“It all started with ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’” said Sophomore Theater and English major Makayla Baker. Baker credits her passion for theater to a viewing of the famous musical. “I first watched ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in 7th grade and I automatically fell in love with the theater in the film. I went on to do theater club in high school because of it.” At EMU Baker has participated in three plays and been costume designer and assistant costume designer for “On the Verge” and “Time Stands Still.” During the summer she continues acting in McCoy’s community theater in Moorefield, W.Va., the same place from which her most recent theater endeavor sparked — directing. “I have done plays at McCoy’s before, the play ‘Les Miserables’ this past summer, and I overheard the public relations and director talking about needing new directors. I told them that I would be interested and they got excited at the idea because of my previous experience.”
Since the end of December Baker has been directing the play W;t, introduced to her by Theater professor Heidi Winters Vogel. “There was a long process of just talking and finding a play that would fit the community, but I proposed it to the board of directors. They were a little hesitant because they didn’t know if my commute would put a barrier on rehearsals, but my friend was an advocate and convinced them I would make a really good production.”
The show is about Vivian Baring, a 50-year-old English professor diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “The play is about her journey of learning what is most important in her life and how far human compassion can go, something she has not previously focused on in her life. The play focuses on the importance of human kindness over the pursuit of knowledge, as well as the family aspects of terminal illness, life support, and what is life after death.” The play’s opening was this past weekend with shows on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. “The first weekend went great, not a fantastic turnout, but a lot of conversation has been sparked, and that is what I wanted: conversation and change.”
The performance took place at McCoy’s Grand Theater, an hour and ten minutes away from campus. For the past few months Baker has been commuting back and forth to make this production possible. “I commute on Sundays, Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes Thursdays to rehearsals. Practices began at seven on weekdays and two on weekends. Community theater is different than theater at EMU. There is less time to rehearse because the actors are community members with other responsibilities.” While directing, different aspects of community theater made Baker responsible for more than one job. “In EMU theater you have someone for each different job, and at McCoy’s I was director, sound board controller, costume designer — basically a little bit of everything. I often had to stay late after rehearsals to clean up or work on painting.”
One area that Baker felt needed work was the minor characters in the play. “I wish I could have had more rehearsal time to develop the minor characters. I had a lot of time with the major characters: when we could not meet we would Skype, but I was not able to do that with the minor characters and I wish I could have.” Also, because of the sensitive material in the play, she had to determine how to be the leader that the actors needed. “A lot of my cast members have had close family members die of cancer and they looked to me as the leader to portray what is going on. They often had a hard time coming out of those characters, and it has been challenging learning how to connect with them.”
Baker’s desire to direct at McCoy’s stems from positive past experiences with that theater. “During Les Miserables my friend from high school died in a car accident and I was at McCoy’s in the middle of play rehearsal when I found out. Everyone was supportive, they were like a family to me and I wanted to give back to the community what they had given to me.” The play continues next weekend with tickets for students costing seven dollars and ten dollars for adults.
-Devon Fore, Style Editor; photo provided by Mikayla Baker
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