Stages: February 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Click on the title to go directly to the story
- Remarks from the Chair: Inspiring place, inspiring women
- Slideshow:The Curtain is done!
- Ronni Marshak '71: Success on and off stage
- Dawn Monique Williams: An alumna wins a prestigious Drama League Fellowship
- Greg Hoyt — Moving from commercial success to a future in film
Remarks from the Chair — Inspiring place, inspiring women
Hello everyone —
Here we are, barreling head-on into the spring semester already!
Before we leave Fall 2011 completely behind us, however, I want to draw your attention to two wonderful events that happened this fall.
The first is the completion of the renovation of the Curtain Theater.
We celebrated this momentous occasion, which has been several years in the making, with an official dedication during the run of Miguel Romero's enchanting puppetry piece, Solstice. That night, those of us who had worked in the theater for years could scarcely recognize it.
This renovation is spectacular and has brought the theater back to its original intended use as a truly flexible performance space.
The old, substandard lighting grid was replaced with a state-of-the-art wire-tension grid complete with all new lighting positions, electrical raceways, and circuits. The permanent seating risers and stair units were replaced with an attractive flexible seating system, allowing the Department to alter the space more effectively for each production.
In addition, several of the mezzanine walls were removed to add even more flexibility and excitement to the space. The new performance space maintains its current maximum capacity of nearly 100 patrons, but now meets all building codes and conditions. (If you're interested to see the theater transformation, please check out the full slide show below. )
It is a major accomplishment for our department — and we owe it all tothe three incredible people lifting their glasses with us in the photo above: Julie C. Hayes, Dean of the College of Humanities & Fine Arts; James V. Staros, Provost & Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; and Joel W. Martin, Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Dean of the Faculty. Jim, Joel, and Julie are tireless in their support of the department. They understand that the theater is our classroom, and that our students need to work in a space that is safe and outfitted with up-to-date, state-of-the-art equipment. We are fortunate that through them, the university has taken a real interest in what we do and is starting to recognize us in a way it hasn't for a while.
The other significant event of the fall season was a visit by Molly Smith, artistic director of Washington DC's Arena Stage, to deliver the Rand Lecture. The speech was timed to coincide with the opening of faculty member Marcus Gardley's new play Hell In High Water. Marcus is an artist who has enjoyed Molly's support, with his every tongue confess inaugurating Arena's new Kogod Cradle space last year.
Molly was truly inspiring; her speech resonated with us all. Here's an excerpt:
Several months ago I was talking to Edward Albee and he said he wanted to 'be of use' as a playwright and I began thinking about what it means to have a useful life in the theater. The dictionary defines useful as "Capable of being put to use; especially: serviceable for an end or purpose. Of a valuable or productive kind."
My focus in the theater over the past 30 years has been as a director and an artistic director. I have been a founder of a theater and I have stepped into the role of artistic director of a historic theater. I have had successes and I have had failures. I have been useful and I have been useless. I have had a big life and some days I have lived in just the tiny details. …
You have something that many people would like to possess…a fire in the belly. This fire in the belly is about your passion, your chosen field of work. It's up to you to protect the fire from all comers, to hold it in your guts—because those dreams you have today is what will get you up out of bed in the morning -- it's what will take you through the difficult days as you pursue your lifelong goals. It's what will allow you to be useful. When I spoke to the graduate students yesterday, I was struck by the big ideas you have for the future, and your focus in following these ideas and making them real. It was clear you want to be speaking to this moment in America. In the theater, if we aren't speaking to the moment, then what is our purpose—and god knows, there is a lot to speak about right now. …
Yes, theater is a risky business. This is a field where you are constantly moving from success to failure; good reviews to bad; employment to unemployment. It's a constant challenge, but these changes – the ebbs and flows – force us to stay ahead of the curve. You just have to be certain that you keep those ideas and dreams moving forward, and keep striving to be useful. We're useful when we really listen to our collaborators. We are useful when we bring our best selves into the rehearsal hall. We are useful when we leave our egos at the door.
