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Alumni and Friends

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Read articles, view photos and watch films about alumni, friends, and members of the Department of Theater here.

December 2016: Contents

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Remarks from the Chair: Celebrating and building connections

Dear friends—

This month, I have been thinking a lot about connection.  Over the past two months, our community has experienced some truly remarkable opportunities to connect across generations, across communities, and across borders.

I want to start by telling you about our Ed Golden Scholarship events, which built a beautiful bridge between the department now, and the department of the past. As I mentioned in my previous letter, Rob Corddry ’93, Jeffrey Donovan ’91, and Bill ‘80G and Tamara ’81 Pullman have generously established a scholarship in their mentor’s name – the first acting scholarship our department has ever had! On October 20 and 21, Rob, Jeffrey, and Tamara joined Ed on campus for a series of celebratory events (Bill was on set, alas) in which they handed out the scholarship to two extremely deserving students, spoke to a pre-show audience about their time in our program, and offered some valuable career advice to our students. There are stories, movies, and photos of all those events in this issue, and I hope you’ll check them out below.

What remains present in my heart, as I think about these events, is how deeply Rob, Jeffrey, Bill and Tamara love this department, their time here, and their mentor, Ed Golden. It was obvious in their enthusiasm and in the specifics that they spoke about. For example, all completely ignored the break time we had scheduled for them on Friday in favor of spending more time reminiscing with fellow alumni and former teachers, and more time offering encouragement to current students and sharing thoughts on how to go forward as theater makers. And that’s just one small example of their generosity, which extended far beyond their incredible financial gift.

It was moving to hear about the impact Ed had on our guests and, during the reception after the ceremony, it was wonderful to hear the remarks from other alumni who offered their own reflections on him — Marissa Matrone '95 spoke emotionally of how much she valued his guidance, and one of our current faculty members, Judyie Al-Bilali '00G, was able to tell him that she’d dedicated a chapter of her book to him.

In a conversation with me after the events on October 20, Jeffrey said it felt to him that, although the particulars of what is taught and produced in our department may have changed over the years, the core of the department, what makes it a meaningful community, is still here. It’s still a place that welcomes students as they figure out who they are as artists and human beings.

I so appreciated connecting with the department’s rich past, and I want to keep that going. Please, alumni and friends, stop by! Come see a show or drop by and say hello to me and, even more importantly, to our students! The department is still here for you and we’d love to welcome you back.

We’d also like to make you part of the legacy that Rob, Jeffrey, and the Pullmans have established. They have given the scholarship an excellent foundation, and they would love to be joined by fellow alumni in growing the Ed Golden Acting Scholarship. If you feel moved to donate, you can do so by clicking here.

In addition to connecting with our past, we have forged new links within our valley. We have changed the term we use for our interactions with our community to “engagement” instead of outreach. It may seem like a technicality, but we want to emphasize that we aren’t just here to present TO the community, but to interact with and hear from the people we live among. We’ve got students working with elementary school classes in Amherst to give kids their first taste of theater. Last month, middle schoolers attended a matinee preceded by a workshop that wasn’t just about understanding The Misanthrope, which they were here to see, but to get them thinking and talking about the place theater has in everyone’s lives, regardless of whether or not they ever major in it or step onstage.

I also recently had an opportunity to sit in on a reading of the script being developed for the final show of our season, Ta’zieh. Graduate directing student Nikoo Mamdoohi reached out to her community and brought in six expatriate Iranians to read. Of the group, five had never performed in their lives, but were drawn to the project because they valued the opportunity to illuminate a valued Iranian tradition that most of us here have never experienced. It was a moment of not only international connection, but of reaching beyond our arts community to find commonality with people who usually don’t set foot on this side of campus.

We have reached into the past and into the future; we have reached people who don’t think of themselves as being in the arts at all. In a time when the division in our country feel painful and corrosive, these moments have strengthened in me the conviction that I want this department to be a place where everyone’s stories are heard.

We hope you join us and, until then, I hope you have a wonderful winter and a happy New Year.

Sincerely,

gina kaufmann note photo

Gina

UMass photographer John Solem and student photographer Kyle Hartmann documented the weekend's events. We compiled their work into the slideshow above.

