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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.

November 2009 issue — Contents

Click on the title to go directly to the story

 

A visit with Bill Pullman

This summer, we learned that Bill Pullman '80G was to star in David Mamet's Oleanna with Julia Stiles on Broadway. Bill, who has not forgotten the Department as his star has risen in the film and theater worlds, was in touch with chair Penny Remsen. Before we knew it, the casual idea that some students would come see the show grew into a plan to bring a handful of the Department's most promising actors and stage managers to New York for an intensive weekend that included meetings with top theater professionals, behind-the-scenes opportunities, and top-quality theater.

Visit our Bill Pullman page for recollections, photos, and more.

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Milosevic at the Hague — in Serbia

Milan Dragicevich: As I glance across the two weeks in Serbia, it is difficult to describe this amazing journey. Every day was an adventure...

This fall, Professor Milan Dragicevich and a company that included UMass students and alumni journeyed to Serbia to present Milan's piece, Milosevic at the Hague, at a theater festival there. The piece wound up winning an award and the participants described the experience as life-changing.

Visit our Milosevic page for recollections, photos, and more.

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Profile: Dora Arreola in Poland

About 20 years ago, Dora Arreola ‘09G traveled to Italy to study with Jerzy Grotowski, the world-renowned innovator in experimental theater. Her studies there left a profound mark on her as an artist, influencing her work in the Department of Theater, where she recently received an MFA in directing. With the ink barely dry on her diploma, Arreola traveled to Poland this summer to revisit her work with Grotowski during a festival marking the tenth anniversary of his passing. Now, Arreola is back at UMass sharing her expertise with the women of the Graduate Student Senate before returning to Europe for more workshops.

When Arreola studied with him, Grotowski was interested in theater as ritual, and a lot of the work she did in Italy revolved around physical training, routines, and movement. As a result of this training, while she was at UMass Amherst, Arreola taught workshops using some of Grotowski’s methods to help empower young women. It was also a big part of her thesis paper, written about last fall’s production of The Imaginary Invalid, which she directed.  She used rituals connected to Commedia dell’Arte, hunting, and death to help the actors develop their roles. Arreola says it was extremely rewarding to go back to her theater roots at the end of her UMass experience, and reflects that her work in the department certainly “opened up roads,” in the Pioneer Valley and beyond.

After graduating and going to the, festival, she attended the international seminar Meetings with Remarkable Women for five days in August, where she taught a workshop called Objective Drama Project and Art as Vehicle. The group did 6 hours of training a day in movement, dance, and song, then spent 8 hours in rehearsal. Afterwards, there was a brief festival at which each of the workshop leaders (Rena Mirecka, Iben Nagel, Katharina Seyferth, Ang Gey Pin and Arreola) showed some work. Arreola said the whole experience helped her clarify “what I’m doing in the theater, and who I am as an artist.”

Over the course of the next few months, Arreola will be sharing her expertise in Kosovo, Poland, and Madrid, Spain before returning to UMass as part of 1905, a project in which she says she’s honored to be involved.  After that, she plans more workshops abroad.

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Frank Brault returns to finish his degree

Frank Brault left UMass before finishing his graduate degree in lighting design 18 years ago. After a few years of professional design work, he ended up on the other side of the table, creating computer programs that have become the industry standard in the field — programs UMass Theater faculty use in their classrooms. Now, he's bringing that experience back to UMass for a project that will help him complete his degree, as well as offer faculty here and around the world the benefits of his years of industry experience.

After leaving UMass, he designed performance spaces for a few years before going to work with Netmeschek where he was key in developing Vectorworks for use by lighting designers. Now Brault works training designers of all kinds—for theater, homes, landscaping—to use Vectorworks.

Brault has developed an exciting new curriculum for teaching Vectorworks. The program is used for drafting, technical drawing, and 3-D modeling, and is the industry-standard for theater designers.  Still, Brault says, most design professors don’t teach the software as effectively as they could.  His curriculum is designed to change this reality.  He also hopes to make lessons available online through the UMass website so that professors across the country can use them free of charge. 

Through his work, he’s discovered that most designers learn to design first, and then learn the software as an afterthought.  They learn how to work all of the tools in the program, but never learn how to use them to make a design from scratch.  They end up designing on paper and then transferring their designs into the program.  He calls this “parallel play,”—that is, the program is working alongside design.  What he wants is an onion, where the design and the software are layered on top of each other to work together more efficiently.

