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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Photo courtesy of NMU WellBeing
A Q&A with WellBeing
Rachel PottDecember 4, 2023

A new way to look at an old favorite

Upstairs at the Forest Roberts Theatre, students are busy preparing for their next play, “Tracks in the Snow.” However, downstairs in the costume shop, junior zoology major and costume shop worker Bree Prehn is already at work on a new play. She sifts through a long rack of clothes that look as if they’ve been trapped in St. Vinnies for 20 years, and pulls out a putrid green and purple knitted sweater. With a smile, she holds it up for everyone to see.

“Someone once wore this,” she says. “Seriously.”

Director Shelley Russell laughs as Prehn continues to pull out hideous dress after dress, mixing and matching them with various garments from an era when disco reigned supreme.

But the work Prehn is doing isn’t just for fun — these clothes, as Russell explains, will be used for perhaps one of the most ambitious shows Forest Roberts has put on in years.

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Next semester, Russell will direct “Cinderella.” Even though the play is still quite a ways off, it’s her radical ideas that have people in the theater department excited and talking about it now.

The idea to tackle “Cinderella” came to Russell over the summer. Initially, she said she dismissed the notion, not wanting to do another play with people singing and dancing in big, extravagant dresses. But the idea wouldn’t leave her.

“Art works in mysterious ways,” she said. “It’s not so much that I chose the show . but that the show found me.”

After toying with the idea, she decided to go ahead with the play. However, she said she wasn’t going to do the usual interpretation, and she opted for a drastic overhaul of the play.

Russell is implementing changes in three areas: casting, challenging the idea of beauty and putting on a green show.

Auditions for “Cinderella” will be held Nov. 18 and 19. Russell is hoping that anyone who is interested will come out and try for a spot in the play. She added that anyone can audition for any role, and she’s actually counting on it.

“I’d like to cast a lot of people who have never done theater before,” she said. “Anybody on campus can be in this show. You don’t even have to be a student. It’s open to everyone in the region.”

Russell added that, in addition to fresh faces, variety is important to her vision of this play.

“I think when we look at everything, from Disney to Broadway, we sometimes see a narrow image (of our country),” she said. “I want a multi-cultural cast. I want a more honest representation of our nation.”

Having a new and varied cast will also help with her second change. The image of beauty is a theme closely linked with “Cinderella,” and Russell said she’s working hard to challenge that.

“What I’d like to challenge is that incredibly boring notion that we know what beauty looks like,” she said, adding that the first step is to revamp the characters by casting them differently and by dressing them in the off-the-wall costumes the costume shop are already working on. “I think it would be fun if the (ugly) stepsisters are absolutely beautiful.”

Finally, Russell is working hard with students to turn the Forest Roberts Theatre into a green theater. This is done by recycling materials and buying products from manufactures that use sustainable resources, such as bamboo instead of polyester.

Russell said the challenge was to produce the artistic effort she envisioned while still maintaining an eco-friendly workshop. And though they’ve succeeded so far, Russell said it hasn’t been easy.

“We’re trying to learn (how to do a green show),” she said. “You just don’t realize until you start how difficult it is.”

She said the idea to rethink how they do things at Forest Roberts was also a huge motivation to rethink the way they’re approaching “Cinderella.”

“I think, in a way, my commitment to seeing the theater taking a greener approach arrived at the same time as my concept for the play.”

For senior theater major Alaina O’Brien and sophomore theater major Emma Couling, these changes give them a chance to be creative in ways that most plays typically don’t allow. Along with Prehn, O’Brien and Couling also work in the costume shop, where they’ve been pulling out ridiculous costumes that clash with even more ridiculous shoes.

Couling said she was on board with the ideas as soon as she heard them.

“I worked with Shelley over the summer and heard some of her ideas,” Couling said, adding that these ideas allow her to try things in terms of costuming that she couldn’t try before.

O’Brien agreed, saying that, as soon as she heard Russell’s changes, she was excited to start working on the play.

“I was interested to see where she was going with (it),” O’Brien said.

Russell hopes to keep this wave of energy going throughout the rest of the production. She said that reinventing a play with students will be a great experience.

“I like playing with the idea that people think they know this play,” she said. “I think it will be fun to take it apart with a group of students.”

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