July 1, 2013

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Remarks from the Chair — A year-end accounting

Hello all—

Things are quiet here. As of this writing, we have wound down the fiscal year, and that's a good moment to stop and reflect on how very, very fortunate we have been this year.

When we flipped the calendar to July, we had over $110,000 in our gift funds.

That's an impressive start, a sizable chunk out of the amount we need to raise — not to mention the most we've collected over the course of a year in recent memory. We amassed that total through generous donations both large and small from alumni and friends, and we can't thank you enough for your support.

Those people who have been in the renovated theater are just overwhelmed by the beauty of it. It actually feels like a real theater now; it looks classy.

But! (There's always a "but," isn't there?) even though we've taken this big bite out of our total, we're only part of the way there. You'll be hearing more from me throughout the 2013-2014 season about fun opportunities to support us. If you have an impulse to donate in the meantime, though, we are always grateful, and if you work for a company that matches donations, please let them know if you've made a gift.

By now, you should have received your season announcement. It's an exciting season, and our student matinee tickets are already selling like hotcakes! Take a look, if you haven't, yet, at our mainstage season page.

Please use your red card!! Use that lifetime alumni pass to come see one of our new shows, and take the opportunity to see our theaters while you're here. If you've not been here since the Curtain and the Rand have been redone, you'll be amazed by the changes.

I will personally give you a tour of the spaces, and I'll take you out for dinner. Just let me know when you're coming — I'll make sure my orange suit's back from the cleaners.

Hope everyone's having a wonderful summer, and please keep in touch.

Peace out!


Invisible support: Lara Allee finds a career helping artists navigate the NEA grant system

Lara Allee graduated in 2003 with plans to become a director, but on the tenth anniversary of her graduation, she hasn't set foot in a theater as an artist in years. Instead, she's found a satisfying new direction in her life, drawing on her theater background by working for the National Endowment for the Arts. To nourish her artistic side, she's become a passionate photographer.

Allee joined the NEA several years ago and currently serves as a Specialist in Presenting and Multi-Disciplinary Works. More about the types of works she helpsfund is here and here.

"We joke that we're the kitchen sink department," she said. While other departments handle a single discipline like dance or theater, her department works with artists whose works defy such categorization. They also handle artists who present works in a series that crosses disciplines. Over the course of a year, she works with dozens of applicants, guiding them through the submission process and helping them prepare their presentations to the panel that decides the grants. After grants are awarded, she has the enviable task of informing successful applicants and helping them through the paperwork, as well as offering feedback to applicants about their proposals.

The NEA, she said, "is a very positive place to work. I believe in what we do, and it's nice to be a part of supporting the arts. We get the 30,000-foot view. We don't get everything that's created in arts in America, but we get a pretty good chunk of it."

Furthermore, she likes her department because working across disciplines seems to be a growing trend in the arts.

"It's a great job because I get to see so much cutting-edge stuff blowing up the boundaries," she said of her specific position.

She doesn't see as many performances as she used to when she worked in theater — she can't ethically accept free tickets as an NEA employee, and her ticket/travel budget is very limited — though she does make a point to catch performances of some of the works she's had a hand in funding. She's keen to see how a work translates from proposal to performance venue, and there are also those works that they've funded upon their creation, and then again later as the works travel to various performing arts centers. (She didn't cite specific projects she's worked with because she was reluctant to appear to endorse one over the others, but she directed us to the NEA website's recent listing of grantees for a sampling of what's been funded.)

Getting to the NEA

The day after she graduated, Allee headed to New Jersey to be the Assistant Stage Manager at Shakespeare Theater in New Jersey. It wasn't her chosen field, though, and after the gig was up, she came back to her parents' house in DC, taking a working a variety of jobs at DC theaters, but breaking into the business as a director "did not go very well," she said.

"I had no idea how to have a career as a director," she said, adding. "I was terrible at selling myself."

She received offers for stage management gigs, many of which she turned down. "I didn't want to get pigeonholed," she said, although she admitted in hindsight that taking jobs in a related field can sometimes help you make connections.

Eventually, she found a full-time position at Atlantic Media Co. as a receptionist. From there, she moved into the company's IT department.

"It was a good job, and my boss was great — but IT was definitely not where I wanted to be," she said. "I wanted to find a job where I could use my office skills, but in the arts."

Through a friend, she heard about an opening at the NEA and went for it. She was lucky to get it, she learned later. "People don't leave the NEA. The guy I replaced was there for 30 years!" she said.

Her first position there was as a specialist in the Museums, Visual Arts and Design Division, after which she spent time in the Theatre and Musical Theatre Division. Many of her colleagues come from an arts background, and some are still actively pursuing artistic careers on the side.

The NEA is attractive as an employer because arts jobs, she pointed out, "are not always very secure, and there's a certain level of stability here."

Some people are well-suited to the idea of working on one project for 2 months and then moving on, she said, "but I found it kind of tiring."

A different kind of arts involvement

She has all but left theater behind, but Allee has found a new personal artistic challenge for herself in photography.

"Because it's not a professional pursuit, I don't worry about what people think. It's something for me. It fills that creative hole that used to be filled with theater," she said. She added that it's curious to her that "one thing I love about theater is the collaborative aspect, and one thing I love about photography is that it's solitary."

This new pursuit doesn't come entirely out of left field.

"When I directed, I was always interested in creating interesting images on stage with the blocking," she said.

