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Alumni and Friends


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

May 2017: Contents

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Remarks from the Chair: Year-end reflections on a busy season

Hello Theater Friends —

We’ve made it! The final weeks of a semester always start to feel overwhelming and this time was no different — there were days you could go from rehearsal to performance to presentation with scarcely a breath in between.

It was inspiring to witness, and I am grateful to everyone in the department for the part they played in making it happen!

It has been a momentous first year as chair for me, and at our final faculty and staff meeting of the year, I read a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of what we accomplished and experienced this year. I’d like to share some of what was on that list with you.

Our season was incredible – artistically vibrant, entertaining and thought-provoking. I’ve mentioned the other shows in past notes to you, but I want to recognize The Happiest Song Plays Last, which featured a cast composed entirely of actors of color, and Ta’zieh, which was not only the first mainstage work performed outdoors, but it was also the first Iranian epic we’ve ever done.

The big news first: We successfully searched and found a new Assistant Professor of Scenic Design, Anya Klepikov, and a new Assistant Professor of Costume Design, Yao Chen to join us in the fall. We’ll be introducing you to both artists in more detail when the new school year starts.

Megan Lewis has been awarded tenure. Congratulations, Megan! Priscilla Page has been given a permanent lecturer position to support her work on our Multicultural Theater Certificate and the teaching she has been doing in our department since 2005. Congratulations, Priscilla! Lena Cuomo’s role has been expanded to full-time lecturer. Congratulations, Lena! Her focus, in addition to continuing her work teaching Acting and Voice, will be on developing cross-disciplinary courses such as “Acting for Healthcare Professionals”, which Theater is creating with the School of Nursing.

The Rand Theater will be off-limits this summer — because we are getting a top-to-bottom overhaul of the theater rigging system!

Speaking of spaces, thanks to the tireless work of Judyie Al-Bilali and Gilbert McCauley, we have a growing presence in New Africa House, where multiple projects coming out of our department have already been performed. 

And – also a very big deal – the decision was made in the Chancellor’s office that Theater will have a presence on the fourth floor Fine Arts Center Artsbridge. We’ll update you as plans take shape for this much-needed new piece of Theater real estate.

In other news, thanks to Judyie Al Bilali, we brought back Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks for "Return of the Mothership”. It was moving to see the incredible effects of Collidescope 2.0 on our students as they reflected back, one year later.

And, thanks to the work of Julie Nelson and Chris Baker, we inaugurated our new “Career Prep” course, to great success! Students created professional resumes, honed a variety of monologues and auditioned for several regional Artistic Directors.

I also want to thank our generous alumni. We inaugurated the Ed Golden Acting Scholarship — our first scholarship dedicated specifically to actors —  and hosted a kick-off reception for Ed Golden and the founders of the scholarship: Rob Corddry, Bill and Tamara Pullman, and Jeffrey Donovan. I cannot thank these four people enough for what they have done for our students. Later in the year, dozens of you (people who I hope are reading this now) gave generously during #UMassGives to help grow this wonderful scholarship/tribute to one of our beloved emeritus faculty members, Ed Golden. We are beyond thrilled about the Golden Scholarship and the support it has received.

Finally and wonderfully, Theater has recently received the Stephen P. Driscoll Musical Theater Endowment bequest gift agreement! Wow! Stephen discovered a love for musical theater while he was here at UMass, and has also spoken fondly of the vibrant collaborative work between theater, art, music, and dance students during his time here. His gift will support musical theater productions, and is intended to spur those kinds of collaborations among future generations of students. A heart-felt thank you, Stephen!

So now we look ahead to the next season. We’re still working out the details so I can’t give you dates yet, but I CAN tell you that it’s going to be an amazing journey of stories. We’re going to open with the late Elizabeth Swados’ affecting musical, Runaways, directed by INTAR Theater’s Artistic Director, Lou Moreno.  Play Lab shifts to the fall this year but continues its tradition of giving our students the chance to bring brand-new plays to the stage and to learn the uniquely American play development process. We’re going to continue to break out of our physical boundaries by producing an immersive take on Strindberg’s A Dream Play in a non-theater space on campus. Dramaturg and director Ifa Bayeza will be at the helm for her world-premiere adaptation Wallace Thurman’s 1932 novel, Infants of the Spring, set during the Harlem Renaissance. And we will wrap it all up with Taylor Mac’s epic The Lily’s Revenge, a stunning, epic glitter-fight of a play – get ready for a five-hour extravaganza!

