Theatre Features

3-16-15: Bringing a Production to Life
Darren Diggle takes team approach to building worlds on stage

After the SMU Division of Theatre mainstage production of The Sparrow took its final flight a Saturday afternoon in March 2015, graduate designer Darren Diggle (M.F.A. Design ’16) reflected on his experience bringing the production to life.

The Sparrow, written by SMU theatre alumni Nathan Allen, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton, was first produced at the House Theatre of Chicago.

“What excited me most about the story was all the possibilities that came with it,” Diggle said. “I love it when a script is so open-ended in its format that you have to really think hard and discover new and exiting ways to share those magical moments with your audience. It’s all about creating a consistent language for the show and how you tackle those challenges that written in the script.”

Diggle collaborated with alumna Molly Beach Murphy (B.F.A. Theatre ’09), who flew in from New York City to direct the show, and with fellow graduate designers Janet Berka (M.F.A. Design ’16) and Hunter Dowell (M.F.A. Design ’16). He attended every rehearsal.

“The nature of this play does really warrant the designer being in the rehearsal room,” Diggle said. “It allowed me to really have a strong handle on how the show was developing artistically. It allowed me to try things.”

Diggle, who has a background in theatre and dance, says that he prefers working this way and that it is not foreign to him as a designer.

“It takes a community, a team to build a show,” he said. “I have learned a lot. I learned I couldn’t ever give up on this type of process.”

Diggle has a background in working on devised theatre and new plays. For the past four summers, he traveled to Scotland, where he worked to devise shows from scratch as well as design shows for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, put up a national tour, and work for the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow.

“What’s great about being a set designer is you get to create an environment or world for the actors to live in and that world or environment can mean many things,” Diggle said. “You get to set the rules and establish a language that helps implement your storytelling.

“I loved working with everyone every day,” he said. “It was always so much fun to create art among other people who are just as committed to the process. It makes everything so much more rewarding.”




Published originally on SMU Meadows School of the Arts website

Film, television and stage actress Wrenn Schmidt (B.F.A. Theatre Studies, ‘05) visited Meadows School of the Arts recently to talk to theatre students about the industry and how her training at SMU prepared her for a career as an actress.

Schmidt, best known for her roles in Our Idiot Brother (2011), Mary and Louise (2014) and Boardwalk Empire (2010), studied in the theatre studies track within SMU’s Division of Theatre. Before SMU, she graduated high school from the prestigious South Carolina Governor’s School of the Arts and Humanities.

Schmidt, now living in Brooklyn, is grateful for the training and knowledge gathered from her time at SMU.

“SMU is such a great school and there are so many great things I learned here,” Schmidt says. “The work that you are doing now at Meadows doesn’t end.”

She shared memories of her encounters, conversations and experiences with members of the faculty during her time at SMU, including Dr. Michael Connolly, Dr. Gretchen Smith, Sara Romersberger, and Dee Darwin, during her time at SMU.

“One thing I learned at SMU was that you don’t know it all…and you don’t have to know it all,” Schmidt says. “Being lost is a sometimes a good thing.”

Early on in her training as a young actress, she had an injury that landed her in crutches, which she considers a blessing in disguise and a “great gift.”

“There are days that feel really hard and days that feel really good, but it is about pushing through those bumps in the road,” Schmidt says. “You learn more from your mistakes than from your successes and good mistakes happen when you let go.”

Shortly after graduation, Schmidt went on to act under the direction of Tony award-winning director Anthony Page in the National Broadway tour of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner. She has performed on stages throughout New York and her work can be seen in several television shows and films.

Schmidt is now represented by ICM Partners and Davis/Spylios. Upcoming work includes season four of CBS’s Person of Interest and Christopher Denham’s Preservation (Present Pictures) with Pablo Schreiber and Aaron Staton. Preservation will open in theatres January 2015. Other recent work includes her role as Kate, the new handler, on FX’s critically acclaimed second season of The Americans opposite Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys and as Jenna Olson on FX’s newest drama, Tyrant.


9-11-14: At SMU Theatre’s Conference Hour, Alums Chris Mathews and Jake Minton Talk Careers

Published originally on the SMU Meadows School of the Arts website.