Finally and on a different note, before I sign off, I want to take a moment to single out for recognition the achievement of one of our illustrious emeriti. Professor Emerita Virginia Scott's Women on the Stage in Early Modern France won the 2011 Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History. This prize is funded by the University of Illinois in honor of the late Professor Hewitt, and administered by the American Society for Theatre Research. It was awarded at the Annual Meeting of ASTR in Montréal. This is one of two awards given every year in the US for a work in theatre studies. The other is the George Freedley Award, which she won in 1991 for my book on the Commedia dell'arte in Paris. Virginia made a short speech which included the following comment:
Several months ago I encountered in the New York Times Sunday Book Review a reviewer who accused the author of 'practicing history without a license.' That got me thinking about what constitutes a license to practice history. Not the PhD--that's just the learner's permit--but maybe it's the book revised from the dissertation, or maybe the first few articles in peer-reviewed journals, or a fellowship from the NEH or the Guggenheim Foundation. But the thing is, every license--like all licenses--has to be renewed. Another book, more articles, another grant here, another fellowship there, all forms of renewal. The Hewitt Award? A very important renewal, for which I am deeply grateful and which I hope will last me out. In any case, I'm still practising.
Virginia sent us a photo of herself at the ceremony. The person to her left is Dorothy Chansky, the Director of Awards, and the person to the right is Catherine Schuler, Chair of the Hewitt Award Committee:
— Penny Remsen, Chair
Slideshow: The Curtain Theater, before, during, and after!!
These photos by Jon Crispin track the changes in the Curtain Theater over the months of construction that took place there. Note the new flexible seating, tension wire grid and removed mezzanine walls.
Ronni Marshak '71: Success On and Off Stage
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. This issue, we're pleased to introduce you to Ronni Marshak '71.
Graduating Year: 1971
Favorite UMass Theater memory: During my senior year at UMass, Don Nigro, who's still doing well as a playwright, wrote a play called Seascape With Sharks and Dancer. Well, I remember once in conversation that Don and I were sitting around with a bunch of our friends talking about who we had crushes on when we were little. I told him that my first crush ever was Mighty Mouse—that tenor voice! The way he was always saving all of those people! I mean, really! I told Don that Mighty Mouse remained my hero—until it became Dick Cavett. Later that year, I was watching two friends of mine in a performance of Seascape, when all of a sudden I hear the female lead say, "Well I had a crush on Mighty Mouse…Until I fell in love with Dick Cavett."
Since the play was being performed in the round, I looked up to see Don smiling right at me from across the space, and I just thought, I am immortalized!
Why do you donate to the Department of Theater? I donate to UMass because I felt I got a really good theater education there. I know the arts are always underfunded, and though I don't have much to give, I figured—might as well! I know how much every little bit helps.
When Ronni Marshak was at UMass, it was undergoing so much growth and development that a posted sign outside the still-in-process library read, "the shortest distance between two points is undoubtedly under construction." In the days of the Department before there was a Rand Theater, Marshak worked on a production of Macbeth that changed the way she thought about theater.
"The show was set in a time of pre-metal—everything was made from stone and bone. The set was made of platforms hung from airline cable. In the opening of the show, we even had a bonfire in the middle of the stage. And we all wore burlap." Burlap, as it turns out, that was designed by June Gaeke in one of her first years in the Department. "I worked in the costume shop," says Marshak, "and it was my job to pull every third string in the burlap for textural interest! It was all just an incredible experience." Marshak says that being a part of such a concept-based production helped her re-imagine how work could be presented on the stage. In her tenure at UMass, Marshak acted in a diverse range of productions, from plays from the Ibsen canon to the adventurous Woyzeck.
While at UMass, Marshak formed a close relationship with the late Professor Harry Mahnken, with whom she studied directing and performance. She credits him for the confidence to put pride aside and do whatever it takes to inhabit a character: "Once we were doing a scene and he said, 'Ronni, Ronni, you're giving me too much Mae West —I need some Rabelais!'"
