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Shelle Schwartz

Episode 114 – Theatre Junior Student on Directing a Greek Tragedy

Shelle Schwartz, a UNC theatre junior student, shares how she decided to focus her efforts on stage directing and her new project adapting and directing the greek myth of Hecuba.

Shelle Schwartz, a UNC theatre junior student, shares how she decided to focus her efforts on stage directing and her new project adapting and directing the greek myth of Hecuba.  (Running time 16:59)



My name is Shellee Schwartz. I am a junior triple major in theater studies, journalism, and writing, editing, and publishing. And my pronouns are she/her. 

Welcome to Bear in Mind for this episode, I interviewed Shellee, who has found a love of directing and has put on multiple performances here at UNC. 

So what made you want to get into theater? 

My journey in theater really starts a long time ago. I did dance starting when I was two, and then dance kind of led me many years later when I was in middle school into doing a production with my middle school and the first one that I ever did, I was a performer in a show called Singing in the Rain, and I just absolutely loved it. 

And I did theater, you know, throughout the rest of middle school and then going into high school. And during high school, I was like, you know what? I'm going to go to school and I'm going to be an actor. And alas, I am not cut out to be an actor. There are some people that absolutely are, but I simply am too nervous. 

I auditioned for UNC's acting program and I didn't get in, which at the time, you know, really was really sad for me because I was like, you know, I want to be an actor. And then I ended up realizing it was an absolutely phenomenal thing that happened to me because it led me down the path that I really wanted to be in, which is directing and stage management. Now, I've just really started pursuing directing a lot more. 

What made you want to do three majors? 

I came into school as a theater major, and I am one. I'm a person who doesn't like to put all of my eggs in one basket. So the thought of only having a major in a performance industry, which can be really kind of a volatile industry to make it in, did not seem like a great option to me. 

So I added on my journalism major, I believe second semester of my freshman year, and last year the School of English opened up a writing, editing, and publishing major, and I just felt like it was going to work really well with my journalism degree, especially. So I really just have three to diversify my skills as much as I can and just make myself as marketable as possible. 

And, you know, I want to be able to do all of my work to the best of my abilities, no matter where I end up in life. And I figure that's what I'm doing with all of these skills that I'm gaining. 

And they're all like really good ones that you can find, like expansive amounts of stuff. You could just do that’s super cool. 

Thank you.  

What made you specifically want to pursue directing? 

Earlier I mentioned that I used to dance. I taught dance for many years and something that I learned while I was teaching dance is I really enjoy creating like these just really beautiful pictures on stage, you know, just finding moments that are like, you can just put this picture in that's absolutely beautiful, that, you know, it's something that you remember and directing.  

I love. Directing is so hard to explain to me because it's like you get to use people to, like, tell a story in a live way. So it's not just like when you're watching a movie and you're able to kind of disconnect from it. When you're sitting there watching a theatrical production, you are so easily drawn in when it's done well, you believe that you're really watching these people do this thing and you're there with them. 

And there's something about being able to put together those pictures on stage and taking it picture by picture and moment by moment and putting something together that can affect people and can help teach them something that they're able to so much better grasp because they felt like they were a part of it, rather than feeling that disconnect from it, you know. 

And do you still do dance? 

Not as much anymore. There's just not really time for it. I do miss it. You know, I taught youth dance for many years and it was one of the most rewarding things that I've ever done. And it, you know, it really teaches you a lot as a person dealing with small children and tap shoes. It's very interesting. But yeah, I miss it. There's just not enough time in the day. 

What has your experience in the UNC theater program been like? 

A lot of the work that I've done in UNC theater program has been really well, aided by one professor in particular, Randall Harmon and Dr. Rand Harmon. And you know, what I can say in terms of directing is there's not anything that's specifically super targeted towards directors. So it's kind of like I learn all these skills on a base level and then I have been given the opportunity. 

So before we continue, Shellee uses the abbreviation STAD a lot in this next little segment. I had no idea what that meant but then it clicked in my head that it stood for School of Theatre Arts and Dance.  

What I love about STAD is that I have been given the opportunity through that school to create my own art and to have spaces that I can create my own art in. And, you know, we have lovely actors that are available to us that are learning things from, you know, the other acting like the acting professors that we have and talking about STAD is hard for me. 

