Oakmont senior directs “The Language Archive”

School’s annual tradition puts student in charge of play
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Aspiring director Ryan Murphy may be about the same age as his actors, but he has no qualms ordering them around. And his actors listen.

When he tells them to say their lines louder in rehearsals for “The Language Archive,” they do. When he encourages them to be more playful, they’re eager to please.

Maybe it’s because Murphy is self-assured in his directing abilities and he’s earned the respect of his eight-person cast. He does, after all, have about a dozen years worth of performing arts experience.

Murphy, 17, was selected to lead the annual student-directed play at Oakmont High School. He was one of three students who submitted a director’s proposal outlining his vision and budget, said drama teacher Samantha Howard.

“He was selected because he was extremely qualified to direct this particular show and really any one of our productions,” Howard said.

The drama department’s annual tradition started eight years ago and is aimed at giving talented and self-directed students an opportunity to explore this leadership position. The production isn’t limited to seniors.

“Since that first production of ‘Assassins,’ we’ve had students explore nearly every genre from musicals to comedies to slightly more avant garde works,” Howard said.

Murphy oversees the cast, two stage managers, a props master and the class designated to build the set.

During Wednesday’s rehearsal, actors performed a scene from act II of the “The Language Archive,” which tells the story of a linguist named George tasked with archiving languages and cultures on the verge of extinction.

This comedy explores what happens when a professional linguist can’t find the words to express his own emotions — his wife leaves him and his admiring assistant turns speechless in his presence.

The play was written by Julia Cho, who has also penned episodes of “Fringe” and “Big Love.” The show opened in 2010 and won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which honors plays written by women in English.

Murphy saw the play last year with his classmates at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and fell in love with the story.

“Of course, I put my own spin on it,” Murphy said.

He drew out thematic elements that symbolize barriers to communication, for instance placing books onstage to serve as an obstacle for actors to work around.

During Wednesday’s rehearsal, Murphy directed junior Rachel Wendt in a scene with senior Mandy Emigh, who plays George’s assistant Emma.

“I know it feels ridiculous, but I need you to be playful ... I just want to get you to the next level,” Murphy told Wendt. “Let that energy drive your next line.”

Wendt clapped her hands and squealed before each line to evoke excitement in her words.

“Love makes warriors of all of us,” she said, stamping her foot on the ground.

The trio brainstormed ideas to give the scene more punch, such as having Emigh stand on the table in the middle of the stage. But then the students were reminded who’s ultimately in charge.

“You’re not allowed to stand on the table because Ms. Howard said no,” Murphy said.

Besides some minor guidance from Howard, the young director put his touches on much of the play, including his favorite part when Emma realizes her love for George.

“Can we do that (scene) one more time?” Murphy asked his cast. “Actually, we’re going to do that like five more times.”

He urged his actors to remember the most exciting time of their lives and tap into that emotion. “Close your eyes and imagine that moment,” Murphy said. “Sorry it’s awkward, but we’re going to do it.”

Murphy joined Oakmont’s drama program as a freshman. He also was involved with Magic Circle Theatre as a young performer. He said he is beginning to enjoy operating behind the scenes better than acting.

“It’s feels nice (being in charge),” Murphy said. “I like being able to call the shots and I like to look at the play from all angles. … Now, it’s my turn to take the baton.”

Sena Christian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.


Oakmont High School presents “The Language Archive”
7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays Feb. 23 to March 3
Where: Oakmont High School theater, 1710 Cirby Way in Roseville
Cost: $6 online, $8 at the door
Info: Purchase tickets at