Theater is now live in the dorms

Middlebrook Hall is the place to be to watch first-year theater students perform “Dial M for Murder” in dorm rooms.

Courtney Sinner

Nine students filed into a Middlebrook Hall dorm room Saturday night, five climbing into each lofted bed.

For the next two hours, they watched nervously as a murder mystery unfolded before their eyes.

After the weekend, the small dorm rooms of Middlebrook Hall have a new name: stage.

The dorms played host to the debut of “Dial M for Murder” – a full-length play best known for the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation – this weekend, thanks to the vision of first-year theater student Billy Mullaney.

He and the rest of the seven-member cast have been planning and rehearsing since before winter break.

Mullaney said he thought of the idea for dorm-room theater last fall, wanting to bring theater directly to students free of cost.

With students watching more television and spending more time in front of computers, Mullaney said it can be hard to get out and see a production. It’s easier when it’s right down the hall.

“In order to try and combat everyone staying at home, we’re bringing it to the people and making it more accessible,” he said.

He didn’t think it would actually work to perform in a dorm room until he read the script for “Dial M for Murder” and realized the plot all took place in one room.

The idea of making the audience sit above the action instead of in front of it was also intriguing, he said.

“I wanted to make the audience feel like they’re looking in on something that they’re not supposed to be seeing,” he said, “The play being a murder mystery fits in perfectly for that.”

However, having a dorm room as the venue presented its share of challenges.

Originally, Mullaney thought he could host all the performances in his room, but “having six shows over two weekends with people coming in and out, my roommate didn’t want that,” he said.

He tried convincing residence hall staff to let him use the tour room in the building, but since the University owns the room, they would have to enforce capacity rules and fire codes, which don’t allow for 15 people in the room at once.

Mullaney offered to move into the room so he could use his own discretion to how many people were allowed inside, but they still needed it for tours.

“It became like circular logic,” Mullaney said.

The solution? Performances in different rooms every night.

On Saturday night, it was Ruth Torkelson’s room.

Although sitting in the lofts was a tight fit – “we’re awfully cozy up there” – Torkelson said she liked the new perspective.

“There’s something to being so close to the actors,” the first-year international business student said. “I almost feel more engaged because it’s so close. You can feel the mood.”

Mullaney accidentally spilled some juice on the floor during one scene, but Torkelson said she would offer the room again if he ever did another project like this.

Almost all shows were scheduled late at night to add to the murder-mystery atmosphere, with the exception of the upcoming May 9 performance.

Since Middlebrook lofts have to be turned in for the end of the year by 9 p.m. that day, the show was moved up to 4 p.m. to meet the deadline.

The cast members all have busy schedules with school, work and other productions, so they all learned two parts to put together a rotating cast.

There are seven students in the cast, but only five are needed for a performance, allowing for more flexibility in rehearsal and performance times.

The cast doesn’t rehearse in any of the rooms they’re performing in either, adding an element of improvisation.

Cast member Katie Weber said the rotating cast and variety of rooms is one of the most exciting parts of working on the project.

“It’s been fun to move around and try different things every time,” she said. “No one show will be exactly the same.”

Don’t worry about trying to get a seat now, though – they’ve all been reserved.