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April 2012: Contents

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Remarks from the Chair — Dedicated to Doris

The 2012-2013 season is The Department of Theater's 40th. We have made all those years count, racking up a rich production history that spans the classics and the cutting edge, created by students who have gone on to make outstanding contributions to the world of theater, and by the gifted faculty and staff who have helped them get their start.

It only seems right to dedicate the season to one of the great lights of this department, the late, beloved Professor Emeritus Doris Abramson. Doris came to the university as a student in 1942, then returned in 1952 as a faculty member teaching theater courses, before the department even existed. She became one of the founders of the department in 1973.

Her 1969 book, Negro Playwrights in the American Theater, 1925-1959, was based on her dissertation and established her as a leading scholar on African-American theater. She was an advocate for women playwrights. She retired in 1987 but remained interested and involved in theater, receiving the Chancellor's Medal in 1999. She passed away in 2008, but her warm, insightful mentorship of students set a standard for our faculty, and her passion for theater education marks the ethos of the department to this day.

One of Doris' great passions was the work of women playwrights. Accordingly, the six works that will grace our mainstage during the 40th anniversary season are all by women. Some of these pieces were well-known to Doris — the last piece she ever directed for us, Sophie Treadwell's Machinal (a groundbreaking expressionist play of the 1920s based on the true story of convicted murderer Ruth Snyder) will open our season. Doris was also friend and mentor to Casanova author Constance Congdon '82G, one of America's leading playwrights.

While Doris may not have known the other women whose talent is on offer during this season as playwrights and directors, we would like to think that that she would have been equally inspired and impressed by their work. Many of them are new voices representing the future of theater that nonetheless speak directly to some of Doris' interests. The musical, Violet, is set in 1964 in the American South and tells of a disfigured girl's quest to reach a televangelist she hopes will fix her scars; Magnet Theater Company from South Africa will present Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking, which uses African music and dance to outline a refugee mother and daughter's struggle to overcome the loss of their home. Suitors is a first-ever translation/adaptation of two plays written by two remarkable 17th-century Spanish women whose work has recently been rediscovered, while Suzan-Lori Parks, a playwright with local ties, dramatizes the life of a South African woman displayed as a freak throughout 19th-century Europe in Venus. We hope you will join us during this momentous season.

Machinal
By Sophie Treadwell
Directed by Brianna Sloane
Nov. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
The Curtain Theater

Violet
Music by Jeanine Tesori, libretto by Brian Crawley,
based on the short story "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts
Directed by Carol Becker
Nov. 29, 30, Dec. 1, 5, 6, 7, 8
The Rand Theater

Special event
Every Year, Every Day, I Am Walking
By Magnet Theater from South Africa
Created by Magnet Theatre
Jan. 29, 30, 31, Feb. 1, 2
The Curtain Theater

Suitors
By Ana Caro and Feliciana Enríquez ,
translated and adapted by Harley Erdman
Directed by Kara-Lynn Vaeni
Feb. 28, March 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9
The Rand Theater

Venus
By Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Carol Becker
March 28, 29, 30 April 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
The Curtain Theater

Casanova
UMass alumna Connie Congdon
Directed by Brianna Sloane
April 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27
The Rand Theater

Season subject to change pending rights. For updated information about productions, special events, and other news, please visit our mainstage page.

— Penny Remsen, Chair

Kyle Pasciutti '08: Making up a career in special effects and more

If you are a fan of making over the disastrously-clad, you may already be familiar with Kyle Pasciutti '08's work.

In September 2010, he got a call from the wardrobe revamp show, What Not to Wear. The plan for an upcoming episode involved having co-host Stacy London jump out of a cake, and they had ordered one online. It had arrived and it was awful, and the producers called Pasciutti with about 24 hours to go before shooting was supposed to commence to ask, "could he make them a cake?"

Together with some friends, that's exactly what he did. (You can watch a test run of a cake-popping-out on youtube.)

