North Texas Daily

Theatre student overcomes obstacles to direct show

Theatre student overcomes obstacles to direct show

March 25
20:43 2017

Rachel Linch | Contributing Writer

Sitting in the last row of seats of the dimly lit auditorium, theatre performance junior Kolton Cotton, 21, scans every detail of the stage in front of him with intention. Short brown hair with eyes framed by clear-rimmed glasses, Cotton gently clasps his hands together as he considers every aspect of the show through his director’s lens.

He abruptly stands from his seat, stopping the scene and shouting, “Okay!” as he moves from the darkness into the light, walking over to give feedback to a bright, curly haired male actor who just finished delivering an explosive line.

“You said that last line a little too fast, make it slower next time,” he said, using his hands to explain what he meant.

The actor listens and agrees with the slight change, making his way back into the spotlight to pick up where he left off. Cotton backs up off the stage and puts both hands on his hips as he watches the performer bring his words to life.

Tonight is Cotton’s directorial debut. The last time a student directed a show for the department was five semesters ago. Now, after a year of mental and physical preparation, he is about to break the streak.

Over the past three weeks, Cotton and his actors have rehearsed for hours to prepare for the 30-minute one-act play, “A Dollar.” The show was written by playwright David Pinski, but Cotton has made it completely his own through the set, costumes and by creating an original score.

“The reason I chose the show, truly, is because it is in public domain, which I enjoy because I have more control over it,” Cotton said. “I can change and edit and take out whatever I want.”

Having control of the choices and decisions made on and off the stage are a big reason that Cotton said he enjoys directing so much. It’s a love he discovered as a student in the theatre department.

Kicking up his roots

A student directing a play is uncommon for UNT’s theatre department, but Cotton is used to showing his interest by doing just that. He sought refuge at the theatre when he was a high school student living in West Texas.

“I say this very genuinely when I say that theatre is the only reason that I could have gotten through high school,” Cotton said. “It was the only thing that kept me engaged and wanting to keep going to school.”

Growing up in West Texas, Cotton says he was surrounded by a lot of dirt and not much else. Throughout his childhood and into high school he was always moving. But whether he was in Midland or Ropesville or Lubbock, he always stayed in the West Texas area.

He became homeless during his freshman year of high school after he moved out of his house that was physically falling apart because of how much his mother and stepfather fought. He spent a year on friends’ couches, then moved in with his aunt for a time.

He discovered theatre his sophomore year after wandering into the auditorium while a rehearsal of “The Tempest” was going on. He showed so much interest in the performance that he was cast as an extra. He eventually signed up for a theatre class and began spending most of his time there after school.

Cotton said the community he found in his classmates and teachers is the one thing that made him feel like he belonged in his hometown.

Cotton’s involvement in his theatre troupe at school ultimately led him to be a State Board Officer at the Texas Thespian Convention in Dallas during his senior year. It was there, as he was standing on a stage speaking to thousands of theatre educators and students, that Cotton said he realized theatre is what he wanted to do with his life.

Cotton enrolled at UNT as a first-generation college student to study theatre in the fall of 2014. He quickly fell in love with the theatre program and realized that he was not just a performer, but also a creator.

“I have learned the value of relationships and the value of being passionate about people, community and art, not about making money,” he said.

The big leagues

During his third semester, Cotton walked into scenic design lecturer Donna Marquet’s classroom and walked out knowing he had found his mentor. The first time he watched her teach revealed her passion and deep care for her students.

He said he saw the director he wants to be in the educator she has been to him over the past year.

“I think what he was able to create in his rehearsal room was a collaborative thing where the actors felt like they were heard,” Marquet said. “When you have that kind of room that he was able to foster, you get something that is better than the sum of its parts.”

Cotton said his goal as a director is to pull what he likes out of the concepts his actors naturally bring to the table in order to make it a give-and-take process.

“He’s very invested and he just cares,” theatre performance sophomore Cecy Lozano, one of the actresses in the show, said. “I want to put in more work than he’s giving me because I want to show him that I care about the work he’s putting in.”

Cotton said the most important and hardest part of his role as a director is creating intentional language that makes what he has in his mind a reality for the actors through their movement.

Throughout the rehearsal process, Cotton has made the importance of being present and staying connected onstage the main focus for his actors.

“I think theatre, when it’s done right, is a powerful, powerful tool in terms of human connection and conveying the human condition,” he said. “This has solidified to me that I want to be a director and that I want to be creating within the rehearsal room. I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

As the audience members begin to file into the quaint theatre to watch the first performance of Cotton’s show, he moves behind the dark curtain where he is unseen. Even though the show is ready and it is now no longer in his hands, his director’s lens is still on.

The lights go up and the actor’s voices fill the room but Cotton is still thinking of ways to make the show even more perfect.

“He is a consonant storyteller,” Marquet said. “He really wants to delve deep and get it right, explore it and sort of challenge what we think about a show, what could be a show and challenge himself in the process.”

Featured Image: Cotton talks to Braxton Lambert who plays The Comedian in the show. He gives him a few final notes to perfect the scene he has been rehearsing. Rachel Linch

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Kayleigh Bywater

Kayleigh Bywater

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