Upon their graduation from SMU’s Division of Theatre in 2002, Chris Mathews and Jake Minton moved to Chicago and helped fellow classmate Nathan Allen (B.F.A. Theatre ’00) start The House Theatre. Mathews, Minton and Allen are three of 11 SMU graduates in the company today. On September 5, Mathews and Minton visited SMU for a conference hour with theatre students to share insights about launching careers in the field.

The House Theatre is a nonprofit ensemble theatre company with the mission of exploring the ideas of storytelling in order to create a unique and interactive theatrical experience. In 2007, The House became the first recipient of Broadway in Chicago’s Emerging Theater Award and the theatre has been gifted and nominated for several other awards in the area.

“We just wanted to keep playing and we wanted to find a place to do that for cheap,” Mathews said. “We were interested in doing our own stuff, and Chicago has a warm theatre community for supporting young startups.”

Minton explained that they had ideas of what they wanted to create as well as the beginnings of a mission. “We were not interested in the fourth wall,” Minton said. “We wanted to talk to the audience.”

Minton said The House’s second venue, called The Viaduct, was such a tiny space that during intermission he would use the same restroom the audience did. At the beginning, the team believed that would be an issue, but soon realized it was one of the best things about what they were doing at the time as part of the theatre scene in Chicago.

“We though, if we are going to talk to the audience on stage, why don’t we talk to them offstage too?” he asked.

Both Mathews and Minton expressed their gratitude that, while they continue to audition for other companies and pursue other artistic ventures in the Chicago area, The House Theatre serves as their artistic home.

“We count ourselves so lucky to have a base tribe and a place to play and to fail and a place to do our own thing,” Mathews said. “It is a place to act in a show that you want; a place to create and share ideas.”

Mathews and Minton are two of the three creators of The Sparrow, which SMU’s Division of Theatre will produce as part of the mainstage season in spring 2015.

The two met while at SMU, and it was through their networking that they are able to write and work together today. They became friends and realized they complemented each other very well, so they knew they would work well together as writer-collaborators.

“Your biggest assets are the relationships you make right now, because it’s a business built on relationships,” Mathews told students at the conference hour. “Nathan knew where the artists were that he wanted to work with. Always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. You’re going to need their connections.”

The pair explained that when they were at SMU, they connected with the Division of Dance to produce and direct shows such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Faustus and Macbeth, all shows that took place at the fountain outside the Greer Garson Theatre. These interdisciplinary relationships helped them network with artists that they would work with in the future.

“At SMU, the faculty gave me tools for my toolbox,” Mathews said. “They weren’t giving me the one way to do things. They allowed me to explore. The harmony was in the arguments.”



3/26/14 – NVNV PROFILE STORIES round three

Part three in the series: a close look at New Visions, New Voices 2014

Meadows students and playwrights Stephen Gardner (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14) and Claire Carson (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14) introduce their New Visions, New Voices works.

Each spring, Meadows is graced with the brand new work of senior playwriting students. This year marks the 20th season of New Visions, New Voices, an annual playwriting festival put on by the Division of Theatre of SMU. Showing at the Greer Garson Theatre March 21-29, New Visions, New Voices features full-length plays written by nine senior playwriting students and directed by guest artists, alumni, faculty and current students. This project is guided by Associate Professor and Head of Theatre Studies Gretchen Smith and admission is free.

A word with Stephen Gardner (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14), playwright of The Glass House; New Visions, New Voices, Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 8 p.m.

Ally Van Deuren: What is your play about?
Stephen Gardner: This play is about the Glass family and their struggles for autonomy, love, happiness, fulfillment and truth. I’m hesitant to say more, because part of the fun of the script is figuring it out as it goes along.


AVD: What was your inspiration for writing this play?


SG: I was inspired to write this play when I was reading the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky last summer. I loved the Russian energy and the intensity of their emotional lives and experiences. I also loved how Dostoyevsky played with form and tone, and dramatic misdirection. While in the middle of The Brothers Karamazov, I realized that I had to write a family drama of my own in the Russian manner, and I chose to present it in a Chekhovian four-act structure.


