MCCC professor helping rebuild theater program

The hushed actors get into place as the audience chatters with excitement. The lights shine down on the set as the show begins. Beside the stage stands the director, pulling her cardigan closed in force of habit, watching over her students and her months of hard work unfold. 

The director is Angela Lai. Lai, 42, is an adjunct theater professor at MCCC. Lai has been working at MCCC for five years teaching classes in addition to rebuilding a theater program for the students and community. 

Lai graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with an undergraduate degree in English literature in 2004 and earned her master’s in theater from Eastern Michigan University in 2012. 

Lai said she first discovered her interest in the theater when her grandparents showed her a taped recording of the Peter Pan musical. 

From there, she said she was hooked on theater. Lai explained how as a child she performed musical numbers alone in her bedroom along with cast recordings.

Man and woman watch another woman hang a painting on a wall.
Angie Lai and Deck Captain Josh Dominguez help stage manager Sonja Goetz hang a painting on the lounge wall. (Photo by Jesse McDaniel)

“But it wasn’t until I hit high school really, I just loved ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and I started to get really into musicals. I wanted to be on Broadway, of course,” Lai said.  

Lai has performed in a myriad of shows in her lifetime such as the player queen in “Hamlet,” the queen in “The Three Musketeers” and Gwendolyn in “The Importance of Being Earnest.”  

Along with acting, Lai also has had experience behind the scenes as a production manager. 

Before coming to MCCC, Lai had previously worked as a director, but only for children’s shows, she considers her first true directing job to be “It’s A Wonderful Life” in 2018 for MCCC. Lai said she hopes to see more student involvement and theater classes in the future. 

Lai said she hopes to grow MCCC’s theater program as there are only a few participants for the auditions of 2022’s “The Great Gatsby.” However, auditions for the 2023 production of “Clue: On Stage,” saw a significant increase in interest from students who auditioned. 

“It’s been a challenge,” Lai said. “Thanks to the varying student involvement that got harder post-COVID-19.” 

Samuel Spaulding, 20, Amanda Dominguez, 27, and Kaleb Rath, 32, are all currently in MCCC’s production of “Clue: On Stage” 

Spaulding, Dominguez and Rath are three students who have taken one of Lai’s classes. The first show Dominguez and Spaulding were involved in at MCCC was “The Great Gatsby”, while Rath worked with Lai first during “A Christmas Carol” in 2019. 

Spaulding said his favorite story about Lai happened while taking her Acting Fundamentals course in the Winter Semester of 2022. 

“In her acting class, she showed us this game that she used to do in Canada, I believe, like an acting troupe, and we called it the chair game,” he said. “It was just the most chaotic thing we ever saw. We didn’t understand it, we made up our own rules and you know? I think it did what it was supposed to. It worked as an acting game even though it was so broken. It was funny.”  

“The Great Gatsby” was Dominguez’s first time performing. 

 “She did help me with fixing things, and I know that I did mess up a lot during rehearsals,” Dominguez said. “She’s patient, you know. So that definitely helped out with that.”

Outside of class and rehearsals, Dominguez said Lai was friendly and would “get to class 30 minutes early and me and Angie would just have a conversation about our personal lives, and I really like her as a person,” Dominguez said. “She would tell me stories about her old acting director or who she worked with who was one.” 

Rath said that he had worked with Lai in the past and that he was accustomed to her directing style.

Woman talking to several people around a couch.
Angie Lai gives critiques to actors (from left) Noah Black, Sydni Wallace, Kaleb Rath, Amanda Dominguez, Samuel Spaulding and Ralph Jordan. (Photo by Jesse McDaniel)

“I appreciate her ability to stay objective,” Rath said. “There’s a lot of goofiness and it’s good to have someone centered in the middle of that, who can take things seriously and have a good sense of planning and structure to try to sort of contain the chaos with theater kids.” 

The props are gathered, the show has been cast and “Clue: On Stage” is underway, curtains will part in late April. Lai said she continues to work diligently to grow MCCC’s theater program one show at a time.