Dave Roland, litigation director and co-founder of the Freedom Center of Missouri, has gone from the courtroom to the director’s chair with “Our Town,” which opens 7 p.m. Friday at Presser Performing Arts Center. This is his first foray into directing a show for Presser. He has previously acted in a number of Presser productions, including “Into the Woods,” “Godspell” and “Annie.”
“When we were looking for a play to perform this spring, I raised the possibility of ‘Our Town,’ because it’s a play that I have loved ever since I was in high school,” he said. “Everyone said, ‘Oh, that’s great. Who is going to direct it?’ and everyone just kind of looked at me.”
“Our Town” tells the story of the fictional American town, Grover’s Corners, over a 12-year period at the start of the 20th century. Each act looks at a different aspect of life in the town — daily life, love and marriage and death and eternity. Roland said the topics presented in the play are timeless. The show will only be performed this weekend with 7 p.m. showings Friday and Saturday and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
“The play is just an incredible way to reflect on what it means to be human. It’s a very simple play in many ways,” he said.
There are 16 named characters, with a stage manager character taking a main role. While the play will be on the main stage at Presser, the feel of the play will make it seem like it is in the Stribling Black Box Theater.
“I am extremely proud of the performances that we have got. I think this is the kind of thing people are going to be talking about for years,” Roland said. “It is a very moving play… so I really hope people will come and experience it.”
Roland developed a minimalist stage setting and encouraged the performers to enrich the scenes through pantomime and audience interaction. “It encourages the audience to think deeply about this shared human experience. … That’s one of the things I wanted to bring to Mexico. I wanted folks to be able to experience the beauty of this play and its message,” he said.
The work of a first-time director was a learning experience. Directors have to coach the actors, make arrangements for the sets, costumes and rehearsal scheduling, among other tasks. Roland said it was a lot more work than he expected. “I wasn’t quite prepared for that coming in. Going forward I’ll be a lot better prepared to handle a lot of those issues,” Roland said.
Being a director and also a lawyer in and out of courtrooms every day is a balancing act, he said. It is something he would not be able to do without the support of his wife, Jenifer, who is the executive director and other co-founder of the Freedom Center. Roland spends much of his time working on public interest cases, and he uses acting and now directing at Presser as a creative outlet, he said.
“It’s something I’ve always loved both, you know, being on stage and singing as part of groups, so I’ve been very grateful that Mexico has such a wonderful performing arts community there at Presser that I’ve been able to plug into,” he said.