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- Remarks from the Chair: Greetings from new chair Gina Kaufmann
- UMass in South Africa — reflections on the summer past
- Sri Lanka beckons: Harley Erdman travels across the world on a Fullbright
- Donor Profile: Mike '65 and Joan Haley remember adventures in film
- Dawn Monique Williams receives a Princess Grace Award
It’s my pleasure to address you in this issue as the new Department of Theater chair! I’m stepping into big shoes. I have known I was taking this position for a year and I had the chance to observe Penny and see first-hand how she served our department with her unique spirit. She left her mark on so much of what we do here, and we’re all so grateful for her seven year of leadership.
I ‘ve been thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in my own time in the position, and what I keep coming back to is my faith in the vibrancy and relevance of this live art form.
I remember when I was an undergrad getting my BA in theater in the early 1980s, hearing people say that theater is a dying art, that technology was the way forward. And yet, 30-some years later, theater feels extremely alive to me. We are living in an overwhelming time, and technology, for all its usefulness, can be isolating. We need to connect as human beings. Theater is a means for doing that. I passionately believe the ways we connect through theater are different, larger, intensified from how we connect in daily life. Theater taps into something old in our humanity and is very much needed now as we continue to be human animals in this bewildering technological world.
Our 2016-2017 season is an example of the ways we do that, a real mix of stories that help us burst outside our walls.
We start with The Misanthrope, in a production that tackles head-on the idea of being confined by layers of technology and finding truth. In Refugee, meanwhile, we explore a brand new piece of interconnected stories set in Serbia, Egypt and the US, that comes together with original music and is directed by an artist from Serbia.
Hedda Gabler might seem staid thanks to its classic status, but we are so jazzed about exploring what it means in contemporary society, with its status games and exploration of gender roles, power and exploitation. We actively court artists exploring issues of identity and exploring new forms for Play Lab and we eagerly anticipate another boundary-breaking story being told. The Happiest Song Plays Last offers us a wonderful opportunity to reach out to local Puerto Rican residents to bring their voices, their music, and their experiences into the theater-making process, not just into the audience. And finally, in Ta’zieh, we tackle a quintessential Iranian theater form that is hundreds of years old to tell a story about race and community today in this country, and in doing so, we will literally burst outside our walls, beginning with a procession to a space outside our building.
I’m also tremendously excited about the energy I see in the student-produced works. There are so many projects initiated by our students every semester -- projects that take risks and tell stories that cross boundaries and ask questions of all of us. This bubbling laboratory of theater-making is absolutely integral to creating a new generation of theater artists – collaborators in this confusing, creative and fast-changing world we live in.
The idea of connection will also serve as our lodestone as we consider our academic programs. I served for 2 years as the Undergraduate Program Director, and out of that work has come my goal to reach out those who have been underrepresented in our student population.
I’m hopeful that our outreach will help prospective students feel welcome in our spaces and that we will stretch and shift the way that we do things—in the classroom, behind the scenes and on stage – in response to a new diversity of voices in our midst, the way theater as an art form has the capacity to do. Graduate student Jen Onopa and I began this outreach effort last year, working with groups such as Upward Bound and in Springfield schools. I hope our work, and the work of new UPD Gil McCauley, opens up theater as a field of study for first-generation college students who might otherwise dismiss it as impractical.
Finally, I see connection happening across time in a thrilling new scholarship for our students. Alumni Bill Pullman, Jeff Donovan, and Rob Corddry have come together to create the Ed Golden Scholarship in honor of the mentor they all shared. The scholarship is being awarded for the first time on Oct. 21. While BIll is on location, his wife Tamara (Ed cast them presciently as husband and wife) will join Rob and Jeff—plus Ed!—in awarding the scholarships. I love that there is a group of people who are extremely appreciative of this department and what it gave them — and here they are coming back to establish this scholarship to mentor students who, like them, are motivated and driven to succeed.
Our alumni friends are invited to share in the events of the day! We will have a ceremony to award the scholarship the afternoon of Oct. 21. That evening at 6:45, there will be a pre-show talk by Rob and Jeff in the Rand Theater. Our production of The Misanthrope opens that evening, and their talk will be open to anyone who purchases tickets for that evening’s show. The following day, they’ll also have a career Q&A with our students, which we are very excited about.
I hope that having these talented performers talk about Ed Golden makes our students think about who their mentors are and inspires them about possibilities for the future. I’m so pleased and excited that Jeff, Rob, and Tamara are coming!
Yes, I am excited to be in this position at this particular time, on the cutting edge of what’s happening. We have an amazing department, and I look forward to spreading the word about it to the community — and to you!
Please don’t be shy — drop us a line and tell us how you’re doing, and if you’re in town, stop by the department so I can say hi!
