July 4, 2022

Gregg Stull: Return to the Stage

Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Gregg Stull sets the scene as he shares his first impressions of his alma mater.

Theatre and Dance Professor and Chair Gregg Stull

Theatre and Dance Professor and Chair Gregg Stull

“I discovered Mary Washington when we visited my aunts who lived on Kenmore Avenue,” said Stull, who earned a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts in 1982. “I remember sitting in the backseat of my mother’s car as we passed by the gates.”

First in his family to attend college, Stull described campus life as “idyllic” and slow paced – with one exception. In the theatre department, amid the hustle and bustle of rehearsals and shows, he learned not only to perform onstage but how to run lights, paint scenery, build costumes and manage the box office, under the guidance of supportive faculty members. “They encouraged us to stretch ourselves in every direction.”

Stull, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, put his studies to work as managing director of D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre, before being hired first as an adjunct in 1990, then as a full-time instructor.

Now, as department chair, Stull ensures UMW’s aspiring thespians still receive a well-rounded education, even during the pandemic. With stages going dark everywhere, the department pulled together and persevered, delving into virtual productions, offering online and socially distanced courses, and employing professional actors to teach via Zoom.

But nothing compares to performing for a live audience, Stull said. In September, COVID precautions in place, UMW Theatre returned to the stage to perform Joan Holden’s Nickel and Dimed. After an 18-month hiatus, Mary Washington served as model to other schools as to how to safely resurrect live performances.

Next up is the Tony Award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a teen who investigates the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog, opening Nov. 11, followed by The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Julius Caesar.

“Ours is work that demands we share space, proximity and even breath with each other,” Stull said. “We need to be in dialogue with an audience; nothing can replicate that moment of connection.”

Purchase tickets for UMW Theatre’s upcoming performances. Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative test are required.

 

Q: As a student, did a particular professor make an impact on you?
A: My advisor, Roger Kenvin, sparked a curiosity in me about the world that made me see myself beyond my rural high school and Mary Washington. We still exchange handwritten letters, 43 years later.

Q: How will Curious Incident resonate with audiences?
A: It’s an extraordinary story about challenging assumptions, exceeding expectations and navigating the chaos of life. It’s filled with hope and joy, which we could all use more of right now.

Q: Thoughts on UMW’s planned new theatre complex?
A: We’ve outgrown duPont and need facilities that support our work and project the theatre spaces students will encounter when they enter their professional lives.

Q: You were executive director of the NAMES Project, which displays the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and recently contributed to UMW’s LGBTQ+ Alumni Oral History Collection. What message do you hope to convey to the next generation doing this work?
A: Being part of a global project fighting for the rights of people who were dying without a voice affirmed for me that art is powerful and can change the world. I hope today’s young people will honor the struggle that brought us to this point in history and remember those whose lives were lost when the world – not so long ago – did not value difference.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your job?
A: When students discover themselves as a result of working on a production, I know I’m doing what I was called to do.

Q: Most challenging?
A: Meeting and responding to our ever-changing world on our stages and in our classrooms and studios.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I went to culinary school in Italy and was a stage (French for “cooking apprentice”) at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Emilia-Romagna.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Thinking and doing, doing and thinking,
That is the sum of all wisdom. – Goethe

UMW Theatre Plans Reflective In-Person Season

UMW Theatre kicks off its 2021-22 season this week with its first live performances in more than 18 months, presenting Joan Holden’s ‘Nickel and Dimed,’ based on the bestselling book by Barbara Ehrenreich. Photo by Geoff Greene.

UMW Theatre kicks off its 2021-22 season this week with its first live performances in more than 18 months, presenting Joan Holden’s ‘Nickel and Dimed,’ based on the bestselling book by Barbara Ehrenreich. Photo by Geoff Greene.

Mina Sollars sums up UMW Theatre’s upcoming season in a single word: revival.

“Preparing for the first in-person performances on campus in more than a year is such an honor,” Sollars, a University of Mary Washington junior, said of the lineup, which kicks off tomorrow at 7:30 with a pay-what-you-can preview performance in duPont Hall’s Klein Theatre. “We’re so lucky to be able to act onstage together once again.”

After an 18-month hiatus, UMW Theatre students, faculty and staff are once again planning an in-person season, producing plays that will be performed in front of a live audience, with COVID protocols in place. Beginning with Joan Holden’s Nickel and Dimed, this year’s shows reflect the collective pandemic-era conversation that has revolved around society, culture and politics.

“There’s no question that this seems to be an extraordinary moment to engage in the dialogue inspired by Nickel and Dimed,” Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Gregg Stull said of the play, which spotlights those who are overworked and underpaid. “Never before have we thought so much about work and what it means to make a living.” Read more.

Stull’s Great Lives Lecture on Lillian Hellman Airs on C-SPAN

Professor of Theatre and Chair of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull

Professor of Theatre and Chair of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull

Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull’s Great Lives lecture on playwright Lillian Hellman recently aired on C-SPAN. Watch here.

Life of Lillian Hellman (CSPAN3/KY Gen Assembly)

Stull Pens Editorial on Lillian Hellman for ‘Great Lives’ Lecture

Professor of Theatre and Chair of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull

Professor of Theatre and Chair of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull

Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Gregg Stull penned an editorial about playwright Lillian Hellman for The Free Lance-Star in advance of his “Great Lives” lecture on March 18. The lecture can be viewed at umw.edu/greatlives.

PLAYWRIGHTS hold a mirror to demand an unforgiving reflection of life while posing provocative questions and providing few easy answers. Their characters illuminate a world where equity, justice, and possibility often elude all but the truly privileged.

