Sallie Bingham Projects: Ksenia Volynkina, CUNY Queensborough Community College


Ksenia Volynkina of CUNY Queensborough received the Sallie Bingham Grant to direct a production of THE OWL ANSWERS by Adrienne Kennedy. 

The whole process of creating the show from the scratch with no particular background in directing was incredibly difficult, starting from putting the cast together.

After receiving the grant we tried to put up auditions the following week, but since time was short and because some people who wanted to audition couldn’t (schedule conflicts), we had to work with what we had. Personally, I did invite some people to audition because when I was readingthe play they specifically popped out in my head. However, I still left the auditions open for any QCC students and alumni who might’ve been interested in this particular project. Casting the characters was incredibly difficult since the cast should be as stated in the cast list. The decisions that I made were not easy because I had to turn down some great students, not because they were not talented, but because they just didn’t fit any parts.

Further in the process , when we finally did put up the cast list, the next challenge was to put up the schedule of rehearsals, because let’s be honest: most college students havecresponsibilities and jobs. In order to succeed in the rehearsal process and actually direct the show in two weeks, we had to split rehearsals into different parts. We had to call different actors on days and times they could come and work with them separately. The first time we actually had the whole cast together was two days before we opened the show. Also, a week into the process, I had to make a casting change, due to a conflict in an actor's schedule. The biggest struggle was to get everyone in the same room. It
would make me feel stuck sometimes, because it is hard to track the blocking of someone who is not in the room. And it made it harder to come up with following blocking.

Meanwhile, crew members had to double up on some jobs, which how we ended up with Stage Manager/Sound Designer and ASM/Props Master/Costume Designer. We didn’t mind facing the challenge, because creating things is definitely something that we are all passionate about. Having the ability to put our vision on the stage for the first time and show it to others was stressful, but super exiting. I had a chance to work with outstanding individuals who were able to see this show through my eyes and add to my vision by asking me questions and challenging me to do my best everyday. There were some things that didn’t make sense to one or the other, but the best thing that we did is
listen to each other.

When I read the play I did have a vision of every aspect like costumes, setting and lighting. It was vague, but with the help of Professor Van Der Horn – Gibson and my beloved crew I was able to create something more down to earth. I did have some crazy ideas that we wouldn’t be able to achieve, but with the help of Michael Birnbaum some of my visions came to life. He not only helped me with the building the set, but also guided me in fixing parts of the setting that didn’t work. I also wanted to show off the abilities some of our tech students have , like our lighting designer Dariel. The atmosphere that he was able to create with the lights was exactly what I was looking for.

With the rehearsal time flying by so fast, and with the professionalism of the cast and the crew,  each day we were able to accomplish more then I planned. We were in the rehearsal space four to five days a week from twelve to four or twelve to five, rehearsing and blocking the show. However, we also had a lot of work that we did outside of the script. In order for cast to be familiar with each other in a
short period of time, we took the knowledge from some of our professors or the workshops that we took and created our own warm ups and our version of exercises that could bring the energy to a hundred at the beginning of the rehearsal. Knowing that we didn have a lot of time, the whole cast was helping with painting , building, sawing. The background in all of those things that we get from Queensborough truly helped us to use the knowledge that we got from the professors in the Speech and Theater department.

After this experience, I finally understand why some of directors might lose their mind during production. There is a lot on their shoulders. In reality, this amazing opportunity helped me  dip a toe into this field and atmosphere and realize that no matter how hard
and frustrating it might be sometimes, this is still something that I am super passionate about.

by Ksenia Volynkina
CUNY, Queensborough Community College

Ksenia Volynkina, director


Jodi Van Der Horn-Gibson, Assistant Professor, Faculty advisor

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