Senior becomes first student in school history to direct main stage play


Photo submitted by Kayla Stewart

Cast members of “The Giver” pictured left to right Abby Held, Kayla Stewart, Mick Smith, Matthew Taylor, Raine Collier, Charlotte Saggers, and Izzy Sommers.

Codi Farmer, Staff Reporter

The lights dimmed and the curtain opened. She sat back into her seat to see her months of hard work put together for the first time. This was the first step towards her future.

Senior Kayla Stewart is the first student in school history to direct a main stage show alone. She is putting on “The Giver” with final performances on Dec. 6 and 7. She is working alongside stage manager and senior Claire Lawrence to pull the show together in only five weeks of rehearsal.

“Time management is probably one of my biggest worries,” Lawrence said. “I’m worried about trying to make sure we get everything on track and on time and also making sure we keep our cast and crew focused because the time is so limited. Five weeks [seems like a] long time, but that’s nothing in terms of getting a whole show blocked, characterized and getting a whole set put together.”

Beyond the struggle of the time constraint, Stewart also has to navigate directing her first solo show. Stewart has previously directed a 10-minute segment of a show as an audition to be a senior director, but this is her first opportunity to direct a full-length play.

I’m planning on actually pursuing directing in college,” Stewart said. “This is a good base for me to understand what it’s like because not a lot of people have the opportunity to be the only one in charge. That’s really rare so it gives me the upper hand as well. It’s like being prepared but doing the show itself is giving me so much insight into how much work goes into it, especially not really having any help.”

Theatre teacher Jon Alonso has sat down with Stewart a few times to assist her with getting rights to put on the show and go over time management, but beyond that, it has been a solo job for Stewart. She has to decide on all of the costumes, blocking, and casting herself.

It was hard trying to find that balance between [being a peer] and also being a director,” Stewart said. “I read so many scripts, I picked the show, I did all the casting, I have all the pages, I’m doing all the blocking, I’m even working with costs. I’m the only one that has the freedom to do everything a director does.”

When she was first presented with the opportunity to direct a show, her initial task was to pick a play to do. Stewart said she read through countless scripts to decide which to do, only knowing that she wanted to follow a dystopian theme. Originally, she had planned on doing “1984” by George Orwell, but there were issues that arose when she tried to get the rights to the show, so Stewart had to find a different show.

“It’s a funny story, actually,” Stewart said. “I used to have a YouTube channel and I found a video of me when I was 12 years old doing a book and movie review of ‘The Giver’.I literally loved it growing up and so I decided it would be a really cool full-circle moment as a senior to end my high school career directing a show that was a big part of my life.”

After deciding on the show, she spent months coming up with blocking for the show. Then, it came time for the auditions and casting of the show. Stewart said that she already had an idea of who she wanted in her cast, but the theatre department has a limited number of males in the department and “The Giver” is a very male-heavy show.

“I already kind of knew what I was going to do,” Stewart said. “Part of what’s hard is that there’s like a lack of guys in the department. When we went into the cold reads [section of auditions], I was missing a guy. I had [sophomore] Matthew Taylor come read for me, and he blew me out of the water. So. he’s Jonas. He’s the lead.”

Prior to the release of the cast list, Stewart went over her decisions with Lawrence. Lawrence said that Stewart explained her thought process behind every character choice and Lawrence saw no flaws in the cast.

“I can’t say [the final cast list] was surprising because some of them I kind of could tell based on what I’ve heard [Kayla] talk to me about and based on what I saw,” Lawrence said. “[We have] a few refreshing faces like underclassmen that have never really had leads before or just roles in general, so I’m very excited to work with people that I have never worked before. I’m also excited to take this handful of actors and actresses and make them into even better actors and actresses.”

Rehearsals start up the week of Oct. 28 and Stewart has instructed her cast to come to the first rehearsal completely memorized so they don’t waste any rehearsal time. At the rehearsals, they will be learning blocking and getting comfortable with the set all in preparation for their three shows.

“I think I’m most nervous and excited for opening night,” Stewart said. “That’s me giving away something that I’ve been working on and I get to go up [on stage] to present my show and say that this is what I worked for and then I can sit down and see it all together.”

Both Alonso and Lawrence think it’s important for the audience to remember that Stewart is a high school student directing a main stage show, so her interpretation of “The Giver” may result differently than they anticipate.

“It’s always interesting to see a student’s perspective,” Alonso said. “I kind of have an idea of what I think it would look like, but I don’t know her perspective. Most of the time when I think of shows, I think of my own perspective and how I would present it, but it’s always exciting to see a young student’s perspective on it.”

Though they have expressed some concern about the dynamics of a student running a show consisting of her peers, Lawrence and Alonso both believe that she will fall quickly into her leadership role as a director. 

“[Kayla] is very determined and when she puts her mind towards a goal, she’s going to achieve it,” Lawrence said. “So if she wants to become a director, she’s going to become a director. No questions asked. There may be bumps, but that’s not going to stop”

Stewart hopes to attend UT Austin or the University of California in Los Angeles to study directing. However, directing wasn’t always what she had planned on doing as a profession. She said that her parents wanted her to become a doctor, but in the end, her love for theatre came first.

“I’ve always loved theater, but my parents put a lot of pressure on me to become a doctor,” Stewart said. “I really focused on [becoming a doctor] for a while, but when college applications started up, I knew I couldn’t deny that theatre has been my passion this entire time. I really love acting, but I don’t know if I can see myself doing that professionally, so I started thinking of other creative outlets. Then, I got the opportunity [to direct] and I realized that this is exactly what I want to do.”

Her final goal is to be able to direct plays and musicals on Broadway. Her aunt has been in Broadway productions as an actress and had always told Stewart about how difficult it was, which Stewart felt discouraged about. However, after working on a show, she decided that directing is undoubtedly what she wants to do.

“I just feel proud of myself,” Stewart said. “Even though my family wanted me to go in a different direction, I’ve really been able to prove to them that like this is worth the time, worth the effort, worth the struggle. I know that everything I’m working for is worth it.”