The Department of Theater celebrates the new Ed Golden Scholarship

It’s been years since he trod the boards at UMass Amherst, but Jeffrey Donovan, star of Burn Notice and RFK in Rob Reiner’s upcoming LBJ, still credits his UMass Department of Theater mentor, professor Ed Golden, for his successes.

“When I’m good it’s because I listened to Ed, and when I’m not it’s because I didn’t,” he said.

He spoke those words during a pre-show talk on Friday evening in the department’s Rand Theater, where he shared the stage with fellow alumnus Rob Corddry to talk about acting, their careers, and how their UMass mentor shaped their work.

The two were in town, together with dancer and fellow alumna Tamara Hurwitz Pullman (representing herself and her husband, fellow alumnus Bill Pullman) to announce the creation of the new Ed Golden Acting Scholarship, which was awarded to two UMass Theater students earlier that afternoon.

The honorees were Lily Filippatos and Jordan Reed, two students who have appeared in numerous roles in the department, including joint appearances in 2014’s A New Brain and last season’s Collidescope 2.0: Adventures in Pre and Post-Racial America.

Although the Pullmans did not overlap with Donovan and Corddry, they all shared Golden as a mentor. Years after graduation, all are still in touch with Golden and have even continued to seek his advice about roles. The scholarship on which they have collaborated was a way to honor Golden and at the same time establish the department’s first scholarship recognizing talented performance students.

“People out there don’t really realize what an important field of discourse and study (the arts) are,” said Hurwitz Pullman, explaining that the four benefactors saw the scholarship as a “nod” to encourage these young performers.

Donovan missed the ceremony due to a plane delay and Pullman was unable to leave the pilot he was shooting, so Corddry and Hurwitz Pullman did the honors, awarding the two women, who did not know they were receiving the scholarships, their awards.

The ceremony was a warm and emotional event, as Corddry and Hurwitz Pullman delivered encomiums to Golden, who was in the audience.

“I thought the department was so warm and welcoming, and Ed was a big part of that,” said Hurwitz Pullman. She majored in dance but took many theater classes and acted in many plays Golden directed — including one in which he cast her to play the wife to Bill Pullman’s character. (They've been a couple pretty much ever since.)

She recalled that he would say, “have a good show, and remember, no acting,” meaning that the actors should strive to be in the moment.

Corddry recalled the day Golden told him he could make a career of acting.

“This is my guru… and he had just given me his blessing, he had just given me permission, and most of all, what he gave me was confidence, because Ed Golden said I could do it!”

Golden thanked the group, saying “I was floored, humbled, and grateful beyond description,” upon learning of the scholarship established in his name.

After the ceremony, the department hosted a reception which drew students as well as alumni, many of them classmates of the benefactors.

Audiences of that evening’s department season opener, The Misanthrope, got the chance to hear Corddry and Donovan, whose plane had meanwhile arrived. They agreed that Golden had simplified and demystified the acting process. Corddry revealed that he decided to become a major after seeing Donovan in Golden’s award-winning production of Playboy of the Western World.

He also told a story of a time he was in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with another group on campus and he convinced Health Services to put a real cast on his leg so he could play Brick. He thought it was a good idea until Golden said, “Why don’t you just try acting?”

As the audience laughed, Donovan chimed in, “See, that’s an example of when you didn’t listen to Ed!”

We filmed much of the festivities of the weekend, and graduate student Christina Pellegrini edited the footage into a short video.

 

Alumni reflect on Ed Golden's lasting influence

Even successful actors have lean years and bad luck.

Jeffrey Donovan ’91 once spent an 11-month stretch jobless and essentially homeless, living out of a suitcase and couch-surfing. Rob Corddry ’93 once bombed an AFLAC commercial audition when he made an acting choice to fling a prop backpack he was given, and it turned out to actually contain someone’s laptop.

While they are both successful artists these days, they both vividly remember the times when they struggled with their chosen path and the clear-eyed perspective those times gave them on what they do and how they view their success. They shared these stories and other thoughts about success and perseverance with students at a career Q&A on Oct. 21 that was moderated by fellow alumna and actress Marissa Matrone ‘95.

The event, the last of three scheduled during the Ed Golden Scholarship weekend, was open to current department members only, giving students a chance to pick their renowned guests’ brains about making it in a field that can be hard on people.

Early on in the talk, Corddry urged students to think about what “making it” really means to them.

