Apprenticeship Workshop: Observation and “Detailed Details”

by Emma McDonald, Company One Apprentice

 

Observation is something almost all people are capable of. In preparation for the Apprentice’s next event, they have been observing the people and world around them through a series of activities and exercises. These have included describing daily what they see on their the way to work, a mental and physical visualization exercise of a familiar place (bedrooms), and a step by step description of how to make toast. By digging into receptors of the mind, people are able to better differentiate the world around them, eventually becoming more empiric. In addition to observing what they are able to see with their own eyes around Boston, the Apprentices have also looked at a myriad of different photos, exploring different themes and feelings and challenging themselves to record their observations as thoroughly and with as many details as possible. During one exercise, each Apprentice chose a photo, and then had to describe it in four ways: what they saw, how they felt, the smells it reminded them of, and choosing or creating a song to represent the chosen picture.

Below are examples of their work!

 

APP3Emma’s narrative about a photo of a New York City skyline sunset:

A summer sunset in a big city, far from any neutrality. The warm, copper-like horizon breaks off into a juxtaposed, cool metallic line. The strategically placed iconic buildings have one side facing the sun, which illuminates said side and leaves the other in almost complete darkness. The windows twinkle like the stars you see in upstate Vermont, some are brighter than others, but they all hold at least one wish. The clouds are intertwined with the buildings that are grand in stature, both having racing opacities as each minute passes. The water off in the distance is calm, unlike the chaos happening below the sunset. The stretch of buildings could continue forever but is stopped by the darkness of night ready to fall from space itself. The shadows cast by the colossal structures overpower the smaller buildings and even the people who cannot even be compared by size. The top points of each building stretch as much as they can to the sky, desperately trying to not be forgotten.

 

Erique’s feelings regarding a well organized photo of a man typing:

APP2Memories of me sitting in my room, lights are off, except for the firefly lights that are always on, so there is a distinct red and yellow lighting. I would be laying back on a pile of pillows, laptop on my lap. Chips or Oreos in a paper plate sitting on the comforter. And me staring at my laptop, either on Facebook, Instagram, or watching Netflix. My phone in my pocket and really just chilling. Or a memory of me still with lights off and firefly lights on, But instead the laptop would sit on the bed and I would be rearranging furniture in my room while also cleaning. Listening to Alessia Cara Album, or the Neighborhood, or  Lianne La Havas’ song Elusive. Again though feeling of being warm and in my space, just chilling. Maybe a friend might FaceTime me or something. Memories of doing my junior thesis up until 3 am, with the TV on just to keep me awake, or loud music. Memories of me forgetting I had homework and then remembering at 12. Nights of 5 page Bio Homework

 

The smells Kennisha associates with a tropical, beautiful beach:APP

There seem to be a gentle breeze as the trees seem to be swaying and dancing slowly to it. The waves seem to be caressing every pieces of dry sand it touches. The waves seem to be so soft and quiet that it could rock a baby to sleep. The breeze is beckoning the waves ashore but instead of going ashore, it forms a blanket of water over the already wet sand. It reminds me of when I went to the beach with my mom and our church when I was little. I was so excited on that day. It was a beautiful sunny day with barely any clouds in the sky just like in the picture. I remember smelling the salt water when I got off the bus. You could almost taste the salt from the water as the warm breeze was blowing.

 

Eric’s rap he wrote about a photo of birthday cupcakes:

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Happy birthday, yo it’s yo’ birthday rap up for yo’ birthday. It’s the one day of the, of the year where it’s all about you. Make sure to make that live. Hard stay up, yo.

Did I hear it’s yo’ birthday? Make it count because the one day (day) of the year where everyone wants to make your day, but this just made your day.

It’s that day again,  yo, because it’s yo’ birthday. So get that money, live it up, don’t stop trying. Don’t let nobody bring you down.

It’s not only make money Friday, but it’s yo’ birthday, so it’s make money big today.

‘Ight I feel like we been through it all. Hell and though fire and water. Broke money though it all.

I am happy. Say you’re not only the best person to me in the world. You are funniest, smartest person in the world. When we first met I didn’t like you at all, but now it’s like your  are my life. Have a good birthday. Live it up.

