Clara Mooney '17, Director and Singer Extraordinaire

Clara Mooney is a senior Drama major and the president of Kenyon’s all-women acapella group the Owl Creeks. She’s also on the Stagefemmes board. With KCDC, she directed the senior thesis Constellations last year, assistant directed Moonchildren and Uncle Vanya with Ben Viccellio and Marvin’s Room with Jim Dennen. She’s also a CA and a Chamber Singer. Her senior thesis with Alex Kirshy, Three Days of Rain by Richard Greenberg, is going up this week on Thursday, March 30th. I sat down with her for a few minutes to talk about her work as a director here and her upcoming thesis! *Answers have been edited for length and clarity.*


Hi, Clara! Thank you for meeting me today. First off, how did you get started with directing?

In high school, I did a lot of acting, because that’s what you do in high school when you’re into theater and there weren’t any opportunities to do any directing. Then I did this summer program where I had a counselor who was a very very cool girl who was a couple years older than me, and she would say, you should really try directing in college. So when I got to Kenyon my freshman year, my UCC was a senior who had done a lot of directing and I mentioned to him that I was interested in it, and he was like, you should assistant direct with me… It was just really great because it forced me to have to learn on the job a little bit, but also just made me feel, I like this, I like doing this.


Have you ever wanted to go back to acting?

I took The Actor last year, which is a great class, and Ben teaches it very well...and I really enjoyed that class, and frankly I probably learned more from that class than I have from any other theater class. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I just don’t enjoy the work of an actor as I do as much as the work of the director. There are parts of acting that are a lot of fun, but the kind of slow-burn tedious work that anybody has to do anywhere in the theater, which is the thing you have to love the most, the work that is specific to acting I just don’t enjoy as much as I do directing.

Clara with Gibson Oakley ‘16 and Amy Young ‘16, whose thesis she directed last year


Especially at the beginning, what was the most challenging thing about directing?

At the very very beginning, learning to trust yourself as a director is a really hard thing to do. I’ve heard people say that the director has to be the best actor in the room. You not only have to be discovering the play over the course of the process just like the actor, but you have to have answers every step of the way, and you have to give the actors reasons to trust you. Nobody is going to take certain risks or try certain things unless they feel like you trust them, and there’s a certain amount of acting going along with that because you have to sometimes act like you know what’s going on even if you have no idea. Learning to trust your own instincts and that your ideas are good and right was very very very hard at first and continues to be, but the more that you do anything the less scary it becomes because you realize that you’ve figured it out.  


Wow, such wisdom! Tell me about this thesis that you’re doing: how did you pick the play, what was the process like, etc?

Alex Kirshy (my thesis partner) was abroad, so we had this giant Google Doc of plays. There was this time last winter when I was really really stressed and I just thought if I sat down and start to read one of these nine plays I have to read, I’ll feel less stressed about these 18 things I have to do in my life. I vividly remember sitting in Wiggin and thinking, okay if I just read one of these plays I’ll feel like I’ve done something for the day. I started reading it and couldn’t put it down. I could hear it and see it in my brain and as a director having that reaction to a play is usually a good sign, you might say.

Kirshy and I have talked about this...we’ve obviously read the play a million times and have spent hours and hours working on it, but it’s really a play that you continue to discover as you work on it in a way that has made me fall more and more in love with it every day. I haven’t gotten tired or bored of it, I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m like, oh it’s a flawed play for these reasons but we just gotta do it now. Every single day I find something that takes me in a different direction.

Clara with thesis partner Alex Kirshy ‘17. Go see it!


How do you feel like your work as a director has had an impact on you as a real person?

I think people who get involved in theater should be getting involved because they like collaboration, because they like being in an artistic environment where you are not the only person who has influence on the final creation. Every piece of theater that you see requires all of these different minds going into it. I think that some people make this huge mistake of not letting that story be altered and impacted throughout the process of the people working on it. There can be that pressure of feeling like you have to be that smartest person in the room, and there can be those times when letting an actor say something that completely contradicts what you were thinking really unlocks something, and that can be the best thing for the play. Learning to be open to those ideas but also being willing to recognize that that doesn’t discredit your own work or make you worse at your job is... Essentially what I’m trying to say is being able to say “I don’t know” isn’t bad. Being able to be confident in yourself and in your work is a really important life skill and in directing.


So getting back to your thesis, which is happening…

On Thursday and Saturday at 8 pm in the Hill Theater!!


Why should people see it?

It is incredibly funny, but also in overly simplistic terms, it is a play about missed connections, and there’s just something really moving about watching people try their best even when it doesn’t always… I don’t want to give too much away.


For sure. Back to the beginning, how do you balance all the things you do? How are you so awesome?

Ha, I would say that my biggest flaw is that I work too hard and I do too much! Well, this sounds corny…obviously, there are times doing these plays when it’s tedious and it’s hard and it’s not a lot of fun, but working on these plays never feels like work. Those parts of the days are like the happiest parts of the day. It feels like the break. I’m also in that group of people who tend to be better at everything that I do when I have a couple of things going on. Knowing that you have to use certain time in the day to get things done because you don’t have other time to do those things is incredibly motivating.

Did you know Clara directs in real life too? Clara with friend and fellow senior Drama major Julie Weinberg. And GUESS WHAT, Julia’s acting thesis You Got Older is ALSO going up this weekend and you NEED to see it.


Okay, so last question… You’re obviously a very perceptive person, and I see that helping you as a director, so I’m just really curious where that comes from… Do you have any idea?

Well, no… But Ben talks about this thing where when you’re doing actor work, and when you start breaking down all those things that theater people talk about with actions and tactics and objectives, when you start doing that really really specific, tedious work with text, this thing starts to happen in your life where if you’re doing it enough, it just gets in your brain. In a way, that is funny on a certain level, but I know that not everybody will agree with this, but I do think that once you start thinking in these analytical terms, you do start to see it in your real life, and you do start to see how what people do can fit in these terms. And I genuinely will say that especially in these last couple of years it has really helped me make sense of things in my life, not in the way that I’m like, oh I’m going to dramatically analyze this, but just in the the way where you go like, this person is probably trying to do this, even though I’m interpreting it this way. I think that all of those things that our professors say about theater making you a more empathetic person or sympathetic in other ways ways is real. And it’s funny when you catch yourself doing it, like when friends come to me for advice I’ll be like, this is what they’re actually doing and my friend will be like, come on stop, and I’m just like okay, hear me out!


Go see Clara’s (and Alex Kirshy’s) thesis! Thursday! Saturday! 8 pm! Hill Theater! Also, see Julia Weinberg’s and Ben Fisher’s thesis on Friday and Sunday, also at 8! All wonderful, talented people.


*The featured photo of this article also features senior drama major Cassidy Lu Jones, who is acting in Julia’s thesis! And also awesome! Please go see it!

Image Credits: Clara Mooney