Meet the ‘Seminar’ Team!

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Is there a dark side to achieving artistic greatness or is that dark side merely just the brutal truth? WVU School of Theatre & Dance opens the 2014-2015 season with Theresa Rebeck’s biting play, Seminar, in the Gladys G. Davis Theatre, Sept. 26-Oct. 5.

In this bristly comedy, four young writers gather in an Upper West Side apartment to attend a high-priced seminar on fiction writing led by an acerbic and unorthodox literary giant named Leonard. He’s not your Mr. Keating from “Dead Poets Society” sort of inspirational teacher. Leonard is brutally and shockingly honest; a fact that actually might cause transformation. As egos clash with sexual politics, agendas change and shift, and their debates become more personal than professional, which writer will end up on top?

Professor Lee Blair, Director

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Lee Blair is an actor, director and teacher who has been with West Virginia University since 2006. Teaching undergraduate and graduate acting, his work in the classroom is Stanislavski-based training with emphases in comedy, musical theatre and audition techniques. Lee has also served as Program Director of Undergraduate Acting for the past four years.

As a director for the School of Theatre & Dance, Lee has helmed past productions such as Cabaret, Lend Me a Tenor, The Crucible, Guys and Dolls, Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teen-Age Blockhead, The World Goes ‘Round, and Urinetown: The Musical. He has directed productions such as Sugar Bean Sisters, The Heidi Chronicles and Putting It Together for theatres including Greenbrier Valley Theatre, St. John’s University/College of Saint Benedict and Mountain State Repertory Theatre. From 2018-2012 and 2014, Lee has been the production director for Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts. His most recent work with TN GSFTA was his adaptation of three Shakespearean comedies into one entitled As You Like the Comedy of Twelfth Night Errors.

A 1995 graduate of the University of Florida with a Master of Fine Arts in Acting, Lee’s career as an actor has included professional works off and off-off Broadway as well as regionally for the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, the New York International Fringe Festival, Emelin Theatre, Hippodrome State Theatre, Alhambra Dinner Theatre, Greenbrier Valley Theatre and West Virginia Public Theatre. A member of Actors’ Equity Association since 1996, Lee also served in 2005 as a business representative for Developing Theatre in AEA’s Eastern Division.
A native of Tennessee, Lee also has a B.S. in Radio-Television Production with an emphasis in Broadcast Journalism from Middle Tennessee State University.

Stage Manager, Mari Smith

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Mari Smith is a junior BFA Theatre Design/Tech student. She has no emphasis yet, but has dabbled in things such as stage management and lighting design. Most recently, she was the stage manager for Dance Now 2014 which had around 75-100 people involved (or at least that’s how many people were on her email list at the end of the day). Needless to say, she is tremendously excited to scale back this semester. She would like to thank her twin sister Reva, her brother Skip, and the rest of her family, friends, and family friends for their never-ending love and support. She also wishes the best of luck to everyone involved with the show.

Asst. Stage Manager, Emily Stafford

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Emily Stafford is a recent transfer student from Troy University. She spent her past two years at Troy as a Vocal/Choral Music Education Major, but made the transition to stage management in her second year there. She is now a proud full time Theatre Major at West Virginia University. Emily’s previous shows in management include: Hansel and Gretel (the opera), Amahl and The Night Visitors (the children’s opera), and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She plans to pursue and continue her career path in theatrical stage management. Along with fellow ASM Kelsey Musselman, Emily’s tasks as ASM for Seminar include line notes, set prep for rehearsals and for performances she is backstage on headset, ready to assist actors and crew members. Students who are interested in stage management positions for the School of Theatre & Dance should contact Professor Steven Neunschwander, steven.neuenschwander@mail.wvu.edu.

Joe Dotts, Scenic Designer

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Joe Dotts is a senior BFA Theatre Design and Technology student emphasizing in scene design at West Virginia University. Seminar marks Joe’s first scenic design for the WVU mainstage season, and his first fully produced scene design ever. During the past two seasons, Joe has worked as an assistant scenic designer to Professor Robert Klingelhoefer on the shows The Liar and Lend Me a Tenor. Additionally his work as a properties master and artisan has been seen in the WVU productions of Cabaret, The Cherry Orchard, The Shape of Things, Carmen, and The Visit, as well as on both the East and West coasts at New York Stage and Film in Poughkeepsie, New York, and at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, California.”

Professor Alan McEwen, Lighting/Sound Designer

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Alan McEwen joined the School of Theatre and Dance in 2008. Previous work experience includes Whitman College, Idaho Repertory Theatre, Mountain State Theatre, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Wyoming Summer Stock Theatre, and The Columbine Players. Alan has taught in higher education for 20 years, in various duties and capacities, focusing on lighting, sound, stagecraft, and contemporary theatre. Lighting and sound credits include musicals, opera, theatre, dance, and performance art in addition to system consulting, design and installation. Alan received his MFA in lighting from the University of Oregon and is a member of USITT.

Professor Mary McClung, Costume Designer

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Professor McClung has designed costumes, puppets, and sets for theatre, video, and television. Companies include Disney, Children’s Television Workshop, Universal Studios, Dallas Children’s Theatre, The Idaho Repertory Theatre and The Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

Design credits include: As You Like It, The Dining Room, Twelfth Night, The Tempest,_ A Midsummer Night’s Dream_, The Life of Insects, The Beggar’s Opera, Henry IV part I and II, Great God Brown, The Seagull, Three Sisters, Sesamo Barrio (Sesame Street, Spain), The Long Christmas Ride Home, The Big Friendly Giant, and Tartuffe. Designs while at WVU: Guys and Dolls, Jekyll and Hyde, Caucasian Chalk Circle, Dracula, Another Part of the Forest, Hamlet, The World Goes Round, and 4 dance concerts.

McClung has also taught at The University of Dallas, (Dallas, Texas) and Whitman College, (Walla Walla, Washington) where she also worked as a guest designer. McClung was awarded The 2002 Dallas Critic’s Award for Costume Design for The Beggar’s Opera.

Brianne Taylor (Kate)

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Brianne Taylor is a graduate student on the MFA Acting track at West Virginia University. In the last couple of years here she’s been seen in Henry IV, Cabaret, The Cherry Orchard, and Blood Wedding. When she’s not in the Creative Arts Center working on her studies, she enjoys singing in the St. John’s Choir, running or biking on the rail trail, reading-reading-reading, and spending quality time with her husband. Kate is her thesis role for her degree studies and she would like to thank her parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers over the years, and husband for their unconditional love and support in her craft – without their words of encouragement over the last 10 years, she could not have gotten to where she is today!

