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Mantz, on Both Sides of the Spotlight

Eliza B. Mantz '18, an active Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club member and one of twelve Theater, Dance, and Media Studies concentrators.
Eliza B. Mantz '18, an active Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club member and one of twelve Theater, Dance, and Media Studies concentrators. By Katherine L Borrazzo
By Adriano O. Iqbal, Crimson Staff Writer

The life of Eliza B. Mantz ’18 is probably not compliant to Occupation Safety and Health Administration standards. She recounts, laughing, a story about fiddling with the new light setup of the Loeb Experimental Theater while dangling precariously off the top of a 15-foot ladder, legs wedged in the spaces between the rungs. Evidently, the excitement of the theater does not lie solely on the stage.

Mantz is just as comfortable being in the spotlight as she is aiming it—her time doing theater at Harvard has been split almost evenly between serving on the crews and acting as part of the casts. “Since I’ve gotten here, every semester, I’ve acted in at least two shows and designed at least two shows,” Mantz says. “It’s really challenging but also really exciting, since it gives me two ways into the texts.”

A prolific theater-maker, Mantz has participated in about a dozen Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club shows in her just-over-three semesters at Harvard. She’s active within the community as well; she serves on the HRDC Board, overseeing the Loeb Experimental Theater, which the HRDC’s website aptly calls “the premier black-box space on campus.” Mantz has acted in plenty of roles, taking on roles that run the gamut from exotic dancer to band “momager.”

But Mantz enjoys working on the less visible aspects of theater as well. She’s well-versed in set construction and light design, with the deft manipulation of the latter being one of her areas of expertise. “That’s the thing about lights—people kind of forget about them. But that’s kind of why I love it, because it’s so underappreciated. It’s a really difficult medium, because you do have to be really careful not to make it feel awkward or make transitions or looks that take the audience out of the play,” Mantz says. “If you do your lights really well, people will say that they were unnoticeable, which is honestly kind of the goal.”

Mantz’s devotion to theater is echoed in her academic trajectory as well: She’s one of the dozen students enrolled in the fledgling Theater, Dance, and Media concentration. For Mantz, her contact with theater in an academic setting proves yet another source for inspiration in her theater-making. “The thing that we’re trying to do as TDM concentrators—but also as a theater community at large—is understand all that theater has been in the past and all it could be in the future,” Mantz says. “We can use that understanding of what was effective and what wasn’t effective to create something new.”

As its intensity would indicate, Mantz’s interest in theater is no passing infatuation. She knew she wanted to participate in theater from a very young age. “My family has a really long history of being involved, either directly or peripherally, in the arts,” she says. Her first performance was in her elementary school’s production of “Cinderella,” in which she played a cat. She participated primarily in musical theater until high school, when her interest began to shift towards non-musical drama. “I find that musical theater for me captures a very small amount of storytelling styles,” Mantz says.

And that, for Mantz, is the crux of the matter—using theater to tell stories. The theory and the practice of theater allow her to analyze the way the stories are told as well as actually to tell the stories themselves. “Storytelling is really where my passions lie, and I realized early on I could do it best and most effectively through theater,” she says. Mantz intends to continue her work to learn how stories were told: She plans to spend the upcoming summer abroad, researching the representation of non-white actors in Early Modern English theater. And she intends to continue telling as many stories as she can. Whether through her work with the HRDC or her plans for future theater work, much of Mantz’s own story yet remains to be written.

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