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Student Madi Vespa Williams Shares the Joy of In-Person and Virtual Theatre at Northeastern

Madi Vespa Williams.

Madi Vespa Williams has always had a deep love for theatre. After her first show with the Freelance Players at eight years old, the future Theatre major continued to pursue the many facets of theatre both onstage and off. 

Madi had the opportunity to play Phaeton in Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” in high school and found the experience to be entirely transformative and one of her favorite roles to date. It was after this show she knew she wanted to pursue theatre in college, specifically a B.A. Theatre program. What started as a hobby for Madi quickly became a passion. 

Madi transferred to Northeastern as a second year student looking for a program that offered academic rigor and freedom within and out of departments to explore other disciplines that were of interest. This academic freedom has allowed Madi to pursue three minors of Musical Theatre, Communication Studies and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. 

While attending the Northeastern Transfer Accepted Students Day, she spoke with then Head of the Theatre Department, Scott Edmiston, who conveyed the importance of community, specifically in their department. Community was a critical part of Madi’s decision to transfer to Northeastern. 

“As a non-binary, queer person, support is really important.” Madi recalls the Northeastern LGBTQA Resource Center played an instrumental role in helping her navigate her first semester at Northeastern. It was the tight knit community that is so present on the Boston campus that made it clear to Madi she wanted to be a student at the university. 

Since her first semester on campus in fall of 2018, Madi has immersed herself in the theatre scene on campus. From working on a short play, “Swiped: An Ode to Tinder,” as sound designer/composer and music director, to performing with the Theatre Department in “Urinetown the Musical,” “Sensitive Guys” and “Metamorphoses,” Madi has had the unique perspective to experience theatre with the department both in person and in a virtual setting. 

Madi Vespa Williams and the cast of “Urinetown.”

In fall of 2019, the Theatre Department produced “Urinetown,” directed by Boston based actress, singer and director Leigh Barrett. Urinetown was an immersive experience for the audience as many of them were sitting directly on the stage. “As performers, we were able to make eye contact with the audience, making them feel that they were part of the show,” said Madi. “One night my inhaler fell under a chair and I had to figure out a way to get it back!” she added. 

“Nothing will replace in-person theatre. There is something so special about being in a space with the audience and other people. It’s an intimacy that can not be replicated,” explained Madi. However, there is a different intimacy that accompanies Zoom theatre; “the luxury of close up,” Madi added. Virtual theatre allows for more accessibility for people of all backgrounds, specifically with regards to closed captioning and expanding the potential audience to outside of the Boston and Northeastern community. 

Metamorphosis and Sensitive Guys were presented through Zoom and both shows were received extremely well. Madi recently completed  her role as Diana/ Danny in Sensitive Guys, a play that addresses sexual assault on college campuses. The Theatre Department presented the play in partnership with End Rape on Campus and Northeastern’s Sexual Assault Response Coalition. Madi recalled that the same level of community that existed in person, was still extremely prevalent even though the rehearsals and performances were mostly online. 

Madi Williams Vespa and the cast of “Sensitive Guys.”

“These online experiences give me hope as an actor and excitement for what theatre will look like in a post-pandemic world,” said Madi. 

Madi is currently on track to graduate next May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre accompanied by her three minors. When reflecting back on her Northeastern experience thus far, she offered this piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid to take opportunities; don’t take every opportunity, though. We, as theatre people, often spread ourselves too thin.” She reflects on how each opportunity at Northeastern led to another and commented on the impact each one had for her both as an artist and student.