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A Day at the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club

On Saturday January 16th, the Company One Apprentices ventured into the Dorchester Boys and Girls Club and hosted an eye-catching, political and socially innovative event that focused on the groundbreaking news that covered the year 2015.

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The foundation of the event was the play AN OCTOROON by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which will be Company One’s 2nd play of its 17th season. The play has many themes such as racism, love triangles, money, melodrama, and slavery. The characters that the Apprentices connected with most were two slaves: Minnie, an optimistic straightforward and fearsome dreamer, and Dido, her more reserved emotional and overly cautious best friend. The event was centered on the contemporary issues people are facing and how it is related to the social issues of the 1850s that Minnie and Dido lived in.

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Our participants were young members of the Boys and Girls Club, who ranged between the ages of 10 to 16. The event began with introductions from the Apprentices, Company One staff members from the Education and Dramaturgy departments, and the youth attendants.

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We then projected onto the wall a video of the last scene from the play featuring Minnie and Dido, followed by a witty commentary reaction clip featuring the Apprentices. This was then followed by another reaction video from Minnie and Dido, which prompted the youth members to creatively reflect on the year 2015. Each person was given a list of notable topics from 2015 to discuss – this list, which the Apprentices put together, included #NetflixandChill, Donald Trump, ISIS, Bill Cosby, Planned Parenthood, #BlackLivesMatter, and more.

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The discussion was very productive, encouraging, and the youth members had many valid points about the many topics. They each had to pick a topic and comment on that topic through any creative medium they chose. This could include a skit, rap, scene, poem, short story, letter, drawing, design, collage, etc. on how they felt about the topic.

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Youth members chose to design shirts, write poems and short stories, and create a graphic design on the computer. They were incredibly expressive, articulate and passionate about the topics they chose. Their work was innovative and all were impressed by the creativity in the room. Everyone came together to share out what they did and were supportive while their peers were expressing themselves. The act of reflecting on what has happened is a skill everyone, regardless of age or gender, has the capability to do. It was a dynamic and creatively rich event that the Apprentices will never forget!

 

Production Interview with AN OCTOROON Set Designers Christopher and Justin Swader

Set Designers for Company One Theatre's production of AN OCTOROON, Chris and Justin Swader.

Set Designers for Company One Theatre’s production of AN OCTOROON, Chris and Justin Swader.

When translating a play into a production, reading the first lines of the script’s stage directions is the literary equivalent of walking into a theatre and seeing the set. It is the job of the Set Designers on an artistic team to bring what is written on the page to what the audience will physically see on stage. For some productions, this might look like an incredibly detailed-oriented dining room, equipped with large oak dining table, a Swarovski crystal chandelier, and an antique buffet table. For others, two black blocks pushed together and a couple of chairs can represent the same dining room. Set designers are vital members of the artistic team. Like every other artistic collaborator on a project, it is their job to interpret the work of the playwright and transfer that interpretation to the stage.

The set designers for Company One Theatre’s (C1) production of AN OCTOROON—two brothers, Christopher and Justin Swader—have designed numerous productions, including projects in New York City where they are artistically based. Their last design project with C1 was on THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY by Aditi Brenen Kapil in 2014. C1 consistently strives to work with artists like Chris and Justin who enjoy collaborating with other designers, are deeply engaged in each project, and, perhaps most importantly, take risks with bold design choices.

Christopher and Justin expanded on their creative process as designers on AN OCTOROON and on other projects in an interview with Fran Da Silveira, an Education Associate at C1. The images included in the interview were researched and collected by Chris and Justin during their research of set designs for AN OCTOROON.

What is your “concept-to-production” process?

Justin and I don’t have a specific formula for how we take a script on the page and formulate that into a fully realized design. I wish it were easier to dissect exactly how that discovery transpires, but the mystery and adventure that each process brings is often what is most exciting. We always start with the text, reading it several times until we are at a place where we can clearly start responding to the kinds of imagery that it draws up.

The Set Designers for AN OCTOROON researched the fundamentals of performance spaces to create their design for Company One Theatre’s production.

