AACC student finds his role: directing plays

January 25, 2001|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ACCORDING TO HIS recent biography on the A&E television network, when actor Ron Howard was looking for ways to make the transition from acting to directing, he offered to work alongside established directors for nothing, just for the chance to learn the trade.

The attitude of Howard, barely out of his teens at the time, was much like that of Severna Park's Dominic D'Andrea, a 20-year-old student at Anne Arundel Community College who says he'll do just about anything to direct.

"I will direct anything anyone throws at me," says D'Andrea, who is in his final year of work on an associate's degree in fine arts with a concentration on theatrical performance. If his early efforts at directing are any indication, they'll be beating down his Chartridge door soon, waving directing contracts in the young actor's face.

D'Andrea, who is president of the college's Moonlight Troupers drama club, got his feet wet directing a student production of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" at AACC. In this popular, annual event, performers act out scenes from the cult movie while it is being projected on a screen behind them.

D'Andrea's big directing break came this month at the Region II Festival of the Kennedy Center/American College Theater Festival at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. At this prestigious event, the kid from the community college with almost no directing experience was named best student director.

"There was no question in my mind that he had done the best job," says Robert Kauffman, head of the fine arts department at AACC, who has served as regional chairman of the festival. Region II includes schools from Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

"I filled out an application and drove to Pittsburgh," says D'Andrea, who has never had a class in directing. "Everyone else was from four-year schools. They interviewed us, and I was one of five finalists."

The next task for the finalists is putting on a play. All will be given the same unannounced script and will have just hours to cast, rehearse and stage a performance of one of its scenes with assistants and actors from the colleges, who also are competing in the festival.

"It was midnight by the time they gave us the script," he recalls. "It was `August Snow' by Reynolds Price, and they told us to be ready to cast by 9 a.m. the next day. I went to the hotel and started reading. I passed out on the script and got about an hour's sleep."

D'Andrea chose the first scene from the play, which takes place in what he describes as middle-class North Carolina in the 1930s. The scene called for two actors.

"I cast two African-Americans as my actors," he says. He thought the ability of the two had been overlooked during earlier casting sessions and, relying on what he calls his "natural instinct," he adds, "It was the right call."

The director - with his selected stage manager and actors from colleges in other states - hung the "Do Not Disturb" card on his hotel room door and rehearsed for the next eight hours.

"This was the first time I had to show what I can do," he says, "and I knew it was going to be something special."

Kauffman says there are eight regions nationwide, with the winning director from each invited to attend a series of master classes April 24-28 at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

"Each will direct a 10-minute original play written by students," Kauffman says, with casting from winners of the national Irene Ryan acting competition. (The late Ryan, who played Granny on TV's "Beverly Hillbillies," left a financial legacy to support aspiring actors.)

The plays are to be presented at the Kennedy Center on April 28.

"The judges were looking for individuals who could work with new material," says Kauffman. "It's a tremendous honor and a tremendous accomplishment for a student from a two-year college to win when all the other contestants were from four-year schools.

As a youngster growing up in Severna Park, D'Andrea attended Chesapeake Academy and Severna Park middle and high schools, graduating in 1998. He acted in school plays and sang with the high school chorus.

A tenor, he was at one time the youngest member of the Annapolis Chorale and has performed with the Annapolis Opera in a nonsinging role in Puccini's "Tosca." He enjoys singing, he says, but "It's not my passion."

Until D'Andrea discovered directing, acting was his passion. He has been a regular performer since 1996 at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, most recently appearing there in "Jesus Christ Superstar."

Last fall, he worked on AACC's production of "Gypsy," and he is part of the spring production of "On the Razzle," a nonmusical play by Tom Stoppard based on the 19th-century German folk tale that inspired "Hello Dolly."

He is performing with the college's dance company and says he has some ideas for choreography.

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