Pasciutti graduated from the Department of Theater with interests in several areas of theater, but more than that, he says, he left with an education in the mindset and business approach that he has parlayed into the kind of career that makes a story like the above par for the course. "My day-to-day is not average," he said, and encompasses make-up, special effects, puppets, props and more for theater, TV, film and special events.

"Everybody kept saying 'specialize,' but what I went for while I was here was collecting skills, and acquiring the right frame of mind for the business," Pasciutti explained.

Like all undergraduates, Pasciutti took classes in all areas of theater, and he is a proponent of the approach. "I fully appreciated lighting design and scenic design, but they're not things I have within me to do," he said. "But (for example) if you don't do scenic design, you don't know how something is going to move in the space."

Interestingly, although on the surface his work seems to overlap most with the design areas, it's Gil McCauley's directing class that he credits the most with giving him what he calls "the artist's eye" that he uses to approach his jobs.

Pasciutti started his professional life working in the Halloween haunted house industry, where he found himself doing make-up and special effects, dealing with props and even restoring them, and a little bit of everything was required of him. It's an industry that has remained one of his primary employers (as you can see in the video below, where he shows off some prosthetics prototypes he's working on for the 2012 Halloween haunt season).

(Click on the video above to watch and listen as Kyle discusses some design protypes for a haunted house he's working on.)

He's done a lot of work in make-up and prosthetics, and cites the Wolfe Brothers, make-up and effects artists of world renown, as inspiration. Referencing his statement that he "collects skills," he laughed a bit as he described plans to attend an upcoming make-up workshop in New York where he'll be learning spray-tanning. "Not part of my repertoire," he said, but you never know when something will come in handy, is his philosophy.

Not too long ago, he got a wake-up call at 9 a.m. from some independent filmmakers working on a zombie movie who had been stymied by the make-up and effects part of their endeavor. "We tried to do this ourselves but we don't know what we're doing," they told him. Four hours and a quick trip for supplies later, he was on set making their zombies — and victims — look appropriately horrific. Zombies also featured in a fashion shoot for which he outfitted the models with zombie faces.

Make-up and prosthetics are not his entire world, though — he's done a good bit of business crafting Audrey plants from Little Shop of Horrors, as well as Ghostbusters' infamous StayPuft Marshmallow Man. He's developed something of a name for himself for the latter, in fact, and in the images here you can see several iterations of that character, as he's become increasingly adept at making the character in a variety of sizes. Just recently he made a huge one for Shriners in St. Louis who needed one for an event.

In fact, while he's leery of sharing too many details for fear of giving the game away, he is hoping to use his computer skills to come up with a way to mass-produce pieces like this — as well as original creations — for people to buy and assemble.

Asked about his future plans, Pasciutti mentions that he'd like to sign on with a design or effects company. "But every time I say that something else comes along," he laughed. "(I tell myself) the minute I'm done with StayPuft, I'm going to apply here, here, and here, and then, crap, I've got a zombie shoot!"

More about Kyle and his work:

Kyle Pasciutti Designs on facebook

Kyle's Halloween haunt photos and more on Flickr

Kyle Pasciutti Designs website

Slideshow: Kyle Pasciutti's portfolio

Gallery requires the Flash Player plugin and a web browser with JavaScript enabled.
Kyle Pasciutti '08 shared some images of his work above. Note to the squeamish: Some of his work for Halloween haunted houses and the like contains some (fake) goriness.

Shakespeare with an expert

For the past two school years, the Department of Theater has enjoyed the privilege of a close association with Shakespeare & Co.'s Artistic Director, Tony Simotes. Last year, he taught stage combat; this year, he is directing our production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the production's cast members, Julia Lisa, graciously shared with us what it's like to work with one of the country's pre-eminent theater artists.

***

simotes

Tony Simotes, the Artistic Director at Berkshire's world-renowned Shakespeare & Company, played Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream as his first show with Shake & Co. He has worked on many productions of Midsummer throughout his career, and now the UMass Amherst Department of Theater is honored to have him direct its production.

But why would he want to do another rendition with college students?

