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Alumni and Friends

Stages

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

July 2015: Contents

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Remarks from the Chair

Hello wonderful friends!

I hope that you are enjoying the summer breather as much as I am. Every school year feels busier than the previous one, and I appreciate the chance to take a step back and think about everything we accomplished, as well as looking forward to what lies ahead.

Speaking of what’s ahead, I am thrilled to announce to you our 2015-2016 season. Every piece we’re producing was created within the past five years, and some are getting their first airing here!

Our line-up:

MARIE ANTOINETTE 
By David Adjmi
Directed by graduate student in directing Christina Pellegrini

DONNY JOHNS
A new musical in development by professors Harley Erdman and Gina Kaufmann, and award-winning composer Aaron Jones
Directed by Gina Kaufmann, musical direction by Mark Swanson

LOVE AND INFORMATION
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by graduate student in directing Nikoo Mamdoohi

UMASS NEW PLAY LAB
One new play will be by visiting playwright Kim Euell, while the other will be selected by our graduate dramaturgy and directing students from submissions from around the country
Directed by graduate student in directing Christina Pellegrini as well as an incoming new directing MFA

COLLIDESCOPE: ADVENTURES IN PRE- AND POST-RACIAL AMERICA
Created and directed by Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks
A co-production with Ping Chong + Company
A project of ART, LEGACY and COMMUNITY (see below) with faculty members Judyie Al-Bilali ‘00G (Producing Artistic Director), Gil McCauley (Community Collaboration Coordinator), and Priscilla Page ‘00G (Dramaturg)

If the description of Collidescope intrigued you, please read Priscilla Page’s article below — Art Legacy and Community is a huge undertaking by a group of dedicated theater faculty, students, and other collaborators that will have far-reaching value to the university and the Pioneer Valley!

It’s going to be an amazing season that’ll have students, faculty, staff and guests working on the leading edge of theater today and I couldn’t be more excited!

***

Before we completely close the book on 2014-2015, I want to take a minute to talk about the year.

We were so lucky to have with us a wonderful alumnus, Stephen Driscoll ’73, as well as a favorite collaborator, Tony Simotes, for The Merchant of Venice. Together with a crack design team and a talented cast, they turned in an impressive season opener. And in just a few weeks, cast members Marielle O’Malley heads off to Oxford to study at the British American Drama Academy thanks to Stephen’s generous BADA scholarship. She’ll be joined by students Alex Salazar-Greenstein, Slava Tchoul and John McPhee, who were also admitted and received financial help from many of you through our MinuteFund project. Thank you so much!

Our production of A New Brain received a breath-taking spread in the UMass Magazine (read it online here if you didn’t see the hard copy).

Our spring show, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, marked the first time professors Julie Nelson and Milan Dragicevich acted together and they knocked it out of the park — as did the amazing cast of student and community actors who made up the rest of the cast and creative team.

Our New Play Lab once again brought two fascinating new plays to our theater and the student team did a great job shepherding these new works through the process.

We wrapped with a beautiful production of Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, which featured Miguel Romero’s last-ever design for us. Miguel’s pulling up stakes to move to New York, so NYC alumni, keep your eyes peeled!

***

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge some stellar achievements by department members.

We cheered for professor Megan Lewis when we learned this spring that she had snagged UMass’s coveted Distinguished Teaching Award, given out to only a handful of faculty each year. You can read more about Megan’s achievement here.(Here's me, below, with Megan, the goddess Dean Hayes, Priscilla Page and Judyie Al-Bilali, celebrating Meg's award. Photo by Jon Crispin.)

megan lewis distinguished teaching award dinner

We are also the proud home of not one but TWO Fulbright winners. Professor Harley Erdman was named a Fulbright US Scholar and will spend Spring 2016 teaching adaptation and documentary theater in Sri Lanka! Meanwhile, just-graduated dramaturg Paul Adolphsen ‘15G will spend the 2015-2016 school year in South Africa teaching theater-making and playwriting on a Fulbright Student Grant. Safe travels to both!

