If anyone has ever been on a movie set or just watched “behind the scenes footage” of his or her favorite film, it’s likely he knows that dull moments are hard to come by. Attempting to organize the chaos caused by anywhere between a dozen and hundreds of cast and crew members to form one flawless work of art takes an exponentially greater amount of effort than the average person is willing to put into getting out of bed in the morning.
Maybe that is a bit of a stretch, and some productions prove more manageable than others, but surely most directors agree that their job is never done. A director’s duties stretch far beyond those of glancing over a script and ordering actors across a set. This is an idea that Adolfo Becerra, a senior musical theatre major and the student director of “God of Carnage“, can get behind.
“You kind of have to map out the entire show,” Becerra said. “You have to make sense of the world the characters live in, find a way to communicate that to an audience, and guide the actress to find choices that align with the concept and world that you’ve created.”
And with a dark comedy like “God of Carnage“ by talented playwright Yasmina Reza, this job becomes all the more challenging. The script is all about grit and digging to the deepest, darkest pits in a human soul. The story follows four parents – two couples – meeting to discuss how one of their kids hit another with a stick. Concepts of bullying escalate into all-out mayhem when the adults wind up behaving worse than the children.
“I love that these characters are so big and crazy, and they leave all their social constructs, these personas they’ve built, and they become much more primal, almost animalistic,” Becerra said. “But it’s still very human, and every person can identify with them because we’ve all felt the emotions that they felt.”
Looking below the surface expanded on these ideas to apply not only to one’s self but to the world beyond the silver screen – a world that, socially and politically, has become less tolerant, even if ‘we all mean well‘, is part of the goal.
With one mind so set on probing the inner workings of another, it is a wonder that Becerra did not discover that his passion for theatre surpassed his love for film until later in his high school career.
“I did theater in high school, but then in my senior year I was asked to do a presentation on a musical,” Becerra said. “I chose a [Stephen] Sondheim musical and just fell in love with it.”
From that point on, Stephen Sondheim – composer of classics like “West Side Story“, “Gypsy“, and the more recent hit, “Into the Woods“ – has been Becerra’s inspiration. Musicals from the 1960s through the 1980s are his favorites mostly because Sondheim’s career took off during those years, although he is quick to admit he enjoys works by Jules Styne, Jerry Herman, and other lyricists from the time.
And with favorites from the 60s in mind, Becerra previously performed in the musical Cabaret, based off of the short novel “Goodbye to Berlin“ (1939) by Christopher Isherwood. Its plot revolves around World War II and how the Germans fell into the trap of ignoring the Nazi movement until it was too late.
Becerra focuses mostly on performance, so “God of Carnage“ is his first production to direct. The work required of a director began long before he was granted the role, but the opportunity to apply was too exceptional to pass up.
“We take a directing class, we submit a play, we do an analysis on the concept and bring it in as if we’re pitching the idea, and we give it to the faculty,” he said. “Then we have an interview, and they select from those.”
“God of Carnage“ consisted of 10 students: four actors, the crew, the design team, and Becerra himself. But even such a modest set-up can open doors for his future.
“I’ve learned that [directing] is getting to create something with other people, and for other people, which is even better,” Becerra said. “We have so much support just being able to direct a full production here at Sam Houston – it’ll be a really nice safety net when we go into [the theater] world.”
However, Becerra has aspirations beyond what he has already accomplished. Performance is still his main goal, but he believes acting, directing and playwriting go hand-in-hand, and he would like to pursue all three.
“I am working on this one play that I’m writing…based on my family and their life back in Mexico,” he stated. “This semester I’m in a playwrighting class and I adapted it into a 10-minute play that I’m submitting to a festival, but I eventually want to expand it.”
He even wrote a song for it if the opportunity for a musical ever arose. That phase is still taking baby steps, but a step is a start.
“After this production, I am going to rest, but after graduation, I am going to move to Houston to try to work in the theater industry for a year, then I want to go to grad school,” he continued.
“God of Carnage“ premiered on Friday, March 31 at 8:00 pm, but will show again on Thursday, April 6 at 8:00 pm and Saturday, April 8 at 2:00 pm. Also upcoming are student directed productions of “Tape“ by Stephen Belber and “Gruesome Playground Injuries“ by Rajiv Joseph, both of which are also directed by students here at Sam. Check next week’s issue for more on the other directos.