Written by Carrie Beth Wallace
This week, Columbus State University opens its production of SWEAT by Lynn Nottage. The show is guest directed by David McCray, an alumni of the university. The production boasts a diverse group of students whose dedication and innovative creativity have both impressed and humbled McCray on and off the stage.
Read on to discover more about SWEAT and the remarkable cast and crew of students bringing the show to life.
David McCray. Image courtesy of Springer Opera House.
Q: Tell me about SWEAT, David. What's it about?
A: SWEAT is about a group of factory workers living in Pennsylvania during the time of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. The play deals with everything going on during that time including job cuts, and the massive social and economic impact the changes had on people's lives. There are generations of people working in this factory, and this is all they've known. Big changes bring experiences that impact the core of their whole lives, and the story is about what that does to them.
Q: What do you hope the audience takes away from their experience seeing SWEAT?
A: I think that what people need to take away from this is that it happens in real life every day. At the beginning of our rehearsal process, one of my actors brought up this podcast he'd just listened to about the recent unionization of a factory. The very topic SWEAT is based on is still happening all of the time around the world. As actors, we tell stories to continue to remind people of what's going on in the world. It's easy to forget stories like this are based on things that are still happening today, but SWEAT invites us to consider it heavily.
Q: I know you're the guest director for this show, but I believe that you also have two student directors. Is that correct?
A: Yes, Lauren Alexandra is my associate director and Lou Walker is my assistant.
Q: What's it been like to work with them on this project?
A: They've been amazing during this whole process. They've both just been taking on roles as quickly as they can. Lou is actually also a dresser for the show. It's wild.
Q: She's assistant directing and dressing the same show?
A:Yes. It's been a wonderful experience for her though. Many of the students have taken on several additional responsibilities for this particular show. It's been a great thing. It's also led conversations with all of the students that as a theatre professional, you'll find that you're doing a lot of different things all of the time. You wear whatever hats you need to, to keep the show running.
When I was assistant directing at the Springer Opera House for The Color Purple this summer, I ended up having to step in as a Spot Op for awhile. It just happens. Randomly one night I just had to fill in. But that's what fun as a director, I get to fill in all kinds of different places. I'm glad these students are learning how to do that, too.
Q: Did you have to do anything like that for SWEAT?
A: In addition to directing? Oh, sure. We've all done whatever we needed to to make the production successful. For example, we needed some fight choreography, so I helped out with that as well.
The whole production has been a really fun process for all of us. I really enjoy being able to come back and work with students. It's so important to me to show them that once you graduate, you can get paid to do this work and have fun with it. I know I do. I have fun directing every time I get to come into the process. It always has its stressful times, but with everything that you love, there's a little bit of stress. Right?
Q: What has been the most pleasant surprise in working with this group of students?
A: That's easy. I have been so impressed with the amount of excitement each of them bring to the table. I mean, no matter what their role is, they each bring so many different fun elements to the process.
I also have enjoyed watching them work as a team with so many different ages of students involved. That is really important. Some of the students are seniors, some are freshmen. But no matter what their ages are, I've noticed there's still the same level of dedication. It's been incredible to see their devotion to the process and just how innovative they are.
I've known some of these students since they were freshmen, you know? Now, they're seniors. What a great thing to watch them grow as they have!
For example, Lauren, my associate director, got to do an internship this summer where she was also an Assistant Director on The Color Purple at a different theatre in a completely different state. To watch her growth has been incredible.
Q: SWEAT is a student production. I believe strongly in supporting student work, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on the topic. Why should people attend shows at CSU?
A: These students put in so much hard work. You can see the dedication in the set designs, the lights... I mean, all of these elements are put together by students. They're also all still going to class during the day, and working their tails off at night to make sure that they can put together a production of the highest quality. I firmly believe their work should be celebrated, and our community should rally behind these students and their education.
Any support that we can give these students is so essential. The best way to do that? Just show up! ◾️