Finally, we have three alumni who racked up some impressive awards and nominations for themselves this theater season! Scenic designer David Korins ’99 scored a Drama Desk nomination for his work on Hamilton, while Bill Pullman ‘80G received Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk nominations for his work in David Hare’s Sticks and Bones. Finally, it was a good season for lighting designer Ben Stanton: he received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for The Nether, a Drama Desk nomination for Our Lady of Kibeho, and a Tony nomination for Fun Home. He was also the recipient of an OBIE award for “sustained excellence in lighting design.”

I am so happy to have UMass Theater represented so well by these awesome people. You do us proud!

With that, it’s time to wrap up this note. I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer, and I hope we see you in the Rand or the Curtain come fall!

Kisses!

Penny

penny casey and scout

Art, Legacy, and Community: Using theater to explore Amherst's African American cultural legacy

This year was a busy time for professors Judyie Al-Bilali, Gilbert McCauley and Priscilla Page as they worked on their collaborative, creative endeavor Art, Legacy & Community.

This endeavor, which brings the Department of Theater together with Afro American Studies and the Commonwealth Honors College, is a two-year project that has received significant funding from a number of sources including, prominently, UMass’s President’s Creative Economy Fund to investigate art and activism in our area.

Their work began with the Saturday School Open Studio, an all-day event that used theater practice to explore the viability of establishing an independent African-centered school for Black youth in the Pioneer Valley. It was held at the Malcolm X Cultural Center in the Southwest area of campus. The program brought families with young people from area elementary, middle and high schools to work with undergraduate and graduate students, educators, and artists.

Talvin Wilks, an acclaimed playwright, director and dramaturg, who is a key collaborator in this project, was in residence for the first part of the spring semester. His residency began in January when he delivered the keynote at the Northeast MFA Dramaturgy Retreat, organized by graduate students and hosted in our department. He gave a guest lecture on his work with Undesirable Elements and Ping Chong + Company in Professor Page’s Theater 130: Contemporary Playwrights of Color and he worked closely with Judyie Al-Bilali on her Devising Theater class to guide the students in research on the racial history of our campus and the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. He then worked with Al-Bilali and the students as they wrote scenes based on their research. He will carry this work forward into the upcoming production of Collidescope: Adventures in Pre and Post Racial America, the culminating project of Art, Legacy & Community in Spring 2016.  

In March, Wilks led a conversation titled “Black Power and the Spirit of Student Activism” with Professor Emeritus Ekwueme Michael Thelwell and UMASS Alum Stanley Kinard. This trio drew out connections between the successes of that revolutionary era and the growing student activism both on our campus and across the nation today.

Then in April, Al-Bilali and Page advised senior theater major Eddie Elliott on his independent project, Giants, written by José Rivera in April. Elliott gathered a team of actors and directors to produce Tape and Gas, two of the one-acts included in Giants, in Studio 204. These plays provide snapshots of modern life with sharp commentary on the contemporary issues of race and politics.

Following the opening performance on April 9th, Professors Al-Bilali and Page led an interactive forum on race and representation where students of color in our department openly shared their experiences in our department and on our campus. Students and faculty were encouraged to continue to talk about these issues and to work assiduously on shifting our culture specifically around race and racism.

On April 21, in the department of theater and on April 23, at the UMASS Center in Springfield, Al-Bilali, Page and McCauley produced a stage reading of Our Dad Is In Atlantis, written by Javier Malpica and translated by Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas.  In this play, two young brothers struggle on their own after their father immigrates to the United States, leaving them behind in México. It is a haunting play that takes an unflinching look children caught in the indifferent logic of a globalized world where capital moves freely around the world but people do not. 

our dad is in atlantis springfield performance

Professor McCauley worked closely with Juan Martinez-Muñoz, Commonwealth Honors College, Communication major, and Miguel Paredes, Commonwealth Honors College, Theater major, to breathe life into the characters of Big Brother and Little Brother, respectively (the actors pose with Gil McCauley, Priscilla Page and Judyie Al-Bilali in the above photo).

