Mikaela Haeusser is a director, stage manager and playwright, whose recent credits include Kansha (Stage Manager, Intrepid Theatre YOU Show), Concord Floral (Stage Manager, Theatre SKAM), The Comedy of Errors (Senior ASM, Phoenix Theatre). Mikaela is directing the new and upcoming SKAM Young Company play Backliners, set to livestream August 27 & 28. Below Mikaela talks about the work and what it’s like directing a play for livestream!
What’s it like directing a play that’s physically distanced? What challenges have you encountered? How have you made it work?
For me the most difficult challenge has been the uncertainty. We’ve had to change our whole plan for the play multiple times throughout the process to keep up with Provincial and Federal health guidelines, so trying to plan for all the possible eventualities has been a stretch! We’ve incorporated physical distancing between the cast as much as possible during rehearsals and the play itself and all of the actors wear masks for the performance, which is a completely different way of acting and blocking than we’re all used to. How can you have moments of emotional closeness with someone you can’t get physically close to? How can you express emotions through your body instead of your face? How can you keep everyone apart without making them stand in one six foot square for the whole show? How can you connect with an audience that isn’t there in person? How is a livestream of a live performance different from a film? All that on top of the practical questions like how do we clean the space, limit touching the same surfaces, and what happens if someone gets sick? These are questions every theatre artist will have to answer as the pandemic continues, and I’m proud of the answers that we’ve come up with as a team.
How did you get started as a director?
Like many theatre artists I grew up thinking I wanted to be an actor. I started UVic’s BFA Theatre program with that goal in mind, but through the comprehensive nature of the program I was able to explore all of the other areas of theatre and nurture other passions I hadn’t realized I had. I haven’t looked back at acting since. I love getting to really dig in and build up the world of a play and find out why every word is written the way that it is, so I got into playwriting. I love to foster the artistic visions of other people and then figure out how to actualize them in a practical way, so I got into stage management. When I direct I get to do all of that together! I’ve been working with Theatre SKAM since 2017 as a stage manager and director, and hope to keep building new and exciting shows with them!
What sort of changes did you have to make to the set up of the play and the performance to make it work for livestream?
When you’re directing a traditional play each audience member gets one seat that they stay in for the whole course of the show. They get one angle, that’s it. But when we add cameras to the mix suddenly we have 3 or 4 angles that we could use at any time and switch back and forth whenever we want! We can zoom in for a particularly important moment, or direct the gaze to one side of the stage, or even have the actors pick up and move the cameras themselves. The possibilities are huge. It was definitely an adjustment for me to be thinking of so many angles at once, but what amazing potential!
Where do you get inspiration for your work?
I really like to take the inspiration for my work from the people I’m working with. What’s important to them at this moment? What’s bugging them? What’s exciting them? What story do they want to tell? Theatre is an inescapably and wonderfully collaborative process. As a director I think my first responsibility is to embrace that, especially when working with youth. At the end of the day it’s not about me or my ego, it’s about them and giving them a voice, helping them create performances that they’re proud of.
Is there anything you want audiences to know about this play? What can they expect if they tune in?
I think that this play is a really important piece for this time! It’s not a play about Covid (because we all think about that all day every day), but it is a play about dealing with anxiety and being thrust into situations you’re uncomfortable with, whether you’re anxious about a global pandemic or about having to perform embarrassing improv scenes. To me the core message is about recognizing the ways that you are growing and improving without worrying about reaching “the end point” or the timeline you originally had planned. I think that’s something we all need to hear right now.