During a sit down with Eric Bishop, theater department faculty member and director of many campus productions, I got a glimpse at the opposite side of the stage; the director’s chair. The passion runs deeper in this aspect of the art than one thinks from the outside.
Sitting in the audience and having that emotion pact scene bring you to sheets of tears you always tend to see the brilliance in the delivery; but the journey to a master delivery is what our conversation revolved around on a crisp fall afternoon.
Trust is the first thing Bishop touched on about directing the lead (Emily Neifert) in his last campus production These Shining Lives. Nefiert, the lead role, took the character from a vibrant young woman, to a terminally ill wife and mother leaving her family at an unnatural time. Her delivery was pitched perfect, with absolutely no costume or make-up change, “A Lot of it is just trust and building a report with the actor. I’ve known Emily since she was sixteen, about three years now and she has gained the enough trust to let me direct her to that place and know she is safe,” said Bishop. Bishop uses the Constantine Stanislavsky method, which really immerses the actor into the role, “The school of thought we use when we train our students is to build the character from the inside out. What that means is they have to think like the character; to have an inner monologue. When they speak the subtext involved they have to do quite a bit of character development, so that these are not just two dimensional renderings but are living breathing human beings that are complex and nuanced,” said Bishop.
Bishop hosts “Character Parties,” where the students have to create a character that is 180 degrees different from themselves.That character is then sustained for 60 minutes. Speeds that a character moves are also crucial to the method as well. How rhythms move in a character, a method of “Psychological Gesture” that was taught by Michael Chekhov. In this technique, the actor will physicalize a character’s need or internal dynamic in the form of an external gesture. This allows you to ramp up your character’s emotion from the inside. We do try to steer them away front “The Method” that is good for one scene when shooting in the film medium, but it is not sustainable night after night runs like live theater. It can be bad as we have seen in current Hollywood actors. Guys like Matt Damon or Christian Bale who have physically hurt themselves by taking roles too far. Sometimes in live theater you’re well could also dry up with method acting.
Bishop teaches to reach deeper than the tears that most people would envision when attacking an emotional role such as the husband in These Shining Lives Bishop favors the going past the obvious and putting the actor in the situation for real. If you were losing the love of your life and mother of your children would you want to cry outwardly or would you hold in and remain stoic. Bishop explains that the character remaining stoic and holding back his emotion is far more powerful than seeing someone turn on the waterworks. “It comes down to what character do you want to be, who you are pulling for when you’re watching a drama. Do you want to be the weak one that falls apart? No, you want to be stoic and strong for your family and that is what the audience feels for the most. The Audience wants to be what they admire. Emotional control is what they want to see in themselves.
When it comes to directing, it’s like giving away a child that you have already nurtured to adolescence. Then it’s handed off to the Stage Manager, “I often go to my office or pace the lobby during a performance. The only time I sit through a performance is the night my wife comes. It’s one of the few times I sit through and entire performance because I want to share what’s been taking my entire focus for the last few weeks,” said Bishop. In the big leagues when opening night rolls around the director is already on to the next gig and it’s in the whole production is in the Stage Manager’s hands from opening to closing nights. But here in the collegiate situation you can see it transform and watch your actors grow as the production becomes an entity of its own.
Bishop earned masters of fine arts degree from California State University, Fullerton, has been teaching college theater since 1992 and has been here at the college since 2000. Passion in the craft is something you can tell he brings to the table. Our campuses boast many state of the art programs academic and extracurricular, but when it comes to excellence our theater department stands out in this distinguished company.