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Volume 69, Issue 94, Thursday, February 19, 2004

Arts & Entertainment

Smetak chooses his own direction

Student works to improve relationship between young audiences and theater

By Chris Brunt
The Daily Cougar

Why should you, Cougar youth, forgo that newest Hollywood discharge and find your way to the Wortham? Why shouldn't you dig into your pockets to watch some no-talent hack on the silver screen fumble his way through two hours of half-dead dialogue, even if he does wear trucker hats at jaunty angles? How about UH Theater, which is free, located on campus, and loaded with talent. How about students like senior theater major John Smetak.

Theater senior John Smetak used his vision for the stage to bring younger audiences into the Wortham Theater when he directed Samuel Beckett's Endgame.
Pin Lim/The Daily Cougar

Smetak directed the student production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame to wide acclaim last weekend at UH's Wortham Theater.

For Smetak, bringing the theater to a larger and more youthful public is a goal he seeks to fulfill both in his future career and on campus. Commenting on the obvious age disparity in professional theater-going audiences around Houston, Smetak is enthusiastic about the unique advantage of University theater. 

"One thing we're always talking about is the 'Intro Crowd,' the students who are taking Intro to Theater and attending our plays, often 60 percent of the house. Many of them are attending for the very first time, their first encounter with live theater."

Smetak says this aspect is both an inspiration and a critical consideration when preparing for a production. 

"The venue we have is so small and intimate," Smetak says, "in our theater you can actually sit in the audience and watch the emotions change on the actors' faces. It's a very enjoyable element to the student production."

Student productions go through a series of preliminary motions, the first and most important of which is the proposal submissions. Student director hopefuls submit projections to a faculty panel for review, and only a handful are selected. Smetak drafted a proposal to direct Endgame, was approved and has been, in some sense, preparing for last weekend's show ever since.

"There's the proposals in spring, then meetings with the lighting and set directors, auditions in the fall, four weeks of rehearsal, and one weekend of show." 

Smetak chose Endgame because as he said, "it's a unique production, a contrast to some of the more tamer plays you might see at UH Main Stage ... new audiences want to see works by the big names: Beckett, Albee, Williams, and so forth."

"Its all part of getting more of the student body to attend, in creating that theater for a younger audience."

Taking on a Beckett play is a monstrous challenge, no matter who or where you are. This kind of ambition, as Smetak said, is a necessity of student theater.

Though many UH theater majors tend to find their specialty and focus on honing that one particular skill, such as acting or costume design, Smetak uses this forum to cultivate his diverse range of abilities. "It's about attacking different productions from all different angles. Working on plays as an actor, lighting designer, set designer, and now directing, builds a mindset of looking at the larger picture."

That larger picture should keep blossoming for UH Theater and, by extension, for our weird and wonderful student body.

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