“It’s our mission to create for the community,” says Upper School Theater Director David Dvorscak. Dvorscak speaks about the CDS theater program, which he has directed for the last sixteen years, with vision, empathy, and passion. His office brims with creativity and support, and serves as a hub for students to gather between classes or during free periods, a place of community where students feel free and safe to express themselves through their art. It’s a physical representation of what Dvorscak has been successfully building since he joined the CDS faculty in 2007: a student-led program built around authenticity, courage, and connection.
Most high school performing arts students become familiar with old Broadway classics and more traditional plays and musicals. They perform The Sound of Music, The Music Man, The Diary of Anne Frank, theater staples that Dvorscak knows are an important part of the education he wants to provide. But these plays are also part of theater’s past. Dvorscak wants CDS thespians to help build theater’s future. And he’s doing so by constantly saying ‘yes.’ If his students want to try something in rehearsal they’ve never seen before, Dvorscak says, ‘yes.’ If they want to put on a play written by a fellow student, Dvorscak says, ‘yes.’ And if they want to parody lyrics of popular modern musical numbers or stage a production about pirates and Communists, Dvorscak says, ‘yes.’
“I like the opportunity it gives them to understand how to build stuff,” Dvorscak says. “And also so they can feel that they’re part of actually moving theater into the future, rather than just retreading the past.”
Dvorscak offers opportunities at every level of production: playwriting, lighting, theater tech, stage combat. If his students want to direct their own plays, he helps them achieve that goal. If they want to try their hand at costume design, Dvorscak makes it happen. In this way, CDS performing arts students aren’t just learning about all the complex working parts of a production, they’re turning those wheels themselves. Though audiences will find CDS thespians across divisions performing plays like Sense and Sensibility, Aladdin, and Annie, many of the plays Dvorscak has put on in the Upper School within the past few years have been student written: Peas for Dinner, Red Threading, Family Portrait, A Dance for St. Vitus, and Time Enough. 2022 saw his one-act class producing, for the first time, a play written by an alumna, Scheherezade, Again. Innovative, challenging, and deeply complex, Scheherezade, Again is a high-concept script about grief, relationships, and all the different realities simmering beneath the surface of our choices.
Written by Sophia Pereda-Echeverry (’21), the play’s ensemble of six speaking roles all represent the same two main characters, acting out multiple scenarios in multiple parallel universes. Dvorscak’s students aren’t intimidated by this level of complexity. Rather, it excites them. Before they could even completely understand the material, they knew they wanted to take Scheherazade, Again to the annual North Carolina Theater Conference (NCTC). The conference is a state-wide competition, but Dvorscak and his students prefer to think of it as both a festival and a dress rehearsal. For Dvorscak and his students, their most important performance is the one they do for Carolina Day’s community. When they offer the gift of their play to the CDS community, they want to be at their best. Anything that doesn’t work at NCTC gets altered or polished before the final performance in front of their friends, family, and teachers.
This perspective feels even more important now, after global performing arts have been hit with some of the hardest years the industry has ever known. The challenges presented to the performing arts have been intimidating, but to Dvorscak they were merely an opportunity. They forced him and his students to ask themselves what theater could be without the four walls surrounding an auditorium, without an in-person audience, without any speaking roles. What they found by asking these questions was a form of resilience through experimentation: movement-focused virtual theater, outdoor interactive plays where sections of the audience are led to different stages by students in character, plays made up entirely of 26 different monologues. CDS thespians chose to innovate, rather than abandon their craft, and these innovations will serve the program well into the future. Dvorscak knows it will serve his students well, too, as they forge ahead into whatever unique futures await them.
“The main thing I hope [the students] get is that putting yourself in service to something bigger helps you to define yourself and how you want to be, how you want to operate in the universe,” says Dvorscak. “So making the commitment to this group… it doesn’t matter if you’re never going to be paid to be an actor in your life after this. What matters is that you have understood how to put yourself into service for something greater than yourself. I think, if nothing else, I hope that students get that out of their exposure to theater here.”