Claudia Maurino ’24

Bringing Dreams to Life on Stage

Claudia Maurino ’24 has produced and directed two plays at the UMass Fringe Fest, including one she wrote herself.

Claudia Maurino '24

Theater and Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies
Commonwealth Honors College

Lenox, MA

What drew you to this field of study?

I grew up in an artistic family—my mom is an actor and director, and my dad is a writer—and theater has basically always been a part of the fabric of my life. As I get older, I feel really lucky that I never have to convince my family that what I do matters. I love theater for many, many reasons. It feels like a field that, in ways you might not expect, combines a lot of different disciplines. There’s physics and construction in the building; there’s history and sociology in dramaturgy; there’s poetry in text; there’s kinesiology when you think about actors’ movement. It’s scientific, it’s mathematic, it’s artistic. And I just love storytelling and the chance to explore particularly high-stakes stories with complicated language and poetry. I like doing that through acting, directing, and writing.

How do you conduct your creative activity?

My two biggest projects undertaken at UMass Amherst have been part of the Fringe Fest in the Department of Theater. In 2022, I co-directed and helped to stage manage, set design, and costume design a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a group of friends. With a cast of 19 people, it was a wild, rollicking, magical story about people falling in love and finding one another and themselves. It’s very funny and large and explosive. This was the first time that Shakespeare had been produced in the UMass Department of Theater in over 10 years, which was great to be a part of. The student response was so enthusiastic that they’re doing another Shakespeare production this year. We also used gender-blind casting in the audition process, which is something I’m very passionate about.  

At the 2023 Fringe Fest, I produced and directed a play, Beatrice’s Dragon: A Tavern Tale, which I wrote in a UMass playwriting course. It’s about three women who work in a restaurant and it starts out very realistic, then takes a turn for the magical and outrageous when one of the women finds a dragon egg and brings it back to the tavern to hatch. This production created opportunities for discussions and explorations around gender and sexuality studies because it is very much a queer story. All the principle characters explore queerness in their journeys. It was meaningful to me, as a queer person, to be able to tell this story with a predominantly queer cast and crew.

What do you see as the impact—or potential impact—of your work?

Here at UMass, I hope the impact of my work has been part of cementing this Fringe Fest as something that will keep coming back year after year. The Fringe has really exploded over the last three years, and it’s been very meaningful to me to be part of carving out this space. I hope that the students who took part in my productions and others will have opportunities to tell their own stories in the future.

How does your mentor support your work?

My mentor is Willow Cohen, managing director in the Department of Theater. She has been a huge part of my experience and process, and someone without whose guidance I couldn’t have put it all together. The Fringe Fest is a place for students to take a lot of risks but within a space that has a safety net. Willow is the embodiment of that safety net for me. She is someone whom I could always email or drop by her office with questions. She is always very calm and unflappable. She also guided me in writing successful grant applications two years in a row from the UMass Arts Council to fund budgets for my productions. This would have been very overwhelming without her guidance, and I know having this experience will be extremely valuable to me in the future in advocating for funding for the arts.

In general, I feel indebted to many faculty and staff in the department, including Julie Fife, Anna-Maria Goossens, Bethany Sherwood, Michael Dubin, and Michael Cottom.

UMass is definitely a place where I feel like wild ideas and crazy dreams are nourished and get to come to life.

Claudia Maurino ‘24

What do you find most exciting about your creative activity?

Because I have spent so much time as an actor, my favorite experience as a director is supporting actors toward moments of discovery early in a production. I love getting to connect with actors and guide them toward tapping into a character and an emotional state. To be present and watch it click in is incredibly gratifying. I’ve had so many incredible teachers and directors over the past 15 years, and I realized I’ve been taking mental notes on everything I’ve learned from them to apply to my own work as a director.

On a different note, it is really delightful to have the chance to do crazy, weird things that I otherwise would never do, often in community with other people. For example, for the production of Beatrice’s Dragon, we worked with the Digital Media Lab to 3-D print a puppet dragon. That was incredible; I learned a little bit about 3-D printing, and collaborated with people in the library I’ve never met before.

At the end of the day, it’s all about community, connecting with people, and telling stories together.  

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of these two experiences producing plays at the Fringe Fest. To have Beatrice’s Dragon, which I wrote, performed in front of a live audience was so terrifying and vulnerable but also so moving and meaningful. Also, the experience of putting on A Midsummer Night's Dream with some of my closest friends and a massive cast—and in less than a month—was amazing. The audience reaction and community outpouring of love is still something that makes me feel so much pride every time I think of it. The energy from this audience of people who didn’t know they could love Shakespeare—it makes me cry every time I watch the videos.  

How has this creative activity enhanced your overall educational experience at UMass?

The opportunity of putting on these plays has absolutely enhanced my education experience and given me the opportunity to take theoretical lessons out of the classroom and put them into a laboratory of experimentation. In the classroom, we study dramaturgy, performance, and design pretty much independently but, of course, the experience of putting on a play combines all of these things every day. It was great to be in a lighting design class while directing Beatrice’s Dragon and know how to speak to the lighting designer with a specific vocabulary that I hadn’t had before.

Likewise, Beatrice’s Dragon came out of a playwriting class taught by a local, nationally recognized playwright, Liz Duffy Adams. She encouraged us to write crazy, un-produceable plays—to write it because we love it. But then to climb out of that place of writing and into the hands-on process of putting on the play in rehearsal, I had to bridge the gap and solve all these problems.  

What are your plans for the future?

After graduating, I plan to pursue theater as professionally as possible. I hope to have the chance to write, act, direct, and to pursue comedy. I hope to embed myself in artists’ communities in the future, much like I have at UMass.

I feel so much more confident and prepared to go out into this world for having done these two productions at UMass. The theoretical world of the classroom is phenomenal, but this is actually doing the work in preparation for a future career. I feel like I now have skills and abilities and the ambition fostered by this experience to know that I want to do this and that I can.

Why would you recommend UMass to a friend?

I have found the community at UMass to be extraordinarily kind and generous. Especially in the arts, I think that is not always a given, but it’s something that is really valuable. All the faculty and staff I have met here have been excited to help students make their dreams and plans a reality. I feel that I have personally been cared for.  

I give tours of the Department of Theater to prospective students, and I often say that you get out what you are willing to put in. I think this is a really positive thing: It means that if you are excited and passionate and ambitious, all you have to do is ask and plan and everyone around you—peers, faculty, and staff—will work together to help make it a reality. UMass is definitely a place where I feel like wild ideas and crazy dreams are nourished and get to come to life. I think this is a really rare, valuable, and wonderful thing. 

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