Making “Miss Julie:” Understanding theater at DU

The fact that they encourage us, not only allow us, to pursue those other endeavors—it’s really something special.” – Actor Cody Schuyler

Getting ready for rehearsal

Kim Morgan, left, instructs Kaitlin Clark, in the blue, Cody Schuyler, in the red, and Julia Owen, in the black and white.

DU’s Theater Department is known for its provocative and challenging dramatic pieces. Most productions revolve around a philosophical approach to the world and its people, and each cast creates its own portrayal of life and its meaning.

The latest main stage play, which will run alongside the main stage musical “Urinetown,” is called “Miss Julie,” and it paints the same characteristically dark view on society as do most other DU plays.

Cheyenne Michaels, who designed “Miss Julie’s” commercial, described the play’s importance within the theatrical world.

“It’s the first play that ever separated sex from love,” she said. “Streinberg [“Miss Julie’s” playwright] was also trying to create a realism play, which focuses on real world problems through an artistic view.”

Making it “real”

The play, which is marketed as a “bracing examination of power, sex and class: the fateful drama of a willful young aristocrat’s seduction of her father’s valet,” involves just three characters: Miss Julie, a young and impulsive count’s daughter; Jean, her chauffer and servant; and Kristine, a modest and quiet maidservant.

Julia Owen, who plays Miss Julie in DU’s production of the play, described it as one of her favorites.

“This show is so beautiful,” Owen said. “I love it so much. Every show is so different, but this one is more compressed and more intimate. It’s a fun show because it’s very different every night, which makes it weird but cool.”

Cody Schuyler, who plays Jean, has been working on creating a character that can be both despised and empathized with after the audience comes to understand his relationships with the two women.

“It’s a show based in connections between people,” Schuyler said. “Once the piece of paper [script] gets away, you can make progress towards the action of the play and the emotional content that we’re striving for in this particular production.”

Setting the stage

Laughing while lacing up

Julia Owen, who plays Miss Julie, laughs as she is corseted before the Jan. 17 rehearsal.

“Miss Julie,” which has been in rehearsal for three weeks, is set to open on Feb. 1 and will run through Feb. 5 in J-Mac’s Black Box Theater.

Though the play has only been practicing for three weeks, the actors know the large majority of their lines and stage directions. Kaitlin Clark, who plays Kristine, said that the process of putting together “Miss Julie” involves plenty of outside work.

“It takes a lot,” she said. “Making sure that we have our lines, studying the script, researching our characters and certain things that are mentioned in the script, like the time period and would you be able to say something or not, especially in time period piece like this.”

All three actors agreed that line memorization was one of the hardest parts of their preliminary work.

“The first step is getting the lines down,” Schuyler said. “But most of my work happens here with these lovely ladies and the director.”

Clark mentioned that she memorizes her lines in an unusual manner.

“I always record my lines and put them on my iPod,” she said. “Wherever I go, I just walk or run and play them. I’ll be like the crazy person walking and talking to myself.”

Along with designing the set, the cast and crew must work on creating costumes, makeup and marketing for the play.

“In terms of the production process, I helped make the posters,” Schuyler said. “I was the photographer for all of those.”

For an emotional piece like “Miss Julie,” the cast members also mentioned the ways they try to connect with their characters at a deeper level.

“Another thing I like to do is to come in and to be in the space,” Clark said. “I come in here [the stage] on the weekends and lay down on the floor and touch my stove and stuff, just feeling and being a part of it. Once lines are down, it’s just a matter of hearing them over and over and getting to meet the other characters outside of it all and getting to know them.”

Just an average day on the stage 

Director Kim Morgan

Director Kim Morgan watches as the cast rehearses on Jan. 17.

A typical “Miss Julie” rehearsal starts with the two female characters suiting up in corsets and practice skirts.

“The practice costumes make it so they know how it will feel to be in costume at the actual performances,” Michaels said.

Professor and director Kim Morgan then gives the actors a quick debriefing before they start rehearsing. Most instructions reiterate some of the improvements they made to their performances at the last meeting.

“Remember the danger, the allure of fruit and flirtation,” she instructed at their Jan. 17 rehearsal. “And also being very aware of yourself when you are speaking the truth and when you are lying, like when you’re parroting or playing something for your own gain.”

They then start into the actual rehearsal. The main work later in the process is to perfect each motion, eye movement and inflection so as to create the perfect feeling.

The rehearsals happen each weekday for about three hours. The resulting time management, as Schuyler put it, “is a challenge.”

“I try to eat as often as I can, when I can and to get sleep when I’m able to,” he said. “It all keeps me busy. I’m not sure how good I am at managing time, but I’m still here.”

Worth it

Ultimately, however, the three cast members agreed that all of the time and effort they put into “Miss Julie” results in a powerful experience.

“I have this to look forward to, every single day after classes, and I don’t have to start working on my homework right away,” Schuyler said. “I don’t have to stay in school. I get to be here and break away and go into actor mode for a while to refresh myself before I got back to work on homework.”

He said that theater also affects him in more ways than just as a student.

“Every show I’ve ever been has made me grow as a person and with how I interact on a daily basis outside of the theater,” he said.

They also emphasized the liberated feeling of working in DU’s theater department while emphasizing the importance of their creative freedom.

“One of the cool things that you do, especially in college, is that you have an opportunity to help build the set and to see everything that you’re working with,” Clark said. “‘Miss Julie’ is a prop-heavy set, so we helped pick out some of the props and build some of the beams.”

Schuyler expressed similar appreciation for DU Theater.

“If I had gone to a conservatory or somewhere else, I would have focused on physical acting or just acting, and I wouldn’t get to do any sound designing, which I love, lighting or costuming,” he said. “DU gives us a chance to try our hands at all of those things.”

According to them, it all amounts to a great overall feeling.

“The fact that they encourage us, not only allow us, to pursue those other endeavors—it’s really something special,” Schuyler said.

One Response to Making “Miss Julie:” Understanding theater at DU

  • Alex Payne
    Alex Payne says:

    I like how you have the pull quote and the way in which you broke up the story. i also like how you used more than two photos when most of us used just two. Nicely done

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