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- Remarks from the Chair
- Remembering Doug Kraner '79G
- Collidescope 2.0: Students share their perspectives
- Chris Baker reenvisions Lincoln's world
Dear everyone —
Every year, as we make it to the finish line, I’m amazed by all we have accomplished over the previous school year, and this year is no exception.
I am so proud of everyone who is part of our department, whether they are faculty, staff, student — or with us only for a short time as a guest artist. Everyone brought their A game this year, and we have a lot to show for it.
We mounted a full season that included a brand-new musical, Donny Johns, created by our faculty and performed by a stunning cast; a Play Lab with two new plays including one by playwright-in-residence Kim Euell; and a re-vamped version of Collidescope that brought local history into the work’s discussion of race and activism. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette brought history to life irreverently, and Love and Information’s design team collaborated with artists all the way in Iran.
Collidescope’s student matinee brought 350 students into our space; paired with a pilot outreach program to local schools, this was a year when we took important steps to reach out to local students of color. In related news, Multicultural Theater Certificate administrator Priscilla Page proudly handed out certificates to the first two UMass students to complete the program at our year-end ceremony, Kiara Wynn and Annabeth Kelly (see below/all ceremony photos by Carolyn Brown).
In other news, we raised money to bring theater professionals to campus for career talks and to send our students all the way to South Africa to perform.
We are preparing to send a trio of students to England for a summer at the British American Drama Academy, including the second-ever Driscoll scholarship winner, Alison Kerr. (Mallory Kassoy and Sevan Dulgarian were the other two students accepted to the program.) Gina Kaufmann recognized Alison at our year-end ceremony (see below), along with the recipients of the Rand Scholarship (for producers, directors, and dramaturgs).
For the first time, that year-end ceremony was also graced with the presence of Larry Benedict, who personally awarded the Benedict Scholarship he and his wife Susan founded to four technical and design students. He not only honored this year's recipients, he had a chance to meet some of the students who received the scholarship in past years.
Also back in our midst at this year’s ceremony was Denise Wagner, who personally congratulated the winners of the Denise Wagner Community Spirit Award.
A loss in our midst
Unfortunately, the end of the year also brought with it sad news. Doug Kraner ‘79G passed away in April. Doug studied design while he was here, and he had a long and successful career as a production designer in television and film.
He worked on projects from Dominick and Eugene to Sleeping With the Enemy to Mr. Wrong (that film featured fellow UMass graduate program alumnus and friend Bill Pullman '80G). He is best known recently for his work on Gotham, the Batman prequel series which netted him an Emmy nomination for his work on the pilot. (We interviewed him in 2014 as he prepared for the premiere of Gotham; you can read it here.)
What distinguished Doug in a competitive field wasn’t just his talent for the work, it was his kindness and professionalism, as alumnus Tim Joliat ’87 attests in his tribute below. No matter how busy he was and how successful he became, Doug always stayed in touch with his mentors and friends here, including June Gaeke (who also wrote a remembrance of Doug for this issue).
He was a generous supporter of the department. When we undertook the renovation of our lobby he graciously donated his talents to design the box office, the fixtures, ticket boxes, and benches that grace our lobby:
It was a project he completed for us at no charge and the final product, constructed by Michael Cottom and Brandon Hall, was stunning and a testament to Doug's design skills.
Doug left a mark on the department as an artist, a friend, and a supporter, and we will miss him.
As we prepared to publish this latest issue of Stages, we learned that recently-retired faculty member Miguel Romero's beloved husband, Paul Sheren, passed away unexpectedly. He was a good friend to us an I plan to honor him in our next issue.
This sad news about first Doug, then Paul, has me reflecting on how precious life is, and how much I value the art of theater and the opportunity it gives us to forge meaning and connections in our lives.
Much love to you all.
June Gaeke, Professor Emerita
From the beginning it was clear Doug Kraner was a stand out! He came to UMass with a strong work ethic, unrelenting dedication to quality, a continuing quest for knowledge and skills, abundant creativity, a highly developed sense of responsibility as well as diplomatic skills all housed within a quiet presence infused with a generous spirit and great humanity. He also brought a dash of useful Midwest humor, and I remember having many a good laugh while we worked together in the costume shop.
