This past September, for the fall play, the theater department took on the challenge of putting together 44 Plays for 44 Presidents. The show’s uncommon format, which consisted of 44 mini plays with a collective mission to outline the lives and careers of all 44 presidents of the United States, served as a unique new addition to Westminster’s repertoire.
Kate Morgens, director of Theater Arts, heard of the show from seeing its performance at Interlochen, a musical theater summer camp. “I thought it was really interesting, especially considering our current political climate,” said Morgens. “So, I thought it would be a fun show. And it’s funny. So, I thought funny plus historically relevant and politically charged… what could go wrong?”
Moreover, at Westminster, generally the mainstage shows are directed by a teacher with the assistance of a student director. However, 44 Plays was the first show at Westminster to be fully directed by a Westminster Student. Senior Sang-Mi Lee took on this challenge.
“I started student directing when I was a freshman,” said Lee. “Then, sometime during my sophomore year, Ms. Morgens approached me about getting some help in creating a directing track for students, and at the end of the track, a student could potentially direct a mainstage production. So I continued along the track, and as a senior I ended up directing this show.” This directing track is now applicable to any students interested musical theater who want to direct a Westminster production, thanks to Sang-Mi, and many students have started taking advantage of this opportunity.
Lee also discussed the major differences between being director and student director. “When you’re a student director you’re kind of like an assistant to the main director,” Lee said. “So most of your duties involve what they want you to do, like recording blocking or making schedules or taking attendance. As the main director I directed all of the scenes instead of just getting to work on a couple of scenes that I was assigned, so there’s a lot more freedom.” But being the main director is also much more work. It involves having to deal with the budget, and requires lots of communication with teachers and parents.
Despite its atypicality, having a student director proved to be a helpful and enjoyable addition to the rehearsal process, according to the actors in the play. “It was really awesome having a student director,” said actor Walt James, a freshman. “That was like a new change of pace from the smaller class-produced shows that i’ve been in in the past, and it made rehearsals super fun.”
Furthermore, this alteration in the direction of the show payed off on the other end of the theater experience as well, as many of the show’s viewers left the theater content.
“It was good,” said junior Kelsey Varn. “There were fun people. Sang-Mi is a great director, and the cast was really funny. Also, Andrew Zacks was hilarious.”
Similarly, sophomore Max Norman thoroughly enjoyed the show. “I found it to be beautiful,” said Norman. “I didn’t know much about the presidents, but now I know a little bit more.”
On the other hand, senior Sims Kuester enjoyed the show for alternative reasons. “I think that 44 Plays for 44 Presidents was really funny,” he said. “But the only really funny part about it was all the funny pictures of all the presidents. I could not keep my mouth closed about how funny those presidents were. Did you see John Quincy Adams’ face? He knows what he did.”
Overall, the combination of direction by a student, and the comedic nature of the script, kept audiences laughing for the entirety of the show.
Although 44 Plays came together in the end to provide an entertaining show for its viewers, no show gets away without challenging its cast and crew.
“I think one big challenge was how fast we had to get the show ready,” said Lee. “Auditions were the first day of school and we went on the last week of September, so that was only about a month and a half of time to rehearse. Also that’s pretty short for as big of a production as we did. So, I think time was just a big challenge for the actors and for me.”
Moreover, senior Andrew Zacks felt like the script didn’t provide sufficient enough information. “The play has not very many stage directions,” said Zacks. “So our wonderful director Sang-Mi had to improvise a lot of what would actually be visually seen and not just heard.” The cast was able to overcome all of these challenges with the help of the strong bonds that formed between all of the cast members through the duration of the rehearsal process.
Zacks’ favorite part of the show was the people. “It’s always the people,” he said. “They’re the bomb. I had never really talked to many of those people before, especially the underclassmen, and I’m just so glad I got to know them.”
Similarly, James loved spending time with his fellow castmates. “I really liked hanging out with the cast,” he said. “Rehearsing was always really fun because they were just a bunch of great people.”
The consistent teamwork through all of the challenges of producing an unconventional production such as 44 Plays for 44 Presidents added up to a clean show and the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves while learning about all of the 44 Presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama.