BergImmersive creates a new theatrical space on campus

Understanding the new club and their artistic efforts

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Amongst some social and online discourse about the casting opportunities, or even lack thereof, afforded by the structure of the Muhlenberg theatre community, a group of passionate students took the initiative to form a new organization, BergImmersive. Last semester, they made their debut with an adaptation of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” titled “Love in Idleness.” The production and the organization as a whole were widely well-received by the campus. In addition to providing more creative opportunities in the fields of acting, directing, devising, crew, management and more, the club offered students the chance to break away from traditional styles of theatre more commonly practiced here at Muhlenberg and explore a completely new avenue of the art: immersive theatre. 

“I believe that immersive theatre is anything that is non-traditional in the sense that I highly doubt that we will ever be setting up a clear separation between the audience and the stage,” said current Co-President Maya Handler ‘27. “There is no concrete definition, but what we need to do is blur a line. We create new theatre from a mold we have already been given with an emphasis on submersion and involvement. It can be done in so many interesting and different ways.”

The club was co-founded by Emma Walter ‘24 and Gianna Carnevaliano ‘23. The two were abroad in London in the fall of 2022 when they saw a production of “The Burnt City,” an immersive theatre experience produced by a company known as Punchdrunk. From there, they both had artistic epiphanies that struck as an inspiration from the show as well as other ideas that had already been circling in their heads: they wanted to produce an immersive adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.From there, both took a course taught by Beatrice Bradley, Ph.D., called Shakespeare Reproduced, which provided foundational theory for adapting the script. They also reached out to former Muhlenberg faculty member Nigel Semaj, who had directed a queer adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” in the fall of 2021 called “Call Me by Any Other Name… Just As Sweet.” With this help and through extensive research on modern fraternity life, masculinity, drugs, dreamscapes, psychology, queer theory, anti-racist theory and analysis of the text itself, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” became “Love and Idleness:” a piece about consent and autonomy on college campuses.

“Our mission of our club is to provide additional supplemental opportunities,” said Walter. “There are tons of theatre majors on this campus, myself included, who have had a hard time breaking into organizations. This is not to say that these organizations are at fault, but there are just merely so many people they are trying to service because our school is so theatre-heavy. Through this opportunity, Gianna and I initially wanted to create more opportunities for people to just have a chance to do theatre.” 

As more people became involved during the production process and joined the cast, the club received calls for more. They even received an outpouring of audience and community support that encouraged them to keep producing. The club is now co-ran by Walter and Handler. However, putting on these productions has not been easy. There were significant challenges that came with navigating how to put up independent theatre at Muhlenberg. They went through multiple different options in terms of spaces to convert. Moyer, where “Love and Idleness” was performed, was not the first choice. With an unconventional space and a set made out of bottle and cans, the final product was astoundingly beautiful. “There’s something to be said about how not everyone was rooting for us,” says Handler. “We were the underdog of the fall semester. But our community came together and said ‘This show will happen.’” The persistence exhibited by the students seemed to be rooted in their pure desire to create. 

Walter adds, “At first I felt like I would be doing things by myself. But the reason our club happened was because of our community. It was because of not only the people in the cast and crew –who were so instrumental, patient, and generous with their time – but those who were passionate about what we were doing.”  

Now with an established community, the club has had a fairly smooth time communicating with the school during the process for “12 Ophelias,” a complex story about Ophelia from “Hamlet” breaking out of a purgatorial cycle of abuse that takes place in neo-Elizabethan Appalachia. With the continuation of the club, they would like to expand their auditioning pool and reach more people across campus, and let people know that they are legitimate and here to stay. “I believe that what we are doing is hot and new, and exciting for the campus,” said Handler.

“Especially for the underclassmen,” Walter adds, “It gets so many people into theatre troupe communities that they can then rely on. The connections that we’ve built in the past semester alone just through BergImmersive have been fabulous. Plus, to provide opportunity for crew people has been so important because designing in a converted setting is so different. Everyone should be able to learn something new and different and we want people to know. It’s exciting to give these new opportunities to our community.” 

BergImmersive plans to keep exploring varying approaches to the new style they have introduced to Muhlenberg. With talks of new plans for the upcoming school year, they are constantly discovering new ways to involve more people and keep learning. 

“The fact that we are pushing the boundaries of what theatre is so exciting and I think that can be reflected in how people reacted to our debut last semester. The fact that we were able to have this impact on our community shows the power of immersive theatre. I hope that through seeing our productions and getting involved that we are able to expand the boundaries of what theatre is and give people new opportunities to explore, find themselves, and learn more about the world.” 

To show your support, “12 Ophelias” runs Apr. 11-13. Tickets are currently sold out. Visit @bergimmersive on Instagram for more information. 

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Megan Hansen '26 is an opinion editor and writer studying film, theater, and writing. She is very excited to be working on the Weekly staff, helping to amplify the voices of her fellow classmates. You may also find her working behind the scenes with the Muhlenberg Theater Association, writing and directing short films, or even on a volleyball court in the fieldhouse on a random Tuesday night!

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