Directing Thesis Interview: GASP!

March 3, 2020

Anna Rebek takes on the task of creating an original Horror work with her Director’s Thesis GASP! 


With GASP!, current student Anna Rebek '20 (Directing) hopes to transport her audience with her Thesis work which will explore themes of inclusivity and community through the Horror genre.


Why did you decide to do this particular production for your thesis project?


Robert O’Hara visited us our first year. During his interview with Anne, he told the story of how he wrote his own thesis, and how it became a signature piece for him.  All the lights in my head went ON. You can make up your own thesis? I’m doing that. I want to create my own world and transport the audience somewhere they’d never dreamt of going. 


Second, I knew I wanted to base it somehow on H.P. Lovecraft. Now I will say-he’s a suspicious mentor because of some really nasty personal opinions he had about race and gender, but I didn’t know that when I fell in love with him, when I was reading his stories with my dad. All I knew was that he was the perfect blend of my creepy weird creative aesthetic and my father’s endless pursuit of scientific discovery. He was a combined frontier for us. So this piece is also an ode to my dad, and our bond over Lovecraft. 


Third, I knew I wanted to somehow feature local writers. I figure a directors thesis is a good time to try some material and celebrate the act of theatre collaboration. So I decided to host a horror writing class this past fall, and I did. Every week each of the ten writers submitted five pages, could be dialogue, or a myth or true events even, but all under the umbrella of practicing the horror genre (and our writing overall in the meantime). It was GREAT to have deadlines every week for me also, to start workshopping some character ideas in the room. 



What do you hope the audience will get out of the performance?


I remember being a huge nerd in eighth grade. All day I would wait until I could go home and freak myself out by watching the latest episode of the X Files. Scully was incisive and rational, Mulder was an irrepressible believer in all possible worlds. That “goosebumping nerd out at 11pm on the couch with the small den all to myself in the dark” is the same feeling I want the audience to have while watching GASP!


I’m very into transporting an audience. I love world building; new worlds with surprising and prismatic features. I love magic and mystery and the feeling of collective fear when you’re sitting among hundreds of people.I called it GASP! because I love our innate, physiological response to horror. 


I hope everyone gets a good gasp in during the show; something that knocks their socks off!

What was the most exciting part about this project?


Honestly, I’ve wanted to have a monster in one of my shows for decades. I wanted to help design and build it- that’s one of the reasons I’m also props master for my show- so we could make a MONSTER from another DIMENSION!



What was the biggest challenge?


Getting the writing to a feasible length. During the workshop production, we ran over by a LOT. My worry was that I didn’t want the connective tissue of the story to seem overtly secondary to the stories collected from the writing class. I need the audience to care about nine members of a horror class individually. This requires covering a lot of ground about each character in very little time. Hopefully it worked! 


So, integrating the nine separate stories into one whole horror story in a timely manner was by far the most challenging aspect. 



What has been a crucial lesson from your training?


It’s been very crucial for me to learn simply that “less can be more”. The art of simplicity has never been my strong suit. With the input of Emily Boyd Dahab, my invaluable dramaturg, I was encouraged to create the piece with a unity of space overall, a library. We jump around in time often in this piece, so this was such a helpful note. Now the transitions can stay simple and elegant, rather than spending time morphing the space between sequences. 



Tell us something that you found surprising about the process of putting up this production?


I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how much support I’ve received from my team. From having an Assistant Stage Manager present to make immediate changes in the master script, to access to the best builders in the shop - everyone has really rallied behind the BIG visual ideas in the script. 



What is your philosophy for directing?


My philosophy of directing is inclusivity. During the course of this program I’ve worked with hundreds of mostly young actors with varying levels of craft, but beautiful levels of talent. I admire their tenacity and their willingness to dive deep into new scary choices without overthinking, without grace, and their humanity and bravery inspire me. I wanted to give many actors some thick roles, some serious text to wrestle with and push forward. My writing needed their input as specific character voices, and they needed me to make their story arc solid.  I believe that my fundamental impulse to showcase the specific strengths of an actor creates a healthy place for them to grow from. They’ve helped me carve the story. 


I spent time recruiting a cast that was representative of a world I’d like to live in, where everyone gets a voice. I feel very strongly about being open and affirming and including people with all levels of ability.



Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see myself traveling around quite a bit for jobs. As much as I love being based in New York, both of my internships have taught me how often the work takes you away from home. That’s a given in this field, and this year has helped me acclimate to that.


I don’t have a lot of time to decide about becoming a mom, which I’ve always wanted to do, so that crosses my mind often. I’m always curious how women in this industry are cared for and supported by their theatre community in making that choice.


I also see myself courting either an academic position, or an artistic director position. It would be a relief to have some job stability. As for academia, having the opportunity to continue working with new young actors, even as the caliber of productions I direct outside evolves, would be rewarding. And as for artistic directing, I could see myself launching a theatre company of committed artists, and hopefully figuring out a way for all of us to achieve mutual goals through collaboration.

Friday, March 06, 2020, 8:00PM
Saturday, March 07, 2020, 2:00PM
Wednesday, March 11, 2020, 8:00PM
Thursday, March 12, 2020, 8:00PM
Saturday, March 14, 2020, 8:00PM

Held on the Bloomingdale’s campus over the course of a 48-hour retreat; eight families, couples, and participants engage in role-playing and writing exercises in order to try and increase their positive communication skills through the lens of horror.