Do, and dare to be wrong

An aspiring director fills his toolbox of techniques during a summer internship at Williamstown Theatre Festival.

By Garrett Allen '16
2016 Artist Development Fellow

Garrett Allen ’16, a resident of Mather House who concentrated in Cognitive Neuroscience with a secondary in Theater, Dance & Media, was awarded an Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Williamstown Theater Festival (WTF) in Williamstown, MA this summer as a Directing Intern. Allen has directed and assistant directed productions at various venues at Harvard including Oberon, the second stage of the American Repertory Theater; the Loeb Experimental Theater; and Leverett Library Theater. In April, he directed Anthony Neilson's play The Wonderful World of Dissocia on the Loeb Drama Center mainstage. He plans to pursue a career in theater directing. This is the second of two posts about his experience at WTF; click here to read the first.

Photo: Daniel Rader
Photo: Daniel Rader
“OK, so let’s just do it,” I say in rehearsal for my last project as a directing intern at Williamstown Theatre Festival. The 10-minute play, Girls Play by the Bosotn-based playwright Masha Obolensky, opens on Ruth and Martha, two 13-year-old girls, practicing kissing in their haven in the woods. The story follows Martha’s obsession with their teacher Mr. Camargo, leading them to practice what Martha might say to him. Ruth, trying to understand her own feelings for Martha, leads them through a scene between her as Mr. Camargo and Martha. Our team had done a fair amount of table work analyzing each character's intentions and objectives, along with an initial staging.

However, we had set aside the kissing that takes place a couple times in the scene until today. Even though I had some hesitation (for no particular reason), they jumped right in and fully embraced how two 13-year-olds might awkwardly practice making out. Often times, being a Harvard student can teach you to be completely analytical and to strive to know everything before you do something; however, one of the most important lessons I learned at the end of my college education and especially during this summer was to sometimes just do, and dare to be wrong.

Trying to get into the minds of two adolescents from the perspective being 20-somethings was always a hard task. How do you portray these two young girls honestly and without oversimplification? When I first chose the play at the beginning of the summer, I was fascinated with the relatable nature of desperately attempting to put words to your feelings. Though it may on the surface be about one girl trying to voice her romantic thoughts to her teacher and one girl piecing together her attraction to her friend who is a girl, our discussions at the beginning of the process kept turning toward the idea Ruth brings up at the end of the play: being ready. But how does that all manifest physically, to show the audience the thought process and the believability of being 13-year-old girls?

Photo: Daniel Rader
Photo: Daniel Rader
Experimentation became key. I fully embraced exploring. There was one day in rehearsals that we ran the play in five ways back-to-back to allow the actors to feel internally how playing various intentions or needs changes how they act as the character. Letting these things happen organically allowed me to focus on picking out the moments where I believed what I was seeing in terms of my vision for the piece, and why it was doing just that. It was in those moments that I avoided talking every single thing through, that I discovered new things that worked and things that didn’t. 

As a director, it is incredibly important to have that toolbox of techniques to approach different sorts of projects. Throughout my time at Williamstown, I kept adding to this toolbox, learning from directors, designers and administrators to push my growth as an artist. Being in a new atmosphere, I was sometimes worried about being "wrong," which narrowed my sight on my work. By allowing myself to open my eyes to possibilities and just "do" in addition to "think," my own worth strengthened and created a very well-received final piece.

The Artist Development Fellowship program, jointly administered by the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships and Office of Career Services, awards 10-15 fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. The program is open to all undergraduates currently enrolled in Harvard College, and applications are evaluated by the Council on the Arts, a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For more information, visit the OFA website or call 617.495.8676.