Project: Theatre shows “Horror and Madness”

Photo by Emma Himmelberger ’20  Emily Stewart ’19 and other performers in Project:Theatre’s latest show.

Photo by Emma Himmelberger ’20

Emily Stewart ’19 and other performers in Project:Theatre’s latest show.


Project: Theatre kicked off its annual production of “The Student Body” in Chapin Auditorium. This year’s theme, “Horror and Madness,” was widely interpreted by the performers to include topics such as nuclear war, living dolls, eating disorders, familial conflict and mental health.

Students submitted poetry, monologues and short pieces for consideration in a final performance that combined limited movement performance with staged readings. Costume and lighting were particularly important to the production. Designed by Mackenzie Strum ’20, the costumes were made up of black ensembles with varying pieces to portray individual characters. Lighting cues accentuated dramatic moments and signaled transitions between pieces.

According to Emily Stewart ’19, who acted in this year’s performance, “The Student Body” is an annual tradition. Past years have started with auditions, but this year, Project: Theatre tried a different process. “This year we just divided up the submissions based on the ones we as actors wanted and felt comfortable reading,” said Stewart.

Stewart described preparing for the show as a whirlwind with actors having one week of rehearsals and a second week of tech. “This can be a little scary,” she said, but was quick to add that it was a meaningful experience. “I was most excited that I was giving life to the words of my peers … I hope attendees take that sentiment away as they leave.” 

In a speech given at the performance, Director Karisa Poedjirahardjo ’20 discussed how the show is known for its history of sustained political commentary on gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity. She said this legacy was pertinent during recent years’ selections, citing influences such as same-sex marriage ruling in 2015 and the 2016 election.

In combining real world “horror and madness” with more traditional tributes to the genre, the ghosts and trauma of The Student Body are both literal and metaphorical. “We encourage[d] submissions to stretch this theme as far or wide as they wished,” Poedjirahardjo said. “Maybe our horror is as broad as the darkness of night, or as simple as an old doll. We all have our own personal ghosts that haunt us. Sometimes we deal with trauma by affording it the seriousness it deserves, and sometimes it helps to laugh about it.”

Stage Manager Stirling Mackie ’19 said the show is particularly relatable for students. “I think MHC students . . . will feel something resonate with them in ‘The Student Body.’” She went on to say that Project: Theatre is “a great way for people who feel a little intimidated by doing a show in [the] theater department to still do theater and be involved.”  

“One of the coolest but hardest things about working on ‘The Student Body’ is that it is entirely based off of student submissions. Students don’t submit, we don’t have a show. In fact, we didn’t even know what material we would be working with until we started rehearsals,” said Poedjirahardjo. 

The strength of Project: Theatre is that from concept to inception, Mount Holyoke students are at the helm of the organization. Upcoming opportunities to audition and perform with Project: Theatre include “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” and “Three Fat Virgins Unassembled” in April.