AVD: How has the New Visions, New Voices process been so far?


SG: The process has been great and it has been a lot of fun getting actors into the room.  When writing this play, I was very focused on finding a particular rhythm for the play and for these characters, and the specific flux of energy with the action on stage. It has been a very rewarding experience to have actors who are so willing to work on discovering and embodying all of these nuances.


AVD: When did you first get interested in playwriting?


SG: I first got interested in writing plays when I was in middle school and realized that when you write a play, you can put as many curse words in it as you want (I was in middle school…) and that you can chronicle certain experiences in your life in a way that allows other people to relate to them. I’ve also always loved making people laugh and telling jokes, and for this reason a lot of my earlier writings were comedic and oftentimes outright silly. Since then, I’ve really been interested in playing around with form and the composition of plays – both in specific moments and the overall play structure. This probably has something to do with the fact that I was a math nerd in high school.


AVD: Where do you see your play going after New Visions, New Voices?

SG: I definitely want to sit on this play for a little bit after the reading. I’ve been working on it and obsessing over it for around nine months now and it’s always good to step away from a work for a little bit so that you can come at it with a fresh perspective.  The end goal is to send this play out to a bunch of theatre companies and contests and grant opportunities and see if I can get a full production of it somewhere. But the way I see it is that I still have time to do a lot of things.  I’m never going to stop writing, and I hope to never grow out of touch with my imagination.


“The Glass House” premieres on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 8 p.m.


A word with Claire Carson (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14), playwright of Chrysalis Blue; New Visions, New Voices, Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 2 p.m.

Ally Van Deuren: What is the play about?

Claire Carson:It’s a fairy tale about an 8 year old in a mental institution and a boy and girl who run away to a tower in the woods. I’m hesitant to reveal too much about the plot, because it’s sort of crucial to the experience of the play that the puzzle pieces of the story fit together as you watch it, but it focuses on how trauma shapes people in strange and specific ways and what it is to bury all your hopes, dreams and expectations inside another person.


AVD: What was your inspiration for the play?


CC:I was watching a lot of documentaries about psychopaths and serial killers and was fascinated by their childhoods and their families and the reasons they turned into the people they turned into. I also wanted to make a case for things that society considers gross or taboo or scary. I wanted to find a way to make those things relatable or understandable and to excavate the beauty in things that are generally regarded as ugly.


AVD: How has the process been so far?


CC:Strange. Writing anything is hard because you start with an idea, and it’s like your baby and it’s so exciting and particular and special to you and that’s the worst, because eventually you have to abandon your pretty little idea because it’s limiting. Eventually you have to let the characters and the conflict evolve naturally and give up control and place trust in the world of the play and the people you’ve created in it. And that’s been hard with this play because it keeps going places that scare me and make me uncomfortable!Being able to sit in on rehearsals has been incredibly helpful because it quickly becomes clear what the actors do and do not follow and when the play diverts from action; those things are hard to identify on your own, when you’re just reading and re-reading the words you’ve written. It really helps to hear it out loud.


AVD: When did you first get interested in playwriting?


CC: High school. I wrote a really stupid play that I hated and decided I was only ever going to write poems. Then I came to SMU and realized that plays could just be poems with lights and sound and that it was all kind of the same. I realized that the theatre I like most does the same thing poetry does and that it affects people the same way.


AVD: What are your plans for the future of this play and also future plans for you?


CC: I’m in conversation with a classmate (the lovely and talented Carson McCain) about putting a reiteration of the play this summer in either Dallas or Nashville, directed by her, and more fully produced! No plans are set in stone yet, but it’s definitely an exciting possibility.As for me, I’m planning on staying in Dallas next year. I want to save money and read more and write more and cook more and keep working at the bakery I work at and start doing yoga or something. I also want to write a musical with my friend Trevor. Not a “musical-ly” musical; I’m interested in specific imagery and space manipulation and movement happening in time with beautiful music on stage. So that’s a theatrical goal for the upcoming year!


“Chrysalis Blue” premieres on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 2 p.m.





