First play since theater dissolved opens Wednesday

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For the first time since St. Thomas dissolved its theater department, students from St. Thomas and St. Catherine are set to take the stage. Their latest production,”Hedda Gabler,” opens Wednesday at St. Catherine’s Frey Theater and runs through Sunday.

A psychological and social drama written by Henrik Ibsen in 1890, the play tells the story of two newlyweds who move into their new home after a long honeymoon. From there, the title character begins to discover more about her true self and the thwarted motives that fill her saturated world.

Director Teresa Lyons-Hegdahl, an assistant professor in St. Catherine’s theater department, has used the “Hedda Gabler” text in many of her classes, citing the tale as a “a wonderful vehicle for studying the notion of psychological realism.”

“It gives [students] an opportunity to see a different kind of script than they might normally see,” Lyons-Hegdahl said. “This is psychological drama, where the action is about the internal mind of the characters.”

Seven actors and actresses from St. Thomas and St. Catherine comprise the cast and two stage managers assist in running the show. Earlier this fall, about 50 students auditioned for parts in “Hedda Gabler” and the universities’ Comedy Sports performances.

“It’s been a really interesting journey,” said junior Franklin Wagner, who plays Jürgen Tesman. “Some of us knew each other from previous shows or we’d been friends before, but we have some alumni coming back and new students … It’s a new challenge for everybody, but there’s lots of energy.”

Ben Byers-Ferrian returned to Frey Theater for the first time since graduating in 2006 to fill the role of Judge Brack. He “jumped” at the chance to take part in “Hedda Gabler” when Lyons-Hegdahl invited him back.

“I think students could get the most out of this play by just seeing how social norms are different from today,” Byers-Ferrian said. “They’re very different, how females interact with each other, how much they give away. Even between the gentlemen, it’s a very curious manner. You just get to see all these relationships you wouldn’t see today.”

The show must go on, even without a department

St. Thomas decided to drop its theater department last year due to the lack of student involvement. At the time, the department had 11 majors and one full-time faculty member. The university elected to continue offering theater classes though, allowing current students to finish up their majors and minors.

“It’s been very much a transitional year,” Lyons-Hegdahl said. “It’s a wonderfully creative time in that we are very closely examining curriculum, very closely examining how we can take the department into the next 10, 20 years, how we can position ourselves to better serve our students.”

When St. Thomas announced its decision, students and faculty in the theater department were upset. However, excitement for the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex overshadowed the demolition of Foley Theater. Now, theater professors and students at St. Thomas are working to keep the program afloat, even if mostly in a performance setting instead of in the classroom.

“As a learning tool, theater is a wonderful vehicle for individuals to discover their selves and the world,” Lyons-Hegdahl said. “I can’t imagine a liberal arts program not having theater.”

Despite the new challenges this year, the students in “Hedda Gabler” are excited about their production and have still found it to be a meaningful experience.

“Even though there’s really no department at St. Thomas, we’re still able to get as much as we want out of it,” Wagner said. “It all depends on how much you put into it … Since we have no support, you have to work twice as hard.”

Hedda Gabler runs through Saturday, starting at 7 p.m. each night and ends with a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday. Students, faculty and staff at all ACTC schools can attend for free. General admission is $5.

Grant Goerke can be reached at