Caro Elliott ’23, a double major in environmental studies and theatre with a concentration in environmental storytelling, makes her directing debut in her senior project with a play titled Birds of North America by Anna Ouyang Moench.  Elliott’s experience as a director is the focus of her senior research project that encompasses all three of her courses of study. She shares her insights in this Q & A.

Can you give a description of the play?

Birds of North America by Anna Ouyang Moench tells the story of a father and daughter’s relationship through their shared hobby of birding. The entire show spans about a decade. Both characters tend to disagree with one another about what the right thing to do is, and as climate change begins impacting their environment, these differences push against the father and daughter’s relationship.

What was your inspiration for this project?

I found a two-person script that focused on how relationships are impacted by environmental issues when I was abroad last summer, and fell in love with the idea of directing a play that focused on human stories while still heavily dealing with environmental issues. I found this script and absolutely fell in love with Anna Ouyang Moench’s writing— there are so many details in this play that create such a powerful story. This play juxtaposes the different experiences of two generations and shows one-way conversations around environmental issues can occur. These characters definitely are not perfect, and I think that’s something that is really important to see. We’re never going to be able to have perfect conversations or always say the right thing, and I think it’s important to find ways to still navigate incredibly important conversations around hard topics- like climate change- while still being okay with our imperfections.

What is your role in the production and what has the process been like?

I’m directing this show. A lot of what I’m doing is creating a structure for people to come together and work. I have an incredible team of actors and production crew that have created a wonderful show. The process has been lots of fun. It has also been super challenging. I’ve had to learn to trust myself.

How has your time in the theatre department at Denison prepared you for this project?

Every experience I’ve had in the theatre department has helped prepare me for this. I was one of two assistant directors for Pearls in the Wave last spring, and that was when I realized I wanted to direct something for my senior project. I’ve done a ton of different things in the theatre department and every experience has helped me be a better director. I think it’s imperative that directors can understand the perspectives and goals of everyone within a production team. It’s my job to create a space where they are able to create something. If I didn’t know what it was like to be an actor or didn’t know what designers are focusing on, it would be difficult for me to facilitate a cohesive show. A big part of my job is looking out for the well-being of my team. Theatre is about creating something with one another, and that means looking out for one another.

Do you have any post-grad plans?

I’m applying for theatre apprenticeships right now. I want to take a year or two to work in theatre and then I’m planning on going to grad school. Ideally, I’ll be at an interdisciplinary program looking at how we tell stories about our environments.

April 13, 2023