Inside the CSU Actors Studio: “The Night of the Iguana”

By Mitch Wills

Acting. For many, it is a dream and a passion that lives and breathes with them every day of their lives. The desire to perform on stage and create art is an untamable thirst that only a select few have the opportunity to quench. At Colorado State University, the theatre program has plenty of these artists to spare.

Theatre productions at CSU provide a compelling breadth of genres and characters, giving actors ample opportunity to learn, grow, and hone their craft. The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, running Feb. 6 through 16, Thursdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at the University Center for the Arts, is no exception; offering opulent characters with remarkable arcs that make this production a true joy to behold.

The Night of the Iguana is the story of Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, a Black Irish defrocked pastor, now tour guide, who arrives at a cheap cliff-side hotel near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with a group of women tourists. At the Costa Verde, managed by his friend and onetime lover, Maxine Faulk, Shannon struggles with delusions, depression, alcohol, and sexual attraction to an underage member of the tour group.

The Cast

Ryan Miller, a junior theatre major, plays the role of Rev. Shannon, a role that he says is like a man at the end of his rope.

“[Shannon] is a man who is trying to keep his life together,” Miller said. “Through no fault of his own, his life gets out of control.”

Shannon’s friend and onetime lover, Maxine Faulk, played by fifth-year theatre and math major Meghan Connor, tries to attend to Shannon while dealing with her own affairs.

“Shannon and Maxine have a long history, which comes out in the show,” Connor said. “She’s got her own issues that she’s dealing with but mostly, she just wants to be loved.”

Shannon and Maxine are joined onstage by Hannah Jelkes, played by junior theatre major Brenna Otts.

“[Hannah] comes to the motel with her extremely old grandfather,” Otts said. “She’s there to listen to Shannon, because she has somewhat of a savior complex about him. Her world is falling apart, like Shannon’s, and she tries to make sure it doesn’t.”

The Night of the Iguana 2014 Production PhotoPrepare and Explore

One has to be 100 percent invested in his or her character to fully embody a performance. Being cast in a CSU production is in many ways like a professional theatre production. The desire to perform must come with a hearty load of preparation in order for an actor to truly thrive on stage. The preparation comes from working with fellow actors, and not being afraid to voice ideas.

“We wouldn’t know things about our own characters if we hadn’t prepared together,” Miller said. “Meghan tells me things about my character and I think, ‘Oh my God! How have I not noticed that before?’ When you get a second pair of eyes and when you have a cast that’s willing to exchange ideas freely about what the production is supposed to be, you grow a lot more and you’re able to make whole new discoveries that you wouldn’t have seen before from your own point of view.”

An actor’s preparation begins and ends with the script, and working with a Tennessee Williams script with a group of talented actors can lead to new and exciting discoveries on the stage.

“I always look at what [the characters] want,” said Miller. “It’s not merely about thinking of what this type of person might do. In their own mind, their actions are completely justified. It’s what they need to do in order to live. I look at what they want and how in the world they can try to get it.”

But actions speak louder than words, and reading can only take an actor so far. For an actor to truly envelope themselves in a character, the action and physicality of the character have to work in harmony with the dialogue,

“You learn a lot about your character when you start getting on your feet and interacting and seeing how your character would react in certain situations,” Otts said. “You might read a scene one way, but when you start interacting on stage, your character can be thrown for a loop and you suddenly realize how your character feels in this situation.”

Working with the Director

With any theatrical production, it begins and ends with the director. The Night of the Iguana is directed by Walt Jones, co-director of theatre and dance at CSU. Working with a director as experienced as Jones, actors at CSU can certainly learn and pick up new things every day.

“What’s really great about [Walt] is that he introduces the conversation,” Connor said. “He really makes you think about it.”

“He’s like a shepherd,” Miller said. “He’ll put you on the right path and then he’ll let the character grow out of you as a performer. He gives actors enough freedom that the character does come from the inside of us and it earns itself onstage.”

Developing Bonds as Cast Members

For any theatre production to flourish on stage, it takes a certain amount of chemistry and camaraderie among the members of the cast. The bonds among the cast can strengthen the production and make it all the more entertaining for an audience observe.

“Having a situation where there is this amazing piece of literature that we can all bond over and talk about, of course that brings us all together,” Otts said. “It’s something we’re all passionate about.”

“I think what’s great about theatre in general is that no one is forced to be here,” said Keili Elliott, stage manager (and de facto mother) of the production. “Everyone being in an environment where they love doing what they do just makes the process so much more fun.”

What the Audience Can Expect

Throughout his career as a playwright, Tennessee Williams created some of the most diverse and scintillating characters in American theatre. A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Glass Menagerie are American classics and have become significant staples in the theatre world. In the same vein, The Night of the Iguana is a true, American classic piece of theatre with characters that will keep you at the edge of your seat.

“Tennessee Williams was great about writing these rich, meaty characters and there’s so much that you can do with them,” said Connor.

“Look deeper than just the lines,” said Otts. There’s a lot that goes unsaid and there’s a lot of emotion flowing and you really need to look closer to really see how incredible this play is.”

One thing is for certain: this play will take the audience on an incredible journey.

“Be ready to take the journey with us,” Miller said. “It’s a beautiful piece of art if you just let it be. We put it out there and it’s for everyone to assess on their own, but take the ride with us.”

Tickets are $8 for CSU students and $18 for adults. Tickets are available at the University Center for the Arts (UCA) Ticket Office in the UCA Griffin Lobby, by phone at (970) 491-ARTS (2787), or online at Advance purchase is recommended to avoid at-the-door fees.

The University Center for the Arts at Colorado State University provides an enriched venue in which the study and practice of Art, Dance, Music and Theatre are nurtured and sustained by building the skills and knowledge needed by future generations of arts professionals to become contributors to the essential vitality of our culture and society. During the 2013-2014 season, the UCA celebrates its fifth anniversary and features several celebratory events that highlight connecting our campus and community with impactful arts. For more information, visit