"I want to keep the relationship between Shakespeare & Company and UMass Amherst Theater Department alive, not only with who I can hire, but I also want to explore the relationship deeper," Simotes said. "(Meanwhile,) this theater program has the benefit of an association with a professional company."

Tony Simotes (photo courtesy of Shakespeare & Co.)

As a member of the cast of this thrilling production of Midsummer, I have had the privilege to work with Simotes. It is an incredible experience to be directed by someone who has such a deep understanding of the text and story, which comes from his long history with this show.

The theater majors at UMass Amherst were preparing for their January auditions for this show since it was announced last spring. Tension and nerves ran even higher when Simotes was revealed as the director. Sophomore Daniel Kadish said, "Everyone and their grandmother worked their tails off for the chance to work with Tony on A Midsummer Night's Dream." What this means for us aspiring actors, musicians, and stage managers is that we might go on to have a professional connection at Shakespeare & Company. This potential has already been realized for a number of my cast mates. This summer Monica Giordano, Sam Perry, and Gregory Boover will be in the cast of The Tempest, and others will be interning as production crew.

He has also inspired us in less concrete ways. With a relatively short rehearsal process, Simotes has banded us together and spurred us to work with each other outside rehearsal. Recently the entire cast came together on our night off to run the whole show for the first time. Most of Midsummer takes place in the woods outside of Athens. The characters make many references to the moon and stars and planets. Just as the band of actors in the show wander into the forest to rehearse their comedy, we met in the woods and performed in a clearing by starlight. Being under the open night sky, we could directly reference bright Venus and the hazy darkness, creating a connection between the words and their meanings. Simotes had no idea we would take his suggestion to play in the woods so literally.

The insight Simotes has brought to this process has gotten me to think and connect to the material in many different and deeper ways. For me the biggest "Ah-Ha! moment" was when he illustrated that in all fairy tales there is a very real danger. In Snow White, the princess is hunted by an Evil Queen who wants her heart in a box, and ends up poisoning her; or in Pinocchio where lying disfigures you, being an actor leads to temptation and bottomless gluttony, which turns you into a jackass ("I can gleek upon occasion" III. I. 141). There is a very real underlying danger in this play as well. There is a rift in the fairy world, the attacks of which are directly affecting the mortals that wander too close. Some of these dangerous themes, within this strict Greek culture, include pre-marital sex and divorce, prosecution of death, and bestiality. These are themes that can get easily lost in the comedy and poetry of Shakespeare. Simotes has gotten his cast of student actors to understand these concepts and continue to think in many dimensions, and apply this knowledge to their performance.

"I am really excited that we are creating a show with a strong concept around it. It is also incredible to have student talent, designers, crafters, and musicians; I just set up this world and the students have embellished it," Simotes said.

Simotes has pushed us to really understand how we come to make choices about characters, intent, and textual meaning. He encourages us to be creative with the scenes and each other. Simotes has nourished us and cultivated our growth as actors. I am so excited to see how this show turns out, and I take pleasure in every moment we have left to work on this incredible show with Simotes.

— by Julia Lisa

Slideshow: Midsummer in Rehearsal

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Undergraduate student Alissa Mesibov is the dramaturg for A Midsummer Night's Dream, and also a capable photographer for the Collegian newspaper. She shared a handful of photos with us. You can see more in our gallery on facebook.

 

Updates

In our bid for artistic world domination, we've got a few places you can find us online.

Follow us on Twitter and facebook for updates, behind-the-scenes sneak-peeks at our productions, special event information, and opportunities to win free tickets!

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We don't have much up on our Youtube Channel yet, but expect that to change in the coming months.

Feel free to friend, follow, like, and what have you!

Without further ado, here's what you've all been up to recently!

