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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.

September 2011: Contents

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Remarks from the Chair — New faces, and a facelift

Welcome back, everyone!

I hope you’ve had a good summer — whether to you 'good' means ‘restful and relaxing’ or ‘busy and exciting’!

We’re back from our summer projects and gearing up for a great year. The Department of Theater is looking ahead to what I think is a stellar season of challenging and exciting theater.

If you haven’t checked out our season yet, check out our mainstage page— and make plans to use those red alumni passes sometime during the year!


As you can see, our ambitious season includes a play by Marcus Gardley, Hell in High Water. In honor of that play, we have invited Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, who is one of Marcus’s avid supporters, to join us for the opening and to give the Rand Lecture. Molly is an ardent champion of new works and commissioned Every Tongue Confess from Marcus for the company’s inauguration of its Kogod Cradle last year. We are looking forward to hearing what she has to say, and you should definitely mark that day on your calendars: the Rand Lecture, 4 p.m. on Nov. 10 in--where else?--the Rand Theater. It's free and open to all.

Ironically, given the above event, Marcus Gardley is taking a leave to head the undergrad playwriting program at Brown University for the year. In his absence, we are delighted to have performer/playwright Will Power join our faculty. (See Will's bio for details).

That brings me to a number of announcements about old and new faces in the Department of Theater. Last year, we held a successful search for a tenure-track position in dramaturgy, and we are excited to have Dr. Megan Lewis join our faculty this school year. (See Megan's bio for details).

After Cecilia Precciozzi-Chalfin’s retirement, we also held a search for a new costume shop manager, and Kristin Jensen has joined us in that position after a successful career in New York City. (See Kristin's bio for details).

Alumna and lighting designer Margo Caddell ’06 will be joining our faculty for the next two years to teach lighting design and light a number of our shows. (See Margo's bio for details).

Another alumna, Michelle Hendrick, will join us in the spring to teach acting (See Michelle's bio for details). Joining her that semester will be Kara-Lynn Vaeni who’s also teaching acting, and will again be teaching Performance in Shakespeare, as well as organizing the student performances from that class for the Renaissance Festival. (See Kara-Lynn's bio for details).

David Wiggall (aka Mr. Julie Fife to those of you who don’t know him yet), will be with us as a part-time lecturer in sound design (see David's bio for details).

Department general manager Mark Dean is taking a year’s leave of absence. His mother, Dottye Dean, passed away in the spring and he will run the family’s business, the Austin Motel, and carry on his mother’s legacy. Taking the reins from him for the year will be UMass alumna Willow Cohen, who, although not a theater major, stage-managed a big chunk of our shows while she was here (see Willow's bio for details).

Meanwhile, after 35 years, Ted Hodgen has retired as scene shop manager. We wish him the best and we'll be sure to introduce you to his replacement as soon as that person is appointed.

In addition to the people joining us to teach or help run the department, we will have the benefit of being joined by a number of special guest artists this coming year:

We’re really excited to have choreographer Paul Dennis, musical director Andy Lichtenberg, and sound designer Scott McArthur join us again to work on our musical, Urinetown. We’re also thrilled to have Tony Simotes join us this season not to instruct, but to direct: he’s aboard for our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Another fabulous personnel announcement is that public relations director Anna-Maria Goossens will be out doing Mommy Stuff with the newest addition to our department family: Lucille Grace! She was born at 1:03 pm on Auguest 30, and measured in at 21inches, 9 lb and 12 oz.. It's wonderful news and I want to offer my congrats to Anna-Maria and Jim on behalf of the whole department. Welcome, Lucy!


Oh! And one more thing, before I forget...

In my message in July, you might remember some mention of mysterious dust and noise coming from the direction of the Curtain Theater. Well, we’re not quite ready for the big reveal yet, but check out the photos in the slide show below to get a taste of what’s happening.

Stay tuned for announcements about our production of Solstice, which will serve as the official inauguration of the new Curtain Theater.

Until then, have a fantastic start to the school year and a happy fall!


— Penny Remsen, Chair

Slideshow: A peek at the Curtain

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Donor Profile with Patricia Naughton: A Show of Support

Last year, we introduced you to several people who have included the Department of Theater in their yearly charitable activities. We liked having this opportunity to learn a little more about some of the people who support the work we do here, and so we decided to carry on this year. Over the course of the schoolyear, we'll introduce you to four more friends of the Department. We start this year's series with Patricia Naughton, the mother of a recent graduate.


Affiliation: Mother of Thomas Naughton '05

Why do you donate to the UMass Amherst Department of Theater? Actually, coming up to see Tommy in shows is the reason I started contributing to UMass. Well--the theater is so dated! The Rand with all that orange wool? It’s cringe worthy! I knew that my little contribution might not do much, but I’ve been in education for years (I worked at a small Catholic college), and they once told us that if they could get every alum to donate $5 a year, they’d never be in trouble and they would be able to develop an endowment very quickly. I was really grateful for the good experience Tommy had up there at UMass,  so it’s because of that that I started donating.


