Raising the curtain

Story by Trinity Carey • Photos courtesy of Forest Roberts Theatre

The spectacular theatrical performances of the Forest Roberts Theatre resume this year with Bill Digneit taking on the role of director of theatre.

Co-owner of DIGS Gastropub and local entertainment service Double Trouble DJs, director of theatre is a new hat for Digneit, 32, but one that has always been in his prospects.

“I always knew I wanted to end up in the education field. I like working with young people and pushing their thought processes and their ability to dream of fulfilling their careers,” Digneit said. “I think we have a very exciting opportunity to work with young people and show them that it is a real possibility to make what they love doing their job, where a lot of people don’t get that opportunity sometimes.”

His current passion began in high school theater when Digneit wanted to be a part of the technical theater crew, but his teacher thought he ought to audition for a role on stage.

“I got the lead in a musical thinking I was going to be doing backstage stuff. I ended up doing that for a little bit, the singing and stuff, but when I made it to college I realized that the performing, while fun, was not where my passion lied in making theater art and entertainment art,” he said. “I’m kind of a big nerd. I really like the technical gear and all the details.”

Digneit earned his first two degrees from Northern Michigan University—one in technical theater, the other in communications—before getting his Master of Fine Arts from Florida State University.

After college, Digneit went on to freelance in the private sector,  before returning to Marquette where he and his brother, Pat, brought their businesses to fruition. Since becoming director of the theater, Digneit has taken a step back from Double Trouble DJs and DIGS, but brings with him to the FRT the experiences he gained throughout it all.

“I’m behind the scenes. My brother Pat and his future wife Alyssa, they do a great job at running that and there’s a good team at Double Trouble. They’re in good hands. They’re pushing and doing lots of things. I have a few moments here and there free to make sure that everything is going good over there but my 100 percent is here right now,” Digneit said. “That was the plan and I knew for awhile, so we took the right steps to put the right people in. This is a full-time job over here, but I am taking my knowledge of what’s out there and the skills that I’ve learned from running those companies and imparting it to students.”

Big things are happening this year for theater-goers and students. NMU recently moved its dance minor from the Health and Human Performances Department to the FRT. The theater recently opened Studio P, a dance and rehearsal space, and this year’s theater season will include more dance performances and shows. Marketing is an effort within the FRT Digneit plans to see increase this year, he said.

“We’ve been working with Travel Marquette. Entertainment tourism is a big thing here in Marquette and the Forest Roberts Theatre has a lot to offer the Marquette community as well as here on campus. But we really want to make sure people come see the shows and all the diverse things we’ve got going on.”

The theater program is also working toward providing students with off stage entertainment knowledge. An aspect of the entertainment arts Digneit believes is important in the industry currently.

“It’s theater and entertainment arts degrees that people are getting here… It’s not just working in a theater. It’s going out there and designing festivals that all the young people are going to these days,” he said and gave a chuckle. “We’re evolving the program to be more encompassing of all entertainment. I always tell people if you go to Las Vegas it’s not very traditional theater. You have circus, concerts, reviews, all this is being run by theater and so we’re just trying to expand our horizon for the potential student that comes here. As well as the community wants to see more than just theater.”

The Opening Night Party Series is new to the theater this year as well. Included in every ticket price, community sponsors will host light appetizers and refreshments during the opening night of each production where show-goers can meet and greet with the cast, designers and directors.

“It’s a great way for our community and our really avid theater-goers to just get a cool opening night,” he said.

Digneit is hopeful the changes and new aspects  the FRT has to offer will show the community what a shining star the the theatre is.

“Theater and the arts in general is a piece of your soul. We’re makers of art and theater here and I think it adds a well roundedness to our community,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see someone on the actor side give themselves over and become that person. On the technical side to see the ‘oo’s and ahh’s’ and the excitement of the technical spectacle that happens inside a theater performance.”

The FRT’s show series has expanded from four to six and includes returning favorites and classics along with new productions like its first production of the year, Noises Off.

This slap-stick comedy will give theatre-goers a look behind the curtain and will run Friday, September 29 through Saturday, October 7.

“There’s a lot of exciting technical spectacle with our set and the way it moves and all the different entrances and exits, so that one’s going to be great,” Digneit said.

Rock the FRT, a battle of the bands, will follow on Saturday, October 14, and give community members the opportunity to compete for a cash prize.

The FRT stage will be transformed for an evening of scares with The Haunted Theatre, a campus and community favorite, from Thursday, October 26, through Saturday, October 28.

Constellations is a futuristic romance that will take place in the FRT’s James A. Panowski Black Box Theatre from Thursday, November 9, through Saturday, November 18.

“That’s going to be a wild ride. It’s talking about different dimensions and time travel and all kinds of crazy stuff,” Digneit added. “It’s a smaller cast with just two people, so it’s going to be a more intimate show, but the space is definitely right for that.”

The FRT stage will then host the Superior Arts Youth Theatre’s (SAYT) production of Shrek, the Musical, Jr. from Thursday, November 16, through Sunday, November 19, which will feature local youth actors from grades kindergarten through eight. SAYT will also offer Peter Pan March 15 through 18 with a cast of kids in grades kindergarten through 12.

The Bold, The Young, and The Murdered is a soap opera murder mystery running from Thursday, December 7, through Saturday, December 9, and produced by Alpha Psi Omega, the National Theatre Honor Society.

Scrooge! Will return to the FRT stage once again Thursday December 14, through Sunday, December 17.

“I mean Charles Dickens, multiple ghosts; it’s a classic. It used to be a large fundraiser that we do every year. It came back for the first time this past year and now we will be continuing on with it and forever improving the set with more projections and multimedia show,” Digneit said. “It will be over graduation weekend when all the families are in town, so it’s a week later than it normally is, but it’s exciting because it’s the holidays everybody gets excited for.”

The Fringe Festival will run from February 8 through 16 and will include productions of The Valentine Fairy, The Complete works of William Shakespeare, Abridged and Antigone.

“The Fringe Festival is three shows all in one night so you see three, 40-minute shows, which is about the same time as a large musical,” he added. “They’re all different, so it’s like watching three different TV shows for a half-hour at a time. It’s  fun for your brain and exciting to think about all the different stories you get to watch.”

With the inclusion of the dance minor to the FRT, this year’s NMU Dance Concert will take place on stage February 22 through 24 and feature dance of all styles completely choreographed and performed by dance students.

The FRT will be transformed into a mystical jungle for the performance of the classic Tarzan taking place April 13 through 21.

“We’re going to be flying five people at once. It’s going to be exciting. There’s a big set, a huge cast, a lot going on, get your tickets early for this one,” Digneit said.

To purchase tickets or for further theatre schedule details visit NMU’s Forest Roberts Theatre webpage.

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