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Artist Statement: How I Learned To Drive
For my senior directing thesis I directed How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel. My rehearsal process took a total of four weeks, including tech/show week. Over the course of those four weeks I worked closely with my actors, stage managers and a professional designer to complete my vision of the show.
First I had to cut a third of the play to abide by department regulations on time. I wanted to make sure that the script kept its original arc, while also making sure that it flowed from one scene to the next. My actors read the different versions out loud, which helped solidify the final version. Once I had my desired copy of the script, we began table work and character development. I wanted to hear my cast’s thoughts and feels about the script before we started on our feet. We had several discussions of the relationship between Uncle Peck and Li’l Bit and the relationship between Li’l Bit and the rest of the family.
Li’l Bit’s relationship to Uncle Peck was hard to understand at first. I had several rehearsals in the beginning of the process where I just talking to my two actors, playing Li’l Bit and Peck. I wanted to hear how they perceived their characters and also wanted to share what I thought about both characters. We all decided that we did not want the audience to make any assumptions about who was to be pitied and who was to be punished. Uncle Peck needed to be able to gain sympathy from the audience or else the true relationship was lost. Also it needed to be seen that Li’l Bit was not completely helpless. As we worked through the show I tried to get my actors to think about the relationship as much as possible, so that in the end the audience would not be able to assume anything about the relationship between a young girl and her older uncle, but walk away with new opinions and criticisms.
The other most important relationship was Li’l Bit to her family. By including the family in the play, Vogel made the play not only revolve around Li’l Bit and Peck, but her entire family history. Her relationship to her family contributes so much to the guilt and pressure she feels in the present as she is telling the story. She also never had a father figure and the men she did have, like Grandfather, were mean and abusive, so she turned to Peck. He was nice and safe. He complimented her and made her feel like his own and this meant everything to her. Sexual favors were a small price to pay for love and kindness.
As we explored the blocking process, I realized that I wanted to use the Greek Chorus as much as possible. I made them the run crew, which enabled the show to transition smoothly and quickly from scene to scene. I also added little parts for the Greek Chorus, like when they played the radio, so that they could help complete the story.
When I worked with the designer we talked about creating a very simple space that lent itself well to the movement of the piece. I did not want anything too distracting or cluttering. The only extra things we added were the street signs, which acted as connections to the driving lessons and signals to the molestation. We used the light to separate each of the spaces and break up the stage, so that all scenes could be on stage at the same time without any major set changes. Each space and transition had a specific lighting quality. There were different lighting changes for when Li’l Bit was talking to the audience and when she was in a scene with someone else.
I chose this show for my senior thesis because it is such an important story to tell. So many women and men have, at one point in their lives been abused or molested. How I Learned to Drive is a story that makes people think about their own lives and the consequences of their actions on the people around them. Theater makes a difference when it makes people think, question, and criticize, and that was my goal with How I Learned to Drive.
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Morter, Zia Affronti, "Part I: How to Read Brecht as a Director and as an Actor: An Exploratory Lecture Part II: Directed How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel November 10-13" (2011). Senior Projects Fall 2011. 21.
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