We should have more details by our July issue, so clear your calendars and stay tuned!


gina kaufmann note photo


Donor Profile: The Kadish family has a tradition of supporting the arts

Editor's note: When we receive notifications of donations, sometimes, patterns catch our eye — someone who gives regularly in honor of a particular person or for a particular reason. Recently, we noticed a lot of Kadishes — and we realized that alumnus Daniel Kadish, as well as his parents, have a habit of supporting the department. Naturally, we got in touch to ask about this pattern of generosity that runs in the family. With the senior Kadishes wrapped up in a big move, Daniel was deputized to answer some questions about his family's arts support via email. Read on.

Major: Theater

Year of graduation: 2014

Favorite UMass Theater memory?
There are too many to choose from, but if I had to, it would probably be acting in/co-directing/co-producingThe Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) in the Curtain Theater. A dream of mine for over a decade came true with that production.

Why do you donate to the UMass Department of Theater?
Two reasons. I worked for the Annual Fund for a summer, so when they call, I donate because I know the pain of working for the Annual Fund, but more importantly, the Department gave me SO much that even as a working actor in NYC, I can feel good about giving back what I can.

dan kadish as barfee
One of Daniel Kadish's first roles at UMassTheater was as the bespectacled spelling bee contestant, William Barfee, in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Arts in the blood

Stages: Do you consider yourselves an artistic family, that is, do people in your family act, sing, play instruments etc.?
Kadish: The arts have always been an important part of my life. Both my parents love music, my mom has a beautiful voice. My dad…well, my dad tries. My mom used to act when she was younger and she was a painter in college. Cousins on both sides of my family are also actors, one in Chicago getting her masters and the other on Broadway in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I’ve been playing piano since I was 3 years old and my sister plays the clarinet. So yeah, we’ve always been an artistic family.

Stages: Is patronizing the arts part of your family tradition?
Kadish: Absolutely. One of my earliest memories is going to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. The actress playing Belle (who turned out to be Kerry Butler, Broadway legend) is a friend of a family friend, so we got to go backstage. Having grown up only 45 minutes from NYC, my parents always took my sister and me to shows when they could.

Stages: What about giving to support the arts or other organizations — is that something you focus on and discuss, or do you tend to keep those decisions personal or case by case?
Kadish: Lately, that's more of a personal decision. Being graduated and living on my own these last 3 years (terrifying to think about…wasn’t I just a freshman?), I’ve chosen my own areas of the arts to donate to/support. I know that we all do it, however. When we were younger, I know my parents gave to the New Victory Theater in Times Square, a childrens/young adults theater on 42nd St. that was a staple of the Kadish theater outings of my childhood.

Stages: What first drew you to theater? When did you discover performing/theater? And I'm assuming that performing was your primary interest from the outset; is that true?
Kadish: I was drawn to performance from a very young age. There are countless stories of my childhood that either begin or end with “…and then Daniel got up on a table…” and it goes from there. I would put on puppet shows from the age of two, so it’s been in my blood for a long time. I would say the moment I was officially bitten by “the bug” was in 8th grade when my middle school was putting on Fiddler on the Roof. Getting cast as Tevye was a stocky Jewish boy's dream come true. From then on, it was theater or bust. If that wasn’t enough, the summer before my senior year of grade school, I was a part of the Boston University Summer Theatre Institute (BUSTI for short) which only made it clearer that I HAD to be a Theater major, something that my parents fought me on for a while. And yes, performance was my primary interest, especially when I first arrived at UMass.

Stages: At what point did UMass come on your radar?
Kadish: UMass had been on my radar for a WHILE before college applications were even an idea. My father was a Hotel/Restaurant Management major at UMass in the late 70’s-early 80’s, so it was always a possibility. In my high school, the guidance office would host reps from different schools and have little info sessions during the day for interested students. The UMass rep was there one day during my math class (which I would have done anything to get out of anyway) so I decided to go check out my dad’s school. The rep gave a great presentation for the school as a whole and then answered many of my questions about the theater program. (Funnily enough, my junior year, I acted with the guy who came to my school, Matt Clark, in a production of Merchant of Venice at the Renaissance Center).

Stages: How did you and your family come to the decision that UMass was a good fit for your skills and interests?
Kadish: Knowing that my dad loved it there, I applied early action to UMass. I had only found other schools that were either regular application or early decision, so having somewhere that I would know early about and still wasn’t fully committed was great. Turns out that I got accepted early action with a scholarship, so by November, I was able to go into the rest of my college applications with the attitude of knowing that no matter what, I was already accepted somewhere. In the end, it was just the right fit for me. The campus visit solidified it. I had an awesome tour of the whole campus and then my tour of the Department was amazing. I was hooked from then on.