Following the performances, Paredes and Page were guests on the WMUA program, Tan Cerca, Tan Lejos: A Voice of México in the U.S. A., hosted by Leopoldo Gómez-Rámirez to discuss the play and the important issue of unaccompanied children migrating, oftentimes alone, from México, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

Professor Megan Lewis is working as the archivist for this project. She has documented all of the activities so far, and the radio interview with Paredes and Page can be accessed online at http://www.tancercatanlejos-mexico-usa.com/April30th2015PriscillaPageandMiguelParedes.mp3

This creative work and its attendant engagement with students, faculty and professionals all serve as the foundation for the second year of work during which Professors Al-Bilali, McCauley and Page will continue to interrogate the relationship between art and activism with the specific goal of transforming our society into one that truly reflects the diversity of the world and that values justice in all its forms. Reflecting on this work, Professor Judyie Al-Bilali states, “I’m excited and encouraged about how the work we are doing with Art, Legacy & Community connects in such a timely way with the rising tide of social activism in the United States...art and activism are very alive and very well.”

—Priscilla Page

Art, Legacy & Community is a two-year exploration supported by the UMass Department of Theater, the WEB DuBois Dept. of Afro American Studies, the Commonwealth Honors College, the President’s Creative Economy Fund, a Public Service Endowment Grant, Arts at Amherst and MOSAIC (Five College Multicultural Theater Committee).

Dolph Paulsen uses theater training to shape a new career in speech and language pathology

Dolph Paulsen is proof positive that you can find your new career in the most unlikely places—and that old knowledge can become useful in intriguing new ways.

A few years ago, while doing some work as an extra on a German TV show, he met a fellow extra who piqued his interest. A former professional skateboarder, the man had suffered a traumatic brain injury and during his recovery, had to learn to speak again.

“And his speech pathologist was from the Midwest, so he had a Midwest accent — but he was born in the northern-most part of Scotland. Not kidding!” Paulsen said.

Casting about for a new direction after an initially-promising move to LA to act had turned into a “two-year war of attrition,” he realized he was interested in learning more about speech pathology.

Several years later, he’s soon to graduate with a Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology from Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions. He has developed a way to “teach expressive reading out loud as a way to get at better reading comprehension,” particularly of the rhetorical devices that often confound people. This idea was inspired by deep understanding of text he learned in Milan Dragicevich’s class.

Switching Tracks

Paulsen graduated from UMass with his eye firmly on a career as an actor. He got his MFA in acting at FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.

“I was just itching to get out there and find work as an actor,” he said. “I decided on L.A. because I thought it would be easy pickins. Went out there while I was still in school, did a couple workshops, and got really good response from every casting director that I worked with. And so I thought, ‘Oh it’s in the bag.’ Then when I was done with my MFA program, I landed this little part on an episode of One Tree Hill before I even got to LA. I thought that was the momentum that was going to take me to a status as a working actor.”

Unfortunately, that promising start didn’t pan out and he headed back east. He contemplated law school but realized it wouldn’t be the right fit. It was a career counselor who mentioned speech pathology to him. While initially it wasn’t on his radar, he realized that he’d met some people with connections to the field, such as his Scottish friend, and became intrigued.

After beefing up his science background, he applied to speech pathology programs in the Boston area (his home base). He was accepted to MGH, a graduate school only program offering degrees in nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc. It’s been a good fit.

“A lot of the faculty devote their time outside of teaching and advising graduate clinicians to research, so they’re always on the cutting edge of the field. They place a lot of emphasis on the literacy field,” Paulsen said. Speech-Language Pathology is a new field — the Language part of the title only came into popularity in the 1980s according to Paulsen. “The profession as a whole started to broaden their view” beyond the types of issues most people associate with speech pathology. “We don’t just treat stuttering disorders… we work with language structure, the way that relates to cognition, how it influences people’s thinking, the way that they interact with the world and they way that they use language to achieve life goals.”

With that broadening of scope came the shift to include literacy as part of the field, and that’s where Paulsen’s UMass education comes in.

