Directing for Their First Time
Drama students and curious friends walked through the doors of the Little Theater Friday night for the opening of a play directed by, produced by, and casted by UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts drama students. Each person in the audience received a survey about their most intimate moment: their first time.
As quotes from minds varying from Voltaire to Madonna flashed up on the stage screen from the projector center stage, the audience members had the opportunity to fill out whether they are a virgin or not, how they felt when they lost their virginity, where it happened, how old they were, and what they would say to that person now.
As surveys were turned in, the data was typed into the projected slides and the statistics of sex were adapted to the audience’s responses, making the play personal and intimate.
Third-year drama major Leslie Yacopetti, a co-director and actress in the play, chose to produce this play on campus to make the discussion of sex a comfortable one and to give her fellow actors the opportunity to act in a play on campus.
The independent play, “My First Time,” ran on Friday, Jan. 17 at 8 p.m. and Saturday Jan. 18 for a 2 p.m. matinée and an 8 p.m. finale.
Playwright Ken Davenport edited and compiled different stories from the My First Time website made in the late ’90s to create “My First Time,” an off-Broadway play that opened in 2007. The stories on the website range from romantic first time accounts to regretful outrages at the pressures they encountered.
“I don’t understand why people our age aren’t educated about sex. I’ve never understood why it is so taboo. It can be private, but we should learn so we don’t mess up and think wrong things. If it was a more comfortable subject, we would be a lot better at protecting ourselves physically and emotionally,” Yacopetti said.
The website represents all at once the positive and negative aspects associated with losing one’s virginity, and Davenport’s play captures that range. Davenport found a common thread for four of the characters to play. Each time the play is directed, the statistics that show on the projector for the audience to see change according to the audience’s responses.
“I know the story is frank and honest, but that is why I chose it,” Yacopetti said.
Yacopetti worked with Ryanne Laratonda, a recent graduate of the UCI M.F.A. drama program, on a project Laratonda was directing. After Leslie balanced her position as assistant director, her acting coach, Laratonda, pushed Leslie to direct something of her own.
Then, when Sam Aneson, a graduate student in drama, pushed Leslie to direct something for real, she decided to take the leap.
“That’s what reaffirmed my confidence to be able to direct,” Yacopetti said.
She rented out some 100 plays at the Langson Library. Flipping through scripts, she saw “My First Time,” and knew she found the one.
Her grad student mentors suggested she pick the role she wanted to act and find someone in the arts program to direct it.
“I love the story and message so much that I wasn’t ready to hand the script over,” Yacopetti said.
She took upon herself the role of director and Woman One in the four-character play. Yacopetti realized that she couldn’t act and direct alone, and reached out to a friend to co-direct the play with her.
Tess Andrea, a third-year literary journalism and French double major, had always been interested in the art produced by Claire Trevor students.
“I love the arts and I have always supported the arts, and have gone to as many shows as possible. I have been so grateful to Leslie to have reached out to me,” Andrea said.
As the co-founder for a campus club called A Positive Space for Women, Andrea teamed up with Yacopetti to promote the play independently.
“We endorse freedom of education and the rawness of reality in this educational experience. A Positive Space is a community of female empowerment and discussing these issues so openly is very empowering,” Andrea said.
The off-Broadway play presents stories that educate students and make them comfortable with learning how to be safe and emotionally healthy with sex. When the directors were challenged by department leaders about the appropriateness of the content, they emailed back a link of the chancellor’s website for university values.
“Compassion, curiosity, fun, integrity, community…sex is all of that,” Yacopetti said.
“Love is a contact sport. If you can’t handle the occasional scratch or bruise, then get off the field,” the cast members’ voices rang a line from the play. They all understood the struggle of trying to get the play approved on campus.
A different kind of audition:
A dozen people showed up to casting, as the independent play could not be advertised on the call board as it was not endorsed by the arts program.
Actors did not need to bring a headshot and resume; just a comfortable and open attitude to talk about sex.