3/17/14 – NVNV PROFILE STORIES part two

Another look at New Visions, New Voices 2014

Meadows students and playwrights Sarah Hamilton (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14) and Kristen Kelso (B.F.A. Theatre, B.A. Spanish, ’14) introduce their New Visions, New Voices works

New Visions, New Voices, an annual spring playwriting festival, celebrates its 20th season this year. This year, New Visions, New Voices will feature full-length plays written by nine senior playwriting students. Directors include guest artists, faculty, alumni and current students. SMU Associate Professor and Head of Theatre Studies Gretchen Smith heads up the project. The shows run in the Greer Garson Theatre from March 21 to 29, 2013. Admission is free.

A word with Sarah Hamilton (B.F.A. Theatre, ’14), playwright of “How To Cook for One Person” in New Visions, New Voices.

Ally Van Deuren: What is your play, How to Cook for One Person, about?

Sarah Hamilton: The main character of my play is Faye and she’s 65 years old. She’s lived in Tyler Town, Mississippi all her life she was married to the pastor of the First Baptist Church but he has just passed away. In his absence, she is faced with the realization that she doesn’t really have anyone to take care of her.

AVD: Where did you gather inspiration for writing the play? Is it part of something that you have been writing for a long time?

SH: I had this idea at the beginning of last semester. My grandmother is the wife of a pastor from a very small town. She’s not like Faye at all, but something that has always interested me is the religious suffocation that sometimes happens in small Southern towns and this plight of being a woman. My original thought was: what would happen if my grandmother didn’t believe in God anymore? Instead of having that loss of God, it became the loss of meaning in her life, which is kind of the same thing when you think about it.

AVD: Are you from a small town?

SH: I am from Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina; population 4,000 people. It is not quite as small as the one in my play or my grandmother’s town. I escaped some of the small town-isms because it’s only about 20 minutes outside of Greenville, which is one of the big urban centers in South Carolina. This play is very personal to me.

AVD: How has the process of New Visions, New Voices been so far?

SH: I was there for the first two weeks and it was really great! I’m not one of those people who write compulsively or write very easily, so revisions are so hard for me. As I would hear people would be working on scenes in rehearsals, it was a lot easier for me to rewrite. After [the actors] worked through the play, I’ve gone back and rewritten the whole play so it’s really different now from when it started. My actors are so great and I’m just so impressed with them. I am so glad [Jenna Hannum, B.F.A. Theatre, ‘15] is directing the play because she is from a small town in Texas and she kinds of gets this stuff!

AVD: Did you always know you wanted to be a playwright?

SH: No! I took this class because Gretchen convinced me to take it! But, playwriting has become one of the classes that I appreciate the most. I am so grateful that Gretchen didn’t listen to me when I told her that I didn’t want to take it! It’s good to write because it makes you more articulate and it makes you think and be more specific. It’s hard and it’s good to try to do something that’s hard. I enjoy playwriting but I don’t consider myself a playwright at all, by any means.

AVD: Where do you see this play going after New Visions, New Voices?

SH: After New Visions, New Voices, I think I would still want to keep workshopping it before sending it out as a finished thing. Gretchen spoke about doing a reading or workshop somewhere in South Carolina and that might happen. There are still a lot of things left to work on before I think it should be fully produced.

Don’t miss “How to Cook for One Person” on Sunday, March 23, 2014 at 2 p.m. Hamilton will also direct “This” as part of the Rep series this April.







A word with Kristen Kelso (B.F.A. Theatre, B.A. Spanish, ’14), playwright of La Lluvia in New Visions, New Voices.

Ally Van Deuren: What is your play La Lluvia about?

Kristen Kelso: It’s funny, because until yesterday, when people would ask me what my play was about, I had the hardest time telling them. The play is about a woman called mujer, which means woman in Spanish, and the play shows her from 11 to 25 years old. She grows up in a household where her mother is a healer, or a curandera and her father tries to squash that. She struggles to harness these gifts that she has in spite of her father. The main plot is between man and mujer and they build a life together. It’s about magic and where you can find magic in everyday life. Because magic is a child being born, or it’s love, or it’s connecting somebody or it’s escaping something.

