Minnehaha’s most recent play, which followed a young, soon-to-be-married girl who encountered a storyteller, showcased student director Matthew Humason during Labor Day weekend
For centuries, storytelling has been a way for humans to express themselves and pass down traditions from generation to generation. Minnehaha students and actors experimented with this art form right at the beginning of the school year with a one act play that highly emphasized storytelling, not just as a production, but within the plot itself. At the opening of the play over Labor day weekend, a weary traveler knocks on the door of a family’s home as the story begins.
“Good evening, dear lady. I wonder if you might have a scrap of bread for a poor man on a long journey.” The traveler’s clothes were worn and tattered with age, a battered hat clutched in his hand.
“Of course!” exclaimed the father of the household. “Come in!”
The door shut behind the man, who took his seat near the family dinner table, listening to the young girl, Anna, speak of her impending marriage.
“Sir,” the traveler said to the father, “may I offer a gift to the bride-to-be? The most valuable thing I possess…a story.”
The family readily accepts, and the storyteller weaves a tale of magic, witches, and the journey of a young girl on her way to find her lost love. As the tale unfolds, the Storyteller directs while each member of the family plays a role in acting out the drama.
“The Falcon” is a one act play based on a Russian folk tale and adapted by Greg Palmer. The play tells the story of a young girl who is engaged to be married, but must honestly re-evaluate her engagement when a mysterious ‘storyteller’ arrives and leads the group in the re-enactment of a fairy tale.
Towards the end of the 2015-2016 school year, senior Matthew Humason approached director Nicholas Freeman with the desire to do a show over the summer. This eventually led to Humason choosing the script, becoming the show’s director, and forming of a group of Minnehaha students who met to practice and prepare for the production.
“I hadn’t planned on directing it, but Mr. Freeman offered and it’s something that I am interested in in college and professionally,” said Humason. “So for me, it has been a really great opportunity to do that.”
Through his time in high school, Humason has learned how to tell stories through both acting and directing. “The Falcon” is a tale in which the art of storytelling plays a prominent role and was an opportunity for Humason to take a step back from acting and focus on directing. While there are obvious differences between these two skills, Humason learned they can actually be very similar at times.
“When you are acting you are thinking about where and what you are doing on stage and how you are portraying yourself, and it’s sort of the same idea when you are directing,” he said. “You are trying to shape the performance into this idea. It’s a lot of the same thinking and a lot of the same skills and knowledge that goes into it.”
Local theater professional Jamil Jude, a freelance director and the Park Square Theatre’s artistic programming associate, also sees parallels between acting and directing and believes that honesty, a concept the bride-to-be struggled with at the end of “The Falcon,” plays an important role in both.
“I definitely think both actors and directors are interpreters, meaning that we take the text and we attempt to derive meaning,” said Jude. “We find a way through our own bodies and minds to interpret what the playwright intended on stage. We try to interpret that as truthfully as possible. I try to find the honesty and the truth in my staging of plays.”
As “The Falcon” draws to a close, the Storyteller leaves Anna with a box holding a single falcon feather to reminder her of the story of a half man, half falcon and how his love went on a journey to set him free. Lifting the lid, Anna struggles to be honest with herself and questions if she is really ready for marriage and if her fiance is the right man for her.
This honesty is something that Jude strives for in both the actors he works with and his directing. As character development is a central part of storytelling, developing and changing characters over time can present a challenge for directors and actors to achieve with honesty and in a way that is realistic.
“For me, I think it’s really easy to paint characters as either good or bad and I think as humans, we are more complex than that,” said Jude. “When I work with actors, I really try to ask questions to challenge or to allow the actor to think about their character outside of just what the plot says.”
Director Nicholas Freeman points out another trait acting and directing share.
“[In both], interpersonal communication is huge. You have to be able to communicate your vision and be able to work with others to make those stories come to life on stage.”
Humason experienced this need for good communication between directors and actors while directing “The Falcon.”
“There are a lot of times where I will have an idea and I will try to say it and it doesn’t make sense at all,” he said. “I have learned a lot about learning to communicate abstract ideas with other people and have them make sense.”
As this production was mostly student driven, it is unclear whether or not students will continue with another one-act production in the summer of 2017, but Humason believes it is something worth the time and effort.
“I think it would be awesome if somebody else wanted to do it next year,” he said. “I would definitely recommend it because it has been a great experience.”
For actors and directors alike, each new play or musical is an opportunity to learn new skills, such as those involving communication and honesty.
“I think the script is a blueprint, and the playwright gives us the places to go,” Jude said.
Having learned that communication skills play a huge role in the art and purpose of storytelling, Humason hopes that this production has helped the Minnehaha community become more aware of the theater program and potentially motivate students to get involved with either acting, directing, or simply attending a play or musical.
“We put on a lot of great shows every year that a lot of people just don’t realize they can come and see,” said Humason. “Without an audience theater doesn’t exist.”