People are returning to live theater!

Theater at UMass: Once an extra-curricular, then a part of other majors and departments, we officially became the Department of Theater in 1973. We marked the 50th anniversary of our founding with an adventurous season that joyfully explored the wide range of what we do with boldness, imagination, and resourcefulness. Our season had heightened language, epic myths, queer narratives, Afro-Cuban performance, a big-name musical – and dancing flamingos. We offered adaptations drawing inspiration from the past to shape stories for a future that embraces the breadth of global theater. We honored UMass’s tradition of Black artistry. We presented productions that showcased the audacity and skill of our designers.

Total 2022-2023 Primary Majors, Secondary Majors, Minors
Number of people who attended our first student matinee since COVID
Fringe Fest '23 Productions

A glimpse of our 2022-2023 season



Finding our way back to being in person

The pandemic isn’t over, but in Fall 2021, as we learned to manage the risks, UMass Theater was able to return to in-person classes and productions for the first time since the winter of 2020.

It wasn’t always easy, and the watchword for our work has continued to be “nimble” — dealing with changing safety requirements, as well as flare-ups of COVID cases on campus and in the department, required our faculty to adapt on the fly how they taught students. While students and faculty alike embraced the many ways we could learn while distanced, the return to in-person learning also revealed where we needed to fill in gaps in understanding and experience. Our production schedule found us dealing with analogous challenges, as we had to bring a technical crew up to speed — at lightning speed — while also navigating the safety guidelines to keep students safe on top of the regular requirements of a production process.

And yet, through all of that, the year was marked by enthusiasm and gratitude at being able to create and learn in community, and by a joyful perseverance in navigating our challenges. The numbers of both majors and minors are the highest they’ve been in a half-decade and are a testament to our students, faculty, and staff’s resilience and creativity. Audiences were cautiously welcoming in the fall, gained in confidence throughout the year, and were delightfully accommodating of the ever-changing requirements and challenges posed by both COVID and the weather. Our Fringe Fest ‘22 became a lovely end to the year as friends, family, and community sampled the impressive fruits of our students’ learning labors. They wrote, directed, designed, and managed original and classic works, all enthusiastically supported by fellow department members as well as our community.

Total Number of Events
Total Revenue from Paid Events
Estimated Total Audience for 2021-2022

A glimpse of our 2021-2022 season

2021-2022 season and events


Connecting at a distance,
Reckoning with our reality

We had the benefit of half a semester’s worth of online classroom experience March — May 2020, but there were still many unknowns as we entered this second year of learning and creating theater under COVID-19. How to teach online, how to connect with new students, how to produce theater online, how to safely accommodate those classes that were able to meet in person — these and other questions kept faculty, staff, and students in conversation over the summer.

We began the year with most of our classes online, barring a few exceptions.

We also scheduled an all-online fall season slate, featuring both recorded and live materials. We pivoted, hard, away from trying to do what one student described as “the sad trombone version of real theater.” Instead, we embraced the parameters of Zoom to create works that explored new directions. We used the chat feature to create interactivity and intimacy with our audience, and created break-out rooms that offered the opportunity to select what thread of a performance to follow. Bolstered by our 3 Prof. Gina Kaufmann’s Theater 140 students were masked, socially distanced, and in person outside in the fall. Photo by John Solem. successes, we planned a spring season that featured live-streamed online work which explored digital special effects.

At the brilliant suggestion of Prof. Judyie Al-Bilali, we also planned an ambitious festival that responded to our ongoing reality. We scheduled a slate of pre-recorded and live online work, as well as in-person presentations that brought us together for the first time in a year with an enthusiastic audience practically starving to view live in-person work again.