Understanding and Literacy

In his application essay, Paulsen wrote about his theater background, talking about his studies at UMass and specifically, his work studying rhetorical language in Milan’s class.

“I said that what I found in working on the expressive architecture of complex syntax … and then performing that for an audience in a way that would help someone…understand it — when you learn those patterns of delivery and how to exploit them, that’s the intersection of language structure, and the emotional affective side of it,” Paulsen said. “That is the underpinning of how any of us are able to communicate anything from one to the other. And I said in my application essay that I don’t know exactly how I’m going to use this, but that’s the space that I want to work in.”

He had to put that idea aside as he first waded into his graduate work but this past fall he decided to tackle the idea. “I felt like, I’m not relying on the training wheels so much anymore,” he said, “and then it kind of came to me, thinking back to Milan’s class. Training in delivering rhetorical structure, it didn’t just change my ability to perform Shakespeare—it changed the way I hear in my head when I read silently to myself, and that’s made it easier for me to learn from books. It’s a tool set that I didn’t know I was getting when I spent all these years in the theater. So I thought there must be a way to do this for kids, and for people who struggle with literacy at any age.”

When he started looking for research on this topic, he found that there were plenty of studies that showed that “the kids who read out loud with that sort of naturalistic sound structure, those are the kids scoring significantly higher on all tests of reading comprehension.” While there are some programs that look at oral fluency and expression, none focused on what Paulsen referred to as “the inherent expressive qualities of certain types of structures.”

Paulsen used Antithesis as an example. It’s a type of comparison, and people are generally taught to spot it by looking for key words such as “but” or “however.” The problem for kids is they’re not detail-oriented, Paulsen said, and even typically-developing children will have a hard time paying attention to those small words.

Instead, he said, “I pretty much took my favorite rhetorical devices I learned in Milan’s class and plugged in language that would make kids laugh, or that would be interesting to kids.” Explaining antithesis, in Paulsen’s approach, becomes a matter of asking them to think about the sentence, “I LOVE cheeseburgers, but I HATE when they make my breath stink!” So the contrast is “all of part A, versus all of part B,” as opposed to “find this little thing in the middle,” he explained.

Paulsen now has a rough draft of a textbook that lays out 14 different rhetorical devices taught through kid-friendly examples as well as ways to get kids to generate their own examples. (In the video at the top of this article, he offers from further background and examples.)

Paulsen’s studies required him to work in real-life settings, and one of his placements at a school gave him an opportunity to try his approach on a group of kids. Initial results were promising enough that this summer he’ll be teaching a research class, working with a group and measuring their progress reading out loud and with reading comprehension.

Paulsen will get his diploma in September, and he thinks the next step will be either a private practice or a public school placement.

With Pride: Chris Baker adapts Jane Austen for Center Stage

CenterStage Theatre in Baltimore will premiere an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Assistant Professor Chris Baker in September. 

“CenterStage is one of the great regional theatres, so I am thrilled be working on this piece there,” said Baker. “I love the novel. Despite it being written more than 200 years ago, so much of it seems contemporary. I’m especially interested in its portrayal of very strong, smart women who have to negotiate social and economic barriers, while at the same time find what we all want to find—love.” 

Baker wrote the first version of the adaptation several years ago under a commission from Hartford Stage where he was the senior dramaturg. 

“For a long time I was saying that I wanted to adapt it and finally they said ‘Stop talking about it and do it already!’ Hana Sharif, the associate artistic director there at the time, really pushed me to do it and now she is at CenterStage and will be directing it, so I couldn’t be happier to be reunited with my old colleague and friend,” he said. 

Baker will spend this summer revising the script, auditioning actors and working in rehearsals. He will be joined in Baltimore by second year dramaturgy grad student  Finn Lefevre who will be assisting on the production.  

“I just finished doing about a hundred small changes—cutting lines, changing words, moving scenes. There will be many more once we get into rehearsals, but right now I need to leave it alone for a few weeks. I really can’t wait for rehearsals when the actors will get at it. That’s when it really becomes a play. That’s when it really gets fun,” Baker said. 