“I would have given my eye teeth to go to UMass!” says Pat Naughton, who, though the youngest child, was the first in her family to attend college.  Unable to afford what her family  considered the “city-on-the-hill” in Amherst, she ended up at Boston State—a stroke of fate that she feels landed her right to where she was meant to be––after all, it was at Boston State that she would meet her husband.  Pat would go on to pursue a career in education, and is currently the Coordinator of Technical Services at Massasoit College. Years passed before she once again had reason to consider UMass.

Pat’s son, Thomas Naughton, came to at UMass in 2001 as a theater major, a young actor who already knew he was interested in experimental theater. Tom had been acting since grammar school, and Pat saw him through years of rehearsals for performances at their town’s local theaters. Pat says she really began to think about Tom’s potential when he tried out for a production of Into The Woods. “He was really young and he’d had a lot of success getting cast in things, but he said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to get a part, those kids were really good.’ And I thought, this little kid can already really see other people and appreciate their talents? He may go far.”

And of course, he did. Tom went on to have an illustrious and busy career here at UMass, and showed himself to be a gifted and versatile actor. For his first role at UMass he was, literally, the poster boy of Julian Olf’s production of Woyzeck, a production that Pat says impressed and mesmerized her. Another notable role was the lead of Prior Walter in our production of Angels in America. While at UMass, Tom formed close and enriching professional relationships with many of the students and faculty, and Pat--who made the journey from Foxboro,  MA many times to see Tom in shows--was pleased to see him flourish.

Perhaps the most inspiring example of both Pat’s continuing support and Tom’s continuing artistry  is All My Mother’s Diets: How My Family Survived Anorexia, a play written and performed by Tom that premiered this year at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge, MA.

The play, which Tom described as a “love song” to his mother, nonetheless made Pat a little anxious when he first approached her with the idea. “I was nervous about it. First of all, who wants to be the subject of a play? But I said to him,  ‘Ok, listen, it has to be funny to people other than people who have Naughton as their last name.’ He laughed and told me that’s when he knew it was going to be okay, when I cared more about the show than my embarrassment.”

And what about Tom’s choice to pursue a life of theater and use a play to tell his story?
“I give him a lot of credit, because the way I feel about it is that we are who we are. [Tom] wants me to appreciate myself and he wants to be able to love himself at a younger age than I eventually learned to. Do it ahead of time, because it’s worth living for.”


(Photos of Penny Remsen and Patricia Naughton by Jon Crispin.)


Alan Ball ’87 wrote in to tell us that he graduated from Wayne State University in May (“FINALLY!” he says) with an MFA in Acting. He is currently rehearsing Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter's Tale and Tartuffe with the Michigan Shakespeare Festival.

Ruth Countryman ’71 checked in to give us an update of all the goings-on in her life: She married to Dr. John C. Countryman, UMass MA theatre, 1973, (Ph.D, BGSU, 1978) is director of Theatre at Berry College in GA. Her daughter, Sarah, graduated from Berry College in 2010 with a BA in creative writing. Sarah's performance as "Sister Virginia" in John's production of ECLIPSED at Berry College was nominated for an Irene Ryan scholarship at KCACTF in 2008.  “[We] currently have 2 dogs & 4 cats, none of which have been in any productions. I teach middle school reading and language arts in Floyd County, GA, but continue to write historic clothing/pattern books with former UMass prof, Elizabeth Weiss Hopper.  Our third book is at the publisher now.  The first book, published in 2000, is on women's wear of the 1920s, the second book, is on women's wear of the 1930s.  The latest one is about a small trousseau collection from 1933.”

Alum Rob Corddry ’93 has been busy with several new projects. You can catch him in the upcoming comedy  Butter, a satirical look at in middle America, as  seen through the lens of the cut-throat world of butter-carving (it’s scheduled to be released this December).  The Weinstein Company has also announced that Rob will be among the voice  talent joining the studio’s 3-D animated family flick Escape From Planet Earth, along with Sarah Jessica Parker, Brendan Fraser, Jessica Alba, and James Gandolfini.

Chelsea Ives ’05 is happy to report that she just married her fiancé, Sean Kelley (Alum ‘04)

David Korins '99 is heading up production design for An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. The show,  according to press notes, "reunites these Tony Award-winning virtuosos (and lifelong friends) for the first time since Evita. Much more than a concert, this is a unique musical love story told entirely through a masterful selection of the greatest songs ever written for the stage. Funny, passionate, intimate and utterly unforgettable, this is An Evening no fan of musical theatre — or of these two acclaimed performers — can afford to miss." According to the Associated Press, the 63-performance engagement will officially open 11/21/11 and run until 1/13/12.  

Thad Kramer11 told us the good news that he is “recently newly engaged to my fiancé, Cheryl, after a three year long long-distance relationship while I completed my MFA in the department.” Thad was also hired as a Coordinator for Swank Audio Visual the in-house A/V provider at the Loew's Lake Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Steve Pierce ’06  is the Monson Summer Theatre director. After recent roles in Piecemeal at the Majestic Theatre, Little Shop of Horrors with Greene Room Productions, and Willy Wonka with Monson Arts Council, Steve is very excited to be working with this new group. "Bye Bye Birdie" will perform September 10, 11, 16, 17, 2011 at Granite Valley Middle School, Monson. 

