Trying the director’s chair

Theatre performance major Trevor Baty ’19 sat in an empty auditorium this spring anxiously eyeing the stage below. After a year of thinking, planning and rehearsing, “Silent Sky” was about to take the stage for a final tune-up. The rookie director intently watched line by line, one technical cue after another.

The dress rehearsal unfolded, nerves giving way to excitement, when the senior realized his dream had been embraced by the entire team. Each line, step and stage prop reflected that collective unity.

When acting, Baty was used to getting lost in his character’s life, personality and quirks. This time, the second Bradley student to direct a mainstage show lost himself in details and found his creative identity in the process. 

“I was speechless taking it all in,” Baty said. “It’s strange letting go of my vision. It’s my baby, but I handed it over to a talented cast and crew to carry the show.” 

Plans for the play began the spring before, when Baty accepted an invitation to direct a play of his choice. He researched productions over the summer, knowing he had to find a small, female-dominant cast. Once he read Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky,” he knew he found his piece. 

The play chronicles Henrietta Leavitt’s pioneering astronomy work at Harvard Observatory. Baty wrestled with the text, sorting through themes like romance, feminism, hope and sisterhood. 

“I had the most visceral experience reading the play,” he said. “It’s a true story, but under that, it’s about pressing questions for college students. I needed to be reminded that life is about the journey and I need to enjoy the process more.”

As he grappled with the work, Baty struggled with his identity. Usually focused on his small part in the bigger process, director duties forced him to consider the bigger picture. All the little decisions — lights, costumes, blocking and even opening night refreshments — fit into this process.

Little things gave big confidence boosts. Take, for example, a rehearsal of the scene in which the romance between the Leavitt character and coworker Peter Shaw is brought into the open. It’s a late night at work for Leavitt, and Shaw stops by the lab intent on declaring his love and running off with Leavitt. He puts his heart on the line: “Hey, I like you, I think you like me, too. We don’t have to do anything about it, but I need you to know I’m crazy about you.”

“That kind of honesty, intimacy and vulnerability can be difficult as an actor, and they nailed it” Baty said. “I yelled ‘Yes, that’s what this is about!’”

When the curtain rose opening night, Baty sat in the audience, reflecting on his journey.

“I realized myself as an artist, not just an actor,” he said. “Figuring that out is incredibly important because it’s a place not many people get to. I’m happy with my work in the moment, but at the same time I’m never fully satisfied.”

Matt Hawkins