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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.

July 2010: Year-End Wrap-Up — Contents

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Remarks from the Chair — Thank you

Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to handwrite the department's thank you notes to our donors. They had the generosity to support us; the least I could do was not send a form letter. Besides, how difficult could it be?

Well. Thanks for the carpal tunnel syndrome, people!

Seriously — I hope you know I'm kidding. The fact that I have worn out my writing hand and gone through so many pens is a unique testament to your extraordinary generosity, for which I cannot be grateful enough.

This has not been an easy year for anyone, economically. We are well aware that most of you were experiencing the very same circumstances that led us to ask for your financial help in the first place: Bad economic times meant that a much-needed upgrade to our facility would otherwise fall by the wayside.

And despite all this, you came through for us, and you came through beyond our wildest expectations.
My first thanks go to Rob Corddry, whose wit and creative generosity allowed us to kick off the year with a tongue-in-cheek invitation to donate, and who coined the legendary Pennies for Drama Nerds phrase. He came through again at the end of the year with a snarky video and a killer 10-minute play for the reborn Play-In-A-Day.

But he wasn't the only, or even the most important one of you, who stepped up and helped. No — we received envelopes from all corners of the country, containing donations of $10, $100, even a few for $1000. All of them added up to a grand total, at the end of this fiscal year, of $19,000.

You are amazing, truly amazing. It is tremendously gratifying to think of your continuing affection for the department, whether you graduated recently or decades ago, and whether you're still treading the boards or off in other directions. All of us here appreciate it, and we hope you will feel that your gift to us helps us give a new generation of theater artists the start they deserve.

I will happily sacrifice the tendons and ligaments of my hand to write each and every one of you a thank you note for your generosity, because really, it IS the least I can do.

Thank you!

— Penny Remsen

Slideshow: Transforming the Upper Rand Lobby

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If you're wondering what your generosity has created for our students, please click through for a slide show of the Upper Rand Lobby, slowly being transformed into a beautiful new performance and classroom space.

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West Coast Alumni: SAVE THE DATE

UMass Theater Chair Penny Remsen announces alumni meet-up in LA


UMass Theater Chair Penny Remsen is going to be there on Aug. 27 — and we hope you can come, too!

This August, the curtain goes up on a long-time dream project of Michael Walton '01: his production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog. Michael, who's racked up a string of television, film, and theater credits since his graduation from UMass Amherst, has pulled double-duty as producer and actor in the piece — he's playing the role of Booth. He has been working tirelessly on behalf of the production for over a year and we're thrilled that his dream has come to fruition.

When he contacted us to let us know the production was a go, Penny thought it offered the perfect opportunity not only to support one of our own, but for a get-together with our West Coast alumni and friends.

With that in mind, she invites any and all UMass Theater alumni and friends who will be in the LA area on Aug. 27 to join her at the theater that evening to see the performance and a celebration of not only Michael's work, but of all the amazing things our LA-area alumni are accomplishing.

For full details, including how to order show tickets and when and where to gather for our celebration, check our website's alumni and friends page, where we'll post details as they become available.

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Five-College Visiting Lecturer in Sound Design Robert Kaplowitz wins a Tony Award


The UMass Amherst Department of Theater is proud to count a Tony Winner among its faculty members. Robert Kaplowitz, who just wrapped up a three-year appointment as a Five-College Visiting Lecturer in Sound Design at the end of this school year, won a Tony award for his work on the Broadway hit, Fela! which has received rave reviews since its opening. This is Kaplowitz's first Tony nomination and win. Also noteworthy about the win is that Kaplowitz's assistant on the production was a recent UMass Theater alumnus, Jack O'Brien '09, one of his students during his time here.

"The Five College Theater Departments were truly fortunate to have had the benefit of Rob's experience and talent over the past years," said Theater Chair Penny Remsen. "We are thrilled at the news of this richly-deserved award and wish Rob all our best as he departs the area."

Although it's his first Tony win, Kaplowitz has garnered other theater honors in the past, including an OBIE award for lifetime achievement, received as he began his assignment here.

The position Kaplowitz held was a three-year appointment. He was based at UMass-Amherst, where he was instrumental in creating the department's O'Connell Sound Design Studio and taught and advised students at the undergraduate and graduate level. He also taught and advised at the other schools in the consortium.

Throughout his time in the valley, he remained active in the profession.

"As an instructor, my value is based on my real-world experience," he said at the beginning of his time here. "If I were to stop, I would lose my value to the program."

In keeping with this statement, Kaplowitz was generous in recognizing students with an interest in the field. UMass undergraduate alumnus Jack O'Brien '09 was Kaplowitz's assistant on Fela!, working with him in New York on the show.