UMass Theater is not establishing a satellite campus in South Africa, but it would be an understandable misconception after the summer we’ve had. Dramaturgy faculty member Megan Lewis took a crew of students to her home country this summer for the 2016 iteration of her Arts and Culture in South Africa course, traveling to various areas and focusing in on the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. This year’s course was shaped in reaction to the writings of Paul Adolphsen ‘15G, who spent the year as a Fullbright scholar in South Africa and met up with Lewis and her crew during the course of their stay. The group didn’t just go see art, either; they made it — current graduate student Jen Onopa and a group of actors and production team members traveled with the group not only to learn, but to present a work at the Festival this year.
We asked Lewis, Adolphsen and Onopa to share their thoughts about their experiences, and they happily complied. Please read on, and check out the slide show of photos sent over by Lewis and Onopa as well.
The art and politics of holding multiple truths: Arts and Culture in South Africa 2016
by Megan Lewis
I have the best job in the world.This summer, I took the third cohort of students on the Arts and Culture in South Africa study aboard course. I get to engage students in the power of South Africa theatre-making, and to the concept of ubuntu, and watch their minds open, their hearts swell, and their bodies register life in a different space. It’s teaching at its most beautiful and rewarding.
Along with co-pilot Glenn Proud (MFA ’15), I was joined this year by guest faculty Daniel Sack (UMass English) and Ginny Anderson (Connecticut College), as well as UMass alumnus Paul Adolphsen (MFA ’15, who co-piloted the course last year). The 23 student-cohort included 3 graduate MFAs, 19 UMass undergraduates (including 3 students participating in the course for a second time), and 1 student from Holyoke Community College. While the majority of students were Theater majors, there were also Afro-Am, Biology, Communications, Economics, History, Linguistics, and WGSS majors represented.
Ubuntu, Whiplash and Holding Multiple Truths
This year’s course focused on the concepts of ubuntu, whiplash, and holding multiple truths at once. Arts and Culture in South Africa, which exposes students to South African culture, politics, and history through the lens of the performing arts, is guided by the African philosophy of ubuntu. Students practiced engaging each other, and others, through an “I am because you are” worldview. Nick, a Theater major who was attending for the second time, describes ubuntu as “an understanding of the importance of transparency, listening, and the willingness to look someone you've hurt, towered over, hidden from, or never acknowledged in the eyes and talk to them.” He also says that South African history taught him that “reconciliation is the act that can build bridges between people in different power dynamics.”
Paul Adolphsen, who spent the last year in Cape Town on a Fulbright Fellowship, wrote a powerful poetic analysis of life in South Africa called Whiplash which I used to frame the course. In the piece, Adolphsen poses the questions: “what does it feel like to live here? What is it like to daily experience the gap between what was expected and what is? To feel the past push furiously into the present? To live in a haunted place?” His answers to these questions blend scholarly analysis with poetry, deep personal reflections with anecdotes from his time in South Africa. He finds a metaphor for South Africa in the idea of whiplash, “the embodied experience of the “jerk” or “jolt” that occurs when you are moving forward in a determined trajectory and are suddenly, sometimes violently, met with an opposing force.” He describes how South Africa has historically been arranged by borders that separate and distinguish people from one another. And he claims, “I have become increasingly convinced that the act of recognition might be one of the best tools for breaking down these borders. Seeing the other on their own terms. Listening. Embracing--even actively seeking out--discomfort…. Part of my responsibility is to embrace, even seek out, moments and spaces that make me uncomfortable. This discomfort is essential to the work of border-crossing.”
Using Paul’s Whiplash piece as a frame, throughout the 3 days in Johannesburg and 10 days at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, I emphasized the notion of thinking beyond simplistic binary ideas, such as black versus white, good versus bad, past versus present. These are easy but outdated ways in which we have structured our world and which have led to immense distrust, miscommunication, violence, and hatred by people in power over other groups throughout history. South Africa’s apartheid regime is a prime example of such ways of thinking as are the tensions around race and difference in the contemporary United States. Emily, a senior history major, explained how “As we studied South African racism in-depth, I couldn’t help but look at the events occurring at home…. I’ve never seen museums more honest about their place in history, and more eager to confront their past.”
I encouraged students to attempt to hold multiple truths at once, which requires a far more open and nuanced approach to the world. For to truly listen for, and to, the voice of the other requires an openness of spirit, an understanding of power dynamics and history, and the courage to encounter and appreciate difference rather than be threatened by it. Nick, a second timer, wrote, “Life doesn't afford us simple, easy paths, and if art reflects or imitates life, then there's no way in hell for artists to escape difficult questions and discussions.”
Students discovered many things about themselves, about the world, and about their home in America on this year’s program. Their journals reflect these discoveries in the own words.