Stages: Tell me a little about your experiences onstage — you had roles in musicals, Shakespeare, Spanish Golden Age, a lot of genres — was there a common thread for you in these roles, some theme you found yourself exploring as an actor?
Kadish: I was VERY fortunate during my years in the department. My freshman year, I was cast in all three of the Rand mainstages. The theme of my freshman year was “12 year old”. All three roles I had that year were either actual 12 year old children or adults who acted 12 years old, in the case of Sir Andrew from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. My motto at school, especially after freshman year, was always to try new things. I had never done Spanish Golden Age, nor an adaptation of a Japanese children's book, nor sung opera, all of which i was given the opportunity to do in my four years at UMass.

Stages: As you know, the department takes a "try some of everything" approach to theater — how do you think that affected you as a performer?
Kadish: This was the single most important thing that the Department had to offer. Had I been in a BFA program for acting somewhere, I would never have learned that directing is truly what I am meant to do. By my Junior year, I had realized that while I’ll always love to act, not only did I love directing more, but the department was willing and able to give me these opportunities. I also found a love for lighting design as well. I would have never had these discoveries in a conservatory acting program. A story, just to prove the point: My first acting gig in NYC was summer ’15. I was in a small cast of a small musical in the basement of a church. My director was also the lighting and sound designer and board op for both. The week before tech, he asked the cast if anyone knew enough about lighting to come in and help him hang/focus. I was the only one of 9 cast members, all of whom had gone to school (or were currently in school) for theater, who could do it. He and I hung and focused the entire plot in one day.

kadish in Street Scene opera
Daniel Kadish, at left, also tried his hand at singing opera in the Five College Opera production of Street Scene. (both photos by Jon Crispin)


Stages: What advice would you give an incoming student about how best to take advantage of what the department has to offer?
Kadish: Exactly that. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WHAT THE DEPARTMENT HAS TO OFFER! Get to know your professors, they are ALWAYS there for you. Form relationships with your fellow majors, especially those in your year. Never think you can’t do something, because if you think you can’t, you won’t. Everyone in that building wants you to succeed. Trust in your instincts. Bring each and every idea you have to the table. Step WAY outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself (and others). Create your own work. Most importantly, and it's cheesy but true, have fun. College always has its low points (and when you’re in school for theater, there’s gonna be an extra level of drama) but it pales in comparison to the friendships you’ll form and the memories you’ll make, both onstage (or backstage) and off.

In the aftermath of 2016, Joe Salvatore looks at the presidential debates with Her Opponent

During the 2016 election season, there were plenty of conversations about the respective genders of the candidates and how they influenced people’s perceptions — would Donald Trump get away with what he was saying if he were a woman? Would Hillary Clinton get more respect if she were a man? A trans-Atlantic pair of professors decided to put those theories to the test, and the project that resulted — a short theater piece and talkback called Her Opponent —got attention beyond their wildest dreams, said Joe Salvatore ‘97G, one of the faculty members involved.

The final tally: a sold-out initial run leading to an Off-Broadway stint, tens of thousands of Facebook hits and YouTube views, articles everywhere from The Guardian to the New York Times, and dozens of blogger rants.

“It’s been kind of a fascinating journey with this thing, and largely unexpected,” Salvatore said. At one point, he said, “we were being interviewed by a writer for Fox news on the phone, and my brother’s texting me, telling me that Rush Limbaugh is talking about me on his radio show!”

Click to watch a few minutes of Her Opponent rehearsal footage on YouTube.

A what-if

The genesis of the project was in France. Maria Guadalupe, an economist at Insead, a graduate business school in France, was watching the debates in disbelief. She had become friends with Salvatore and his partner, also an economist, in 2010 when she was teaching at Columbia University, and she reached out to him with an idea. “She described how in business schools, they use case studies to look at what happens in different sort of managerial settings … when you flip the gender of a protagonist in an interaction…. She said, ‘I want an actor to learn Hillary Clinton and I want an actress to learn Donald Trump and then I want to film it shot for shot, as it was done in the debates’,” Salvatore recounted. “And I said, ‘this is great!’ I mean, how often does a theater person get asked by an economist to collaborate?”

Guadalupe had turned to Salvatore to help her execute this vision because she had seen his work. Salvatore, whose focus as a teacher is educational theater, also has a proven track record as a creator of verbatim interview theater, and she had seen some of his work during her time in the US. She wanted his help finding actors and putting together the project. While he was immediately intrigued by the concept, he noted that he didn’t have much film experience.

Instead of going right to film, he suggested that they set a place and time to do an “invited sharing” of what they’d come up with before a live audience — the feedback would help them figure out next steps, they figured.

