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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.

February 2010 issue — Contents

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Lián Amaris' Swimming to Spalding

Her interest in Spalding Gray's work began with an assignment for a UMass Department of Theater class and years later blossomed into a critically-acclaimed 70-minute monologue entitled Swimming to Spalding. Alumna Lián Amaris shared with us her journey from concept to stage.

Visit our Swimming to Spalding page for recollections, photos, and more.

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Marta goes to El Paso

This March, last semester’s world-premiere production of Marta the Divine (by Tirso de Molina, translated and adapted by Harley Erdman) hits the road!  The play will be performed as part of the Siglo de Oro Festival at Chamizol National Memorial in El Paso, Texas. The UMass students and faculty involved in the production will be in international company, as groups will travel from Spain, Mexico and New York to present their works at the festival. In advance of the trip, Marta will get another turn on the Rand stage as we invite people to join us for an open rehearsal that is part of the Renaissaince Center symposium: Women on Stage in the Spanish Golden Age: “Remember, Marta, I’m a Woman, Too." Erdman and director Gina Kaufmann will also be making a trip to Oxford University to present their paper, Marta the Divine on Stage Today: Refundicion and Casting Anew, at the 2010 Out of the Wings Symposium, "Spanish Golden Age Drama in Translation and Performance." Stay tuned, because the April issue of Stages will feature a full account of the trip to El Paso from production dramaturg, Sarah Brew.

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McCauley directs alumnus in Frost/Nixon

This April, Professor Gilbert McCauley will continue his long-standing professional relationship with Arkansas Repertory Theatre by directing Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon. In the role of Nixon will be Department of Theater alumnus Keith Langsdale '07G, who graduated from the department with an MFA in directing

This mini-reunion came about after McCauley initially came up empty during auditions for the role. McCauley remembers seeing many actors read for the part and still not being able to find an actor to play the title role.

In the back of his mind, he knew Langsdale was right for the part, but he wasn’t able to make it to the auditions in New York.  McCauley called him in to audition separately, and there was no contest; Langsdale was his Nixon.

Langsdale received his MFA in directing in 2007, and McCauley directed him once before in a staged reading. McCauley knew that with such a short rehearsal period, it would be a great advantage to be working with an actor he knew.  Ordinarily, he says, “you have to learn how to talk to an actor,” but because they’ve worked together already, he and Langsdale have a shared vocabulary.  They’ll be able to jump right in and begin working. 

McCauley’s relationship with Arkansas Rep goes back approximately eight years. In that time, he has directed four other plays for the organization, including last year’s Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, a one-man show about Alonso Fields, an African American manservant in the White House who dreamed of becoming a concert vocalist.

When the Rep first approached him about directing Frost/Nixon, McCauley was excited by the prospect. “The play is different from what they usually ask me to direct for them,” he says, and adds that he was intrigued at the opportunity to work on a play about Nixon.  He remembers the Nixon presidency fondly, saying, “Part of my own political development came through [the Watergate scandal]…it was a formative time.”

McCauley points out that the play is highly cinematic, which makes it a great challenge for a director.  He says that it’s always artistically rewarding to take a break from academia to work on a professional production, but that the opportunity to dive into such a challenging play with a former student is especially so.

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Help us celebrate Denise

For those of us who've passed through the Department of Theater these past 19 years, it's just about impossible to imagine the place without secretary Denise Wagner, but as of this January, our department is now Denise-less.

Denise had originally announced to us that she would be retiring at the end of January. Sadly, family health issues forced an extended leave of absence that meant Denise has effectively been gone since the Christmas holiday. We miss her cheerful, warm presence (not to mention the coffee and the candy dish) but we soldier on and hope to introduce you soon to her replacement in the front office.

In the meantime, though, all Denise fans should stay tuned for more information about ways we'll be celebrating her time here at UMass. Exact details are still being worked out — and we want them to be a surprise anyway — but let's just say it will be well worth your while to make plans to travel our way for Play-In-A-Day on May 8. (Seriously. Save the date. Book your plane tickets. Find a floor to crash on.)

Moreover, there will be a special Denise tribute issue of Stages in May, and for that, we invite you to take a trip down memory lane and share. Do you have a particularly fond memory of Denise? A funny story to tell? Something nice to say about the way she helped you out? A great photo?

If you do, please send it to amgoossens@verizon.net by April 10.

Thank you!

