Reflections from Gretta Berghammer, director, Mother Hicks

Monday, December 13, 2010

The final lines have been spoken; the last of the sign language symbols have shared with the audience.  The costumes are in the process of being sorted, cleaned, and stored...the props returned to storage; the set dismantled.  In short, Mother Hicks has closed.

Like many directors, I greeted the close of Mother Hicks with mixed feelings.  First, there was that initial period of relief and exhaustion, mixed with the exhilaration that often follows a period of intense, passionate and creative work.  I found myself with “time,” to grocery shop and cook, to pet the dog, do the laundry.  I opened a book that hadn’t been picked up for weeks, began my holiday shopping list; I returned to the gym (oh my God, am I sore )!  But as the days continue the initial excitement of re-acclimating to “life outside the theatre” has made way for a bit of post-show let down.  The sudden decompression from days and nights full of work and energy and emotions has left me feeling a bit empty.  Not quite ready for my next project, yet not quite ready to entirely let this one go, I find myself reflecting on the work.  And that reflection has led me to this discovery:  Mother Hicks enlarged me as a director.

Why?  Well, Mother Hicks, truth be told, is one of the most challenging projects I have ever undertaken as a director, and trust me, my 25+ year career has had some pretty amazing challenges that have included:  directing To Kill a Mockingbird with a cast of more than 20; the world premiere of The Rose of Treason, a full length theatre for youth play that we commissioned of playwright James DeVita, directing The Wrestling Season in Gdansk, Poland on an extremely limited time line and budget, and the establishment of a youth theatre company in the Cedar Valley to name just a few.

What made Mother Hicks a candidate for inclusion in the “Gretta Hall of Artistic Challenges?”  Well, I can’t pinpoint just one thing; I believe it is the combination of varied components that provided so many unique and creative challenges which ultimately contributed so beautifully to my growth as a director.  I will try and describe the two that are currently foremost in my mind.

To begin, there was the challenge of directing a play that incorporated both sign language and the inclusion of a deaf actor.  Sign interpreter Karlene Kischer-Browne was not only instrumental but invaluable to this process.  She was so patient with me, as I worked to expand the artistry of the sign language within the context of the world of the play without compromising the text we sought to communicate.  In addition to helping chose and develop the signs we would use in the production, Karlene generously collaborated with me in providing support and guidance for first time actor Christian Mangrich.  Working with an interpreter forced me to become better at thinking about what I wanted and needed to say; words now had currency; words now had weight; words now had a larger importance and meaning in my work.  I enlarged my ability to better choose which words I would use to communicate notes and images and thoughts to all of the actors, not just Christian.  I feel my notes became more specific, my observations more focused, my connection to the world of the play more acute.

Secondly, the play enlarged my world.  Like most people in the Cedar Valley I knew we were home to a deaf and hard of hearing population but I didn’t KNOW this population.  This project challenged me to expand my boundaries; to take the risk to share the work with a community that lives Tuc’s story each and every day.  To that end, I must again thank Karlene Kisher-Browne for helping our Department connect with the deaf and hard of hearing population among us, and the Guernsey Foundation for the fiscal support of all of the outreach activities designed in support of this production.  A final thank you to Eric Lange, whose vision and support made the acquisition of the Guernsey Grant possible.

So, what next?  Well, ending the semester, of course, and the grading and meetings that are a part of that.  Then a bit of time off to unwind, celebrate the season, rejuvenate my soul.  And then…well the next project…an adventure in teaching!  January will find me on a Professional Development Assignment.  Instead of teaching UNI classes I will launch the development and implementation of a drama program for youth on the autism spectrum.  Stay tuned for an update later in the spring.

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