According to Deadline.com, Marcia Gay Harden and Bill Pullman '00G will star in TNT's upcoming film, Innocent. Pullman will play Rusty Sabich, who  charged with the murder of his wife.' Based on the novel by Scott Turrow, the story takes place 20 years after the events in bestseller Presumed Innocent. Pullman’s characher, Rusty Sabich and his son come into the limelight after Sabich is charged with the murder of his wife.

Traci Kliner will design lights the world premiere of Sharyn Rothstein's The Invested at the 4th Street Theatre, September 12-24, with an opening on September 14. “This ripped from the headlines new play is about greed, ethics, loyalty and corruption inside one of the most powerful banks in the world. It centers on Catherine Murdoch, the head of wealth management at one of the largest and most powerful banks in the world, who must decide if she should follow her ambitions or her conscience.”

"First-rate, taut, well-acted” and “penetrating" were the words used to describe Sheila Siragusa ‘04’s production of  Crime and Punishment, which she directed at Chester Theater this summer. The show  (adapted by Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus from the novel by Dostoyevsky), received glowing reviews from the Boston Globe. Of this powerful production, the Globe’s Don Aucion said “even guiltless audience members are likely to feel what Porfiry describes as “that cold shiver than never stops.’’

Ben Stanton '99  designed Simon Stephens’ Bluebird, at the Atlantic theater. One reviewer “Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch uses every trick in the book to make the show feel as if it’s moving; the lighting design from Ben Stanton alone can trick the eye into believing, for extended periods of time, that the four centerstage chairs are actually Jimmy’s cab in motion.” Ben is also designing the  Manhattan Theatre Club's world premiere production of We Live Here, by Zoe Kazan. The play will begin previews September 22, and open Wednesday, October 12.

Milk Like Sugar just opened to great reviews from the LA Times and was designed by Justin Townsend ’97. Justin will also be doing the scenic and lighting design for an upcomng show from the San Diego Community Partners, with which, according to Broadwayworld.com, director Lear deBessonet and writer Todd Almond have developed “a new music theater event, Odyssey, in celebration of The Old Globe's 75th anniversary. Commissioned by the Globe, the new work reimagines Homer's epic poem as seen through the lens of contemporary San Diego.”

The Festival Theatre Company announced the world premiere production of Michael Walker's new play Dancing in the Garden, as part of the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival. Michael lives outside of Boston, and is a published poet and the author of dramas, mysteries and thrillers.

A recent article in the New York Times about artist responses to 9/11 mentioned executive producer of the television show “Rescue Me,” Peter Tolan, who attended UMass and counts Prof Emeritus Ed Golden among his mentors. The article comments that “Denis Leary and Peter Tolan looked directly at the post-9/11 lives of firefighters for whom “normal is dead and buried underneath ground zero.”  

June Gaeke, our jet-setting costume designer professor here at the Department, sent us this missive about her recent excursion to Pague:

"About eight years ago I heard about a wondrous Baroque theatre that had been frozen into its time period.  The theatre contained several complete sets, special effects machines, lighting instruments (that held candles) and costumes.  I have longed to see this little gem so when USITT offered a study tour to the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in the Czeck Republic with a side tour to Cesky  Krumlov, home of the theatre, I jumped at the opportunity. The theatre was magical and every bit as wonderful as I had expected.

The rest of the tour of Prague and the time spent at the Prague Quadrennial was also a treat. Fifty-two countries and regions participated each with their own exhibit booth.  UMass was extremely well represented at the USITT/USA /PQ11 exhibit space by our alumnae’s work.  Of the thirty-three productions featured in the USA booth, Justin Townsend was listed as lighting designer of four productions including Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Joseph Papp Public Theatre, New York, New York, Milk-N-Honey, Lightbox at 3LD Art& Technology Center, New York, New York, and Apollo at The Portland Center for the Arts, Portland, Oregon.   Ben Stanton’s lighting design was featured in the production of The Poor Itch at The Joseph Papp Public Theatre, New York, New York, and Troy Hourie, scene designer, designed Waiting for Godot at The Classical Theatre of Harlem, New York, New York.  This was a delightful discovery as I went from design to design!  Congratulations Justin, Ben and Troy!
Other highlights for me included Mexico’s wonderful interactive exhibit with head phones enabling the designers for each production to talk about their production ideas, Spain’s exhibit featuring photo albums of the craftsman working on costumes, set, and lights, and Taiwan’s exhibit of Tsan-Tao Chang ‘s set design for dance made from manipulating bushels of un-husked rice.  There was an Extreme Costume Design exhibit that had many an eye opening costume including a period costume made from row upon row of bullets.

Prague was rich with museums and architecture.  Evidence of the Art Nouveau Movement was everywhere including as decorative elements on buildings, and I learned that the Cubist Movement also extended into architecture and furniture.  I hope that you all will have an opportunity to visit this amazing city and attend the Prague Quadrennial at some point during its four-year cycle."

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