Homeless theater department stays positive

McGee construction causes department to relocate temporarily

Sophia Holt

With the McGee theater being torn down at the end of last year as part of the construction plan, the New Trier theater department has become homeless.

Theater classes that were previously held in the McGee are now being held in “temporary drama” rooms on the fourth floor that were built to be art studios. The rooms do not include many theatrical necessities including a theater’s most fundamental aspect, a stage. According to the department chair of Media, Speech, and Theater, as well as the Theater 4 teacher, Nina Lynn, the lack of these necessities have not been a major road block, “Obviously our new room is not a theater space, but it does have enough elements of a theater space that the core of our work can happen. We’ll figure out how to accept the things that aren’t perfect.”

Although the spaces are non-traditional for the theater curriculum, students and teachers alike agree that the challenges that come along with studying theater without a stage foster creativity. The more restrictions theater students are faced with, the more creative they have to be. Lynn agrees, “If we move into these new spaces and do everything the way that we’ve always done it, then we’ve missed the boat.”

Every year, each Theater 4 students chooses their own short play to direct and cast. Teachers and students before the end of the 2015-2016 school year expressed concerns that presenting Directing Projects in classrooms rather than on the McGee stage will negatively affect the experience. However, now that they have been in the space for several weeks, many are seeing the advantages of these new rooms. New Trier Senior and Theater 4 student Katherine Melulis elaborated on this point, “theater is more about the people than it is about the actual space. We are so used to seeing Directing Projects in the McGee and now with these new spaces, it’s our job to find all the ways we can use it.”

With the limited space, the theater program had to cut out one of their performances. But, to make up for offering fewer productions, the department of Media, Speech, and theater is offering students Master Classes in which students learn things such as playwriting and on camera acting from professionals in the field.

Theater 3 student Meghan Morris feels the rooms haven’t made a big difference in her experience in class: “We just finished the lie exercise; however, other than it being a little bit brighter, I didn’t notice much of a difference. I think we are making do with the classrooms we have very nicely.” She feels the only difference there will be is when they have to perform a scene towards the end of the year it will be different in a classroom than on a stage.

Although there are challenges, the temporary rooms are just that, temporary. Gerry Munley, the Assistant Principal for Administrative Services, confirms, “Even though the theater is a better space, the temporary rooms are a good solution.”

Next year, two new theaters, including a black box theater (a theater in which the director can choose where the audience sits) will be finished. The new black box theater will be named in memory of Mary Catherine Hayes (‘10) and Sarah McCausland (‘13). Both of these women were New Trier alumni and veterans of the theater department who lost their lives very young.

Along with the new black box theater, a new McGee theater will also be built. Complete with updated features, the new theater space is a vast improvement over the old McGee. “The old McGee was just two classrooms that they demolished and poured concrete over,” said Hilerre Kirsch, a theater teacher at the Winnetka campus, “this new McGee is going to be purely a theater. In addition, we are going to have a drama classroom with the same footprint as the McGee, so we can do blocking in the class and use it as a rehearsal room and transfer that to the stage.

The Media, Speech, and Theater department hopes that these new spaces will raise the number of students participating in theater, especially because the entrance to the black box theater will be located just outside the Trevian Commons. “I think that because we’ve been so isolated from the rest of the school, it takes a lot of courage to walk into a part of the school you’ve never been to,” said Lynn, “And now it’s going to be, ‘oh, right there, I can see it. I just have to open the door.’”