Performance Studio Series offers hands-on experience for students

By Marissa LaPorte | 11/1/15 9:33pm

GVL / Courtesy Marissa LaPorte David Van Alstyne and Erin Mickelson

With an audience seated up on stage with the actors, a murder mystery and a collection of one-act plays were performed as a part of Grand Valley State University’s Performance Studio series.

These performances included special lighting effects, music, costumes and improvisation. Put on and directed by GVSU students, these shows gave students the opportunity to grow and show off their skills.

“I learned a lot about compromising,” said Anthony Sanchez, one of the student directors. “There were many occasions where the funniest route in the comedy may not have been the easiest. I couldn't always just add more stress to my actors; the same goes for more elaborate lighting, sound and set pieces. It just boils down to what I wanted versus what the show needed.”

GVSU’s Performance Studio series is made up entirely of student directors and actors as a part of GVSU’s theater program. The series provides hands-on experience for students. This series held four shows altogether, two on Oct 25, and one each on Oct. 26 and 27.

The first half of this series, “Café Murder,” was a theatrical murder mystery that involved the audience in the investigation. The actors walked around the stage, in character, and asked audience members who they thought committed the murder during the performance.

Sanchez said the actors of “Café Murder” said that when they threw some improvisation into their performance it was interesting to see the audience react to it. Sanchez, the director, said that much of the play consisted of improvised jokes, gags and dialogue.

“I believe any actor can grow immensely from knowing how to think on their feet in a vast array of ways,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said that during his experience directing “Café Murder” he encountered both challenging and simple moments.

“Scheduling was easily the biggest hassle as I had no say or leverage in the matter," Sanchez said. "Working with the actors was much simpler as they are already accustomed to the learning process of working in educational theater. I was able to learn from them and get better at my job, just as they were able to learn from me."

The second half of the series featured a performance called “All in the Timing.” The performance consisted of three one-act plays: “Sure Thing,” “The Philadelphia” and “English Made Simple.” Kimberlee Griggs, the student director of “All in the Timing,” said that this was her first time directing a full production since graduating from high school.

“The last time I directed, I was only in charge of the play itself and didn’t really have to worry about costumes, lighting or set,” Griggs said. “For this show, I was working with a lighting designer, set designer and I costume designed my own show.”

Griggs said that even though the plays were older, there were universal themes that the audience today could relate to.

“It was a lot of fun for me to watch the audience follow the characters' stories and invest in them as people,” Griggs said.

GVSU’s theater program puts on student-directed performances to prepare students to take on any role in the theater world, said Griggs.

“It definitely represents the liberal arts values that Grand Valley strives for,” Griggs said. “I will leave Grand Valley having been an actor, wardrobe crew, director, costume designer, stage manager, on top of taking classes in most other areas as well. Once you’re out of school, most places expect you to know the one thing you want to do, so it’s nice to have that flexibility here.”

Sanchez said GVSU’s Performing Studio series is something he doesn’t see often at other schools and that it was one of the most rewarding things he’s done with his time here at GVSU.

“The theater department as a whole is an excellent experience,” Sanchez said. “Peers and professors easily become a large family through the dynamic that the theater creates between people, but more than that, this family orientation allows for greater growth when you're always around others who live to do what you're learning.”

For more information about theater at GVSU and for upcoming performances visit

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