History major Emily, exclaimed” “South Africa was not two amazing weeks – it was two weeks of amazing!”
Sarah, a sophomore, said: “It’s amazing how in spending so much time learning the narratives of other people, that you end up understanding your own narrative better.”
Students of color saw themselves represented on South African stages, and in the streets, in ways they do not in the USA. Faniel, a senior Theatre Major, wrote: “Being able to see so many people of color on a stage made me really happy. [In the US] there isn’t representation for someone that looks like me…However, seeing all the actors and performers on this trip [and] the stories that they were able to bring to life with their voices, expressions and bodies, was beyond anything I had ever witnessed in the States… It was refreshing to be able to talk about race and the struggles that a person of color can face in an environment that felt so safe…This was the first time in my entire life that I ever felt like I was part of the theater community. This experience is something that I would never trade for anything in the world.”
White students on the trip also reflected deeply on issues of race and privilege.
“To go there was the best decision I have ever made,” said Alison, a junior. “I faced so many challenges while I was there and I was pulled out of my comfort zone but it made me realize so much. I am extremely privileged, not just to have the things I do, but to have the skin color I do, to have been born in the place and time that I was.”
Garrett, a freshman, wrote: “I leave this trip with a greater sense of what I must do as a theatre maker in the United States. I must embrace all identities with respect and give my fellow theatre makers the agency to live their identities to the fullest. I must make theatre a more accessible entity, both in format and content. It is going to be a difficult process, but working towards total engagement with truthful identities that are available to all will be an ultimately fulfilling and vitalizing experience.”
Miguel, who was a member of the inaugural Arts & Culture in South Africa cohort in 2014 and returned again this year, wrote of his experience as a second timer: “I am so blessed to be able to go to South Africa at the beginning of my college career and near the end. The second trip has allowed me to realize how much I’ve changed while being in the same space.” He added that returning to South Africa he “realize[d] that I’m the most changed. I’m radicalized, nuanced, intelligent and specific. I understand my position much more clearly now.”
Kyle, a senior who spent the summer taking a semester worth of credit in South Africa so he can graduate early, was particularly struck by some words of wisdom offered by Magnet Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mark Fleishman. “He said ‘You’re not a theatremaker unless you’re making theatre…don’t let anything stop you from making work.’ Mark also quoted Barney Simon by saying, ‘The only dignity we have is in the work that we do.’”
Jasmine, a sophomore Theatre major studying Theatre for Youth reflected on her experience at the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto: “students were catalysts that changed the balance of power [in 1976 during the Soweto Uprising]. “It is the youth in every culture that has the opportunity to change it,” she reflected.
Jerry, a freshman, mused on the importance of the National Arts Festival: “[It] is a perfect spot for artists and humans to come together and wrestle with ideas of reclamation and identity especially in a country that is still in the process of radical economic, political, and social change…The NAF is critical in reflecting the spirit of art in South Africa and in reflecting the small acts of determination by artists to reconcile and recover from a traumatic history.”
As long as I am able to draw breath, and UMass supports offering the course, this is where I’ll be every summer! It’s an immense honor to bring students to my beloved country. And witnessing the profound impact on students makes my teacher-heart soar!
by Jen Onopa
To produce for a theater festival in a country I had never previously visited was a roller coaster of a learning curve which was both exhilarating and challenging.
Preparing for the festival began almost immediately after our first run of We Are Proud at UMass in December 2015. Faculty members Megan Lewis and Judyie Al-Bilali encouraged our production team to apply to the National Arts Festival Fringe.
We were all extremely excited and equally daunted by the prospect of taking the show to South Africa. Our Fringe application was due in January. Additionally, we faced a February deadline for committing to attend Megan's course, so as to travel under the aegis of UMass. The rapid turn-around from our whirlwind production to an international study-abroad commitment was probably the most difficult part of the entire process. Megan was instrumental in strategizing how to encourage the ten other students to take the leap, apply for the course, and commit to raising money and assembling resources to participate. She was unfaltering in her convictions that everything would work out! Her enthusiasm inspired me and helped rally our group toward embracing the work ahead of us.
With the help of staff members Willow Cohen and Anna-Maria Goossens, and also thanks to a wonderful short video made by cast member Kyle Hartmann, we established a Minutefund crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds for our airfare costs. Dean Julie Hayes, of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, generously offered scholarship funds to help offset our production costs. Meanwhile, simultaneously to all of our applications for the Festival, financial aid, and the International Programs Office, we were also producing a three-week remount of We Are Proud at UMass in February. We were grateful to have the remount opportunity, but by the end of the run of an emotionally taxing show, we were exhausted.