Kyle Walter (Martin)

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Kyle Walter is a first year graduate student in the MFA Acting program here at West Virginia University. Kyle attended East Tennessee State University for his B.A. in Theatre. Kyle has worked in theatres around the region including Seaside Repertory Theatre in Seaside, Florida, Unto These Hills in Cherokee, North Carolina and Trail of the Lonesome Pine in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Some of Kyle’s favorite roles include Clown 2 in 39 Steps, Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Will Masters in Bus Stop. Kyle is also certified in unarmed combat with the Society of American Fight Directors, as well as extensive training in rapier and broadsword. In his spare time, Kyle thoroughly enjoys bowling, billiards, fishing, darts and playing the guitar. He would like to thank Roger, Jerry and
the rest of the staff here at WVU as well as the cast, crew, his friends and his parents for their support.

Aneesa Neibauer (Izzy)

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Aneesa Neibauer is excited to be performing in her first main stage production at WVU. Last year she performed in the LAB Theatre productions of Sunday on the Rocks, American Buffalo, the graduate student project, The Colored Museum and the Advanced Directing production of Sunshine. She has also worked with several theatres in the central Pennsylvania area including Open Stage of Harrisburg, Gamut Theatre Group, Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg, and Hershey Area Playhouse. Be sure to check her out in A Midsummer Night’s Dream later this semester at WVU!

Bryan Staggers (Douglas)

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Bryan is a senior in the BFA Acting Program here at WVU. His previous roles include Jim in The Glass Menagerie, Cliff in Cabaret, and the Homeless Man in The Cherry Orchard. Thanks go out to Lee, the entire cast and crew, and all of his family and friends in the audience. Enjoy the show.

Nick Ryan (Leonard)

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Nick Ryan is a graduate student in Performance in Theater here at West Virginia University. Since arriving on campus, he has participated in Lend Me a Tenor, The Cherry Orchard, God of Carnage, The Liar, Henry IV, and is extremely pleased to be part of Seminar for his thesis performance here at West Virginia University. Theresa Rebeck continues to write some of the most exciting contemporary plays available, and Nick is thankful for the opportunity. Other favorite roles have included Bazzard in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jud Fry in Oklahoma! _and Horton in _Seussical!. He would like to thank his wonderful girlfriend and family for all of their support.

Seven new faculty members have joined the WVU College of Creative Arts this fall, in the areas of musical theatre, art education, music history, costume technology, interactive media, painting, and music theory and composition.

The new faculty members are: School of Art and Design—Terese Giobbia, assistant professor of art and coordinator of art education; Jeffrey Moser, assistant professor of interactive media design, and Amy Schissel, assistant professor of painting; School of Music: Evan MacCarthy, assistant professor of music history, and Joseph Dangerfield, assistant professor of music theory and composition; School of Theatre and Dance: Bryce Britton, assistant professor of theatre and director of musical theatre, and Andrea Washington-Brown, clinical assistant professor of costuming.

“We are pleased to have such talented and experienced faculty joining the College of Creative Arts,” said Dean Paul Kreider. “I was impressed with these candidates and I am so pleased they have chosen to become members of the College of Creative Arts family.”


Theresa Giobbia photo


Terese Giobbia received a Master’s degree and a doctorate in Art Education from Northern Illinois University and also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education. Her dissertation topic examined design education in the K-12 classroom and explored how the teaching practice of secondary school design educators can be enhanced by understanding the professional practices of fashion design professionals. Prior to joining WVU, Giobbia taught art education classes at Northern Illinois University and supervised pre-service art teachers. She has extensive experience teaching fine and applied arts in the K-12 classroom. Her research interests include design and technology education in secondary school curriculum; fashion as public art; and the hybrid identity of American youth as seen through their clothing. She has presented on these topics at numerous international and national conferences and is currently publishing a book on incorporating fashion into the K-21 art curricula.


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A recent graduate of the University of Delaware, Jeffrey Moser is a digital media artist working with the transmediation of culture taking place during the 21st century, when every scrap of analogue information, sound recording, photograph, and motion picture ascends from its physical form and is preserved in simulated perfection. His work celebrates this transmediation, while warning against its inevitable consequences—the loss of disintegrating or disappearing cultural history. Moser is influenced by the research of former Boston University film professor, Dr. Robert Steele (1918–1981) and his studies on light rhythms in films. Moser holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Design and Philosophy, and has most recently taught in Omaha, Nebraska. His video work has been screened in Savannah, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Wilmington, Delaware; Providence, Rhode Island; and Zegreb, Croatia, as well as being presented at the National Gallery of Art as part of the 32nd Black Maria Film Festival.


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Amy Schissel completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2002 from the University of Ottawa and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Ottawa in 2009. Her work negotiates hybrid moments where paint and modes of digital representation collide, giving rise to contemporary imagery that flips between abstraction and representation. She was a finalist in the 2011 RBC Canadian Painting Competition and her work can be found in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank, the Department of Foreign Affairs Canada, the City of Ottawa, the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, and the Gotland Museum of Fine Arts, Sweden, in addition to numerous private international collections. She was Canada’s 2009 recipient of the Brucebo Fine Arts Award, and Ottawa’s 2013 RBC Emerging Artist Award. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally.


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Evan MacCarthy received an A.B. in Classics and music from the College of the Holy Cross, and a doctorate in historical musicology from Harvard University. His research focuses on the history of 15th-century music and music theory, late medieval chant, German music in the Baroque era, and late 19th-century American music. He is writing a book on the intersections of music, pedagogy, and the revival of classical literature across the Italian peninsula in the 15th century, focusing on the different spheres of humanistic and scholastic learning at Italian courts, cathedrals, and universities. He is also producing an edition and first-ever translation of Ugolino of Orvieto’s “Declaratio musice discipline” (written c. 1435) for Brepols Press. He has served on the music faculties of Harvard University (where he was the Harvard College Fellow in music from 2010 to 2012), College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University.


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Joseph Dangerfield has lived and worked professionally in Germany, Russia, Holland and New York. He began his composition studies at Marshall University, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1999. He completed his master’s degree at Bowling Green State University, and received a doctorate in 2005 from the University of Iowa. He is the recipient of many awards and recognitions, including the Aaron Copland Award (2010), the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra’s Composition Prize (2010), the Henry and Parker Pelzer Prize for Excellence in Composition (2005), the Young and Emerging Composers Award (2002), and ASCAP Standard Awards. He was a Fulbright Scholar to the Russian Federation and the Netherlands (2009-2010), where he served as composer-in-residence with the Ensemble Studio New Music at the famed Moscow Conservatory, and lectured at Maastricht Conservatorium. He has been a resident in the Leighton Studios of the prestigious Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, and the Yaddo Colony in New York.