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Slideshow: Denise Day

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On Feb. 5, the Department of Theater celebrated Denise Wagner on her retirement from the department by declaring "Denise Day." View the slideshow for photos of the festivities.

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A semester of collaboration

It’s a busy semester for the Department of Theater, so we’re calling in reinforcements! This spring semester, the department welcomes several exciting collaborations that are bound to provide rich opportunities for our students.

In January, our collaboration with Misa Table, a professional dance theatre collective based out of New York, came to fruition with the production of 1905. Director Gina Kaufmann proposed the collaboration in part to introduce students to different working models.  This multifaceted theater piece combined dance, theater, live music, and original silent film to explore the unlikely sense of community that developed among immigrants from Russia, Germany and Mexico in rural Nebraska in 1905. Undergraduate performance major, Sabrina Gogan said “Sharing a stage with these actors has allowed me to take risks I did not know I was capable of taking. The show has pushed me beyond so many boundaries.”

Guest choreographer Madelyne Camera will bring her expertise to Spring Awakening: A Sin of Omission opening at the end of February.  Camera is a Smith College alumna who has worked and trained internationally.  Director Toby Bercovici has worked with Camera before, and dramaturg Emily Denison says that it shows.  She says Camera “makes blocking from the scenes into beautiful choreography, and Toby takes the choreography and puts it into the blocking of the scenes.  So the dance becomes an integral part of the story.”

We have several guest lectures and workshops planned.  LA Theatreworks, whose production The RFK Project at the Concert Hall in February, will hold an auditioning master class with advanced acting students. Performer Tim Crouch will lead workshops with students in March, and playwright Caryl Philips will hold a play reading in April.  Finally, Shakespeare and Company’s Timothy Douglas will lead a series of workshops geared towards performance students.

Then we’ll finish off the semester with a production of Little Shop of Horrors. Director Dawn Monique Williams talks about how rewarding it has been to have several guest experts involved.  “Everyone is so committed to the success of this show and so open to conversation about ideas,” she says, “that the experience has been really rich.” The show will feature the musical direction of UMass alumnus Andy Lichtenberg, and the choreography of LaTeesa Joy Walker (who also contributed choreography to Burial at Thebes in the fall).  Renowned puppet artist David Regan rounds out the team to bring to life the deadly plant, Audrey II. 

All in all it will be an exciting semester of collaboration. "We are excited to welcome so many talented and renowned theater artists and scholars to our department. Our students, as well as the community at large, benefit tremendously from these opportunities to watch and learn from leading professionals in the field," says Department Chair Penny Remsen.

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We were going to offer some sort of witty "Rah-rah-write-ooh-la-la" reference to Lady Gaga here in an attempt to encourage you all to keep those updates coming, but that kind of thing is harder than it looks. So we'll stick to the straightforward: please send us your updates! You can fill out our nifty contact form here.

Here's what people sent us recently:

Kevin Barry '95 reported that he worked with Justin McClintock '00 in New York City. Previously, Jeremy Wahlers had subbed for him before Wahlers left for Chicago to do Addams Family.

Naomi Bennett '01 writes that she has been at the Community Art Center for about a year now as the Theater and Performance Specialist.  The Art Center is an arts-based afterschool program for high risk youth.  She also teaches dance, theater, and clowning in several Boston and Cambridge Public Schools.

Jennifer Kelley Chambers '96 is married to Michael Chambers '96 and has a son, Cian, 5, and daughters Addison, 3, and Reilly, 4 months. She is working for Broadway Across America as the Director of Corporate Partnerships, Northeast out of the company's Boston office.

Ruthy Seligman Countryman '71 and former faculty member Elizabeth Weiss Hopper have collaborated on two historic clothing books, Women's Wear of the 1920s and Women's Wear of the 1930s.  Both books include patterns taken from extant garments of the periods housed in the Smithsonian Institution, Smith College, the Valentine Museum in Richmond, VA, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, and the Northampton Historical Society.  A third book, a study of a 1933 designer wedding trousseau collection housed at the Valentine Museum, with patterns, will be forthcoming in the next year or so. Liz recently retired as resident costume designer from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA; Ruthy teaches middle school English/Language Arts in northwest Georgia.  Ruthy's husband, John Countryman '73 is the Director of Theatre at Berry College in Mount Berry, GA, where their daughter Sarah is a senior creative writing major.

