Triple-threat turns director

Ellie Bensinger ’09 glides through the sea of teenage flight attendants and therapists donning their respective costumes and getting in character at the cozy Knightbridge Theatre in Silver Lake.  For once, she is not quelling her own pre-show jitters, but rather fielding last-minute questions, handling wardrobe crises and offering support to her actors. 

In addition to being an actress, singer and dancer, Bensinger has recently donned a director’s cap for the Silver Lake Theatre Company. 

Theatre Company director Broderick Miller approached Bensinger this summer about directing.  She accepted eagerly, she said, and has seen the cast through weeks of rehearsals all the way to opening night Nov. 30.  The short play, entitled “Turbulence,” ran the weekend of the 30th and last weekend.

The play was not only directed by a teenager, but written by a 16 year-old girl at the company and performed by children and teenagers.  It has an “intense” plot, Bensinger said, centered around a woman recovering from an airplane crash in which she lost her fiancé.

“It’s scary because you hope you know what you’re doing, and hope it works,” Bensinger said.  “The playwright has entrusted her script to you, and you have to do it justice.”

Bensinger has years of experience in the theatre to draw from: she has been performing with the Silver Lake Theatre Company for the past eight years. 

She has also acted in every musical the school has performed since she was in seventh grade, she dances in the Advanced Dance II Company and sings. 

However, directing is an entirely new field, and she feels it has truly broadened her perspective as a performer.

“Having directed, I can really see how important it is as an actor to stay focused in every scene and to stay in character,” she said.

Costuming is yet another area of performance Bensinger experiments with.  Her mother was the costume designer for “Turbulence,” and Bensinger is well known among the class of 2009 for her elaborate and creative costumes on theme days. This year, her Spirit Day inspiration was found in a can of soda: she created a life-sized Sprite can that read Spirit and had a paw-print in place of the logo.     

 “Turbulence” rehearsed three times a week.  Before every rehearsal, Bensinger would review the upcoming scenes, work out blocking and lay out the plan for the day.   

“I’ve really had to learn to manage my time.  It works — as long as I use my frees, and drink lots of coffee,” she said.

Bensinger believes her experiences at Harvard-Westlake gave her a strong foundation not only as an actress, but from which to build her directing skills.

“At school, I really learned how to put on a logistically and technically good show.  Harvard-Westlake has given me a lot of tools,” she said.

Though she is not mapping out her career as a director just yet, Bensinger is absolutely certain of one aspect of her future.

“I for sure want to be involved with theatre,” she said.

At the end of months of rehearsal, “when you ask the cast to run the scene for the first time, and it really starts to come together, it’s totally worth it,” she said.         

Dancing with the cast in the wings as the audience filed in and even dealing with some pre-show theatre blasphemy (a certain young man yelled Macbeth right before show time — an old tradition that is said to bring bad luck to a performance) Bensinger handled every challenge sent her way with the humor and guidance only a fellow teen can offer.

“Does anyone have some salt?” she joked, dragging the boy outside to shake off any danger to the rest of the cast. 

As the actors assembled to go onstage, Bensinger smiled and looked on proudly.

“She really got the job done,” Wil Crary said, who played the therapist.  “If there was anything, I’d have to say it was that she was too nice,” he laughed.  “Just kidding.  She was great.”     

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