The weekend of April 22, 2023, students from the School of Film and Photography and beyond put on three performances of David Auburn’s “Proof” at the Black Box Theater. Proof is a play first performed in 2000 which deals with a daughter’s grief and struggle to find direction after her mathematician father’s death. The production was the semester-long project of the Theater Production class led by Tom Watson.
“The importance of doing this class and doing theater is to bring the notion of stagecraft and theatrics and drama to film students. If they're doing any kind of fiction filmmaking, [stagecraft] really is a part of that, Watson said. I always have this notion that theater and film [have] a symbiotic relationship. They're sort of necessary and they go together.”
According to the MSU archives the School of Film and Photography (SFP) has not offered a theater minor option since 2005. Even so, an interest in theater remains at the SFP.
“When I realized that I could take a class that was like, put on a play, I jumped on it as fast as I could,” said Charis Barnes, SFP student and “Proof” assistant director, after the performance. “It's just been so great. I've always been passionate about theater and it was just so great.”
The theater production class was led by professor and professional scenic designer Watson, and the play was directed by professor Tonya Andrews. The rest of the roles in the performance program are filled by student names, from scenic design to lighting design, from stage management to front of house.
“There's a lot of random things that you learn, not just like moving around in different departments, but just communication skills and working with others, and just making sure you ask in depth questions about specific parts,” says lighting designer Reed Brown.
The sentiment of the crew was clear: there is so much more that goes into theater than you think, and learning how it all comes together has been an invaluable experience.
“It was an amazing learning experience,” said stage manager Mara Flynn. “I definitely didn't know what I was getting myself into, there was so much going on. But I learned so much, not only about the theater world, but really about just managing so many different things. And everybody here who's on this panel taught me a different thing. And so it's really the best class that I've ever taken. The bond that can be created between a bunch of people working towards one thing that they're all really passionate about, it's really powerful.”
As if putting on a play wasn’t enough, students from the realm of television production were recruited by MSU Television Production professor Paul Heitt-Rennie to put together a multi-camera live broadcast of the production.
“The theater side of things and the television production side of things do have to collaborate very frequently, and there needs to be a lot of communication. We're in very close contact with [stage manager Flynn] because she knows when all the lighting cues are and who's coming out when,” said Technical Director Jordyn Rae — a freshman in the film program. “It is very important that we understand where the actors are going to be, so we know what cameras to cut to and how the play is gonna flow in order to make our TV side of things look seamless.”
Unfortunately, due to the cyber attack on April 20 that took down MSU’s internet, the live stream was not able to proceed as the crew had hoped. Instead, the performances were broadcast live in the lobby, and were recorded for educational purposes.
“It is so important to have live performances for students,” Andrews said. “When else in their lives are they gonna have a chance to do that? Because you learn things about yourself, you discover things about yourself that you take into your careers, that you take into your relationships, that give you a source of empowerment, and confidence. I just think that's an important part of a young person's education.”
If you are interested in getting into theater on campus, there are always opportunities if you know where to look. Andrews offers an acting class for non-film majors with the SFP, and every semester film students are looking for actors for their films. Follow @montanastate_filmphotoon Instagram for opportunities, audition announcements and more.