Dianne Martin Giddens is the drama director at Deerfield Windsor School in Albany Georgia, or at least she was. Dianne is now “retiring.” Her daughter Lindsey Stewart, who recently graduated from University of Northern Colorado with a Masters in Theatre Education, is now taking the reins. Although Dianne will not be fully stepping away; instead she will now be playing second fiddle to her daughter. She knew Lindsey was ready after she won state 2 years in a row directing the annual one act play.
Dianne originally taught music until that fateful day during her daughter’s 7th grade year, when Lindsey decided to try out for the spring musical. Dianne started out just making costumes and helping with the music but soon found herself working behind the scenes full time under, then director, Susan Farkas.
Throughout the years, Susan was able to bestow her key theatre wisdom on both Dianne and Lindsey. Unfortunately, after ten years of tutelage, Susan succumbed to cancer just a month after being diagnosed. Dianne says she had a leg up when she became director because she “learned from the best.”
One of Susan’s many caveats was to “always rent backdrops from Grosh and costumes from Broadway Costumes.” Dianne also said she received help throughout the years from dedicated parents, faculty and students. Even parents whose children do not attend the school anymore still come to assist, which is a great testament to the school’s community.
Most Favorite/Memorable Performance
To date, Shrek, her latest performance, has been the favorite of her career. The chemistry between the students was phenomenal with everyone putting their best foot forward and working relentlessly to bring Far Far Away land to life! Reliable vendors were also very important contributing to the overall realistic feel of the whole musical.
But it almost wasn’t so, this year Dianne experienced an unusual dilemma. She found the perfect swamp Shrek house while looking through Grosh’s Shrek show drop sets and combinations. To her dismay, there was only one and it was already rented out for her show dates! So she called one of our trusty backdrop consultants who confirmed the unavailability but then promptly started the process to have the drop duplicated for her. This allowed her exact vision of the show to come together and she received numerous compliments on the set and backdrops.
Most Difficult Performance
The musical production was the Scarlet Pimpernel and on opening night the leading lady came down with Scarlatina, aka Scarlet Fever! Never mind the irony, what was a director to do? There was a student that luckily knew the part. Problem solved! No, plot thickened for our esteemed director. The stand-in student had one fatal flaw…she could not sing! Despite the catastrophe, Dianne knew that the “show must go on!” Her seasoned brain started working and her cool head prevailed. Dianne instructed Lindsey backstage to sing all of the musical numbers whilst the leading lady’s stand-in turned her head to the side and lip-synced best she could.
Deciding the Production
Dianne and Lindsey consult with the choreographer and decide a year in advance what the next production will be. Many factors go into deciding which performance to put on. First, the group of students is evaluated as a whole. For instance, if the group is female “heavy” then Dianne searches for a play with many female roles. Or she would choose a play that a female dominated cast can easily adapt to, like “Once Upon a Mattress”, where many of the girls can easily play knights. Dianne will also get an idea of who can play the lead role and from there she can assess and match their strengths and talents with the compatibility of different musicals for the perfect fit.
Last year Dianne had a gut feeling that Shrek would be a success. This year however, was different, it was now Lindsey’s decision to pick next year’s musical. Mysteriously enough, Lindsey developed the same gut feeling about “All Shook Up!” that her mother felt for Shrek. Lindsey now has 6 years under her belt and the transition has been a smooth one to say the least. Lindsey continued her involvement from 7th to 12th grade and came back to Deerfield Windsor after getting her bachelors, masters, and specialist degrees in English Education. Besides drawing on her own experience and education, Lindsey will get to benefit from Dianne’s good housekeeping. Dianne kept hard copies of everything and has taught her essential nuts and bolts about how to run the department efficiently. Things like, the higher amount of young kids in a play, the higher the ticket sales will be, and to do the theater schedule before the parents meeting. But Dianne will still be on-hand to help the students and assist our new lead director.
It’s a Real Family Business!
When asked why she can’t completely step away? The answer is simple for Dianne, “It’s Family, and you don’t step away from family.” From the way she talks about her students, it is obvious that she loves them like they were her own. Due to long auditions, drama class and long rehearsals, Dianne probably spends more hours with them than their parents do! She still keeps in touch with past students through the school website and Facebook. Recently she watched a young man graduate who she fondly recalls casting as a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz when he was a 1st grader. These kids are her life and her family. It is not just the students, even parents whose kids have graduated still come to help out. Interestingly enough, her husband, William Giddens, is also in the industry and builds set and sound for the stage. Nurturing and watching the students grow, working with parents, kin and staff; it truly is a family to her!
Over the years the subject matter has become broader for high school musicals. For example, in the past, parts of Grease the musical would have to be cut out, but not anymore. Even though her town prefers more conservative subject matter, it too has expanded its content appreciation over time. The options for musicals have also increased. More and more musicals have come out with instructions on how to make them High School friendly.
Funding and ticket sales have changed over the years. Mirroring the economic times, ticket sales have dropped across the board. While competing against sports for funding and attention has increased.
Advice for Drama Directors or Those Aspiring To Be
It is essential to be organized. For instance, scheduling; you don’t tell the whole cast to come to rehearsal. A good director is strategic, only having students come when they need to, so there is minimal down time. Too much down time is difficult for students, especially for the younger children.
It is also very important to establish relationships with helpful companies, like Grosh, who are willing to go the extra mile to meet a director’s vision. And mainly, be ready to give it all you got. Being the last person to leave at the end of the night is the norm, not the exception, one aspect which Dianne is probably happy to pass on!