Bryce Britton


Bryce Britton received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Direction from Ohio University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Directing from the University of Puget Sound. His extensive professional credits include Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT, Village Theatre, Lyric Theatre and Contemporary American Theatre Festival. With a passion for Original Theatre, he has worked on numerous new works with the Village Originals Festival and the Seaberry Quinn Playwriting Festival. He was the recipient of the 2009 Milo Cline Award. Some of his favorite directorial credits include “West Side Story,” “Pippin,” ” Into the Woods,” “Extremities,” “Sleuth,” The Dumb Waiter, “The Grapes of Wrath,” Humperdinck’s opera version of “Hansel and Gretel,” “An Actor’s Nightmare,” “Sweet Charity,” and “Oklahoma!” He wrote and directed an original adaptation of John Webster’s classic “The Duchess of Malfi” and recently directed Monty Python’s hilarious musical “Spamalot” and Sara Ruhl’s haunting retelling of the Orpheus tale, “Eurydice.”


Andrea Washington Brown


Andrea Washington-Brown holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Memphis and a Master of Fine Arts from Wayne State University. She has designed many costumes for the Bowling Green State University Theatre Department, Wayne State Theatre Department and Princeton University’s BAC Drama. She received the KCACTF XLII, Region III, 2010 Merit Award for “The Dancing Blanket” from the BGSU Theatre production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.” Photographs of her work for the WSU production of “The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God” have been published in “The Enjoyment of Theatre, Seventh Edition.” Recent designs credits include Swine Palace’s “Shapeshifter” and “King Lear” and LSU Theatre Mainstage’s “Our Lady of 121st Street.” She is a frequent guest costume designer for the eta Creative Arts Foundation in Chicago, Illinois.

NYMF Opening Party
NYMF Opening Party

Matt Webster and Taylor Ferrera have been best friends since they were students in the School of Theatre and Dance at WVU and—after graduating less than four years ago—they both moved to New York City, ready to take a bite out of the big apple.

And did they ever!

Both have achieved tremendous success individually in a short time, and now, a show they co-wrote, titled “Propaganda! The Musical” has been selected for the prestigious New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), the largest annual musical theater festival in America. The show opens July 23 and will run through July 27 at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd St., in the heart of New York City’s Theatre District.

This world premiere is directed by Nathan Brewer and the cast of ten also includes MaryJoanna Grisso, a Morgantown native who graduated from the School of Music in 2011, (who just came off a national tour of “West Side Story” as Maria), as well as other actors and singers who have performed on Broadway, Off Broadway, or toured nationally with various shows.

“Propaganda! The Musical” is the story of a somewhat ignorant young man who takes over his family’s business and soon finds out that it is full of secrets. Now it’s up to him to cover up the biggest scandal since Watergate! Armed only with a clever idea, he must also fight off the evil mastermind—Agent X—and save the world from certain doom.

Add to that an energetic, catchy score and maybe even a tap dancing president (rumors are that it is Richard M. Nixon), and the result is a show that provides lots of fun for the audience.

To hear some songs from the show, go to this link on the NYMF website and click “music and video.”

The partners have been working on the musical for the past three years, constantly revising it, writing new songs, and performing it in workshops. On March 25 of this year, when the “Propaganda! The Musical” had its premiere reading in New York City, people were standing in the back and sitting on the floor for a chance to see it.

The Dream Team
The Dream Team

Both Taylor and Matt have been performing since they were young children, Matt since he was five years old and Taylor since she was three.

“I was one of the twins in the musical “The King and I,” said Matt, who is from Martin’s Ferry, Ohio. “My mom took me to the audition and I caught the bug. I did a show pretty much every year of my life after that.”

Taylor, a native of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, got her start when she played the head orphan in the musical “Oliver” at her brother’s elementary school. “My mom runs a children’s theater company, so I was lucky enough to be involved in theater my whole life.”

The two met at WVU during the fall of 2008 when they did the show “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” together and they often played music together in the practice rooms at the Creative Arts Center.

“The Creative Arts Center really cultivates an environment that inspires personal creativity,” Taylor said. “Matt and I played music with other students in the practice rooms and that’s when Matt began pushing me to take songwriting seriously.”

They also got to be in a lot of shows, including six main stage productions each year and multiple laboratory theater shows.

Both were also in “Urinetown: The Musical” at WVU, which inspired them as actors and as writers. In that Tony Award-winning show, there is a terrible water shortage and public toilets are controlled by giant corporations. Matt and Taylor were part of a cast of rebellious characters who break into song as they demand free access for the people and are chased by police through the sewers!

It was shortly after this experience that Matt started writing his first musical, “Kingdom Come,” while still a student at WVU. Told through singing and dancing, monologues and scenes, the show features 14 stories, all centered on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Kingdom Come” was performed in Morgantown and other places before it went on to win Best Musical of 2012 at the prestigious Downtown Urban Theatre Festival in New York. Since then, it has been featured by the New York Theatre Barn and had a three-night, sold-out run at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City.

Taylor was one of the stars of that show. “I loved being part of Matt’s original musical, “Kingdom Come,” which was the first time I was really involved in an original musical like that,” she said.”

Taylor Ferrera
Taylor Ferrera

Taylor received a BFA in acting from WVU in 2010 and has been in New York for three years. In that short time, she has attained a worldwide audience on YouTube. (See her YouTube videos here: http://www.taylorferrera.net/videos.html and her website: http://www.TaylorFerreraMusic.com.) She has been featured in the Huffington Post, on NBC, and various radio shows across the country for her songwriting.

In addition to acting, she writes songs for individuals, campaigns, and companies and also writes sketches and short plays. “Propaganda! The Musical” is the first time she has delved into the world of musical theater writing.

“After graduating and doing summer stock with Matt, I moved to New York with another friend from WVU,” she said. “I’d been to New York plenty of times, but that never prepared me to live here. The first year was full of figuring out how to make it in the city.

“That was also when I first came up with the idea for ‘Propaganda! The Musical,’ while at an audition. It was an open call and I was bored while I was waiting and wrote a song in my head. I wrote down the lyrics and the title and immediately went to Matt with the idea.”

Matt Webster
Matt Webster

By that time, Matt, who graduated in 2011, was also in New York, where he has been in the Off-Broadway Alliance Award-winning family show, “StinkyKids the Musical”; “The Curious Quest of Benjamin Bunny” with Connecticut Children’s Theatre, a member of the Rescue Agreement Theatre Company, and a show host on TvTalk. See Matt’s website: http://www.theothermattwebster.com.

In November 2013, he joined the Broadway national tour of “West Side Story,” performing the role of Gladhand for nine months as the show traveled around the country, with his fiancée, MaryJoanna Grisso, as Maria. (See MaryJoanna’s website: http://maryjoannagrisso.com.)

“Taylor approached me with the idea for ‘Propaganda, the Musical,” he said. “I loved it and the collaboration began.”

Out of the song, lyrics, and title that Taylor came up with originally, the title is the only thing that has survived the past three years of revision.