After UMass, Marshak's career path took several unexpected turns. She went to Katharine Gibbs secretarial school, and because she loved the college environment, ended up working for the Assistant Dean of Students for the College of Pharmacy at Northeastern University. While at Northeastern she discovered a talent for working with students and went on to get a Master's degree in academic counseling.
From there she worked several government jobs, but ultimately ended up applying for a job with Patricia Seybold, a business and technology consultant. When she applied, Seybold implied that Marshak was over-qualified and "wouldn't be happy working here as just a secretary," to which Marshak replied, "Just-a is not an adjective, and if it were, it wouldn't modify secretary." Needless to say, Marshak was immediately hired, and she has worked her way up to the position of executive vice president of the company that has employed her for thirty years.
In addition to writing articles that have appeared in such widely-read publications as Fortune, Marshak has co-authored several books with Seybold, and travels around the world as speaker and consultant—in fact, she recently gave a speech at the Adobe Max Conference in California.
"I always wanted to be a director. At my wedding, Patty [Seybold] came up to me and said, 'I want you to be a director of our new company,' and I looked up and said, thanks God! Thanks--but that's the wrong kind of director!"
In the end, though, Marshak has not had to choose. In addition to her work with Seybold, Marshak has become a leader of her local theater community. After playing just about every Gilbert and Sullivan contralto in the region, she said she was dissatisfied with directors whose only direction to chorus members was to "just clump over there," and who were not considerate of the actors' time. After working extensively with the MIT Community Players, they asked her to direct a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, and gave Marshak the opportunity to be the kind of director she believed in, the kind of director who came prepared with a (flexibly) blocked script, and was sure to give each of her actor's individual direction. Marshak made directing her focus, and from musicals, she went on to direct straight plays. She directs yearly for the Playwright's Platform, a non-profit cooperative of Boston-area playwrights, directors, and actors, dedicated to developing new plays, where she won Best Director two years running.
She is also very involved with Waltham's Hovey Players, where she is both a member of the board as well as a director. Last spring, in fact, Marshak directed Private Lives—a successful production that garnered attention from the Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theaters DASH Awards: her lead won best actress, they were nominated for best ensemble, and won awards for best costume design and fight choreography.
Marshak, who says she "loves her life," continues to divide her time and passion between her work with Seybold and her work on the stage.
— by Caitlin McLaughlin
Dawn Monique Williams: An alumna wins a prestigious Drama League Fellowship
The Drama League Fellowship
Among the many endeavors pursued by the New York-based Drama League is the Directors Project, a series of programs meant to give up and coming directors opportunities to work with mentors and develop as artists in their own right. The University of Massachusetts Department of Theater now counts two of its own among the Project's alumni: professor Gilbert McCauley participated as a newly-minted MFA in 1985, and this past semester, Dawn Monique Williams was among the directors.
On its website, the Drama League describes the Directors Project as "the country's leading career development program for early and mid-career directors." The Directors Project actually consists of 5 different programs, with the Fall Fellowship, the one in which McCauley and Williams participated, being "the most coveted," Williams said.
"Four of us were selected out of over 100 applicants," she said. Once in the program, participants typically assistant-direct two productions, one in New York and one regionally, although in Williams' case, both ended up being regional productions, one in Hartford and one at Shakespeare & Company. It was a coincidence, but a happy one. Williams explained that she is a single parent to her daughter, Jordyn, and being a commutable distance from their Amherst home for much of the fellowship's run eased some logistical challenges.
At the end of the fall, the Fellowship participants go on to direct a one-act piece in a showcase with the other Fellows. Throughout the semester, they also have opportunities to work with mentors, network with people in the business, and see other works. (Dawn goes into detail about all facets of her experience in the story below, so keep reading.)
The Directors Project is a boon to its participants, providing not only a valuable learning experience at the time but hooking them into a supportive network of theater artists.
