We can’t let the curtain fall on the Masque

There is always a certain feeling when you walk into a theater. Sometimes it is a feeling of being at ease, or a feeling of high-wired nerves. A well-decorated lobby can attract the playgoer, and sometimes the simplicity of a plain house can create an allure of simplistic mystery. However, it is quite rare that a theater can emulate pure magic.

In downtown Rochester, there is a little white building with purple trim. It was once a plumbing and heating building, but now is the home of the Masque Youth Theatre and School, Inc. As many may already know, the Masque is going through some financial hardship at this time. The efforts of the students, parents and volunteers to raise money thus far are phenomenal, and they will continue to raise funds.

What many may not know is what goes on inside. Walking in, the lobby is brightly painted and covered with posters and photos from past productions. Beyond the black curtains lies a theater-in-the-round with six sides and three gigantic pillars. The stage is neutral and black, when not in use, but comes to life during productions, along with theater lighting and sound.

Actors gathered

On Nov. 18, I returned to the Masque to watch the Ensemble, a core group of approximately 15 students ranging from age 12 to 52. These students volunteer as teachers, board members, interim directors, playwrights, actors and crewmembers during the five-show season.


Walking into the theater, I saw each student sitting cozily near one another in chairs. They were discussing the deeper poetic meanings of Bob Dylan’s songs, and they were connecting them to other monologues and modern day covers of Dylan’s works. There was laughter, tears, and discussions that ran deeply and thoughtfully. When rehearsal ended after two hours, we came together in a circle and chatted.

Most of these students have been coming and going to the Masque for varied amounts of time — just under two months to 16 years — and all of them have experienced something they could not bear to lose.

AmberLee Hoye, a senior in her 10th year at the theater, mentions a 5-year-old student in her Creative Dramatics class saying, "I can use this stuff everyday in my life wherever I go."

Katie Hansen, also a senior, likes the Masque because "no one is underestimated and no one expects that (Masque students perform what they do). It’s the only artistic place we have."

Alizabeth Thomson and Amy McMeeking like the theater’s springtime Shakespeare production. "I love Shakespeare, and I can’t do it anywhere else," McMeeking says. Thomson adds that, "Younger people get it more than adults… (Because of the age of Shakespeare’s characters), we get the true meaning. We can relate to it with little bias, and it even helps comprehend reality."

Abby Hempe likes the feeling of getting away from the chaos of life. "I feel accepted by everyone here, both artistically and personally," she says.

Theater’s impact

I then asked them to describe the Masque in one word. Despite the groans of being unable to pick one word, they stepped up after a careful analysis — evolve, grow, challenge, honesty and risk.


Confidence builds quickly, as well as integrity and trust. It is an indescribable oasis of learning, genuine and phantasmagorical. How can the fine arts community in southeastern Minnesota stand to lose such a place as this?

Here I am in the presence of young teens that barely have begun middle and high school, and they are talking about theater principles that many attend graduate school to understand — comprehension of texts, emotions, physicality and character.

They trust and confide in this little theater, their fellow students and its director, Sylvia Langworthy. For over 20 years, the Masque has given the opportunity for our youth to grow personally and artistically. That really is a sorry thing to see waste away.

I have been to many theaters in my life, but none of them bear a sense of magic quite like the Masque. I began taking classes there during the summer of 1999, and it was there my interest in theater and writing blossomed. Although I have since left the theater to explore other acting opportunities, I return every so often for a play, class, or field trip to let myself fall into that magic once more.

Returning to the Masque that evening proves that this is one curtain that cannot (and should not) fall for many years to come.

Emily Gresbrink is a senior at John Marshall High School. To respond to an opinion column, send e-mail to

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