“We have been constantly working on music, working on lyrics, working on the book, changing things around, making edits, cutting things, and adding things to flesh out the show and make it more fun and more awesome,” Matt said.

Back in 2012, when Matt and Taylor took their musical to Orlando, Florida, to workshop it, WVU reporters caught up with them, and produced this video about the budding playwrights: WVU video.

Along the way, Matt and Taylor have received support from many friends, as well as their WVU family.

“We have been lucky to have a great group of friends from WVU,” Taylor said. “Even if we fall out of touch, whenever support is needed, they are always there. “The WVU/NJ Alumni Chapter has also reached out to us and has been very generous and supportive.”

Their goal now is to use the New York Musical Theatre Festival as a springboard for the show, since the festival has established itself as an unparalleled launching pad for new musicals.

“We hope we can continue to work on the show and get a commercial run,” Matt said. “That’s the dream. To continue to work, collaborate and move forward.”

They both hope to have future lives where they continue doing what they love.

“I don’t’ think I’ll ever stop wanting this show to be produced,” Taylor said.

“In the meantime, I’m willing to serve shrimp in Times Square so I can write and produce new musicals in my free time!”

Matt, Taylor and Dan Simpson, the lead in 'Propaganda! The Musical'
Matt and Taylor with Dan Simpson, who plays the lead character in the musical.

Propaganda! The Musical” is being staged at PTC Performance Space, 555 West 42nd Street (between 9th & 10th Avenues) in New York City for five performances during July 23-27.

The schedule includes: Wednesday, July 23 at 8 p.m.; Thursday, July 24 at 1 p.m.; Friday, July 25 at 9 p.m.; Saturday, July 26th at 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 27 at noon.

For more information about “Propaganda! The Musical” and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, see the festival website.

Matt and Taylor are still raising funds for the show. Anyone interested in contributing can visit http://www.PropagandaTheMusical.com and click “donate” in the top right corner.

Also, see them on Twitter: @PropTheMusical, Instagram: @PropTheMusical, and Facebook.com/PropagandaTheMusical.

Anna Justice photo

Anna Justice has joined the WVU College of Creative Arts as the new director of development. She was previously a development officer at Loyola University New Orleans. Justice began work with Creative Arts Dean Paul Kreider and WVU Foundation Assistant Vice President Chuck Kerzak on June 16.

“I’m really excited to be joining the College of Creative Arts team and getting to know the university and its vibrant arts community,” Justice said. “I was a trumpet major in my undergraduate studies, and I’m thrilled to continue my work in the arts management in higher education. This is my dream job continued!”

“I am also excited to have Anna Justice join our College staff,” said Dean Paul Kreider of the College of Creative Arts. “She brings significant arts development experience to our team. Her experience at Loyola University of New Orleans, coupled with her arts training, provide a foundation that will help move the College closer to achieving its philanthropic goals. I am confident our faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, and supporters will find her a wonderful addition to the team as well.”

Justice, originally from Pawleys Island, South Carolina, earned a Bachelor of Music in Trumpet Performance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, as well as a Master of Science in Arts Administration and a Certificate in Fundraising Management from Boston University.

She joined Loyola University in 2008 where she was the development officer for the College of Music and Fine Arts.

While at Loyola, Justice served on the board of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s new audience group, “Prelude,” and was a member of the New Orleans Friends of Music, an organization that brings internationally renowned performing ensembles to the New Orleans community. She was also active on the advisory board for the New Orleans Opera Association.

She was a member of the Junior League of New Orleans, and holds professional memberships with the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

Justice also taught an overview class in arts administration as an adjunct professor through the Department of Music Industry Studies in the Loyola College of Music and Fine Arts.

Commencement Highlights 2014

Charlene | June 2, 2014

It was a packed house at the Creative Arts Center on Saturday, May 10, as graduates of the College of Creative Arts received their diplomas during a special ceremony featuring actor and alumnus Chris Sarandon as guest speaker.

Diplomas were awarded this year to approximately 115 students in the College of Creative Arts, including graduates of August 2013, December 2013 and August 2014.

Daniela Longono-Bernal, the Outstanding Graduating Senior in the School of Art & Design, was also named the overall Outstanding Graduating Senior in the College of Creative Arts for 2014.

The other outstanding graduates recognized were: Jacob Sandridge, Outstanding Graduating Senior in the School of Music, and Nora Perone, Outstanding Graduating Senior in the School of Theatre and Dance.

Guest speaker Chris Sarandon is a native of Beckley, W.Va., an alumnus of the College of Creative Arts (Drama, 1964), and an award-winning actor best known for playing Prince Humperdinck in “The Princess Bride.” His many other roles in films, on Broadway, and on television, include the vampire Jerry Dandridge in “Fright Night” and Detective Mike Norris in the first entry of the “Child’s Play” series, as well as for providing the speaking voice of Jack Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Leon in the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon.”

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“I can’t tell you how proud I am to be here today,” Sarandon said. He then told a true story:

“When one of my daughters was five years old, she and a friend were having pizza with the friend’s mom, and when the mom asked her own daughter what her daddy did, she said “He makes wires in houses.” Her mother said ‘That’s right, Daddy’s an electrician.’ Then the mother turned to my daughter and she said ‘You know what your daddy does, don’t you?’ and my daughter said ‘Yeah, he looks for work.’”

After much laughter, Sarandon told the graduates he was certainly not one who felt competent to give them the secrets of the cosmos, or tell them how to get a job, but he wanted to share four seemingly random events that occurred during his undergraduate years at WVU that each turned out to be a lightning bolt to him and helped give his life a new direction.

“I was preparing for one of several majors and thought that taking a few easy electives would be a good way to up my GPA,” he said.

Lightning bolt number one was an elective English class called “101 Scottish and Irish Ballads” taught by the renowned folklorist Patrick Gainer, who was professor of English at WVU from 1946 to 1972.

Professor Gainer would stand in front of the class and reference his book called “101 Scottish and Irish Ballads,” while punching the buttons on the 50-pound Wollensack reel-to-reel tape recorder that he had lugged up and down the mountains and hollows of West Virginia as he recorded amateur musicians singing the almost-identical words to the ballads in his book. These words had been passed down, orally, through the centuries, from Scotland and Ireland, and finally to West Virginia.

“At the time I was very snooty about what I thought of as hillbilly music, because I was a child of Greek immigrants and they worked very hard to assimilate and be all-American,” Sarandon said. “But, pow! Suddenly I was confronted by the fact that the state where I was born and raised and in which I was continuing my education and – by the way, from which I had been dying to get away – was the epicenter of a culture that went back hundreds and hundreds of years.”

Lightning bolt number two came in another English class, called “Victorian Poetry.”

“This appealed to the romanticized image I had of myself at the time as a sad, poetic soul,” Sarandon said. “And, it looked easy. It was taught by an aloof, but charismatic, professor named Gordon Pitts.”