Few American playwrights have interrogated this truth more than Lillian Hellman (1905–1984), who made an indelible mark on mid-20th century realism, even as she found herself overlooked among other playwrights of her time—such as Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets, Arthur Miller, Horton Foote, and William Inge. Read more.

GREAT LIVES: Lillian Hellman lived a bold, trailblazing life (The Free Lance-Star)

Alum Skyrockets in Career as NASA Videographer

Paul Morris, who received a bachelor’s degree in theatre from UMW in 2010, is now a video producer for NASA. A documentary he created for the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope has garnered more than 400,000 views on social media. Photo courtesy of Paul Morris.

Paul Morris, who received a bachelor’s degree in theatre from UMW in 2010, is now a video producer for NASA. A documentary he created for the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope has garnered more than 400,000 views on social media. Photo courtesy of Paul Morris.

Paul Morris ’10 grew up recording epic space battles on stop-action film. He’d pose and re-pose Star Wars figures, capturing them with a Sony Super 8 camera that kept conking out.

Now a video producer for NASA, Morris’s outer-space odysseys are a bit more high-tech. A documentary he created – from conception to final cut – for this spring’s 30th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, went into orbit on social media. With a theatre degree he didn’t know existed when he got to college – and the teamwork and storytelling skills that came with it – Morris turned his innate fascination with all things galactic into a soaring career.

“It’s been an absolute dream,” he said. “I’ve always been obsessed with space and with NASA.”

UMW, too, was ingrained in Morris, whose grandparents Marceline Weatherly Morris ’50 and Elmer “Juney” Morris Jr. ’50, married seven decades this month, began their courtship at Mary Washington. Paul Morris took a cue from the couple, meeting fellow theatre major Cassie Lewis ’11 on campus and marrying her beneath a magnolia tree in his Nana’s backyard. Read more.

Video Spotlights Theatre Students, Broadway Stars

UMW students Oscar León (left), Genesis Simmons (center) and Hannah Chester (right) were thrilled for the opportunity to perform together again – albeit remotely – alongside Broadway stars and theatre students from other universities.

UMW students Oscar León (left), Genesis Simmons (center) and Hannah Chester (right) were thrilled for the opportunity to perform together again – albeit remotely – alongside Broadway stars and theatre students from other universities.

When UMW Theatre performed Adam Gwon’s musical Ordinary Days in February, students couldn’t anticipate that just weeks later, they’d yearn for rehearsals with castmates and performances in front of live audiences.

They also couldn’t have guessed they’d get to sing one of Gwon’s songs alongside Broadway stars.

Seven UMW Theatre students were selected to appear in a YouTube video featuring aspiring young thespians from schools across the country. Dubbed a “quarantune,” their version of “Get Me Outta Here”from Gwon’s musical String has already been viewed by thousands. Virtual projects like this, as well as Mary Washington’s recent Much Ado About Nothing Zoom production and reimagining of Dear Evan Hansen’s “Anybody Have a Map?” give theatre students the chance to hone in on their craft for the digital age. And the experiences allow them to connect and collaborate with peers and industry professionals during the lockdown.

“Opportunities to perform, even from far away, have helped me channel my emotions and feel less isolated,” said Riley Salazar, a rising UMW junior who starred in Ordinary Days, which she said prepared her to tackle Gwon’s complex melodies. Read more.

Stull, Reynolds’ UMW Theatre ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Reimagining Featured in FLS

UMW Theatre’s reimagining of the song ‘Anybody Have a Map?’ from the Tony Award-winning musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ was recently featured in an article in The Free Lance-Star. Jon Reynolds, director of marketing and audience services, updated the lyrics with the permission of the show’s creators to reflect the students’ common experiences in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The students recorded themselves singing individually in their own homes and submitted their videos. Director and theater department chair Gregg Stull and production supervisor Brandon Prendergast—with help from James Gardiner, a deputy director at Washington, D.C.’s Signature Theater—edited the recordings together into a video that was posted to YouTube, where it has been shared several thousand times and was applauded by Broadway star Laura Benanti.

“When we left campus on March 12, we held an important goal of keeping our students active and engaged while they were distant from us,” Stull said.

UMW sponsored a trip to New York last year to see “Dear Evan Hansen,” and the musical was a Common Read across campus in the 2018–19 academic year, Stull said, so it is familiar to many students.

“We really wanted to create something with our students that gave them a chance to respond to their feelings and was hopeful in these uncertain times,” Stull said.

The changes to the song’s spoken-word lyrics, which were approved by creators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, reflect a post-coronavirus world in which classes are held via Zoom meeting, friends socialize after class virtually through Google Hangouts, in-person commencement ceremonies are postponed and toilet paper is hard to find. Read more.

UMW Theatre reimagines Dear Evan Hansen’s “Anybody Have a Map?”

A message from UMW Theatre.

We’ve started our last week of classes. We have all stretched ourselves. We have stepped into uncharted waters as we gather new ways to teach and learn. We have pushed beyond the bounds of what we thought was possible.

The University of Mary Washington is a special place, distinguished by the strong connections our faculty build with our students as they grow and learn together. COVID-19 has not changed that. In many ways, it has strengthened our work with each other.

There have been real challenges. And there have also been moments of real joy. One thing is certain, today more than ever before, we relish the moments of success and connections we find even when apart from one another.

And to celebrate that joy, this is a gift from UMW Theatre to you—”Anybody Have a Map?” from the blockbuster musical Dear Evan Hansen by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven Levenson reimagined by our students for today. Stay safe and well.

 

Gregg Stull signature

Gregg Stull
Producing Director