Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A Designer, an Actor and a Filmmaker Walk into the Theatre Department

The University of Mississippi Department of Theatre and Film is welcoming three new faculty members for the fall 2020 semester – one in movement, one in design and the other in film. 

Lauren Bone Noble, Cody Stockstill and Jaye Sarah Davidson bring a variety of skills and experiences to the department. Each of the assistant professors participated in a quick Q&A to introduce themselves to the university community.

Lauren Bone Noble

Bone Noble holds the distinction of having traveled the farthest – and with the most livestock – of any of the new faculty joining the department. The assistant professor of movement for the actor recently moved with her family from their 2-acre farm in upstate New York to 20 acres between Oxford and Tupelo, bringing 60-some-odd goats and poultry with them. Keep an eye out for them at the farmers markets!

Bone Noble, who for the last nine years taught at the State University of New York at New Paltz, brings extensive performance experience on and off Broadway as well as on television. Her areas of specialization include Lecoq-based movement, clown, improvisation and acting styles.

Q: What about your new role at the university excites you most? 

A: I am looking forward to supporting the mission of the department as a whole while growing my individual artistry in a nurturing environment. I am also excited to more deeply investigate the world of physical theatre. I’ve always loved the form and have returned to it again and again. 

To be able to do that more fully and more completely makes me happier than I can say. 

Q: What will you be teaching this semester? 

A. I’m teaching Introduction to Acting and Movement for the Actor I. An introductory acting class is pretty straightforward. Most people understand what that is. 

But movement is a more specific subset of actor training. This course is, first and foremost, about understanding the body as a storytelling instrument. Young actors tend to rely heavily on the voice and face, so we’re learning to use the fullness of the expressive body. 

In class, we will explore mask work, spending time making our own masks. I think it’s really fun for actors, whose art form is so ephemeral and fleeting, to make a tangible object. 

Q: What projects are you working on right now? 

A: I’m currently writing a new play called “(suff)RAGE,” which had its second reading in June with Seattle Public Theatre. I learned a lot from that workshop and am excited to complete the next iteration. 

I describe the play as a historical revenge fantasy. The style is “commedia dell’arte” (a form of improvisational theatre comedy that originated in Italy) meets Brecht; comedy with, hopefully, a message. 

Cody Stockstill 

Designer and assistant professor of scenic design Stockstill comes from just down the road, having taught most recently at Mississippi State University after receiving his undergraduate degree from Millsaps College and his M.F.A. from the University of Southern Mississippi. Though professionally a scenic designer, Stockstill is a generalist who also has trained stage managers and directors and has experience in projection and lighting and costume design. 

Stockstill saw four shows he was set to design cancelled between March and August due to the pandemic, but a recent show among his career favorites was last November’s “Beowulf,” which he co-adapted with students and also directed and did the lighting and scenic design. Stockstill’s areas of specialization include environmental and atmospheric design, emerging technologies and new work development.

Q: What attracted you to the position with the Department of Theatre and Film?

A: I really am attracted to the balance of professional preparation and personal artistry that the department offers to students. Some departments can get so caught up in the “I’m an individual artist …,” which is very important – but it’s also a job. 

We want that personal artistic growth, and we want our students, these future artists, to have a working career. Ole Miss has a really good balance between professional development and how to be a working artist, and also that personal artistic expression.

Q: What will you be teaching this semester?

A: One thing I’m teaching is the Business of Theatrical Design. That was something I really pushed for at State, and I had a lot of success doing that. We had 90% job placement with the students that I took to the Southeastern Theatre Conference who got interviewed and got jobs. 

It’s very much how to be successful in this business, how to get a job and make it a career, and not just have theatre be a hobby.

Q: What would you say is your design style, and how does that play out in your teaching?

A: I am a minimalist, but on a larger scale. It’s not just a chair on a stage. It’s creating an atmosphere that’s easily recognizable but really concentrating on very specific elements in the design and not overwhelming the audience. 

I’d say a hallmark of my teaching is individual expression; I’m not trying to make carbon copies of my design style. I want students to discover their own voice as a designer and develop their own methods of expression and interpretation.

Jaye Sarah Davidson 

Atlanta is a film and television boomtown, so it was a good place to find new assistant professor of film production Davidson, who spent the better part of the last decade teaching film in and around the Hollywood of the Southeast. She has garnered 16 regional, national and international awards for her work. 

Davidson will kick off her first semester teaching Cinematography I and Film Production I in the department’s brand-new film production facility at the South Oxford Center.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your teaching style and what students can expect in your classroom.

A: My teaching style is to be as practical as possible. (Filmmaking) is kind of an intimidating career to jump into, so for me, I’ve tried to create a working experience as much as possible in the classroom, so students can learn and experiment and fail and overcome, and do all that in a safe environment to get a simulated sense of what it’s like to enter the profession. 

That’s my philosophy on teaching – especially in TV and film, which is as much of a trade as it is an art.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about your new position with the university?

A: Honestly, I’m looking forward to all of it, but I guess I’m looking forward to equal parts teaching and being able to have time to invest … the university is investing in me and other professors to do research, and for me, research is filmmaking. So, I have this incredible opportunity to grow as a professional.

Q: What projects are you working on?

A: I’m wrapping up a short film I directed last summer called “The Lady Edison.” It’s about a female inventor named Margaret Knight and takes place around 1870. She invented the device that puts bottoms on paper bags. 

It’s not riveting; it’s an invention we take completely for granted; you’ve never thought about it in your life. What’s exciting about it is that her patent was stolen and even though she was not formally educated, was just a factory worker, not only does she have the brilliance to invent the device, she has the temerity to use her life savings to hire a lawyer to fight her patent case. And she won! 

So my film is about that case, and it highlights the importance of intellectual property and how her case factored in our intellectual property laws, and how she had to overcome an incredible amount of sexism and classism just to be able to appreciate the fruits of her labor.

By Katherine Stewart