Pitts was an English professor who founded the Victorian Poetry journal at WVU in 1962. He was passionate about poetry, and he recited it beautifully.

“His passion was catching. And his essay exams required answers that were graded on one’s ability to express original and complex interpretations of the poems,” Sarandon said. “In other words, they required one to think critically and write well, a muscle that I had used sparingly up to that time.

“I only got one C when I was here at West Virginia – I say somewhat immodestly – and I feel proud to have earned that C from Professor Pitts.”

Lightning bolt number three was a music class called “Choral Union,” taught by another charismatic teacher who was anything but aloof. His name was Joseph Golz and he was the first director of the opera and vocal program at WVU.

Somehow, Sarandon said, Professor Golz managed by force of his vivid personality and his acerbic humor to get a group of several hundred non-music students and a few voice major ringers to sing the “Carmina Burana” the Brahms “Requieum,” and the Bach “Mass in B Minor.”

“The experience of blending my voice with hundreds of others was an experience that was a high, and I’ll never forget it.”

Lightning bolt number four was a “Beginning Acting” class taught by Drama professor Charles “Chuck” Neel. This seemed like another easy class, especially since Sarandon had always had a way with accents and taking on characters and stories.

During the first semester, Professor Neel asked Sarandon to take a small part in a studio production that he was directing of “Julius Caesar.”

“I had some time and I wanted to earn some brownie points, so I accepted the three-line role,” Sarandon said. “And when it was over, he proposed that I accept another role. This time it was the lead in the studio production of a play called ‘Tartuffe,’ by Moliere.

“So then I had to make a choice,” he said. “To continue my somewhat aimless existence, going to parties and coordinating various campus activities, and taking classes that I barely cared about, or to commit myself to the theater – put on a wig, a false nose – with a wart – and, as an extra added attraction, to woo the young actress who was playing opposite me, the reigning Miss West Virginia. Well! I don’t have to tell you, the choice was not a difficult one. I bit. And I was bitten.”

As a result, Sarandon said, he was transformed from a boy, who had been trying on various identities – including jokester, rock musician, and campus politician – to a young man experiencing transcendent moments and taking on the identities of timeless characters such as Romeo, Harold Hill, and Tartuffe.

“If you graduates were as fortunate as I was to have a few lightning bolts while you were in college – classes or college experiences that led you to a wider view of the world and your place in it – then you were blessed,” he said.

He said the class in West Virginia music gave him a sense of authenticity. He felt pride in being surrounded by a centuries-old tradition and art form. The class in Victorian poetry connected him to a timeless and magnificent language taught by a teacher who expected his students to be critically original. The Choral Union made him a singer in an immense choir that was a mystical cooperative effort and collaboration.

And finally, through his acting mentor, Professor Chuck Neel, he was able to understand “how to connect with the characters that lived inside this manufactured exterior that I had worked so long to create.”

“An artist is made up of everything the he or she experiences,” he said. “I hope that during your time here you have used, absorbed, synthesized, grabbed onto, sucked into yourselves – personalities, artworks, music, personal tragedy, mundane everyday events, the prodigious minutia of life that will continue to inform your work throughout your life.

“By living a life in the arts you will be at times deeply discouraged in a culture that values celebrity over accomplishment and making money over making something lasting that enriches the world around you. But stick with it, whatever you do.

“Please, stick with it, whether it’s your vocation, or your avocation, for believe me there will be times when many of you will be doing other jobs to support your art habit or will be looking for work, just as I have. But if your life is an artwork, whatever job you do will be filled with dancing, breathless laughter, and maybe a few finger puppets.”

Sarandon ended his speech by reading a poem called “For the Young Who Want To” by Marge Piercy.

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
asking why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.


Outstanding Seniors

Outstanding Senior – College of Creative Arts
Outstanding Senior – School of Art and Design

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Daniela Londona-Bernal was the outstanding senior in the School of Art and Design and she was presented with the award as overall outstanding senior in the College of Creative Arts during the Commencement ceremony by Dean Paul Kreider and Provost Michele Wheatly. Daniela received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography and samples of her photographs were projected on a screen above the stage at Commencement. Her work was also displayed in the lobby and in the Mesaros Galleries.

Daniela is a native of Antioquia, Columbia. While a student at WVU, she has been the recipient of numerous academic and artistic awards. She received a number of merit based academic scholarships, including the WVU Foundation Outstanding Senior Award, a WVU Presidential Award for Excellence in Scholarship, a WVU Fine Arts Scholarship, and a Valerie Canady Scholarship Award. As an artist, Daniela’s work has been exhibited and/or published in Small Art/Big Impact, juried exhibition through Manhattan Arts international; Art Biologic, juried exhibition at the Limner Gallery in Hudson, New York; 15th International Juried Krappy Kamera Competition in New York, New York; 16th Annual International Open Exhibition at the Women Made Gallery in Chicago, Illinois; and Best of College Photography 2013 by the Photographers’ Forum Magazine. Additionally, Daniella has worked as a photographer for the WVU student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, and as a Student Ambassador for the College of Creative Arts.

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Outstanding Senior – School of Music

Jacob Sandridge was this year’s outstanding senior in the School of Music and was congratulated by Dean Paul Kreider. Jake received a Bachelor of Music degree in composition and piano performance. During the Commencement ceremony, Jake performed “Skyscraper” from his work titled “Pieces of Glass.”

Jake is from Philippi, West Virginia. At WVU he has studied composition under Dr. John Beall, electronic composition under Dr. David Taddie, and piano under Dr. Peter Amstutz. Jake has composed for a variety of chamber ensembles including string quartet, piano quintet, woodwind sextet, art song, solo piano, and choir. He has also composed for electronic media with percussion and piano, and his art songs have been performed in a number of venues. Sandridge is the secretary of the WVU chapter of the Society of Composers and an active member in the Music Teachers National Association and served as a Student Ambassador for the College of Creative Arts. After graduation, Jake will attend Bowling Green State University for graduate study.

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Outstanding Senior – School of Theatre and Dance

Nora Perone was congratulated by Provost Michele Wheatly for being the outstanding senior in the School of Theatre and Dance. Nora received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting. During the Commencement ceremony, Nora sang “What I Did for Love.”

Nora is a Morgantown native. She attended Morgantown High School, where she was an International Honor Thespian. She has also been very active in community theatre in Morgantown and Fairmont. During her time with the WVU School of Theatre and Dance, she appeared on the main stage as a cigarette girl in “Carmen,” as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” and as a rebel soldier and Justice Shallow in “Henry IV,” as well as performing in several student-run productions. She will continue her education next fall in a postgraduate musical theatre course at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, England.

Congratulations Graduates!

Following the conferring of degrees, there was a reception in the Douglas O. Blaney Lobby of the Creative Arts Center for the graduates, their families and friends, as well as College of Creative Arts faculty and staff.