Gilbert McCauley still remembers his time in the Director's Project fondly. "Just out of graduate school in 1985 I had the opportunity to participate in Drama League's Directors Project" he wrote. "It was just the second year of the program. Then, like now, they selected four directors to take part in the program after intensive interviews in New York. Because of that program I got to be at Playwright's Horizon where Andre Bishop was then Artistic Director and work on a new play with George C. Wolfe and watch Garland Wright direct, then go to Seattle Rep and assist Daniel Sullivan on a show and connect with dynamic and productive theatre folk all over the country."
Williams had heard of the program before she came to UMass Amherst but she'd dismissed the possibility of ever participating.
"Oh, I have a kid, I'll never be able to do this," she said.
McCauley, however, had a different opinion. "He said, 'Nope, you're gonna do this. Gil was insistent.'" Williams said.
McCauley is occasionally contacted by the Drama League asking if he has any potential candidates, and thought Williams would be an ideal fit. "I thought Dawn could really benefit from being in a situation like the Directors Project because of her extremely proactive pursuit of the opportunity and because of the combination of openness and tenacity that she displayed as a student in the MFA program," he wrote. "The show she did in New York to cap the experience was a testament to her ongoing growth as artist and her hard work."
For more on the Drama League Directors Project, visit the website.
Dawn Monique Wiliams tells her story
Elsewhere in this edition of Stages, Anna-Maria Goossens gave you some of the nuts and bolts of the Drama League Directors Project. I am going to report on my life in the trenches. As one of the four newly minted Drama League Directors Project alums, I wrote a story 'bout it, "like to hear it? Here it go!"
May 13: I finished my MFA in Directing.
May 17: I arrived in New York City for "Wonder Week." For what is now handsomely dubbed Professionals Week, eight Drama League Directing fellows from three of the Directors Projects programs (there are five programs total for 10 fellows) come together for a week of meet and greets, lunches, dinners, shows, camaraderie, and spiel practicing. We attended the Drama League's annual awards luncheon where I shook hands with Cherry Jones, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, Mark Rylance, Victoria Clark and breathed heavily on Daniel Radcliffe, Chris Rock, James Earl Jones and so many others. I am still in a daze from all the amazing and gracious people we met and the whirlwind of activity.
May 17: I arrived in New York City for "Wonder Week."
For what is now handsomely dubbed Professionals Week, eight Drama League Directing fellows from three of the Directors Projects programs (there are five programs total for 10 fellows) come together for a week of meet and greets, lunches, dinners, shows, camaraderie, and spiel practicing. We attended the Drama League's annual awards luncheon where I shook hands with Cherry Jones, John Leguizamo, Judith Light, Mark Rylance, Victoria Clark and breathed heavily on Daniel Radcliffe, Chris Rock, James Earl Jones and so many others. I am still in a daze from all the amazing and gracious people we met and the whirlwind of activity.
May 24: I began the first fellowship assignment, assisting Daniela Varon on Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare & Co in Lenox, MA. This was the first time a current Drama League Fellow had assisted there, and now the Drama League's Classical Directing for a Director of Color program will be in residence on the Shakes & Co. campus.
July 15: Romeo and Juliet opened. Fun fact: while assisting Varon, I was also directing a production of The Winter's Tale in Amherst that opened July 6. Don't ask me how I did it…but it got done.
August 17: I arrived back in NYC for the Fall Fellows directing retreat. Our first two days were spent in the city and then we journeyed to Stumps Sprouts retreat lodge in the eastern Berkshires of Massachusetts. We spent 20 hours actively working with actors and Shaw aficionado David Staller on a combination of Shaw and Shakespeare set against a backdrop of vivid green mountains and romantic sunsets. It was truly a gift to have the time and the talented actors to play with, but for me the biggest lesson learned came in that last thirty minutes spent with Artistic Director Roger Danforth and Staller.
In this business, you have to LOVE who you are. To be an artist is an audacious act: I must move forward believing that my unique experience of and in this world can and will be of value to others. And despite what names I am called, what others try to add to or take away from me, I have a story to tell. Only I can tell it, and must do so with honesty and compassion.