Yeah, they're definitely, you know, and being in three different programs, I can tell you there are absolutely different ups and downs depending on which program you go into. You know. 

So we did get a little bit sidetracked here talking about different ways that programs can be challenging. And since Shellee is majoring in three different ones, I feel like she has a different outlook than most students. That was super interesting. But it was getting sidetracked. So now we'll be back to talking about theater. 

So going back to theater and transitioning back to that, what is your play called and what is it about? 

The play that I'm working on right now Is Hecuba by Euripides. It is an ancient Greek classic. Love Those. And it was written a really long time ago about the ancient Greek civilization of Troy during the 12th century. So essentially where the play picks up is right after the Trojan War. So the Greeks have won the war over the Trojans and Hecuba is the former queen of Troy. 

She has watched her husband die. Most of her children, some some places say that she has 19 children. Some places say that she has 50. 19 is our base number, though. So she has watched pretty much at this point about 16 of 19 children pass. When we start this show, two of which for sure have died during the course of the war and the Trojan War was a little bit over ten years. 

So that was not very cool. So essentially the play I don't want to it's hard to talk about without revealing too much because there's, you know, it's a tragedy. So obviously there's quite a bit of tragedy. We meet Hecuba and she is grieving at the very beginning of the play. She has come out of her tent and she is very hysterical about a dream that she had about her children dying. 

This is foreshadowing things go wrong with her children. If you can if you can guess, we have a few less children by the end of this show. But yeah, so she ends up finding out some things that force her family to grow smaller. There is some revenge that takes place in the show later on. It is literally absolutely impossible to tell you the plot without. 

Absolutely. But there there's death. There's murder. There's loss of eyeballs. So they yeah, there's a lot. The losing of the eyeballs does not happen on stage. Greek tragedy, Greek shows never put violence on stage. And that is something that I plan to keep. I want to try and work with some of those original Greek values when they stage their shows. So no violence on stage for me. 

So I ask here what Shellee's values are with directing a play because she had mentioned that it was a Greek value to not show violence on stage. And I was really interested in that. But I put in my asking and I got a little bit embarrassed. So now I'm just going to put this here as a little stand-in for that. 

Do you mean in terms of choosing a play, like what values I want to work with in terms of my work? 

Yeah, I think it's because you said that, like the violence one was like a value that you had. You didn't want to show it on stage. I was just wondering if they were like any more. 

Yeah, yeah. So the no violence on stage is kind of like more of a Greek value. I'm not sure if it's necessarily a value or just something that they just didn't really do. I'm not quite sure for the reason why they didn't put violence on stage, but that's just something that's like pretty well known and I really wanted to stick to that. 

That's not something I stick to all the time. The last show I directed was called Death Trap, and there were five characters and three of them were murdered during the course of the show. So yeah, I end up accidentally doing a lot of plays with death in them, not for any particular reason. That's just how it's been recently. 

But in terms of values that I hold dear, I, I like to choose shows that I think I think this will speak for a lot of directors as I like to choose shows that I feel I can leave the audience with something when they walk out of the room. You know, I don't work on art all the time in order for the audience to just look at it and go, okay, that was pretty, that was nice, and then leave and never think about it ever again. 

I think something that I love about Hecuba is that Euripides specifically out of a lot of the Greeks, wrote female characters that had substance that, you know, they were real people beyond just being a woman in a play that served a very menial purpose, you know, And I love here, looking at Hecuba and what it means to be a woman and what it means to go through all of this loss and still have to keep going and not know where you're going to end up and, you know, just kind of feeling lost in the world. 

I just love producing work that makes you think. And I love that when I read a script and something about it just yells at me. Like when I read Hecuba, I read this show. I read an adaptation by William Arrowsmith that I just I loved it. And as soon as I finished reading it, I. I knew I had to direct it because I just love Greek work and it's something that I wanted to work on for a long time. 

Just really excited to finally get some some Greek stuff under my belt. 

Have you directed other shows before? 

My, my biggest production is one that I did in the fall in the journalism news studio, actually, which was a death trap by Ira Levin. It was kind of like a murder mystery, if, you know Clue. It's kind of similar to that kind of vibe. And that was my first production and it was absolutely massive. It was this kind of collaboration between the theater department and the journalism department where we took four cameras and we produced. 

