The Winona State University Department of Theatre and Dance presented “The Moors” last week, Oct. 13-16. This was the first in-person performance on the DuFresne Performing Arts Center’s main stage, the Vivian Fusillo Theatre, since the fall of 2019.
Mae Mironer, third-year student and stage manager for the show, commented her thoughts on performing to a live audience again.
“I think there are a lot of theater people as a whole really excited to be back with a live audience,” Mironer said. “It’s been a full two years since we’ve actually had a live audience in our theater, and I think that [performing in person again] is huge.”
Megan Hinderaker, a third-year student who majors in creative digital media and minors in theater, helped with hair, makeup, wardrobe and publicity for the show. Hindraker echoed the excitement live performance brings.
“It’s so much better to perform in front of a live audience. The amount of energy that just comes with the presence of an audience, it brings new life into the show,” Hinderaker said.
The theatre and dance department made a grand return to live performance with the dark comedy, “The Moors,” written by Jen Silverman in 2017. Directed by Jim Williams, an associate faculty member in the department, this play is set in the harsh English moors of the 1840s. “The Moors” acts as a feminist response to the book “Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Brontë, according to Mironer. The show, primarily consisting of women, places said women in the position of power, which they fight over. The play features themes of identity, power, toxicity and isolation.
“The Moors” features an ensemble cast of six performers. Agatha (Christina Bisola Ojo), Huldey (Miranda Bondeson), Emilie (Darien Odetta Hilmerson), Majory/Mallory (Vix Weiland), The Mastiff (Aiden North) and A Moor-Hen (Louisa Schirmacher).
Credit for the amazing lighting and scene design goes to Peggy Sannerud, an associate professor in the theater and dance department. Williams commented on the set design’s effect in the story.
“For this setting we wanted to sorta have a silhouette as opposed to a three-dimensional to give that erriness and that starkness of what the moors actually look like,” Williams said.
“The Moors” is a cleverly written play with several elements tying together to create a cohesive and layered experience for the audience, one that may require multiple viewings or serious reflection to fully understand. This is not to say the play is snobbish in its complexity nor boring; in fact, the play does not take itself too seriously and does well to poke fun at itself. The same actress (Weiland) plays multiple maids, and there are no scene changes despite there being scenes in different rooms, and Hilmerson’s character makes sure to call attention to these things in a way played for laughs.
The show also does well to balance drama and comedy. Scenes may be thick with tension one moment, then bursting with laughter the next, or vice versa. An example of this comes from one scene that starts in a humorous manner with Bondenson’s character, Huldey, reading and roleplaying a scene from her journal with the maid, Weiland’s character. Then the scene switches to drama when the maid suggests and manipulates Huldey to murder her older sister, Agatha, played by Ojo. Near the end of the show we see again this switch between drama and comedy. Just after Huldey murders Agatha, she breaks into a song and dance routine. This may sound jarring, but the playwright, Silverman, does a great job to balance these two opposing feelings in a way that makes sense in the play.
The six week long road to performing live in front of an audience was not an entirely smooth one for the cast and crew. Mironer commented on some of the challenges that came up when preparing the show.
“There is a lot of stuff we have overcome as a cast and crew which has been really exciting and fun to be a part of,” Mironer said. “We haven’t had this show easy, but I definitely think it has been worth it because everybody in the cast and crew has been really amazing to work with.”
One of the biggest challenges of the show was the role of Hudley being recast two week before opening night.
“We had to recast one of our characters, Miranda [Bondenson] was not actually our original actress to play Huldey,” Mironer said. “She was originally my assistant stage manager, and about two week before the show she jumped into the role, and, like a legend, memorized all the lines and is as amazing and perfect as she is.”
Another challenge the show faced was that most of the performers were new to Winona State. Of the six, half were first-year students, and of the remaining three, only one performer had previous experience performing at Winona State. Even Mironer, the stage manager, who had experience with 10 performances, commented how “The Moors” was the first time she stage managed for a show that big on the Vivian Fusillo Theatre stage.
“Trying to make that transition from high school theater to college theater is a big difference, so it is a big learning experience,” Williams said. “This is educational theater. They are learning how to be an actor, technician or an arts administrator.”
Williams commented on how he is looking forward to working with the first-year students.
“We got a good group this year of freshmen who I’m looking forward to working with for the next four years,” Williams said. “Our program is great, we get a lot of support from the administration and from the community.”
Weiland, a second-year student, commented that because of her positive experience with performing in “The Moors”, she switched her major.
“I started this production with a different major and I switched to theatre halfway through,” Weiland said. “Because of the show, I switched to theatre.
Ojo, a fourth-year student majoring in mass communications, reflected on the group’s time preparing for and performing in “The Moors.”
“We’ve all together [the cast] overcome a lot of obstacles and a lot of struggles and such… and we all worked so hard together making sure we were all on the same page, so it is really nice to see us shine the way we do,” Ojo said.
Looking forward, on Nov. 12-14, the department of theatre and dance will show “All Together Now!”, a global celebration of local theatre by Musical Theatre International. The show will be a collage of many different broadway musical songs, according to Williams. On Jan. 29, 2022, there will be “24-Hour Theatre: No Script, No Sleep, No Problem”, an event that Mironer showed particular interest in. This show will be produced by the oldest club at Winona State, the Wenonah Players.