AVD: Where did you get the inspiration to write the play?

KK: Two and a half years ago, I was studying in Costa Rica and I was sitting in my host family’s house and it was pouring down rain and we had a tin roof. I was sitting there listening to this torrential rain and I just started writing. I just had this image of this woman collecting the rain to get something from it because it was healing. I wrote one scene for my junior playwriting class. This year I decided to bring it all about and make a whole play about it.

AVD: Did you always know you wanted to write plays when you came to SMU?

KK: I knew that I had the opportunity, which really excited me. As a little girl, I loved writing. I would write poems and short stories. I dabbled in it, but I never imagined myself writing a full-length play.

AVD: Where do you see your play going after New Visions, New Voices?

KK: I know this is not the end of it. I don’t think I’ve finished it by any means, but I think the story is in a good place for this workshop. I really want to take it someplace else.

AVD: How has the process been so far?

KK: The first rehearsal, I couldn’t breathe. It was really good to hear [the play] out loud for the first time, and then to hear [the actors’] feedback and what they were confused about. I rewrote a lot after the first rehearsal. [Director Sara Romersberger] is incredible. We’ve created our own timeline of the play and when we showed them to each other, they matched up almost 95% perfectly. It’s incredible when your director understands your vision and is able to carry it out.

I have finally this year been able to combine my two majors and find the beauty in it. Everything is so relevant to each other – the play that I am writing, the things we learn about in acting, the stuff we read about in Spanish, to the things we talk about in directing – everything is so interconnected and this year is sort of the culmination of that for me. It was really encouraging because it feels like I am just doing one huge project.

AVD: What is the importance of new works?

KK: I think readings are just as important if not more important than big productions.

They are what are going to get you in the door. Most of the things you are going to be involved with and most of the things you are going to network through are new works. It’s so rich because of all the new, wonderful ideas. Readings are SO important and it teaches you so much about acting because the whole thing is a cold read at first.


Don’t miss “La Lluvia” on Sunday, March 22, 2014 at 8 p.m. Kelso will also direct “Marisol” as part of the Rep series this April.





Ally Van Deuren: First and foremost, what is your play, “Mutations” about?

‪Thomas Valentine Gelo: A dark comedy about millennial families, “Mutations” explores the pitfalls of suburban America and the half-life of the nuclear family.‬

High school valedictorian August Camden, living in the shadow of a successful father, a burn-out brother, and a step-mother just ten years older than himself, discovers that the road to the “American Dream” is filled with potholes.

The play endeavors to explore the socio-economic pressures of the contemporary “middle class,” and it’s effect on the development of a generation. From ADHD to Snapchat to suicide, the Camden family paints a Chekovian portrait that, unfortunately, might be all too familiar.

AVD: What was your inspiration for the play?

TG: My inspiration stems from a number of places.  Growing up I had a lot of friends with plans, dreams, goals, etc. that were never acted upon.  The majority of those kids either still live with their parents, or live in their hometowns, working minimum wage jobs with no future plans.  I was curious as to the socio-economic forces that encourage this lifestyle, especially in the cases in which the kids were not restricted financially.  When I was introduced to Chekov, particularly “The Seagull,” and “Three Sisters,”  I felt that the themes carried over to my generation in interesting ways.  I wanted to explore this connection with “Mutations.”

AVD: How has this process been so far?

TG: Incredible. Of course, we have the wonderful support and knowledge of a professor like Dr. [Gretchen] Smith.  It is really inspiring to see your work take root in a group of talented theatre artists like the actors and directors we’ve been assigned.  It’s amazing to have access to a talent pool like that as an outlet for your writing.

AVD: When did you first get interested in playwriting?

TG: I’ve always been interested in creative writing.  I was that kid in middle school English classes that would write narratives in his journal rather than the assigned daily topic.  When I got to high school, I wrote skits and dialogue for the talent show, and even wrote a full-length play that will hopefully never surface.

AVD: What are your plans for the future of “Mutations?”

TG: I hope to submit “Mutations” to national and international competitions and festivals.  It would be great to some day see it as a full production.  In terms of other projects, I’m about five chapters into a novel that I hope to self-publish by the end of the year.


