Tessa Douglas on Assistant Directing and Working with Passage

I never envisioned myself being “behind the table.” 

Growing up, I craved to be center stage; to perform for anyone and everyone. In fact, I even organized an annual cousin talent show during my family vacation just so I could perform. However, in my second semester of college at Rider University, I took the most memorable (and life-altering) class: Ryanne Domingues’s acting class. Not only did I learn from an extraordinary professor, but I was also introduced to Passage Theatre. 

The spring semester had just about finished, and I was ready to go back home to Pittsburgh when I made the last-minute decision to see “Caged.” To be honest, I’m not the most extroverted person; I’m very quiet and very shy. In fact, when I arrived at the Mill Hill Playhouse, I tried my best not to be noticed. But (thankfully) I failed and was immediately greeted by Ryanne. She mentioned how I should look into directing and then, out of nowhere, had the brilliant idea of me being the Assistant Director for the play she was directing in Passage’s following season, “Morir Sonyando.” 

Before jumping into assistant directing, I was able to “get my feet wet” and learn what it was like to work with everyone at Passage by being a part of “The Real Life Adventures of Jimmy De Las Rosas.” In case you were curious, I was Mutant Chihuahua #1 and an Officer. 

By the end of the month, I was in my first production meeting for Morir Sonyando. Walking in, I didn’t know what to expect; I had never attended a production meeting yet alone one for a professional production. But just as before, everyone was so friendly and so welcoming. That night when I called my mom to tell her about the meeting, I told her it was the best book club I ever went to. 

Just stay with me here— why a book club? Well, the script was our book. Plus, everyone actually read it and we were all gathered together to talk about it. Why was it the best? Easy. Everyone came to the meeting with their own unique interpretations and questions about the play. I observed how every person in the room came in and applied their own area of expertise (costumes, lighting, set design, etc.) to the play while the director, Ryanne, worked as the facilitator. What was my role in all this as Assistant Director? Well, considering this was my first “book club,” I listened, observed, and gave input when I wanted or was asked. 

After a couple more of these book clubs, we invited some new people in on the fun — the actors. While I was only there for 50% of the rehearsals because you know, college, I saw the magic of the book club. 

After having Johanna, Daniel, and Maria do a read-through of the script and me butchering the Spanish in the stage directions (my grandma would be so disappointed), we sat down and talked. We talked about the script; we talked about the characters; we asked questions; we shared personal experiences; we learned. 

Then the book club slowly stopped being a book club. It became a fully operating production. Throughout the entire rehearsal period, I was free to give input on various aspects of the show like pockets on chairs AND I was still able to observe how a director works with everyone involved with a show from the stage manager to the designers to the actors. 

Then tech week hit. This is when I did everything and anything that was needed. I read lines with the actors; I jumped on stage after the actors left so the lighting designer could perfect a light cue; I took copious amounts of notes for Ryanne and typed them up or “translated” them; I even helped staple cardboard on the set. But my favorite part of tech week was when I went on a walk and photoshoot with Johanna, Daniel, and Maria during a break to just have fun. 

Once Morir Sonyando opened, my “job” was done but I still came back a couple of times to watch and appreciate the beautiful piece of art that our mighty book club worked on (as well as to see friendly faces).

Since then, I was fortunate enough to assistant direct “The Wolves” with Ryanne at Rider University and hopefully assistant direct another show this season at Passage. I’ve also been able to be involved in some amazing opportunities such as a “table read” of Passage’s new musical “Group!,” write Passage Postscripts, and volunteer at Passage’s Annual Gala. 

I can’t thank Ryanne and the Passage team enough for everything they have done for me. But most importantly, I will forever be grateful that I took Ryanne Domingues acting class. After all, that’s what started my love of working “behind the table” and working with Passage.