art asbestos

The cast and crew of UM Theatre and Dance’s most recent studio show struggled to get to their costumes, props and set pieces from McGill Hall when it closed unexpectedly Jan. 31. The department retrieved the materials two days before the shows opened Feb. 6.

The one-act shows, “Woyzeck” and “Biography of a Constellation,” were a joint studio production put on by the UM theater department. Rehearsals were based out of McGill hall, where the cast stored props, costumes and set pieces. When UM officials closed down McGill Hall, production managers were told they wouldn’t be able to get in to collect the items they needed, according to co-stage manager Becca Sewell.

“We had to find a new space, and we were told that we didn’t have our props, and we were hoping we would get them for our Sunday’s rehearsal, but it wasn’t possible,” Sewell said. “Our main [plan] was that we were just going to have to start completely over two days before the show.”

Some things could be replaced, like costumes or staging blocks, but “Biography of a Constellation” needed three telescopes, pieces that Sewell said the entire show revolved around. 

The cast had been rehearsing in their own specific shoes for weeks, which helps actors get used to how they work in their character’s shoes. 

“Especially for fight choreography, it was a safety thing,” Woyzeck actress Tessa Huston said. “I had to be in those shoes. And so when we had to do fight choreography without my shoes, it was dangerous and scary.”

Production managers were able to get into McGill on Feb. 4. Sewell said they were asked to make a list of everything they needed from the building and a small group was escorted inside to pick them up. Managers only had a few minutes, they had to know exactly what they were grabbing. If anything wasn’t with the other pieces, the cast wouldn’t have been able to use it.

All things considered, Sewell said, McGill’s unexpected closure wasn’t too detrimental to the show. The cast was able to get into their performance space, the Masquer Theatre, a day early, and they were able to get everything they needed in time to open the show. But, Sewell said, it was a lot of jumbling and trying to problem-solve in such a short amount of time.

“Woyzeck” and “Biography of a Constellation” successfully opened on Feb. 6 and ran through the weekend with no major malfunctions.

Theater and Media Arts students have been uprooted from their regular classrooms in McGill. Huston said her acting class is in a different location every day, from Schrieber Gym to the Liberal Arts building, to the Masquer Theater. Theater major Claire Peterson said her acting class was in Schrieber too.

“It was too distracting to be in there because it’s an ROTC place,” said Peterson. “There are veterans who are exercising, and of course they’re running laps and we’re trying to hold class. It’s not fair to boot them out, but it’s also extremely distracting trying to work on serious acting work.”

Peterson said when she first heard about the asbestos in McGill, she was scared, but now that some time has gone by, she’s not thinking about it so much anymore. Mostly, she said, she’s just concerned about how much time she’s spent in McGill.

“I’ve licked that floor,” Peterson said. “I’ve done so much in that space, and it was immediately shocking. Just the amount of sheer physical contact that I’ve had with all of those rooms? That was definitely scary.”