As a drama major at CC, Luke Wallens ’06 had explored the world of theater from multiple angles — as an actor in campus productions, a student in classes on directing and theatrical history, and even as the financial director for CC’s Theater Workshop. As a budding director, he wanted to get hands-on experience in the process of a professional production.
“I was eager to see how a regional theater company functions from a directing point of view,” Wallens said.
A venture grant for $850 and a conversation with a professor were the keys to making it happen.
“My Directing II professor, Clinton Turner Davis, knew I was interested not only in developing my directing skills, but also in furthering my knowledge of acting and playwrighting by seeing these crafts through a directing lens. He said he was directing a show at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF) and asked me if I would like to join him as his assistant for the production. I agreed and we developed a curriculum from there,” Wallens said. “It was great! I learned to build a sense of confidence in who I am and how I want to operate as a director.”
The grant allowed Wallens to spend two months at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in Montgomery, Ala., one of the largest Shakespeare festivals in the world. In addition to attending all the events of the festival, Wallens worked as assistant director on the production of “Pure Confidence,” a play written by Carlyle Brown and directed by Turner Davis. He helped lead understudy rehearsals, offered advice to the director, assisted the stage crew with set changes, and conducted curtain speeches before performances.
“I also learned about the social dynamics of being a director and how to manage every aspect of a play. Now I see how delicate and essential communication is in theater. Sometimes in the theater world things can change so fast and decisions can be made without all the essential staff present, and that can cause problems. I’ve definitely realized that even though some meetings may be tedious, it is very important to keep open communication about any kind of change, no matter how large or small,” Wallens said.
ASF operates all year, producing 12–14 world-class productions annually, typically including three works of William Shakespeare. The remaining plays sample various genres and playwrights, many with an emphasis on Southern works such as “Pure Confidence.”
This play tells the story of Simon Cato, a slave and jockey who races horses to buy his freedom as the Civil War breaks out, and examines the complex relationship between the former slave and his owner.
According to Turner Davis, Wallens started out as a passionate, inquisitive drama student and grew into a valuable, respected colleague of the cast and crew during the experience.
“Luke worked very closely with me, participating in every aspect of the production process from early dramaturgical and research work to specific duties throughout the rehearsal process and early performances of the play,” Turner Davis said. “It was heartening to witness his reactions as working professional theater artists in all areas of the theater treated him as a peer and valued his ideas and input.”
Working together first as professor and student, then as director and assistant, had particular advantages for Turner Davis and Wallens.
“He was an amazing assistant!” said Turner Davis. “Having hands-on experience and applying the knowledge and training he gained in his CC theater classes created a‘shorthand’ of communication and provided a greater understanding of my style and approach to directing, and made my job more enjoyable. The lessons he learned in Directing I were being applied in a professional setting and were no longer isolated concepts.”
Wallens says the experience not only made him a stronger director, but a more successful actor.
“I learned how to be aware as an actor and realize my part in the bigger picture that the director wants to portray. I also found out how to pick up on the small details of the script and create them on stage through a hand motion, a prop, or a sound cue for a more engaging effect,” Wallens said.
Since his venture grant experience and graduation from CC, Wallens has been involved in several theatrical productions, notably “Love — The Radio Edit,” a pioneering combination of music, mime, and theater that was featured at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August and on the CC campus in July. Wallens acted in and helped produce the show — which tells the story of two 20-somethings through 150 pop songs — with four other CC alumni.
Wallens currently lives in London, where he is “working and talking with Indian film director Andy Mukherjee about ideas, and also making connections in the theater and film industry here.”