Senior theater major Daniel “D.J.” Littell is a man of many talents. A member of Mad Cow Improv since his first year, he has acted in many plays, including “The Memorandum” in 2009 and “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” last semester. Littell has even dabbled in playwriting and will perform his autobiographical one act play, “Rice,” tomorrow, March 30 at 8 p.m. in Gibble Auditorium.
When he attended Hempfield High School, Littell acted in musicals and sang in the Hempfield Singers Chorus. It was during his senior year of high school that he decided to major in theater. “I performed a lot of musicals in high school, and studied the piano for a while, and decided that I liked theater a little bit more,” Littell said.
Another big part of his decision was seeing several plays at Elizabethtown College, which demonstrated the versatility of the Tempest Theatre. “I came and saw the production of two shows,” Littell stated. “The musical, ‘Hair’ and ‘The Diary of Anne Frank,’ and I just loved the black box theater. I loved the size of it. I loved the intimacy. I loved that the actors got to really look into [the audience’s] eyes. It was a very unique experience.”
While Littell was accepted at several other colleges, including Arcadia University and Susquehanna University, what attracted him to Etown was “the small size and intimacy” of the College. “I felt comfortable with all the teachers,” Littell said. “They really treated me like I was special, and I liked that.” As a creative writing minor, Littell found that, outside of his theater classes, he enjoyed his English classes the most. “I think they all choose really strong works, and I’ve really enjoyed reading them,” Littell stated.
It was during his first year at the College that Littell joined Mad Cow. Although he had a little bit of exposure to improvisation through summer acting classes, Littell always had a taste for improv comedy throughout his life. “As I grew up, I watched ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway,’” Littell explained. “For some reason, I just loved improv comedy and was drawn to it for some reason that I can’t quite describe.”
Through his time in Mad Cow, Littell found that for improvisation to be successful, it is vital that the actor practice a lot and learn to work in a team. “One thing that separates improv from other types of comedy is that you’re in a group, so you have to work as a team,” Littell said. “Getting that group mentality takes a while to develop. It takes quite a lot of practice.”
Besides improvisation, Littell has also found educational experiences in challenging himself as an actor and director. While he prefers comedic characters, Littell began experimenting with more dramatic roles this year and found it rewarding. Out of all the theater classes he has taken, Littell found that his directing class challenged him the most. “I had no experience in directing before, so I found it very interesting. I had taken acting classes before and that was kind of standard,” Littell explained. “But directing was a new, fresh practice for me.”
This year, for his senior project, Littell wrote a one act, one man play entitled “Rice.” It is an autobiographical monologue, stringing together events in Littell’s life from when he was in seventh to twelfth grade. The way this particular play works, Littell plays himself and talks directly to the audience. “I am speaking in past tense, recalling memories and stuff like that,” Littell said. “I chose to tell stories as opposed to act out scenes. So it’s more like a storytelling show.”
Littell experimented with playwriting before writing “Rice.” Last spring, he wrote a 10-minute play for two actors entitled “Frenetic Ballet.” The first actor played a man trying to sell a gun on a street. The second actor played multiple characters to whom the man would try to sell the guns. As the play went on, the second actor came up with more and more comedic reasons not to buy the gun.
Looking back on his experiences from the last four years, Littell believes that his first year, after joining Mad Cow, was one of his favorites. After auditioning and getting in, he met a lot of people who greatly influenced him.
“At that point, there were four senior guys that I really enjoyed hanging out with,” Littell said. “I considered them to be like mentors, so that entire year was great.”
After graduating, Littell plans to get a job and focus on his writing. Short-term, he wants to earn enough money to move out of his parents’ house and get a place of his own. Then, he can focus on his long-term goal: to be an entertainer.