We didn’t reconvene as an entire cast again until four months later in South Africa. Our rehearsals happened during flight layovers in London, in the backs of buses as we traveled through Johannesburg, in hotel conference rooms, on sidewalks as we walked to various festival venues, and in the lobby of the university dorm where we stayed in Grahamstown. We didn’t get to see our performance space until our tech rehearsal, which was the day before our performance. By that point, we could have performed the show anywhere.
The quintessential marketing challenge for any fringe festival production is: how will we attract festival-goers to see our show out of thousands of offerings? We created entirely new promotional materials, ranging from posters that we plastered everywhere in Grahamstown to special festival t-shirts that we wore every single day (this is not an exaggeration). The charming and gregarious members of our cast chatted up people as we waited in line for other shows. We each created our own 30-second pitch and practiced how to best capture people’s interest. The play’s title raised a few eyebrows in Grahamstown, as we had anticipated it might. A few people very candidly approached us asking why, as Americans, we were performing a show about African history. Because we had practiced our “pitches,” we were able to quickly articulate that the play explicitly addressed issues of representation and identity politics, and mainly focused on racism in the U.S. To our great fortune, we garnered two positive reviews in The Cue, the daily festival newspaper, in which the reviewers astutely reported the nuances of the play’s messages. (See the review at http://cuemedia.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Full-Edition-9-for-WEB.pdf -- see page 10)
Transporting our production across cultural boundaries brought other unexpected challenges, surprises, and audience responses. We only brought a fraction of our props in our luggage and decided to buy the rest in-country. However, some items were simply not to be found in Grahamstown, such as the kind of rope we needed. We came up with an alternative solution (an extension cord) that actually worked more consistently with the metatheatrical conceit of the play. We also found that South African audience responses differed significantly from audience responses in the U.S. One of our audiences in particular found the play’s humor about the actors’ processes to be so outrageously funny, they nearly gave Sabine a standing ovation for her “dying cat” monologue. At another moment in the play where U.S. audiences typically were weeping over the tragedy being enacted (when “White Man” points a gun at “Black Man”), the South African audiences were verbalizing responses of recognition, acknowledging the pain of the moment in a more vocal fashion than we were accustomed to. While we were not able to conduct post-show talkbacks as we did at UMass, several audience members lingered briefly after each show to share appreciation with our cast members for the racial dynamics represented in the play and for our work.
I know I speak for the entire creative team on this production when I say we are deeply grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to travel and present We Are Proud at the National Arts Festival. The entire trip was truly memorable and we all learned valuable lessons about festival productions and transcultural theater-making. Personally, I was deeply proud of our team for their incredible commitment to this project and for their bravery and passion during each performance. We all grew tremendously as individuals and as an ensemble through this extraordinary experience.
Spanish-language theater research, translation, and adaptation is dramaturgy professor Harley Erdman’s thing, and as he began to plan for his spring 2016 sabbatical, traveling to Latin America to work seemed all but inevitable.
However, he says, “I also had this idea planted that I should do something totally new.”
That desire, plus a fortuitous connection with a former graduate student, led Erdman to Sri Lanka for a semester as a Fulbright US Scholar, teaching theater, exploring the country, and making a good start on a new theater adaptation of a Sri Lankan author’s works about the country’s recent civil war.
“I loved it there; it was one of the best experiences of my life,” Erdman said. “I felt really comfortable there, and it’s a place I am going to go back to.”
Erdman said he’d thought about applying to the Fulbright program for years, and with his sabbatical on the horizon, he attended a UMass-organized information session. At the session, another professor encouraged people to try something new, mentioning that he had gone to Sri Lanka and loved it.
Meanwhile, a former grad student of Erdman’s, Kanchuka Dharmasiri, had returned home to Sri Lanka and become a theater professor at the University of Peradeniya. She said to him, “you should come do a Fulbright in Sri Lanka!”
“Initially I kind of laughed off the idea,” Erdman said, “but as this Fulbright opportunity presented itself I said, ‘You know what, I know Latin America really well, I’m comfortable there… I should go somewhere that’s totally out of my comfort zone’.”
He decided that since he’d never been to Asia but had always wanted to go, he’d put together a proposal to teach in Sri Lanka, and Dharmasiri signed on as his "host."
Even with her official invitation, Erdman said, “I was actually very dubious that I was going to get accepted… There’s a presumption that you have a lot of expertise in the country, that you speak the language, that you’ve been there before, maybe even that you have some cultural or heritage relationship to the country… I felt like I had no pluses going for me. But Fulbright, I guess, knew more about me than I did!”
“Fulbright tells you, do your proposal, and then be prepared for anything,” Erdman said.
His original proposal was to teach classes in playwriting and documentary theater, and from there, to work with Dharmasiri and their students to create an original trilingual (Sinhala, Tamil, and English) play. The classes he planned would be similar to what he taught at UMass, just adapted to Sri Lanka.