The Set Designers for AN OCTOROON researched the fundamentals of performance spaces to create their design for Company One Theatre’s production.

We both usually have lots of questions, some of them very specific and others extremely open-ended. The subsequent reads of the script are where we really start to make some assumptions and let the wheels start turning. By that point, we have usually had some conversations with the director to discuss their vision for the play and any initial impulses they might have. It is always constructive when the initial discussions with the director are primarily focused on what excites them about the play, and then slowly start to let that excitement manifest into what the world might be. While it’s not always the case, having the other designers in the room early on is a real treat. It is always a thrilling experience when everyone is actively discovering and problem-solving as a group—those inspired moments of cross-collaboration, where perhaps a sound designer solves an issue that is affecting the set designer or the lighting designer and costume designer work hand-in-hand to make a particular moment come to life. That’s what makes creating art in theatre so rewarding. Fortunately, the process with C1 has been especially collaborative in how they involve the entire group in discussions and meetings.

We are both very visual, so we usually will create a model in 3D form during the process—even if it is first crudely mocked up with paper and tape—anything that helps communicate the design in miniature form before committing to it in full scale is important. Sketches and renderings are also useful tools in putting an idea to the test. Once designs begin to take more shape, we will translate it into technical drawings on the computer and hand them off to the technical team to begin construction. After this point in the process, our involvement varies – sometimes we are extremely hands-on, painting and dressing the set ourselves, and other times we are merely there to consult with more skilled and talented artists that will help see the vision through. In either scenario, it is always extremely satisfying when the set is complete, and the actors can inhabit and explore the world that has been created.

A classic image of a Southern plantation, where the action of AN OCTOROON takes place. The set designers used inspiration images like this to develop concepts for their final design.

A classic image of a Southern plantation, where the action of AN OCTOROON takes place. The set designers used inspiration images like this to develop concepts for their final design.

What resources are at the disposal of a set design team (artists, painters, research, production crew, space, etc.)?

It is always most informative for us to visit the space in person in advance of starting the design process. We are always inspired by the architecture of the room and how we can embrace (or in some instances, hide) the quirks and challenges that it presents. Research plays an integral role in shaping the world of the play, whether it be a piece of art or photograph or a passage from a book or article. Sometimes we will start a search on Google Images and that will lead us towards something completely unexpected. Or we will visit the Picture Collection at the Mid-Manhattan New York Public Library, where you can tangibly browse through folders and folders of categorized images. Websites like Flickr and Pinterest are also great resources. We tend to be inspired by the environment around us, so it seems like we are always pulling from various details that we pass on the street or throughout daily life. And it seems like anytime we peruse the aisles at Home Depot, we can be struck by a material or item that could be used effectively in a unique way.

What challenges does AN OCTOROON present that are different from other shows you’ve worked on?

The play operates on so many different levels and asks some bold questions about race and identity, and the real challenge is making sure that we are creating the right environment for all of these big ideas to live in. Sometimes a play has a very specific set of parameters that you need to stay within, but Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins leaves lots of room for interpretation within the text. Much more than you’d expect. From a design perspective, he doesn’t specify exactly how something should look, which gives the director and design team the kind of freedom to think outside the box. And especially since he has created a world where rules are broken and conventions are shattered, it’s a fun, challenging puzzle to solve.

A poster for the original stage play, The Octoroon, by Boucisoult, which Branden Jacobs-Jenkins uses as the basis for his play, AN OCTOROON.

A poster for the original stage play, The Octoroon, by Boucisoult, which Branden Jacobs-Jenkins uses as the basis for his play, AN OCTOROON.

What is unique about set design elements from 19th century melodrama era of theatre production? How are these incorporated into the set design for AN OCTOROON?

For this design, we wanted to nod to the techniques and characteristics of the 19th Century melodrama but not feel like we had to fully commit to anything too historical. We were inspired by photos and illustrations of real melodramas and let that research color our understanding of the innovations of the time. During the 19th Century, there were great developments in spectacle and technological innovations that helped pave the way for what could be realistically achieved onstage. Stock backdrops and flat, two-dimensional scenery were still used, but new pieces of technology were introduced. One such element was the moving panorama, which was a long piece of painted fabric that unrolled by turning spools to suggest a sense of movement and the illusion of shifting location.

