Mask Club gets students onstage for short plays

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Acting in a play may be nerve-wracking to some, but it can be scarier when you know your performance is being critiqued by nearly 100 theatre students.

An actress performs during a rehearsal for “The Last Five Years” in the Harris Fine Arts Center. The BYU Mask Club is part of the theatre classes, but non-drama students can also perform and attend. (Natalie Bothwell)

Nathan Tanner Stout, a BYU Senior from Zanesville, Ohio, said this knowledge makes participating in Mask Club a little uncomfortable at times. “They’re critiques that you never get to see,” Stout said.

Mask Club is a BYU lab students in the Theatre Arts majors have to attend and sometimes participate in for credit in some classes. Students come to watch shortened versions of plays directed by students involved in a directing practicum class taught by Rodger Sorensen. Most who attend the Mask Club lab are required by their theatre classes to write papers on the performances.

Despite these unseen critiques, Stout said he still enjoys seeing Mask Club performances and being involved in the process. He has been an audience member, an actor and is even planning on being a director of his own Mask Club next semester.

Caitlin Hall, a theatre education major from Plymouth, Michigan, is one of the five student directors this semester. Hall said Mask Club is where she originally got her start as an actor, stage manager and designer in the BYU theatre department.

Natalie Bothwell
Students perform “The Last Five Years” during a BYU rehearsal in the Harris Fine Arts Center. (Natalie Bothwell)

“It’s an incredible place of growth for students who are interested in theatre,” Hall said. She said she believes it is a great experience for both TMA students and non-theatre students alike.

Hall finds a great support system in her classmates and believes the class has helped each other grow as directors over the course of the semester, and will continue as the productions are performed.

“They have kept me sane this semester and my show would not be nearly as good or well-thought-out without the discussions we have had,” said Hall.

According to Brianna Sterling, a BYU Senior from Lewisville, Texas, the class is laid-back and gives time for the students to work with each other on their shows.

“I really like that it’s run this way because then we can come to class knowing that we don’t have to worry about busy work,” Sterling said. “Instead, we can focus on how we can improve and help each other’s productions.”

Both Hall and Sterling had nothing but praises for Professor Rodger Sorensen. “His sensitivity to detail and layering in a production is evident as he pushes us and helps us discover new things about the stories we are telling,” Hall said.

Sterling said Professor Sorensen brings “enthusiasm, hope, humor and experience that makes this overwhelming process possible.”

Students perform “The Last Five Years” during a Mask Club rehearsal in the Harris Fine Arts Center. The BYU Mask Club invites all students to perform short plays in a student-directed theater atmosphere. (Natalie Bothwell)

Kristin Perkins, a theatre arts studies major focusing on critical studies, said a drawback of the Mask Club experience may be that there is not a lot of support from other students in the department.

“Mask Clubs are often seen as jokes to be sneered at,” the San Diego, CA native said. “I think you have to learn to appreciate student-directed theatre for what it is, without necessarily comparing it to theatre done by professionals with a budget.

Perkins said she tries to attend every Mask Club performance because she can learn something from them, while having fun. “As an audience member, I honestly love how varied the quality is,” she said. “Sometimes they crash and burn and sometimes they absolutely soar. I learn a lot of valuable things from both experiences.”

Because of her love of the theatre experience, Perkins said she would like it if more people knew about Mask Club and said she thinks it would be “seriously great” to involve more people outside of the theatre department. According to Perkins, Main-stage shows tend to be very competitive, unlike Mask Clubs which are “more low-key and require less of a time commitment.”

Excitement is building among the directors and other students waiting for this semester’s line-up of “Mask Club” performances to start on Oct. 29, 2015.

For information on when auditions are held, visit the Nelke call-board just outside the Miriam Nelke Experimental Theater on the second floor of the Harris Fine Arts building at BYU.

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