Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Barry University: Back from Obscurity

(Editor's note: a while back, I asked "does Barry University even have a theatre department anymore?" in the wake of most of the department leaving the school. Recently, I offered the University the opportunity to respond, and this article is that response.)

Barry University Theatre Department Looking to Reclaim Golden Age

By Mary Sansone

For many years, Barry University’s theater program has been languishing in obscurity and mostly forgotten in the South Florida landscape, even sparking most to comment, “Does Barry still have a program?” Due to recent changes and a new commitment to the program from the University, the answer is a resounding “YES!!” In a span of only two years, Barry’s number of Theatre majors has skyrocketed from a flimsy 9 to a robust 30, breathing life into the department. Under the leadership of Dr. Hugh Murphy and Assistant Professor John Manzelli, the growth has allowed Barry to experience a new season of excitement. Two main stage productions, an opera, a student directed one-act festival, and other studio productions are just a few of the annual events now permanently built into the calendar.

Scintillating productions such as David Feldshuh’s poignant Miss Evers’ Boys, Charles Mee’s eclectic Big Love, and a modern spin on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night have proven that Barry’s theatre department is alive and well—gaining momentum every moment with no intention of slowing down.

With the University’s last production, Twelfth Night Project, boasting a total attendance of over 1,000 patrons—the rapid transformation seems to be drawing in quite a following. Getting University students interested in giving up their evenings to watch live Shakespeare is an impressive feat, but getting them to come back a second time because they thought it was hilarious, is down right spectacular— Barry’s theatre department has done both!

Barry’s theatre students also ardently support the Miami theatre community and are frequent audience members in various local productions throughout the year, which they attend as a group. The average Barry theatre student views upwards of ten shows per year as part of the department’s “Evening of Theater” program.

In addition to participating in the mainstage productions, attending lessons in theatre history, and applying Stanislavski techniques to the work of Clifford Odets, Barry theatre students enjoy frequent guests workshops.

Guests have included playwrights Michael McKeever and Andrew Rosendorf who casually eat pizza and read plays with the students, earning the evenings the obvious title: “Pizza and a Play Reading.” Second City alum Mark Swaner has given two improv workshops for the students and actress Margot Moorland is scheduled to do an in-depth master class about auditioning.

The department recently hosted An Evening with Michael McKeever, held in the University’s Gato Gallery. Using the talent of Equity actors, professors Manzelli, Murphy, instructor Chaz Mena and several theatre students, four of McKeever’s plays were read aloud—including the debut reading of his newest short work titled Lost.

Naked Stage logoThe department is also home to The Naked Stage (an award-winning professional theatre company). Four Barry students will earn acting internships with the company’s newest play, Macon City, in November.

Dedicated students characterize Barry’s current theatre department as more than a place for the technically skilled—but for those who truly wish to learn the craft they love. At the core of the department is a cohesiveness which bolsters support and care for one another as much outside the classroom as in it.

The student’s commitment has also spilled out into the community as a team of students under the umbrella of the theatre department, call themselves A.C.T. (Artists Coming Together) have donated their time to the North Miami Library and Miami Shores Library where they put on free theatrical programs and activities for local kids.

It was once said that years ago Barry University’s theatre department knew a golden age with the likes of David Trimble, Chaz Mena, Paul Tei, John Manzelli and many others…it now seems determined to reclaim the golden age.

(The author is a sophomore in Barry University's Theatre program)


  1. Chris,

    Thank you for posting this. As producer of Naked Stage, I can't tell you how great everyone has been at Barry. Silvia Lizama, Fernando Londono, Hugh Murphy and John Manzelli deserve an extraordinary amount of credit for what they have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. I'm proud to be a part of it. (Thanks should also go to Ann Paton in the Presiden't office. She's been tremendously supportive.)

  2. I saw a production of "The Left Hand Singing" by Barbara Lebow a couple of years ago. I am glad that Barry's theatre department is thriving and will look forward to seeing students and/or graduates in professional productions soon.

    Kevin Johnson

  3. I attended the tribute to Michael McKeever and was incredibly impressed with the way the student actors held their own with more seasoned professionals. I look forward to seeing more productions at Barry.

    Kudos to Hugh Murphy, John Manzelli and the other members of the department for resurrecting Theatre at Barry!

    Kathryn Johnston