Shortly before he headed over, however, it became clear that the University of Peradeniya “had no mechanism for my actually doing those things.” Instead, Erdman became a guest instructor in three different classes over the course of the semester. He worked with students in the classics department on Greek and Roman theater, and with students in the fine arts department he worked on modern and contemporary theater.
Though he hadn’t taught Greek and Roman tragedy, it was Erdman’s easiest class — it was taught in English and the students were reasonably fluent.
The other two were a bigger challenge, as students didn’t speak English and there was no translator provided. In one class, he tackled Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, since both had been translated into Sinhala. Since the students had “very little concept of the context of the worlds of those two plays,” Erdman showed them lots of images of both the time and culture in which the plays are set as well as production images of each play.
In the other class, there was a bilingual student, and with her as his assistant, Erdman coached the group through translating and adapting Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a choice he made because of its relatively straightforward language and relatable topic—cell phones are ubiquitous. Together, they translated about half the play and then performed it. The language barrier kept them from the type of discussions Erdman’s more used to in his class, focusing instead on translation and performance.
Even with the language barrier, Erdman was able to appreciate how engaged his students were. He was also astonished at their memorization skills. “If they were translating a scene from Dead Man’s Cell Phone, they would translate it … they would rehearse for 10 to 15 minutes, and then they would be almost off book 15 minutes later!” He noted that students were much more formal in Sri Lanka, waiting, for example, for the professor to leave a lecture hall before exiting themselves.
When he wasn’t working, Erdman got to know the country. He lived with friends of friends at what turned out to be an AirBnB complex, traveled extensively, and marveled at how much at home he felt “even though I was totally out of place in a million ways.”
“I saw a lot of the island, gave some guest lectures, went to different theater festivals. I saw a wide range of such hugely different worlds on such a such a small island,” Erdman said. He relayed a story of coming upon a community festival during his travels and being invited to attend the festivities as an honored guest.
He ran into the occasional cultural difference—when people invited him over for coffee, for example, he expected to drink together and chat, but instead his hosts served him and then left him to drink alone; Erdman learned was their way of honoring their guest.
In his travels Erdman saw how the country’s infrastructure is still recovering from the civil war. The war ended in 2009, and there has been no negotiation and no coming to terms with what happened, said Erdman.
“There’s a lot there that’s just been totally untouched,” he said.
There is a new government now and there’s a feeling of more free speech, Erdman said, although it’s still a place where journalists are occasionally threatened.
“That said, theater’s actually kind of an open space,” Erdman said.
As part of his time there, he and Dharmasiri started creating a play adapted from Sinhalese writer Kumari Kumaragamage’s writing. “The stories and poems that we’re adapting deal with the witnessing and aftereffects and trauma of (the war) from the point of view of women, mothers, wives, daughters who were left behind,” Erdman said.
He described the work as being in the middle stages of the process and said he hoped to see the finished product produced both in Sri Lanka and the US.
Affiliation: Mike Haley, speech therapy, class of 1965 and Joan Haley
A favorite UMass Theater memory: Mike joked that his favorite memory was building the high-rise dorms after he graduated, but quickly pointed out that he also loved his theater experience — it was his only extra-curricular activity, in fact. He recalled acting in All The Kings’s Men, a production directed by the late Harry Mahnken. “Harry Mahnken was such an incredible guy, he really was!” said Mike.
Why do you donate to the Department of Theater? The Haleys praised the professionalism of the productions they've seen since returning to western Massachusetts. They donate, says Joan, "Because it’s fabulous!" Mike agrees: "Because it’s great quality… these kids are getting a quality education!"
Mike Haley was the first person in his family to go to college. “It was my dime,” he said, and initially, his approach was “what can I major in to get a job?”
Accordingly, he started out in engineering at Berkshire Community College. “But after my 15th electrical shock… I said, ‘This doesn’t seem to be working for me’.” His advisor at BCC urged him to consider the liberal arts, and he wound up at the University of Massachusetts in the speech department, then home to UMass’s theater classes. He majored in speech therapy and acted in his free time.
It was the beginning of a life-long engagement with the arts, as Haley followed his muse to Spain, to New York City — where he met his wife Joan, a similarly adventurous person — and into the film and television industry, where he worked for years as a first assistant director, often with director Mike Nichols, and as a producer, while Joan held positions with various productions as well. Now both retired and living in western Massachusetts, the Haleys remain passionate supporters of the arts, both as patrons and as participants, notably in the Greenfield Double Take Fringe and in projects with fellow UMass Theater alumna Linda McInerney ‘98G. “We love the theater department, we love the way it’s run,” said Joan Haley. “It’s a good department.”
