Directing student theater with Eric Bishop

JEREMY MULFORD-Digital Editor in Chief 

The state of the art MCC theater

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. I got to see the director’s side. The passion runs deeper for a director than one would see from the outside. Sitting in the audience and having that emotion packed scene bring you to tears, you always tend to see the brilliance in the delivery, but 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 took the character from a vibrant young woman to a terminally ill wife and mother leaving her family at a young age.  Her delivery was pitch 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 about three years now and she has gained 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. Bishop tries to steer them away from method acting.  That is good for one scene when shooting in the film medium, but it is not sustainable for night after night runs like live theater. Actors like Matt Damon or Christian Bale, who have physically hurt themselves by taking roles too far are prime examples. Sometimes in live theater, your well could dry up with method acting. 

Bishop teaches students to reach deeper than the tears that most people would envision when taking on an emotional role such as the husband in “These Shining Lives.”  Bishop favors going past the obvious and putting the actor in the situation.  If you were losing the love of your life and mother of your children, would you want to cry outwardly or 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, this is what the audience feels for the most. The Audience wants to be what they admire. Emotional control is what the audience wants 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 night I sit through an entire performance is the night my wife comes. It’s one of the few times I sit through an entire performance because I want to share what’s been taking my entire focus for the last few weeks,” said Bishop. In professional theater when opening night rolls around, the director is already on to the next show or project and 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, who 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. He brings passion to the craft 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. 

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