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Friends swarm the Lord of the Flies

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A look at the ‘Lord of the Flies’ rehearsal and the old friends who have come together to produce it.

Photos by Emily Spence, Audio by Rich Copley

‘Lord of the Flies’ director sees role as teacher

by Rich Copley,

The cast of Lord of the Flies is moving across the floor of the University of Kentucky’s Tuska Gallery.

The actors are almost snakelike in the way one will lead and the others will follow while portraying a hunting scene in Nigel Williams’ stage adaptation of William Golding’s classic novel.

Standing to the side and ­staring intently is director ­Sullivan Canaday White.

When the scene ends, she calls the dozen young men in her cast together.

”What did you learn from that?“ White asks her actors, who stand in a circle.

One says he was frustrated with Ralph, one of the leaders in the story of a group of boys who are marooned on a desert island.

Another says he discovered he was closer to one of the ­characters than he suspected.

Nick Dunn, who plays Jack, another of the leaders in the play, says, ”It gives us other things to think of when we’re in the scene.“

White is in her element where teaching and directing meet.

”I love teaching,“ she said before that rehearsal, Tuesday night. ”I always sort of knew that these two things coincided — teaching and directing — for me. I was going to continue to do both, and as I continue, I find more and more ways that’s possible.“

Back where she started

White, a Charlottesville, Va., native who was raised in Lexington and Estill County, got her start in theater in Lexington troupes and at UK, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in theater in 1988. She worked with local groups, including Actors Guild of Lexington, and even was the producer of the Lexington Shakespeare Festival in 1996.

In the midst of directing the 1997 Shakespeare Festival production of The Lion in Winter, White was hired by Actors Theatre of Louisville to direct its Apprentice/Intern Company. It was a prestigious gig that allowed her to prepare students for work in productions at the region’s premier theater and to direct some shows, including Apprentice Company productions for the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Now, White has just wrapped up her first year on the faculty at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where she is helping to launch a theater degree program.

This summer, she is directing Lord of the Flies, which she describes as something of a full-circle experience, particularly with the actors she’s working with.

”One of the big reasons I really wanted to come back was I had been working with a number of these students for the past couple of years, training them and getting to know them,“ White says. ”They’re tremendous. I’ve seen a lot of students from all over the country, and these young artists can compete, they really can.“

During the past three summers, White has taught at the theater institutes connected to the play festivals in the Arboretum on Alumni Drive: the Lexington Shakespeare Festival Institute in 2006 and the Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory, which presents SummerFest, in 2007 and this year.

Her courses have included techniques such as viewpoints, a method being used in Lord of the Flies that was developed by avant-garde director Anne Bogart.

Flies assistant director ­Jacob Michael Sexton says the technique is a physical improvisation designed to make the actors react to one another in character.

”She’s the reason I’m in Lexington this summer,“ Sexton says of White. ”I had been in her classes the last two summers, but I hadn’t seen her direct yet.“

He says he does not see a lot of difference between White the teacher and White the director.

”It’s always about collaboration,“ Sexton says. ”Even if she knows what she wants, she wants you to explore and find your way to it. She’s a teacher at heart.“

White says there are a lot of similarities between the classroom and the rehearsal hall, but ”teaching and directing are different. Teaching is process-oriented, and ultimately when you’re doing a play, it’s product-oriented. You’re trying to do something to put it up in front of people to share that.

”I try not make the ­rehearsal room feel product-oriented, but that is ultimately what we’re going for.“

The emotional toll

When she took on Lord of the Flies, White knew what it was like to direct for the ­Arboretum, and she knew most of the actors with whom she was going to work. But she wasn’t quite ready for the emotional toll the novel-based play would take.

A staple of high school reading lists, William Golding’s 1954 book Lord of the Flies is about a group of British schoolboys marooned on a desert island and left to their own devices. Their ­efforts at self-governance have violent, deadly results.

”You read the book, and it can be disturbing in a number of ways, maybe upsetting to some,“ White says. ”When you put it in front of yourself every single day, it’s not an easy thing to do. Because you’re a bit removed from it when you read it. … It’s a little bit different when you actually have human beings up there presenting their ideas. You’re trying to go deeper and trying to understand what’s motivating these characters and what’s happening to them, what the circumstances are that are pushing them in this particular direction.

”While intellectually I knew this would be an intense experience, it probably proved to be more than I first expected. Leading a group of young men along this path, and having them trust me enough, trust themselves enough and trust each other enough to explore this stuff, I feel a great deal of responsibility.“

Helping to offset the emotion is the pleasure of being home for a few months while she teaches in the conservatory and directs. White, who sports a tan made deep and curls made blonder by daytime rehearsals in the Arboretum, gets to stay with her father and see old friends.

”These past two summers working with these students has been so much fun,“ White says. ”I love working with these guys in this show because they just want it, they want to learn and they want to grow, and they’re good.“

Could there be a better way for a teacher at heart to spend her summer vacation?

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