Stages: October 2016
Saturday, October 1, 2016
Saturday, October 1, 2016
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- Remarks from the Chair: Greetings from new chair Gina Kaufmann
- UMass in South Africa — reflections on the summer past
- Sri Lanka beckons: Harley Erdman travels across the world on a Fullbright
- Donor Profile: Mike '65 and Joan Haley remember adventures in film
- Dawn Monique Williams receives a Princess Grace Award
It’s my pleasure to address you in this issue as the new Department of Theater chair! I’m stepping into big shoes. I have known I was taking this position for a year and I had the chance to observe Penny and see first-hand how she served our department with her unique spirit. She left her mark on so much of what we do here, and we’re all so grateful for her seven year of leadership.
I ‘ve been thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in my own time in the position, and what I keep coming back to is my faith in the vibrancy and relevance of this live art form.
I remember when I was an undergrad getting my BA in theater in the early 1980s, hearing people say that theater is a dying art, that technology was the way forward. And yet, 30-some years later, theater feels extremely alive to me. We are living in an overwhelming time, and technology, for all its usefulness, can be isolating. We need to connect as human beings. Theater is a means for doing that. I passionately believe the ways we connect through theater are different, larger, intensified from how we connect in daily life. Theater taps into something old in our humanity and is very much needed now as we continue to be human animals in this bewildering technological world.
Our 2016-2017 season is an example of the ways we do that, a real mix of stories that help us burst outside our walls.
We start with The Misanthrope, in a production that tackles head-on the idea of being confined by layers of technology and finding truth. In Refugee, meanwhile, we explore a brand new piece of interconnected stories set in Serbia, Egypt and the US, that comes together with original music and is directed by an artist from Serbia.
Hedda Gabler might seem staid thanks to its classic status, but we are so jazzed about exploring what it means in contemporary society, with its status games and exploration of gender roles, power and exploitation. We actively court artists exploring issues of identity and exploring new forms for Play Lab and we eagerly anticipate another boundary-breaking story being told. The Happiest Song Plays Last offers us a wonderful opportunity to reach out to local Puerto Rican residents to bring their voices, their music, and their experiences into the theater-making process, not just into the audience. And finally, in Ta’zieh, we tackle a quintessential Iranian theater form that is hundreds of years old to tell a story about race and community today in this country, and in doing so, we will literally burst outside our walls, beginning with a procession to a space outside our building.
I’m also tremendously excited about the energy I see in the student-produced works. There are so many projects initiated by our students every semester -- projects that take risks and tell stories that cross boundaries and ask questions of all of us. This bubbling laboratory of theater-making is absolutely integral to creating a new generation of theater artists – collaborators in this confusing, creative and fast-changing world we live in.
The idea of connection will also serve as our lodestone as we consider our academic programs. I served for 2 years as the Undergraduate Program Director, and out of that work has come my goal to reach out those who have been underrepresented in our student population.
I’m hopeful that our outreach will help prospective students feel welcome in our spaces and that we will stretch and shift the way that we do things—in the classroom, behind the scenes and on stage – in response to a new diversity of voices in our midst, the way theater as an art form has the capacity to do. Graduate student Jen Onopa and I began this outreach effort last year, working with groups such as Upward Bound and in Springfield schools. I hope our work, and the work of new UPD Gil McCauley, opens up theater as a field of study for first-generation college students who might otherwise dismiss it as impractical.
Finally, I see connection happening across time in a thrilling new scholarship for our students. Alumni Bill Pullman, Jeff Donovan, and Rob Corddry have come together to create the Ed Golden Scholarship in honor of the mentor they all shared. The scholarship is being awarded for the first time on Oct. 21. While BIll is on location, his wife Tamara (Ed cast them presciently as husband and wife) will join Rob and Jeff—plus Ed!—in awarding the scholarships. I love that there is a group of people who are extremely appreciative of this department and what it gave them — and here they are coming back to establish this scholarship to mentor students who, like them, are motivated and driven to succeed.
Our alumni friends are invited to share in the events of the day! We will have a ceremony to award the scholarship the afternoon of Oct. 21. That evening at 6:45, there will be a pre-show talk by Rob and Jeff in the Rand Theater. Our production of The Misanthrope opens that evening, and their talk will be open to anyone who purchases tickets for that evening’s show. The following day, they’ll also have a career Q&A with our students, which we are very excited about.
I hope that having these talented performers talk about Ed Golden makes our students think about who their mentors are and inspires them about possibilities for the future. I’m so pleased and excited that Jeff, Rob, and Tamara are coming!
Yes, I am excited to be in this position at this particular time, on the cutting edge of what’s happening. We have an amazing department, and I look forward to spreading the word about it to the community — and to you!
Please don’t be shy — drop us a line and tell us how you’re doing, and if you’re in town, stop by the department so I can say hi!