Moon Dog Theatre founder Nicholas Barelli, right, and actor Phillip Fox stand above the J.R. Sullivan Theatre at the RPL Nordlof Center on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Rockford. The duo are part of the local theater company that has been named Rockford Public Library’s new artists in residence. (Photo by Kevin Haas/Rock River Current)
By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
Get our mobile app

ROCKFORD  — Moon Dog Theatre‘s first production inside the RPL Nordlof Center’s black box theater this summer was pulled together at a fast pace with a minimal budget.

Without dedicated rehearsal space, Phillip Fox said he and fellow actor David Weber would scramble to run lines in hotel lobbies and coffee shops as they had about two weeks to prepare for their production of John Logan’s Tony-winning “Red.”

It’s part of an approach to theater that Moon Dog founder and artistic director Nicholas Barelli calls “underground guerrilla theater.” There’s no hiding your talent behind expensive sets and costumes. The focus is squarely on the acting.

More arts: West Side Show Room’s new thought-provoking comedy has literal and figurative shocks

“It’s all on us to just find props, find things, to make it feel fulfilled with really the bare minimum,” Barelli said. “We don’t have three months to marinate on something. It’s super quick, it’s super fast-paced.”

Moon Dog’s efforts got the attention of the Rockford Public Library staff that runs the Nordlof Center, 118 N. Main St. in downtown. Now, the local theater company has been named the library’s new artists in residence.

The agreement benefits Moon Dog by giving them access to space at Nordlof and other library spaces to perform, cast and rehearse. It benefits the library by helping achieve its mission to provide access to the arts. Moon Dog will deliver performances, host workshops and help local artists hone their craft here.

“We are always working to achieve the library’s mission of entertaining and providing cultural enrichment to the people of Rockford,” said Lynn Stainbrook, the library’s executive director. “Observing how well-attended and well-loved the Moon Dog Theatre’s performances have been so far, we are thrilled to offer more opportunities for the Rockford community to enjoy them.”

Moon Dog is the first artists in residence since 2020, when New Genres residency was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

More news: Six states. 1,700+ miles. A 25-year-old bicycle. A Rockford-area man’s quest to pedal home from Texas

Moon Dog briefly went by the name Forest City Players when it put on an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” last spring. Fox and Barelli also participated in the mix of performance and improv called Stand & Deliver in the black box theater during Fall ArtScene.

Next up will be a variety night with two bands, storytelling, comedy and poetry on Friday, Oct. 27 in Nordlof’s black box theater.

“There is a lot of incredible talent here and it’s my hope that many of our local artists can collaborate and hone their craft right here in Rockford,” Barelli said.

Moon Dog Theatre members include Barelli, Fox, Weber, Graham Heacock, Sabrina Helton and Michael Keim.

Barelli, a 2012 Guilford High School graduate, and Fox, a 2014 Auburn High School grad, say they hope to pull artists here from Milwaukee, Chicago or Madison who may feel like its too expensive to start their careers in those cities.

Barelli said he hopes to show actors that Rockford is a great place to develop your craft and find an audience to see your work.

“I think there’s a lot of ground to make your name here.”

Get involved

Anyone interested in getting involved with Moon Dog Theatre can contact them at You can also find them online on Facebook HERE or on the web HERE.

This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas

Tags: , , , ,