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May 14, 2017

UMass Theatre Guild preps for eclectic spring season

Graphic: Jack Duff/UMass Theatre Guild

(Graphic: Jack Duff/UMass Theatre Guild)

The University of Massachusetts Theatre Guild has begun preparations for what promises to be an eclectic and eventful spring 2016 season. This semester, the registered student organization will put on a two-act play, A.R. Gurney’s “The Wayside Motor Inn,” and a musical revue.

Students from the Five Colleges and members of the greater Pioneer Valley community are all welcome to participate. Those interested in “The Wayside Motor Inn” may join a Facebook event for a reminder of the audition times. A corresponding Facebook event for the musical revue auditions is forthcoming. Additional information and announcements from the Theatre Guild can be found on its Tumblr and public Facebook group.

“The Wayside Motor Inn” – which opened off Broadway in 1977 – features a 10-character ensemble and spans five separate subplots that only rarely intersect. The play’s action unfolds in a single Boston motel room that actually represents five distinct rooms simultaneously.

“It’s a series of five different groups of people – like a father and son, or a young college couple,” said Natalie Slabczynski, UMass sophomore and publicity coordinator for the UMass Theatre Guild. “There are only two instances of actual interaction between (them).”

Jack Duff, a UMass sophomore, and Hallie Waletzko, a Smith College sophomore, are co-directing “The Wayside Motor Inn.” Duff proposed the idea of producing the play at the Theatre Guild’s show voting meeting near the end of last semester.

Slabczynski recalled how Duff described Gurney’s work to her in a private message: “(It) may take place in a vibrant, nostalgic 1977 – but in a Wes Anderson-meets-your-favorite-old-song-that-makes-you-cry sort of way, it still reveals heartfelt and raw emotion,” he wrote.

Auditions for “The Wayside Motor Inn” will be held in Bartlett 65 on Friday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 30 at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. Callbacks will be held in the same place Sunday, Jan. 31 at a time to be determined.

“The Wayside Motor Inn” will open Thursday, March 31 at 7 p.m. in Bowker Auditorium, with additional performances on Friday, April 1 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 2 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The Theatre Guild’s musical revue is currently in development. The show is not a conventional musical, but rather an assorted collection of musical theatre and dance numbers tailored to a specific cast. Slabczynski said since the group has never previously worked with this particular format, crafting the revue will be a more collaborative endeavor.

“The actors and singers can all bring what they want to bring to the table,” Slabczynski said. “It’s not all just the producer and E-Board coming up with it. The director has ideas, everyone has (ideas). We’re taking all ideas because it’s such a new thing. There’s a lot still open and we welcome suggestions.”

Auditions for the musical revue will be held in Bartlett 65 the following weekend – on Friday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 6 at 12 p.m. and 7 p.m. Callbacks are scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 7 at a time also to be decided.

Amanda Urquhart – the UMass junior last seen belting to the back row of Bowker Auditorium as Vivienne in the Guild’s rendition of “Legally Blonde: The Musical” – is directing the revue. The uniquely constructed show will debut on Friday, April 15, with additional performances on April 16. Specific times and location have yet to be finalized.

The revue’s flexible style fits in with a series of changes that have taken place recently within the Theatre Guild. Last spring, the organization altered its constitution to scale back its per-semester design from two complete shows to a “one and a half show model” consisting of a larger and smaller production. This shift still leaves plenty of responsibility on the shoulders of the Guild’s artistic team (A-Team), which oversees scenic design, lighting, costumes, makeup and props, among other major concerns. Slabczynski said, however, that the transition would allow for some “wiggle room” in the schedule, “a time to breathe” in between each creative process.

Part of Slabczynski’s plan for the spring involves reaching out to other groups to round out the Guild’s semesterly Coffeehouse, a freeform open mic-esque event at which anyone can perform.

“We’re an isolated club, we don’t have a lot of interaction with other clubs, so I’m making it my work, I’m making it my goal to get a branch out to other clubs,” she said. “It can be intimidating – theatre – so opening it up and being more transparent will probably help Guild membership.”

This edition of the Coffeehouse is “murder mystery” themed and slated for late April.

As the UMass Theatre Guild moves forward with its new vision, Slabczynski hopes to further extend the group’s outreach. One of the main missions for the Guild’s future, she says, is to “open ourselves up to the community.”

Nathan Frontiero can be reached at and followed on Twitter @NathanFrontiero.

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