Grace Sanwald on Production Managing the One Acts and the Benefits of Student-Made Theater

During this time since 1989, Whitman College students at Harper Joy work diligently around the clock to put three student-written one act plays on their feet. Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with this year's student Production Manager, Grace Sanwald (Whitman 2021) about the tradition of the student position.
Grace Sanwald, Whitman 2021

Ashlyn Quintus. So the One Acts Production Manager, following in suit the rest of the One Act production positions, is traditionally a student. What does this position all entail?
      Grace Sanwald. Well, the One Acts production process is completely student-run so, our relations with the faculty are pretty limited. They’re there to advise, they’re there to answer questions, they’re there to show you what you can and can’t use, but the rest of the production process is student-oriented. So I serve as primarily the liaison between the students and the faculty, and I also serve as the liaison between shows and between the students.
You know typically the One Acts is a great way for students who haven’t done a lot of theatre to get involved, so we get a lot of people who have never done theater at Harper Joy, have never done theater ever. So they come in really kind of green and raw and we collectively teach each other how that works and I kind of facilitate that whole process. And we do have student stage managers who do the in-rehearsal, rehearsal reports, and call the show. That part of the show that they handle on their own, and I of course, answer any questions that they have, and I do all of the paper-worky type jobs…But I’m really happy to do it because I’m so passionate about students being able to create from start to finish the entire process and do that really in-depth theater making.

AQ.What sort of credits or background does a student need to have in order to be a Production Manager? You were taught this I presume by mentors who have graduated now?
     GS. Yeah so stage management in this department is a little weird. It’s really like a you learn-as-you-do process. And there’s not, as far as I know, a requirement to be production manager. Generally, to stage manage or work on any of the shows in a stage management or production management capacity they ask that you have ASMd something and that have the experience and also the qualities that you want in a stage manager. You know, like organization, good with people, familiar with the process, good attitude, being able to like deal with problems in the moment when they occur. Especially when you have a tech rehearsal that you have to run and that you know and nothing’s going right, you have to be able to keep a cool head and solve any issues that come with that.

AQ. That sounds like a lot. What are the perks to the position?
     GS. Well, I get to see everything that happens, which I love. I think I’m personally drawn to stage management and directing for the same reason, because you get to be involved in every aspect of what happens and you get to see the process in process— as it’s growing—and you get to see all of your fellow students learn and get excited, accomplish all of their goals, and me personally, I plan to go into education, so I get really excited when people are learning and getting excited. I’m so passionate about student theater in this department, and being able to work together with the students, I think it’s so enriching as a student…to see the kinds of creative conversations that come out of that.
And you know, working on a season show that’s not student-run, there’s a lot of rigidity… but when you’re working on a student show, there’s so much energy, so much excitement, and it’s a lot of fun, because we’re all friends and we all become friends so easily, and I love just being able to be a part of that. I’m also kind of a control freak, and I kind of love being in control of everything.  (laughing) And I like being able to say I’m in charge. I don’t like making all of the decisions, I like delegating things, but I like being in the center of it all. As a stage manager, as a director. 

AQ. It looks like the 2020 One Act plays are diverse in nature—what are you most excited to come out of these productions? Any specific story that excites you, or an ambitious scenic element that needs to be made?
     GS. I’m really excited right now to see the play The God Auditions because we knew going into this that it would be a difficult play to cast because in the original script it featured explicitly a trans woman of color, and we had no one [who held that social identity] show up for auditions. And so we are able and lucky to work closely with Rachael Goldsmith Zucker who wrote the play to rebuild it around a different set of issues, and ideas and stigmas, based on who we were able to cast which was Lukas and Andrew…
Then there’s also some really exciting things happening with design in our other two shows. We have an 80’s piece that’s gonna have a lot of great rockin’ 80s music, and a lot of candy. There’s also a beautiful soundscape dance scene in one of our plays…I think that we’re working with a really interesting group of people, and an interesting group of texts. With this year’s One Acts, they’re all realistic, real-time type plays… They’re going to be really raw and relatable and it should be fun.

The One Acts Play Festival runs February 13-15 @ 8pm and February 15-16 @ 2pm at the Alexander Stage in Harper Joy Theatre. Buy your tickets here or at the HJT Box Office, open 12 - 4 PM M - F  (509)527-5180