Behind the Scenes

Mary Atchley

Class of 2016
Major: Theatre
Hometown: Montgomery, Ill.

In any given week, Mary Atchely got her work done with a power drill, a sewing machine, a paintbrush, or a pencil. As a self-proclaimed “techie,” she used all of these tools to create the world of the stage. Ideas that began in her head ended up as fully realized sets on the University Theatre.
Mary helped construct a few sets during high school, but she did not know how to draft until she took Valpo’s course on scenery and lighting. By sophomore year, she was in charge of designing the set for the department’s production of Macbeth.

“As a designer, you set the tone for the play,” she says. “You literally shape the ground that the actors walk on.”

For Macbeth, Mary had to facilitate more than just walking. The script includes knife fights, sword fights, poison, and prophesies. So, Mary designed a set with many entrances: from the catwalk, up the center aisle, through a trap door, and more. This allowed the actors to travel through the space in multiple unexpected ways. Mary also included large nets from which Shakespeare’s notorious witches prophesied and “acted creepy.”

Mary worked for both Professor Alan Ernstein, Valpo’s technical director, and Professor Ann Kessler, who manages the costume shop. She says those experiences, plus an acting course and practicums on the costume crew and as a stage manager, deepened her understanding of the collaborative nature of theatre.

“It’s really hard to see an actor if they’re standing in the dark,” Mary says. “The theatre department on campus is kind of like a family. It’s about pulling each show together and knowing that the people you are working with are going to pull through.”