Daniel Brody, ‘22, ‘23G, first came to Lehigh a shy student with no plans of pursuing theater. Now, he’s directing the first main-stage show of the spring 2023 semester and his third major directorial project.
The show, “Silent Sky,” is the culminating project of Brody’s five-year career at Lehigh. It is set to open on Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Diamond Theater and will run until March 4.
Written by playwright Lauren Gunderson in 2015, the show follows the true story of 19th century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who explores a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, Brody said.
The cast is composed of five students: Virginia McMahon, ‘24, Sasha Rizika, ‘25, Sophie Collins,‘23, Emily Soto, ‘26, and Vaughan Kramer, ‘23.
Brody is an Eckardt scholar and a member of the last graduating cohort of the President’s Scholarship program, a scholarship that provides undergraduates with a fifth year of study free of tuition. As an undergrad, Brody majored in theater and psychology. In his fifth year, he is now pursuing his graduate degree in theater.
Brody directed two main-stage performances during his undergraduate career: “Through the Window” and “The Roles We Play.”
Despite his many theater endeavors, Brody said he was not always set on pursuing theater studies in college. Though involved in theater during high school, Brody describes himself as a shy person — and was an even more intimidated first-year student.
The bashful freshman found himself accidentally enrolled in a theater class: Professor Will Lowry’s “Geek Theater” course.
Still unsure of how he fit into the world of performance art, Brody said the class piqued his curiosity.
Brody recalled a memorable experience of being in a silent elevator ride with Lowry four years ago.
“As we were leaving, he said something like, ‘Oh, I think you should take more theater classes,’” Brody said.
Brody said Lowry’s comment was the “little bit” of encouragement he needed to further his study. He went on to take an acting class the following semester, where he consequently met his professor and current mentor, Augustine “Gus” Ripa.
Ripa, the founding chairperson of the theater department, has been teaching and directing plays at Lehigh for over 40 years.
Having first met Brody in his beginners’ acting class, Ripa said he could immediately see that Brody had an inherent and innate understanding of how literature expresses itself on stage.
“I’ll never forget a particular acting scene Daniel (Brody) did,” Ripa said. “He and a fellow student did a scene from a very abstract and difficult play by Tom Stoppard, called ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.’ It’s a very metaphysical, existentially complex play, and it is interpretively impossibly difficult to penetrate. They did that scene with opening night performance quality — and you don’t see that in an acting class.”
Ripa said this was his first “wow” moment with Brody, and there has not been a shortage of those moments since.
Along with mentoring Brody, Ripa is also responsible for playing matchmaker for one of Brody’s closest friends and theatrical creative partner at Lehigh, Leah Canel, ‘21, ‘22G.
Canel, also an Eckardt scholar and President’s Scholarship recepient, faced the daunting task of restarting her senior thesis from scratch due to COVID-19 complications and difficulties obtaining the theatrical rights to her initial show.
Ripa recommended Canel reach out to Brody for help, whom she had never met outside of class before.
The two hit it off and undertook a project neither of them anticipated, Brody and Canel said.
“We always joke about this,” Canel said. “At first, we were strangers. Then, we were co-partners on this project, and then there was a certain point in the project when Daniel looked at me and was like, ‘Holy smokes, we are best friends.’”
Brody said the project underwent many developments that made it the most intensive research project he’s been a part of. The project started with Brody and Canel’s decision to co-write the show, then co-act in it, then have Brody direct it. Later, they were granted the opportunity to professionally film and record the show by the theater department.
Canel said she credits the success of her thesis project to Brody’s emotional, intelligent and sensitive understanding of the minds of the cast, crew and audience.
The show, “Through the Window,” became Brody’s main stage directorial debut and kickstarted his legacy at Lehigh’s Diamond Theater. He was then given the opportunity to direct another show, “The Roles We Play,” as his senior thesis during the spring 2022 semester.
Though currently preoccupied with the production of “Silent Sky,” Brody said he still has his post-Lehigh life on his mind.
Brody is unsure if he will continue his education in directing and receive his master’s degree, enter the acting world, or get an internship at a theater. There is one thing, however, of which he is sure.
“The dream profession would be to be able to do a little bit of everything,” Brody said. “I’m interested in acting, and I’m interested in directing, and I’d be interested in writing or voice acting, also. I think if I was in one position my entire life — if I was just a director — I would feel stagnant.”
Reflecting on his time at Lehigh, and thinking about his future post-graduation, his advice to anyone is: if something is scary, do it.
“The things that scare us psychologically scare us for a reason, and it’s because we feel close to it but we’re afraid of failing,” Brody said. “But what’s a little failure done to anyone?”
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