Pride and Prejudice plays Baltimore CenterStage September 11 through October 11. Following Pride and Prejudice, Baker will be working on his original play Lincoln: An American Vaudeville, made possible in part by a Faculty Research Grant.

Student works: Three students check in on production opportunities in and out of the department

The Department of Theater’s mainstage season is, as ever, far from the only outlet for students’ desire to produce, design, and perform on the UMass campus. Theater students work on projects in classes, they take on independent projects conceived and mounted by their fellow majors, and they find outlets for performing and designing with student organizations on campus. We asked three students to check into some of these alternatives for creating theater and related work, and these are the reports they filed.

First up is Alex LaFreniere, who performed in an independently-mounted student production of Romeo and Juliet, notable because it was the first student production in some time to be set in the lovely Durfee Gardens on campus. Here’s his account of the experience.

Outdoor theater. These two words can strike fear in the hearts of even the most hardened veterans of the theatrical field. Mother nature becomes your new stage manager, lighting designer, and sound tech, and one of the most important parts of tech week becomes keeping up-to-date on the forecast, and keeping fingers crossed that the show dates aren’t overshadowed (literally) by rainstorms.

The Department of Theater students involved in this month’s production of Romeo and Juliet were undaunted by these challenges, however. Calling their company “Shakespeare in the Courtyard,” the group staged a production of Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed love in the sun-drenched Durfee Conservatory courtyard on May 2nd and 3rd. Those who attended the production enjoyed two hours of theater performed under balmy springtime skies, without a cloud in sight. Many in the audience sprawled on blankets or enjoyed their picnic lunches to the sounds of live music by graduating Theater major Luke Haskell. One of the actors on stage that day was myself, delivering Shakespearean tirades as the blustery Lord Capulet while simultaneously willing myself not to drench my three-piece suit with sweat before second show of the day. Though a little on the hot side, I couldn’t imagine a better day to perform on. There had been worries of rain in the week leading up to the performance, but once the day came, we knew that whichever all-powerful being controls the world of theater, it was smiling down on us.

Though the sun did shine through on our performances, much of the production was fraught with unique challenges.The project began in the depths of a particularly snowy winter, the brainchild of director Katy Geraghty and actor Michael Seavey, who starred as Romeo. The most unique challenge faced throughout the project was, of course, the weather. For many months, the actual space where the show would be staged was buried beneath several feet of snow. This set of circumstances is probably the only case where an actor would actually not want to rehearse in a theater. Learning blocking and lines in and indoor space is one thing, but all that completely changes once in the outdoors. Entrances and exits shift in order to accommodate the courtyard’s unique set-up, and actors must push their voices to deliver lines without an indoor stage to carry sound. The actor also has to compete with the background noise of cars, planes passing overhead, and pedestrians passing by, a challenge made doubly difficult by Shakespeare’s intricate language. Lighting is, of course, at the mercy of the sun, and if rain suddenly starts to fall in the middle of a performance, it’s time for an early curtain call.

Despite the many natural factors that seem to be working against the actor, battling against all of these elements was surprisingly rewarding. I found myself having to push my acting abilities to their limits, spending nearly two hours at a time competing against all of these natural factors to simply be heard and understood. As corny as it might sound, I often found myself thinking about old Greek theaters. The outdoor ampitheaters I had learned about in lecture halls became all the more real for me, and I found myself thinking about how much the modern performer takes for granted on stage, as well as how many huge advantages we now have in modern theater.

I would not hesitate to say that, as an actor, outdoor theater is one of the most challenging projects you can take on. It is certainly one of the most daunting. However, once you’re out there under the warm sun and blue sky with a smiling audience spread out on a sea of green grass in front of you, you won’t regret making that choice. It’s a unique feeling that I hope to share, and one that I hope students involved with “Shakespeare in the Courtyard” continue to bring to life on the UMass campus.