Finding the arts
After his misadventures with engineering and his time in the speech department, it was a Spanish class that pulled Mike Haley into theater in a new way. “I wasn’t a great Spanish student, but I really fell in love with it,” Haley said, and after graduating he decided to go to Granada, Spain, to study at the city’s university. The theater department there was bare-bones, “lights in coffee cans hanging from the ceiling,” as Haley remembered it, but he wrote a play called The Blue Balloon, about a sculptor who wanted to make the perfect round globe. It was Haley’s first time writing a play — he scripted it in English, some friends translated it into Spanish. Because the dictator, Franco, was still in power, they had a register the play so it could be vetted for content Franco’s government found objectionable. “We got away with a few things,” Haley recalled.
Returning home to western Massachusetts, he held a number of jobs and fell in with his then-brother-in-law, who was writing what might now be termed “experimental theater,” and became part of a company that brought his plays to LaMama and the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
Mike Haley was teaching part-time at BCC when, he said, “Out of nowhere, someone called to see if I was available to work on a B movie being made in Pittsfield, to be a gopher.”
He did, and he found out that for him, “This was an adrenaline high that just couldn’t be beat!”
When it was over, the producer offered him a job on the William F Buckley Show in New York. “I had no idea about New York or what it was, but I said 'sure',” said Haley.
When he asked for more than $60 a show, he was fired, but a fortuitous meeting with an acquaintance kept him in New York. Some years before, musician friends of his had been in a movie and Haley, tagging along to Long Island City, had hit it off with the producer, a colorful character named Charles Carmello who carried stiletto in his boot and produced films for the pornography industry.
(“You see more on TV now,” Joan Haley noted about the films that qualified for that label back then.)
Carmello offered him some odd jobs as well as occasional film gigs. It turned into an education in film. “I learned to load magazines, I learned how to cook for 12 people, I learned how to hang lights, I learned camera work, etc. etc.,” Haley said. That, in turn, led to a job as production manager with a public television station in New York.
When the Director’s Guild of America opened its first east coast training program to train assistant directors, Haley successfully applied. “With that training program, I don’t know how many of them there were that first year,” Joan Haley said, “and they pick, what’d they pick, 10? It’s looking for quality, leadership, quick thinking.”
A rough and tumble industry
It was around this time that Joan Haley was also making her way into the industry where they would meet.
“I grew up in New York City, and it was the late 60s. I was going to college part-time, not liking having to take courses I had no interest in, in order to get to where I wanted to go. I was working at a production house; they did TV spots, trailers, radio spots,” she said. When the company owner prepared to produce his first full-length film, she “begged” to work on the project, only to be told she couldn’t.
“I figured out how to show them I could do anything they needed me to do,” and eventually got hired as a production assistant.
Joan Haley said, “I opened the studio at 5:30 in the morning in what is now Tribeca but what was in 1969 —“ “the creepy warehouse district!” her husband finished for her.
“It was the heyday of the independent film industry in New York,” she said, and it was a rough and tumble business.
Her local know-how meant she became the "go-to" person for Hollywood films that came into town just for a few weeks of location shoots, since they needs someone local who knew the ins and outs of payroll, union rules, etc. She also worked as an accountant. Joan Haley worked for a who's who of 1960s and 1970s film directors including Robert Downey Sr. and Bob Rafelson and shifted to LA for a time. The Haleys originally met working on Godfather II, but then didn't cross paths again until 1979.
"I was living in Sunderland and had just finished a movie down south," Mike Haley said. He'd driven home intending to take a break, but a friend called him with an urgent offer to head to take over for the first assistant director on a film in Boston.
That night, there was a fire in the Copley hotel where they were staying; several were injured and one person died.
For Joan Haley, it was her husband's calm under pressure that stood out. After a harrowing evacuation, he assessed the situation and corralled her and the production assistant for the film. The three headed to the production office nearby and Mike Haley found walkie talkies and crew sheets so the three of them could get to work figuring out who was safe from their crew.
"It was part of the reason I fell in love with him. He was so brilliant. ... It was amazing for somebody to be so clear thinking," she said. "We've been together ever since."
Joan Haley retired from the industry before her husband did because they realized that both of them being on location for long stretches wasn't good for a long-term relationship; she logged about 25 years, while he served 40 years before retiring.
Reflecting on their work, both say it's hard to offer advice to current students because the industry has formalized its training and the winding paths they took would likely not work today.
"We couldn't get our jobs today," Mike Haley said — his assistant director training aside, they learned much of what they did on the job.
But they did have encouraging words for artists. Even the lousiest jobs give you the opportunity to observe and learn people, Mike Haley pointed out.
"You pick up their quirks and peculiarities, their languages, their mannerisms, you’re building a portfolio whether you realize it or not, and also how people think and treat each other," he said.