September 15: It was the script deadline for DirectorFest 2011. I chose Lisa D'Amour's My California. It is the perfect fit for my taste: poetic, interwoven dialogue, non-linear, musical, and magic. I love it.
September 20: I began the second fellowship assignment assisting Davis McCallum on Water By the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes at Hartford Stage in CT.
September 21: My master's degree was conferred. I finished grad school in May, but with the fellowship starting right away, I was unable to defend my thesis until August. Then the Grad School has to scour the thing to make sure the formatting and such is all in order, so while school had been out for a while, I had to wait for the official #gurlyoudonegetajob email.
October 28: Water By the Spoonful opened. Fun fact: on September 28, my daughter Jordyn had her 10th birthday. WHAT?
November 17: We are in casting for DirectorFest. I'd never worked with a casting director. I loved that there was someone who heard what I was looking for and brought me several options to choose from. Revisiting the script almost daily, I fell more and more in love with the play.
November 28: We held our first production meeting for DirectorFest, and then two days later, Jordyn and I packed up for our 2 week stay in the Big Bad Apple. WOW! At this meeting I met UMass alumna Melissa Mizell for the first time. She would be working on DirectorFest as the lighting designer. Small world.
December 1: We had our first rehearsal for DirectorFest. This show very quickly became an incredibly personal story for me. It was thrilling to bring it to life with these breath-taking actors, Kate Hare (UMass '11), Kelly McAndrew, and Kari Nicolle. I am a native Californian from the San Francisco Bay Area (where My California starts), and I have only been away from home for 3 years and some months to complete grad school. I related to the character Ashley in My California, homesick for this idealized Cali that I am trying to make it back to.
December 7: We were halfway there. Actors' day off and dry tech. I arrived in NYC only a week earlier, and after months of rehearsals in which I was supporting the work of someone else, it felt amazing to wrestle with a text and collaborate with actors on something that I chose. The ladies were all gracious, gorgeous, uber talented, and above all, committed whole hog to the story. At least three times a day, they gave me the chills. Everything else (and there is a lot of everything else in my life) simply faded to the background. It was fabulous to work with so many women in the theater. Our design team was mostly women, and my stage manager, C. Renee Harris-Alexander, kept it 100% all the time. As a veteran of the theater and a black woman, she became quite a mentor.
December 10: It was opening night of DirectorFest. Just think prom night – best case scenario.
December 13: DirectorFest closed. During the run, Chair Penny Remsen and faculty members Gil McCauley and Marcus Gardley made it out to see the show. I met Lisa D'Amour in the flesh; Davis McCallum and a slew of other DL alum turned out to support our work. Bunches of UMass friends came, as did a former professor and college friends from California. It was truly the closest thing I'll ever get to a cotillion. I loved EVERY minute of it.
December 14: We attended a farewell dinner with Roger and other fall fellows following our theater outing to Chinglish, designed by UMass alumnus David Korins '99.
Today: I know that the rest is up to me; to go out in the world and make the art I am passionate about with people who inspire me, who I believe in, trust, and admire. IT IS SCARY, but I am ready, and so grateful for the time, investment, and resources of Roger Danforth, Gabriel Shanks, and the Drama League. The camaraderie and support of the other fellows (fall, summer, musical, classical, present and past) has been terrific.
If you want all the juice, you can read the blog at http://dramaleague.org/fall/.
— by Dawn Monique Williams
Greg Hoyt — Moving from commercial success to a future in film
Among the things Clint Eastwood is known for as a director is that he doesn’t call “Action” to start a scene; rather, the set goes quiet and whoever’s got the first line in the scene starts things off.
Put yourself in Greg Hoyt ’01’s shoes, for a minute then, and imagine what it must’ve been like for him on the set of J. Edgar. It’s his first film, he’s working with a director he’s admired for years, and he’s just realized that, “Oh s___, I’m the first line!”