End-of-semester performances from classes have been around for years at the Department of Theater. A recent incarnation of this tradition is Collaboralapalooza, which, as the name implies, brings together the talents of students from a number of courses. Kylee Denesha explains below.

On the evenings of Wednesday, April 28 and Thursday April 29th, the UMass Department of Theater held its Spring Directing II Showcase, called Collaboralapalooza.

Students from the Directing II class work in partnership with Sound Design, Light Design, Costume Design, and Stage Management classes to create an arrangement of 3 student-run shows per night that are under 1 hour in run-time, with a 10 minute intermission between each. The students have been working collaboratively since mid-February.

“I’m so proud of the hard work and dedication that these students put in” said Gina Kauffmann, Directing II professor and Directing Advisor.

The first night of Collaboralapalooza opened with Women and Wallace [Jonathan Sherman], directed by Cory Missildine, about one man and his life, told from his perspective. Wallace experiences hardship as a young child with the death of his mother and shares the story of his interaction with women as he grows up, and how his mother stays with him.

“We rehearse for about 10 hours a week, and I found myself getting really attached to my character,” said  Frank Schuth, who played Wallace. “Wallace is vulnerable, and I did lots of studying so I could make sure I was relating to him. Wallace’s mom was similar to Sylvia Plath; I spent a lot of time researching her”.

“Being in the Directing II performance was so amazing,” said Helen Woods, who played Wendy. “Everyone worked well together, and working with Cory was great”.

The next show was What’s on Your Mind? [Ashley Montgomery], directed by Chris J. Faria. The play resembles a group therapy session where complete strangers build off of each others’ internal problems, and have the choice to express them through monologue. Featuring our very own sound design professor, Amy Altadonna, as Susan Hope, the production showed the connection of individuals through their different, yet similar struggles. Featuring our very own sound professor, Amy Altadonna as Susan Hope, the production showed the connection of individuals through their different, yet similar struggles.

The 4/28 evening ended with Fissures (lost and found) [Steve Epp, Cory Hinkle, Dominic Orlando, Dominique Serrand, Deborah Stein, Victoria Stewart], directed by Finn Lefevre. Fissures covers the stories of 4 central characters, who have dramatic and epic histories. They come to find that they are all linked together by one character, Dominique, played by Slava Tchoul.

The second evening of Collaboralapalooza was equally as outstanding as the first. It opened with Father Comes Home From the Wars [from 365 Days/365 Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks], directed and adapted by Nicholas Baker. The show is a compilation of scenes that trace the multiple returns of an army man to his home and family. Through artistic movement and set design, the show was powerfully executed. It leaves the audience member wondering if the father came back from more than one war, or whether the father was returning in differing circumstances and scenarios.

Subtraction [Kevin McFillen], the second play, was directed by Griffin Lyons. The show starred only Alison Kerr as Melanie and Frank Aronson, a member from Actors’ Equity Association, as Walter. The show displayed an old man’s lack of memory when he meets his daughter in the park, who reintroduces herself each day to him to help him remember his history.

“Working with an Actors’ Equity actor was such an experience,” said Kerr. “I felt honored, and Frank was such a kind person. He had a lot of stories to tell, and he was so fantastic to work alongside”.

The last show of Collaboralapalooza was The Other Shore [Gao Xingjjan], directed by Evyn Newton. “This was so much fun to put on,” said Newton.

This whimsical show embodies the idea of finding oneself and following one’s heart through deep character development, simple costumes, ensemble movement and dance, dramatized language, and interactive engagement with the audience. The goal of the cast is to find “the other shore” but they must face challenges and experience life before they succeed.

“It’s pretty weird,” said cast member Brendan Lynch. “It was a Chinese text that was adapted into English, and uses some Buddhist enlightenment themes in it. It was challenging, but I am so enthusiastic about our show.”

All students and faculty members who worked on the productions showed true dedication and passion to their works. Congratulations to all, and the Department looks forward to next year!

Many theater students have a gift and enthusiasm for comedy, and as Zoe Reese Smith writes, the campus offers ample opportunities to indulge that enthusiasm.   

