New lab location takes theater from Red Masquers

Their home since 2015, the Red Masquers will be unable to use Genesius theater.


Kellen Stepler

editor in chief

Duquesne University’s Red Masquers won’t be able to have their shows in this Genesius Theater anytime soon, but that does not mean the show’s going to stop.
Over the summer, Masquers advisor John Lane received an email from the provost’s office that the group would not be able to perform in the Genesius Theater for the foreseeable future. Instead, the space will be used for health science labs, which had to be moved to accommodate social distancing guidelines.
“I understand why — it’s an extraordinary time,” Lane said. “We’re happy to help the university any way we can and do our part to make sure everyone is safe and sound. It’s unfortunate, but everyone on campus is making sacrifices.”
Lane had to break the news during a Red Masquer executive board meeting.
“My reaction was a mix of shock and sadness. I never would have guessed that we would lose the theater,” Red Masquer secretary Olivia Scherrer said. “We had already discussed modifying some shows and thinking of alternatives, but I never expected to lose our location to another major.”
Composed of 45-60 DU students from all majors, the Red Masquers have called the Genesius Theater home since 2015. The Red Masquers will have access to the rest of the building — the prop shop, costume storage and a rehearsal hall, for example — but not the auditorium itself.
“I feel upset that the theater won’t be in use,” actor Michael Kirk said. “It’s a gorgeous building with so much potential and so many stories to tell. However, due to the pandemic, it is rather difficult to justify the probability of putting people in danger just to satisfy our cravings for live entertainment.”
For Masquers president Heather Umbel, the most frustrating thing about having no access to the theater is the inability to educate students interested in crew.
“We won’t have access to the technical equipment in the theater, like the sound system and the lighting system,” Umbel said. “People won’t be able to learn skills.”
Scherrer said that she was upset that the Red Masquers were not notified prior to the university making the decision, or were not part of the conversation that decided who would use the theater.
“There are theater majors who need that theater for their specific focus, and I feel that their education is being put on hold or pushed aside by Duquesne,” Scherrer said. “There is already a bias toward STEM majors when compared to arts majors, and I feel that this instance exhibits that preference.”
Classes that would have normally been in the theater have been moved to the rehearsal hall in Genesius Theater. It’s up to individual directors of each show to decide where the cast will practice safely and follow protocols.
“I think it will be an interesting way to see how creative we can be,” Umbel said. “I’m happy to be pushed out of our comfort zone.”
Lane explained that there are alternative types of shows that the Red Masquers will perform — doing virtual, radio and outdoor shows — with very small casts and short in length.
“We’ll be just as busy as a normal semester,” Lane said. “We’re doing just as many, if not more, shows. We’re just doing types of shows that we wouldn’t normally do.”
While they’re still in the works, the plan is for virtual shows to be held on platforms such as Zoom or Facebook Live, radio shows to be broadcasted on Duquesne’s radio station, WDSR, and 10-minute outdoor shows to be performed on campus during class switch times.
“I think this is an odd yet interesting way to go about our semester,” Scherrer said. “The new students will definitely experience an interesting and new way of working in theater, and I cannot wait to see what comes of it.”
Lane said that the Red Masquers will plan other virtual events among its members to “keep morale up,” and “create as many opportunities as possible for kids to do theater.”
Although cliché, the phrase “the show must go on” may hold more bearing to the Red Masquers this year. In their 109-year-history, the Red Masquers have never cancelled a season.
“Safety should be our top priority in these coming months, even if that does, in fact, mean our theater will not be in use this year,” Kirk said. “Duquesne will prevail, and the Red Masquers will prevail, but only if we keep our heads on straight and our hearts on our sleeves.”