They started by poring over transcripts and recordings to find the most intriguing sections of the debates. Salvatore noted that one of the things he ended up doing with the transcripts was to “add back in the stutters, the stumbles, and the ums and the pauses.”

The three actors playing Trump, Clinton, and the moderator — Rachel Tuggle Whorton, Daryl Embry, Andy Wagner — were all people Salvatore knew, and they tackled the challenge of learning not just the words, verbatim, but also every gesture. “The coding of the gestures literally made my head hurt,” Salvatore said, but their accuracy as measured against YouTube clips of the same debates is impressive. Even though they're "copying" Salvatore spent lots of time analyzing the text and why the exchanges happened with the actors, which keeps the text from becoming a robotic recitation.

After the performance, Salvatore moderates a talkback for 20 minutes, and it’s been fascinating for him. “I’ve never had audience be this articulate after watching something. They immediately pick up on things and have an understanding of things that they claim they did not understand before watching this piece,” he said. Even in a largely liberal audience, he’s seen people express that with a woman performing Trumps’ words and gestures, they start to understand Trump's appeal even if they disagree with the message, and that they start to feel that Clinton’s mode of engagement is so woodenly intellectual that they lose the thread of the argument.

Salvatore’s own family consists of a lot of Trump supporters, and when his mother attended the performance, she told him she felt surer than ever that she’s been right to vote for Trump. He’s now curious to put the piece up in front of an audience that’s not predominantly liberal to see how the conversation shifts.

Her Opponent's first performances were booked in a 90-seat theater on the NYU campus, and quickly sold out. They posted a live-stream of the performance. That was when the press coverage started, and quickly the story started going viral on Facebook. As the project’s fame spread, a colleague of Salvatore’s told him the theater space she ran was dark 3 nights a week, and that he was welcome to the space if he wanted an Off-Broadway run.

“The hysterical thing is we thought of this as an experiment, we didn’t think of this as a commercial piece,” said Salvatore. While reviews from critics and audiences had been great, he noted that beyond the initial sell-out, it has not been a runaway commercial success, attributing that to the raw emotions the campaign still elicits.

He’s heard from people who’ve said, “We were gonna come see it and then we really looked at each other and said, we can’t sit through it, we can’t do it again,” Salvatore said, “and I understand that.”

He notes that he limits the talkback — which he has continued to moderate — to 20 minutes. "That’s about the threshold that I can take, in terms of kind of holding people’s feedback and their thoughts," he said.

The show closes this week, but Salvatore and Gaudalupe are still talking about what's next; they are still talking about filming a version of the piece. In addition, Salvatore is planning ahead to other projects that make use of the verbatim theater template, including one that looks at intergenerational stories as well as one looking at artists' communities.

Click to read the Guardians article on the play here.

Click to read the interview posted on the NYU website.

Four seniors head to St. Louis to explore USITT

badges for usitt

They weathered tornado warnings, sleep deprivation, and playlist controversies, but when four UMass Theater seniors piled into a car for a road trip to St. Louis this spring, it wasn’t just about the time-honored rite of passage that is the college road trip. Technician/electrician Miranda Tremblay, lighting designer Evyn Newton, sound designer Jim Busker, and stage manager Michael Smith were bound for the annual USITT conference.

Their goal: to learn about theater technology and design innovations, network with industry professionals, and in Busker’s case, snag a summer job with the Santa Fe Opera. It was well worth the effort; all four are still buzzing from the experience.

“The amount of knowledge in that conventional hall was insane!” Smith said. Tremblay said it reminded her of the Eastern States Exposition’s Hall of Innovation, if everything in it was for theater technology and design people.

All four cited moments of getting to hear a talk or shake the hand of industry legends. “You see the rock stars of the industry,” Newton said. He marveled about having watched Steve Shelley — who literally wrote the book on lighting design — and Ann McMills — who wrote one too — focus lights together at amazing speed.

Smith came away reminded that their work isn’t just about technical precision. “What we do is still absolutely an art form that we practice and perfect every day.”

usitt display

Deciding to go

USITT had been on the radar before.

“(Past student) Jess Gill and I looked into it, but we couldn’t do it,” said Smith.

This year, though, they decided that since it was the last time the four of them could use the student discount, it had to be now. All four were busy seniors involved in everything from light hangs for department productions to class work to personal projects, and with USITT happening before spring break, they needed to clear their time away with professors.

“Even with all of that, we said, ‘OK, we’re doing this and we’re going’,” Newton said.

Tremblay noted that fortunately, faculty were extremely supportive. “It helped that it is such a well-known thing; they knew we weren’t trying to go to spring break a week early!”

