Live, in-person theatre returns for Mary Moody Northen Theatre with latest production


Gracie Watt / Hilltop Views

The Mary Moody Northen Theatre’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was directed by Robert Tolaro. The show ran from the weekend of Sept. 23 to the weekend of Oct. 3.

As the main lights dimmed, dancers flittered from all directions onto the stage with colorful lights accenting their costumes, hair and props. Ethereal music poured from the surrounding speakers as they danced in unison, keeping the audience in awe of what was before them. 

Mary Modern Northen Theatre (MMNT) started off its season on Sept. 23 with William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Robert Tolaro. It is the first production in over a year to be held in the auditorium due to COVID-19. 

“My parents hadn’t seen me perform in person since 2019 and I’ve grown so much, so I was really excited,” senior acting major Mia Carter said. “I cried, but in a good way. Everyone gets along so well, so it’s basically two hours of a bunch of best friends hanging out and acting their hearts out.”

Due to COVID-19, the department is still following many strict guidelines and protocols. Though actors have to continue to wear masks during performances and rehearsals, blocking, the way in which actors move around the stage, no longer has to be socially distanced, according to new equity rules. Tolaro says the department observed other theatres and their protocols for masking and vaccinations.

“All audience members do have to wear a mask and be fully vaccinated,” Tolaro said. “It’s really nice to be able to block normally now, though. We don’t have to worry about measuring out the distance between each actor [in] every scene.”

The romantic comedy is set in Greece in the ’50s and has a total of 20 cast members. The department tries to do at least one classic play a year to give students the chance to work with period pieces. 

“Something about acting in Shakespeare plays is you have to be so much more specific in what and how you’re saying things because most audiences don’t understand it at first,” senior acting major Andrew Mueller said. “It’s a great acting exercise. I have to rely on my own actions and can’t use the words to push me.”

Most of the costumes were designed and created from scratch by costume designer Alexander Leigh. Similar to shows from last year, the actors’ costumes are equipped with a face mask. These masks match the outfit made for a character. 

“Everything goes together so cohesively and the costumes really transport the audience into this fairy world,” Mueller said. “Alexander did a great job. She had a specific vision for the characters, and her vision actually helped me figure out who I was as the character. It’s very collaborative.”

For each production, the program invites two equity guest artists who participate in the show alongside students. This opportunity is given due to the department’s involvement with the Actor’s Equity Association. A guest production stage manager was hired as well and surveyed the student stage managers during rehearsals and shows. 

“Working with equity actors is so cool,” Carter said. “The other day I was talking to one of them and they were giving me a bunch of advice. Of course, you can always talk to your professors about those sorts of things, but it’s very different talking to someone who’s actually in the industry. It’s a great asset.”

Along with hiring professionals, the department welcomes back alumni to participate in productions as well. For this show, alumni Jacob Foster designed the scenery. The set is simple, with lots of open space and most of the emphasis on costume design. 

“We love inviting alumni here because they can talk to students about what [the profession] is like out there in the real world,” Tolaro said. “They get a first perspective. We have so many students now who are involved in Broadway and the film industry and when they can, they come and share experiences.” 

MMNT’s auditorium is “theater-in-the-round,” which is a stage placed in the center with audience members circled around at close proximity to the actors. With this, student actors who experience productions at MMNT are able to gain experience with different types of staging.

“I’ve always heard that if you can master theatre-in-the-round, then you can do any type of theatre,” Mueller said. “You can’t hide. You have to always be acting when you’re on stage. In the round, you can feel the energy of where the audience is in the moment and use that to push their experience further.”

As for the rest of the semester, their second show, “The Book Club Play,” is set to open in November. Overall, the actors said they love being back to performing in-person and can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store. 

“We did Zoom theatre for almost two years,” Carter said. “In comparison, on Zoom, you do a huge show and then log off and sit there in the dark. I think finally having an in-person audience is an insane difference. Actors really do feed off them. Whenever we know that they’re having a good time, it just pushes us to keep going and makes us feel validated.”