September 1, 2009


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A Note from the Chair

Wait a minute, haven’t I been here before? And didn’t I swear I’d never do this again?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or something like that ...

After 7 years away, years during which the chair position was capably filled first by Harley Erdman and then by Gilbert McCauley, I find myself again in the position of writing one of these notes from the chair to you, our loyal alumni and friends.

It is not an easy time to be chair. Economic circumstances mean that “do more with less” is the guiding principle around here. However, we theater folk are nothing if not creative, and if anyone can manage to meet that challenge, we’re it.

This email newsletter could be Exhibit A. We'll be saving on printing costs (The trees say, "Woo-hoo!"), and mailing costs (The Department says “Woo-hoo!”) Bonus to you is that this way, we're able to publish the newsletter more frequently and that we'll now be able to include links to cool online stuff like videos and slideshows.

Furthermore, the department is gifted with tremendously motivated, talented, dedicated students, faculty and staff members who go above and beyond on a daily basis to do exciting new work, ponder the big questions about where theater is headed and where it’s come from, and tackle the technical challenges of bringing it all together onstage.

To that end, we’re producing  six shows this year, running the gamut from tragedy to comedy, from puppetry to musical. Visit our season page to learn more.

One of the toughest moments this past summer was UMass' annoucement that New WORLD Theater was suspending operations, and its staff being laid off. We have had many close, fruitful collaborations with NWT over the years, most recently the development of a Multicultural Theater Practice Certificate. We hope the
university will find a way to revive NWT so we can work in partnership again in the future.

Despite the bad news, we continue to make it a priority to put our students in regular contact with professionals in the field, bringing leading theater artists and academic experts to the department. Joining us as lecturers this year are dramaturg Chris Baker and lighting designer Traci Klainer. Guests include musician Eric Sawyer (on Curiosity), several members of the Misa Table on 1905, Madelyne Camera as choreographer on Spring Awakening and alumnus Andy Lichtenberg on Little Shop of Horrors — which will be choreographed by Marcus Gardley, better known to us as a playwright and faculty member.

What else is there to say — ah yes! I hope you took some time to look at that “invitation” you received from Rob Corddry recently. We’re trying to keep our facilities up to offer our students a rewarding learning experience, and any amount you can give helps. If you threw it out (by mistake, of course!) or need a refresher, visit our website’s donation page.

All right. That’s really it — I hope you have a wonderful and rewarding year, and I hope to be able to shake your hand at one of our productions or special events this year.

Don’t be a stranger!

Penny Remsen
Department Chair

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Andrew Wittkamper's Career Path Reaps Unexected Rewards

For costume design  alumnus Andrew Wittkamper '00G, the beginning of the millennium found him working in New York City at two of Broadway’s' pre-eminent  costume shops. It wasn't, as he found out, his true calling. That has turned out to be teaching — as evidenced by the fact that last semester, he won one of the highest teaching awards given by his institution, and was honored with  the establishment of a scholarship set up in his name.

Wittkamper is the recipient of a 2009 SUNY Chancellor's Award for Scholarship and Creative Activities, based upon his work as the Resident Costume Designer in the Suffolk County Community College Theatre Department. And in his honor, one of his students has funded the Andrew L. Wittkamper Scholarship, which covers tuition at the school for one of his students for one year. Not bad for a guy who was once told he didn't have the right temperament for the job!

"I didn't see myself becoming a teacher," Wittkamper said. However, prestigious as his Broadway employers, Barbara Matera and Parsons-Meares, were, he eventually realized he wanted to rethink his career path. "I had an MFA and I was making $10 an hour," he said.

Around that time, costume design faculty member June Gaeke made a serendipitous phone call — she contacted Wittkamper to see if he would be interested in taking over her classes while she went on sabbatical in Spring 2002. He accepted the offer and found himself very well-suited to the work.

Becoming a Teacher

Wittkamper admitted that it was a change for him. "It's funny — when I was an undergrad at IU (Indiana University) my sewing teacher told me I wasn't patient enough to be a teacher," he said.

