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Juliet Davidson ’23, Summer Meade ’24, Aaron Simons ’22, and Mark Cryer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
After being awarded the Samuel and Helen Lang Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2021, Associate Professor of Theatre Mark Cryer used his granted funds this summer for student research.
He traveled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland to present Thurgood, a one-man play about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Cryer was accompanied by three students, Juliet Davidson ’23, Summer Meade ’24, and Aaron Simons ’22, who shares his story about directing his former professor and working in a professional theatrical environment.

When Associate Professor of Theatre Mark Cryer first asked me to direct him in Thurgood, a one-man play about Thurgood Marshall, I immediately said yes.

I love directing. I directed four plays in high school, I directed and produced a two-act musical at Hamilton my sophomore year, and I served as Mark’s assistant director for the Spring 2021 mainstage production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

Despite this experience, I knew that directing Mark would be a unique challenge. More than just my former professor and advisor, he is a professional actor used to taking direction from professional directors. How would he react to receiving notes and blocking from a 21-year-old recent graduate? And how would I measure up?                                

Fortunately, the process proved to be a highly collaborative one. Because of the nature of a one-man play, the actor has a major role in crafting the character. Before rehearsals began, I worked with Mark to shape the narrative. Who is Thurgood Marshall, and what are we trying to say about him? The play was being shown to a European audience, so the cuts we made to the script were strategic; we needed to keep in anecdotes that would educate playgoers unfamiliar with America’s civil rights movement without the show feeling like a history lesson.

During rehearsals, I developed staging for the character, and Mark refined it to feel natural. We blocked specific moments to sit, stand, take off or put on his blazer, move a set piece, and even when to take a sip of water should he need one during the performance. Over time, our 55-minute production became a well-oiled machine — because it had to be.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival. It takes place every August in Edinburgh, Scotland, and features more than 49,000 artists from 58 countries performing in more than 3,000 different shows. With this tight schedule, the Fringe is necessarily fast-paced and mostly bare-bones. Our timeslot included five minutes to set up, an hour to perform, and five minutes to break down.

Thankfully, creating under constraint is something for which Hamilton College prepared me quite well. My senior thesis project had similar requirements: five minutes to set up, 40 minutes for performance, and five minutes to take everything down. The classes I’ve taken at Hamilton also taught about design constraints as a necessity for a successful project. So, when I designed the lighting, sound, and projections for Thurgood, I knew how to use a little to create a lot.

Summer Meade ’24, Aaron Simons ’22, and Juliet Davidson ’23
Summer Meade ’24, Aaron Simons ’22, and Juliet Davidson ’23 in Scotland.

Instrumental to the success of the show were Juliet Davidson ’23 and Summer Meade ’24, our stage manager and production manager, respectively. The pair attended each rehearsal and familiarized themselves with the technical cues in order to seamlessly integrate all aspects of the production. In fact, once we arrived in Edinburgh, Juliet and Summer were — quite literally — running the show. I would assist with setup and takedown, but then I’d leave; Summer ran the sound and projection cues while Juliet operated the light board.

The Fringe festival itself was a sight to behold. Every few buildings would contain a theatre, the streets were filled with performers and buskers, and the energy of the crowds was palpable. We saw more than a dozen shows during our time in Edinburgh, ranging from a ballet-inspired production of Hamlet starring Sir Ian McKellen to a 60-minute one-man reenactment of the Star Wars trilogy. By far my favorite act was Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle, an interactive mentalist performance that ultimately devolves into chaotic hilarity.

Being able to graduate from the Theatre Department and immediately move into such a special theatrical world was a dream come true and a true embodiment of the experiential learning for which Hamilton College is known. My first foray into professional directing was an exhilarating and unforgettable experience, and I am forever grateful to have had a professor like Mark Cryer.

Aaron Simons ’22

Major: Theatre
Hometown:  Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
High school: Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches

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