Over the years many theater majors have found a home in the various comedy groups UMass offers. Currently, those groups include MissionImprovable, Toast, Sketch 22, and new to the scene this year, Thursday Night Live.       

MissionImprovable is one of two improv groups and has been around since 1991. Since its founding, it’s hosted free comedy show every week on Saturday nights in Herter 231, where members get to play pretend for an hour. Members say they have a supportive and amazing audience that comes out every week and fills the room. In rehearsals, they are able to let their guard down and practice with games and play around with various elements of improv. When asked about a memorable moment from this year one of the members spoke about the group’s first show of the year, how great it was to be back on stage and how the room was full of electric energy. He remembered “looking out at the audience before the show and seeing how excited they were to be back. That feels incredible to see people so pumped for what we do.”One of the highlights of the group’s year was competing at Improv Boston, where it won the tournament. Mission is still going strong after over twenty years and so much of what the mission Alumni created like various traditions, jokes, gags, and more are still so important to them.

We are lucky enough to have two improv groups on campus; besides MissionImprovable, we have Toast.  While MissionImprovable does short form, Toast’s specialty is long form improv. Toast was founded back in 2005 and grown a lot as a group since then. Membership in the past year has fluctuated from nine down to five, but is now up to a strong twelve active members. They have free weekly shows on Friday nights in Herter 231. One current member said the best part about being in Toast is “getting to improvise with my best friends and knowing no matter what, they’re going to support me.”

Sketch 22 was founded in 2003. This was UMass’ first sketch comedy troupe. As a group, its members create and write various comedy sketches. They perform several times throughout the semester in Herter 231 and also have a healthy archive of clips on their Youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/UMassSketch22.

Finally, there is a new group this year called Thursday Night Live, or TNL, founded by Adam Kantor and his friend Nick Brancazio in September of 2014. They had their first auditions in October with their premiere show on December 4th, for a total of five shows during the year. TNL follows the late night show model and does internet and social media inspired humor. They have many original games, like Scenes Against Humanity and The-Yak-Trical. In coming years, they hope to continue to have live shows and some bigger events next year!

Updates

Summer's a busy time for everyone, so we love to hear about everything you've been up to! Here are the latest updates. And remember, we love to hear from you!

Rob Corddry '93 co-stars in Ballers, a new TV show starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Visiting playwright Kim Euell let us know she traveled to the University of Miami to conduct a Playwriting Intensive through the VONA Program. After 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, VONA has moved to Miami and there's been a lot of press coverage. The faculty includes Pulitzer prize-winning novelist, Junot Diaz.

Phyllis Gordon '94 wrote us, "On my Spring audition circuit (Equity theatres all over the east coast). Recently wrote and performed a one woman show in NYC at the PIT called Painfully Funny. Narrated some PBS Frontline episodes and recorded an audio book for Amazon. Saw Ed Golden at an audition at Smith. He didn't recognize me or my hair."

Student Tamara Harris let us know that she is working as an Assistant to the Technical Director with Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick this summer.

Dan Kadish '13 was cast in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Barfee—"again haha," he said—with Mount Carmel Theatre Company in Williamsburg, NY. "They're a great company that prides themselves on bridging the gap between student actors and professional actors," Dan said.

Alex Nicosia let us know he has graduated from Ohio University’s Professional Actor Training Program. He appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream in Ohio and at the Vermont Young Playwrights Festival. You can see him perform monologues at: http://oumfaactingshowcase2015.com/

We were thrilled to get a newsy update from Professor Emeritus Julian Olf: "I would have never guessed I'd be so busy following retirement. I've fallen far behind in Stages postings. In the last several years there have been two Equity readings of my play, Judith; one at by the Boston Playwrights Theatre, and one by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre of Detroit. I was invited to join the Advisory Board of Theatre Odyssey, a Sarasota-based company. My short play Skunky was produced in L.A. by Towne Street at the Stella Adler Theatre. My short War Hero received a staged reading by Atlantic Stage of Myrtle Beach, VA. My new trilogy Blackbird will premiere in June by the Phoenix Stage Company of Naugatuck, CT. And I'll be directing an Equity production this June of Yasmina's Reza's play Art for Banyan Theatre Company of Sarasota."

