Directing Oedipus Rex: A Lesson in Unapologetic Badassery

oedipus rex

Hello friends! I know I’ve been kinda MIA the past few weeks but I was busy student directing my school’s fall production of Oedipus Rex. Now I know what you may be thinking: “Why would a high school choose to perform a show about a man killing his father and marrying his mother?” Honestly, most of us in the drama program were thinking this as well when the show was announced, but now I understand why.

Oedipus Rex taught me so many life lessons about leadership, the timelessness of Greek theatre, stepping outside of my comfort zone, and yes, being an unapologetic badass. It was honestly the best experience of my life thus far.

When the Humanities Block, my high school’s integrated English/Social Studies/Theater program, started working on the show in September, I started to get a strange feeling: I didn’t want to perform in the production. If you know me at all, you know how out of character this was. I’m a performer at heart: I love acting, singing, dancing, and especially attention. However, after seeing my talented friend Nick direct the annual Poetry Slam I realized I wanted to apply to direct the fall show. I wrote a production staff letter for the first time in my life, and was shocked when I was chosen for the position.

oedipus rex
Directing a show is not all fun and games, as I previously imagined.

I quickly realized how difficult it was to be an authority figure to my peers in the program. While I knew I was qualified for the role, I felt guilty that I had been elevated to the position of student director. I had to do everything that a normal director would do: cast the show, block scenes, lead rehearsals, write notes for improvement, and hold the performers accountable.

Of course, because this is high school, I was not met with an abundance of respect; I had to earn it. My leadership style is very collaborative and people-oriented, and I made it my priority that every member of the cast and crew felt respected, valued, and important.

This was the best part of the entire experience: working with fellow theatre folk to create a production. My fondest memories all involve the incredible actors and technicians, and I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.

I was working at Target (honestly the best place ever) during the rehearsal process when I saw a girl who had graduated from the theatre program a few years ago come into my department. She had heard that I was directing the fall production, and when I confirmed, she said “I love women directors. That is so badass.” This opened my eyes in a way, because I realized that what I was doing was kinda a big deal. To tackle this position, not only as a woman, but as a 5 foot tall, lipstick-wearing woman was definitely an image to behold. I would also like to point out that our production staff consisted solely of women and members of the transgender community, which I think is an incredible testament to progress.

via Deb Coloma

Despite its setting in Ancient Greece, our version of the production was post-apocalyptic, which added a unique twist to the classic story. Creativity was the name of the game, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to create a new perspective from scratch- nobody has done this show set in the apocalypse before.

While Oedipus Rex is not a show that you should live your life by, I did learn more than expected from the tragedy.

My favorite lesson that I took away was from a line that said “your power does not follow you through life”. Translation: it doesn’t matter how powerful you are, you will be remembered based on what kind of a person you are. As the student director, this hit me hard at first. Yes, I was in a position of authority, and people were forced to listen to me, but did people actually like me? I tried to be as kind and encouraging as possible, but it is still impossible to please everyone. This line has stuck with me ever since.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to hold many leadership positions, but none of those titles matter if you do not treat people the way you want to be treated.

via Deb Coloma
The most important lesson I learned from this experience was how to be an unapologetic badass.

This was a hard one to process as it’s my natural impulse to apologize for everything I do. While I knew this was my job, I still struggled with giving feedback to my peers. It’s a difficult position for any student to be in.

I was typing a note where I was apologizing for a blocking mistake I had made previously which I had to change, when one of the leads of the show bumped me out of the way of the computer and deleted my note. She reacted to my shocked face by saying “you’re in charge, you don’t have to apologize for anything”. While I believe there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, I know she was right. I tried to be unapologetic for the rest of the production and all the time afterwards. I’m learning to trust myself to the point of taking ownership for my choices, both in the theatre world and in my everyday life.

via Deb Coloma

Some of the most fulfilling memories of my life include painting the stage in the auditorium (a huge tech honor which is typically only done by production staff), getting to go up to the catwalks for the first time (the path high above the stage where the lights are arranged- don’t look down!), and walking alongside two of the lead actors to make sure they didn’t run into anything while they were blindfolded (there are a lot of blind people in Oedipus Rex). I wouldn’t have had any of these experiences if I didn’t muster up the courage to apply for the position of student director.

If you need a sign to step outside your comfort zone and try something new, here is that sign. Challenge yourself and trust yourself. The odds are good that it will pay off in the end.

Cover image via Deb Coloma