Sound design is a nascent discipline, Kaplowitz noted, pointing out that the 2007-2008 Tonys were the first to honor sound design. In the theater, he is an advocate for having the designers involved early on. That allows him to "make the mistakes I need to make" and present a director with a cache of choices that ups the odds that they'll find the right element. "When it's done badly, (sound design) is decorative, and when it's done well, it's essential," Kaplowitz said.    

Kaplowitz originally started in music before switching to his chosen field. He has been teaching more or less since graduating, at O'Neill and NYU, among others, and finding that it was an extension his interactions with other theater artists.

He admits he doesn't have an educational background, taking as his guiding philosophy something he is committed to in his design: "My goal is to make the strongest choices  possible," he said.

Seems like that philosophy is paying off for him!

Watch a video of Rob talking about his design on Fela!

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June Gaeke reports from USITT

Read on below for a quick note from June Gaeke about her trip to the annual USITT gathering.

The annual convention for USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) took place in Kansas City between March 31 and April 3, 2010.  I am thrilled to report seeing many UMass alumni in attendance.  I had sightings or brief conversations with Dan Gray '96G, Brian Ruggaber '98G, Sabina Hamilton '97G, and Mary Tarantino '85G, coffee with Troy Hourie '97G and Kathy DeVault '97G, and lunch with Gail Brassard '75.
Of special note was the book signing for Late & Great, American Designers 1960-2010, a publication sponsored by USITT, edited by Bobbi Owen, with essays from both Mary Tarantino and Gail Brassard. Mary’s essay is on Gilbert Hemsley while Gail’s is on Irene Sharaff.  I now own a very well autographed copy!
As a result of re-uniting with Gail Brassard after many years, the current costume design students at UMass were treated to a day of lectures and portfolio reviews after the convention when Gail was in the Amherst area in April.  This was an enriching experience for everyone, and we were all impressed with her work, especially the costumes for the circus.
UMass was very well represented at USITT by many talented alumni, and I so enjoyed reconnecting with you all.

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Dora Arreola '09G emailed us with exciting job news:
"It is my pleasure to announce that I have been hired as a full-time Assistant Professor in the School of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Florida, Tampa.  I will begin my new appointment in August."
This was awesome enough, but then she went on to say nice things about us: "I want to thank you very much for all your help, for working with me, and for all that I learned during the MFA program at UMass."
Awww. Good luck, Dora!

Naomi Bennett '01 conceived and directed Searching for Molly Pye, shown at Green Street Dance Studios in Cambridge in June. The piece, according to the release Naomi sent us, searches back to learn more about of her mother, lost to cancer when she was four years old through dance, film, music, spoken word, and paper structures. More about www.notjusttheater.org.

We're online and long-distance: General Manager Mark Dean taught our first-ever online course earlier this spring, a version of Theater 100. Priscilla Page '03G is currently teaching Theater 130.

Lara Dubin '97G will be designing lights for the Chester Theatre Company's productions of Molly Sweeney, Last Train to Nibroc, See Rock City, and Gulf View Drive. She will also be designing lights for Linda McInerney '98G's production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice at the Deerfield Academy in July.

Mary Fegreus '09 is in a Burger King ad about its newEclipse (Twilight) movie game:

Faculty member Marcus Gardley's newest play, On The Levee, played at the Lincoln Center Theater this spring. His piece, Every Tongue Confess, will open the revamped Arena Stage in Washington DC this November. (More details on a special alumni event connected with this show to come!)

Retired secretary Denise Wagner spotted Matthew Ferraro '00 in the TV movie The Mothman this spring.

Sabrina Hamilton '97G sent us news that the Ko Festival, of which she's the artistic director, is having its 19th season this year. If you'll be in Amherst over the summer, check it out at www.kofest.com

J. Lucinda Kidder '03G let us know that the Renaissance Center Theater Company, of which she is Managing Director, took its production of The Harrowing of Hell to Toronto this spring. Undergrad Law O'Regan-Lloyd was involved in the production. More at http://chester.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/chester/performance

Shawn LaCount '09G was pleased to note that two productions he directed in Boston this past year for Company One were nominated for Elliot Norton Awards (Boston's Tonys). They were both nominated in the "Outstanding Production from a Fringe Theatre" category. Each production featured work from several U-Mass folks...:
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami, adapted for the stage by Frank Galati
Shawn LaCount, Director
Liana Thompson '09G, Dramaturg
Sean Cote '09G, Set Design
Jessica Hegarty '10, Production Assistant
The Overwhelming by JT Rogers
Shawn LaCount, Director
Sean Cote '09G, Set Design
Rachel Cardilo '07, House Manager