His time at UMass Amherst, however, had changed him, and how this came to be is a subject he is about passionate about. In an email on the subject, he said:

"…All of the teachers I studied with were extraordinary in every way—so brilliant, so talented, so committed, so inspired (and inspiring) in every way. I hope I showed an acceptable measure of appreciation for the countless hours they put into my education and personal and professional development while I was there."
"I went to UMass to learn to be a costume designer. June and Cecilia saw to all of that—from rendering, to draping, patterning, fitting, construction, and crafts. … June,, Cecilia,, Miguel Romero, Penny Remsen, Julian Olf, Ed Golden, Virginia Scott, Harley Erdman, and Dick Trousdell …  These were my primary teachers when I was there, and it should come as no surprise that I sometimes hear their words coming out of my mouth.  It’s not that I parrot them. Rather, I think it’s that I’ve become indoctrinated into their ways of thinking and expression! … I think the most important thing I learned was how to be a teacher—how to embrace a philosophy of who you are and 'what you’re doing here' and then use that to inspire a classroom full of students to care about what you’re saying, what you’re teaching."

After his time at UMass Amherst, Wittkamper looked for a permanent appointment and came upon an opening for Resident Costume Designer at Suffolk Community College on Long Island.

"I was looking for a smaller department," he explained. "I thought I could be more comfortable and more of a success at a smaller institution."

He felt immediately that there was a bond among faculty and students that he liked and saw that many of his colleagues there were at the same point in their careers. Theater at the school is a two-year program, although many students take longer to complete it. Many are self-supporting, and some are there to continue their education.

The school has allowed him some room for innovation — for years, he had felt that there was a real need for the performance-oriented student body to learn the basics of stage make-up. This year, some logistical juggling allowed him to teach a course in the subject which was a great hit. Assuming it remains just as popular over the next two years, it will eventually find its way into the  permanent part of the theater curriculum instead of being an elective.

Reaping the Rewards

Suffolk has clearly been a good fit for Wittkamper, and the school recognized that fact this spring when he received the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Scholarship and Creative Activities. As Wittkamper explained it, he was nominated for the award by a colleague. The nomination was accepted, and he was charged with preparing "a dossier, a five or six-inch binder of everything I've ever done… in quintuplicate, no less," he said wryly.

The committee in charge of vetting the nominees looked at achievement artistic and academic. His work passed muster, and this spring, the Chancellor of the SUNY system agreed, and Wittkamper received the award. "I wish I could say it comes with a hefty promotion, but it is a great feather in my cap," he said.

More recognition was yet to come, however, and this was truly a surprise. By way of background, Wittkamper explained that over his time at Suffolk, he'd developed "an incredible rapport" with a woman took a number of his courses as a continuing education student. He was sad to learn, in the spring, that she and her husband would be moving away from the area.

At a department awards luncheon in May, he presented her with an award for her work in the department. What he didn't know was that his student and department chair had orchestrated a gift for him: she and her husband donated $100,000 to set up the Andrew L. Wittkamper Scholarship, which funds a full year's tuition for a promising costume design student.

"I had no idea this was coming," he said, sounding still awed some months later.  

The first scholarship has already been awarded, to a student of his who served as his "de facto assistant" in the inaugural make-up class. Future awards will be decided by the faculty.

All teachers hope they have an effect on their students, Wittkamper said, but he was gratified to have one of his students turn her appreciation into a scholarship in his honor.

Often, scholarships and awards like this are granted posthumously. As Wittkamper laughs in acknowledgment: "And I'm still here!"

Side notes:
Visit Andrew Wittkamper's personal site
Visit the Theatre Department website

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Video: Andrew Wittkamper's Stage Make-up Class

Coming Up this year

The economy threatened to put a crimp in our production schedule, but we are nothing if not creative.

To wit: We've got more shows than before, one of them looks to be traveling all the way to El Paso for performance at a festival, and we are continuing a lively second stage season. We plan to host a number of guest artists over the coming year, both as part of our production season and to augment our curriculum.

Our season, about which you can learn more on our website, has been expanded in the coming year from four to six shows, that includes at least two planned student matinees. The productions run the range from classic to brand-new, and from Spanish Golden-Age comedy to cutting-edge puppetry to pointed social commentary. We even include a musical this year. What's more, we're bringing back our Play-In-A-Day 24-hour theater festival as a fundraiser in May 2010.

To round out the opportunities for our students, we offer Cabaret 204, the student-produced series conceived by faculty member and playwright Marcus Gardley. It was such a resounding success when we took the concept for a test-drive last spring that we're going to offer a full year's slate of offerings this time around.

Gardley will be busy elsewhere in the season as well — revealing a heretofore unknown-to-us talent, he will be choreographing our production of Little Shop of Horrors. That production is one of several that will be benefiting from the talents of guest artists, as well — alumnus Andy Lichtenberg will be the musical director for us. Backing up through the season, we will also welcome to our season composer Eric Sawyer (for Curiosity) and choreographer Madeline Camera (Spring Awakening). Our collaboration with the artists who formed the Misa Table, on 1905, a piece that incorporates movement and video as well as theater, is already off to a good start with late-summer rehearsals.