The group started planning, Busker said, holding a series of logistical meetings to parcel up tasks, everything from who was finding hotels to choosing the playlist.

They decided to drive in shifts, during one of which they did indeed have a tornado warning! After a power nap on arrival, they headed out to explore the city — and promptly ran into fellow USITT attendees admiring the welding on the St. Louis Arch.

st louis arch

Once they got to the event, the pace was relentless. There were workshops and panels, networking events, and a huge exposition hall. “Every spare inch of space was packed… We went off in four different directions," Smith said. They laughingly admitted they missed meals because they got too distracted trying to take everything in. Luckily, they did manage to grab drinks with Professor Emerita June Gaeke and a group of other UMass alumni.

All enjoyed the chance to see demonstrations and talk to people about innovations in the industry. “We’re seeing stuff that’s up and coming in the industry!” Tremblay said. What they appreciated, too, is that in most cases, the people manning the displays weren’t company spokespeople but those who had actually created the tech they were demonstrating.

While several of the group attended a fascinating talk on firearms, each also pursued events specific to their interests. Busker, who has his eye on Yale as a grad school possibility, ended up at a Yale alumni reception where he talked to sound design department chair David Budries, and sound design pioneer Abe Jacobs bought him a beer. Smith attended a stage management round table with stage managers who've worked on Broadway, on tours, and regionally. Tremblay found inspiration at a panel about building your toolkit as a master electrician and technician. She noted that it wasn’t just about having the right physical tools, but about communicating and about finding ways, when you’re running a show, to play to everyone’s strengths.

Busker came to the event in part looking for summer work, and landed an interview with a Santa Fe Opera representative onsite. They asked for references, and Busker texted his boss from the previous year’s job, who by coincidence was also at USITT. The boss spoke on his behalf, and Busker secured the position.

One of the big take-aways from the conference for all of them was that for all the benefits of our digital world, it’s still important to be in a room with fellow industry professionals, said Newton. “The only way to make connections — is to go make them!”

Photos courtesy of Jim Busker.

A dream come to fruition: Nerve Tank takes on Prof. Knauf's Woyzeck assignment

Some time ago, in the course of another conversation with alumna Melanie Armer, she mentioned to us a UMass Theater project that had stayed in her memory long after graduation: a challenge to "complete" Georg Büchner's Woyzeck. Recently we got word of the upcoming Project Woyzeck from Nerve Tank, the company headed by Melanie and Chance Muehleck, her husband.

It's described thusly on the company's website: "The Nerve Tank returns to The Performance Project with Project Woyzeck, a three-part performance piece using streamed video and original music to interrogate concepts of authority, personhood, and programmed behavior. Inspired by the plays Woyzeck by Georg Büchner and Kaspar by Peter Handke, the show spotlights the human desire to succeed even under the most impossible and contradictory circumstances. It also creates mirrored entry points for audiences to engage with questions of emotional truth and mediation, as our "project person" (Woyzeck) tests his autonomy against the demands of the established social order."

Intrigued that Melanie was tackling her UMass Theater assignment again, we emailed Melanie and Chance to ask for more information.

project woyzeck

Stages: Can you talk a little about the class assignment that inspired this project? What about it has made the assignment stick in your head over all these years?
Armer: Professor Knauf gave us the pages from an original translation of Buchner’s notes. These are the notes used by modern dramaturgs to construct the scripts now commonly known as Woyzeck, but Büchner died before finishing the play. The assignment was to organize the fragments into a play and write a paper defending the choices we made. He told us it was graduate-level work but that he thought we could handle it. It stuck with me for several reasons. It was hard and equally rewarding. I felt my mind stretch out in search of the original voice of the piece and how it connected to mine. I knew then that I wasn’t quite ready to make a great piece of theater from the exercise and for that reason I think it stayed with me as a kind of unfinished work of my own.

Stages: Do you still have the original paper or remember the choices you made?
Armer: Oh yes! They are yellowed and dog-eared but 7 household moves and many purges later, they are sealed in a plastic envelope in my files along with the original Buchner sheaf of notes. For this project I made the papers into a PDF and eventually hand typed into a computer the final script for distribution. It was a walk through history (personal and otherwise) to literally transpose paper to digital. My original paper was not very good and Prof. Knauf was pretty harsh and utterly correct in his critique. One kernel of an idea made it through though; that the play is Woyzeck’s fever dream, expressed in shards of memory.