Doug joined the graduate program in design not long after the department became the newly minted Department of Theater, having recently separated from the Department of Speech. (Now the Department of Communication). Even though Doug’s concentration was scenic design, he was initially assigned to me as a teaching assistant in the Costume Shop. I have vivid memories of Doug’s great energy and his unstinting dedication up to the very last second as we all dashed to complete the costumes for The Cradle Will Rock.
Doug came to us with a vast store of both talent and well developed skills in many areas. Among his varied assignments during the first year, he did the costume accessories for Tartuffe. He later designed costumes for Hot L Baltimore, one of the few MFA scene designers ever to take on a costume design assignment. I have often stumbled across the bright pink, cropped, leather jacket in costume stock that Doug designed for Suzy, and many fond memories of Doug would come flooding back.
I collaborated and worked with Doug on many shows. He designed the scenery for the premier of The Executioner’s Tragedy by Mike Milton (Bill Pullman '80G was the stage manager,) The Hollow Crown, and the first of our many productions of Romeo and Juliet. Other production assignments included scenic decorator for Anastasia, scenic painter for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Commonwealth Stage, LTD.) and crew chief for the set construction of Antigone.
To fulfill a department requirement for his MFA degree, Doug performed the role of the Detective in the production of The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, directed by Professor Doris Abramson. This was not something that Doug did with any abundance of comfort or ease, but like all his endeavors, he dug down deep within his person to give his very best.
Doug was a generous colleague. He gave back in so many ways. I had an MFA costume student who left to freelance in NYC before finishing his three-year degree; his studies at UMass overlapped slightly with Doug’s. Tragically a few years later that student was an early victim of AIDS, and I was not surprised that Doug was part of his support system.
Doug came back to the department on numerous occasions over the last 37 years, and it is likely that he contributed in many more ways than the ones I have listed. He generously taught a multi-day symposium on film design, designed a lobby for the Rand renovation, celebrated the department’s landmark anniversaries, and graced my retirement party with his unique presence and time.
After all these years, I can still say that Doug was among my most talented students. I feel incredibly privileged to have been his teacher/ mentor as well as his friend and am deeply proud of the designer he became.
To view Doug’s professional portfolio go to:
Tim Joliat '87
We received the following remembrance from Tim Joliat '87, who worked with Doug on Gotham, the Batman prequel for which he received an Emmy nomination for production design.
It was such sad news. I had only recently met Doug, while working on the Pilot for the TV show Gotham, which was like no pilot we had worked on. Its scale was much more like that of a major feature film — rich and grand. The incredible look of the show was due directly to Doug's vision. He was a truly gifted artist, a visionary.
Again — I can't stress this enough — the show was huge, with a short time frame to get it ready to shoot. As the Set Dressing Foreman, I was charged with overseeing the sets being built on the soundstage at Steiner Studios in The Brooklyn Navy Yard. My main responsibility was the Gotham City PD precinct. With sets of this scale, due in such a short time frame, it's usually daunting, and easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by all the stress.
But not so while working with Doug — he was a rock — unshakable. And his unique dry wit lightened the mood on many occasions. Despite the rigors of such a huge project, he remained a consummate professional and teacher. The moment we figured out that we had both gotten our degrees from UMass (though about eight or ten years apart), our professional interactions grew into more of a friendship. I felt so fortunate to have met him and worked with him, even for such a short time. I was so proud to have shared the stage with him, and even prouder that we were both UMass theater alumni.
Rest in peace Doug, you are greatly missed.
Tim Joliat '87
Doug Kraner and Tim Joliat pose on the set of Gotham, the project they worked on as Production Designer and Set Dressing Foreman, respectively. (Photo courtesy of Tim Joliat)
In Stages, over the past few months, we have been sharing interviews and stories told from the perspective of the guest artists and industry professionals that we brought together as collaborators on the UMass Spring 2016 production of Collidescope 2.0. We wanted to wrap-up this coverage by sharing the perspective of some of our UMass undergraduate and graduate students who had the opportunity to work with these professionals on this production. Below are interviews and excerpts compiled by members of Collidescope's dramaturgical team, Gaven Trinidad and Priscilla Page, as well as MFA Directing student, Mary Corinne Miller.
Jennifer Onopa, Collidescope Assistant Director & Graduate MFA Directing student
Q: What was your role in the process as the Assistant Director?