This was also a time of taking stock and planning to build back better. Like many PWI (Predominantly White Institutions), we were challenged in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests to look at how we could serve our BIPOC community better. Faculty and staff participated in workshops, and, with the valuable guidance of Consultant Trenda Loftin, we formed an Anti-Racism Committee to create a “Roadmap” toward redressing the areas where we are falling short vis-a-vis our BIPOC community members. Parallel efforts began to revise elements of our undergraduate program to better recognize the unique circumstances of BIPOC students, faculty, and staff. We will continue our work to draw up the Roadmap, as well as to work on important changes to the undergraduate program in Fall 2021.

Amid all of this work, those of us who were in-person saw first hand the activity concentrated around the front of the building. After a halt on the work at the start of the pandemic, work on the Fourth Floor Arts Bridge proceeded throughout the year. We are spending the summer drafting plans to move into that space in Fall 2021, and we are excited to spread out in a new space that accommodates new shop space, equipment, and rehearsal space.

We’re excited to see what next year looks like, and to welcome everyone — students, staff, faculty, special guests and patrons — back into our spaces.

Most of this seasons events were under an hour
This seasons audiences built organically from existing communities of department friends and family, many of them able to support their friend/child/relative with repeat viewing or attendance from around the nation in ways that are usually impossible
This seasons events encouraged interaction, whether it was leaving comments in chat or actually coming on camera to interact with performers

A glimpse of our 2020-2021 season

2020-2021 season and events


A Year Unlike Any Other

The 2019-2020 school year began auspiciously. In the works was a production funded in part by a number of campus stakeholders, meant to prompt important conversations about race, identity and privilege across campus and in the community. We were brewing plans to bring a number of theater heavy hitters to campus to engage in another important conversation, this one about women in theater. We prepared to begin the search for a new faculty member to join us to teach voice.

We all know how the year ended, thanks to a pandemic that is sweeping the world: a production halted, then postponed indefinitely, a half-dozen student projects cancelled, dozens of seniors sent into the world without their traditional valedictory.

It was not the ending anyone wanted.

And yet, it is worth noting how much we did accomplish.

The campus and community came together for a powerful series of performances and conversations around Kristin Greenidge’s Baltimore, including a school matinee with a bracingly frank discussion. Conversations shifted, thanks to a wildly popular reimagining of The Bacchae of Euripides, to comment on the carceral state. Play Lab sold out one of its performances for the first time ever with The Interrobangers!, a new play in which a Scooby Gang of teens explored a science fiction mystery and confronted questions of gender, identity, and growing up, while Walden looked at climate change and family relationships. We mounted Water Station, a play with no spoken dialogue, enthralling an audience that hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

We completed the AQAD review, an accreditation process that includes a rigorous self-assessment and visioning, a site visit from leading theater professionals, and a response to their findings, with flying colors. (Excerpts of the AQAD study are included in the appendix of this Year In Review.)

Due to COVID-19, Theresa Rebeck was unable to come to campus to talk about women and comedy and Mimi Lien didn’t get to talk about what it’s like to be a female set designer in a male-dominated field. However, Tony-nominated lighting designer Jane Cox was one of many guests who made their way to us, be it in-person pre-lockdown, or via Zoom after we were all asked to go home; she spoke on her field and how she navigates a male-dominated space.

In the fall, we will be joined by our new voice instructor, Elisa Gonzales, who’ll help us reenvision this important aspect of performance.

We were galvanized by a gift from a generous donor to create a new fund that helps students afford internships, named in honor of Professor of Lighting Design Penny Remsen, and raised over $18,000 in support of the fund, even with the cancellation of the final fundraising event of the UMass school year.

Students adapted to online learning in classes that had them acting with scene partners across the country or designing lighting for an imaginary stage. We celebrated them online. It’s not the same as handing them those all-important Alumni Lifetime Passes in person, but our pride in their accomplishments is no less.

We don’t know what 2020-2021 will look like. But we know our season will seek to create and present art in ways that safely draw in our community and respond to our world as we see it today. Our work as theater artists and scholars is to reflect on and respond to our society, and we look forward to seizing this opportunity to innovate and create art that looks at the challenges of our time.