Mark O'Maley '07 told us that "after spending the past year in Colorado serving on the faculty and as the Director of Dance Production at the University of Colorado Boulder....not to mention working with Jeannie-Marie Brown '06G at her Stay Awake Theater in Denver, I've been appointed as an Assistant Professor and Director of Dance Production at Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts in the Dance Department."

Sheila Siragusa '00, '03G is directing a play called Memory House by Kathleen Tolan at Chester Theatre Company with a team nearly entirely made up of UMass alums! Graduate alumni also involved include: James McNamara on lighting design, Tom Shread on sound design, and Sarah Nelson on costumes. "Ahhhhhh! Truly rich and inspiring design conversations!" writes Sheila.

Alumna Brianna Sloane '14G let us know that her June production of Romeo and Juliet with Hampshire Shakespeare Company features UMass alums MacMillan Leslie '15 and Kate Hare '12 in the titular roles, and the cast also included UMass Theatre Department family member Glenn Proud '15G, students Elaine Stoneham, Slava Tchoul, John McPhee, alumna Hala Heather A. Lord, Hannah Paul and Jackson Kleiser with Stage Management by Peter Vaiknoras, Costumes by Erin Mabee ‘15, music by Emma Ayres ‘14 and dramaturgy by student Annabeth Kelly. Tiffany McWilliams was the ASM.

Brianna also let us know that she and Elizabeth Pangburn '15G, together with Darcie Champagne, have launched a new theatre company in the Valley! "We are called TheatreTruck and we describe ourselves thus: TheatreTruck is a Collaborative of interdisciplinary artists crafting mobile and site-specific performance, sustainably and playfully. Our inaugural production, The Emily Dickinson Project, is being co-produced by the Emily Dickinson Museum. Its an immersive new play written by Emma Ayres and myself (it was actually developed in Harley Erdman's Adaptation course) that takes place in the Dickinson Homestead July 15-August 2. Tickets are available for reservation and there is lots of information on our website,www.thetheatretruck.com."

Maari Suorsa '09 co-founded a new sketch comedy troupe in Charleston, SC, called Nameless Numberhead, and performed in the Piccolo Fringe Festival there.

Emily Taradash '15G squeaked in just before the deadline with a newsy update: "Since graduating, I worked as an associate Producer for the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival's 9th season, Guest Artist in Costume Design at Connecticut College (Designing Detroit and Information for Foreigners.) and moonlighted at the Goodspeed, assisting on Wardrobe for the new musical, Circus in Winter. 2015 has been a hybrid year of performance and design, starting with playing the Princess in Liz Adams' Love's Labour's Lost with the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble, then the Lady in H. Adell's A Tailor's Story with the MassArt New Play Festival. In June, I designed costumes for the new, site specific show, The Wakeville Stories by Laurence Carr, which took place in a WW2 Memorial Graveyard in Sommerville. This was a nice review of it: http://artsfuse.org/130136/fuse-theater-review-the-wakeville-stories-theater-as-civic-ritual/
I also designed costumes for Robert Kropft's adaptation of A Doll's House, which is currently performing at the Harbor Stage in Wellfleet, MA. We have receieved some awesome reviews, and if you are going to the Cape before July 11th, it's totally worth seeing. Here's what the Boston Globe had to say: https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2015/06/25/doll-house-with-contemporary-edge-harbor-stage/mvx3P8UDOSORDVysuW2f5L/story.html?p1=Article_InThisSection_Bottom
So, next up, I will be performing this summer with the TheaterTruck in The Emily Dickinson Project at the Dickinson Homestead! Come visit the Fairy Queen any evening from Wednesday-Sunday at 8pm for songs and charms."

Students Miranda Anne Tremblay, Zachary Molin, and Michael Smith were all in Charleston SC as Spoleto Apprentices this summer.

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