and focused even with the play he authored on the
line, director Dwight Watson stays grounded in what
he sees as his deeper vocation.
He sits alone near the back of
the theater, one leg draped casually over the chair
in front of him. Nothing more to do but watch his
creations come to life, nothing more but to enjoy
the moment while it lasts.
The house lights are still on
and the sophomore, rookie stage manager paces in
the light booth, whispering directions into the
headsets of black-clothed stagehands.
A theater veteran laughs easily
in the green room with the sprite-like middle school
Wringing his hands, the nervous
Bolivian freshman stands behind the curtain and
waits for his cue.
The house lights fade to black.
Silence fills the theater.
As the spotlight shines on the
upstage piano bench, the Bolivian moves out from
behind the curtain. But its a humble piano
tuner who finally steps forward into the light.
Step One: Work It
Dwight [Watsons casts
always call him by his first name], we have a small
Just two weeks before opening
night, Dwight Watson turned from his conversation
and smiled. As a director of student theater for
more than 20 years, Watson is accustomed to patient
I have a powder puff game
until 7:00 so I wont be here until 7:30, is
that going to be a problem?
Just be here when you can,
Watson calmly replied.
If I were him, Id
be a little more uptight about it, said Christina
Holmstrom, a Crawfordsville High School junior.
Hes just so laid back.
Stage manager Luke Elliott said
the same thing of Watson. Tuttle Middle-Schooler
Alexandra Hudson did, too.
Call Watson a kind of anti Teddy
Rooseveltspeak softly and spare the big stick.
Its a process,
Watson said of creating theater. I have a
game plan. I dont necessarily think that the
way you always get things accomplished is with a
With a production like The Newton
Project, however, laid back isnt
what youd expect Watson to be.
For three years, Watson has been
involved in every step of the creative process,
from developing the characters and writing their
monologues to casting and directing actors for the
Each piece was written with the
young actor in mind, to be used as audition pieces
for the Big A Audition,
as Watson calls it. Tradition-ally, theater auditions
consist of a cold read of the script and a prepared
scene or monologue chosen by the actor prior to
the audition. Watsons monologues are intended
to offer the bang needed to win over
Its my hope, and this
is yet to be tested, that these are character ideas
that have some dimension, Watson said. He
tried to shape the characters in such a way
that actors would want to perform them.
But writing for young actors requires
being in tune with youth culture, insight Watson
says he lacks. The inspiration for the 22 different
characters, then, came from experiences with which
Watson was familiar: the Wabash theater and his
family. Watson summoned up experiences with his
two sons, Matthew and Evan, and his wife, Jamie,
from whom he drew inspiration for many of his female
But Watsons collaboration
doesnt stop after he lays down his pen. Throughout
rehearsals, Watson watched and waited for inspiration
to strike again.
Laid back? Yeah, I guess
I do lay back and wait and see what is there, see
what they [the actors] can bring to a rehearsal,
Watson said. For the actors, that philosophy makes
all the difference.
Chris Laguna, a theater major
who played both a parolee looking to serve his term
doing community theater and a frustrated college
student in The Newton Project, said Watsons
unselfishness helps actors get involved with the
He hasnt been treating
the play like its his baby, Laguna said.
Having worked with Watson before, Laguna was the
first to check out a script of The Newton Project.
I love working with Dwight,
But Watson does not limit creative
input to stage veterans and theater majors. Even
the youngest member of the cast, 13-year-old Alexandra
Hudson, said Watson gave her the freedom to develop
her own character.
Dwights cool with
most things, she said. He doesnt
mandate what a character has to be.
But when guidance is needed, Watson
is ready to offer.
Step Two: Perfect It
Its Vietnam, Vietnam,
Watson repeated with a smile. It was one night before
opening night, and Watson was helping an actor perfect
his humble piano tuner.
Bvee-ET-nam, the young
Bolivian said. The cast filled the room with laughter.
Reynaldo Pacheco blushed and repeated, Bvee-ET-nam.
Though unpolished, Pacheco, a
freshman from La Paz, Bolivia, isnt exactly
a first-time actor. He has been acting since age
15 and spent two years working with the Philharmonic
of La Paz, performing musicals.
In Spanish, French, and English.
Its hard, Pacheco
said of performing in English, his least comfortable
language. You know that feeling when youre
in a swimming pool you dont know where the
edge is. Its like that. Its weird.
Pacheco said finding the right
pronunciations and rhythms in another language is
like trying to find a musical melody, which would
make Watson his gentle conductor.
Dwight gives you a lot of
confidence, Pacheco said. But he can
be very soft.
That strugglethe struggle
to own ones characterkeeps Watson coming
back to student theater time and again.
I think of myself as an
educator, Watson said. And, as a teacher
of theater, I think of myself as one who desires
to understand all facets of the process.
Watson said students are likely
to respond to his directing philosophy because there
is a mutual educational exchange.
Students are generally very
honest about what works and what doesnt,
That honesty is key to the
Step Three: Give It
I have yet to see everyone
show up on time, said the stage manager. By
opening night, Elliotts sea of notes had become
more turbulent than ever, with calls, cues, and
prop notes washing over his desk. Admitting this
first shot at stage-managing had been a learning
experience, Elliott has already made plans
to manage the next Wabash performance.
Theres so much going
on behind the scenesits fantastic!
Actors strode confidently up and
down the hall, mumbling lines to themselves. Some
found solace in music; others stretched in the experimental
Holmstrom, who delivers the first
monologue, had the confidence of a starting quarterback.
I am ready, she said
through cherry-red stage lipstick. I am so
The presence of a live audience
completely alters the pace of a performance. Reaction
time, laughter, contemplation, and the awesome presence
of standing before hundreds of people are new concepts
for much of the young cast.
But, if there was any trace of
butterflies, any lack of confidence, it was well
Asked what he was thinking just
minutes before curtain, Laguna could only say, Im
thinking about putting this damn makeup on.
Hudson was a little nervous, but
only because she has to jump rope flawlesslyher
character is an expert.
Pacheco sat quietly in the green
room, practicing pronunciations with cast members.
Watson offered final words of
encouragement to the cast.
You own the show,
he said. You own the characters and now its
time to hand that to the audience, to deliver it
Step Four: End It
As the piano tuner delivers the
evenings last monologue, Watson can only smile,
sitting up high in the raked house, as calm and
laid-back as ever.
In four days, it will all be overfour
performances and then the illusion will fade to
reality. The characters will reappear, the stage
will be disassembled, and only the audiences
memory will live on.
To some people in the arts,
that transitory quality is very frustrating,
Shakespeare once wrote, These
our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits,
and are melted into air, into thin air
are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little
life is rounded with a sleep.
Watson would agree.
We dont build in stone,
he says. Were not leaving it out there
for history; it happens and its gone, just
Adam Christensen is a senior
English major and the winner of Indiana Collegiate
Press Associations 2002 Brook Baker Collegiate
Journalist of the Year Award.