Hoyt laughed as he recounts his momentary panic, but then goes on to say that impressive though the experience was, he didn’t stay nervous for long.
“The set was so quiet, professional and efficient — it was an environment that made you feel at ease,” he said.
Hoyt has a small role in the film as an FBI Agent assisting during the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping. It’s his first role in a film, but Hoyt’s been supporting himself as an actor in Los Angeles for years, making a good living doing commercials, some voice-over, and television parts. (Visit his website to see his resumé and more.
"As an actor, you want as many revenue streams flowing as possible,” he said.
As pragmatic as he sounded, though, it was obvious from his enthusiastic recounting of some of his experiences that really, he’s in the business because he loves it.
When Hoyt graduated from UMass with his BA in theater, he knew he wanted to head to LA. First, however, he moved back to eastern Massachusetts, where he worked in construction and painting to build up his bank account.
He also had a stint on the lighting crew at the North Shore Music Theater. He tips his hat to Penny Remsen’s lighting design class and, more generally, to the liberal-arts, some-of-everything, make-your-own-opportunities approach the department takes to theater for making that possible.
On the west coast
In 2002, he moved to LA, “where I didn’t know anybody or anything,” he said.
He had a plan, though.
“I started a house-painting company. I was on my own, so I needed to find a way to make rent,” he explained. In addition to giving him a steady income, the work offered him flexible hours so that he could make auditions more easily, as well as a bargaining chip to pursue: When Hoyt wanted to attend acting classes he couldn’t afford, he was often able to barter his painting skills for admission to the classes. He knows others who have done the same with bookkeeping or computer savvy, and having a skill in your pocket has become one of his top pieces of advice to other young actors looking to make a go of it.
“Sometimes, it doesn’t happen in one night — what’re you going to do to save money?” he asked. “If I’d given it a year — well, I was still finding my way around LA. I didn’t even get an (acting) job for two years.”
Thanks to the painting business, he said, “I was able to stay in the game. I’ve never missed an audition.”
Through classes — acting on camera, commercials, and improv were some of the techniques he worked on — he made the connections that led to his first commercial, for ESPN. It was the first of about 45 he’s done now, for companies like Bud Lite, Southwest Airlines, Microsoft, Axe, and many others.
“For the past five years, I’ve made a living as an actor,” he says. “Commercials have been a huge blessing in my life.”
There used to be a stigma attached to doing them, he acknowledged, but he doesn’t think it exists anymore, and moreover, that they’ve helped him tremendously in his career.
“I have a lot of experience on sets, on camera, in high-pressure situations, and as I start to do more TV and film, that experience is very valuable… It built a lot of confidence. I would argue that I would not have gotten the Clint Eastwood film (without it),” he said. He’s now beginning to move into TV appearances, taking guest roles on series that he hopes will eventually lead to series regular roles.
His involvement with J. Edgar is almost a year old now. He was in Amesbury visiting his family (including his mom, who was the high school drama teacher of Jeffrey Donovan ’91 — who played RFK in J. Edgar), when he got a call from his agent that he had an audition coming up.
He received 6 different scenes, all with FBI agent roles. Back in LA, he headed to Warner Brothers and read for casting director Fiona Weir, who does a lot of work for Eastwood’s Malpaso Films.
He didn’t hear anything for three weeks, then learned that he’d been placed on hold for all of February — but he still didn’t know what role he’d gotten. Then, he got a call that he’d be needed later in the week, leading to a flurry of activity as he got a haircut and was fitted for a suit designed to give him a period look.
“I got the script the night before (shooting). Everything was redacted except my lines and the set-up,” Hoyt said.
He made an educated guess that his scene revolved around the investigation of the disappearance of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, boned up on the basic facts of the case, and headed to the set the next day.
He admitted to nerves not only because it was his first film role, but because “Clint Eastwood’s been one of my favorite actors and directors my entire life.”
Eastwood lived up to Hoyt’s expectations. “He gets it. He gets the concentration acting takes… I was so impressed with the atmosphere. I’ve done a lot of commercials and TV, and no set I’ve ever been on was anything like that set. There’s usually a lot of scrambling and urgent yelling.”
He wasn’t expecting to have an opportunity to interact with Eastwood, but seized one at the end of his scene, thanking him for the opportunity. Politeness pays off — Eastwood invited him to stick around. “I can put you in another scene so you can stay and watch,” Eastwood said.
Months later, Hoyt attended the opening of the cast and crew premiere of the film. He was in suspense, wondering if he had actually made the film — it’d been trimmed from three hours to 2 hours and fifteen minutes.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen myself on the big screen,” he said — but not, we think, the last.
Greg and his friends occasionally collaborate on a series of shorts featuring a young man named Klaus. Here's one of our favorites in the series, Lollipops. You can watch the whole series on his website.
Lollipops from Andy Schlachtenhaufen on Vimeo.
(photo and video courtesy of Greg Hoyt.)
Before we get to the news, Professor June Gaeke's asked me to pass on an announcement:
Reunion at USITT!
I would love if any alumni who are attendingthe USITT Conventino at Long Beach contact me so that I can organize an informal reunion (Friday night, March 30) after 9 p.m. is a possible time. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me your plans and leave a cell phone number. I will be staying at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Now, onward to this issue's updates!
We kind of love when one story prompts another. To wit:
I'm Katherine J. (Balazs) Baker ('85) and I did a semester at the Hartford Stage Company ("HSC") in '84. Candice Chirgotis had just left our theater department to take a new job at HSC, and once I contacted her about the possibility of my coming down there for an independent study she and Julian Olf combined to make it happen. I was charged with the task of creating an all-volunteer usher system for the Front of House. Within two months, my system was in place and working well; drawing volunteers from the community, keeping the 'front of house' well supplied with ushers for every performance. And upon my departure, I was confident that the system would continue. While I was in Hartford for that semester, I was notified by letter that someone in the Department of Theater had nominated me and I had, in fact, been awarded the Chancellor's Talent Award that semester, which included free tuition for the rest of my UMass career. It was an honor I will never forget.
I was happy to read in the newsletter about the continued association the UMass Department of Theater has with HSC. (And I recently saw a news story on former Artistic Director Mark Lamos, who was at HSC when I was there in '84.)
Thank you for a great story in the newsletter!
Katherine J. (Balazs) Baker"
…Maybe one of these updates will draw one of you shy folks out of the woodwork? Don't hesitate to be in touch!
Love the Doctor, which was translated and adapted by graduate student Sarah Brew and English Department graduate student Josephine Hardman, will be produced as part of Ohio State University's second stage season.
Butter, a comedy about the competitive world of butter carving includes Rob Corddry '93 among its stars. Rob is also set to be part of Sketchy, billed as a weekly video series featuring comedy shorts on the newly-formed Yahoo Comedy Channel. He's also got a role in the upcoming zombie flick, Warm Bodies.
Ten Cents A Dance, a musical production composed of music by Larry Hart and Richard Rodgers, is the season opener at the McCarter Theatre Center with lighting design by Jane Cox. She is also the lighting designer for Tony-winning director John Doyle's actor-musician staging of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
You can read about Greg Hoyt 01's role in J. Edgar elsewhere in this issue, but he wasn't the only UMass alumnus in the film — Jeff Donovan '91 played RFK in the biopic.
Professor Milan Dragicevich writes, "I'll be performing the wonderful (and challenging) role of Mat Burke in Eugene O'Neill's 1922 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Anna Christie, for the Northern New England Repertory Theatre Company in New Hampshire. This production is scheduled for an early summer run, May-June 2012."