Box Office
Audience Tally
Leading to a season interrupted

A glimpse of our 2019-2020 season

2019-2020 Season


The 2018-2019 season began with a Kick-Off

A few years ago, the Department of Theater committed to changing what it produced each season, putting a focus on producing work by underrepresented voices and/or putting a more diverse group of performers and theater-makers onstage. Redefining how one approaches one’s season, even when it’s a laudable goal like this one, means there will be a period of redefining and adjustment of one’s audience, and we saw that as our audiences and revenues dipped in the first part of this decade. As we have remained firm in our commitment and let our work speak for itself, reputation and audiences have grown accordingly.

We are continuing to find ways to collaborate on campus, whether that’s our students using the College of Humanities and Fine Arts NYPOP space to mount a production in New York or the Department joining forces with the Fine Arts Center and Music and Dance to celebrate the ending of one successful season and the exciting slate of performances coming up in the next one.

Significantly, we see our work finding results in the Baltimore project, which is a collaboration with the Office of Equity and Inclusion and Campus Life and Student Affairs. This spring, the office sponsored a presentation of selected scenes from the play by Kirsten Greenidge, followed by conversations about issues raised in the play: racism on campus, as well as representation and privilege. In the fall, those same offices are funding a fully-mounted production of the show, with post-show discussions planned, that will be marketed specifically to encourage first-year students to participate, although the entire campus and wider community are involved too.

In addition to the important intangibles, the Department of Theater was a textbook illustration of how improving “path to sale” can pay off. We worked with the Fine Arts Center, which handles our advance box office needs, to improve the way its website lists us. The result was significantly improved ticket sales, especially at the beginning of the season, but carrying through the entire year.

One of our favorite audience stories from the year is the Hadley Council On Aging. The organization sent a van of seniors to our student matinee of Infants of the Spring last year, and they have become enthusiastic repeat customers, attending all three student matinees we offered this school year and inquiring early about what we had planned for the following season. They’re a small group, but their embrace of our work is a microcosm of the way our productions have found an enthusiastic audience throughout the valley.

Box Office
Audience Tally
From 39% to 23%
Drop in comp tickets as percentage of total tickets

A glimpse of our 2018-2019 season

2018-2019 season


Beautiful, Curious, Cool

No doubt about it, 2017-2018 was an artistic high-water mark for us. Our audience survey responses included complimentary descriptions of our shows like “interesting”, “thought-provoking”, “inspiring”, “deep,” and in this word cloud, the lovely sequence of “beautiful, curious, cool”.

We didn’t quite make our box office projection this year, thanks in part to the smaller-than-projected number of tickets available for two shows (although we could have sold twice the number of tickets to both of those shows, they were so popular). We intentionally set out to become more accessible to students this year, by dropping our ticket price from $8 to $5, and by offering a 45th season subscription package price of only $25. For the first time ever, we were also able to accept credit cards and Ucards as payment, which made for increased walk-up sales.

We ended this year with more people walking through our doors than last year, meaning our community is getting bigger. Our kick-off event, a new opportunity for community building, drew 300 people and is still brought up by many when they talk about the decision to attend a show, buy a subscription, or collaborate with us artistically.

Nearly 81% of survey respondents said they’d recommend our performance to a friend, and 97% consider our work to be equal or superior to other theater they’ve seen in the Valley. We knew they meant it when both Dream Play and The Lily’s Revenge performances were marked by mad ticket scrambles. Only a small audience was allowed in every night to these shows, we had to limit our waitlists to 20 at the door, and we actually caught people trying to sneak into the theater. We don’t encourage that sort of behavior, but we took it as an endorsement of our artistic ambitions and as a testament to the powerful relevance of our shows!

% audience size increase over previous year
Audience Tally - Students
Audience Tally - Adults

A glimpse of our 2017-2018 season

2017-2018 Mainstage Season