6:05. Just under two hours until the full run-through of the show. Cast and crew scurry about, tinkering with props and practicing lines. Somewhere, a voice cries out, “Your mother is a twit!” – an iconic line from the infamous Ms. Trunchbull. Hues of blue illuminate the stage and playful tunes flow from the pit. The atmosphere of the show’s dress rehearsal is cheerful yet charged with nervous energy as members prepare for opening night.
After nearly two months of preparation, the Dolphin Show’s rendition of Matilda the Musical will come to life for the first time tonight at 7:30 p.m. Reaching its 80th anniversary, the Northwestern-based non-profit organization annually stages the largest student-led musical in the country, according to its website. For Tallulah Nouss, a School of Communications second-year who plays Ms. Wormwood, the significance of this performance cannot be understated.
“The fact that it is student-run in every aspect, but we still have so much support from so many areas that it can be such a big production, I think has just been awesome to experience,” Nouss said.
This year the Dolphin Show is also introducing accessibility resources for the first time in the organization’s history. These resources include an access guide and sensory packs. Heidi Hill, the show’s director of accessibility, created the guide, which helps audience members navigate the performance, detailing aspects of the show that may be over-stimulating, such as scenes with bright lights. The access guide also includes a social story, which chronicles the sequence of social interactions an audience member may experience upon arrival to the performance. Cahn Theatre also designates a quiet area for audience members to use in cases of overstimulation.
Creating a more accommodating space is integral to the communal aspect of theater, according to Hill.
“Theater is pretty much at its core about storytelling and telling the stories of the world around us,” Hill said. “Those who might be interacting with the world and might have something different. [It] doesn't mean that they should be excluded from being in theater. Theater is catharsis for a lot of people and it can bring audiences together."
In addition to upholding the legacy of the Dolphin Show, cast members this year also have to live up to the name of a well-loved story—one that was originally told in Roald Dahl’s 1988 book, then retold in movie and musical form thereafter.
For Matthew McGrory, SESP third-year who plays Ms. Honey, taking on such a well-known role meant not just reenacting what’s already been seen, but presenting new meaningful portrayals of the role.
“I was excited to delve into the realization that they need to develop self-confidence and self-determination in their teaching style to help these children,” McGrory said. “I was also really interested in exploring their gender-fluid identity. It's something unique to this particular production, as Ms. Honey is usually portrayed by a female-identifying person.”
McGrory isn’t alone in making their role their own. Morgan Barber, School of Communications second-year, plays the titular lead character, Matilda. At the core of the story lies a lesson in joy, she said. As audiences enjoy the childhood favorite once again, she hopes they resonate with the childlike determination found throughout the story.
“We're not very different from kids,” Barber said. “College kids, we’re children still, because we don’t know what we’re doing. It's cool to relate my experience to the extremes of Matilda. I hope people take away that we're not all that different and we can all have fun and play, even when life is life-ing.”
Matilda is running Jan. 20-28. Tickets are available here.
*Thumbnail courtesy of The Dolphin Show.