Toby Bercovici '11G wrote: "After receiving my MFA in May 2011, I spent the summer adapting and directing King Lear for Serious Play! Theatre Ensemble, scenes from which have been remounted twice at Amherst High School. I then directed Deb Margolin's O Yes I Will (I will remember the spirit and texture of this conversation) for Pauline Productions - which will be remounted June 7 at Laurel Park in Northampton and June 8 & 9 at The Majestic in West Springfield. (We also hope to tour it to San Francisco and perhaps the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.) I also spent the Fall teaching semester-long courses in Physical Theatre and Beginning Adult Acting, as well as workshops on Viewpoints, Physical Theatre, and Adult Acting. Next, I was a participant in the life-changing Shakespeare & Company Month Long Intensive. Directly after that, I travelled to NYC to assistant direct for The Talking Band at La Mama E.T.C. (I even performed in the piece one night as "Crazy Bear," a half-woman, half-bear.) Now, I'm off to Cambridge, NY, to assistant direct Amadeus at Hubbard Hall. This summer, I'll co-direct a devised piece - META/PINA - exploring the complex dynamic between a director-choreographer and her performers and utilizing the gestural life of German choreographer Pina Bausch. After that, I have a residency at Dragon's Egg Studio in CT, where I'll be working with 11 multitalented performers from around the country, as well as with choreographer Madelyne Camera, to explore Ibsen's Ghosts and generate material for adaptation."

Graduate student Sarah Brew will be co-writing a play, I Could Swear I Heard a Voice, which will be performed at the ArtsFest in Saratoga Springs, NY this June.

Lisa Channer '89 was pleased to receive great press for Picnic on the Battlefield, the latest production by her company Theatre Novi Most.

Read More Here.

Children's Hospital star Rob Corddry '93 joined Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Ed Harris in Michael Bay's Pain and Gain. This low-budget pic is based on a true story about the criminal doings of a group of bodybuilders in Florida. He's also set to appear in Hell Baby with Leslie Bibb.

Jane Cox lit Cincinnati Playhouse's Merrily We Roll Along, which ran this past March.

Troy Hourie '97G designed the sets for Chicago's Court Theatre' world premiere of Invisible Man, adapted from Ralph Ellison's novel by Oren Jacoby. Read more.

Arbrenne Kelly '11 has been hired for summerstock at Acadia Rep Theatre in Bar Harbor, Maine this summer. Out of the five shows, she will be in three: Noel Coward's Private Lives, John Cariani's Almost, Maine, and a children's show of Charlotte's Web. They will also be doing Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and Becky Mode's Fully Committed. "I am extremely excited to be paid to do theatre for the first time, not to mention the fact that I'll be by the sea, in a national park (Acadia National Park), and in Maine," Arbrenne writes.

Thad Kramer '11G got married September 8, 2011 in Las Vegas, NV. He was also promoted to Technical Coordinator at Swank Audio Visuals, the in-house audio/visual provider for the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas.

Christopher Lockheardt (né Stearns) let us know that MadLab Theatre in Columbus, OH, produced a collection of his short plays, titled Happy 9/11! (and Other Completely Non-Offensive Tales) this March.

Priscilla Page '03G will be working with Ping Chong and Company this summer while they are in residence at Amherst College.

In addition to being the proud owner of two dogs, named Gobo and Leko, and a cat named Wifi, Celine Perron '90, recently became an American citizen and the chair of the theatre department at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Bill Pullman '80G brings his Presidential gravitas to TV – he's set to star in a new NBC comedy, 1600 Penn, about a dysfunctional White House family. He's also in the film Lola Versus, and in actress Famke Janssen's directorial debut, Bringing up Bobby.

Ben Stanton '99 designed lights for the world premiere of Gabe McKinley's drama CQ/CX which opened off-Broadway at the Peter Norton Space in February. He also designed lights for Playwrights Horizons' New York premiere of Assistance, a new play by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) which opened in March. Fellow alumnus David Korins '99 designed scenery. Ben worked on The Civilians' You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents' Divorce, and Ethan Lipton's No Place to Go at Joe's Pub.

The World Premiere of You, My Mother at La MaMa's Ellen Stewart Theatre in February included lighting design by Justin Townsend '97, as did Classic Stage Company's new off-Broadway production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo and Huntington Theatre Company's Luck of the Irish.

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