By Nathan Desta
Gigi Krupicka and Deven Sawkar were the directors for the one-act play “The Couch.” I wanted to interview them because through all of the adversity they faced with COVID and scheduling, they still managed to put on a magnificent show. This led them to go on and compete at the VHSL Districts competition. Gigi and Deven kindly accepted my request to do an interview for Labyrinth magazine. Read what they had to say about their theatre experiences, their senior year, and their thoughts on directing.
Gigi Kurpika + Deven Sawkar Interview
- How do you feel about moving to Districts?
Gigi: I feel really proud. Deven and I, along with our actors, put in hours of work to create a winning performance, and to be marked as the best play among four wonderfully directed and performed shows made it feel like all of our hard work truly paid off.
Deven: Great, excited to hopefully move on to States!
- Can you share some of the preparation techniques that you guys did before performing?
Gigi: Directing for one-acts this year was a really new experience for both me and Deven, so we didn’t necessarily have specific techniques. We used our knowledge of what being in a play as an actor was like to assist us as directors. For example, taking everything in steps like starting with line memorization, moving on to blocking scenes, and then working on building characterization was a timeline that I learned in one-acts in 10th grade and saw repeated in the fall play that helped me and Deven prepare our show. We were fortunate to have extremely talented actors working with us, so the first two steps came very easy. Characterization always takes a little more work, understandably, given that it is a process of understanding who your character is, when all you know about them is the lines they have in the script. Creating a backstory for a made-up person is much harder than you would imagine, but once we had that technique down as a cast, we were stronger than ever.
Before performances, we always like to bring our cast in a circle to do warm-ups. These warm-ups include funny tongue twisters to work on enunciation and projection, as well as dances to calm nerves and feel bonded as a cast. Deven and I also made sure to tell our actors how proud we were of them before every show. We wanted to make it clear that no matter what, they were doing great and should be confident in their skills.
Deven: With the limited time we had, it was important for us that we rehearsed a lot. One interesting thing that we did with preparing was making our actors flesh out their own backstory for their character, which can help them understand what emotion their character is feeling.
- Gigi- do you feel like you have grown between the fall play and one-acts?
Gigi: It is hard to say, because in the fall play, I was an actor and in one-acts, I am a director. However, being a director has allowed me to learn more about how to be a better actor by understanding what directors expect from their actors. I believe that in the next performance that I act in, I will be a much stronger actor because I have lived through both sides of the theatrical world.
- Deven- what was directing like and would you ever do it again?
Deven: It was a learning experience. I’m grateful that I had another theatre veteran to do it with, and I think the experienced cast didn’t hurt either. I definitely would do it again, as it was super fun.
- What colleges are you both going to?
Gigi: I am going to the University of Virginia to study psychology! At UVA, however, I intend to continue my love for theatre by auditioning for lots of the plays and musicals that are put on on campus.
Deven: Undecided right now.
- How has your experience been at ACHS?
Gigi: It has honestly been really weird. Having COVID-19 come in halfway through our high school experience and completely change our life was so unexpected, so I can’t say that those years at home were necessarily great; however, I can say that my experience as a senior has been. I have loved being able to enjoy extracurricular activities again, spend time with my friends, and participate in in-person classes. Moving on to Districts was definitely the cherry on top of my ACHS experience.
Deven: Great! I’ve had some fantastic teachers all four years that really contributed heavily to my career choice.
- How did you guys become directors?
Gigi: Deven and I had a lot of friends in common at the beginning of this year and I had recognized him from one-acts in 10th grade, so when the idea of directing a one-act came to my mind, I went to Deven to ask if he wanted to co-direct with me. It was honestly that simple. Once we had decided to direct together, we went looking for a play and then the whole thing began.
Deven: It’s kind of a thing for every actor to eventually direct, so after Gigi and I had been acting with AC for a couple years, we thought directing could be fun.
- What was the casting process like?
Gigi: The casting process was much easier than I expected. In past years, there has been fighting over actors and disagreements among directors from different plays, but this year, there was none of that. We got to sit down, enjoy viewing the auditions from the very talented group of people who showed up, take notes on them, and discuss who would be the best fit for our parts. The whole process was really fun and exciting because once our actors were cast, it made the whole thing real.
Deven: Very easy this time around. Because Gigi and I had seniority (had done the most plays over the longest period of time), we were able to get everyone we wanted, and even did a trade with one person to compromise for one of our characters.
- How did you handle all the hurdles that this year has thrown at you, especially with COVID?
Gigi: COVID has made the one-act process far more stressful than I would have liked. Deven and I were heartbroken when one of our actors, Nathan, got COVID less than a week before opening night. We were devastated to perform without him, especially since we had cast him specifically for that part and he did it so well. Deven also had COVID for a week, which made some rehearsals a solo mission for me. Another hurdle that my actors had to overcome was with wearing masks on stage during performances. As actors, we are all used to using our faces to convey emotions, but with the masks, it was nearly impossible to form facial expressions, and our actors had to adapt to perform and project their voices with masks on.
Deven: Well, with both myself and Nathan getting COVID, we did not have it easy. But we were able to work through it, with myself taking over Nathan’s role for both competitions.
- How does it feel directing a script from a former ACHS student?
Gigi: Araceli was one of my one-act directors when I was in 10th grade and her dream was to direct this script during her senior year of high school, last year. However, COVID made her dream impossible, so when I saw the opportunity to bring her play to life as she has always wanted, I was filled with so much excitement. I am really honored that she trusted me and Deven enough to work with her script and take our own direction with it. She even came to see the show and was ecstatic when she found out the play that she had written won. I was so glad that I was able to bring her so much joy.
Deven: Very cool! Especially having known and acted with Araceli before, it’s an interesting experience to see their work play out in a possibly different way than they intended it.