Cambria Herrera sits back in her chair. Listening, thinking. Her arms and legs are crossed as she watches the scene in front of her unfold, pauses and all. Her eyes move from actor to actor, then stare out into the rehearsal room. Every once in a while, a slight smile appears on her face, then fades before reappearing.
It’s five weeks into rehearsals for David Auburn’s Proof, last fall’s production at Valley Repertory Theatre in Newberg, Ore. Tonight is the first night the four actors are off-book – no scripts in hand – and such a transition inevitably means some pauses, some “ummmms,” some exasperated laughs and calls for “line.”
The scene reaches its end. Herrera stretches her arms out to the ceiling. “Great!” she says, and sits up straight. “How did you guys feel about it?”
They answer, laughing, groaning. Herrera nods in agreement, leans forward in her chair and asks questions. “How did that go for you guys? The last bit?” “Did you feel good sitting there for that long?”
They’re good questions, and the actors know it. “She’s never dismissive, never impatient,” says Nicole Greene, one of the four actors Herrera directed in Proof. “She’s creative, she’s highly intelligent, and most of all, she’s deeply talented.”
She’s also 20 years old.
Already, Herrera’s resume lists a number of directing projects and productions, diverse in their scope and impressive in their achievement. She’s assistant directed a George Fox University musical, interned at Portland’s Profile Theatre, directed two George Fox second-stage productions – and the list goes on.
Directing, however, is a dream Herrera discovered not that long ago.
“I went back and forth as a kid. I wanted to be an artist, but I was really bad at art,” she says, laughing. She holds a mug of tea in both hands and wears a cozy green sweatshirt, looking on this cloudy Friday morning much like she does at rehearsals: relaxed, comfortable.
“Once I got into high school, I had a lot of leadership roles, and then I never really got a lead role in high school,” Herrera says. “So I often was just watching and had to kinda think, ‘Why do I do this?’ And then I started thinking, ‘I can learn so much from the director.’”
But her first acting class at George Fox changed all that.
“Acting One just felt so meaningful. I think that’s the best way to describe it,” she says. “It just felt like my purpose was being fulfilled, and it felt like I was learning so much built on the knowledge I already knew.”
As a part of theatre, her new major, Herrera took a directing class, which further shaped her pursuit of theatre. “I just felt that the way I think critically matched up really well with the assignments we were doing and the stuff we were reading,” she recalls. Eventually, this led her to an important question for Rhett Luedtke, her directing professor.
“I asked him, ‘What if I wanted to do this for the rest of my life? What would I do?’”
Luedtke offered a variety of practical suggestions, including participating in directing competitions, taking advantage of opportunities to direct second-stage productions at George Fox, and “the ultimate” option of applying to direct a main-stage production during her senior year – an option that Herrera has chosen to pursue. She will direct The Balkan Women this spring – the first student-directed main-stage show at George Fox since 2008.
Luedtke recognizes in Herrera an innate skill and talent for the directing process. “She has the ability to see beneath the text to the deeper truths of each moment on stage,” he says, “and she has the ability to help her actors see those truths and to bring them to life to create compelling theatre.”
Proof marked Herrera’s first time bringing these truths to life in a professional setting. At rehearsals, however, there is no sense of apprehension or hesitation in Herrera’s manner. She gives her actors hugs; she sits on counters, stools, chairs, the floor. “She makes the rehearsal a safe space,” says Alanna Archibald, one of the Proof cast members.
For her part, Herrera is recognizing the various challenges of directing professionally while still being a student.
“It’s different in that all the actors are more experienced, so that makes it a bit more smooth sailing,” she says. “But it’s also more intimidating because I have less experience at directing than they do at acting. So I doubt a lot of times that they might trust me, you know?” She pauses as she taps her fingers against her mug. “But I try to look past that and think, ‘It’ll be fine.’”
Herrera hopes to continue her professional and academic directing experiences upon graduation, through options like internships, grad school, or assistant directing positions with theatres that are “specifically working to engage under-represented communities in the area or engage social issues that are important to me or important to their community,” she says.
For now, however, Herrera is still finding ways to pursue her passion.
“I had to take initiative,” she says, “to create opportunities for myself to do what I love to do. And I did that because I know I’m not happy … unless I’m doing what I love to do, directing. Because that’s what gives me life.”