A: As the assistant director I had multiple, shifting responsibilities. I taught the actors the choreography from the original show with some movement modifications as requested by Ping and Talvin. I supported Talvin with tracking the evolution of the staging and rehearsal of some of the new scenes for this version, including "Campus Unrest" and "Contraband," (the Angeline Palmer story). I helped Ping with some movement coaching for the actors, and I took extensive notes for Ping during the tech rehearsal process.
A: I have worked as a performer in shows with two directors, but I have never been part of the directing team for a show with co-directors. I learned so much from Ping and Talvin about communication with a co-director, and balancing and supporting the various voices involved in the collaborative process. Both Talvin and Ping are very rigorous in their own processes. Talvin's work is imbued with a tremendous knowledge of history that informs his creative process, and Ping works with extreme precision with the actors, particularly regarding movement.
Q: As a graduate student, how did you feel that this experience helped you to prepare for the professional world?
A: This experience helped me to better understand how directors work with designers leading up to and during the tech rehearsal process. Because the technical elements on this show were complex, observing the communication and negotiation between all of the design collaborators was very useful for my professional preparation. Additionally, witnessing how Ping and Talvin organized and made decisions about rehearsal time was very helpful.
Q: What was your favorite part of the process?
A: The collective work on Collidescope was a fast and intensive process and the dramatic material was challenging. Some of my favorite parts of the process were watching Talvin rally the actors with artistic pep talks before or during rehearsals, and watching the moments when Ping would show his feisty sense of humor with the actors during his rehearsals. They were both very attentive to building and maintaining the sense of the ensemble throughout the process, which was crucial to making the show work.
Gaven Trinidad, Collidescope Assistant Dramaturg & Graduate MFA Dramaturgy student
Q: What was your role in the process as the Assistant Dramaturg?
Q: How was this process different from other productions you worked on?
marriage of the two. There was so much history involved, but there was a vocabulary of movement, which comes from Ping’s style of theater. This was also my first time working with two directors at the same time, but what made that so easy was that they were both readily available and open to suggestions.
Q: As a graduate student, how did you feel that this experience helped you to prepare for the professional world?
A: It reaffirmed my understanding of the definition of collaboration and what it means to find a sense of family and unity across all sectors involved in the creation of the show in that everyone involved is equal and vital to process. As a graduate student it helped me to see that I have to trust myself in my aesthetic and my intelligence and everything that I bring to the table. To trust my instincts and not be afraid to fail since it takes many experiments to find something that works.
Q: What was your favorite part of the process?
A: For me it was very meaningful that a lot of the cast members involved were students of color and students for whom this was their Mainstage show or first show here at UMass. It was wonderful to see them honing their skills as artists and gaining an understanding that art can be socially conscious and can have an impact on people from many different backgrounds.
UMass undergraduate students describe their experiences working on Collidescope with Talvin Wilks and Ping Chong
Examining important historical figures and the worlds they inhabited through ingenious media and genre mash-ups has proven fertile theatrical ground lately — see recent iterations of a multicultural Alexander Hamilton, emo Andrew Jackson, and even a dance/art-rock Imelda Marcos.
UMass’s very own Chris Baker has submitted a noteworthy addition to the genre with Lincoln: An American Vaudeville. The piece uses the conventions of vaudeville — a mix of music, comedy, and vignettes — to take a not-strictly-factual look at the milieu of the 16th president and get at some hard truths about our current political situation. Several years in creation, the piece was workshopped at Baltimore’s prestigious Center Stage this April.
Baker plans to edit the piece based on feedback from the Center Stage workshop and hopes to see a future production.
The genesis of the piece for Baker lay not in the past but in the present day.
“It was originally in response to the vitriol coming out against Obama. Alot of it was racial, even if it was not explicit. I read a Time Magazine article about how the (political) divisions in this country were growing... It started me thinking about the origins of these divisions,” Baker said. That train of thought in turn led him back to the Civil War era and the intrigue surrounding Abraham Lincoln's time in office.
He hastens to say that the Lincoln in his piece is a fictionalized “political animal,” as are many of the named characters in the play. “They’re not factual but they represent historical forces — in a world that’s filled with jokes and songs,” Baker said. The play also looks at the concept of legacy, and “the idea that you would be in a job, thinking about your legacy. When did that start?” he asked.
Baker wrote a few scenes about two years ago when he had the original inspiration, and went back to it periodically. This past year, however, he worked with Center Stage on an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and as he finished that project, he decided to revisit Lincoln. He successfully applied for a Faculty Research Grant to work on the piece, and, he said, “it seemed natural, when I got the grant, to turn to the people I collaborated with on Pride and Prejudice.”
