Remarks from the Chair: Year-end reflections on a busy season, May 2017
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Hello Theater Friends —
We’ve made it! The final weeks of a semester always start to feel overwhelming and this time was no different — there were days you could go from rehearsal to performance to presentation with scarcely a breath in between.
It was inspiring to witness, and I am grateful to everyone in the department for the part they played in making it happen!
It has been a momentous first year as chair for me, and at our final faculty and staff meeting of the year, I read a (by no means exhaustive) list of some of what we accomplished and experienced this year. I’d like to share some of what was on that list with you.
Our season was incredible – artistically vibrant, entertaining and thought-provoking. I’ve mentioned the other shows in past notes to you, but I want to recognize The Happiest Song Plays Last, which featured a cast composed entirely of actors of color, and Ta’zieh, which was not only the first mainstage work performed outdoors, but it was also the first Iranian epic we’ve ever done.
The big news first: We successfully searched and found a new Assistant Professor of Scenic Design, Anya Klepikov, and a new Assistant Professor of Costume Design, Yao Chen to join us in the fall. We’ll be introducing you to both artists in more detail when the new school year starts.
Megan Lewis has been awarded tenure. Congratulations, Megan! Priscilla Page has been given a permanent lecturer position to support her work on our Multicultural Theater Certificate and the teaching she has been doing in our department since 2005. Congratulations, Priscilla! Lena Cuomo’s role has been expanded to full-time lecturer. Congratulations, Lena! Her focus, in addition to continuing her work teaching Acting and Voice, will be on developing cross-disciplinary courses such as “Acting for Healthcare Professionals”, which Theater is creating with the School of Nursing.
The Rand Theater will be off-limits this summer — because we are getting a top-to-bottom overhaul of the theater rigging system!
Speaking of spaces, thanks to the tireless work of Judyie Al-Bilali and Gilbert McCauley, we have a growing presence in New Africa House, where multiple projects coming out of our department have already been performed.
And – also a very big deal – the decision was made in the Chancellor’s office that Theater will have a presence on the fourth floor Fine Arts Center Artsbridge. We’ll update you as plans take shape for this much-needed new piece of Theater real estate.
In other news, thanks to Judyie Al Bilali, we brought back Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks for "Return of the Mothership”. It was moving to see the incredible effects of Collidescope 2.0 on our students as they reflected back, one year later.
And, thanks to the work of Julie Nelson and Chris Baker, we inaugurated our new “Career Prep” course, to great success! Students created professional resumes, honed a variety of monologues and auditioned for several regional Artistic Directors.
I also want to thank our generous alumni. We inaugurated the Ed Golden Acting Scholarship — our first scholarship dedicated specifically to actors — and hosted a kick-off reception for Ed Golden and the founders of the scholarship: Rob Corddry, Bill and Tamara Pullman, and Jeffrey Donovan. I cannot thank these four people enough for what they have done for our students. Later in the year, dozens of you (people who I hope are reading this now) gave generously during #UMassGives to help grow this wonderful scholarship/tribute to one of our beloved emeritus faculty members, Ed Golden. We are beyond thrilled about the Golden Scholarship and the support it has received.
Finally and wonderfully, Theater has recently received the Stephen P. Driscoll Musical Theater Endowment bequest gift agreement! Wow! Stephen discovered a love for musical theater while he was here at UMass, and has also spoken fondly of the vibrant collaborative work between theater, art, music, and dance students during his time here. His gift will support musical theater productions, and is intended to spur those kinds of collaborations among future generations of students. A heart-felt thank you, Stephen!
So now we look ahead to the next season. We’re still working out the details so I can’t give you dates yet, but I CAN tell you that it’s going to be an amazing journey of stories. We’re going to open with the late Elizabeth Swados’ affecting musical, Runaways, directed by INTAR Theater’s Artistic Director, Lou Moreno. Play Lab shifts to the fall this year but continues its tradition of giving our students the chance to bring brand-new plays to the stage and to learn the uniquely American play development process. We’re going to continue to break out of our physical boundaries by producing an immersive take on Strindberg’s A Dream Play in a non-theater space on campus. Dramaturg and director Ifa Bayeza will be at the helm for her world-premiere adaptation Wallace Thurman’s 1932 novel, Infants of the Spring, set during the Harlem Renaissance. And we will wrap it all up with Taylor Mac’s epic The Lily’s Revenge, a stunning, epic glitter-fight of a play – get ready for a five-hour extravaganza!
We should have more details by our July issue, so clear your calendars and stay tuned!