MJT renovations

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Photo courtesy of the UD Drama Department

Students that spend lots of time on the east side of campus will have undoubtedly noticed that the Margaret Jonsson Theater has been closed down and covered in plastic sheets. 

The mold removal happening inside has “upended the theatre department” according to Professor Stefan Novinski, the director of this semester’s main stage production “Arms and the Man.”

The mold was discovered at the end of the summer. It is believed that too much moisture throughout the summer led to mold growth, and while this black mold is not dangerous, it still needs to be removed.

The age of the building complicates the mold removal process. According to Novinski, the building originally housed the dining hall and became the theater in 1972 through Erik Jonsson, former mayor of Dallas, whose wife the theater is named after. 

The Margaret Jonsson Theater is one of the original five buildings of the university and contains asbestos. According to Oregon State University, asbestos can cause serious diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma if it breaks apart into fibers, as it does during the mold removal.

Because of the asbestos, the process is not as simple as removing the mold from the theater walls. The atmosphere conditions inside the theater must be changed so mold will not grow in the future. In addition,the air must be cleaned to abate both mold and asbestos.

The University of Dallas has hired one company to abate the mold, and a separate company to conduct independent testing ensure complete safety. Air samples have been taken over weekends, but results continue to show evidence of mold. 

The decision to move the mainstage performances into the Drama Building was made three weeks into the rehearsal process. The decision to move the senior studios was made this past week. 

“Eventually we had to say, ‘well, every week we wait is another week of not building the set,’” Novinski said.

This is not the only time the mainstage has been performed in the drama building. In 2014,  “Three Sisters” was intentionally performed there to bring the audience into the world of the play. “Cherry Orchard” was also performed in 2018.

Novinski noted that it’s a good thing that “Arms and the Man” is a comedy because it will fit with the light atmosphere of the new space. 

On the other hand, sSenior Paul Bond, an actor in the production, said that in the Drama Building space the audience’s presence is more strongly felt and more intimidating in the Drama Building.

The shift has necessitated the building of a stage in the Drama Building. There were three different versions of the ground plans for the stage erected in the space, because the arrangement needed to allow for the maximum amount of seating but also access to fire exits. 

Will Turbyne, the technical director of the Drama Department, essentially designed the stage space for the Drama Building over a single weekend, according to Novinski. Because the scene shop located in the Margaret Jonsson Theater was not accessible, the set had to be built in the sculpture studio.

In addition to the changes in the performances, rehearsals, office spaces, and classes have been rearranged because of the limited space at UD. 

“Everyone has been amazing,” Novinski said. “I’m the only one who has gotten more annoyed than normal, I’m the only one freaking out because I have to reblock the show.”

Peter Shanley, a freshman in the cast of “Arms and the Man,” said, “It seemed like [the change to the Drama Building] was kind of maybe stressing Stefan out … but it didn’t really affect any of us … we’ve trained, we’ve practiced, and we’ll do the best we can wherever we do it.”

“Being actors and whatnot, we’re supposed to be flexible. If we have to pick up someone’s part doing something or a costume change happens, or whatever, we can do that,” Shanley explained. “We will perform wherever we have to perform, so it didn’t really stress us out.”

Delores Mihaliak, the director of the senior studio Dogg’s Hamlet, has also seen positives in the change and expressed excitement to her cast about the flexibility of space in the Drama Building. 

The show opens on October 30, but because the Drama Building seats fewer people than the Margaret Jonsson Theater, Novinksi urges that students reserve their tickets early. 

Without the use of the Margaret Jonsson Theater, the drama department has certainly been challenged. However, Novinski said that renovations will hopefully be finished by the end of the semester.Soon, he hopes, the building will be returned to “the glorious uniqueness of the Margaret Jonsson Theatre.”

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