See the entire College of Creative Arts Graduation Commencement Ceremony on YouTube Link to CCA Commencement 2014.

View a video capturing the thoughts, emotions and images of WVU Commencement Weekend 2014 at 2014 Video.

See photos of the ceremony, including photos of each of this year’s graduates, at the University Relations Photography link.

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College of Creative Arts alumnus Chris Sarandon, an award-winning actor actor best known for playing Prince Humperdinck in “The Princess Bride, will be the guest speaker for the College of Creative Arts Commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 10.

The ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. in the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre of the Creative Arts Center and is open to the public.

In addition to his role in “The Princess Bride,” Sarandon is known for his role as the vampire Jerry Dandridge in “Fright Night” and Detective Mike Norris in the first entry of the “Child’s Play” series, as well as for providing the speaking voice of Jack Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Leon in the 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon.”

Sarandon was born and raised in Beckley, W.Va., and earned his degree in speech and drama at WVU, graduating magna cum laude in 1964. While at WVU, he performed as a rabble rouser in a Theatre Lab production of “Julius Caesar,” in 1961; as the ultimate hypocrite in the Molière comedy “Tartuffe” in 1962; as a singing charmer in “Little Mary Sunshine” in 1963; and as Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” in 1964. His mentor was WVU Theatre Professor Charles Neel. Sarandon was named to the Academy of Distinguished Alumni at WVU in 1998.

Following his graduation from WVU, he earned his master’s degree in theater from The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., and then toured with CUA’s National Players, performing Shakespeare and Molière. He worked at an improv company in Washington, D.C., and then became heavily involved in regional theatre.

In 1968, Sarandon moved to New York, where he landed his first television role as Dr. Tom Halverson on the soap opera “The Guiding Light” (1969-1973). He also appeared in several prime-time TV movies before landing the role of Al Pacino’s transsexual wife in “Dog Day Afternoon,” a performance which earned him a nomination for Best New Male Star of the Year at the Golden Globes in 1975 and the nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.

Sarandon has appeared on Broadway, as well making regular appearances at Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw festivals in the United States and Canada. He also appeared opposite the late Margaux Hemingway in the thriller “Lipstick” (1976) and as attorney turned demon in the shocker “The Sentinel” (1977). He co-starred with Dennis Hopper in “The Osterman Weekend” in 1983, and with Goldie Hawn in “Protocol” in 1984. He received accolades for his dual portrayals of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay in a television version of “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1980.

Over the years, he continued to work on television with a recurring role as Dr. Burke on NBC’s long-running medical drama “ER,” and also recurring character on “The Practice.” In the 2000s he made guest appearances in quite a few TV series, notably as the Necromancer demon, Armand, in “Charmed,” and as superior court judge Barry Krumble in six episodes of “Judging Amy.” More recently, he has appeared as a guest star on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Good Wife.”

Sarandon also reprised his role as Jack Skellington for many other subsequent productions, including the Disney/Square video games “Kingdom Hearts” and “Kingdom Hearts II” and the Capcom sequel to the original film, “Oogie’s Revenge.” He also reprised the role for “Halloween Screams” and the Haunted Mansion Holiday, a three-month overlay of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

He returned to Broadway in 2006 playing Signor Naccarelli in the six-time Tony award-winning Broadway musical “The Light in the Piazza” at Lincoln Center. More recently he appeared in “Cyrano de Bergerac” as Antoine de Guiche, alongside Kevin Kline, Jennifer Garner and Daniel Sunjata.

Sarandon is married to actress Joanna Gleason and they have appeared together in a number of films. Between them, they have four grown children and two grandchildren.

Commencement Details
During the May 10 Commencement ceremony, the College of Creative Arts will individually recognize approximately 100 graduates, including those who completed their requirements in August or December of 2013. Alison Helm, director of the School of Art and Design, Keith Jackson, director of the School of Music, and Joshua Williamson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, will recognize each of the degree candidates by name and they will receive congratulations from Dean Paul Kreider, Associate Dean William Winsor, and Assistant Dean John Hendricks.

There will also be several special presentations, including awards to outstanding students in the Schools of Art and Design, Music, and Theatre and Dance.

Student Marshals, who lead the procession of graduates, are undergraduates in the College who have achieved the highest cumulative grade point average in their school. The Student Marshals for 2013-2013 are: Megan Emma Bean, Bachelor of Arts, School of Art and Design; Christie Elizabeth Curley, Bachelor of Music, School of Music; and Cody Leroy Wilson, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, School of Theatre and Dance.

Outstanding Graduating Senior awards for the three schools include: Daniela Londono-Bernal, Bachelor of Fine Arts, School of Art and Design; Jacob Daniel Sandridge, Bachelor of Music, School of Music; and Nora Lynn Perone, Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, School of Theatre and Dance.

The College of Creative Arts Outstanding Graduating Senior for 2013-2014 will be announced by Dean Kreider during the Commencement ceremony.

Doors to the Lyell B. Clay Theatre will open at 5 p.m. Tickets are not required for admission and seating is open except where reserved for degree candidates. The academic procession begins sharply at 5:30 p.m. Parking is available at various locations near the Creative Arts Center. Families and friends of graduates are welcome to take photos during the ceremony.

The ceremony will also be webcast, for those who are unable to attend. Coverage begins ten minutes prior to the start of the event. For more information, go to Commencement Webcasts.

Following the ceremony, there will be a reception in the lobby of the Creative Arts Center for the graduates, their families and friends, and College of Creative Arts faculty and staff.

Six undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Creative Arts were named winners of the annual Faculty-Mentored Research Awards, given by the College of Creative Arts during a ceremony held April 16 at the Creative Arts Center.

The awards honor students for excellence in faculty-mentored creative, research and scholarly works in the arts. This can be evidenced through, but is not necessary limited to, works, exhibitions, performances, publications, or any other form of scholarly, creative and/or research work related to the arts. Additional consideration is given to works that effectively help advance the College’s contributions to the research mission of the University.

The awards were presented by Dean Paul Kreider. “The quality of this year’s projects was very exciting,” he said. “Choosing the winners was difficult. We looked at the research, the outcome—artistic or not—and the final presentation. It was a valuable learning experience for everyone involved.”

Undergraduate Awards
Theatre student Daniel Gutierrez, of Dublin, Ohio, who will graduate this spring with a BFA in Theatre Design and Technology from the School of Theatre and Dance, won the Undergraduate First Place Award. His faculty mentor was Theatre professor Steven Neuenschwander, who serves as the School of Theatre and Dance faculty technical director and production manager. This award included $750 for the student as well as a $750 travel award for the faculty member.