Brault points out that there are innumerable benefits to designing digitally.  A designer who works on paper always starts with a blank sheet and a pencil.  The designer who works digitally has the blank page, but also has anything—from a chair to an entire theater—that he or she has drafted before.  When the designer wants to edit a design, he can start with the previous draft and delete or add things, whereas on paper, he or she would start over with another blank page.  A digital design can also be copied more easily and identically.  It’s easier to transfer things from flat images to 3-D renderings and back.  It’s also easier to share a design with anyone, anywhere.

When he left UMass years ago, Brault never expected to find his way back.  It’s certainly an odd yet wonderful quirk of fate that led him to Nemetschek, to teaching, and then back to UMass to share his expertise with a new generation of grad students. 

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Traci Klainer steps in for her mentor

Seventeen years ago, as an undergraduate at Smith College, Traci Klainer, took a lighting class at UMass Amherst because “someone told her she should.”  Studying under Professor Penny Remsen, Klainer fell in love with lighting design. After graduation, she gave up her pesky law school dream to become a professional lighting designer.  Since then she’s had considerable success in the industry and started her own company.

This year, she’s back at UMass to teach the same class that changed her life.

Now based in New York, Klainer, a lighting designer and partner at Luce Group, joined the UMass Amherst Department of Theater this fall as a guest lecturer. She turned to teaching, she said, in order to share her passion for lighting design with other people.  Her class is designed to teach lighting design, but Klainer also makes it a priority to stress the real-world challenges facing lighting designers. 

Klainer has designed lights for theaters around the world including the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, Hartford Stage in Connecticut, and Udder Belly Theatre in Scotland.  She remembers a time when success like this seemed all but impossible.  The first few years out of school were overwhelming. She found herself facing challenges for which she felt completely unprepared.

As a teacher, her goal is to keep her students from having a similar experience.  “I want to be honest and help students make the adjustment into the real world,” she says.  With this in mind, she pairs the paper projects and lighting design labs typical of college courses with visits to New York and to showrooms for lighting equipment.  She also creates opportunities for students to assist each other. Ultimately, her goal is to provide as much real world experience as she can in the classroom setting.

While Klainer jokes that she was bound to end up a teacher because she’s a big talker, she does seriously note that after nearly ten years assisting lighting designers, she learned the importance of having a great teacher.  She remembers working with people who took the time to teach her, and how much their guidance was appreciated.  “Theater is so collaborative,” she says, and an important part of collaboration is sharing knowledge.  She says, “I love what I do, and I want to bring the passion that I have to other people.”

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Updates

Ah, our alumni and friends: Busy, busy people. Let's get to some updates, shall we?

Lián Amaris '02 sent news of a project she's working on in New York in December, Swimming to Spalding. Directed by Richard Schechner (founding director of The Performance Group and East Coast Artists), performance artist Lián goes in search of Spalding Gray's "perfect moment" by following the map of experience described in Gray's masterpiece Swimming to Cambodia, nearly a generation later.… She writes: "In the monologue, I talk about my Intro to Theater course (taught by Julian Olf) where I first learned about Spalding Gray for our final project on 'performance art.' That semester, Spalding did one of his monologues at the Jones Library and it changed everything." When he received news of the project, Julianchimed in to let us know about a cool coming-full-circle element to the piece, which is that Lián, who was a student of his, is being directed by a former professor of his (Schechner). Also noteworthy: Melissa Mizell '01 is listed among the collaborators as lighting designer.

Alan Ball '87 writes that after 20+ years in the business, (based in Chicago,) he's back in school to pursue his MFA in Acting at Wayne State University, in Detroit. He's currently in rehearsal as Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream, El Gallo in The Fantasticks and Sorin in The Seagull.

Naomi Bennett '01 performed dance, acrobatics, and puppetry with And So No Sin Performance Troupe... at Juddertone in November. "Juddertone artists," she explains, "are chosen each year from a national pool of applicants and are blind-matched to develop new works during a 6-month incubation period."

Anne Cheney '87 writes, "After working as Lighting Director for Circle Rep and while working as an Associate Lighting Designer for Ken Billington, I made the shift from Theater to Architecture. It all started when Ken told me that John McKernon (the creator of Lightwright) was going to teach me about architectural lighting and that I was going to assist him on a gay night club in Chelsea called G Bar. Thirteen years later G Bar is still open and I am still lighting architecture. Most recently I have worked on the Empire State Building's Visitors Center, the Grand Hyatt NY Ballroom, The Louis Armstrong Museum, the first "Green" public school in NYC, and a bunch of government projects that I am not allowed totalk about. On June 26th, I passed the Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) exam and can now add LEED AP to the trail of acronyms after my name.

