Kari Hayter walks out of the directing class she teaches, smiling, and fielding questions from the undergraduate students who are just beginning to learn what it means to be a director.
It was not so long ago that Hayter was the one hurling questions at her teachers at Cal State Fullerton. The director of CSUF’s latest main stage production, Baby with the Bathwater, completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees at CSUF, the latter completed in spring 2011.
As a graduate student, Hayter directed six main stage shows including Jonathan Larson’s Rent and Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.
Now, Hayter is opening her second post-grad main stage show on campus.
She describes Christopher Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater as a completely different venture from what she’s used to. In the past, Hayter has mostly worked on dramatic plays that are rooted in historical events. With Bathwater came the challenge of satirical comedy.
Hayter said when she joined the project, she was a bit nervous.
“I wasn’t nervous in that I couldn’t do it, but nervous in that my approach wouldn’t be successful in this new kind of style,” said Hayter.
Usually, the approach is more of a fact gathering mission for Hayter. She said she had to start in a totally different place with this play than she normally would. She submerges herself in researching the history, both of the play itself and the events within the play.
With her latest play, she had to adapt because the directorial process began with the style of the play, rather than the historical context.
“I felt like I wasn’t doing my job at first,” Hayter said.
Baby with the Bathwater is a dark comedy that holds a harsh mirror up to American ideals of parenthood. Those working on the show use the word “strange” to describe the play.
Although Durang is considered a non-traditional comedic writer by some, he has become a prominent figure in the comedy world over the years.
Bathwater was written in 1983 and has proven to be a relevant play in the nearly 30 years since its release.
Theatre Department Chair Bruce Goodrich said he believes strongly in Hayter’s ability to bring the play into 2012, while staying true to the playwright’s intentions.
He said a director must walk a fine line with this play between overt, stylized comedy and harsh reality. Goodrich said Hayter was able to balance the two extremes of the play.
“I knew that she would keep it real,” said Goodrich.
Hayter’s ability to “keep it real,” both in her cultivation of a play and in her approach to her actors, seems to be her greatest strength.
She said her favorite part of the directing experience is working with the actors, because “every cast is different.”
Jordan Kubat, a graduate student actor who plays the character of “The Young Man” in Baby with the Bathwater, points to Hayter’s ability to make her actors feel comfortable.
“She’s always open to ideas… It’s important as an actor to feel like it’s OK to try new things and take risks without feeling like you’re going to get bashed,” said Kubat.
Another actor in the show, Stephen Tyler Howell, who plays “John” in the show, highlights Hayter’s allowance for the actors to have a sense of play with the material.
“(Hayter is) a wonderful litmus test for the comedy,” said Howell.
Those who work with and around Hayter said she is very clear about what she wants but never loses the playwright’s intention when making a show her own.
Hayter said that holding true to those intentions is the hardest part of her job. Her true strength is balancing that clarity and faithfulness with her favorite part of her job: working with actors.
Hayter makes it a point to invite those working on her productions into the creative space she lives in. Not only does she invite them in, but she lets them paint the walls.
Her latest piece, Baby with the Bathwater, runs Friday to Oct. 21 in the Hallberg Theatere at Clayes Performing Arts Center.