Ally Van Deuren: First and foremost, what is your play, “Implications of a Mix CD” about?

Carson McCain: My play is about a girl named Reina, these boys in her life, and their feelings of love, and the purpose of Mix-CDs, and how a bunch of things can exist before we ever have the words for them.

AVD: What was your inspiration for the play?

CM: I was inspired by the truths I have seen in my life and the lives of the women I grew up with who found themselves defined by who loved them or who they thought they loved. I wanted to write about the struggle for identity, while everyone is telling you what you should do. I was inspired by my complete hatred for the HBO show, “Girls” and wanted to engage with the problems that I see young people having, in a true way.

AVD: How has this process been so far?

CM: It’s been in the works since I wrote my very first 10 minute scene in my junior playwriting class. The scene I wrote ended up being the second scene of my play. I enjoyed these characters and wanted to see them grow! Rehearsals have been great to observe and incredibly challenging as a playwright. I have had to really deal with the problems of my script that I thought could be overlooked. It’s been rewarding to watch the results of my work, though tough to realize that I can’t be as perfect as I want to be.

AVD: When did you first get interested in playwriting?

CM: I didn’t think I would be interested in playwriting, until I took this class junior year. Because we were literally creating from scratch, and actively silencing our inner editor, I felt more like an artist than I had in any other class. I felt like I was able to get my hands dirty in a way that I hadn’t before. I had full control over what was going to be said, and it was inspiring to me in all other aspects of my creative life.

AVD: What are your plans for the future of your play?

CM: I am planning to submit this particular play to several development festivals in the future. More than that, the New Visions, New Voices process has confirmed for me a passion for new work by upcoming playwrights. As a director and an actor, I hope to participate in developing scripts at stages like these reading, and in workshops, and new play festivals.

2/2/14 – Green room upgrade pleases students and faculty alike

Green room upgradeBy Ally Van Deuren

Meadows performing arts students arrived back to school in August to quite a pleasant surprise very close to home.

“Home” being the Meadows basement, and even more specifically, the “green room,” the very center of community for Meadows performing artists during their four years of training at SMU.

“I think what’s really cool and unique about [a green room] being at an arts school, specifically our arts school and how it is structured, is that it has the opportunity to be the center of community interdisciplinary,” junior theatre major Ryan-Patrick McLaughlin said.

“It’s a place where you can see other artists,” added Emily Bernet, a sophomore dance major.

Director of Meadows Facilities Jay Hengst took the project by storm several years ago when he revamped the first and second floors of the building.

“This time it was just getting so filthy and dirty and we were in the process already of a multiyear project to replace the hallway floors throughout the building,” Hengst said, who went to Dean of Meadows José Bowen with his proposal. “I wanted to rip out the built-ins and completely redesign and rethink that space.”

Hengst, who came to SMU in 1997, said that the green room and its adjacent classroom, B430, had remained the same ever since he started working here. While he had replaced the carpet every few years, he decided that it was time for a full restore.

“It’s a place where prospective students go when they audition and it wasn’t very welcoming,” Hengst said. “It’s an excellent program, so I wanted the facilities to reflect that as well.”

Hengst and his team took out the carpet in the green room and replaced the floors throughout the entire basement. He also decided to replace the carpet in B430 with hardwood floors to keep the room more sanitary.

In addition to the floor changes, there are now brightly-colored couches and tables located in the green room where students can study or grab a bite to eat in between classes.

“It’s good to have a place where everybody can be in the same area and just decompress after class or before you go in,” sophomore dance major Alison Glander said.

Hengst said that depending on the budget, he would eventually like to take out the florescent lights and put in new light fixtures. He has high hopes to refinish the floors in the Kathy Bates Studio as well as another neighboring classroom, B150, both in the basement.

In the meantime, Meadows students are pleased with the basement makeover.

“New furniture seems simple and materialistic, but really I think it can point to being the opportunity for creating better community within the arts school,” McLaughlin said. “It’s exciting to me to see that something as simple as our furniture or our flooring can reflect what our artistry also tries to do.”


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