Gutierrez’s project involved creating the sound of a cell phone buzzer for the School of Theatre and Dance play “God of Carnage.” The script called for a cell phone to constantly vibrate on cue, so Gutierrez and Neuenschwander created a wireless buzzer that could be controlled by a technician offstage. They custom built a buzzer box and programmed it with Arduino microcontrollers and XBEE radios. The finished device was an Altoids mints tin that the actor placed in his coat pocket. This allowed the sound effect to come from his pocket and not a speaker overhead. It also allowed the actor to move around freely on stage.

Art student Jordan Welsh, of Front Royal, Va., who is studying for a BFA in Printmaking, won the Undergraduate Second Place Award. His faculty mentor was Art professor Joseph Lupo, coordinator of the Printmaking program in the School of Art and Design. The award included $500 for the student and a $500 travel award for the faculty member.

For his project, titled “Home Sweet Home,” Welsh chose to research beetles from the subfamily Dynstidae, focusing on the connection between their natural environment and evolutionary adaptations to their physical structure, which allow them to survive. He created images of the beetles and printed them on t-shirts, along with commercial-style packaging, to draw a connection between humans, insects, and the environment we share.

The Undergraduate Third Place Award was a tie. The winners were Thomas Logan Seidler, of Wheeling, W.Va., who is studying for a BA in Multidisciplinary Studies, and his faculty mentor Michael Vercelli, director of the World Music and Performance Center, and also James Pfaff, of Parkersburg, W.Va., who will graduate this spring with a BFA in Sculpture, and his faculty mentor Dylan Collins, who is coordinator of the Sculpture program in the School of Art and Design. The award included $250 for each student and a $250 travel award for each faculty member.

Seidler’s project, titled “Togo Atsia: Ewe Music and Dance” is the study of a social, recreational dance of the Ewe people of Ghana in West Africa. Seidler began studying this music at the Dagbe Cultural Center in Ghana while on Dr. Vercelli’s 2012 Summer Study Abroad trip to Africa. Because it was an aural tradition, Seidler had to learn it by rote, and then transcribe it. He led the WVU African Drum and Dance Ensemble in a performance of the Ghanaian music during the fall 2013 WVU World Music Showcase Concert at the Creative Arts Center.

Pfaff’s project, titled “Dead Weight,” dealt with the collaboration with his faculty mentor Dylan Collins in all the processes of foundry works involved in iron casting—including furnace construction, making sand molds and core pins, and the production of hollow cast iron art objects. He also gained knowledge through field trips, demonstrations and first-hand experience. Phaff’s final iron casting projects are currently on display in the Creative Arts Center’s Mesaros Galleries as part of the BFA Senior Project Exhibition.

Graduate Student Awards
Art student Lauren Schiefelbein, of Philippi, W.Va., who is studying for an MFA in Graphic Design, was named the Graduate First Place Winner. Her faculty mentor was Art Professor Eve Faulkes, coordinator of the Graphic Design program. The award includes $1000 for the student and a $1000 travel award for the faculty member.

Lauren’s project, titled “A Community that Embraced the Mentally Ill, Speaks,” is an exhibit built to address the patient experience at the former Weston State Hospital, in Weston, W.Va., which was open from 1864 to 1994 and is now a museum called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. The finished project, now on view at the museum, is a two-room exhibition that includes stories and quotations built into handmade books, serigraphy on handkerchiefs, embroidery on a nurse’s uniform, and a patient’s letters to his psychiatrist. Photos, artifacts, and a contextual timeline complete the work.

Art student Nathan J.H. Ditzler, of Kailua, Hawaii, who is studying for an MFA in Ceramics, received the Graduate Second Place Award. His faculty mentor was Art professor Shoji Satake, coordinator of the Ceramics program. The award includes $500 for the student and a $500 travel award for the faculty member.

Nathan’s project, titled “Guan Xi” or “Good Social Relations” is the culmination of his research conducted during the fall semester of 2013 in Jingdezhen, China, as part of the School of Art and Design’s ceramics program at Jingdezhen. He completed the work relying entirely on seven highly specialized local artisans, local materials and WVU’s unique relationship with The Pottery Workshop at The Sculpture Factory in Jingdezhen. The final work is an abacus, with ceramic hands instead of beads. The object speaks to the way in which art can serve as a means of cross-cultural communication and good business.

Faculty Student Mentored Research Award Winners 2014

From left: Shoji Satake, Nathan Ditzler, Laura Schiefelbein, Eve Faulkes, Daniel Gutierrez, Dean Paul Kreider, Steven Neuenschwander, Jordan Welsh, Joseph Lupo, Thomas Logan Seidler, Michael Vercelli, and Dylan Collins. Not pictured: James Pfaff.

Meet Dr. Sarah Neville, Script Adapter for Henry IV (Parts 1&2)

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Dr. Sarah Neville, Assistant Professor of English whose one of many specialties is in Shakespeare’s works, has adapted Henry IV (Parts 1&2) into one seamless drama, enabling the audience to get the full impact of Prince Hal’s tumultuous journey to the throne. Neville is an Assistant Editor of the New Oxford Shakespeare Project and a General Textual Editor of the Digital Renaissance Editions, and has published in Shakespeare, Shakespeare Bulletin, and CNQ.

Coinciding with the run of Henry IV (Parts 1&2), Dr. Neville will be giving a lecture (open to the public) on her adaptation process entitled ‘Break[ing] into this woman’s mood: The Lab Space of Shakespeare’s Henry IV’ which will be in the Robinson Reading Room in the Charles C. Wise Library (Downtown campus) on April 23 at 2:30pm. The Rare Book Room will also be holding an exhibition curated by Stewart Plein of the 1623 First Folio.


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Modern audiences will connect very well with the father/son relationship, public vs. private responsibilities, and the fact that this is a wonderful coming-of-age story. Was the political side of Henry IV (Parts 1&2) edited more heavily in order to highlight the journey of Henry, Hal, and Falstaff or did you find that the scenes with these relationships could also use a bit of a trim?

When you read or watch both plays together, you get both of the stories you describe—the political and the personal—but in a shorter version, one or both of these approaches simply have to be cut down so you don’t end up with a six hour play. I created our script by paring down two very long plays into one regular length play, carving out the material that I didn’t want to focus on, and leaving behind what I did want audiences to see. It was almost like carving a relief—the ideas about self-fashioning and world-making that Shakespeare put into the play were suddenly closer together, because intervening lines or scenes were removed. My plan was to highlight Hal’s decision to choose between two worlds—the patriarchal world his father has decided for him, where he is the crown prince, destined to rule a kingdom; and the world of the tavern, where Hal is able to choose how and when to participate in the public life of regular English men and women, regardless of rank. While the focus wasn’t as much on the political relationships of the crown and the militaristic machinations of the rebels, these activities do explain King Henry’s anxieties about his son, and so those details were still important to include in the final script.

