By Belen Edwards
Third-year English and Creative Writing major Caitlyn Klum and fourth-year English and Political Science major Emily Lynch are a pair of students unique to the University Theater (UT) scene at UChicago: instead of working as director and assistant director, as is typical of most UT directing teams, the two share the title of co-director. They are currently directing the Stephen Sondheim musical Company, their second show as co-directors and third show as a directing team – Klum previously served as Lynch’s assistant director.
Outside of directing, Klum and Lynch are heavily involved in UChicago’s art scene and wider community. Both are staff members on the literary magazine Sliced Bread. Klum is secretary of the UT Student Committee, which helps curate the theater seasons at UChicago. Lynch is a member of the Office of the Provost’s Sexual Misconduct Student Advisory Board and helps cook Wednesday lunches at the Divinity School.
The two met at the performing arts roundtable during the Fall Quarter of 2017, Lynch’s second year, Klum’s first. Lynch was preparing to cast the play she was directing that quarter, William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. When she met Klum, she says her reaction was, “this one!”
Klum went on to play the role of Phebe in As You Like It. In Spring Quarter, she assistant directed Lynch’s second show, Annie Baker’s The Aliens.
“The Aliens was a smaller production,” said Klum. “We were really able to get to know each other and work more closely together.”
“It felt more like a co-directing relationship than a director-assistant director one,” added Lynch. Based on their experience working together on The Aliens, the two proposed to co-direct Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal in the Winter Quarter of 2019. This would be the first instance of a co-directing partnership in a UT season.
“We knew going into the process of co-directing that it would not be splitting the work, that if anything it would be much harder than directing on your own because it forces you to communicate every single decision you make with another person before you actualize it,” said Lynch.
“It also destabilizes this idea of having one person at the head of a creative project,” said Klum. “Theater is this incredibly democratic process which isn’t meant to have someone at the helm. Especially in a peer-centric environment, beginning the work with a conversation empowers everyone to participate.”
Much of Klum and Lynch’s directing style involves making sure that their collaborators are being heard. At the start and end of each rehearsal, they take time for actors and designers to check in and check out. This allows the people involved in the show to talk about how they feel outside of the rehearsal process.
“It’s really amazing and important for actors, directors, and designers to see each other as people first and recognize that we’re all coming into this with very different backgrounds and experiences,” said Lynch.
Incorporating collaborators’ different backgrounds into their work has been another goal of Klum’s and Lynch’s. In Machinal, the two chose to use projected film sequences as transitions between scenes, so they brought in someone with a film background as a designer. For Company, the pair’s first musical, they are working with musical and vocal directors to teach the actors music and rehearse with the band.
“It’s been really exciting to know people in other artistic spaces on campus and get to work with them,” said Lynch.
When choosing which shows to propose and direct, Klum noted that they searched for pieces that would allow them an element of freedom. “You mostly look for pieces that you can write the story along with. That’s very compelling to us as a team of directors because it allows for more creative collaboration.”
“We also want a show that we can do something funky with,” Klum continued. “That’s half of the fun – going big and trying something that makes you vulnerable but is also really rewarding.”
Klum and Lynch also focus on how their pieces will resonate with the UChicago student body. With Machinal, inspired by the conviction and execution of Ruth Snyder, and Company, an examination of different forms of love and relationships, Klum said “we were interested in the kinds of shows that show the impacts that different kinds of intimacy can have.”
“It’s important to us that we make Company, which to some is a show about middle age, a show about college by pulling out the themes that are salient to us as 20-year olds: love, intimacy, and relationships,” said Lynch.
With rehearsals for Company now in full swing, Klum and Lynch are looking forward to bringing the Sondheim classic to the UChicago stage. Company runs from December 5th to December 7th in Theater West of the Logan Center for the Performing Arts.