Stages: When I reread something I loved when I was much younger, I'm often shocked by how differently it reads. It's not necessarily that I don't like it anymore, but I find myself noticing humorous or tragic notes I missed before, characters I loved are insufferable now and vice versa. Did you have any experiences like that when you went back to this text?
Armer: Yes, when I was in school I was thinking a lot about the politics of sexuality. I translated the friendship between Andres and Woyzeck as homo-erotic which is not well supported by the text — in fact it’s more likely (and ultimately more interesting) that Woyzeck is essentially sexless. It was a great reminder of the need to listen to a text and its underlying themes. Overlaying one’s own ideas rarely leads to a clear message. This is so obvious to me now that I’d forgotten I even wrote about that idea. Now as then, however, I begin the play with the murder itself and work backwards.

Stages: Have your choices/interpretations of the characters and themes changed between then and now?
Armer: Yes. This production is taking place at a specific point in US history. We are dealing with questions about fascism and control of the individual and the programming of a population in ways that Büchner (and my college self) could not imagine. And yet his themes touch on current reality as powerfully as they spoke to that of his time.

Stages: Please tell me about your interest in Kaspar Hauser's story — is this a recent fascination or does this story go back for you the way Woyzeck does for Melanie? And is your interest in Kaspar in general or specifically in Handke's interpretation of him?
Muehleck: I think my entry into the Kaspar story was Handke’s play. I just fell in love with the text, and with his deconstruction of a very specific and rigorous idea. Handke uses a persona that’s well-known to most Germans, but for him it’s really an opportunity to explore questions of social programming and meta-performance. So my fascination with Kaspar doesn’t go back as far as Melanie’s does with Woyzeck, but it’s been on my mind for some time.

The legend of the actual Kaspar Hauser is pretty deep in its own right. I’m always drawn to issues of identity, and here we have a true enigma who eludes our attempts to pin him down or assign meaning. Some say he had royal blood, though that’s been largely debunked. He may have been abandoned as a child, or a disturbed young man running a strange and elaborate con--but to what end? For us, in Project Woyzeck, he’s the son in Büchner’s play who grows up to become yet another kind of victim.

Stages: What prompted you to situate your take on the story in 1920s Weimar?
Muehleck: When we were conceiving the show, current events were naturally on our minds. And not just current events, but how certain decades were pivotal in the mapping out of warlike behaviors. This period in Germany between WWI and WWII was a real clash between competing interests, with the future of millions hanging in the balance. It seemed to me there was some mileage in addressing how things have changed and how they haven’t — with Kaspar, the weirdly innocent blank slate, at the center of it. The references to time and place are oblique at best, though; it’s definitely not a conventional narrative.

Armer: And to be clear, we’re blending times, stepping in and out of them with some modern text, some original. 1920’s Weimar is a reference point for creation more than it is a fully-fleshed-out design concept

Stages: At what point did you realize that you wanted to pair Kaspar and Woyzeck's stories? What common themes/juxtaposition did you see in these works that made you decide to explore them in tandem?
Muehleck: Woyzeck and Kaspar, as characters representing their respective worlds, form a Venn diagram of abuse and control. Woyzeck worries his way through this journey. He’s hounded, he’s poked and prodded, yet he’s clever enough to suspect there’s more to life than following commands and meeting ridiculous expectations. Kaspar, on the other hand, is a cipher. He’s the sum total of received knowledge, which he recycles without critique or personal investment. He’s the end of the line--the logical outcome of a process that subjugates free will for the sake of order and security.

Armer: I’m always interested in the “leftover” people in texts. The characters we only glimpse. In Woyzeck, Marie’s death leaves a foundling and in the story of Kaspar Hauser the parents are the missing characters. It’s fun to imagine or posit Kaspar as the son of Woyzeck as a way of reflecting Büchner’s influence on the art of Handke and Werner Herzog and others who followed him.

Stages: Anything else you want people to know about the project?
Muehleck: One word about another throughline in these pieces. Happily for us, the amazing Werner Herzog directed films about both Woyzeck and Kaspar. These films hew quite closely to their source material, and something in the tales clearly captivated Herzog. He's a fearless observer and a keen wit. So he crops up as a character in our second section, the one spotlighting Kaspar. It seemed only fair.

Read more about Nerve Tank here.

Project Woyzeck runs June 1-3. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Priscilla Page returns to the mothership as we revisit Collidescope

On Saturday April 22, 2017 at 4 PM, The UMASS Amherst Department of Theater hosted collaborators Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks to continue the conversation about the Collidescope series (2.0 was produced on the Rand stage last spring) and to reunite the cast, crew, and creative team. The talk was free and open to the public. Priscilla Page, who moderated the talk, recaps the event below.

