September 1, 2010

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Remarks from the Chair — The New Upper Rand Studio

It's done! The Upper Rand Lobby, the focus of our fundraising efforts last year, is now the Upper Rand Studio, and it is beautiful! The space is open for business already, with our Welcome Reception booked there to officially open the semester in style and several classes scheduled in the space.

Thanks go once again to everyone who was a part of making this upgrade a reality (the fantastic video Rob Corddry made for us is still up on our site anytime you need a laugh, by the way), but I want to pay special tribute to a trio of people who, over the summer, helped bring this project from almost there to finished product.

First, thanks must go to alumnus Stephen Driscoll, who has been a supporter of this endeavor through the year. His gift of $1000 at the end of the year was already gift enough, but he went beyond the call of duty in reaching out to a UMass Amherst fraternity brother, Ed Rudner, who added in a sizable donation of his own. Ed's gift of $4000 brought the total amount raised to $25,000, which enables us to create a space with new lighting, sound-proofed walls, and a new floor to accommodate movement classes. (Take a look at the slideshow included below to see the finished product and read the captions for details on what has been installed in the space.)

Rudner is not a theater alumnus, but in a note to Stephen that included his reason for the donation, he put it like this:

"I was really happy to do it. Your performances and my involvement through you in the theater department opened my limited perspectives and allowed me to enjoy the arts for a lifetime."

The beauty of his gift is that he's now helped make it possible, not only for our students but for students like him, to better enjoy the performing arts — expect to see performances open to the community in this space throughout the year.

In addition to Ed and Stephen, there's one more person to thank, because, alumnus Chris Darland '87, who works for Artec Consultants Inc., a design firm that specializes in performing arts facilities.

Chris was the one who had the enviable task of helping us figure out how to spend what we've raised. He donated hours of time and his expertise to design the space's upgrade for us, and we're thrilled with the results. With Chris's talent, the lobby has been transformed from its dim concrete bunker look into a sleek, bright, welcoming studio.

We hope you'll have a chance to visit it in the coming months!

— Penny Remsen, Chair


LA Trip

Earlier this year, we got an email from alumnus Michael Walton '01 that he was putting together his dream project: a production of Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer-winning Topdog/Underdog. It was the kick in the pants we needed to set in motion a plan that was long overdue: Chair Penny Remsen and performance faculty member Julie Nelson traveled to Los Angeles to catch up with the alumni who'd made the West Coast their home.

The itinerary was a busy one: stops at the Geffen Playhouse, Bill Pullman's home, the legendary Formosa Cafe and the Lillian Theatre.

Penny tells us what happened:


Julie and I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed — well, maybe not so bushy-tailed, having gotten up at 3 in the morning to travel to LA — got our rental car and took off to meet with Amy Levinson '94, '97G at the Geffen Playhouse, where she is the literary manager/dramaturg.

We were greeted with hugs and kisses from Amy, who took time out from her busy day to show us around the place and introduce us to her co-workers. We got a warm welcome from receptionist Marguerite Harris, met producing director Gil Cates, artistic director Randall Arney, production coordinator Jill Barnes, and director of communications Allison Rawlings. It was an amazing opportunity for us to meet these people, and the best part of it all was the fact that Amy is so highly-regarded and respected.

The building is gorgeous, and Amy showed us the mainstage, where Lynn Nottage's Ruined was being loaded in, as well as what she referred to as her favorite theater, the Audrey Skirball Theater, where Nora Ephron'sLove, Loss and What I Wore was playing.


On Thursday, Julie had made plans to catch up with Keith Stone ’05. Keith was recently in Some Boys Don’t Leave with Jesse Eisenberg and Copperhead, a western that was filmed in BulgariaThey met for lunch on Franklin Avenue, a few doors down from the Upright Citizens Brigade and across the street from a very beautiful  building, which Keith told Julie is the Scientology Center of Los Angeles . She looked it up when she got home and it was once the Chateau Elysee, built in 1924 and home to Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Carole Lombard, among others.

That evening, one of the department's best friends, Bill Pullman, was gracious enough to open his home to a group of UMass alumni for a dinner party. On the guest list were production designer — and erstwhile Pullman apartment-mate — Doug Kraner, Amy Levinson, Rob and and Sandy Corddry, and Bart Rosenblatt, who received his degree in engineering but is now head of CODE entertainment, a production company in LA. Bart and Bill, coincidentally enough, worked together on the film You Kill Me. Representing current UMass were HFA Director of Development Nora Maroulis, Julie and me.

