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Middlesex Community College Theatre Program Builds Socially Distant Space For Performances

There is still time to register for the Fall semester - including MCC's Mini-mester II, an accelerated, eight-week session that starts November 2.

Middlesex Community College Theatre Program Builds Socially Distant Space For Performances

Middlesex Community College's Performing Arts program is returning to the stage later this month with a unique take on Qui Nguyen's play "She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms." When the pandemic struck, Middlesex canceled the spring musical. Karen Oster, MCC's Chair of Performing Arts, and the theatre department decided that for the fall semester, MCC needed to be creative in finding a way to get students back on stage.

When Nguyen updated his play "She Kills Monsters" with a version designed to be staged virtually, Oster went to her team and asked, "how can we make this happen?" In response, the team built personal cubicles to allow students to perform in a safe and socially distanced space.

She knew she could direct a show via Zoom, but Oster wanted to bring everyone together to use MCC's Richard and Nancy Donahue Family Academic Arts Center. While they originally thought about keeping performers apart on stage, she wanted to take extra safety precautions.

"We decided to use our resources to create cubicles for each of the actors who are socially distant," she said. "We give each student web cameras, bring them into the theatre, and have the show streaming via one computer."

The show uses eight total cameras that are sent into the main show computer in groups of four, according to Shane Bourgeois, MCC's Sound and Media Designer. The first show computer controls the cameras focused on the actors' movements, as well as the size and look of scenes. This camera also adds a background layer and top special effects layer.

"These three layers are sent to the second show computer that pulls the show together," Bourgeois said. "Here we use a multilayer chroma key effect and add sound from the actors. At this point the show has one polished video feed we can send to Zoom. "To add the visual effects the show requires, Oster and her team came up with the idea to paint the cubicles with a green screen background.

Nguyen's play features the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons and includes fantastical creatures and references to nineties popular culture. The show focuses on a young woman who is trying to connect with and learn about her sister who just passed away.

"This particular production of 'She Kills Monsters' is important in so many ways because it deals with our own monsters that we may have to battle in our lives," Oster said. "We're battling a big monster right now which is this pandemic and I believe that we can triumph over all of this and will come out the better because of it."

Many characters in the show see the game Dungeons and Dragons as an escape from personal struggles, which is how Sylvia Nichol - a Theatre major from Acton - feels. Being able to perform on stage again also helps her feel better and cope with what has been happening.

"I feel bad without theatre," she said. "It's just fun and I like to bring stories to the stage. I feel safe because Karen has made a safe environment with everything that's been going on."

Jomei Demonico is a Theatre major from Wilmington who also believes creating and staying in touch with her professors and classmates is important, particularly during the pandemic. She sees these circumstances as an opportunity to learn.

"I feel very safe," she said. "We have our own cubicles and our own bathrooms. I personally like this cubicle green screen set-up because it's something I've never done before and I'm learning a lot about film and effects."

While building the cubicles helped to physically create a safe environment in which to perform, Oster also finds it important to foster an emotionally safe space for students to connect.

"This theatre is our home and we're a family," she said. "Being able to literally be in the same room with each other - even though we have masks on and are distanced from each other - the energy is incredible. Everyone thrives on that energy and needs that boost to feel like this is not an art form that's going away, we're just doing something different for awhile."

Rehearsals started on Zoom and transitioned to the Academic Arts Center when the cubicles were complete. Upon arrival, students are asked to wear masks, have their temperatures taken before entering, and stand at least six feet apart from others. The students then enter their cubicles and are safely separated from other performers.

Middlesex will perform Nguyen's "She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms" live, on-stage at MCC's Academic Arts Center at 7 p.m. September 25-27. The show will stream to an online audience.

"It's totally worth it," Demonico said. "We worked really hard and it's going to be a great time!"

Visit to register to stream the show.

There is still time to register for the Fall semester - including MCC's Mini-mester II, an accelerated, eight-week session that starts November 2. For more information and to register for classes, visit or call 1-800-818-3434.

Discover your path at Middlesex Community College. As one of the largest, most comprehensive community colleges in Massachusetts, MCC has been a proven leader in online education for more than 20 years. We educate, engage and empower a diverse community of learners, offering more than 80 degree and certificate programs - plus hundreds of noncredit courses. Middlesex Community College: Student success starts here!

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