Still, she said, "Mostly, I'm a patron of the arts now."

She's married and her husband studied visual arts, so he's her willing companion when she has something creative to attend.

"It'd be hard if I were married to someone who has zero interest in the arts," she said.

"Sometimes I think, 'Oh, I wish I could be in rehearsal right now,' but I don't miss it enough to pursue it," Allee said candidly. Still, she has no regrets about her undergraduate work.

The liberal-arts approach, she said, prevented students from "hunkering down in your specific focus," something she appreciated as a director because it helped her understand her fellow artists and express what she was asking them to do, and something that gives her the background to this day to do her job. "If I were coming to it as a civilian… I would be a little more lost."

Far and away: Olivia Tymon interns in Juneau, Alaska

Department of Theater alumni really do scatter to all parts of the globe and country when they leave here. To wit: Olivia Tymon, who got about as far from Massachusetts as a person could get and still be on the North American continent. After bidding us adieu, Olivia headed to Juneau, Alaska, to work as a Production Intern for Perseverance Theater.

Founded by Molly Smith (a Rand Lecturer for us in 2011), the company has a stellar reputation as a place that presents new work by Alaskan and national playwrights. They include, prominently, Paula Vogel (another Rand Lecturer of years past) whose 1998 play, How I Learned To Drive, was developed while she was a playwright in residence there.

We were eager to hear what it was like to work there, so we sent off a bunch of questions to Olivia, who graciously wrote us back.

Stages: How did you learn about this position? And did you go looking for something specifically at this theater, or was it the position that met your needs?

Olivia: I learned about this position when Molly Smith came to speak about her life in the theater. It was a position that offered me everything that I wanted: a chance to stage-manage multiple shows but also to provide me with more experiences in other areas of theater. I have been able to learn about company management, marketing strategies, artistic development and get hands-on experience with designers.

Stages: What are your responsibilities?

Olivia: As production intern, my responsibilities include booking travel, housing and transportation for incoming guest artists, as well as organizing production meetings. When needed, I assist with costume builds, light hang, focus and strike, and with set installation. I also help in maintaining the theatre's props and workspaces.

Stages: Are there any lessons you learned at UMass that have helped you in your position?

Olivia: Every theater class I took at UMass has helped me as an intern. Stage management of course, but also costume building, tech direction, and lighting classes all gave me the skills and the ability to think ahead.

Stages: What's it like being in Alaska — just living there in general, and being part of a theater scene?

Olivia: Being in Juneau is like being in another world. There are mountains about a hundred yards from any place you might be standing, bald eagles by the dozens flying everywhere and ravens that size of cats on roof tops. It's always amazing to look out your window. But it's also just like home. It's hard to find parking down town, the buses are late sometimes, gas prices still make you cringe. After a while it all becomes like home. 
The theater scene in Juneau is a tight knit community of wonderfully supportive people and talented artists. I have been welcomed into people's homes and been given lots of free food. Working for a non-profit theater has allowed me to meet the wonderful people of Juneau, who often given their time, money, and services with no other expectation than to be a part of Perseverance Theatre's season.

Stages: Do you have a good story to share about something that's happened to you at work?

Olivia: During our run of Of Mice and Men, one of our actors was about 20 minutes late for a student matinee. We had a full house and were on a tight schedule. Thankfully, the owner of the dog we were using was a member of the canine search and rescue team in Anchorage and Wasilla. We let the dog wander around the audience until the actor arrived, and the students barely noticed a thing was out of place.

Stages: Do you have any advice for students about making the most of their education?

Olivia: Step outside of your comfort zone, even if it's only for a semester. Learn everything you can about what you love.


In our bid for artistic world domination, we've got a few places you can find us online.

If you haven't yet, head on over to Twitter and facebook for updates, behind-the-scenes sneak-peeks at our productions, special event information, and opportunities to win free tickets!

We also have a Youtube Channel, and we're pinning on Pinterest. Can Tumblr be far behind? Stay tuned!

Rob Corddry 93's been spotted in various locales working on the sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine.

Dana DeLise, who will be a senior in the fall, has been named a William F. Field Alumni Scholar, an honor given to "academically distinguished" students.

Jeffrey Donovan 91's had a fine ride indeed with his show, Burn Notice — in addition to starring in it, he's also directed a number of episodes. This show enters its seventh season this summer and he sat down, along with several other members of the production team, to talk about the show.

Faculty member Milan Dragicevich just completed a successful run of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler at the Northern New England Repertory Theatre Company in New London, NH, playing Eilert Lovborg. Also, the short science fiction film in which he played a leading role last spring, SEED (Directed by former Pixar animator, Chris Perry), is now in post-production.

This spring, Julian Olf's short play, WAR HERO, was produced by Theatre Odyssey of Sarasota. The same play received a reading in June at the Nantucket Short Play Festival. In July, it will receive a full production by the Salem Theater Company. Nigel Publishing will include WAR HERO in a forthcoming anthology of short plays. In September, Julian's full-length play, TWINS, will open the 10th Anniversary Season of the Boston Actors Theater with a three-weekend run at the Boston Playwrights' Theater.

Ben Stanton '99 is designing an off Broadway musical, Nobody Loves You at Second Stage Theatre Company.

Will Nallett '11, who is working in the city as a freelance electrician and programmer, is part of the tech crew for the production.

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