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Student Director Michael Avila Helms Campus Production of 'Waiting for Godot'

Avila studied the Beckett tragicomedy in several BYU theatre classes and projects leading up to the TMA 536 production

The Department of Theatre and Media Arts will bring Samuel Beckett's oft-studied absurdist masterpiece "Waiting for Godot" to the Nelke stage in a student-run production — the culmination of several semesters of critical and introspective analysis by director Michael Avila. 


BYU's student-run production of "Waiting for Godot" in the Nelke Theatre. (Megan Morrison)

"When I was first introduced to this show in a theatre history class, I was intrigued, but confused," said Avila, a theatre education major. "On the surface, it seems very meaningless and hopeless with few real answers to the questions it asks. But it's not necessarily about the answers; it's about the struggle, the suffering and the things we can learn from watching it all play out. The script is brilliant, and I've found that the confusion and the tension can create something beautiful."

As the title suggests, the play — which is subtitled "a tragicomedy in two acts" — centers on two men and their futile wait for the arrival of someone named Godot. After his initial exposure to the work, Avila found himself again drawn to Beckett's text when he directed an experimental scene for Directing Principles and Practices (TMA 336). This deeper study led him to direct a cutting of the play as a TMA mask club, or directing capstone, and apply to helm a full production as a Directing Workshop (TMA 536) project.

In his application for the 536 project, Avila was asked to explain his proposed take on the show and what it would bring to BYU and his fellow students, particularly those who would be involved as cast and crew members. Avila carefully considered the elements and messages of the show that he found compelling, particularly those that seemed contradictory to his faith and personal philosophies. 

"As a society and in our religion, we're constantly trying to find purpose, peace and joy, but the whole concept of this show revolves around ambiguity," he said. "I've worked to preserve that ambiguity and avoid imposing my own answers onto the script, but I also started having all these conversations with myself and with friends, asking, what does it mean to have joy? Why are we trying to achieve it? What makes us happy? This was a perfect jumping-off point for the show." 


Theatre education major Michael Avila was selected to direct "Waiting for Godot" with a student cast and crew. (Megan Morrison)

Avila was selected to direct the project and set to work with his student cast and crew, continuing to explore this idea of joy in the context of the absurd and often frustrating world of the play — and the ways in which lessons learned from the text and characters might apply to their own lives.

"To paraphrase theatre scholar Martin Esslin, the act of waiting is inherent to our lives — it's inexplicably linked to the human condition," said Avila. "There's never going to be a time when we're not waiting for something, and sometimes that's all we can do. During this process, I've asked, why do we wait for joy? Why do we wait to be happy? Why can't we be happy in our circumstances now? I think some peace can come from allowing ourselves to find joy in our present circumstances, even if we're waiting for something."

As he has navigated the directing experience with this notoriously challenging piece of theatre, Avila is grateful to his cast and crew and their commitment to his vision for the production.

"They've been willing to take the time to really consider the questions I'm asking them and explore the characters and what they're fighting for," said Avila. "We've had some great discussions. It's also amazing to me that so many of them are working on other projects and have classes and lives, and yet they're still taking the time and care to really focus on my show as well."

As an aspiring educator, Avila hopes that his efforts will help his student collaborators and their audiences come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the show, as he has himself throughout his time at BYU.


BYU's student-run production of "Waiting for Godot" explores joy in the context of the absurd. (Megan Morrison)

"I hope the things they see and hear will stick with them and prompt them to ask a lot of their own questions," Avila said. "And then perhaps they can turn some of those thoughts inward and figure out what they need to do in their lives to not be like the characters in the show. As much as I can, I just want to present the show, tell the story and allow the audience to take what they need out of it."

For Avila, the long-term study of "Waiting for Godot" — continually supported by his professors in the theatre department, including his TMA 536 advisor Megan Sanborn Jones — has been one of the most profound and shaping experiential learning opportunities of his academic career. 

"The educational benefits of this show have been astronomical," said Avila. "I learned so much about directing, about people, about myself, but I've also become introspective about what brings me joy and how I can live in a way that brings joy to others. I want to be able to create art that is meaningful and help others develop their creativity, collaboration, communication and empathy."

As Avila prepares to graduate and begin his work as a theatre educator — as well as continuing to develop as a director — he recognizes the invaluable impact this production experience will have on his future aspirations. 

"Every single day that I go to rehearsal, I'm just so grateful that BYU has created a platform for students to explore and learn at this level," said Avila. "I never thought I'd direct a full-length play before I graduated. The professionalism and the tools I've learned through this are something I'm hoping to take with me in every single avenue of my life, as a person, as a director, as a creator and as an educator."

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