“We asked them to tell us their virginity story if they were comfortable with it,” Yacopetti said.
Andrea and Yacopetti read through the monologues in the script and stuck an adjective to each character. With that they found which four of the dozen actors who auditioned would fit the combined personalities that made up each character on stage.
“This is my first time directing. I don’t do this; I’ve never done this. I am a reader and writer and love stories. I understand the element of storytelling. I feel I am an empathetic person and was able to be engaged in each monologue,” Andrea said.
The directors cast third-year drama major Robert Born as Man One. The sensitive and kind-hearted Born mustered everything he was not to act out the machismo of an alpha male for a few scenes in the play.
“Memorizing is the easy part. It’s making yourself into characters you have trouble identifying with that the challenge comes in,” Born said. His machismo attitude in telling a story of conquest leading to rape was a trying scene for him to learn.
“I didn’t want to see the reaction in the audience’s faces,” Born said.
Yacopetti casted herself as Woman One in the four-character play. “My characters are sassy as hell; fierce, but kind of uncertain about things,” Yacopetti said.
They casted Molly Siskin, fourth-year drama major, as Woman Two, the one who tells it like it is, unafraid and afraid all at once.
“I’ve been trying to work towards as much honesty as I can muster. Any added drama, any weird body movements, that’s just anything that I’m feeling,” Siskin said.
Second-year drama major and education minor Santiago Rivera was given the character of Man Two, a young-at-heart sensitive and gentle character.
“This is my first show at UCI. This is completely different than anything I’ve done. Usually, I play child characters. That’s probably why some of my monologues seem kiddish. The rest of the cast really helped me break out of that tone, to be more mature about these stories,” Rivera said.
Yacopetti and Andrea agreed that the simple format of monologues was straightforward, providing people’s honest reasons for why they do what they do.
“Eighty percent of theater is about sex anyway. It is liberating to strip down all the symbolism and tell it like it is,” Siskin said.
“Ninety percent of Shakespeare alone is about sex,” Born said.
With diverse monologues, much of the audience had the chance to identify with a character created on stage.
“We focused a lot on distinct characters for each of our monologues, not making them a caricature. We all had to tone it back down because we kept reminding ourselves, these stories are real,” Yacopetti said.
A Two-Week Rehearsal:
Graduate drama student Ross Jackson led the lighting and sound crew as stage manager for the independent project. The group secured a performance space only last Tuesday at the Little Theater in Humanities Hall. The moment they had a performance space was when drama major Ian A.H. Postel swooped in to help Jackson with the lights and sound.
“A lot of the rehearsal process was talking about our own experiences. I appreciate all the time we spent together,” Yacopetti said.
Becoming comfortable with their own stories, the actors were able to channel realistic experiences into their characters, which made for a more genuine show.
“I was really excited I could see development and evolution of it,” Andrea said.
With pride and excitement, they invited the audience in for their opening night, a night to educate and to honor the ideas of complexity and simplicity of losing one’s virginity.
“Lack of education promotes misinformation. A lot of what A Positive Space tries to do is to go to new spaces and discuss topics people don’t want to. As a co-founder I love talking about taboo topics as much as possible,” Andrea said.
The directors attached a trigger warning for rape and abuse to the door of the theater so those who wanted to see the play were emotionally ready.
Each actor took a brave step in the direction of the independent, a term just as taboo as sex in their environment.
“I think our actors are really underappreciated. I just have an incredible compassion and awe for the work that you all do. Their evolution of characters and how they feed off of each other is amazing,” Andrea said.
Yacopetti wanted to break down the barriers that halted discussion about sex. Their play helped reveal an experience that humanity has in common.
Fellow actors joined her for a journey that would raise awareness, and bring an audience closer together with each other.
Within two weeks, Yacopetti and Andrea went independent and succeeded; within two weeks, they built something that the cast and crew would not forget. It was their first time directing and acting independently.
“It feels like we’ve been together forever,” Rivera said.