John McDermott'93 has been partnered with playwright Craig Lucas for 12 years, and the couple have "2 great dogs, Bug and Jasper." He remembered "reading those plays again and again for Virginia Scott''s class so that I would know the possible answers to those devilish 10 question quizzes!" John is designing two new plays for the Cherry Lane mentor projects, The Belle of Belfast, and Paternity.  He recently designed Girls in Trouble at the Flea Theater, as well as The Great Recession at the Flea. Other recent shows include Killers and Other Family by Lucy Thurber at Rattlestick Theater. He was pleased to tell us he was nominated for the Henry Hewes Award for The Singing Forest at the Public Theater. He designed two long-running musicals that just closed,  Sessions, and An Evening at the Carlyle, both at the Algonquin Theater. One of his favorite recent shows, he writes, was Kaspar Hauser, written and directed by Elizabeth Swados at the Flea, and Prayer For My Enemy at Playwrights Horizons, directed by Bartlett Sher. "Still wondering how to make a living doing this...but I guess I am," he added.

Rina Miller '78 wrote in to give us an update on what she's done since graduating. "I have been married for 29 years to Joe Hershon '79 and have two children, 21 year old David, and 19 year old Ariel. After UMass, I briefly taught high school English, theater, and speech in Framingham, MA then went to law school at Western New England College in 1981. I have been an attorney in Springfield, MA, concentrating in Family Law and Collaborative Law since 1983. Our family has lived in Longmeadow since 1981. Other than a brief class at the Drama Studio in Springfield, I am sorry to say that I have lost touch with my dramatic roots...but the nest is now empty so who knows?"
She also wrote in with a pretty good "favorite memory of UMass" story:
"My most significant memory is standing at the end of the stage 'keening' in a long black robe covering a revealing corset in The Hostage. My father was in the audience and I knew that he was going to be very surprised when that long black robe came off and I became a 'woman of the night' onstage. I was holding my breath praying that it wouldn't be the end of my theatre career! I also remember choreographing the Irish step dance for the show. The real thrill? Bill Pullman was the star of the show and we all know what happened to Bill Pullman. He was great back then as well...."

While two of his latest plays are out circulating, Professor Emeritus Julian Olf is keeping very busy.  This spring he directed two UMass Theater alumni, Eliza Greene-Smith '08 and Steve Pierce '08 in a short play by the Los Angeles based playwright, Rose Martula. Also this spring, he joined alumna Sheila Siragusa '04G's August Company as an actor in its OnWord Project. There he performed a monologue based on a piece of fiction by Dennis Quinn.

Laurie Okin (Ciarametaro) '94 last wrote in just before the birth of her first child. She updates us that she is now the mother to a five-month-old daughter, Rose, with her husband of two years, Justin Okin. "She is the new love of our lives, and has already made her stage debut in utero when I played Claire in a production of Proof last year, at five months pregnant!"
Laurie shared the following: "I have scarcely a bad memory from all my time in the UMass Department of Theater.  Perhaps my very favorite play to work on was Our Country's Good, directed by Sabrina Hamilton '97G.  She gave me my first real shot at a main role in a Rand theater production, and it turned out to be the most wonderful cast, awesome design elements, and heart-felt experience all the way around that I could have asked for."
Laurie just had a guest-starring role on The Office, playing a love interest for Michael Scott (Steve Carell).  She continues to make her living as an actor in Los Angeles, and also to live in an environmentally-conscious way, keeping a huge garden with which her daughter is already well familiar — "looking forward to her first meal being straight from our own ground!" she writes.

Outer Critics Circle Awards Nominees this year include Justin Townsend '97 for his lighting design of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which had a critically-acclaimed run at the Public Theater in New York this spring. Justin will also be working on the Commonwealth Shakespeare production of Othello, which will include Jeremy Browne '06 as Montano.

Leigh Ward '09 writes that she has been working this school year as a teacher's aid in Boston Public Schools with special needs students in grades K-2. She has also been working as a dance teacher with a community dance school. You can also see her online, working part time as a web model for Garment District/Boston Costume, as well in feature and indie films. She wrote Penny: "Lately when ever I have a photo shoot or a test photo shoot I always think of your class because the photographer is always trying to find the best angle of light and shadows." She says she tells them, "I understand what you're talking about, I took a lighting class in theater!" See for yourself at http://www.garmentdistrict.com/ or http://bostoncostume.com/cart.html?m=splash

"This summer," writes directing grad student Dawn Monique Williams, "I am directing a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest in California, and traveling with it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Aces Wild Theatre. My time in the UK also includes seeing shows in Stratford-upon-Avon at the RSC, and in London's West End and at the Globe Theatre."

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