Center Stage set a workshop for April, and Associate Artistic Director Hana Sharif, with whom Baker had first worked at Hartford Stage, signed on to direct at his request. With the deadline, Baker set about finishing the piece. He originally thought it might be a play with music, but it struck him that the scenes he had collected had arrangd themselves into something like a vaudeville pattern. “I ran with it,” he said.
Vaudeville shows were a mixture of comedic pieces, songs that often commented upon the topics of the day, and short scenes; just so, Baker juxtaposed period music with scenes featuring historical characters. Taken together, the whole thing had a strong satirical bent and irreverently re-imagined everyone from Lincoln himself to his wife Mary Todd and the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He also looked at the role of people like Dan Rice, who invented what we think of as the modern-day circus and included a fair bit of political satire in his shows.
When it was time to workshop the piece, Baker was thrilled to land a stellar cast that threw themselves into the work (see the list below). The group settled into a pattern of daytime rehearsals, after which Baker would take what he’d learned and rewrite what needed work overnight, to repeat the process the following day. In addition to tweaking what was already there, he wrote three completely new scenes over the course of the workshop. He plans further rewrites now that the workshop is over.
The workshop confirmed his feeling that he was on the right path with his vaudeville idea, which he had waffled on at some points during the writing.
“It showed that the structure was there and it emphasized that that was actually one of the best parts of it,” he said.
Next up is either more workshopping or a full production. “I think someone will want to do it — it’s a matter of getting it out there.”
The Lincoln: An American Vaudeville cast included Michael Bakkensen (Broadway’s Noises Off and The Man Who Came to Dinner), Ross Bickell (Broadway’s The Iceman Cometh and A Few Good Men), Robert Clohessy (Oz; Blue Bloods) , Robert Eli (Chicago Med; House of Cards), John Patrick Hayden (Shadowboxing; Daredevil), Billy Eugene Jones (Broadway’s Passing Strange and Gem of the Ocean) Kate MacCluggage (The Knick; one-woman show Grounded at Virginia Stage ), Kellie Overbey (Drama Desk Award nominee; That’s What She Said), Noble Shropshire (Broadway’s Drowsy Chaperone and Not About Nightingales) and Susan Kelechi Watson (Louie; Broadway’s A Naked Girl on the Appian Way). The workshop was directed by Center Stage’s Associate Artistic Director, Hana Sharif, with musical direction by Nathan Roberts.
Photos courtesy of Center Stage.
What are you doing this summer? 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!
Here's what's some folks are up to:
Sound design professor Amy Altadonna opened a show in May called Cal in Camo, at Rattlestick. She is collaborating on it with her artistic team at Colt Coeur. At Shakespeare & Co. she will be designing Or, by erstwhile Play Lab resident playwright Liz Duffy Adams, Ugly Lies the Bone, and The Taming. She will also design Dear Elizabeth at Dorset Theater Festival, and Peter and the Starcatcher at Perseverance Theater in Juneau, Alaska.
Rob Corddry '93 shares the screen with Dwayne Johnson for season 2 of HBO's Ballers. Rob's long-time Emmy-winning series, Childrens Hospital, ended its run this spring, and WIRED Magazine published an oral history of the show's inception and run. http://www.wired.com/2016/04/childrens-hospital-oral-history/
Alumna Jane Cox received the Ruth Morley Design Award from the League of Professional Theatre Women for this season’s The Color Purple and Noises Off on Broadway.
Lucinda Kidder '03G's Silverthorne Theater Company has announced its 2016 season: http://www.silverthornetheater.org/
Undergraduate student Billy Luce Jr. is off to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where he'll be an acting apprentice.
Professor Gina Kaufman will direct Steven Dietz's Yankee Tavern at Sam Rush '97G's New Century Theatre this summer. Grad student Corinne Miller will be her assistant and undergrad alumna Adrienne Paquin will be in the cast.
Kym Moore '92G sent us an email about CoLAB, a collaborative arts program that's a join effort of Brown University, where she teaches, and the nearby Rhode Island School of Design. She is the co-Creative Director for the interdisciplinary art program, which aims to engage artists and scholars in a variety of media in creating new work.
Undergraduate student Jasmeet Singh will be in Northampton — Shakespeare in Look Park is mounting a performance of Hamlet this year, and Jasmeet will be in the cast.
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