How, if at all, do previous productions of the play influence your design?

In many cases, if it is a well-known work, we have usually seen how other productions have staged or solved a certain moment, and that can be both useful and informative. It is important for us, though, to make sure that we are focused on maintaining the director’s vision, as well as our own, throughout the process, so it can sometimes be distracting to have too much information at hand. In the case of AN OCTOROON, having seen the original production in New York, we wanted to approach the play with fresh eyes for this process. Of course, it’s hard to not feel somewhat influenced by strong choices that were made for a previous production, but our alliance to the text and the trust of the director is what ultimately keeps us on track to create something unique. 

What attracted both of you to the C1 production of AN OCTOROON? What excites you most?When we saw the production of AN OCTOROON in New York last year, we were so impressed by the event of the piece and the kinds of big questions it asked. The play stuck with us for quite some time. Several months later, C1 asked us to collaborate on this production, and we were very excited to be a part of the team that could help share this story with Boston audiences. Since this production is one of the first incarnations outside of the original, there are no preconceived notions of what it can and cannot be—the possibilities are ultimately endless.

How do you envision audiences engaging with the set?

The hope with our all of our designs is that they never pull focus away from the rest of the piece—that they are working in tandem with the rest of the elements onstage. If anything, we hope it helps illuminate the work of Summer L. Williams—Director of AN OCTOROON—and the rest of the team.

Set Designers present a scale model of their final design to the rest of the artistic team—director, costume and lighting designers, actors, and the production staff. The model in this image was presented by the Set Designers for AN OCTOROON weeks before the final dress rehearsal and opening night performance.

Set Designers present a scale model of their final design to the rest of the artistic team—director, costume and lighting designers, actors, and the production staff. The model in this image was presented by the Set Designers for AN OCTOROON weeks before the final dress rehearsal and opening night performance.

More information about the Chris and Justin Swader and their work can be found on their website: www.cjswaderdesign.com

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Hello From Company One’s Apprentices!

IMG_0993Hey! We’re the Company One Apprentices – Emma, Erique, Eric and Kennisha! This school year, we look forward to exploring the different aspects of theatre and putting them to the test in communities in Boston. Right now our work is centered on AN OCTOROON. We’ve been learning about the themes of the play, which include: melodrama, love, race, money, and social classes. Organizing community events is a top priority, and we look forward to going to the Dorchester Boys & Girls Club next month! Join us for this wonderful event! See our bios below!

Copy of IMG_0986Emma is from Boston, MA and currently attends Snowden International High School. She is a part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at school, which strives to make students all around the world globally aware citizens. She has traveled to both France and Italy with school. Her work was featured in the Above Youth Voice Exhibition this past spring. She took musical theatre classes at Boston Children’s Theatre and has been in productions of The Pajama Game, Into the Woods, and currently, Urinetown in her community. She is interested in performing and writing; and plays guitar, ukulele and piano. She hopes to study musical theatre in college.

 

IMG_0987Erique Green, a native of Boston and Junior at Newton North High School  proudly joins Company One Theatre for his third term as a Teen Production Apprentice. As Vice President of his class he actively participates with school and related community events. Outside of education, Erique has been modeling for two years now working for Model Club INC, a local agency that has been in Boston for years. He has numerous experiences in theatre and the arts, including acting in productions such as Oliver!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat, Seussical, and Into the Woods. Alongside with onstage experiences with theatre, Erique has done production work as well. Musically directing Into the Woods, and working costumes and tech for Oklahoma!, Willy Wonka, and The Sound of Music. Erique is also a second year major in the culinary arts.  After becoming  Mr. Teen USA 2015, in 2014 he continues to represent Boston youth in hopes that it will teach other youth the importance of volunteer work and having the ability to influence communities.

IMG_0984ERIC BAIRD is  from Boston, MA. He goes to the  Josiah Quincy Upper School. He is in the 10th grade and currently taking a theater class. He will be in a show in the winter titled How to Succeed In High School without really trying. When he gets older he wants to be in actor/director  for movies. He says theater could be easy but only if you really put your mind to it. The main thing he likes about theater is the acting because he wants to be in actor when he grows up.