Professor Harley Erdman has two books upcoming for publication this year, both translations of Spanish Golden Age plays, in bilingual editions published by Aris & Phillips (Oxford, UK): Marta the Divine by Tirso de Molina and Jealous of Herself by Tirso de Molina. Marta the Divine was also showcased at Washington DC's Shakespeare Theatre this past September, as part of their ReDiscovery Theater. Erdman is also making progress on the opera he is creating (libretto) with composer Eric Sawyer. Adapted from Michael White's novel, The Garden of Martyrs, this opera of the same title dramatizes true historical events involving the case of Halligan and Daley, two Irish immigrants executed in Northampton in 1806 for a murder they very likely did not commit.
Greene Room Productions, headed by Erin Greene '02, mounted James & the Giant Peach at the Academy of Music Theatre in November.
Troy Hourie '97G was the scenic designer for Court Theatre's world premiere of Invisible Man, adapted by Oren Jacoby from the Ralph Ellison novel.
Professor Gina Kaufmann is going to be directing Moliere's Tartuffe at the Rose Theatre at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox this summer.
Arena Stage opened its season with a production of Alice Childress' 1955 backstage comedy-drama Trouble in Mind, with a set designed by our own David Korins '99. Carrie Fisher tapped him to design her Wishful Drinking, as did Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, for their 2-person show. He received good reviews for his work on the Broadway revival of Godspell and is the scene designer for the new basketball-themed production, Magic Bird, on Broadway.
Professor Megan Lewis, who joined the department in September, had a great first semester teaching the wonderful students at UMass. "I have been so warmly welcomed to this community," she says. In keeping with her avid belief in the benefits to students of an exploration and understanding of other cultures, she is planning a discovery trip this summer to South Africa, where she will collect more teaching materials for her courses and will develop the first-of-its-kind study abroad program in Performance Studies in South Africa. This summer intensive program will focus on the National Arts Festival that takes place in Grahamstown, South Africa every June/July. Watch for several publications from Prof. Lewis this Spring as well.
Linda McInerney '98G announced that Truth, about Sojourner Truth, was slated to open at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton in February.
Adrienne Paquin '09 says she's been keeping very busy and "had the pleasure of spending September performing in the ensemble of Rent at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown." What's next for Adrienne? "I'll be participating in SLAMBoston in November, The Wizard of Oz at Wheelock Family Theatre in January/February, and The Trojan Women at Whistler in the Dark in May, directed by Ben Evett, who I worked with in Rent."
Dolph Paulsen sent us a notice about a film he's written and hopes to produce in the coming year. For more about Stories for Dinner and its Kickstarter campaign, visit its page.
Traci (Klainer) Polimeni designed lights for Hartford Stage's production of Boeing Boeing. Third-year lighting design graduate student Jess Greenberg was her Associate Lighting Designer.
Bill Pullman '80G narrated Gold Diggers: Investment Fraud in the Treasure State, a new documentary by Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Monica J. Lindeen — a nice complement to his work on HBO's Too Big to Fail. Bill appeared on TV screens around the country in Scott Turow's Innocent, part of TNT's Mystery Movie Night series.
Ben Stanton '99 made his Broadway debut this fall, lighting Seminar, the new comedy by Theresa Rebeck, starring Alan Rickman. Ben also designed lights for the new play, We Live Here by Zoe Kazan. Lorenzo Pisoni's one-man show, Humor Abuse, included lighting design by Ben at Seattle Rep, as did Jesse Eisenberg's Asuncion, which played at the Cherry Lane Theatre off-Broadway and also included sets by John McDermott. Also on Ben's to-do list is the world premiere musical Allegiance at The Old Globe's Conrad Prebys Theatre Center, in LA.
Justin Townsend '97 is working on a new play, Milk Like Sugar, by Kirsten Greenridge in her New York debut, directed by Rebecca Taichman. Also on the proverbial dancecard for him: Classic Stage Company's production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo.
UMass Alums Sheila Siragusa, Scott Braidman '06, Rachel Braidman '06, Amy Koske, Mark Teffer, and Sean Cote worked on the August Company's production of Kelsey Flynn and Hillary Price's Santacide at the Academy of Music.
Michael Walton '01 is raising money for a project near and dear to his heart, the film The Championship Rounds. Check the production's Facebook page for more information.
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