During his junior year at Indiana University, Ross Rebennack decided that his entertainment management major was not going to lead him to the career he wanted. Rebennack is outgoing and approachable, and he had always enjoyed music, theatre, and filming. He worried that a career in the arts may not be as stable as a management career. But, with the support of his parents and professors, he changed his major to theatre and drama. Rebennack was encouraged by Professor Murray McGibbon to audition for the IU play “I Didn’t Expect Such Humanity,” and Rebennack realized that acting was his passion.
“Performing music and theatre are closely related. So, one day I just said I’m going to try this acting thing out. You get to be in character the whole time and it’s one final product in the end,” Rebennack said.
He was interested in mafia and mob relationships and spent some of his free time reading related biographies. Rebennack found that most mobster movies or books explore the lives of 40-year-old men who were very refined in business. He was interested in a new perspective. Rebennack decided to mesh his two interests to write and direct a play that focused on a mob family after the loss of a mob boss.
Practice for the April 15 opening of “For the Family” was well underway when two actors dropped out before and after spring break. A student who was able to pick up the role seamlessly filled the first opening. During spring break, another actor dropped out and Rebennack had a hard time filling the spot.
“I ended up acting, directing, and writing. It was challenging to see it from all those points of view,” Rebennack said.
In April, Rebennack had the opportunity to meet and exchange contact information with actor and recipient of IU honorary doctoral degree Jonathan Banks. He hopes this connection willhelp him build his network when he heads to Los Angeles at the end of the summer to find an agent and a manager. Rebennack plans to adapt “For the Family” into a film script.
Seek out your professors—I mean, that's what we're there for. And if the door's closed, knock on it. And keep knocking on it until somebody answers.Murray McGibbon
Ever since Murray McGibbon was a sixteen-year-old boy, he has been directing and working on new creative projects. McGibbon is now an associate professor of acting and directing in the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. In Bloomington he has directed over two dozen plays, including a recent production of King Lear, where actors used the original pronunciations for the first time since 1606.
“Theater is a more extraordinary, powerful societal tool. Often I don’t think we understand that its value is not just in entertaining or educating people, but in edifying people and giving dignity to life as well. It helps us understand the human condition in a way that no other thing on this planet can,” McGibbon said.
McGibbon met Rebennack in his Directing 1 class. McGibbon thought that Rebennack had good ideas and suggested that he take Directing 2 with graduate students and direct a play before he graduated. When McGibbon noticed that Rebennack was not very well read in plays, he suggested that he come to office hours and they would find plays for him to direct. When he arrived, he told McGibbon that he wanted to write his own play. It is unusual for directing students to write plays, as students who write plays are generally studying to be playwrights and not directors.
“I think it was his unusual artistic approach, the fact that he’s an independent thinker, the fact that he thoroughly believes in himself, and the fact that he will listen to an instructor because he wants to learn more and he feels that he’s got something to learn,” McGibbon said.
McGibbon believes that theatre is a difficult profession because it requires continuously doing new things, as audiences will become bored if they are not challenged. He says that audiences may be forgiving in the beginning, but will eventually look for something new with another entertainer. Rebennack continued to ask for McGibbon’s advice and was interested in improving, something McGibbon says is important for all students.
“Seek out your professors—I mean, that’s what we’re there for. And if the door’s closed, knock on it. And keep knocking on it until somebody answers,” McGibbon said.