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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.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

‘Tarzan’ musical to be autism, eco-friendly

Community member Riley Fields wears the gorilla costume that she will sport in the upcoming Forest Roberts Theatre musical “Tarzan.” All the costumes for the production have been made from recycled materials. Photo by: Jackie Jahfetson

From swinging ropes to jumping trampolines, Tarzan will soon debut at the Forest Roberts Theatre (FRT), and this is the first NMU production to take on an eco-friendly and a “Theater for All”

In partnership with the Theatre Development Fund in New York City, the FRT at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 15 will be offering a sensory-friendly airing of their upcoming production of the stage musical “Tarzan.” The “Theater for All” program came from brainstorming how NMU’s campus can become more inclusive, said Bill Digneit, FRT’s director of theater.

Entertainment for autism and sensory-affected individuals is scarce in the Upper Peninsula, Digneit said. He wants to provide a theatrical experience for all to enjoy. After attending an autism-friendly showing of “Wicked” in New York City, Digneit and some others began constructing a plan on how to make something like this work at the FRT, Digneit said.

“We’re creating an environment where if someone needs to stand up for a minute or if someone is going to make a noise, it’s a supportive environment,” he added. “Everybody deserves to see a show, and if we have to make a few subtle changes to make sure it’s a successful experience, we’re happy to do it.”

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The FRT’s collaboration with NMU’s Behavioral Education, Assessment & Research (BEAR) Center, School of Education, Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency and the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, will better prepare the “Tarzan” cast on what to expect from the audience, Digneit said. Local educators within the special education spectrum will also lend a hand by observing a dress rehearsal and offering advice, he added.

Though it seems like there are many changes to be made, the production of the play will remain the same with just a few minor alterations, Digneit said. Some of the house lights will stay on at 30 percent and volume will be capped at a 90-decibel level, he said. The lobby doors will remain open during the show so people can come and go as they please and comfort devices like squeezable toys will be offered for audience members.

This is the beginning to a new theater experience, Digneit added. There will be other sensory-friendly performances such as “Scrooge!” in December 2018, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”—a Finnish ballet—in January 2019 and “Beauty and The Beast” in April 2019.

“It’s exciting. People seem really pumped about it,” he said. “It’s going to be a ton of fun.”
The director of “Tarzan,” Shelley Russell, not only wanted a show for all, but a show that would use all recycled and repurposed materials. Although the all-green show requires a little more work, such as coming up with new techniques in the sewing room, the theater department is also saving a substantial amount of money, Russell said.

Most of the materials came from community and business donations, Russell continued. Everything from old drapes and recycled T-shirts will be resewn and fitted into gorilla costumes, leaves on set and other production materials, she added.

The most challenging thing about making costumes from scratch is the moment when you realize that a zipper or buttons are needed, she said. Russell, who’s also the costume designer, said “patchwork” is sometimes a difficult approach to a costume. But, with the help from Ann Juidici, the costume shop supervisor, the crew is figuring out new ways to construct costumes while saving money, Russell said.

“It’s easier to build something out of 10 yards of fabric then it is out of 10 half-yard pieces of fabric,” Russell said. “But each show is a fresh approach. Every show is a new opportunity to explore a new method of costume designing and construction.”

However, the green and autism approaches are not why people should go out and buy their tickets, Russell said. This show will showcase students’ work and how the theater department is finding “beautiful and practical” solutions in designing and constructing a production, she added.

“People are going to go nuts over this. The flying effects are incredible,” Russell said. “We’ve got apes flying on stage and landing down center. We’ve got Tarzan that swings across stage. It’s thrilling. It’s not a long musical, but it’s just so fun.”

The sensory-friendly performance will be free through private donor support and tickets can be reserved at any NMU ticket office or online at To find more information about “Tarzan,” visit or call the FRT Box Office at 906-227-2553.

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