I directed it in a combination of like a theatrical style and a film style so that we could film it on all four cameras just because me and the faculty producer Shawn Montano, thought it would be really cool to produce something in the journalism new studio. And then death trap kind of sprung from there. Prior to that, I assistant directed a show called El Mercenary, and then before that I directed. 

The first time I ever directed was a production of Alice in Wonderland and High School, and that was when I kind of went, Oh, maybe this is something that I will look at doing in the future, and now I'm here. 

What has your experience been directing Hecuba so far? 

It's been really great. It's been really interesting. Something about this production that's different for me is I actually wrote the adaptation for the script that we're using. The script for Hecuba. This version of it is mine, which has been really interesting to take a piece of work that was originally someone else's and then compare it because obviously Euripides, wrote Hecuba in Greek. 

So when I went about making my adaptation of it, I for absolutely ever through about five different translations of Hecuba to try and find the one that felt the truest to what your please was intending. You know, I was trying to look at all of the content that I had and say, you know, what is the most truthful story here? 

And a lot of the lines that I found, you know, Hecuba threw out a lot of this is a lot of her lines can feel very, oh, woe is me because, you know, she is going through a lot and she is not unwilling to talk about it throughout this play. She has a lot of monologues that are some of them can feel a little whiny at times. 

So going about this, something that was really important to me was finding that line between like, she's upset and she's going through it and she's struggling and I don't want to make her seem like she's just whiny because that's not who Hecuba is. She's a very strong woman who has just been given a lot to deal with all at once. 

That's been really interesting in terms of just actually directing the show. I've had a lot of fun with this one. I'm working in the Frasier Five Lab Theater, which is much smaller than the last place that I produced a show in, though figuring out how to put I have eight actors figuring out how to put those eight actors on stage in ways that make sense and doesn't make it look overly crowded and make sense to what the characters would be doing and to what real people would be doing is something that I'm looking at constantly, but it's going really well. 

I have an absolutely amazing cast. I have a really great team that I'm working with. In terms of the technical side, so I'm really excited about this production. I think it's going in a really good direction. 

What is some advice that you would want to give somebody who wants to direct a play at UNC? 

I'd probably start by saying, Don't feel like you have to do it all on your own. Directing is really interesting because even though it's you as the director telling these people, you know, telling the actors, you're going here and you're you're moving here, and how is your character feeling this in that? I can feel really easy to kind of feel like you're the puppet master and you have to move all of the parts yourself. 

But when it really comes down to it, there are people here to help you, you know, like the actors that you've chosen to work on your show, you chose them because those are actors that can make choices. These are actors that this is what they want to do, you know, allow them some space and some room to work things out so that they can do their job so that they can grow so that everybody on your team can grow. 

You know, in terms of tech, do what you can do, but don't take on more than you can handle. You know, it's all about being willing to work with other people because theater, theater is not something you can do on your own. Just really it's really hard. Unless you're doing a one woman show with absolutely no set, then you can do it by yourself. 

But besides that, just don't be afraid to reach out and find help. And besides that, I would probably say make sure you find work that you connect with. Don't just put a show up to put a show up. It can be really easy as artists to feel like we just have to constantly be creating work, even though that work doesn't necessarily hold as much value to us. 

And I think that that is something that we need to stop doing because I know I've had issues with it is just make sure that you're really putting work out there that matters that you care about, not just so that you can do it and prepare. Be prepared for the love of God. Do your dramaturgical work. Know. know your play. No, Your play inside and out. All of it. And come in as prepared as you can because, man, once you get into it, it moves so fast.

If you could do a podcast what would you do it on? 

There's already a podcast that I listen to actually about pretty much what I'm about to tell you. But so one of the reasons that I chose Hecuba is because I've always loved Greek mythology. So I would probably do a podcast based on Greek mythology and kind of like all of those Greek tales and Greek figures that a lot of us know just a little bit about, that we could definitely know more about just because I love Greek mythology. It's just something that makes me very happy. 

I was a big Greek mythology kid when I was younger too. 

It's so much fun.  

And the Percy Jackson books are so good. 

So thank you for joining us to hear about Hecuba and the director behind it. The play is being performed on April 20th and the 21st in the Frasier Five Lab Theater. The doors will open at seven with the show starting at 7:30 a.m.. Your host, Isabella Marcus-Porter, giving you a taste of UNC. 

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