“My perception of success has evolved,” he said. He recalled that one of his early gigs paid $300 a week. “I’m getting $300 for doing this? When I’ve done it for free? I’ve made it!” Even years later, as he has notched up many great jobs and bigger paychecks, he values the feeling of success he experienced in that moment.

“Don’t manage your expectations so much,” he continued. “Appreciate the success you have at every moment.”

Matrone amplified Corddry’s point. “Be present with who and what is in front of you. Don’t think too far in the future. Take it in.”

Corddry spoke of another time in his life when he used misfortune as a spur to make his own project. After his stint on The Daily Show, he moved to Los Angeles to star in Seth McFarlane’s first live-action sitcom. “That’s never gonna get cancelled, right?” he joked. It did. However, Corddry took his experience as an actor, and as a writer on The Daily Show, and turned to new media, creating a web series called Children’s Hospital that ran for seven seasons on Adult Swim and won him a number of Emmys. His guiding principle, these days, is that “I want to do great things that I love with people who aren’t jerks.”

Donovan pointed out that even Bryan Cranston, the award-winning star of Breaking Bad, has a Preparation H commercial in his credits.

“There’s no secret formula, it’s just hard work,” he said. However, “my hard work and Rob’s hard work and Marissa’s hard work are all different.”

All three agreed that in the early days, when they were desperate to notch a success, it was tempting to compromise or overcompensate, to be “something that I wasn’t,” in Donovan’s words. They spoke about how they’d overacted in auditions for commercials and how they’d copied others instead of developing their own styles. They each eventually came to the realization that they could only be successful when they auditioned and acted authentically.

“You get to a point where you’re going to have something to give,” Matrone said. She noted that being a successful actor involved a commitment to going out for parts. “Auditioning is just like working out in a gym. You’ve got to keep showing up.”

Corddry, Donovan and Matrone all have varying degrees of experience with film, TV, and stage, and said that there isn’t as big a shift between the acting for all three as some might think. Donovan said the difference was less about the actual acting and more about the technical details of capturing said acting with a camera. He and Corddry mimed a bit about how many times an actor might have to walk through a door on set to capture the moment on camera, deal with technical glitches, etc.

Corddry agreed, and pointed out that big difference is in a changing sense of scale. This is already something students have to deal with as actors in theater speaces. “If you’re in the Rand you have more space to fill than when you’re in the Curtain,” he said, “and when you’re doing film or TV, you just feel that the space is smaller.”

“My trick was to think the crew was the audience,” Donovan said.

“Me too!” Corddry said.

They dished just a bit about the business.

Corddry’s currently working with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and laughed at students’ audible relief when he told them Johnson was a good guy in real life. “You can’t be that magnetic onscreen and not be that magnetic as a person,” he said.

Donovan shared the story of his time on the set of Sicario. He wasn’t looking for a project but took a small part because he and the director had long wanted to work together. Donovan adlibbed a bit of dialogue during one scene and so amused the director that his part was expanded.

Finally, all three alumni had nothing but good words for UMass. Fitting to the theme of the weekend, Corddry recalled that seeing Donovan act in a play directed by Ed Golden (Playboy of the Western World) was his spur to get serious about studying theater.

Matrone described UMass Theater as a place “where I felt seen, and understood, and heard.”

And Donovan urged students to appreciate where they were. “Take advantage of the fact that you are in the safest place you can be as an artist,” he said. “Fail now. Make choices that are risky.”

Ed Golden Scholarship winner Jordan Reed sends a thank you

Jordan and Lily
Jordan Reed and Lily Filippatos pose with their Ed Golden Scholarship certificates

Dear Rob, Jeffrey, Bill, and Tamara,

I just want to take the time to thank you again for the Ed Golden Scholarship. As a little kid, school was always the most important thing in my life. I was taught from a young age that with an education, more doors in life open. From such a young age, I therefore had a gratitude for knowledge and a love for learning. When I grew older, my life at home wasn’t always easy. Food wasn’t always on the table and bills weren’t always paid. I became scared that college — my lifelong dream up to that point — was never going to become reality. I have been able to have access to higher education because of people like you — those who invest in the future.

When I was in middle school, I found theater. By high school, I knew that theater was what I want to do for the rest of my life. Theater has given me the dedication and will to go through each day. To be praised and validated for following my passion is such a blessing and I appreciate that from the bottom of my heart. My childhood love for learning has never faded because in theater — and with any craft really — there is always more to learn. I want to thank you, the founders of this scholarship, for giving students the opportunity to learn and grow.

