing class. Directors for the One-Act Festival are selected from the students enrolled in that course; each student proposes a play for the festival as a course assignment.

“I told the class that the shorter their one-acts were, and the more actors were needed, the more likely it would be for their play to be selected,” McGinn said. “The class really heard me on that—so much so that all 14 members of the class were able to participate in the festival.”

Each director’s first task was to audition and select the cast for their play from their theatre division peers. For many directors, being on the other side of the casting process was an eye-opening experience.

“Being a director gave me a completely different outlook on auditioning,” said senior Alex McCauley. “When I go into an audition, I immediately think the directors are going to judge me and look for my flaws. Now I know that they’re hoping the next person who walks in is going to be exactly who they’re looking for, and that they want you to succeed.”

With casts in place, the one-acts began rehearsals late in the fall semester and continued during the Inter*mester term. While McGinn’s teenage production received no coaching from faculty, the one-acts received support and oversight from McGinn to ensure positive experiences and high-quality finished products.

“The One-Act Festival is three parts to further the directing education of our students, and one part an actual production for an actual audience,” McGinn said. “It’s part of the department’s public offerings, so we have a fundamental responsibility to our audience. We don’t come to all rehearsals, but we’re hovering.”

With McGinn at a distance, both the student directors and their actor peers enjoyed their relative freedom. “I felt more open to taking risks and trying things I’ve never done before,” said Mikhail Yarovoy, who appeared in “Remember the Way.” “There was more inspiration to play, create, and experiment.”

“Being directed by adults often creates pressure on the performers to do everything right the first time,” added actor Charlotte Kearns, who was cast in Lauren Henrie’s production of Joshua Brewer’s play “Dirt.” “Having a student as my director allowed me to be more comfortable messing up and following my impulses.”

For McCauley, the experience of directing was not only freeing, but also helped her challenge her previous ideas about the relationship between instructors and student actors. “Coming into this experience, I had a negative outlook on how directors thought about the actors in their shows,” she said. “After being the director, I realized all directors want is for you to succeed and do your best. They want the best for the show and the best for you.”

McCauley, like many of the other directors, realized that the best for the show meant encouraging her cast to share their intuitions. “I wanted to make sure everything was very collaborative,” she said. “Even though I may have had the title of "The Director," I wanted everyone to bring their own ideas and points of view to the work.”

Kearns appreciated that openness to actor ideas in her own director. “The One-Act Festival was the first time my blocking ideas were incorporated into the final performance,” she said. “I felt like I contributed, and developed even more pride in the final production.”

Josie Bourelly, who starred in “The Door,” had a similar experience. “My director and I had a very open line of communication, so I was able to be vocal about my ideas regarding the show and my part in it,” she said. “I got to see my ideas actually applied and put into action for the show.”

Bourelly also enjoyed opportunity to see practical applications of concepts she learned in class. “We truly built the piece together, and were able to reference common acting techniques and topics covered during our classes,” she said. “We really got the chance to build our characters together from the ground up, which meant that all could take full ownership of the show.”

Interlochen students also took ownership of the design and production aspects of the festival. Theatre performance students not cast in a production served as assistant directors, dramaturgs, and stage managers. Design and production students took the lead on the show’s design elements with support from Instructor of Design and Production Bridget Williams.

For junior Chloe Lupini, this year’s One-Act Festival was her first foray into a design role. As the costume coordinator, Lupini was responsible for working with directors to select and collect costume items.

The One-Act Festival’s short production time presents a unique challenge: no original costumes can be made, nor can any existing pieces be altered to fit the actors. Lupini’s task was simplified by the fact that the majority of the plays selected were set in the modern era, although resourcefulness and collaboration were still required. “I ended up working with the actors to do “closet pulls”: seeing what each actor had in their own closets that were appropriate for their character.”

Lupini, who had previously focused her studies in stage management, enjoyed the new perspective that her role provided. “Working as the costume coordinator for the One-Acts gave me a new view into how collaborative theatre is as a whole,” she said. “It’s a huge collaborative effort from everyone involved: from costume, lighting, and set designers to actors and directors.”

Ultimately, that collaborative effort is the soul of the One-Act Festival: An opportunity to create, share ideas, and deepen the community within the theatre division.

“The Interlochen One-Act Festival is a celebration of community, hard work, and the spirit of unity,” Yarovoy said. “Knowing that you are part of a production where lighting, costumes, mise-en-scène, direction, and acting is all done by peers is a feeling unlike any other. It’s like you can do anything you want. In those beautiful moments on stage, anything is possible.”