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March 2017: Contents

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Remarks from the Chair: Standing on tradition

Hello friends!

I hope winter has treated you kindly, wherever you are, and that you are looking forward to a busy and creative spring!

We have just wrapped our production of Hedda, and it was truly inspiring to experience. This gifted and adventurous company took a fresh look at a classic drama (Hedda Gabler) and developed an ending that rang with hope and possibility. I was proud to have our Dean in the audience with me to see their work.

Thinking about Hedda the rest of our season, I realized that building on tradition to create something new is a theme for us this spring. Play Lab, now a tradition here, presents works so new our students are the first to inhabit these characters. In Quiara Alegría Hudes's The Happiest Song Plays Last, Puerto Rican traditions, music and food figure prominently in. This multi-generational story deals with negotiating identity and community in a post-9/11, smart-phone world and is underpinned by the (live) music of the cuatro, a traditional Puerto Rican instructment. Ta’zieh, our season closer, is built on a centuries-old Iranian procession and in-the-round outdoor performance; director Nikoo Mamdoohi aims to translate her cultural traditions into a form that will resonate in the here and now.

It’s probably become clear, over the course of the notes I’ve written since taking the position as Chair, that one of the things I find most satisfying about this work is the opportunity to build bridges, whether it’s between different traditions, different disciplines, or different generations. I love that the shows we’re producing this spring reach into all manner of communities, whether it’s the Iranian student community collaborating passionately on Ta’zieh or the Puerto Rican community members who are represented in the Happiest Song cast. I appreciate so much the years of work by my colleagues and our students to actively bring a more diverse population to our department and to transform our department from the inside, outward.

The energy of last year’s production of Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America, produced by Professor Judyie Al-Bilali and directed by guest artists Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks, continues to inspire us in this current season. I also wish to highlight the work of Priscilla Page, Director of the Multicultural Theater Certificate. There are now 16 students in this program, which builds on past work by Priscilla, Harley Erdman and others to embrace theater from under-represented voices and to create new avenue for study.

We are exploding beyond our traditional space, turning an old space into a vibrant new performance venue. New Africa House has been a fixture on campus for years, presenting arts and culture events with a multicultural focus, often centered on the experiences of African-American artists and scholars. Its basement is now home to theatrical performances, with theater courses to come in the fall. Gil McCauley and Judyie Al-Bilali are leading the way in forging that new relationship.

We’re also expanding beyond our traditional reach in terms of community engagement. Whereas previously, our interactions with high school students have primarily been to host them as patrons for our student matinees, this summer, we’re bringing them into our spaces as our students. Faculty member Lena Cuomo, with grad student Jennifer Onopa, is launching the first-ever Summer Theater and Performance Intensive, a two-week pre-college program that will bring high schoolers into our theater to create a new devised piece that will reflect their concerns, hopes and ideas about their communities and the world. It runs July 23 to August 5 — if you have a high school student looking to follow in your theatrical footsteps, send them our way!

I write this note in the wake of a wonderful visit to the department by Gabe Capolupo ’86. Gabe built a successful career in technology at Silicon Valley networking giant, Juniper. It was fascinating to hear about the ways in which she has used the skills she acquired in theater to serve in a completely different field, a perspective she shared with students at a lunchtime Q&A. I love meeting alumni like Gabe, who predate my time with the department. The conversations I have with them form yet another bridge between past and present, between our department’s traditions and our way forward.

I invite you to be part of this endeavor too. I’d love to show you what’s happening in our spaces now, and to hear from you what it was like when you were here.

Please, come see us when you get a chance. I’d love to say hello!

Sincerely,

gina kaufmann note photo

Gina

Another set of ears — Amy Altadonna mentors Brendan Lynch in sound design

Brendan Lynch is an actor and a musician. When he came to UMass and started taking sound design courses, he realized that it was a fantastic way to meld his twin interests in theater and music. He found a mentor in sound design lecturer Amy Altadonna, who, like many of our faculty members past and present, has frequently augmented her teaching here at UMass with professional design work. This January, she combined her two professional interests and brought Lynch with her to the Bristol Riverside Theater in Pittsburgh so that he could listen and learn in a professional setting as Altadonna designed sound for the company’s production of Driving Miss Daisy.

Driving Miss Daisy
An image from Bristol Riverside Theater's production of Driving Miss Daisy. (photo courtesy of Amy Altadonna)

“I think it was more impactful than I predicted,” said Altadonna. “It was fun to get to watch him experience (professional theater).” Lynch agreed with her statement, saying that beyond the ability to learn specific sound design skills, he appreciated being in the room to see a professional production’s infrastructure and to have a chance to talk to the other designers about their approach to the play.

