From classroom to center stage: 'Thousand Words' showcases student talent
For Michaella Deladia, there’s nothing more fulfilling than creating art for others to enjoy.
Over the past year, the senior theater performance major has had the opportunity to put that passion into practice by helping create and performing in the original play “A Thousand Words,” which opens Feb. 14 at the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.
“A Thousand Words” uses more than 100 large-scale puppets, as well as photographs and personal stories, to tell the tale of Jeremiah Wolcott — who is tasked with consolidating what matters most in life to a single box. The play was written and designed by University of Nebraska–Lincoln students in a fall theater-devising class taught by Andy Park, artistic director of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.
“It's not something that I've ever had the chance to do — devise something from the ground up, which has been like accessing a different part of my artistic brain. Audiences can expect a spectacle, for sure,” Deladia said.
“The nice thing about it is (that) I think anybody can come to the show and get something out of it, of all ages. You can come and connect to so many things that we're portraying. It's light-hearted. It's really fun. But it also touches on a lot of life lessons and things that we come across in life that I think everyone can touch on and understand. And that's something that we really tried to create — something that everyone can relate to.”
After finalizing the cast for the play last spring, students continued to rehearse and design the set for “A Thousand Words” throughout the year.
Park, who is a ventriloquist and puppeteer himself, said watching the students create something from scratch and bring it to the stage has been an especially meaningful experience.
“I am extremely excited. This has turned into one of the shows that, throughout my entire career, I'm most proud of — and the reason why is because I had the chance to interact with the students in a really profound way,” Park said. “They’ve never devised before. So being a part of teaching that process to the students, and then seeing what they came up with and getting to know them and seeing what we've come up with together… It’s truly a beautiful piece, and I think audiences are going to be deeply moved by it.”
Spotlight on students
Since coming to the university in 2017, Park has made professional-development opportunities for students the focus of the Nebraska Repertory Theatre.
“When I came in, it was to sort of rethink the way that the Rep works,” Park said. “During the summer, the Rep was incredible. It had a huge following at that time. There were a lot of exciting things that they were doing — but it was a summer theater. Not many of our students could really engage with it. Very few students were involved. Our vision was: What if we could move it to the academic year, and we could produce shows throughout the year so that students could audition, earn EMC points and get design credits for professional theatre?”
The ability to earn equity, or EMC points, is one of the most significant benefits available to students involved in the theater. The points count toward an eventual union card, which allows actors to have healthcare and a pension, ensures they are paid fairly, and qualifies them for more work opportunities. Students earn one point for each week they work a Repertory Theatre performance.
“Now when I get out in the actual professional field, I'll have these points to show the work that I've gotten,” Deladia said. “That's one really amazing thing about the equity theater. If it was just a school for that, or just a college level, we wouldn't be able to obtain those points until we get out. But this way, they bring the points to us, and they let us start building them when we're already here.”
Deladia said her involvement in “A Thousand Words,” and the Nebraska Repertory Theatre as a whole, has solidified her enthusiasm for acting as a future career.
“As I've grown all through the years of college, I think I realized that my career goal is just to do this — just make art with really amazing, intelligent people like the people in this room, make things come to life the way that we have done, and really touch people and just portray stories in a way that other careers maybe can't,” Deladia said. “We have that chance here at this school, and that's been really amazing.”