When the Princess Grace Foundation announced its awards for “emerging theater, dance and film artists” this summer, the rest of the world probably noticed Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. getting top billing among the honorees, but we at UMass Theater were even more thrilled to see another name on the list: Dawn Monique Williams, who graduated with a directing MFA in 2011.
Williams is the recipient of the Princess Grace Theater Fellowship, which will fund her work directing Merry Wives of Windsor for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in June 2017. She’ll be celebrated for her award at a gala this month in New York. Williams couldn’t resist the Hamilton wordplay: “I hope (Odom will) be there so then I can be in the room where it happens!”
More seriously, she said that the award is intended to support a “significant step forward in my career.”
Williams is a passionate advocate for “radical inclusion,” the idea that there is room for what might broadly be termed “non-traditional” casting of classical works as well as plays from underrepresented voices in theater. Accordingly, her production’s cast features actors of color, one deaf and signing actor, and cross-gender casting of some roles.
“A huge part of me being at OSF in the first place has a lot to do with my particular mission towards radical inclusion; Bill Rauch, the artistic director, and I are very simpatico on that particular issue,” Williams said.
An artistic home
The production and the fellowship that’s funding it are two steps that seem natural for Williams to take at OSF.
Although she’s a West Coaster, when she graduated from UMass in 2011, Williams stayed in the area for a year to work on a Drama League Directing Fellowship; after that ended, however, she was at loose ends. Eventually, she learned about OSF’s FAIR program, which supports interns, apprentices and fellows learning the craft of theater; the program is intended to support people who have an interest in large-scale classical theater. OSF offers one directing fellowship per season to an early-career director, and 2013, Williams became the Killian Directing Fellow. She assisted on two shows, one of them a production of Cymbeline with Rauch.
“I knew right away when I got to OSF that it was where I wanted to be; it felt like the right theater home for me,” she said.
OSF, she said, is the largest rotating repertory theater in the US, and one of the largest regional theaters in the US overall. The company produces a four-Shakespeare season, and then it also has the American Revolutions commissioning program (out of which have come plays like Lynn Nottage’s Sweat).
“For me that models best practices, where you’re putting these classical plays in conversation with contemporary plays, and living writers,” said Williams, “and an artistic director who so fundamentally believes in inclusion and a diverse spectrum of voices and artists working on pieces together. So for me it was just like hitting the lotto. It was all the things that are aesthetically appealing to me, all the things that I value … happening in southern rural Oregon.”
“As soon as I started I was already panicked about it coming to an end,” Williams said, but as she puzzled over how to extend her relationship with the company, Theatre Communication Group released their applications for their leadership U program, which also funds theater artists building their careers. She brought the idea to Rauch, and they successfully applied. Williams spent 2014 through 2016 working with Rauch as his apprentice, serving as associate director on 3 shows, worked on casting, going to board meetings, and doing a sort of artistic director-in-training program.
She had already been hired to direct Merry Wives when the Princess Grace award came up. The fellowship is one an artist must apply for in conjunction with a host theater, and OSF approached her about doing so on this production. (In an aside, she noted that her application included a discussion of the Twelfth Night she did at UMass Theater!)
The production is set for the 1200-seat Elizabethan theater that is the festival’s mainstage. Williams said she is planning on “leaning into the Elizabethan façade and embracing that it was there.” The costumes will have an Elizabethan silhouette but will play with atypical fabrics, and the score will sneak in 1980s and 1990s pop songs. (See the video below for a longer discussion of her ideas for Merry Wives.)
Asked what comes next, Williams said she wasn’t sure; she hasn’t booked her next project yet. But there, too, the Princess Grace Foundation is a valuable connection. Once they receive the award once, she said, artists gain access to a whole additional tier of funding so that they can work on other projects. “They invest in the long term success of someone’s career," said Williams.
In fact, fellowships are something she encourages directors to look into. She noted that all of her cohort at UMass Theater are still directing, “but that looks very different for each of us.”
Some have formed companies or self-produced projects, while her journey has been to seek out mentorships within bigger organizations.
“Assisting might feel like the slow climb, … but I’ve really come to value the relationships I’ve been able to form with artistic directors,” she said.
Williams on video
Williams was interviewed on OSF's Youtube channels about her plans for Merry Wives of Windsor. Watch the interview below.
(photo credits: photo of Dawn Monique Williams by Jordyn Williams; photo of OSF's Cymbeline by Jenny Graham)
As ever, we love updates from friends and members current and past!
In addition to sharing his South Africa experiences above, Paul Adolphsen '15G let us know some good news about a pair of Play Lab alumni: "MJ Kaufman's play Sagittarius Ponderosa (2015) is receiving a production Off-Broadway at the National Asian American Theatre Company this fall and Tira Palmquist's play And Then They Fell (2014) is receiving its premiere at LA's Brimmer Street Theatre Company in October."