Jason Czernich '00 started a new writing project. It's called "A Man Finally Eats His Veggies: A Meatless Year" and can be found at http://ameatlessyear.blogspot.com/ "I know, not really theater, but it still does fall under the arts," he writes.

Jacob Hellman '09 sends "Greetings from Israel." He's gotten his name out there in the theater community and was mentioned on a blog and in a recent newspaper article.
Jerusalem Post article
MASA profile

Joan Jubett '91 will be directing the opera/musical "Burt Dow: Deep Water Man" (based on
the Robert McCloskey story) at Stonington Opera House located on Deer
Isle, Maine over July 4.

Laurie Naughton Okin '94 (formerly Ciarametaro) may be a mom of her first child, a girl,by the time you read this. She remembers the department fondly, how it was "one big family," recalling a time when, seeing her looking exhausted, her advisor kindly plied her with coffee and conversation to pep her up. Nowadays, she is making her living acting in commercials, with occasional TV roles (most recently, on the shows Samantha Who? and My Own Worst Enemy). She writes: “Currently I have a campaign going for Shell gasolines.  I am also very active in theater, and just finished a run of Proof (playing Claire) at the Sierra Madre Playhouse.  Last year I starred in the Laguna Playhouse's world premier of Catherine Butterfield's Brownstone (a Lort B production).”  

Professor Emeritus Julian Olf recently learned that there is an extended discussion of his approach to teaching text analysis, in a new book by Geoffrey Proehl, with D.D. Kugler, Mark Lamos and Michael Lupu.  The book is Toward a Dramaturgical Sensibility, published last year by Fairleigh Dickenson University Press.

Russell Reinke '90 sends what may be one of the funnier updates/reminiscences we've received. He is "partnered to Robert Spiller (a southern man but we won't hold that against him) since 1995." He moved to Florida in 1992.  "Being true to my actor self and 'the craft,' I immediately became  waiter for TGIFriday's. After moving to Planet Hollywood and Legal Seafoods, I settled down with Red  Lobster. I currently work in the Guest Relations department for Darden Restaurants, and I also have a part time job with Apple in one of their retail stores. I dabble in writing children's stories, digital photography and way too much TV." Thinking back on his time in the department, he recalls a 1989 production of The Merchant of Venice. "'Steal the piano, steal the piano, steal the piiiiiiiaaano, steal the piano,' sung to the Flight of the Valkyries.  Never let actors become prop movers if you don't want your Shakespeare ad libbed… Having to open the show by walking on stage and stripping down to a speedo followed by a kiss with another man. During the high school matinee performance this was followed by a girl in the audience with a VERY Jersey accent stating loudly, 'Oh my God!  They're GAY!'"

Monica Saviolakis '98 is married to Andy Saviolakis, and is the mother of daughters Sophia (3) and Mia (2), and owner of dog Remy. She writes that she is "balancing life: working full time, and raising my 2 beautiful daughters with my wonderful husband!"

"I thought it was about time I checked in with what's new," writes Professor Emerita Virginia Scott. "In late 2008, I published with Connie Congdon '80G a Norton Critical Edition of Tartuffe, her verse version based on my translation with lots of extra features. In 2009, I spent four months in Europe, mostly in Paris, but I traveled to Lisbon and Florence to read papers at conferences of the International Federation for Theatre Research and Theatre Across Borders." In November, she read a paper in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the ASTR and in April of 2011, she'll present yet one more paper in Venice at the Renaissance Society conference. The final draft of her new book is off to Cambridge University Press. Titled Women on the Stage in Early Modern France, it should be published in 2010. "In between, I've been back and forth to California and Montana, with quick trips to NY to keep in touch with my children and five grandchildren. This fall, I will be teaching a graduate seminar in Molière and the French Theatre of the Seventeenth Century at Tufts. Good thing I'm retired," she adds.

Megan Smithling '03G welcomed her first child into the world in late January. "Liam is 7 months old and a bundle of energy," she wrote. "After talking some time off to be a mom, I'll be returning to school this fall for a Masters in Library and Information Science at the University of Washington, focusing on arts librarianship and archiving."

Alan White '94 is a member of a new company, New Urban Theatre Laboratory, in Boston (facebook). The group held a fundraiser in October showcasing works by local playwrights and artists.

Meghan Wolf is playing shows in support of her album, Theory of Gravity. You can learn more about her at www.myspace.com/megwolfmusic or go to her official webpage www.meghanwolfmusic.com.

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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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