SHSU Theatre to Open Season with Unconventional Production

A chilling theatrical production is coming to campus as the Sam Houston State University department of theatre and musical theatre opens its season tonight.

The department will present “Machinal,” a dramatic production loosely based on the life of Ruth Snyder, a woman in the 1920’s who murdered her husband and was executed in 1928, the same year as the show’s opening on Broadway.

The show is unlike any production SHSU theatre has put on before, according to professor of theatre and “Machinal” director David McTier, Ph.D.  The production follows a theatrical style known as “American expressionism,” where the story is shown through the mind of the play’s protagonist.

“The idea is that instead of experiencing the real world, we’re experiencing the world as the protagonist, Helen, experiences it,” McTier said.  “When things are weird or distorted, it’s because that’s what’s going on in her mind.”

“Machinal” differs from most productions at SHSU through the use of staging.  McTier said that over the summer, the department purchased projection software to map images to the surfaces of panels that serve as the production’s staging.

Along with the projection, the play brings an advanced makeup technique to the department as senior theatre Jennifer Sullivan designed the makeup using airbrushing,

“This is really our first major projection effort and it’s our first airbrush effort,” McTier said.  “You’ll see for the actors themselves that this requires a very different type of acting.  They’ll do a lot of coordinated movement, even do a little dancing.”

McTier said the acting style differs from the norm not only in movement, but also in the roles the actors will portray.

“It’s not about playing a character that has any dimension,” McTier said. “They’re all like worker bees in this machine.  You’ll see between the makeup and what they’re wearing, they’re deliberately made to almost lose their human look.”

This show is SHSU’s competitive entry in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  McTier said tonight’s opening is a deciding time in their competition process.

“We have two judges coming [tonight] and they will tell us if they are seriously interested in this production,” McTier said. “If so, they will put it on hold. In December, when all the colleges are done performing, they will invite six colleges to come and perform at a regional festival.”

McTier said that travelling with this show would be easier than past shows since play’s gear could fit almost entirely into a pickup truck.

The show is a mixture between student and faculty design.  Students have designed the sound, makeup, and the set for the show.  The video-projections were co-designed by students and faculty.

Faculty designs include the lighting and the direction, with a student aid working with the director.

“Machinal” opens tonight and runs through Oct. 11.  Evening performances begin at 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7:30 p.m.  Saturday matinees begin at 2 p.m. with doors open at 1:30 p.m.

Performances take place in the University Theatre Center’s Erica Starr Theatre.

Tickets can be purchased at or at 936-294-1339 and cost $10 for students and senior citizens, and $12 for general admission.

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