Harley Erdman has once again tackled the translation of a new-to-us piece from the Spanish Golden Age, Tirso de Molina's Marta the Divine. The entire production will be traveling to the 33rd Annual Siglo de Oro Drama Festival in March 2010.

In addition to the opportunities offered by our production calendar, students will have a chance to interact with guest artists as part of their academic work. Because Penny is chair this year, New York-based lighting designer Traci Klainer, an alumna of Penny's classes, will be teaching in the department this year. 
Already slated to lead workshops for us this year are Frank Brault, Timothy Douglas and Patricia McCorkle. Brault will be offering training in Vectorworks to technical theater and lighting design students. McCorkle, owner of McCorkle Casting Ltd. in New York, will come to the department during the fall semester to lead a casting workshop in conjunction with professor Julie Nelson's classes. Meanwhile, Douglas, a respected actor and director who frequently works with Shakespeare and Co., is slated to visit us during the spring semester to lead an acting workshop for performance students.  

Last but not least, UMass Amherst alumnus Michael Haley '65, who has helped out the department in capacities ranging from Play-In-A-Day actor to guest speaker, will spend time with us in late October as the Bateman Scholar in Residence. The schedule of events is still being finalized, so look online for details.

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We love all of our alumni and friends, but we especially love those of you who send in updates and shout-outs.

Thanks and break a leg to Melanie Armer '91 — she and Peter Gallipeau '91 recently and reminisced about their UMass days and she passed on the kind words. The reason for their meet-up was a production by Nerve Tank, which Melanie co-founded with her husband, Chance Muehleck. Visit their site to learn about their latest project, bauhaus the Bauhaus, which opens Oct. 9.

A number of alumni and friends of the department are part of the new August Company, which presented Taming of the Shrew at Look Park in Northampton this summer. Among the group: Rachel Cummings '06, Scott Braidman '06, Sheila Siragusa '03G, Liesel de Boor, Steve Angel, Kelsey Flynn, Mark Teffer, Jeff Vatore, Dennis Quinn, Claire Kavanah '07, and student Cate McLaughlin.

Jeffrey Donovan '91 threw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game this summer.

Stuart Gamble responded to our invitation to reminisce that "I loved all my acting classes and the friends I made in the department. Kudos especially to Ed Golden for his wonderful acting classes." Coming up for Stuart: He will appear as Leo in Jack Neary's The Porch and as Cardinal Wolsey in A Man for All Seasons at The Majestic Theater in the 2009-2010 season.

Jacob Hellman '09 let us know he is moving to Israel to attend MASA´s WUJS Israel Arts program. He also hopes to intern at an Israeli theater while he's there. Over the summer, he also traveled to Ecuador with a group, after which he participated in the creation of a theater piece based on the experience. The piece was performed in New York City and came about as part of Dramatic Adventure Theatre.

Closer to campus, Five-College Visiting Lecturer in Sound Design Rob Kaplowitz brought Jack O'Brien '09onto his creative team when he did sound design for the Off-Broadway production of Fela! Word comes now that the musical is moving to Broadway this fall.

David Korins '99 received an OBIE for sustained excellence in set design (with special reference to Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, Public Theater)

Bill Pullman '81G is in a film, Surveillance, directed by Jennifer Lynch, and will appear opposite Julia Stiles in Oleanna this fall. He was the subject of a New York Times article over the summer. 

Kudos to Duncan Putney '83, who was among the winners at the Boston/New England Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ 32nd annual New England Emmy Awards, which were held this spring at the Boston Marriott Hotel, Copley Place.  He was the writer of several television spots that won the Community/Public Service Campaign award for a campaign entitled “Canisters” for the Rhode Island International Film Festival.

Tom Shread '03G worked on The Dishwasherswhich ran Off-Broadway to positive notices, and a cycle of Shakespeare's history plays broadcast on WMUA.  He also designed a couple of shows at Chester Theatre Company this summer. 

Dan Smith '03G was on Jeopardy last winter. You can read his blog entry describing his experience on the Jeopardy website.

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Online Format

As of this fall, we've switched exclusively to an emailed/online format of Stages, which will save paper and money, as well as allowing us to share more interactive features and lots more photos. If you'd like to receive email notices whenever a new issue of Stages has been posted and you're not sure we have your email, please click on Send Us Updates in the sidebar. You can also use the update form to send us your news.