Last year, I interviewed Chong and Wilks about their working relationship on the Undesirable Elements series, an interview-based community storytelling project that places real people onstage as the narrators of their lives and experiences in different cities across the US. The project uses place as an anchor to bring people together and offer a counter-narrative for locations such as New York, Seattle, the Delta region, and the Pioneer Valley. In more recent iterations, Chong and Wilks, along with Sara Zatz, have explored themes such as war, civil rights activism, race and gender, issues of ability and disability, and sexual trauma. Wilks has served as a key member of the creative team for ten projects this series and the two have solidified a process of co-writing and co-directing that they now bring to the Collidescope series.

Collidescope: Adventures in Pre and Post-Racial America premiered at the University of Maryland in 2014; then it was adapted and produced at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in April 2016, and this spring Wake Forest University produced its third iteration. Each time it moves, they incorporate local history into the script. In Amherst, Emily Dickinson and the story of Angeline Palmer were added as was a scene titled “Campus Unrest” that was co-created with members of the cast and depicted our campus’s on-going issues around institutional racism and explicitly racist acts that have taken place on our campus. Chong and Wilks use found text, transcribed speeches, historical records, and testimonies as they move the audience across time and space drawing clear lines between our nation’s violent racial history and its current state of racial unrest. Wilks conscientiously provides cast members (who are university students) with contextual material in the form of biographies, history books, and recordings of speeches along with critical tools as they engage with this material and bring it to life in powerful and honest ways.  Chong’s expertise lies in his skillful, slow, and deliberate directing and his ability to push harsh reality into absurdity through words and images.

Because Baldwin appears as a character in Collidescope, I opened our conversation with his words. In his note to Blues For Mr. Charlie, Baldwin writes about Medgar Evers and a trip they took together through rural Mississippi. He describes interviewing folks about the murder of a Black man at the hands of a white storekeeper. Baldwin recalls, “Many people talked to Medgar that night, in dark cabins, with their lights out, in whispers; and then we had been followed for many miles out of Jackson, Mississippi, not by a lunatic with a gun, but by state troopers. I will never forget that night as I will never forget Medgar.” He closes the note by saying, “We are walking in terrible darkness here and this [his play] is one man’s attempt to bear witness to the reality and the power of light. (April 1964)” I asked Chong to reflect on this darkness as it relates to his work as an artist. He said that the darkness of that time is the same darkness we are living in now and that it is the work of the artist to expose that darkness. He also shared with us that he felt some ease just after the election of Donald Trump because he was immersed in the creative work of Collidescope 3.0 and surrounded by fellow artists at Wake Forest University.

Wilks links history directly to theater practice when he asks student cast members, “What do we do with our knowledge of racial violence in this country? How do we remember, and in fact, honor, those who lost their lives to the brutalities of slavery, Jim Crow, and the current attack on the lives of young Black men?” As they engage these tough questions, he also reminds them to “Breathe slowly, in and out.” Last year at UMASS, I witnessed him give the cast members in his acting sessions this simple direction, “Breathe.”  Connecting through breath, across space and time, Wilks links his craft as a director to a much deeper spiritual practice that aims for true freedom and calls to my mind the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Robeson, and Langston Hughes. I asked him about the importance of understanding artistic legacy, the value of archival work and documentation, and the notion of who is included in the narrative about what the American canon in theater is. His response: “There is no such thing as an American canon. It is a conceit that is built on exclusion and privilege. It is not rooted in history. There are multiple histories that occur simultaneously and yet they go unacknowledged.” With Collidescope, Wilks foregrounds Black experiences through the inclusion of Black writers, activists, and organizers such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Walter White, Richard Wright, and aforementioned James Baldwin.

I invited cast and crewmembers onstage and asked them to reflect on their work last year and the impact that Chong and Wilks had on their lives as artists. Many of them spoke of transformational experiences about their craft and their sense of purpose as engaged citizens. We closed the conversation as we had opened it with hugs and laughter. Then the students stayed for food and a special screening of Collidescope 2.0


Hello theater folks — what have you been up to? If you haven’t checked in in a while, let us know how you are! If you’re not sure what to write, here’s a question to get you thinking: Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice would you give an 18-year-old version of yourself just starting out at UMass? Send us your thoughts, both serious and silly!

Professor of Sound Design Amy Altadonna let us know that Shakespeare & Co.'s production of Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles features a UMass contingent. She's designing sound, alumnus Greg Boover has a lead role, and alumna Devon Drohan is the props master.

Alumna Emma Ayres sent us a link to the Wolf in the Heather EP she recorded with fellow alum Sam Perry and Chris Kerrigan under the name Old Flame: https://oldflame.bandcamp.com/releases

Costume design MFA student Christina Beam will be at the University of Connecticut as a stitcher for a chunk of the summer before heading back north to work for PaintBox Theatre in Northampton again.

