‘Berg Theatre Bounces Back

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John Capocasale '22 as Dionysus performs with members of the Bacchae at the open dress rehearsal

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the most vital chunk of its production season, the Muhlenberg Theatre and Dance department was ready to showcase several long-awaited pieces to the community. From the three MTA Studio plays, Radium Girls, Portrait of a Madonna and Clytemnestra, to the illustriously grand creative vision of Euripides’s The Bacchae to the many cutting-edge student projects involved in the first annual ‘Berg Fringe Festival, the incredible amount of support given to the celebration of the hard work and dedication put towards these projects was truly astounding. This was nothing short of a testament to the camaraderie and compassion embedded into the value that Muhlenberg theatre and dance students place in their work.

The Bacchae

By Ellen Powers

Senior Staff Writer

In addition to the Studio productions presented, the Muhlenberg Department of Theatre and Dance mainstage production of Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae (as translated by William Arrowsmith), directed by assistant professor of theatre Matthew Moore, was also performed in Empie Theatre. The production was originally supposed to run from Mar. 26-29. Following the news of Muhlenberg’s switch to online classes, Muhlenberg theatre faculty, staff and students alike all came together to help finish a set for the production and set up the unique seating arrangement for the one-night-only performance. For this production, there were some seats on the stage on two sides of the circular playing space, and the rest of the audience was seated in the theatre seats typically used for productions in Empie Theatre.

The energy throughout the entire performance was electric. As soon as the lights began to dim for the start of the performance, the audience erupted into thunderous cheers and applause that continued for several minutes. This excitement and enthusiasm continued throughout the evening; every entrance by the ensemble or by one of the main characters was greeted with just as enthusiastic applause. The audience was just captivated from beginning to end.

The cast was led by John Capocasale ’22 as Dionysus and Caden Fraser ’20 as Pentheus, both of whom commanded the stage with their superb performances. Another highlight of the cast was the Bacchae Chorus, made up of twelve female-identifying performers who were Dionysus’ worshippers. In the songs and dances they performed, they worked expertly as a cohesive ensemble, but each of the members of the chorus also got to display their talent in solo moments as well. Supported by excellent performances from Lara Atry ’20 as Agave, Alexander Setlow ’23 as Tiresias, and Brandt Sunter ’20 as Cadmus, every individual in the cast added an exciting new element to the production.

Instrumentalists and vocalists performed the score live, led by composer and sound designer Ian Scot and musical director Ashley Hiester ’19, and featuring Benedict Dawn-Cross ’20 and Tryston Morgan ’23 on percussion. The score expertly depicted the spectrum of moods present in the play, from eerie moments to the joy of the Bacchae Chorus worshipping Dionysus.

This production of The Bacchae would be incredibly impressive no matter what, but given how quickly the pieces had to be put together, it was even more extraordinary. The hard work of the cast and creative team was evident in every aspect of the production, and the Muhlenberg community is lucky to have been able to experience it.

The Performance Festival

By Danny Milkis

Co-Editor of Arts & Culture

Without question, our campus is exactly the kind of liberal arts setting where the power of one voice can make a difference for hundreds of people in the course of a miniscule period of time, even a mere twenty-four hours. Without the spirited outlook and determined aura radiating from Thomas Miller ‘20, over a dozen creators who had placed their hearts and souls into original groundbreaking work would have seen that progress simply fade into history and be placed into a dusty box on a shelf welded together with steel uncertainty. Will my work ever have a place in the hearts of audiences? What happens now? These were questions that Miller, as a Fringe creator himself, did not want to let slide easily into the limelight without at least the consolation of a drafted performance.

“We organized through Facebook and played the entire thing by ear as we  tried to work around the Studio Productions and The Bacchae since the last thing we wanted to do was to impose on other peoples’ performance time,” explained Miller. “I asked that people collaborate with their groups and send me a list of performers and approximate runtime of each act. Though we couldn’t show that many full pieces for time’s sake, we had a great time. We had a total of 10 projects in the show ranging from an unarmed stage combat scene to a full(ish) Damsels in Excess show, and that all came together in the span of a day and a half!”

Max Kasler ‘20 and Gwen Wilkie ‘20 opened the evening with four original songs from their original musical, The Garden of Henohm, which has been previously featured in the Weekly during a Spring 2020 deep-delve series into the world of ‘Berg Fringe. Kasler and Wilkie addressed the eager and high-spirited audience as the eight-person cast filled a row of seats on the Baker stage. In addition to The Garden of Henohm, several other acts graced the stage later that evening to showcase their progress to the community, including All I Know by Emma Cornine ‘23 and Long Lost by Melissa Reph ‘20 and Ellen Powers ‘21, among many more. The event lasted from 11:30 p.m. until 2:00 a.m.

“Our professors always talk about the power of performance and how art doesn’t really exist on accident,” continued Miller. “That’s why I think our little community needed this. In hindsight, I don’t believe that our event was really about the art, but the people around the art. People felt listened to. We just needed to create a space where we could commiserate and celebrate each other. If my time studying abroad in Arezzo [Italy] had taught me anything, it’s that creating and showing content is miles more important than having a perfect, polished product. That Thursday was the first time that I had felt a part of an artistic communitas since my time abroad, and I would like to humbly thank everyone for their dedication and passion in making this event come together.”

Danny Milkis '23 is a Media & Communication student at Muhlenberg who has a specific interest in writing and journalism. In high school, he took part in extracurricular writing whenever possible, and received a Metropolitan Award nomination for his work as a Student Performing Arts Critic. He is ecstatic to have joined the staff of talented writers and editors at the Muhlenberg Weekly, and is excited to learn from this wonderful group of knowledgeable individuals throughout his time at Muhlenberg.

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