Stress, Darkness, Theater: NMU Theatre and Dance performs “Salome”


Photo courtesy of Jill Grundstrom

SPITE AND MALICE – A scene from “Salome” with King Herod seated at the table. The play has been in rehearsals following winter break, with six performances scheduled in the Black Box Theatre.

Harry Stine

CLOSE UP – Another particular scene of intensity from “Salome.” With the production being held in the intimate Black Box Theatre, actors noted much more care was put into movement than usual. (Photo courtesy of Jill Grundstrom)

“Well, what are you going to direct?” David Wood recounted his friend Bill Digneit, head of Northern’s Theatre and Dance program, asking him. Wood had been giving Digneit praise for his work in the theater department, specifically their musicals, but asked him about the possibility of touching on some classical theater works, prompting Digneit to leave Wood with a “challenge.”

“Salome,” the latest play by the NMU Theatre and Dance Department, was the answer to that challenge. Written by Oscar Wilde in 1891, it takes biblical characters and places them in a dark, empowering and ultimately tragic tale, one that Wood said has elements not too distant from a Quentin Tarantino or, in his words, a “God forbid” Rob Zombie film.

“I feel like I’m the luckiest guy on campus to be able to work with these talented people, and to produce something that cuts a bit across the grain,” Wood said.

Wood further praised the cast and crew of the play, highlighting the work of one particular effect in the play’s climax. With “Salome” being held in NMU’s Black Box Theatre, audiences are expected to see the action up close and personal, with the Co/Lab Collective performing a rendition of the “Dance of the Seven Veils” that Wood described as “jaw dropping.”

Rebecca Piepszak, who plays Herodias in the production, described the change in movement that the Black Box Theatre brings as a stark contrast to that of the Forest Roberts Theatre, with actors having to account for being seen from three different angles.

“It’s really just trying to make sure that you never get stuck in one particular place, or in one particular stance, but making sure that you are moving so that the audience can consistently see parts of you as the show progresses,” Piepszak said.

Piepszak said Wood’s directing style had them go through a lot of the play on their own, with Wood adding pointers after letting them “walk through it.” Piepszak described working with him as a collaborative process and that reflected the dialogue-centric style of the play.

According to Piepszak and Wood, the overall style of the play, from the writing to the tone to the physical nature of the acting, made for an interesting experience.

“I very much enjoy immersive theater because it kind of pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you never fully get to be 100 percent comfortable,” Piepszak said.

DaShawn Williams, taking on the role of King Herod, reflected this extra effort and discomfort when describing the feelings he goes through during a performance.

“I’m gonna hate it. I’m gonna be mad at myself for doing this because I have a huge pit in my stomach and I’m so scared,” Williams said. “And then I’m gonna get on and I’m gonna be fine. It’ll be fine for the 45 minutes that I’m on. And then the second I get off, I’ll forget everything that happened. And we’ll do it all again tomorrow.”

However, he also added that the push-pull stress in theater is all a part of the process, and even said that this was his “best performance so far.” He said that even though that thought adds its own type of fear, it also makes him think more consciously about roles and motivates him to do more work.

According to Wood, that stress is not absent from the director’s chair either. 

“You got to understand that to be a teacher means every day, before you walk into the classroom, even after 16 years, there’s a slight ‘Okay, how’s this gonna go?’” Wood said “So, I’m used to that. This is just that on a much grander scale.”

He went on to say that whether or not all directors see every showing of their production, that “every director goes to the opening,” although he said he couldn’t imagine not staying for more.

“I’m sure I’ll be a nervous wreck,” Wood said. “But at the same time, it’ll be a positive because I can rest assured that we’ve done the very best that we can with the time that we’ve been given and the budget we’ve been given, which has been monumental to my eyes.”

Salome will be showing in the Black Box Theatre through March 1 to 4, following an initial showing from February 24 to 25.