Michael Viola, the man behind the curtain

Image via @mr.viola_directs on Instagram

Image via @mr.viola_directs on Instagram

Grayson Quigley, Staff Writer

Following South Lakes’ incredible run of “Bright Star,” director Michael Viola gave his post-show thoughts on his process, students’ execution, and lessons “Bright Star” can teach everyone. 

Nervous but determined, Michael Viola began his journey at South Lakes just this year after teaching theatre at Woodbridge. He notes that because of this change, all of his decisions about productions had to be made prior to meeting the students he’d be working with. However, thanks to a group of welcoming seniors and experienced actors and techs, he was able to put on two phenomenal productions this year. “It’s just really special to see them step up and be leaders and focus on the work, find fun in the work, focus on good storytelling—not doing it for awards but just doing it to create awesome art.”

He also expresses fondness for the first time theatre students who are able to find passion through his guidance, “It’s always really special for me to see freshmen in their first musical—or anybody really in their first musical, but with freshmen it’s like their first year in high school and you can just see through their eyes that they just found their thing, and that they’re going to be a part of this for the long haul.”

However, when it comes to “Bright Star” specifically, many were blown away with the department’s ability to completely transform their tone from “Peter and the Starcatcher.”

“We just had to have some heart-to-heart conversations about story telling and telling sensitive stories and doing the characters justice,” Viola says. He also notes that student participation and buy-in also helped the show be as successful as it was. “We tried to create a culture within the entire company that was sensitive and cognizant [that] these scenes were here and they were important and they were a lot different than the big flashy fun numbers.”

In the end, Viola enjoyed working closely with his tech theatre students on the show and helping the actors create meaningful moments that would not only resonate with the audience but with themselves. In fact, he was quite proud of how sensitively performers were able to navigate delicate scenes and give the show a more powerful impact. Another key element was the integration of the orchestra pit into the show. He believed that the pit was a central part of the story and therefore rallied for them to actually be in the show in numbers such as “Entr’acte.” 

Sometimes being a teacher doesn’t always mean knowing everything, Viola learned this year—opening up to the idea of student-led committees and ambitious ideas they were pushing. Through his efforts a mutual trust was born and he was able to implement his own ambitions, “They’re up for really whatever challenge I give them, I mean whether it’s a flying suitcase or a 20 foot train or costuming 45-50 people. Or just doing scene work that’s unfamiliar and different for them and difficult, tapping into emotions that they maybe never experienced before.” 

Viola’s final message to those keeping up with South Lakes theatre is one of praise for his students and a promise to the community. “We’re not a one trick pony. We’re capable of doing a lot, we’re always going to aspire to do the best work possible, we’re not going to be complacent, that this is a school that is not only talented but is extremely committed and collaborative and communal within the arts. The work doesn’t just happen because we’re talented, the great work happens because you’ve got all of these people—like 100 plus people—that are working towards one goal, and that goal is just to do a phenomenal show, create an amazing final product.”