Future of the MJT

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Photo by Peter Burleigh

As the semester draws to a close, the fate of the Margaret Jonsson Theater (MJT) remains uncertain, but the University of Dallas drama department officially will not be using the space next semester. 

Dolores Mihaliak, senior drama major and Student Marketing Manager for the drama department, confirmed that the MJT still needs extensive renovations before there is even a possibility of using the space. 

“We’re not sure whether we need to raze the MJT and build a new theater, or if we’re going to try to restore the MJT to its original glory,” Mihaliak said.

The mainstage performance of “Arms and the Man” had to utilize the Drama Building rather than the MJT, and the senior studios will be held in the Drama Building for this semester as well. However, this put a strain on all the shows this semester, so a new plan must be created for future shows. 

“The challenges of using the drama [building] is that it’s both our rehearsal space and our performance space currently, and that is not conducive to the art of drama at all,” Mihaliak said.

Storage has become a significant issue as well. 

“Right now we have to borrow a room from the art department just to build our sets,” Mihaliak said. “But moving the set into the Drama Building can’t occur at the same time we’re trying to rehearse for the senior studios … it’s not a good look.” 

UD’s music department has  helped the drama department by providing rehearsal spaces and storage room in Catherine Hall, but the logistics are still very complicated in the borrowed space.

Head of the drama department, Professor Stefan Novinski, is in conversation with Provost Dr. Jonathan Sanford as they determine the extent of the damage to the MJT.

Although a new auditorium may be built where Carpenter Hall stood, the drama department hopes to have a new space to replace the MJT as well, in the event that it does need to be demolished. 

“The problem with having the same space for both music and theater performances is that theater demands so much of the time of the space,” Mihaliak said. “They’re trying to look at plans to facilitate both an MJT-esque theater and a space for music and other arts, other gathering spaces.”

In the Drama Building, “Arms and the Man” dazzled the audience with its elegance, but due to the lack of space, behind the scenes presented quite a different picture. 

“The struggle with the mainstage was that during the actual run of the performance, there’s no space for storage because all of those rooms are offices for faculty,” Mihaliak explained. “So we ended up storing a lot of our set in, like, the bathroom. We had to draw out full schematics to make sure we had space for everything.” 

Sam Chiodo, junior drama major, described some of the challenges of working in the Drama Building during “Arms and the Man.” 

“Our backstage was really just a closet which we used to keep chairs and everything,”  Chiodo said. “There was one point in Act Two … we had six people in this closet that really should not be holding six people. We had almost no room to move around each other.”

The “closet” backstage also held furniture pieces, and some actors had to make quick costume changes in the small space.

Additionally, unlike the MJT, sound carried easily and the audience members could occasionally hear the actors backstage. 

“It makes it much more difficult when you have to stay completely quiet, otherwise everyone outside will hear you,” Chiodo said. “It’s fun.”

“In the MJT there was much more space, much more room,” Chiodo concluded. “The Drama Building is just a completely different atmosphere, and it definitely takes some getting used to.” 

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