Emily Messana does not see being a freshman as a limitation on her path to being a director. The New School for Drama allows their students to use a platform known as Creative Cafe to bring productions that they care about to the community. Using this program, Emily decided to take on an extremely challenging production, David Harrower’s Blackbird, in order to both expand her reach as a director and bring a story she deeply cares for to the other members of The New School.
HC: As a student in the BFA Dramatic Arts program, there are a lot of pathways you are able to take on. What made you decide to jump into directing such a difficult show as merely a freshman?
EM: “I have always made acting my priority, with the thought that I enjoyed directing, but that acting is where I needed to be. I think a lot of that is due to pressure from the outside world, but coming to The New School and having so much support for every discipline in drama, I realized that directing is what I wanted and needed to be doing. Creative Cafe gives me the chance to explore any show that I want, so I naturally gravitated towards my favorite work.”
HC: What made you choose this play as opposed to other ones?
EM: “It’s written in a really fragmented fashion, which is designed to help the characters think about what they’re saying. It makes it a lot more real, especially when you think about the scenario of an innapropriate sexual relationship, which often exclusively displays male perspectives on power dynamics or relationships. In the case of Blackbird, Una, the female lead, comes in with a lot of power and she progressively loses that and grows really dependent. This really shows that women have their own complexities and struggles when it comes to power or strength, and that these are not attributes dealt with only by men.”
HC: Tell us a little bit about the creative process involved in directing such a complex production.
EM: “Before I cast the show, which is when it really begins forming, I had to read the play, sculpt a vision, and put my two cents in as a director. You read the play and find the parts that really stand out and mean the most to you, you take notes of things that the characters say that hint at what came before these events or given circumstances. Moving on to casting, I had to identify different characteristics that I found in the characters within the people that were auditioning. As a director I’ve had to do my set design, lighting, costuming, sound, publicity, and pretty much everything with my stage manager instead of having a crew.”
HC: Have there been any unforeseen difficulties or surprises since beginning your rehearsals?
EM: “Mostly the nature of the show; because there are only two characters, they each have so many lines. Having a four-week timeline we ran into a lot of difficulties as to how quickly the show would arrive and how necessary it was to get off book as soon as possible. Another issue has been creating chemistry between the actors, since they met for the first time at our first rehearsal and it seemed almost impossible that they would be able to formulate a relationship so quickly. They need to touch each other a lot on stage, and overcoming the hesitancy that they felt as near strangers definitely posed a challenge for me as a director.”
HC: This is your second directing gig of the academic year, after having participating in the day-long New Works Festival at TNS; how has this experience been different than your first?
EM: “Well the first one was a 24-hour show! I’ve had four weeks to pull this one together instead of one weekend. The venue was actually the same as last time, but I got to choose my own material this time instead of being handed a play to work with. It was more self directed (pun intended), I had a real budget, which made a huge difference, but I still had mentors helping guide me. They were an MFA student and a professional director and playwright, but having the choice of my own cast and show was the biggest change.”
For more info on all the upcoming Creative Cafe productions, visit The New School for Drama.
Photography by Andrew Hallenberg and Cearah Peck.