From the Eyes of a Director

An interview with Ayelet Schrek '13, Student Director of our touring production of The Comedy of Errors
How did you develop, not only as an actor, but also as a playwright?
I have been acting in camps and after school since I was seven, when I did my first Shakespeare camp. I’ve been going ever since. I was a camper first and I am an intern now. But really, I have been acting as long as I’ve been walking and talking! When I was young, I had a friend who came over and we would “write plays” that we would perform for our families. It was my family culture.

What role do you see JCHS playing in this development (inside or outside of the arts program)?
JCHS felt like a step up. I thought: “This is real. We have multiple performances. We rehearse a lot.” What really brought me into theater was The Children’s Hour, a play written in 1934 by Lillian Hellman. I played Mary, a sociopath who ruins the lives of everyone around her and it was very intense. It forced me into a new state of mind I hadn’t been in before. I’ve grown a lot over the course of JCHS theater. I have been a part of every production that has gone on while I have been at the school. It’s ridiculous! But…it would be too weird not to do one.

I love writing. I wanted to take playwriting because it seemed like the next step in my development in writing and in theater. That class taught me so much.  A playwright is much served by having acted because she has a sense for what works for the stage. “What would it be like to say this line? To move this way?” Ms. Russell encouraged me to submit to Playground SF (a local theater program that encourages young playwrights) and I won the 2012 Young Playwright Project. I had the opportunity to see two different directors and sets of actors do a staged reading of my work. It was so unique to see my own work interpreted in ways I never would have. It gives it a life of its own. After this, I took part in the “Young Playwrights Inc.” program in New York. I was part of a workshop there where I saw that I was truly building on what I had learned in the JCHS playwriting class. It was the first time that I got a sense that I could do this; there is a life here in playwriting.

As an actor you make choices for your role, as a director you make choices for the play, and as a playwright you make choices for the universe. It is a special feeling to give back to the stories that exist out there. When I was part of NU Wurks here at JCHS (as an actor, director, and playwright) it was so rewarding to have actors give me positive feedback about what I had written. I felt like “Wow! I’ve created something that is enriching for another creator.” That is really meaningful.

What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?

Take risks. It’s a theater thing to say, but I can’t imagine how different my life would be if I didn’t audition for Little Shop of Horrors. I was a freshman when I auditioned and I was scared, but it was one of the best decisions I made. Now that I’m at the end I feel like—high school is short! Four years. A lot happens in high school. Explore that.

You’ve participated in every production thus far. What was your favorite part of these processes? What was the most challenging part?

The best thing is the Drama Department itself. It becomes like a family. We spend more time in that theater than anywhere else (except maybe home). It is a beautiful evolution to be part of the Drama Department. As a freshman you’re exploring what is new…maybe you have a couple of small parts, but as a senior, you’re one of the ones giving advice. It’s a metamorphosis. I also loved taking a novella and turning it into a play. It felt like the true experience of a creator and it was ours in a way that no other play could be ours. It felt so inspiring to know that true collaboration exists and to be a part of it.

Most challenging for me was probably not getting the roles I wanted, sometimes. It’s a challenge to learn to take one for the team and in the end it’s good, because it makes me go outside my comfort zone.

What was the most unexpected thing about directing The Comedy of Errors?

The Comedy of Errors was such a physical show. I had an undeveloped sense of how to stage a show and move folks around. I have confidence in how to ask the right questions and how to be a leader and a teacher, but the lights! The sound! The staging! I’d never done that before. And it worked! I did it! I had never looked at it from such a decision-based detail oriented way to be part of the production. It was scary, surprising and wonderful.

Do you have a take-away from this experience?

I know I want to do more directing. I knew that before, but I have a much better sense of what it takes. This show was an hour long! Directing, for me, is also similar to teaching, which I would also like to do. They're both about asking the right questions and giving others the tools they need to discover things themselves. I'm learning how to do that. I really value that. Another big thing I've taken away from acting in empathy. You don't just observe someone else--the idea is to become another person and truly understand their point of view. 
What is next for you?
For college, I’m not sure yet. I do eventually want a doctorate! I know that I want to teach English or theater, hopefully both. Teaching, for me, is at the heart of everything.
Jewish Community High School of the Bay
1835 Ellis Street, San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: 415.345.9777
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The Jewish Community High School of the Bay (JCHS) is a unique college preparatory high school committed to integrating deep learning, universal wisdom, and Jewish values. We empower each student to embrace their Jewish identity, generate empathy and compassion, delight in lifelong education, and improve the world.