UMass Theatre Guild continues to thrive during remote semester

“Guild survived a pandemic once, and we can do it again”

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Collegian File Photo

By Patrick Nie, Collegian Contributor

Against all odds, the University of Massachusetts’ oldest registered student organization, the UMass Theater Guild, has remained active during the Fall 2020 semester, with fully remote rehearsals and a virtual production in the works.

The Theatre Guild is the University’s thespian organization, aiming to “provide a practical learning environment committed to facilitating completely student-run, theater-oriented experiences for UMass (and Five-College) students and community members,” according to its official website.

Kayla Marshall, a senior theater major and the group’s current chairperson, said planning for the semester came with its fair share of challenges, especially with constant adjustments being made to UMass’ reopening plan.

“We made one plan, then UMass changed their reopening plan so we had to completely scrap everything and restart,” she said.

Despite initial planning setbacks, Guild is recruiting new members, rehearses four to five times a week and has finished casting its first production of the semester—a radio play version of the Shakespearean romantic comedy, “Twelfth Night.” The production is set to be released on a streaming service like Spotify so listeners can enjoy it on the go.

Kit Newell, a recent UMass theater graduate and Guild actor, is starring in “Twelfth Night” as protagonists Viola and Sebastian.

“Twelfth Night is about a pair of twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck and believe each other dead. Viola disguises herself as a man to start a new life for herself in the dysfunctional land of Illyria and hijinks involving love triangles, mistaken identities and yellow stockings ensue,” Newell said.

Though plans for this semester are in stark contrast to a normal academic year’s, the actors and crew remain excited, with some even viewing the circumstances as a specialized learning experience.

“Guild normally stages live theatre performances but this project is a radio play/podcast production,” Newell said. “As someone who’s been eager to delve into voice work, I see this semester as a valuable opportunity to add voice acting to my skill set.”

In spite of the myriad of challenges posed by following COVID-19 safety guidelines and accommodating members’ remote learning schedules, Guild’s mission remains unchanged.

“Guild is a place to come back to your theatre roots or join at any point,” said Kirsten Diefenbach, a senior English major who serves as the RSO’s treasurer this year. “Before this, I hadn’t even done theatre, so I had no experience, but it’s a really welcoming environment.”

“We love getting to make theatre with people regardless of if you’ve been doing theatre your whole life or if you’ve never set foot inside a theatre building. We love having new people. We love showing you what we do. We love teaching you what we do,” Marshall said.

“This semester is a little funky,” Marshall continued. Referring to Guild’s more than a century of existence, she added, “but Guild survived a pandemic once, and we can do it again.”

More information regarding the UMass Theatre Guild’s Fall 2020 plans can be found on their website.

Patrick Nie can be reached at [email protected]