Altadonna generally leans toward newer works, but she has worked with this theater company before. Bristol RIverside Theater, she said, has a history of programming well-known works whose message speaks, either explicitly or subtly, to the current times. Sure enough, any thoughts she might’ve had about the value of “dusting off this old thing” were quickly put to rest as she dove into the Driving Miss Daisy script. “As soon as I read it the first time, there was no mistaking why it won all those awards,” she said. “There’s a rhythm and a pacing to this, a real musicality. And it’s socially relevant again — or still!”

The play spans over decades, and the challenge for the designers was how “to demonstrate how the times are changing and keep the momentum going,” Altadonna said.

driving miss daisy tech

Lynch got involved in the project as an outgrowth of his work in Altadonna’s classes. He had taken her sound recording class and served as an informal TA for her in the fall semester, and he’ll be an assistant sound designer for The Happiest Song Plays Last later in the spring.

“When (students) are excelling, I try to expand their opportunities,” Altadonna said, and so she invited him to shadow her as she went through the process of designing Driving Miss Daisy.

They did some of the work beforehand. As they wrestled with how much original music versus period music to use, Altadonna had Lynch draw on his music background to compose music for Miss Daisy; although it didn’t end up being used, he still found it a valuable experience to try his hand at “creating something that tells a story.”

Tech for Driving Miss Daisy (Photo courtesy of Amy Altadonna)

Then over January break, they headed down to Pittsburgh for a week's work in the theater.

“I was used as another pair of ears,” Lynch said. “I did a lot of listening in the space.” Altadonna had him analyzing how certain sounds worked in the theater, but also had him sit in on discussions with fellow designers to understand how that process works in the professional theater world. Lynch couldn't stay for the entire tech process because he is the lead in Harley Erdman and Gina Kaufmann's Donny Johns, which had a reading in late January. Even still, the time he spent was instructive.

"I hope," she said, "that it affirmed what's going on here and what what happens when you step it up a notch."

For his part, Lynch said he found value in watching "the way Amy operates as a designer in collaboration with other designers. She's never afraid to present an idea if she thinks it's going to make the whole projevy better," he said. "You can tell everyone admires and respects her."

brendan and amy at tech
Brendan Lynch and Amy Altadonna work on the sound design for Driving Miss Daisy. (photo courtesy of Amy Altadonna)

Renaissance woman — Linda Tardiff takes over the Shea Theater

The Western Massachusetts town of Turners Falls has been brewing up a Renaissance for the past decade or so, with residents hard at work to address its problems and bring new businesses and restaurants to downtown. Part of the picture of that revitalized community is the newly-revamped Shea Theater. Reopened last spring after an overhaul that includes a new lobby, seating, and sound equipment, the 340-seat space hosts everything from local school events, to concerts presented by Signature Sounds, to nationally-touring comedians. That is thanks to the theater's board, which has a mission of always saying "yes," and its new managing director, Linda Tardif '11.

"I want this to be a space where people can be seen and heard and feel safe," she said.

linda tardiff at the shea theater

Arts administration was not a path Tardif originally envisioned for herself, but it's in some ways an outgrowth of her education at UMass.

Always a performer, she thought she'd enroll in a BFA program after high school. She ended up at UMass instead. "I was so wrong!" Tardif said. "I so loved that my education was as well-rounded as it was." While she took acting classes and performed in mainstage shows, she cited courses like stage management as valuable preparation for what she does now.

After graduating, she set out for New York. She did well for herself, auditioning successfully for shows at LaMama, participating in events with Sleep No More, working on projects alumni of both the MFA and undergrad programs, and even booking a tour.

Linda Tardif poses in the refurbished Shea Theater lobby. (photo courtesy of Linda Tardif)

Still, she said, "that Western Mass connection just kept coming up in my life... I have UMass to thank for that. I am intrinsically connected to the Valley."

Both in New York and in Western Mass, she was booking gigs with PaintBox, Serious Play, Real Live Theatre — all of them connected to current and past UMass Theater folks in some way. "There are a lot of people that I love out here," she said. "I have been amazed over the years at how small the theater world is."

One of those friends was Marina Goldman. Tardif and Goldman had acted together in Professor Milan Dragicevich's Milosevic at the Hague and remained close. Goldman was involved in the efforts to revive the Shea Theater, and her husband, Josh, is treasurer of the board that spearheaded the renovation. Goldman invited Tardif to the theater's grand re-opening as an audience member, and she immediately took to the space. From there, getting involved only made sense. "Hey, you're here, why don't you come help," Goldman encouraged her, and over time, Tardif went from audience member to volunteer to helping out with house management and assisting the board. "It was a big learning year last year," she said. She worked with interim director Penny Burke, also of the Northampton Center for the Arts. "(Burke) is a great leader, and I fell into training underneath her," she said. As Burke prepared to depart, and with the support of the board, Tardif decided to apply for the position.

linda at lamama
Linda appeared onstage in La Mama's Marcellus Shale during her time living in New York City. (photo courtesy of Linda Tardif)

"I am the first of hopefully many fulltime staff members," she said, explaining that her crew is, at this point, a stellar group of committed volunteers. Tardif manages the space, does outreach, and handles programming. The board, she said, "wants the theater as busy as possible." It's intended as a community space as well as an arts space, and the bigger shows help support more modest presentations. Tardif lists high school events, music, dance, an art salon, poetry readings, and some comedy. The lobby has local libations on offer on show nights now that they've got a liquor license, also part of making the Shea into a gathering space.

