UMass Theatre Guild is ready to return to the stage

This season’s productions are ‘Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery’ and ‘Falsettos’

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Kami Nguyen, Collegian Correspondent

This semester, the 115-year-old University of Massachusetts Theatre Guild will be presenting their first in-person season since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their mainstage play “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” by Ken Ludwig, will run from Nov. 18 through Nov. 20 at Bowker Auditorium. Their alternate-space musical is William Finn and James Lapine’s “Falsettos,” which will run from Dec. 2 through Dec. 4 in the new Student Union Black Box Theatre.

Last year the Guild virtually produced two radio plays. This year they are hoping to conduct a soft opening with their return to live theatre.

This season is also an exciting one because of the amount of new people who joined the Guild. With both the freshmen and sophomore classes newly coming to campus and joining RSOs for the first time, about 90 percent of members this semester are new.

Tess Beckwith, a senior theater and political science major and co-chair of the Guild, said, “It’s kind of a fun fresh start, which is really refreshing, I think. It makes me very hopeful that we had such a huge turnout for auditions and applications. [It] makes me very hopeful about when I graduate in the spring that this will all work out and be in good hands.”

The Guild is also largely composed of students who are non-theatre majors. Being entirely student-run, members are able to work closely with one another, learning about all of the behind-the-scenes aspects of theater and collaborating with their unique perspectives.

“Tech week is notoriously known for being crazy and problems arise,” Beckwith said. “But having people with so many different backgrounds, you get so many different responses and creative solutions.”

Sean Dsouza, a sophomore computer science and theatre major, is the tech director for both shows. Without having any prior theatre experience, he was convinced by a previous director to join the Guild this semester.

“It’s my first time even being close to a play, so all I need right now is some experience. I’m excited to get to know what happens behind the set,” Dsouza said. “I’m also excited because it’s my first time and I don’t want to stop. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be involved in Theatre Guild for every semester from here on.”

Most Guild members are only able to work on one show per semester, but Dsouza’s position allows him to contribute to both. As a big Sherlock Holmes fan, “Baskerville” is his favorite to work on out of the two.

“When you say it’s a Sherlock Holmes play, I think that’s enough to sell a play in itself,” Dsouza said.

“Falsettos” is a comedy-drama that deals with themes of queer and Jewish identity during the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Director Lauren Duhr described the musical, saying, “It has one of those ‘you laugh so you don’t cry about it’ type of tones… which I think is so relevant universally to how a lot of folks approach their lives.”

Duhr is a sophomore psychology and sustainable food and farming double major who has previously stage managed, costumed and acted in shows. This is their first time directing.

While working with a smaller space presents them with challenges, Duhr believes that the intimacy created with the audience in the Black Box Theatre will complement the fact that in this musical, “the fourth wall is never really concrete.”

Margaret Wall, a sophomore music education and history double major, is playing Cordelia in “Falsettos.” It has been one of her favorite musicals since listening to it for the first time during her freshman year of high school.

“Ever since then I actually always wanted to play Cordelia, so I feel like I am definitely living out a little theatre kid dream moment of mine, from back then,” she said.

Whether they are new or returning, in the cast or the crew, the UMass Theatre Guild is ready to return to the stage. The impact of live theatre reopening can be felt throughout all of the members.

“This is so corny but it feels like you’re going home after being away for a really long time,” Wall said. “I’ve never acted or done theatre with these people, and I’m sure a lot of them feel the same way, but it still feels like home.”

Kami Nguyen can be reached at [email protected].