Sep 282011
 
Authors: Colleen McSweeney

This summer, when she started preparing for her production of Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men,” the play’s director, CSU theatre professor Laura Jones, knew she would need to seek outside help –– somehow, she had to transform a cast of college thespians into a believable group of U.S. Marines.

“I needed to get everyone in that military mindset,” Jones said. “And I didn’t think I could do it alone.”

So she walked into CSU’s ROTC office, asked around, and eventually enlisted the help of Sergeant Major Ret. Brian Olsen, who is now the play’s official “Military Consultant.”

Over the past two months, with the initial direction of Sgt. Olsen, the cast members of “A Few Good Men” have become seasoned to the ways of military life: they’ve learned to salute, stand at attention and most significantly, they’ve learned to think like Marines.

Senior business major Kiernan Angley, who plays the lead role of Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise in the play’s movie adaptation), fully embraced Jones’ decision to use a Military Consultant. So much so, he attended multiple ROTC physical training sessions last month, and he eventually came up with a military-esque warm-up he leads the actors in before each rehearsal.

“After seeing everyone so focused and lined up in their rows, I thought, ‘Why haven’t we always done this (in theatre)?’,” Angley said. He was also surprised at how the military techniques so closely mirrored those used in traditional theatre warm-ups.

“As actors, when we get ready, we aim for energy, vocals and focus. What does the military aim for? Energy, vocals and focus,” he said.The play’s cast, made up 16 men and one woman, say they can see the effect the military training has had on their character development –– and most tangibly, they saw it when many had their hair buzzed, Marine-style, two weeks ago.

“I feel like the entire show stepped up a notch when we got the haircuts,” said junior theatre major Parker Stegmaier, who plays Private First Class Louden Downey, one of the Marines accused of murder.

“And the sergeant was really helpful with so many things. That was one of my favorite parts, when he came in. I mean, he got into a lot of our faces though,” Stegmaier said.

“There was a moment when someone just had a little hint of a smile, and (Sgt. Olsen) was just on them immediately. And I was just like, ‘oooh, OK then!’”

After having motivation (and fear) instilled in them by the sergeant, the actors took it upon themselves to become immersed in the mindset of a Marine –– they even started wearing clunky, black combat boots to rehearsal, making it a challenge to remain silent when the stage managers yells “quiet backstage!”

And that’s something Production Stage Manager Kaylen Higgins says she’s had to do a lot of lately.

“Yeah, those heeled boots make a lot of noise backstage,” Higgins, a senior theatre major said. But one thing she’s found to be easier than imagined is working with a cast made up of mostly men.

“I kind of feel like a mom, saying, ‘Okaaay boys, here we go!’ But they’ve all been really well behaved, actually. It definitely hasn’t been as bad as I thought,” she said. “I was prepared for the worst.”

Someone else who gets to act as “mom” to the group of young men is assistant director, and junior theatre major, Meghan Connor.

“It’s really funny, because I came off of ‘Twelfth Night’ where I was surrounded by all women,” Connor said. “And now, I’m working with all the boys. It’s actually really nice, though, because there’s no drama. They’re all just a really nice group of guys.”

And while the cast consists of mostly men, the directorial and stage manager team is all female, Connor said. “It’s the women in charge this time.”

This is Connor’s first time assistant-directing a main-stage production at CSU, and she says it hasn’t been difficult getting people to recognize “A Few Good Men” when she tells them about it. Because while some may not automatically recognize the title, almost everyone knows Jack Nicholson’s famous line from the movie adaptation.

“When I explain to people what play it is I’m doing, I always say, ‘You know, the ‘YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH’ one,’” she said. “Then they usually say, ‘Oh yeah, they made a play out of that?’ And I say, ‘Actually, it was a play first, and then a movie.”

In both Aaron Sorkin’s original play and 1992 adapted movie screenplay, the only female speaking part belongs to Lieutenant Commander Joanna Galloway, or Demi Moore’s role in the movie.

Senior theatre major Jaccie Serbus plays “Jo” (as her male cast mates call her) in CSU’s production of “A Few Good Men.”

“It’s a lot of fun. You don’t often get a chance to stand out like that,” she said.

Serbus is one of the few cast members who didn’t have to get a buzz cut two weeks ago, but she says she’s still felt the transformation through rehearsals, and she’s definitely noticed it among the men.

“At one point in the beginning (of rehearsals), everyone was really nonchalant, saying ‘Whatever, yeah I’m a ‘Marine,’” she said.

“But now, it’s gone from actors pretending to be Marines, to actors actually believing they are Marines.”

Editorial Editor Colleen McSweeney is a junior journalism major. She can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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