RWU Theatre’s ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ leaps toward its debut this weekend

Castmates Amanda Neff and Olivia Hauvuy discuss the show


Amanda Neff (left) and Olivia Hauvuy (right) in “Dancing at Lughnasa”.

Updated COVID safety guidelines have been in effect for weeks now, and senior Amanda Neff and junior Olivia Hauvuy — two castmates in the Theatre Department’s latest show “Dancing at Lughnasa” — are grateful.

When asked how the rehearsal process has changed since last semester, the castmates cited the latest restriction lift as a relief. Previously, the actors and actresses were incorporating the six-foot distance into performance blocking (where actors stand onstage.) Neff said it had been “incredibly frustrating.”

Hauvuy recalled a favorite production from last year, “No Exit,” where social distancing was especially difficult due to the numerous fight scenes in the play.

“We had to try and maintain that energy without actually coming up to each other,” Hauvuy said.

“It’s a very tense show, so not being able to be like this close was really difficult,” added Neff.

Fortunately, thanks to Roger Williams University’s stellar 96% vaccination rate, the biggest impact COVID will have on the “Dancing at Lughnasa” performances is the indoor mask mandate. Neff and Hauvuy hope that even this requirement could change thanks to RWU’s relaxation of mask mandates inside residence halls and the fitness center. For now, however, the cast is still required to wear masks while performing.

“It’s still really difficult with the masks just because so much of acting is [the] lower half of your face,” Hauvuy said.

“Smizing” (which is making expressions with the eyes) and implementing active eyebrows in acting have never been more important.

Directed by Theatre Professor Lori Lee Wallace, “Dancing at Lughnasa” follows five sisters whose brief experiences with love are slowly extinguished by unexpected sadness and economic problems that become apparent at the end of the summer.

Neff, who plays the sister Agnes, described her character as “incredibly moody,” and said it has been fun figuring out why Agnes’s moods change so quickly. When asked what her favorite part of the show has been, she stated, “That’s hard because so much of it is fun!”

One memorable aspect, however, has been learning to knit. Hauvuy agreed, noting that the pair bought their own knitting supplies in order to learn. Throughout the show, Neff and Hauvuy work on a project in real time, knitting the piece during different scenes.

Hauvuy, who plays another sister named Rosie, said her favorite part of this experience has been bringing “life” into the solemn play.

“I like keeping the energy up,” Hauvuy said. “I have a lot of fun while I’m playing her.”

While “Dancing at Lughnasa” is a drama and follows some more serious plotlines, Hauvuy added that there’s “definitely a lot of laughing involved.”

Neff described the show as a “memory play,” where one of the sisters’ sons reflects on his experiences in 1936 Donegal, Ireland.

“It’s an everyday, slice of life kind of play,” Neff said.

Both cast members have been involved with RWU’s theatre program since their freshman debut shows their first weeks on campus.

“We never stopped,” Neff said.

Through a global pandemic and beyond, the show must go on.

You can see Neff and Hauvuy, along with their eight fellow castmates, in “Dancing at Lughnasa” at the Barn beginning Oct. 8. The show will be open to full in-person audiences this weekend. Performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. on the weekends of Oct. 8-9 and Oct. 14-16. There will also be a matinee performance on Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door.