Amid all this, it's important to note that Tardif has by no means left her first love behind. In fact, she noted, she was in a PaintBox Theatre production that was booked into the Shea last summer — and PaintBox will be back at the Shea again this summer, something Tardif is pleased about.

"Selfishly, I want more theater in the space," she said, for projects like this summer's Wizard of Oz by PaintBox.

queen margaret with Linda Tardiff

Asked whether arts administration is a path she plans to stay on, Tardiff is frank. "I don't know yet. It's hard, if you're in the arts, to be able to see off in the distance. But right now, it makes a lot of sense of me. It's appealing to me to have a little more security," she said, and she also thinks that this is a career that will allow her to remain involved in theater as a performer.

That said, she noted that "It's very soul-satisfying" for her to be able to provide space for people's artistic work.

Knowing her career journey, it's not surprising that Tardif has a quick answer when asked what advice she'd give a current student. "Say yes to everything —  even if you can't quite put together the 'why' of the yes. You never want to leave a stone unturned if you're interested."

Linda Tardif appeared with other UMass Theater alumnae in Real Live Theatre's Queen Margaret. (photo courtesy of Linda Tardif)

Updates

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

Four UMass Theater seniors — Miranda Tremblay, James Busker, Evyn Newton, and Mike Smith — road-tripped to the USITT conference together. We're going to try to get them to give us a report in the next issue.

We can’t wait to see her make her debut, but in the meantime, we think these rehearsal clips of Katy Geraghty ’15 in Groundhog Day are pretty great. (For those of you who didn’t know her while she was here, she’s in the second row on the far left, with red, blond-tipped hair.)
http://www.broadway.com/videos/157529/we-have-these-clips-on-repeat-watch-andy-karl-the-cast-of-groundhog-day-perform/

She can’t tell us the name of the movie she’s working on yet, but Stacey Gonillo ’11 is living in Atlanta, GA and diving into the film industry by working as a Physical Asset Assistant. She promises to tell us more about what that entails once the movie’s out in 2018.

Jacob Hellman ‘09 successfully defended his Preliminary Exams (comps) and is now a Ph.D. candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s also working as an elementary school teacher at Madison Jewish Community Day School, creating and teaching his own curricula for social studies and Jewish studies, with theatre as a basis. In December, he led a workshop in devised theatre at the 44th Biennial Alpha Phi Omega National Convention in Pittsburgh, PA.

Our favorite South African expatriate, professor Megan Lewis, has 2 books out and another in the works. Already out is Performing Whitely in the Postcolony, which “offers a timely parable for global whiteness as we enter the Trump era. This study examines how white privilege and power are maintained, and contested, through performance.” Also available is Magnet Theatre: Three Decades of Making Space , a chronicle of Magnet Theatre, the amazing South African company which visited us several years ago. And this spring break, Megan is traveling to South Africa and Botswana to work on her book Staging Wild Africa: Safari and/as Performance, which is, Megan explained, “3-part analysis, {that} will look at the practice of safari through the lens of performance.”
Megan also participated in a panel about teaching controversial topics, a subject on which, as you can guess even if you haven’t met her, she is a bit of an expert: http://dailycollegian.com/2017/02/08/teaching-controversial-issues-professors-talk-strategy-necessity-at-seminar/

Katrina Frances Lewonczyk ’10 let us know that over the summer, she was promoted to Operations Manager at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

Mark O’Malley ’07 wrote to say,  “I am the lighting designer for the band Magnetic Fields' 50 Song Memoir tour, which starts at Union Transfer in Philly this March. The piece was created during residencies at ArtsEmerson, and Mass MoCA , where it premiered this past November. It then transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December as part of The Next Wave Festival.”

Multicultural Theater Certificate Program Director Priscilla Page ‘00G performed in Latinas con Pluma, a Holyoke event celebrating Latina writers and Latina women’s experiences.

Emily Taradash ‘14G is working full time running the Costume Shop at Ocean State Theatre, where she designed costumes for White Christmas and will be designing Little Women and Victor/Victoria later this season. She enjoyed reuniting with fellow alumni Emma Ayres, Brianna Sloane, Elizabeth Pangburn and C. Webster Marsh (as well as many others) on The Water Project back in September.

Send Us Updates!

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