NMH students had the chance to learn from acclaimed theater director Jack Cummings during a two-day visit to NMH earlier this month.
On April 6 and 7, Cummings, a co-founder and the artistic director of the award-winning Transport Group Theater Company of New York, visited campus and joined classes in playwriting, acting, and theater production, where he spoke about his decades of professional experience and answered students’ questions.
Cummings, a five-time Drama Desk Award nominee and two-time Obie Award winner, also hosted a workshop for NMH dancers and actors, shared dinner with students and faculty in Alumni Hall, and gave an evening talk about his career, including founding his theater company 25 years ago and directing dozens of off-Broadway, regional, and international productions.
“I’m really thrilled to be here, and it’s always nice to connect face-to-face with young people,” Cummings said between class visits in the Rhodes Arts Center. He and his theater company colleagues had been wanting to connect with a school to develop a long-term educational relationship when a board member of Transport Group reached out to Jared Eberlein, NMH’s theater program director.
“We thought this two-day visit would be a great way to start to form a connection and over time help in whatever way we can,” Cummings said. “I want to offer whatever real-world perspective I can. I want to add to and broaden what students are learning about process, about creating art and asking questions, and give them a few more tools.”
In Eberlein’s playwriting class, which includes students in grades 9 through 12, students had the chance to ask Cummings questions about 10-minute plays each of them are currently writing.
Mohavi Thakur ’24 asked for tips on how to include all the elements of a story into just 10 minutes, as well as on writing an ending. “It feels fake to wrap it all up in a bow,” she said.
“Keep asking for your characters to be honest,” Cummings told her. “On stage, 10 minutes is a nice chunk of time. And remember, there are all types of endings. As an audience, we just want to feel like something has come to a conclusion, even if just for that moment.”
James Doliscar ’23 asked for advice on developing an ending that leaves a conflict unresolved or expresses sadness.
“If what you write is a sad ending, then that’s the ending,” Cummings said. “Think about the characters. You want your audience to invest in them, to care about them, and when it ends, you want your audience to also feel the loss.”
Cummings advised students to trust themselves as they write but to also read their plays aloud, collaborate with others for feedback, and ask lots of questions. “Everything comes from the writer,” he said. “I have a reverence for writers and a great respect for them. There’s a terrifying aspect to it, writing. So I feel for you and I admire you. And believe you can do it — because you can do it.”
Eberlein said Cummings’ visit was valuable because it allowed students to collaborate with a working artist.
“The highlight was seeing how trusting and open the students became very quickly as Jack led them through some very intense and personal creative exercises and discussions,” Eberlein said. “It was also really exciting to hear Jack’s emphasis on ‘process.’ He was encouraging students to explore, to take risks, and spend time developing ideas, instead of making things to check off the box and move on.”
Eberlein added, “Ninety-five percent of theater is made in the space between secondary education and the commercial world of Broadway. To work with someone who has made a life, a living, and some rather important work in the New York theater scene, outside of Wicked or Hamilton, opens up what students might consider possible. It opens up what success looks like.”