The evening was about the shared connection to UMass, primarily as former students of the department. There was a laughter-filled discussion about former teachers, classes, and the infamous orange carpeting. Those who lived in Butterfield spoke at length about the notorious dorm, especially the naked slip and slide on the third floor.

To fuel the conversation, Bill provided us with amazing Cuban food from Versailles.

As I expressed to the group, my reason for traveling to LA and my reason for asking Bill to host this dinner party was to bring alumni and friends of our department together again, to let them know that we're alive and well in Amherst and to tell them that they're important to us. I wanted to celebrate the Department of Theater and the people in it. I also acknowledged the contributions of the faculty these particular alumni studied with, including David Knauf, Vincent Brann, Harry Mahnken and Jeff Fialla, as well as June Gaeke, Ed Golden, Virginia Scott, Dick Trousdell and Julian Olf. It goes without saying that we toasted the grande dame of the department, Doris Abramson.


Thanks to Nora Maroulis and the former dean of the college, Joel Martin, the department was able to host a gathering of alumni and friends at the legendary Formosa Cafe in LA, a venerated gathering spot for show business folks for decades.

Again, the theme of the evening was about connecting our department to the alumni in LA, getting those people to meet each other and developing a contact list.

Formosa was stellar. Mike the bartender was phenomenal, and the food was delicious. We were out on the outdoor veranda of the cafe, where it was wonderful to behold the array of alumni, ranging from Jack Knight from the 1960s to Dolph Paulsen, who graduated in 2006. As with the previous evening, we spoke about the importance of UMass Theater connections and raised a glass to the department, including a moment of silence for Doris Abramson.

Then, it was on to the play!

It was a full house at the Lillian Theatre. Besides the group who'd come over from Formosa, several alumni who hadn't been able to attend the reception joined us at the theater. Michael Walton's parents and his high school drama teacher were there. They had flown out from the east coast to witness with us his longtime dream coming to fruition.

Michael's performance was superb. It was so great to be able to support one of our own in this way. A number of people stayed on for a smaller reception to congratulate Michael and reveled in the success of one of their own.

The next morning, Julie and I flew home thrilled at the success of our gatherings.

When I sat down to look ahead to the 2010-2011 schoolyear back in the spring, I realized that I wanted to do something different this year in terms of our outreach efforts. Instead of drawing people to us, I want to reach out to them. I want to connect with our friends and alumni to find out where their paths in life have taken them and make sure they know how important they are to us.

This first series of events was, from my point of view, a wonderful success. The comments I've gotten, both at the events and afterward, have been warm and welcoming, and I'm so pleased to have been a part of it.

This won't be the only such event — we have others in the works, and I plan to travel to other alumni hot spots over the coming year to host alumni gatherings there, too.

LA Trip Slideshow

Meet Irmarie Jones '45, a longtime friend of the Department of Theater

Over the coming year, we'll be using our Stages newsletter to introduce you to some people who are supporters of the Department of Theater, who remember their time here when they think about the charitable giving they want to do.

What better person to start with than Irmarie Jones '45? Irmarie went to UMass before it was UMass, and did theater before there was a Department of Theater. She even knew the man whose name is on the theater, Frank Prentice Rand, an English professor and director of the Roister Doisters, the school's theater club. For years now, the envelopes in which she sent her donations to us have included gifts of a different kind: reminiscences of her time here  among the people whose love for theater would eventually blossom into a full-fledged department.

When we spoke to her for this series, Irmarie noted that she lobbied hard for the naming of the theater after Rand, who was a mentor and friend to her. A long-time columnist for the Greenfield Recorder, in 1976, she wrote a piece reminiscing  about her time in the theater. She dug up a copy for us to share with you here. It's easy to tell, from this story, why Rand deserved his name on the theater — and why we always look forward to Irmarie's informative and warm letters about the department's past.

Irmarie (Scheuneman) Jones '45

Major: English

Favorite UMass Theater memory: Although Irmarie "wished I was Shirley Temple" and was the manager of the Roister Doisters, an extracurricular theater group overseen Professor Frank Prentice Rand in the days before there was a theater major, she hadn't been onstage much. "My senior year, I found a play that had been on Broadway (Letters to Lucerne) and I showed it to Prof. Rand. He decided to do it. The girl he was planning to have play the lead never showed up, so I asked, 'Can I try out?' and I got the part! Tryouts were in the basement of Memorial Hall and I was living in Draper. I floated from Mem Hall to Draper, I was so excited."