In my brown paper studio class (a class about performance and facilitation) at UMass, my professor, Judyie Al-bilali talks a lot about legacy. As performers, we carry the legacy of those who have cared for us, taught us, collaborated with us, fought for us, died for us. By founding this scholarship, you have carried on the legacy of your beloved mentor Ed Golden. You carry on his legacy in your careers. Now, you have passed on that torch to me. I am honored and humbled to carry on your legacy.

With gratitude,

Jordan Reed

Updates

We want to hear from people who haven't checked in with us in years — that was one of the things we enjoyed most about the Ed Golden events! We like to learn about the many intriguing ways you've made theater a continuing presence in your lives, whether as a profession or as a hobby, and we love to hear about the unusual places you've brought your theater talents to bear.

So please, send us your updates; include photos and video if you have them!

Sound design professor Amy Altadonna designed the premiere of Don't You F**cking Say a Word by Andy Bragen at 59E59 in NYC. Lee Sunday Evans of Collaborationtown directed.

Mike Haley '65 is Ebenezer in the Christmas Carol being mounted around the area this month. Silverthorne, the company mounting the production, is run by Lucinda Kidder '03G.

David Korins '99 continues to have a banner year. He's designing sets for Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars, including the one featured in Mars' American Music Awards performance last month:

via GIPHY

He's also featured on the cover and in the newly redesigned digital version of the UMass Magazine.

It's a little out of season now, but we enjoyed getting creeped out by this video from student Alyssa Labrie around Halloween time:

Students Finn Lefevre (dramaturgy MFA), Matt Morin, and Mallory Kassoy, as well as theater chair Gina Kaufmann, were featured in an external affairs video about UMass' Edinburgh Fringe Festival Course.

A foursome of accomplished professors gathered at Amherst Books for a celebration and reading of the works they have pulished recently. From their poster about the event:
Megan Lewis has two books out this Fall: Performing Whitely in the Postcolony: Afrikaners in South African Theatrical and Public Life (University of Iowa Press) about whiteness, performance, and masculinity in South Africa and, with Dr. Anton Krueger at Rhodes University, Magnet Theatre: Three Decades of Making Space, a collection of essays and interviews about Cape Town-based Magnet Theatre (Intellect Books/Unisa Press).
Harley Erdman and Nieves Romero-Diaz published Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain (ACMRS Publications) featuring Harley’s (UMass Amherst, Department of Theater) news translations of plays by Feliciana Enrîquez de Guzmán, Ana Caro Mallén, and Sor Marcela de San Félix.
Priscilla Page has two recent pieces that blend storytelling, poetry, and oral history to describe the powerful work of Chicago-based Latinx theater artists. Page creates portraits of people who have founded their own
theater companies; artists who write, act, and direct their own work in neighborhoods and communities. She aims to set the record straight about the depths and the breadth of the Latinx experience in performance.
Judyie Al-Bilali is the author of a memoir titled For the Feeling: Love & Transformation from New York to Cape Town about her experiences creating applied theater in South Africa with her company, Brown Paper Studio. She is also a contributor to a new collection edited by Sharrell Luckett and Tia M. Shaffe called Black Acting Methods: Critical Approaches (Routledge, 2017).

Leslie Miller '04 contacted us just before we went to press: "Wanted to send an update that I am happy to be working as an actress and audiobook narrator since graduating UMass. My most recent book that I voiced, Veronica's Grave by Barbara Bracht Donsky is a WINNER OF SILVER AWARD FOR BEST MEMOIR 2016 READERS' FAVORITE and 2016 BEVERLY HILLS BOOK AWARDS FINALIST FOR MEMOIR. You can buy the audio book Leslie narrated on Amazon. And you can visit Leslie online as well.

Priscilla Page '00G was a guest on-air speaker during a showing of the Hamilton's America documentary shown on PBS. Additionally, as part of her research on Latinx Theater in Chicago, she interviewed dramaturg Liza Ann Acosta about Puerto Rican theater and her work with Urban Theater Company. The piece ran in Howlround.

What are you doing? Send us your updates so we can include them in the next Stages issue! Cool projects, babies, new jobs, awesome honors — we'd love to brag about all you amazing people are accomplishing. Send Us Updates!

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