Student Spotlight: Owen O’Leary ’19 directs his first production

by Elise Higgins | 9/21/18 2:00am

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Owen O’Leary ’19 is taking his acting skills behind the scenes this term as he directs “Tragedy: A Tragedy,” a student production that will perform from Nov. 9 to 11. While O’Leary has performed and assisted with many shows while at Dartmouth, this production will be his first time directing.

O’Leary began acting in middle school and continued throughout high school, performing multiple shows each year. When he came to Dartmouth, he was unsure if he wanted to major in theater, but knew it was something he wanted to continue to pursue. O’Leary said he decided to take “Theater 301” his freshman fall and eventually chose to major in theater. He received encouragement from his brother, who also majored in theater at Dartmouth before graduating in 2014, as well as from other members of his a cappella group, the Sings, who also studied theater at Dartmouth.

In addition to his theater classes, O’Leary has participated in many productions, both mainstage and student run. He said he has mostly done acting, but has also tried working behind the scenes.

“I’m interested in a variety of things, so I like to dabble and explore the different aspects [of theater],” he said.

Theater professor and department chair Laura Edmondson said that the theater department emphasizes various aspects of the discipline, ranging from theory to practice, in order to make students into better artists.

“In the theater department, we believe very firmly that to expand your creative horizons is also to expand your critical horizons,” Edmondson said. “The two are mutually beneficial.”

O’Leary added that he likes the dual nature of the theater major.

“I really enjoy that [the theater department] make[s] us do a variety of stuff because I think it all really informs the art to really understand the history,” O’Leary said.

Edmondson added that O’Leary is very observant and tries to learn and gather as much information as he can.

“He is insatiably curious, and that feeds the kind of work that he does in our department,” she said.

In addition to having students learn about the history as well as the practice of the theater, the theater department also encourages students to experiment with different types of theater practice, ranging from acting to stage production to directing.

“We like to think that our department creates space for students to go outside of their comfort zone and try new things,” Edmondson said.

O’Leary said working on student productions in particular has given him the opportunity to try new aspects of theater production. After one lighting design class, O’Leary said he was able to do the lighting design for a student show, and he was given lots of resources and assistance to help him with the process.

O’Leary has worked on various types of productions while at Dartmouth. He said that while it’s exciting to work with professionals in large scale productions for the mainstage productions, he also appreciates working on student shows, which still get lots of support from the theater department.

O’Leary will be directing his own student production this fall, called “Tragedy: A Tragedy.” The show is about news broadcasters reporting on the sun setting because they don’t know if it will ever rise again, and the characters’ attempts to deal with this event.

“It’s a really interesting exploration of language and how we talk about things both on the news and in our lives when we don’t understand what’s going on,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary said that while reviews of previous productions talk about the show in reference to the 24-hour news cycle, he also wants to explore ideas that are relevant today, such as the critique and distrust of the news.

“I see [a caring attitude] for these people who are just trying to communicate what they can and give guidance, and I’m interested in exploring that aspect of the play,” O’Leary said.

As director, O’Leary said he must cast the show, lead a team of designers in discussion about the direction of the show and coach the actors through their roles.

One of the students who will be assisting O’Leary is Kelleen Moriarty ’19 , a fellow theater major. Moriarty said she enjoys collaborating with O’Leary because of his positive energy as well as his capabilities.

“He’s a really kind and thoughtful person, and that really shows in working with him,” Moriarty said.

She added that O’Leary really cares about the people with whom he works, and pushes them to be the best they can be.

“I can see [working with him makes] me a better artist, to see art with his eyes,” Moriarty said.

O’Leary said he is eager to step into his new role and lead his team of assistants in the production of the play.

“I’m especially excited, as someone who has done a lot of acting, to work on coaching other actors in how to get the performance that seems to me like it will be effective for the audience, because that’s something I don’t have a ton of experience with,” O’Leary said. “I just try to figure it out for myself.”

Moriarty said that while she has dabbled in acting, her primary focus at Dartmouth is directing, which she believes makes one look at the bigger picture. She added that acting can be a more intimate, internal process whereas directing is more external and collaborative.

“[Directing] is about vision and how to get where you need to be,” Moriarty said. “But it’s big, it’s wide, whereas acting is focused and sort of acute.”

Moriarty said that directing and acting are connected, however, and it is helpful to have a director who has acted before.

“It’s awesome when an actor directs because they have insights that are so useful to the process,” Moriarty said.

O’Leary said that for the rest of his time at Dartmouth, he plans to focus on acting, but is open to other opportunities. After graduating, he plans on moving to New York and hopes to continue to pursue his passion for theater through acting and design.

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