Why do you donate to the Department of Theater: to keep the Rand Theater going. I would hope that anyone who has any memories or feelings about (Prof.) Rand or theater at UMass would give to the Rand Theater.

The Subject is Memories: Frank Rand of the Theater

By Irmarie Jones '45
(originally published in the 1970s)

The lights will go up tomorrow night on Guys and Dolls, the first production for the Frank Prentice Rand Theater at the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts.

The naming of the theater for the former UMass English professor and director of Roister Doisters has brought back a flood of memories.

During freshmen orientation week back in the days of Massachusetts State College, there was a very strange professor of English who gave a talk to the entering class. No advice on how to study or how to behave… but the statement, repeated several times, "There are ghosts on the college campus."

And, because he loved the school and the history of the institution, he filled our young heads with names like Clark and French and Stockbridge, using his wry sense of humor, which at the time none of us appreciated, to instill in us some sense of pride and respect for the old names associated with the campus.

Not until I began to be active in Roister Doisters did I begin to really appreciate this man of many talents — a dedicated and inspiring teacher, play director, author, who did his own drawings for his books, and poet. His dedication to the town of Amherst was a love affair that never ceased to grow.

At that time, and earlier in the history of the college, a Roister Doister play was a once-a-year event. There was no Department of Theater but merely the extra-curricular organization which kept drama going at the college. Prof. Rand was remembered for the performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It outdoors in the ravine in 1933. Shirley McCarthy, a Greenfield girl, had the lead role of Rosalind. The ravine, for those of you who are too young to remember, was a lovely spot where the campus visitor's garage is now sitting.

His directing of plays was a studied blend of suggestion and approval. I never saw him get angry or fired up — he calmly went through rehearsals, allowing the students to interpret their roles the way they felt them, with the merest hint of suggestions. His productions, we felt, were always top notch. During the World War II — men were practically nonexistent on campus — we performed Love's Labour's Lost with an entire female cast, except for the clown.

What a change that must have been from the first Roister Doister plays, which used entire casts of men, even in the women's parts.

Prof. Rand's wide circle of friends included Robert Frost, Robert Francis and Madame Bianchi, the niece of Emily Dickinson, who did so much to bring her poetry to the public.

We, who were English majors in the days when there was a small enrollment at Massachusetts State, knew that some time during our senior year we would be invited to dinner at the Rands' up on Mt. Pleasant, overlooking the town. His wife, Margarita, was ever the gracious hostess and always made us feel so welcome.

But one day really stands out. Toward the end of our senior year in 1945, a group of us who had taken most of his courses asked him if he would take us on a literary tour of Amherst. The "us" were all young women. As I said, the campus was devoid of men.

The May afternoon could not have been more beautiful… light breeze, sunny skies. Mrs. Rand invited us for a snack before we left in the Rand car. Our favorite professor had made the necessary contacts for us to have a special tour of Emily Dickinson's home on Amity St., the Robert Frost room at Jones Library and a real treat, a personal visit with Ray Stannard Baker, who is well known as the homespun philosopher, David Grayson. His large home on Sunset Ave. is now a fraternity house. As Baker, he is the definitive biographer of Woodrow Wilson.

He saw Eugene Field's home, Helen Hunt Jackson's home and then made a final stop at a cemetery. When we had left his house, Prof Rand handed me a daffodil in a glass of water and asked me to take it along. At the cemetery, we went to Emily Dickinson's grave. He helped me to climb over the fence around the family lot to put the daffodil on the grave. Once inside the enclosure, he asked me to lead the group in reciting one of Dickinson's poems, "The Cemetery," that we had learned in class. At the time, it seemed rather startling.

But what a cherished memory through the years; the fact that a group of young women and their professor were standing by Emily Dickinson's grave on a May afternoon reciting her poetry, does not at all seem out of place to me today. It was just right.

In years to come there will probably be many persons who ask, "Why is the theater named for Frank Prentice Rand?" I am grateful that I am one person who knows why.

Reprinted with permission from the Greenfield Recorder.

People — Who's Here, Doing What

The 2010-2011 will bring new honors and challenges for some members of our faculty and new faces to the classroom and rehearsal space.

We are very excited to announce that Milan Dragicevich will be teaching students to stomp for many years to come; Milan was tenured this summer. Meanwhile, costume design professor June Gaeke was rewarded for her excellent work here with a promotion to full professorship.