 

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Kennisha Fignole was born in Haiti in 1999. She was raised in Port-Au-Prince until she moved to the US. Every since she was little, she loved to sing, read and draw pictures. She loves to write poems and wants to learn how to play music instruments. She moved to the United States after the earthquake that happened in Haiti. She joined the youth choir at her church at the age of 11 years old. After entering High  School, she became a volunteer for the children ministry. She’s been going to TechBoston Academy ever since she was in 6th grade. She participated in the show that her school puts on. She is the secretary of both her youth council and the choir board in her church.

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Company One’s Professional Development for Actors Showcase

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Brian Savage and Lynn Hall in The Gin Game by D. L. Coburn

In mid November, Company One’s Professional Development for Actors (PDA) class had its biannual Showcase. The evening consisted of 29 scenes and monologues performed by the actors and actresses participating in the 10-week program. The purpose of the PDA class is to prepare actors for the audition process and to equip them with material to audition with.

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Dionne Cail in Mr. Marmalade by Noah Haidle

 

The pieces, thoughtfully selected by instructors Ros Thomas-Clark and Victoria Marsh, were diverse and befitting of the actors performing them. They ranged from Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It to Kirsten Greenidge’s contemporary 103 Within the Veil (first produced by Company One in 2005).

 

Over 100 people attended the Showcase, from friends and family to casting directors and Company One staff, including Artistic Director Shawn LaCount.

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The success of the evening was evident by the energetic atmosphere in the lobby following the performances. In the midst of hugs and congratulations, an immense feeling of pride was felt by everyone.

We at Company One congratulate the actors and actresses in the Fall 2015 PDA class on an incredibly successful evening! We congratulate your growth, your commitment and your talent, and we look forward to seeing you on stages throughout Boston very soon!

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From Left to Right – (1st Row) Danny Sayson, Marcos Valles, Sophia Koevary, Stephen Harrison Jones; (2nd Row) Francisca Da Silveira, Melissa Nussbaum Freeman, Adjovi Koene, Josh Santora, Kerline Desir; (3rd Row) Jay Street, Christopher Gaskell, Dionne Cail, Kitty Drexel, Daniella Seidl Brian Savage, Jacquelyn Weatherbee, Lynn Hall; (Back Row) Tito James, Srin Chakravorty, Aaron Wilson, Ashley Wisneski; (Not Pictured) Gwen Coburn

*Photos Taken by Phyllis Bretholz

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EJ Bonilla Inspires Stage One and Boston Arts Academy Students

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Company One (C1) recently had the pleasure of hosting film and television actor, EJ Bonilla, best known for his work on the independent films Four and The House that Jack Built, and who is currently featured in A&E’s Unforgettable. EJ visited Young Achievers Academy (YA) in Mattapan, where C1 facilitates a yearlong residency and touches the lives of more than one hundred students per week with the transformative power of theatre.

Alexandria King, C1 Teaching Artist at Young Achievers, said, “EJ was extremely generous with his time and wisdom. EJ is a true artist and educator.” The day began at YA with an assembly of eager students waiting to meet the rising actor. Opening with a performance of Shakespeare’s famous Hamlet speech, EJ aligned the concept of ‘to be or not to be’ with his personal story of pursuing his dreams.

EJ Bonilla Visit 3EJ grew up in Brooklyn, NY, where the distractions and circumstances of living in a struggling neighborhood often presented roadblocks in his life. It was because of teachers that recognized his unique talents (even landing him a scholarship to ballet school), and a family that rallied around him, that EJ was able to realize his personal mission as an artist and commit to achieving his goals.

Ms. King said the most important lesson EJ wanted students to learn is that, if you commit yourself 100% to what you love, take advantages of the opportunities that come your way as a young person, and resist poor choices, then doors will open for you. EJ shared with students that he was a very shy kid, even pretending to sleep at the lunch table to avoid his peers. It was theatre that enabled him to build confidence and become the dynamic performer that he is today.

Not only did EJ impart sage advice to the aspiring actors of YA, but he also worked closely with students on developing characters and rehearsing scene work from Romeo and Juliet. EJ visited Boston Arts Academy the following day, and collaborated with students from the beginning of the school day until the end of evening rehearsal.


EJ will return in January 2016 to reconnect with YA students and hopefully meet more of the young people that benefit from C1 theatre residencies in Boston Public Schools. On behalf of Company One Theatre, we would like to extend our deepest thanks to EJ Bonilla for the inspirational visit with our students and empowering them to make good choices and pursue their dreams. We would also like to thank Ms. King for inviting EJ into the C1 family.
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Stage One Profile: Ros Thomas-Clark and Victoria Marsh

Ros and Victoria, preparing for another PDA workshop.

Ros and Victoria, preparing for another PDA workshop.

Like Sonny and Cher, Abbott and Costello, and Fry and Laurie, one cannot think of a better duo within the Company One Theatre family than acting instructors Ros Thomas-Clark and Victoria Marsh. Both Ros and Victoria serve as members of C1’s Board and have been vital contributors to the growth of the company, particularly in the education department. Although fondly referred to as a twosome by many who know them, both have had incredibly diverse and rich journeys that led them to C1 and both are extremely respected and active in the theatre scene in and around Boston.

A native of England who has lived in the USA for decades, Ros’ passion centers on educational theatre as a means of social change and remembrance of history. She is a founding faculty member of the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) and strives to bring together theatre makers with varied training backgrounds, particularly the youth she works with at BAA. Ros is the Artistic Director of TC Squared, a company that embraces mentorship as vital to the development of civically engaged artists.

Victoria in class with the Fall 2015 PDA students

Victoria in class with the Fall 2015 PDA students

Equally committed to this idea is Victoria, whose passion for new play development has led to a career in theatre collaborating with playwrights and theatre companies from all over Boston. Victoria has directed 6 Company One productions, including 2 Boston premieres by Kirsten Greenidge. Victoria has served on the Company One Board since 2006.  “When Ros joined the Board, we discovered our mutual passion for working with actors.  We saw the need for a class that keeps actors on their toes when they are between gigs.  We just love to watch actors grow.”

Despite already having incredibly busy and fulfilling careers in theatre, Ros and Victoria’s dedication to artist development brought them together to lead C1’s Professional Development for Actors (PDA) program in 2009. The dynamic between the two instructors give the class an energy and pulse unlike any acting class of its kind. Actors leave the audition room that first day having forgotten their nerves because of Ros and Victoria’s critical yet kind and encouraging feedback.

“They feed off of each other’s energy, bringing so much joy and excitement for the work into the room that the other folks in a room with them can’t help but come along for the ride,” says Mark VanDerzee, C1’s Education Director who works very closely with the two.

There are many students who return to PDA precisely for this reason. There is a nurturing quality to the way Ros and Victoria run the class and yet they are large advocates of risk taking and bold decisions. Each actor is encouraged to find their autonomy and yet they are supported and guided to grow into their characters and into their craft.

“It’s good to be in a class that’s very hands on,” reflects Danny Sayson, who’s currently completing his second session in the class. “They have different views and they’re great at pointing out different ways to look at a scene.”

Like any iconic duo, it’s what differentiates Ros and Victoria that makes them memorable as individuals and it’s how they are able to seamlessly work together that makes them invaluable as teachers. “Victoria and I stay up into the wee small hours as we become more and more excited about finding strong pieces that work for each individual actor,” said Ros when asked to speak on her time with the PDA class and on her relationship with Victoria. “Our directing style is both comic and intentionally serious as we compliment each other running each Master Class.”

Comic and intentional – what a fitting way of describing not only their personalities but their teaching style as well. As teachers and as citizens, as mentors and theatre makers, Ros and Victoria will first and foremost always be friends – to their students, to C1 and to one another.

Check out the work of Ros, Victoria, and this year’s PDA students at their fall showcase, Tuesday, November 17th at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Black Box Theatre. RSVP online: CLICK HERE.

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C1’s Fall 2015 PDA Class, instructed by Ros and Victoria