On DirectorFest with Gaye Taylor Upchurch

This week, The Drama League presents DirectorFest 2007, the 24th annual presentation of one-act plays staged by the Fall Directing Fellows of The Drama League Directors Project (Roger Danforth, Artistic Director). DirectorFest 2007 runs from Thursday, December 6 through Sunday, December 9, 2007 at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex in midtown Manhattan (312 West 36th Street).

Performances are Thursday, December 6 at 8PM; Friday, December 7 at 8PM; Saturday, December 8 at 2PM & 8PM; and Sunday, December 9 at 3PM.

Since its inception in 1984, The Drama League Directors Project has gained an international reputation for nurturing a new generation of exceptional directors. One of this year's featured productions is Fit for Feet, directed by Drama League Directing Fellow Gaye Taylor Upchurch.

In Jordan Harrison's 2003 drama, as their wedding day approaches, a young couple finds their new love is tested when the husband-to-be begins to believe he is Nijinsky. Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch received her BFA in Directing from the North Carolina School of the Arts, and was awarded the Kennedy Center's 2005 Kenan Fund for the Performing Arts Residency Fellowship. She has directed productions at the 2007 Summer Play Festival, LCT's Director's Lab, the Kennedy Center's American College Theatre Festival, and was assistant director to Garry Hynes on the recent Broadway production of Translations.

The following is Upchurch's own personal take on this year's Drama League Director's Project and Fit for Feet.

A MOMENT (HOPEFULLY) COMES TOGETHER FOR DIRECTORFEST

For Drama League's DirectorFest, I'm directing Jordan Harrison's one-act Fit for Feet. I love this play. One of the reasons I chose to direct it is because I wanted to dig into the challenge of the theatricality that Jordan weaves into the script. For instance, he wrote the fantastic stage direction, "Jimmy jumps. This time he does not come down." I was fascinated. Not only was I intrigued by the story and the emotional resonance of Jimmy (who begins to think he's Nijinsky) taking off from the world never to return, but I also wanted to see that moment on stage. What would that be?

When the designers and I first began brainstorming about how to achieve a sustaining leap, we ran the gamut of possibilities. I had no interest in actually flying him as I thought we might be able to come up with something more interesting. Maybe a rope ladder drops? What if he climbs scaffolding? Or a series of platforms? Maybe painted roll drops come from the grid and simulate an upward momentum? Maybe scenery rises from the deck as the gesture of a new breath and space. And then there's always video.

I really wanted the moment to be simple and, if possible, to give a nod to the world of ballet-a design aesthetic that more often than not employs the mechanics of old stagecraft rather than new-fangled technology. That ruled out video. Also, the idea to use ordinary objects to assist with the extraordinary leap seemed a good idea since it echoed the story of ordinary Jimmy becoming Nijinsky.

Also in figuring this out, we had the additional challenge of only six rehearsal days and less than 5 hours of tech. I wanted to make sure that whatever we came up with would be able to be accomplished in our allotted time. The sound and lighting designers discussed vocabularies they could establish to help sell the leap-I think what they came up with is really beautiful.

Through our collaborative efforts, we found a way for Jimmy to build a dressing table for himself and simply step onto it for the leap. With a fantastic actor living the leap, sound, lights, and star-like light bulbs coming down from the sky, we're hoping to achieve the moment simply and beautifully. We tech it this afternoon, so I haven't seen the full effect yet. I am hopeful. I think the best part about our being diligent and persistent in coming up with this design is that we are accomplishing the leap by employing the imagination of the audience. Jimmy really flies without the Peter Pan harness or video or super-complicated technical scenery. . .In that way, I think we also are striking at the heart of Jordan's play: the ordinary becoming magical and the terrible beauty of taking the leap and leaving everything behind.

Photo: Gaye Taylor Upchurch


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