‘A director is a teacher’
Masquers Theater artistic director Cheri Barbre outside the theater in 2021, while it was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic. The theater has since come back and has regular showings of a variety of plays put on by the local troupe.
Artistic director Cheri Barbre with an advertisement for the latest Masquers Theater production.
Cheri Barbre, foreground, has been acting and directing at Masquers Theater for more than 20 years, including the troupe’s 2017 production of “Steel Magnolias.” She’s pictured with Emma Covarrubias, background.
Masquers Theater artistic director Cheri Barbre said a director is a teacher – one that melds his or her vision with the talents of the cast.
Cheri Barbre, right, with Penny Sanford, left, in the 2017 Masquers Theater production of “Noises Off.” Barbre is both an actor and director.
Staff Writer | March 15, 2023 1:25 AM
SOAP LAKE — For Cheri Barbre, the play’s the thing.
Barbre is the artistic director of Masquers Theater, an actor and director with the troupe for more than 20 years. But her involvement with the theater dates back to her days at Ephrata High School.
“Last time I counted, it was 60 plays total. That’s everything, directing and acting,” she said.
Directing, she said, starts with a good story.
“The first thing a director needs to do is find a script they are passionate about,” she said.
She has her own criteria for finding that script.
“If I’m reading a play and I laugh out loud just reading it, that’s a play I want to do,” she said. “Either perform in or direct, usually direct.”
Once the script is in hand the director has to start thinking about the finished product. Basically, the director starts with an empty stage and builds from there - whether it’s in his or her head, on paper or computer screen. Barbre said her friend and directorial mentor Randy Brooks used toy soldiers to lay out his design.
“I usually do it with forks or whatever I’ve got handy. It works pretty well,” she said.
It’s about planning and getting a solid plan in place, she said.
“Be organized. Get an idea in your head (of) what you want your set to be. Sometimes you need to find somebody to help you build it,” Barbre said.“And then you hold an audition.”
The audition might be the most crucial part of the whole process, she said.
“You cast well. That’s the main thing the director does, you cast well. Try to cast with the most experienced people you can find,” Barbre said. “If you can’t, you cast the best people who audition.”
Once a cast is chosen, it’s up to the director to figure out how to get the look and sound they want. As both an actor and a director, Barbre said she thinks that process is most effective when the director and actors work together.
“Help (the actors) find their character. You can tell somebody how to play a part, but that’s not as much fun as making it up yourself, at least for me,” Barbre said. “If I have a director tell me how they want me to play a part, I kind of resent it. I’m an intelligent person, and actors are intelligent people. They should be able to say the lines and memorize the part and come up with a character.”
Effective direction, however, does require some discipline too, she said. She wants her cast to take the play seriously, comedy or drama.
“You talk with your actors and get their ideas how they see the character. And if it’s not going quite the way you see it, you bring it up, kind of meld them a little bit,” she said.
“You can take a character and twist it, make it funny or dramatic, depending on how you envision your play. I’ve directed dramas that are very serious dramas, but I always try to find the humor in a drama and try to get the actor to say it so that the audience can get a little break and have a laugh. When I’m acting I always try to do that,” Barbree said.
She cited her experience with an actor in a drama she directed, someone who was used to being in comedies. On the opening night, he went back to his comedic ways - which, as far as Barbre was concerned, didn’t really work. She discussed it with him; he changed his style and got a lot of praise for his role, she said.
She does have a preference when she’s choosing a play.
“Comedy. I prefer directing comedy,” she said. “Comedy is harder to direct than drama. With a drama, you’re just dealing with people and their personalities, and trying to get the lines and have your actors be serious saying the lines. With a comedy, you can just let go and let your actors find the humor, bring that out.”
And when the actor isn’t hitting the right note, that’s when the director steps in.
“If they can’t find the humor, then you tell them. ‘You know, you’re missing a laugh line there. If you said the line right, you’d get a laugh out of it.’ Kind of teaching - a director is a teacher. Best way to put it,” she said.
And once the pieces fit together, there’s nothing better than watching the play, she said. She cited the play where the actor changed his approach after opening night.
“Every other performance of that (play), I loved to watch. Because every time, every night, people would change it a little bit,” she said. “That’s what I love about directing. The actors, once they’re comfortable in the role, take it upon themselves and they might change it a little bit, just a little tweak or say a line differently. And you’re out there watching it, (saying) ‘Oh, they understand it better now. Good.’
“To me, that’s one of the joys of directing,” she said. “The actors understand their roles better, and the progression of a play as it goes through the performances. Every night is different. It’s fun to watch. Fun to watch.”
Cheryl Schweizer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Soap Lake Masquers Theater has announced the cast for the upcoming play "Sing On", the sequel to the previous Masquers comedy "Play On".
Victoria Drake as Geraldine "Gerry" Dunbar
Sherry Joski as Agatha "Aggie" Manville
Randy Brown Martin as Louise Peary
Darryl Pheasant as Henry Benish
Carrie Rutherford as Polly Benish
Stacey Bresee as Marla "Smitty" Smith
Jeremy Hansen as Saul Watson
Jason Noble as Bill Carewe
Rainy Nichols as Violet (nee Imbry) Carewe
Joanne Bracht as Phyllis Montague
Jesse Huntwork as Monte Montague
The Director is Carol Boyce and Assistant Director is Carrie Rutherford.
The release by the theater states the show will run from April 14 to 30 for a total of nine shows and more information will be released closer to the show opening.