STUDENT Spotlight
Blake Dickler, Justin Allison and Isabel Canfield, Theater Company Leaders

Student Spotlight is a regularly-updated feature that highlights Baltimore County Public Schools students involved in a wide range of activities and programs. In this Student Spotlight, Blake Dickler, Justin Allison and Isabel Canfield, seniors at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology discuss their involvement in a student-led theater company. Their production of “All in the Timing” will be performed on April 3 and 4, 2014, at 7 p.m. (To see more student spotlights, click here.)

Student SpotlightBlake Dickler

When did you form the Trapdoor Theater Company?
I created the Trapdoor Theater Company during sophomore year with theater students at Carver Center adjudicate. The problem with this had been that, before the creation of the company, there had been no incentive, besides the grade, for students to pass their adjudication. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, the Carver Center theater community, both the teachers and the students, decided that the best incentive would to be able to be a part of the school’s very own theater company run completely by students. The company is open to only juniors and senior who successfully adjudicate.

What was the inspiration for the company’s name?
Our name, Trapdoor Theater Company, was chosen because Carver Center’s main theater company, which puts on schoolwide musicals, considers its productions as “main stage” productions. We wanted people to know that we are different than the main stage productions but still a part of the Carver Center theater community so we went with the name Trapdoor Theater Company, implying a trapdoor that would be on a stage since, while we are part of Carver Center’s theater community, we are separate.

How does the Trapdoor Theater Company relate to the student-run theater company class that you are enrolled in at Carver?
Trapdoor Theater Company is the student-run theater company class at Carver Center. Students in the company work on different aspects of the company, such as rehearsals, design work, fundraisers, etc. during a class period at Carver Center.

What are your responsibilities as directors?
I am a managing director of Trapdoor Theater Company. My job is outreach to the community and publicizing the company as a whole. This year, I organized a gala that raised almost $2,000 for the company.

What shows has the Trapdoor Theater Company produced thus far?
Last year, we produced “Almost Maine,” by John Cariani, and “Dracula,” adapted by William McNulty. This year, we produced “Impromptu,” by Tad Mosel, and are working on a production of “All in the Timing,” by David Ives.

When is your next production set to run?
“All in the Timing” will run on April 3 and 4 at 7 p.m.

Has the company received any awards/honors for its productions?
Being in Trapdoor Theater Company is an honor for students. Since students must adjudicate successfully to be in Trapdoor, it is considered an honor to be in the company.

What is the most rewarding part of being a director for a theater company?
Seeing the end result is the most rewarding. Seeing the gala that I organized come together and how nice everything looked and the amount of money that we raised to benefit our company was surreal. I was so humbled to see how many people came out to support the gala and how much they enjoyed it. This gala also publicized Trapdoor, and many of the gala attendees will now come to Trapdoor shows because of their positive experience at the gala.

What is the most challenging part of being a director for a theater company?
One of my tasks is to keep the peace in the company. There are times when, during our work, things get heated, and tensions may get high. I often have to help resolve these issues, and sometimes, it is hard for us as students to separate our personal lives and arguments with friends and what we do as a theater company. Since the company is run by students, we must leave arguments and problems with other company members at the door.

What advice do you have for other aspiring directors?
Don’t be afraid to take risks. That is the only way we can learn. In Trapdoor, we take risks and make mistakes in order to learn from these mistakes and improve in the future. If we don’t take risks, we don’t know what we can accomplish.

What are your hopes for this school year?
I want to see Trapdoor sell out the remaining show. I hope that people in the Carver Center community have a clearer understanding of what we are and what we do as well as coming to our show.

Justin Allison

What are your responsibilities with Trapdoor Theater Company?
As the artistic director of the company, my job is to oversee the artistic quality of all of the work that Trapdoor puts out. Earlier this school year, I also directed “Impromptu,”by Tad Mosel, the first production of our 2013-2014 season. Currently, I am working to ensure the quality of the performances as well as working closely with the director of our next main stage production, “All in the Timing,”to get the rehearsal process off the ground and guarantee the production’s artistic success when it goes up in April.

What is the most rewarding part of being a leader for a theater company?
I love being able to hear the audience’s reactions to our work. I think that the best theater encourages discussion, and it’s incredibly rewarding when our work manages to do just that. We had a Q&A session after each performance of “Impromptu,”and it was very satisfying to hear the many different interpretations that various audience members had of the piece.

What is the most challenging part of being a leader for a theater company?
It is often challenging to guide the company in a direction that will sustain it in the future while also focusing on the work that we are currently producing. Since Trapdoor exists within Carver Center’s block schedule, we only have 90 minutes every other day to work. In order to set Trapdoor apart from Carver Theatre Company and to create a successful brand, it is important for us to do more than simply produce two shows every school year. The challenge with that is balancing the development of the company with our rehearsal schedules. I learned a lot about this when I was directing “Impromptu”while simultaneously helping to lead the company as a whole.

What advice do you have for other students looking to run a theater company?
It’s not about you. A theater company runs into roadblocks as soon as people’s egos start to bubble up to the surface. The best work that Trapdoor has created can’t be credited to any individual. One person will have an idea that is built upon by someone else and adapted by someone else and so on and so forth. This collaboration is vital. If you want to develop a student-run theater company, the first thing you have to do is weed out any self-centered attitudes. 

What are your hopes for this school year?
By the time I graduate, I want Trapdoor to be associated with the most innovative high school theatre in Baltimore County. I want audiences to know that, when they go to see a Trapdoor production, they are going to see work that is vastly different from what they would see anywhere else in the county. Whether it is because of “Impromptu,” the gala,”All in the Timing or all of the above, I want Trapdoor to gain a reputation in our community that will sustain it long after I’m gone. 

Isabel Canfield

What are your responsibilities with Trapdoor Theater Company?
I am a managing director of Trapdoor Theater Company. This means that I am responsible for the budget and the schedule of our company. I have also taken on the responsibilities of a production manager. This means that I oversee all of the designers and the more technical aspects of the company. 

What is the most rewarding part of being a leader for a theater company?
The most rewarding part of being a leader in the company has been seeing how excited underclassmen are to join our company. I can see the legacy that we are leaving behind when interacting with the younger students and seeing them become motivated about creating their own theater. I am proud that we have created a vehicle for other students in the future to express their own artistic voices.

What is the most challenging part of being a leader for a theater company?
All of the people whom I’m working with are my friends, and I’m very lucky to be able to develop a company with people whom I love working with. However, it can be difficult to be in a position of authority with my friends. There are times when I have to do things that I know my friends may be unhappy about, and those times are very frustrating, but so far, every company member has been very understanding and professional.

What advice do you have for other students looking to run a theater company?
Do your research, find good mentors and then trust that you can really run a company.

What are your hopes for this school year?
By the end of the year, I would like to expand our company so that we have a larger audience base. The theater that we are producing is very unique, and we have something to offer to the larger community. I would like to be able to share that with as many people as possible. If we can do that this year, then I can graduate confident that the company is in a better position to succeed. I want to come back in 10 or 20 years and discover that Trapdoor has grown even bigger than I could have ever imagined. Big goals for a single year – I know.


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