Say “yes.” It’s an improv and theater mantra. Take the risk. Put it out there. Go with it.
It’s not as easy as it sounds. The Powerhouse Theater Training Program is where Angela Dumlao ’13 first got the hang of it.
Dumlao spent the summer between junior and senior years as a directing apprentice at Powerhouse, a collaboration between Vassar and a professional theater company, New York Stage and Film, that includes a professional season of new work and an intensive training program for 30 to 40 apprentices—coursework in acting, directing, and playwriting, and apprentice company productions under the direction of theater professionals.
“I had directed a few things my junior year at Vassar,” says Dumlao. “I directed Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon, and I directed a reading in the spring. But I was at this place—I’m a drama major, but am I good at this? Do I have what it takes?”
She went into Powerhouse without “any huge expectations,” but the experience, she says, was “life changing.” “Honestly, before Powerhouse, I wasn’t the kind of person that says ‘yes.’ I was the kind of person who sits in the back of the room and doesn’t raise her hand. But as a Powerhouse apprentice, I felt I had agency to raise my hand and make choices and give out ideas. I really honed my craft over that summer, and I got a lot of great feedback. I had homework to do at night—script analysis and visual research--and then the next day, I would be in rehearsal working on a play that I was directing, and then at night, I would go to the professional rehearsal room and take notes for a professional director. I felt immersed in something that really, really wanted me to succeed.”
Now, one year out of Vassar, Dumlao returned to Powerhouse this summer as the assisant director of SeaWife , one of the plays chosen by New York Stage and Film for the summer season. “It’s kind of mindblowing,” she says. “I’m very humbled to be here.” And how exactly did she get here?
At a job interview at a theater in New York City, she ran into Russell G. Jones (“a fantastic actor”) in the lobby. She and Russell had become friends at Powerhouse, where he performed in When the Lights Went Out. Catching up, she told him that she had just graduated and was looking for work stage managing or assistant directing, and he said, “You should meet my friend Liz,” Liz Carlson, the director of SeaWife.
He introduced them, and Liz signed Dumlao on as assistant director/stage manager. They did several workshop and festival productions of the play over the next few months. “And then we were applying to a bunch of residencies for the summer, and we got Powerhouse! I really couldn’t believe it!”
From Valley Stream, Long Island, Dumlao did a lot of musical theater in high school, but she didn’t plan on majoring in drama at Vassar. “Theater is just this thing I do on the side—that’s what I told myself,” she says. “But by sophomore year, I couldn’t ignore that I was basically on the path to being a drama major and that I really did want to be a drama major.”
But it wasn’t clear to her yet that she should focus on directing. “I acted in a play freshman year, and I realized that I had these director-like impulses. Not that I wanted to `correct’ the director, but I had inklings of how to tweak things and how to talk to actors. I love what the actor does—trying to figure out his or her character’s objective and how to move—but I don’t really love being on stage. I like being the person who sees the big picture and who gets to put her stamp on a play. And I like creating an environment where the people in the room can do their best work--creating that `Yes’ environment.”
She double majored in drama and psychology, which made it a little easier to sell her parents on her decision. “I was afraid to tell them at the beginning because being an artist is not very practical. You know—where are the jobs? But then they started to come up to campus to see my shows and meet my professors, and they could see how passionate I was about it and that I had some promise. Now they’re hugely supportive. They come to all of my productions. They’re my biggest fans.”
By the end of her summer as an apprentice, Dumlao says she felt extremely well prepared to direct her senior project, a dark comedy called Boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. “I had learned so much about the whole process—about script analysis and how to talk to actors and how to pace a rehearsal. And at the end of the year, I won the Drama Department prize for directing that play. Not that prizes are a huge thing, but it was an important validation for me.”
The summer after graduation, she was hired to be the stage manager for the Powerhouse apprentice company. “I’ve made so many friends and so many connections through Powerhouse. I preach the Powerhouse apprenticeship gospel all the time!”
Like most young people starting out in the theater, Dumlao has a full-time job that’s not theater related. She works for an Internet advertising company called Magnetic. “It’s very visual and fun, and it gives me the flexibility to do things like this Powerhouse gig,” she says. Evenings and weekends, she pursues her passion. “I’m getting a lot of work actually. I was the production intern and assistant stage manager for eight productions at a theater festival, and then I stage managed for Ianthe Demos [also a Vassar graduate, class of 2000] at One Year Lease, and of course I’ve been with SeaWife.”
And the five-year plan? “It’s more of a ten-year plan,” she says. “Eventually I want to go to graduate school for directing, but for now my plan is to do more theater in whatever capacity I can. I’m even thinking about auditioning again because I think it’s really important for a director to understand all of the pieces. I’ve acted in plays, I’ve produced plays, I’ve made props, I’ve stage managed. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep on learning about theater.”
--Julia Van Develder