The Ticket Seller, a short film for which Sound Design faculty member Amy Altadonna was the production recordist and sound designer, was named an Official Selection at the 2016 North Bay Art and Film Festival. This summer, she designed Liz Duffy Adams' Or, The Taming, and Ugly Lies the Bone at Shakespeare & Co, Dear Elizabeth at Dorset Theatre Festival, Peter and the Starcatcher at Perseverance Theatre in Juneau, AL, and the critically acclaimed Cal in Camo in NYC with my Colt Coeur collaborators, starring David Harbour (Stranger Things, Newsroom). The New York Times critic Ben Brantley wrote in his review that Cal was "staged with scrupulous attention to detail by the director Adrienne Campbell-Holt - and an expert design team that includes John McDermott (an alumnus of ours from 1994!), Grant Yeager, and Amy Altadonna."
Incoming first-year student Luke Bosco submitted photographic proof (below) that he’d been Tiger Lily/the lost boy in Peter Pan at Paint Box Theatre this summer — which had the helpful side-effect of reminding us that the UMass Theater connection ran strong in that production. Alumnus Troy David Mercier played Peter, alumna Linda Tardiff had a cameo, and graduate student Christina Beam did the costumes.
Professor Harley Erdman was among the writers of The Northampton Playwright’s Lab’s Play by Play, a new play festival. Gina Kaufmann was among the directors, as was alumna Sheila Siragusa. Harley also marked the publication of his book, Women Playwrights of Early Modern Spain (ITER, 2016), which features his translations of ten plays, for the first time ever in English.
Congratulations on the Design Arts Utah 2016 Juror’s Award, the accompanying gallery show, and the complimentary press coverage to MFA lighting alumna Jess Greenberg!
Student Allison Kerr was this year’s recipient of the Stephen Driscoll BADA Scholarship, and she was joined at the program by two other UMass Theater students, Mallory Kassoy and Sevan Dulgarian. Stephen sent us a picture of himself with all three women from Oxford, which was by all accounts a fabulous and rewarding experience.
We’re on the mailing list for Lucinda Kidder ‘03G’s Silverthorne Theater Company, which had a very good summer and this year continues into the fall with a production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged).
David Korins ’99 won an Emmy award (his first of many, we’re convinced) for his work as production Designer for Fox’s Grease Live!
Faculty member Priscilla Page '00G spent a chunk of her summer in Chicago and wrote eloquently for Howlround about Space Age, one of the pieces of theater she experienced while she was there.
Glenn Proud ‘15G is back with us this fall as the assistant production manager. He also served as part of our South Africa contingent this summer, among other things. His update: “I spent a good portion of the summer in South Africa this summer co-piloting study abroad courses one being Art & Culture in South Africa the Grahamstown National Arts Festival Course with Prof. Megan Lewis. Also, I spend a week in August in New York City attending the Ping Chong + Company Summer Institute on Undesirable Elements. Last, I've been in rehearsals directing Elena Nietupski '16 in the original work, Remember Me, Nellie, by alumni Brian Marsh and Sound Designed by Webster Marsh (current MFA Candidate). Later this Fall I will be Guest Lecturing a course in Ensemble Performance at Boston Conservatory.”
Fay Richards ’11 let us know she recently left Parsons-Meares, LTD to join the costume shop at The Juilliard School as a first hand.
Sam Rush ‘97G’s New Century Theatre drew upon the talents of UMass this summer, including Gina Kaufmann and Gil McCauley as directors!
Professor Emeritus Dick Trousdell let us know that he's had two new articles published this year. One in the spring issue of Jung Journal, Culture and Psyche, on tragic recognition as healing in therapy and contemporary drama and fiction; and another in the Journal of Analytical Psychology for November on the American Artist and Jungian Scholar, Mary Foote.
He also shared his experience of the memorial service for fellow emeritus Miguel Romero's husband, Paul Sheren: "The memorial celebration in June for Paul Sheren, the marriage partner of Professor Emeritus Miguel Romero, was exceptionally beautiful. It was held at the home of the Mariani family, next-door neighbors of Paul and Miguel in Montague. Many of their neighbors, friends,Theater Department faculty, staff, and alums-- including their children---gathered to share good talk, and the food, drinks, and desserts all had brought. Then, moving outdoors into the back yard, a circle of loving remembrance formed in which many spoke of Paul and Miguel,and especially of the example they set of volunteer community work and of memorable Passover Seders shared with Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike. Finally, a memorial tree was planted in the yard of Paul and Miguel's former home. That such a healing celebration happened on the day after the mass killings at an Orlando gay nightclub, made it especially meaningful. It was one of those moments when all could actually feel how shared love is more powerful and creative than any hatred or prejudice. Many came away thinking about that and about how Paul and Miguel's life together made it real."
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