As for who's running things around the department, Penny Remsen has agreed to stay on as chair for three more years, while Julie Nelson continues as Undergraduate Program Director. They'll be joined by a new Graduate Program Director: Harley Erdman has stepped up to handle that role.

The great Denise Wagner, our beloved secretary, retired last year and while we miss her, we've got a very capable successor to the secretarial throne in Diane Muller, who joined us at the beginning of the summer.

Students and recent alumni are already familiar with Chris Baker, who has handled a number of dramaturgy classes and production assignments for us in the past few years on an adjunct basis, but we are pleased to announce that he's stepping into a full-time lecturer position as of this year. Aside from his skills as a teacher, Chris brings us a valuable professional contact due to his continuing association with Hartford Stage. In fact, he was instrumental in setting up a new internship opportunity for graduate students with that company.

 We'll also be joined by a number of guest artists and instructors this year. Alumnus Matthew Richards will return to the department to teach lighting design. Miguel Ringler will teach performance classes and assist in Theater 100.

We are lucky to have secured Tony Simotes of Shakespeare and Co. to teach stage combat classes. And Kara Lynn Vaeni, who directed Life Is A Dream some years ago for us, will return as a performance instructor and direct Scarcity

Another familiar face in the season will be guest artist Lián Amaris '02, creator and performer of Swimming to Spalding, a special presentation in our season. She'll also lead workshops for students.

Our students will have an opportunity to work with a number of special guest theater artists on our season productions. They include: Tyran Grillo, translator and composer, Night on the Galactic RailroadNick Keenan '01, sound designer, Twelfth NightAndrew Lichtenberg '80, musical director, The 25th Annuals Putnam County Spelling BeeNora Mally, stage manager, The House of Bernarda AlbaSarah Nelson '09G, costume designer, Night on the Galactic Railroad; and David Wiggall, who will be sound design advisor on several projects.


Current student Melissa Cleary interned for the Mass Appeal program at Springfield's WWLP-22 News this summer and blogged about some of her experiences.

Christopher S. Darland '87, who helped us out with our Upper Rand Studio upgrade, sent us an update. He's "closing in on 13 years as a Theater Planning consultant at Artec Consultants Inc. in New York (ed. note: check him out in the video on the firm's website). I am working on performing arts facility projects in Reykjavik, Iceland, and Honk Kong (amongst others), and I just started a new project with Zaha Hadid Architects in Amman, Jordan. I recently had a wonderful evening with Pamela (Albert) Cuerlop '87, Jonathan Curelop '87, Mark Ellmore '87, and Joseph Baritz - all are doing well. The big question of the evening - why is the orange carpet still there?..." We don't know either, Chris…

Airline Intyrath '06 is making a career for himself on TV and in clubs as Jujubee, the drag queen featured on RuPaul's Drag Race. The title of the article in the Boston Globe says it all: How a UMass theater major became one of the country’s hottest drag queens

Professor Gina Kaufmann was at Shakespeare and Co. for the summer and directed several pieces for the Studio Festival of Plays: Anton in Show Business and Opus. Professor Julie Nelson and student Connie Russo appeared in the piece.

Lucinda Kidder '02G directed a production of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus in April for the Renaissance Center Theater Company; directed production of Steve Henderson (UMass theater grad) original play, A Gravedigger's Gift, in June; and produced and performed in RCTC''s production of The Harrowing of Hell as part of the University of Toronto's Chester 2010, a performance of the complete Chester Mystery Cycle in Toronto. She finished her third summer as Project Director for the Youth and Shakespeare middle school students program in Holyoke and Springfield. Now, she is moving to Seattle and will be working with West Coast companies.

New Century Theatre celebrated its 20th Season with a remount of some of its biggest-hit productions, including Noises Off and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, AbridgedSam Rush '97G remains at the helm as Producing Director.

Christopher Stearns '89 "just fulfilled a 30-year dream by producing, directing, and starring in Cyrano de Bergerac. Granted, he staged the production in his backyard and used the kids' tree house for the balcony scenes. But he feels he did the play justice. And he raised a few hundred bucks for the March of Dimes. So please think not unkindly on his low-budget vanity project."

James Watkins '84 tells us he's been doing TV, Film and Stage in Los Angeles under the union name James Sharpe.

Theatrical lighting designer Justin Townsend '97 has a show moving to Broadway: Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson