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Directing Seminars Culminate with a Question about Certainty

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When “Doubt: A Parable” runs from November 7 to 9, Kyle Huff ’14, who is directing the play as his senior seminar project, will pit his audiences against a difficult question: “How can you be sure?”

doubt-web-2-kyleAs Huff, a theatre arts major, well understands, the play presents an extremely focused problem: “Doubt” takes place at St. Nicholas School in the Bronx in 1964 where the school’s principal, Sister Aloysius, comes to suspect Father Flynn, the parish priest, of sexual misconduct with one of the school’s students.

The play will be performed Nov. 7, 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Renner Theater of the Frohring Performing Arts Building. Seating is limited, and doors open at 7 p.m. for each performance.

“Around the time I chose ‘Doubt,’ the Trayvon Martin case was coming out, and I was very surprised with how many people were putting blame on both sides when, really, we knew nothing about what went down that night,” Huff said. “The same thing happens in ‘Doubt’ when Sister Aloysius is judging Father Flynn on an action that we’re only really hearing from one person. Initially, that’s why I thought this show simply needed to be put on, but I think it’s grown into something even more important now.”

Rick Hyde, theatre arts professor and faculty adviser for the project, agrees the play will resonate with audiences, echoing a serious problem in the contemporary world.

“It seems to me that we live in a time of rhetorical excess and of over-hyped position taking,” Hyde said. “Think of TV talk show guests screaming at each other, people who take positions and don’t argue but just yell at the other party. We seem to be somewhat averse to doubt.”

To doubt, Hyde said, is to admit an issue is complicated. Once people abandon their preconceived notions of what is right, they can get at the complex heart of an issue.

“I think the play speaks to having doubt being the only way that change can come about,” Huff said. “The play almost serves as a warning in that if we don’t doubt ourselves, we’ll end up like Sister Aloysius.”

He thinks the play will be especially relevant to college students.

“You know, the question, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’” Huff said, laughing. “What am I doing? And am I doing the right thing?”

These are questions that Huff has asked himself over and over throughout the course of directing the play, and he said he often wonders if he’s doing the right thing. But if hard work and commitment are any indication, he’s well on his way: Huff has been reading and re-reading the script for “Doubt” nearly every day since the end of July to get a strong sense of the themes, characters and plot.

“Early on, it was very important for me to get a big picture sense of the show – what it’s all about, what these characters are telling me, what moral or point the writer is trying to get at,” he said. “And since we’ve been in rehearsal, I can start looking at details. I can start asking actors, ‘What does that line mean?’ and ‘What do you mean when you say that?’”

As director, Huff has also had to manage the show’s schedule, help his actors get to where they need to be, work with costume and set designers, coordinate with the stage manager and attend weekly production meetings. But Hyde has full confidence in him, as Huff has been preparing for this moment since his freshman year.

“Kyle is focused, and has been lucky enough to be extremely active in our department basically from the moment that he set foot on our campus,” Hyde said.

Huff has had the chance to act in and direct a range of productions at Hiram. He has also worked outside of Hiram in productions such as “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” with the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival.

“I think acting and directing work with each other,” Huff said. “The more I act, the better I can direct my actors because, knowing how I act, I might be able to give them notes that would help them. And the more I direct, the more I can watch actors and notice the things that I don’t want to do or character tics that I hadn’t picked up on myself.”

Hyde agrees.

“Directing is a great acting teacher, and it’s always fun to watch directors become so much better actors,” he said. “When students direct, they realize acting is not all about them.”

Hyde thinks the theatre arts senior seminar is ultimately an opportunity for the student to grow as an actor, a director and a person. This semester, Huff is one of two students directing a main stage show for a senior seminar, putting his work in the campus spotlight.

“I do a slightly different thing than what I think a lot of people would do as advisers, and that is I’m not very involved with the production,” Hyde said. “My task is to keep my students learning and to get them to accept that the production is really secondary to what’s important that’s going on here: their learning process.”

After the production, Huff will complete a packet of materials demonstrating his process. This part of the process looks like the standard senior seminar procedure implemented at Hiram. He will participate in a peer review where his fellows from the theatre arts department will ask him questions and tell him their impressions of the show, which he will then respond to. And finally, he will sit in front of a board composed of the three primary faculty members of the department and discuss the project in detail.

At this stage of Huff’s undergraduate experience, he’s reflecting on all of the classes he has taken and preparatory work that he has done to prepare for this moment. For him, this is the final act.

“My Hiram journey has led me to ‘Doubt,’” Huff said.

When asked what he thinks life after Hiram holds for him and whether he’d prefer a career in acting or directing, Huff smirked.

“I think the answer to that would probably be yes,” he joked. “I’m going to go after anything I can get at. Right now, it’s pretty up in the air, but I would like both to act and direct in the future, to be honest with you.”

Learn more about theatre arts at Hiram College.

Photos from the production by Alan Fink ’17: (A full set is available on Flickr.)

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