Tech theatre explores new sky-high territory

HOUGHTON – Patricia Helsel started with a simple script for a play. But once she let colleagues and students at the Tech Theatre Company in on the project, “Rose and the Rime” evolved into something much more, an extravaganza that includes flying characters and a dance team that performs while hanging from silk scarves 20 feet in the air.

“Rose and the Rime,” a Tech Theatre production, opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the McArdle Theatre in the Walker Arts and Humanities building on Tech’s campus. There will also be performances Friday and Saturday, as well as Feb. 13-15.

Helsel, the play’s director, said creating Tech’s “Rose” was about “making things up, not being confined by what’s been done before.”

The result is a spectacle that stretches the imagination with plenty of ‘wow’ moments, all of which contribute to the play’s total package rather than distracting from the story line.

The production’s plot follows the fairy-tale journey of Rose as she attempts to free her home town, Radio City, Mich., from a curse that has left the burg in eternal winter. To do so, she must venture alone into the wilderness to face the Rime Witch, who cast the snowy curse.

Helsel said the script for “Rose” was first produced a few years ago for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. All other elements of the high-tech production, including dance, music, sound and set design were created by Michigan Tech staff and students in a collaborative process that began early in Tech’s fall semester and often challenged crew members in new ways.

“In some cases, we took video of dance and movement, then asked the sound crew to write music based on that,” Helsel said.

Choreographer Mary Muncil was given the job of training actors with limited dance training to not only move expressively, but to perform dangerous silk-scarf aerial maneuvers.

“We were lucky to find actors with the interest and ability,” Muncil said, “and we were able to get them to move organically.”

Helsel credited the production’s dance corps, which does everything from performing the silk scarf aerial routines to serving as set elements. Not in the original script at all, she said they ended up on stage for about 95 percent of the show.

“I can’t imagine the show without them,” she said.

“Rose and the Rime” used “flying” and aerial sequences more complex than any the Tech Theatre Company has attempted before, according to Scenic Designer Kalen Larson, who managed those portions of the show.

“The fun thing about this show is that we got to attack it, not just the story, but trying to make it a bit more of a spectacle,” Larson said.

He said he’s worked elsewhere with flying sequences, but to do so at home was especially fun.

“Here at Tech we can take the time to experiment with new things,” he said. “It’s the ideal situation for an artist, to be able to try anything.”

Paige Borel, who plays title character Rose, said she’d worked with shows using flying and aerials before, but never in one that combined those elements with “characters you can relate to.”

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s fast-paced. It keeps me on my toes.”

There are some scary parts of the show, so the company is offering 6:30 p.m. pre-performance backstage tours prior to the Saturday performances to acclimate younger audience members to what they’ll be seeing.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. for all performances and tickets are $13 for adults, $8 for children and free for Tech students.

To purchase tickets, call 487-2073, online at, or go to the SDC Central Ticket Office or the McArdle Theatre box office in the Walker building prior to the show.