Thursday, October 26, 2017

UIS Theatre Department launches degree program with production of ‘Machinal’

When she chose the 1920s drama “Machinal” as the University of Illinois Springfield’s fall theater production, director Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson felt a certain sense of deja vu.

The play, opening Friday for six performances at the UIS Studio Theatre, depicts a young woman “struggling to find her place in what (the playwright) perceived as an overly mechanized, automated, unfeeling society and culture,” said Thibodeaux-Thompson, associate professor of theater at UIS.

Its main character also experiences sexual discrimination and harassment, pressure to conform to society’s expectations of women, and a growing sense of alienation, with tragic results.

“It can be difficult to distinguish whether Treadwell was writing about the 1920s or the 2010s,” Thibodeaux-Thompson said, especially since adverse treatment of women in entertainment, politics and other fields continues to make news on a daily basis.

“Certainly times have changed, but how much, and how far?”

“Machinal,” written by Sophie Treadwell, depicts a young stenographer who marries her boss but finds him repulsive and controlling. Desperate to escape her loveless marriage, she has an affair with a younger man, kills her husband and is tried for his murder.

“She is a victim of her time,” said Sherri Mitchell, a newly enrolled theater major who plays the young woman’s mother.

Mitchell said her own character “represents the ugly side of what it meant to be a woman” with no financial security apart from a breadwinning man. “She represents the life most women had been living then,” focused only on the drudgery of daily survival, she said.

The show also marks another milestone for the UIS Theatre Department: the official launch of its bachelor’s degree program in theater, approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education last year.

“Having a BA in theatre is a great asset for the campus and makes it a robust liberal arts university,” added Thibodeaux-Thompson, whose husband Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson, associate professor and director of theater, and assistant professor Dathan Powell round out the theater department faculty.

This article appeared in The State Journal-Register on October 25, 2017.

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