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Producing Shakespeare’s plays with gender-blind casting as part of the concept is a very exciting trend. How did you determine which roles were suited best to this type of casting and how does it fit with the overall concept for your adaptation?

I think of theatre as a kind of laboratory, where critical ideas can be explored to their fullest potential. One of the things that literary critics do in their essays and books is explain the kinds of social and political histories that underlie an author’s creation of a text in order to show the broader ideas at work within a play or novel. A watershed book in the study of Shakespeare’s history plays demonstrated that the plays articulate a real world change in the way that women were perceived as political players during the War of the Roses and its aftermath—while in the middle ages women were key players in dynastic marriages, that eventually shifted in the early modern period with the advent of a Machiavellian realpolitik that was able to push women out of the picture. You can see this idea at work in Shakespeare’s plays—while the first tetralogy has these amazing scene-killing female characters, like Joan of Arc or Queen Margaret, the second tetralogy has considerably fewer females, and they tend not to be all that much of a threat to the male establishment. The lab space of the CAC production gave me a chance to push on this idea: what would happen if we strategically cast some women back into the key characters who represent threats to social order in these plays, like Hotspur and Falstaff? Would the casting reveal to an audience that these are the same, or different kinds of threats? In this sense, the casting is not gender-blind at all; the play is strategically cross-gendered. I’m going to talk a bit more about this in my lecture on April 23rd.

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How do you feel the dynamic will change between Hal and Falstaff, having Falstaff played by a female actor? Is it a non-issue and the relationship should remain the same or do you think you will find endless possibilities for the friendship and a possible romantic angle?

I don’t think there is a romantic angle between Hal and Falstaff, regardless of the genders of the characters. That said, there is a strong emotional and mental attraction between the two characters—Falstaff is able to entertain Hal in part because he seems to be able to accept Hal for what he is at any given moment more than what Hal is eventually going to become. While Falstaff plays with the idea of Hal as the “heir-apparent”, it’s clear that this is as much for the fun of a joke or a pun as it is for any eventual gain. Falstaff is, in this sense, the eternal present, and that’s what Hal seems to likes about him. In contrast, Hal’s father is deeply concerned about the future of his kingdom, and that’s what Prince Hal represents to his father—England’s future. If anything, I think our production’s shift in gender dynamics will probably reinforce, rather than change, this traditional interpretation of the play.

Henry IV (Parts 1&2) is in the Gladys G. Davis Theatre April 16 and 17 at 7:30p.m., and resumes April 22-26 at 7:30p.m., with a closing matinee on April 27 at 2:00p.m.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for senior citizens and WVU students. There is a group rate of $10 per ticket for groups of ten or more.

Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie runs March 6-7 and returns after spring vacation March 18-23. Meet guest director Kathleen Amshoff and learn more about the production!

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Kathleen Amshoff is a New York-based director whose main focus is new works and interdisciplinary projects. She has created original pieces in Zimbabwe, Ecuador and Slovakia with Dramatic Adventure Theatre, and developed new plays at Cherry Lane, Ma Yi, 2G, the Lark, Wild Project, Galapagos Artspace, Culture Project and the Kennedy Center. Kathleen was the 2011 SDC Foundation Denham Fellow for her adaptation of the graphic novel Swell, with further development at the Atomic Centre in Winnipeg. As curator of the performance party HI-LO at JACK, she brings the best of experimental and commercial performers together in one evening. She recently directed a site-specific social history of New York, Manna-hata, at the central post office. A member of Big Art Group, Kathleen has toured to performances venues throughout the US and Europe. She was a Fulbright scholar and an International Forum Fellow at Theatertreffen in Berlin. Kathleen has an MFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University, where her projects included Brecht’s Man is Man and Ibsen’s Ghosts. www.kathleenamshoff.com.

1) What have you enjoyed most about reworking a classic?

I’ve enjoyed finding personal resonances for myself and the cast and watching those deepen as we’ve rehearsed. The play’s an icon, but we have to make it active and ours for it to connect with an audience. I must say I’ve also loved living in Williams’ language. The man had a way with a sentence.

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(Aubrey Rice, Stephanie Freeman, and Beau Harris in rehearsal, photo by Shannon Dickerson)

2) What was your initial reaction to The Glass Menagerie as a student?

I remember thinking Tom was a jerk for leaving Amanda and Laura. Once I had my own experience of leaving my family and hometown to pursue an artistic calling, I understood him much better!

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3) What should people know about The Glass Menagerie if they’ve never encountered it before?

You don’t need to know anything, just come in and enjoy the story. I will say it has deepened my understanding of the play to know more about Tennessee Williams’ relationship with his sister Rose, who inspired the character of Laura. The two were very close as kids. When Rose was a young woman she was diagnosed with mental illness and eventually institutionalized and lobotomized. Williams was tormented by what he perceived as his abandonment of her. For me, knowing the background turns up the volume on Tom’s turmoil in the play.

4) What has been the most enjoyable part of the process?

I’ve loved seeing the student actors, designers and technicians put their personal touches on the production. The first day of tech, it was so fun to see some of the crew learning their jobs—to know this was the first time they’d ever run a sound or light board—and to imagine where it all might lead. In an environment where learning is prioritized, there’s a hunger, curiosity and enthusiasm that’s infectious and invigorating. I think it only makes the work richer.

The College of Creative Arts at West Virginia University will hold a Audition & Portfolio Review Day for prospective students and their families, Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Creative Arts Center.

Events will include information sessions on careers in the arts and behind-the-scenes tours of the Creative Arts Center. There will also be master classes on the downtown campus for dance students. Lunch will be provided at the CAC, as well as complimentary tickets for the matinee performance of the WVU annual dance concert, “Dance Now!” at 2 p.m.

Any students who wish to audition or submit a portfolio on this date will be welcome to do so, as well.

Students who wish to attend Audition & Portfolio Day should register in advance. To see the full Schedule of Events and more details about the audition/portfolio review process, go to the website at open house.

As part of the admissions process for the School of Music and the School of Art & Design, an audition/portfolio review is required for all applicants.

The School of Theatre & Dance does not require a theater audition or a design portfolio unless the student wishes to be considered for a scholarship. However, dance students who wish to enter the School’s Bachelor of Arts degree program in Dance must audition for acceptance.

All three schools offer cash awards and scholarships—up to a full tuition waiver—to students who plan to study for a Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

School of Music scholarship recipients are chosen by audition. The criteria considered include: musical accomplishments, scholastic record and musical proficiency.

School of Art & Design scholarship awards are based on portfolio submissions that exceed basic competencies and abilities.

The School of Theatre & Dance offers scholarships on the basis of outstanding talent, academic achievement and the student’s demonstrated potential for success in the program.

Students who would like to register for the Feb. 8 Fall Preview Day may also call the School of Music at 304-293-4532 or the Schools of Art & Design and Theatre & Dance at 304-293-4339.