Geoffrey Blum ’12 takes charge with Family Weekend play
Geoffrey Blum ’12 got his start in the theater as a carpenter, building sets for his high school’s drama productions. Fast-forward a couple of years to Blum graduating from high school, when he attends Centre, matures into a very talented and well-rounded actor and ultimately finds himself as a senior classics major in charge of directing the Family Weekend show. Blum sat down with us to preview the show “The Dining Room,” which opened Sept. 21 and will run through Saturday Sept. 24.
Q: What exactly does being the director of “The Dining Room” entail?
Blum: As the director, I sit down and interpret the script in terms of setting, time period and physical, intellectual and emotional actions of the characters. There are a lot of artistic decisions to be made and, as the director, I orchestrate the artistic decisions of the people who run the lights, make the costumes or what have you.
Q: Have you ever directed a play before?
Blum: Yes. I directed a play in the Black Box [a small theater in Centre’s Grant Hall] called “Black Comedy,” but this is my first time directing in Weisiger.
Q: How did you end up with this job?
Blum: I had always been interested in directing. I had only directed one other play previously and wanted to get another under my belt. So I went to [dramatic arts professor] Patrick Kagan-Moore and asked him if I could direct the Family Weekend show. He said it would be contingent on my performance in a directing class I was taking. After the class ended, I went back and asked again. At the beginning of the spring semester last year I sat down again with him and [dramatic arts professor] Matthew Hallock and they told me, “You’re directing the play. Now go find a script.”
Q: You got completely free reign on which script to choose?
Blum: Well, I read 15 to 20 plays. I proposed a number of them to the department and most of them were shot down for one reason or another. Patrick had suggested “The Dining Room.” Both he and Hallock liked it, and I liked it well enough. So I had free reign within limits.
Q: What made “The Dining Room” such an ideal choice?
Blum: “The Dining Room” is about family. It’s very self-criticizing. In the end it’s a play about people taking care of each other. That seemed very appropriate for the Family Weekend show. In the past, the Family Weekend show has actually always been our raciest show, but this year we decided to pull back a bit. After we decided on “The Dining Room,” Patrick mentioned to me that people were probably going to say that this was the best Family Weekend show we’d ever done. This is the type of play where the audience will fit in well and understand the characters. It’s a play about wealthy, white, Protestant Americans. People will leave feeling connected to the play. It’s not controversial, but it speaks very directly to a lot of the people who will be watching it.
Q: How many characters are in this play?
Blum: The structure of the play is kind of unique. There are 18 scenes, and each scene uses a set of characters that is not shared with any other scene. There are only six actors in the play, but there are fifty-eight characters, eighteen scenes and six actors.
Q: Was it hard to cast people since each actor chosen would have to be very flexible to play so many different characters?
Blum: There are two things that you look for in auditions: people who are willing to be vulnerable and people who are willing to change. Each actor has to play a lot of roles. For this play, I simply cast the six best auditions that I saw, and then put those actors into the roles that I thought they would do best in.
Q: Who are the six actors in “The Dining Room?” And was it hard to direct them since they are your peers?
Blum: The actors include Samantha Cahall ’14, Olivia Palmer ’14, Rachel Beckman ’12, Chase Gregory ’12, Zach Trette ’14 and Andrew Stairs ’14. The difficulty in directing people you know is that there is always the risk that the actors won’t take rehearsal seriously. But the actors have been really good. I have actors who want to be there.
Q: What appeals to you about directing?
Blum: When you’re acting, you are using [the actor’s] whole body to make a product. I had grown up doing martial arts, and I really liked the idea of doing things with my body. I like the idea of truly becoming an old man for a while or getting to speak with an Irish accent. It’s just fun. Directing, as I see it, is simply the next step past that. You are no longer the person doing the thing with your body, but you are sitting in the audience watching it and constructing the world that the actors exist in. What appeals to me is making decisions about what looks good. I feel like I have a pretty good sense of pleasing stage pictures. I have a pretty good sense of intention for actions, or why a person would do a certain thing. I like making things look good on stage and making sure the actors are where they need to be emotionally, intellectually and physically so they can tell the story effectively.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the play without giving too much away?
Blum: Well, as I stated previously, it is composed of 18 scenes that are disconnected. However, there is a continuous thematic arc that plays itself out over the course of one day. The play begins in the early morning and the last scene occurs right after sun down. The whole play takes place in the dining room. It starts out with people coming into the room and dealing with it at something of a distance. That is to say, they used to have a room like this or this used to be a room they used but is no longer functional. Then the play dips into the usage of the room and how people drift away and families fall apart and move away from each other. By the end of the play, there is something of an expression of how or why families come back together, or at least why they ought to come back together. To give you a sense of where it’s coming from, it was written in the early 1980s, right at the naissance of TV and music videos, interstates and individualistic tendencies. This play is about the fall out of that via the traditional American family.
Q: Does this play speak to you personally?
Blum: Oh, sure. These people are in my family. There are dozens of moments in this play where a character will do something or say something, and I’ll be like, ‘Man I remember when I did that with my dad,’ or, ‘That sounds like my grandfather.’ I was a little hesitant at first about the play, but I warmed up to it because I felt connected to it. In all truth, it’s kind of nice to think about a world where people put value on a family staying together. My parents are divorced, and I moved away from all my siblings when I was eleven. I understand the desire to have a stable, coherent family.
Q: What have you learned from directing “The Dining Room?”
Blum: In theater, just as much as in any other art form, you just have to go out and do it. A lot of that “getting better” is just experience. I feel like I have become a better director just because I have this experience under my belt now. I have become a better actor because I have been an analyzer of characters, and this process has improved my theatrical abilities across the board, so to speak.
Q: Do you want to direct again in the future?
Blum: I would absolutely love to direct in the future. It’s a real joy. Sometimes it’s like beating your head against the wall. Much of the time it’s a challenge but extremely rewarding. I’d do this again in a heartbeat.