Undergrad Cassandra Clark is the literary intern for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. She’ll be working on Hamlet this summer through their Free Shakespeare in the Park.

Alumnus Rob Corddry was part of a reading of a play by Steve Bannon, The Thing I Am, a take on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus filtered through the Rodney King riots.

Imani Denson-Pittman sent us a link and a pitch to donate to Stripathon, the online fundraising arm of Broadway Bares, the annual burlesque show that raises money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Imani's pitch: "I'm participating in this year's Stripathon for Broadway Bares, benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
The money we raise will help provide lifesaving medications, nutritious meals, health care, counseling, emergency financial assistance and so much more to men, women and children in all 50 states living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. 
Broadway Cares also is the single largest financial supporter of the essential social service programs of The Actors Fund, including the HIV/AIDS Initiative, the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative and the Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts.
Please help me reach my fundraising goal by making a donation.
If you can't make a donation right now, help me reach my goal by spreading the word. Share this page on Facebook and Twitter. 
Or send an e-mail to friends you think might be interested in contributing and include a link to my page.
Thanks so much for your generosity.
What we do together makes a difference.https://donate.broadwaycares.org/fundraiser/988951"

Professor Milan Dragicevich will be a panelist at this summer’s ATHE conference. His play, Refugee, will enjoy a remount at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls in October.

Department Master Electrician Michael Dubin’s connection with the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina continues to yield summer gigs for his students. This year, Zach Molin, Mike Smith, Gustavo Torres, Erin MacDevitt, Miranda Tremblay, and Daryl Laurenza are all employed at the festival.

Recently-minted costume design MFA grad Bethany Eddy has a position with Glimmerglass Opera for the summer.

Being retired hasn't stopped Professor Emerita June Gaeke from being an enthusiastic attendee of the USITT conference. She sent in the following: "I was very happy that the UMass students came to the USITT conference in St Louis. (March 8 -11) Because they were there, we had a particularly lovely get together at the end of the day on Thursday to network with alumni Lori Dawson, Bethany Marx, Brian Ruggaber and John McDermott. Also attending the conference but unable to come to our UMass get-together were Kathy Devault, Gail Brassard, and John Forbes. Then at the end of the conference on the EXPO floor, I ran into Dawn Monique Williams (MFA Directing) who was there to recruit students for her program. I am incredibly proud of our alumni for their successful careers!" (Jim Busker shared a photo, below:)

We recently learned that Mrs. Smith is the alter ego of alumnus David Hanbury, so we're just going to leave this ad featuring our favorite Gucci-wearing guitar heroine here for your enjoyment:


MFA lighting design student Tamara Harris and undergraduate Sarah Etkin are both doing internships at the Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer.

MFA alumna Cindy Kidder sent us a notice of Silverthorne Theater Company’s 2017 season http://www.silverthornetheater.org/2017-silverthorne-season-hot-sweet-spicy/

Scenic designer David Korins ’17 is nominated for a Tony Award for War Paint. Jane Cox got a nomination for her lighting design work on Jitney. Justin Townsend is up for a Drama Desk Award for his lighting design for The Little Foxes.

Students Rachel Hall and Callum LaFrance will be working with Real Live Theatre this summer on a show called She Kills Monsters. Callum added that he will be in a show with PaintBox Theatre which doesn't really have a title yet — but he promised pirates!

We extend congratulations to Professor Megan Lewis for being awarded tenure! She will be on sabbatical in Spring 2018. She recently concluded two years as Graduate Program Director —Professor Harley Erdman will be taking over from her.

In addition to his work at Spoleto, Zach Molin has been appointed a Lighting Design Fellow at ART this summer.

Alumnus Kevin Murphy invited everyone to come check out I Hear Cracks in the Concrete Kingdom, "a sadly unfunny one man musical comedy" (for the record, we suspect he may be underselling himself a bit). It's written and performed by Kevin and directed by fellow alumna Kate Hare; join them at the UNDER St. Marks Theater on June 19 or 21 at 9:00 to see a new work created and produced by UMass alums! Tickets at: concretekingdom.brownpapertickets.com

Michael Cottom let us know that scenic designer and painter Athena Parella ‘17 was just accepted into the 3 year United Scenic Artists Local USA 829 Scenic Artist Apprenticeship. She will be learning by painting alongside some of the most gifted scenic artists and world-class scene designers in the business.

Linnea Soderberg ’17 has a position with Central City Opera in Colorado. 

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