Noising Off on Margaret Berg

by Larry LaVercombe,

“Put the eyebrow light there,” she said, pointing. “And let’s put a blue painting there, to bring out the blue in the trim…” Before she can turn back to me, a young man with a cordless drill calls to her from the top of the heavy, two-level wooden structure that forms the center of the Noises Off set. He’s a recent college grad who majored in musical theater, and she directs him with the same calm focus with which she directed his acting in the annual main-stage Southwest musical six years ago.

Margaret Berg turns back and flashes her bright blue eyes and infectious smile – “You’ll keep it a secret how much I love doing this, right, Larry?”

It’s now been seven years since Berg has been teaching, producing and directing theater at Southwest, and three years since she took over the helm after Chris Fisher moved on to work on the north side.

Currently, her responsibilities include: advising the Unhinged Theater Program, which produces 4 shows per year; running the SW tech-theater program; producing/directing the 9th/10th grade musical; producing/directing the One Act Series, the Main Stage Musical, and the Main Stage Play; and teaching three classes, including two IB classes. “And oh,” she said, “and directing a summer play, too… Does that count?”

Noises Off opens this week at Southwest High School (Nov. 20, 21, 22, 7pm; Nov. 23, 2pm, $10 adults, $5 students, tickets at door and online here). Berg describes it as “a silly, British farce / physical comedy about a theater company that is falling apart.” The huge set has two sides to it — a front stage and a back stage — and it gets turned around during the intermission to show both sides to the audience, so they see the play that the company in putting on, and also the drama that is taking place back-stage.

“There’s a play within a play, every character plays two different parts, and as you can see, the set is a major deal,” Berg said. “Only a few schools do this play. But it’s inventive and hilarious and I think people are going to love it. And it’s a great experience for the students to do all the tech work and construction that this play requires.”

Berg’s goal is to keep adding something to the Southwest theater program each year. Recently they are growing not only on the acting side, but the tech side as well.

“More than ever,” she said, “our students are going off to study theater at college and university. And I love it that I regularly get emails from former students – not only saying, ‘Hey I’m acting at the Globe Theater in London,’ or ‘I’ve just got another part in New York,’ but also like the one I got the other day from a guy we graduated a few years ago who’s now a business student at the U. He said, ‘Ms. Berg, I gotta tell you I use theater every day, in every part of my program.’”

She smiles. “I believe that our students are seeing that the theater can be a life-long thing, and that they can have a career in it if they want to.”

So what’s next, after Noises Off?

“Our new theater website is about to go live,” she said. “I’m really excited about that… and then we pretty quickly start gearing up for the One Acts, and then for this spring’s main-stage musical Ragtime.

“We have a mission here,” she said, “to be a theater presence that reflects Southwest Minneapolis and also the entire Southwest High School student body.” Meaning: we gotta be diverse.
“When two students directed Dream Girls last spring,” she says, “our students were thrilled that we could do that here. And next, with Ragtime, we have another opportunity for diversity. We want all kids to feel personally invited to get on stage, here, at Southwest.”

Moments later – three more questions arrive from three different directions, and she is back in director mode. I take my leave, and I’m struck again, as I’m writing this – how lucky we are, as a community, to have this school, and these committed professional teachers, contributing to the lives of our kids.

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Tags: Southwest Theatre