Mark Cuddy, artistic director of GeVa Theatre in Rochester, NY, sent us a reminiscence of his time at UMass: "Inspired by Bill Pullman’s re-connect, I’d like to let you know that I, too, am an alumnus but of the undergraduate program in the mid-1970’s. June Gaeke was a young costumer then! I didn’t really adhere to the preferred course of study for majors at that time, being in the Honors Program and creating my own productions around campus (I staged the first production in the new performing arts center – in the trap room underneath the stage of the Curtain: Fortune and Men’s Eyes). In fact, after directing and producing my senior honors thesis of Lenny at a dining commons and then commercially in Northampton, I got kicked out of the department by Vincent Brann for not completing my thesis paper. So for a year I was in limbo: having finished all my courses but with a 9 credit Incomplete, all the while running a theatre company in Northampton. The Honors Program came to my rescue by contacting me with the offer of retroactively removing the Theatre Honors Thesis credits and replacing them with Honors Independent Study credits, gave me an “A” and graduated me with a BA in Theatre/Honors."

Jason Czernich '00 is doing a special blog while in between productions. The blog is called A Man Finally Eats his Veggies: A Meatless Year, and it is about his experience of going meatless for a year. It can be found at: http://ameatlessyear.blogspot.com/  The blog received over 700 visitors within its first month.

Faculty member Milan Dragicevich received a Faculty Research Grant for Milosevic at the Hague. There were 37 applicants, and only 13 received an award.

Sean Kelley '04 sent what may be our favorite update of this go-round: "I recently proposed to fellow Department of Theater alumna Chelsea Ives '05, and she said yes.  We have been dating since we were still students at UMass back 2002, and finally decided to make things official. We will always remember our time as part of the UMass Department of Theater, where we met and fell in love." UMass Theater: bringing people together! We love it!

John McDermott '92, designed the sets for The Great Recession at the Flea Theater. Other recent work includes Killers and Other Family at Rattlestick Theater, An Evening at the Carlyle at the Algonquin Theater, The Singing Forest (his set design nominated for a Hewes award) at the Public Theater, White People at the Atlantic Theater, and Prayer For My Enemy at Playwrights Horizons.  Next up are three shows at the Cherry Lane Theater. He and partner Craig Lucas have two dogs, Bug (9) and Jasper (7).

Faculty member Priscilla Page '03G let us know that NoPassport is hosting a conference in February in NYC where she will be on a panel with Migdalia Cruz and Alberto Sandoval and others discussing the upcoming publications from NoPassport. Page and Sandoval each contributed essays to Cruz's anthology, and it will be launched at the conference. Also, undergrad alum Melissa Fendell '03 will be on a panel titled Immersive Theatre: Sites of Memory/Practice. She has founded her own company, The Anthropologists, and will be speaking with other producers and directors in that session.

Yael Prizant '00G let us know that she translated Chamaco - Boy at the Vanishing Point, by Cuban playwright Abel González Melo. There will be a reading of the piece, directed by fellow alumnus Joe Salvatore '97G on Feb. 26 at 8:30 pm at New Perspectives Theatre (456 W. 37th Street) in New York City.

Deborah (Yegerlehner ) Sweeney '90 filled out our form on the contact page (you really should do the same; it's painless!) and so we learned that she just celebrated her 15th wedding anniversary, has two kids, and 1 cat. She adds, "I am indebted to June Gaeke for her tutelage during my years at UMASS and pushing me onto my lifelong path which includes a passion for costumes, clothing, and textiles. … After spending the last 10 years out of costuming and theatre, I just started my own sewing business.  Check out my website www.brokenthreadz.com.   Thanks to Facebook for reconnecting me to many of my old theatre dept. friends."

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We ask you for a donation

We value the many alumni and friends who offer us their support in so many ways, from the 'attaboys' we get for our shows to the valuable advice and artistic expertise they share. As ever, though, we are in need of your financial support. Please visit our donation page for details about the project we are working on this year. Many of you have already given and we are very grateful. We're not quite at our goal yet, though, so we'd much appreciate any 'pennies for drama nerds' you might have to spare. Thank you!

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Online Format

As of this fall, we've switched exclusively to an emailed/online format of Stages, which will save paper and money, as well as allowing us to share more interactive features and lots more photos. If you'd like to receive email notices whenever a new issue of Stages has been posted and you're not sure we have your email, please click on Send Us Updates in the sidebar. You can also use the update form to send us your news.


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