At the heart of McGill’s downtown campus, sits Moyse Hall Theatre, a 306 seat proscenium arch theatre, where students across McGill’s disciplines and faculties take part in two theatre productions during the academic year. The theatre space also serves as the performance space for the Savoy Society, Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society, MOSAICA, touring children’s theatre companies, and local dance schools doing their recitals, making it an important hub of cultural and artistic expression in the city of Montreal.
Named after Charles E. Moyse, (1852-1924), former Dean of the Faculty of Arts, the theatre is home to the Drama and Theatre program in the Department of English and is run by three full-time staff members, Corinne Deeley, the theatre’s Production Manager, Keith Roche, Technical Director and Catherine Bradley, Wardrobe Manager.
Corinne, Keith and Catherine are the heart and soul of the theatre’s current legacy and their commitment to teaching and working with students and faculty is obvious to students taking any of the practical theatre courses offered through the Department of English.
Perhaps one of the greatest highlights of their work is seeing students discover the magic of live theatre and taking productions from conception through to the design process, and finally to the stage.
“Working with students who are eager to learn and seeing them grow in the process has been the greatest joy and accomplishment,” they say.
Sustainability and the Future of Theatre
In recent years, Moyse Hall has looked to the future and embraced various sustainability initiatives and solutions to complement the work being done on and behind the stage. As universities across Canada embrace sustainability initiatives across disciplines, it is important for creative spaces, such as the theatre, to embrace the elimination of waste. Moyse Hall has done this across its set design, costume making and lighting and sound production.
The Moyse Hall theatre team has embraced the use of digital technology in set design, incorporating video and digital imagery in place of painted backdrops and other physical and sometimes wasteful set pieces that have a limited use. Another solution to eliminate waste in the set production has been making adaptable set pieces that are designed for longer use, rather than very specific period pieces that would be limited to one production instead of several.
Catherine Bradley, wardrobe manager, has avoided buying fast fashion pieces for the actor’s costumes and has encouraged the purchase and use of machine washable costumes over those that are ‘dry clean only’. In reusing and repurposing old textiles, Moyse Hall has been able to avoid purchasing any new fabrics for its productions. With a storage closet of old curtains, donated bed sheets and fabric remnants, Bradley and her team of students who take part in ENGL 365 and ENGL 377, Costuming for the Theatre I and II, can effectively reduce cost and waste during their student productions.
The theatre also has reciprocal borrowing agreements with other theatre companies based in Montreal, such as the National Theatre School and Centaur Theatre. This agreement avoids duplication of so-called “big ticket items” that are not used on a day-to-day basis for all productions, and allows everyone across theatre companies the chance to get the best use out of specialty items, like a Victrola, or an antique wooden wheelchair.
Sustainability in Performance
Perhaps the theatre’s biggest display of sustainability in practice was the Fall 2021 production of “Fashion Follies”, a parable illuminating the negative ecological impact of the fashion industry.
Presented through the vehicle of a “clown-like failed fashion show”, it was produced in collaboration with three classes as part of the Drama and Theatre program (ENGL365/377 Costuming for the Theatre, ENGL 368/372, Stage, Scenery and Lighting, and the Theatre Lab).
Fashion Follies featured costumes and set designs made entirely of recycled materials- plastic, paper, and miscellaneous trash. Costumes ranged from corsets made of expanded cardboard packaging, hats made from broken umbrellas, and shawls made of bubble wrap.
“The goal was to make all costumes out of repurposed materials – and we succeeded,” says the team.
Set design was equally mindful, using video projection as a storytelling tool, and racks of second-hand clothing as backdrop.
“Although the presentation gave the impression of lighthearted farce, the larger issue of the fashion industry as a major global polluter was brought front and centre,” they add.
Fond Memories of Performances Past
Catherine, Corinne and Keith have worked on countless productions over their many years at McGill. Perhaps one of their most memorable productions was the 2013 production of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”, directed by Professor Sean Carney.
The set, which was designed by Corinne, featured a revolve that was 18 feet in diameter, which allowed for a magical transition between the court and forest scenes of the play.
“Keith’s class worked out the complex carpentry and use of a motor to rotate the set so that it changed from a court scene in Athens to an enchanted forest populated by fairies in other scenes,” says the team. “The forest contained different perches and bowers for the Athenian lovers to hide and chase, and for the classic scenes with Titania and Oberon, King and Queen of the fairies.”
Another star of the show was the costume design, designed by Catherine Bradley’s class, which featured fanciful fairy costumes, coarse rustics and hand pleated Athenian garb set off with bronze details.
“This production is a great example of the collaborative nature of theatre, and how each person’s work is made better by the strength of the team,” they say.
To find out more about past and upcoming productions at Moyse Hall Theatre, consult their website here.
To read more about the work students do in the English theatre courses, read our feature on the Fall 2022 production of Pomona.