Assistant director thrives in support role — like the subject of ‘Silent Sky’

Posted March 2, 2018

While sitting in the Blanche Davis Theatre for his first time, as a freshman, Corey Fern realized he had no clue how to operate any of the equipment the students use to put on their productions.

Now a junior, Fern recently accepted the role of assistant director for “Silent Sky,” after 2 ½ years as a theater student.

“They really let you just make your mistakes and learn for yourself, which is an amazing opportunity,” Fern said. “They just train such versatile students, so I’ve learned how to hang lights and focus lights and patch lights, and I set designed a show; I’ve stage managed, and now I’m assistant directing, and I’ve also had a lot of on-stage opportunities.”

Fern shares numerous learning experiences with many of the other students involved in the “Silent Sky” production, which consisted of roles for 17 students, five actors and 12 stage crew members – a far cry from the 30 cast members who acted in the university’s fall production, he said.

While Fern has no plans to assistant direct another production at UWRF, he does intend to continue using the stage to make things appear real. However, he first plans to pursue his MFA after graduating from the university. Ultimately aspiring to make a career out of teaching and directing university theater, Fern had only one concern about his first time assistant directing.

“Because of the fact that I’m a student and I’m their peer, that was something that I was really worried about because it takes a lot of vulnerability to be on stage,” he said. “I put out there right off the bat that ‘this is a learning experience for me; this is a learning experience for you. I’m here to help you improve your performance, and I think it’s going to be great, and I think I have a lot to offer.’”

One of the main ways that Fern found himself improving the actors’ performance was developing methods for them to eliminate habits of awkwardness that they would portray on stage.

“People have different acting ticks,” he said. “Mine is that I often want to play with my ring when I’m on stage, so I always take off my ring so I don’t get that tick. Some people have issues where they won’t make direct eye contact on stage.”

Having a cast of only five members was another factor that Fern believes really played to his advantage, allowing him the opportunity to give the actors more one-on-one attention than usual for directors or assistant directors.

“With it being a smaller cast, and with their respect for me and my respect for them, it’s been a great process,” he said. “I think that every single one of us has gotten astronomically closer.”

Another factor that Fern found helpful was his own personal enjoyment of the play as well as his acknowledgement of the contributions women have made toward astronomy, he said.

That same appreciation for astronomy, as well as for the play itself, is exactly what brought sophomore Glory Duda to the theatre for the play’s opening night performance.

“We read this play in acting one, last semester,” she said. “I really like stars and I really liked the play, so I wanted to see it on stage.”

Duda’s familiarity with “Silent Sky” gave her high expectations for the university’s rendition. However after seeing the play, her appreciation for it had only grown stronger.

“I really liked the ending,” she said. “I think the end part is really, really well written – the part after she goes up and looks through the telescope and explains what happens to each of the (characters). They did a really good job of taking something that’s really big like space and the universe and bringing it down to this stage while still making it feel really big.”