December 5, 2022

UMW Gets it Right With ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

UMW juniors Nathaniel Huff (left) and Seth Drenning ’24 star in ‘The Play That Goes Wrong.’ Photo by Geoff Greene.

UMW Theatre opens its 2022-23 season with a show that has college students performing a play about college students performing a play.

The descriptor might be redundant, but the outcome is riveting, said Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Gregg Stull.

The Play That Goes Wrong is the story of a cast of wannabe stars committed to pulling off their opening-night presentation of Murder at Haversham Manor despite boundless blunders and missteps. Packed with comedic elements and technical touches, this play within a play stretches the talents of UMW students who act like actors in a murder mystery gone awry. The show – onstage in Klein Theatre through Sunday, Oct. 2 – kicks off a season specifically designed to coax theatregoers into continuing to return to in-person performances.

“The very nature of this play is so different from what people expect from theatre,” said senior computer science and theatre major Ethan Pearson, who’s cast as Chris. “The dominoes keep falling to make things worse and worse, and you just can’t wait to see what fails next.” Read more.

Mary Washington ElderStudy Encourages Lifelong Learning

As each August rolls around, University of Mary Washington students are getting ready for the new school year.

Mary Washington ElderStudy, now in its 30th year, kicks off its new season of exciting lectures, book discussions, gallery tours, performances and social engagements in August.

Mary Washington ElderStudy, now in its 30th year, kicks off its new season of exciting lectures, book discussions, gallery tours, performances and social engagements in August.

But they’re not the only ones heading back to class. Fredericksburg area seniors are gearing up for a new season of Mary Washington ElderStudy, or MWES. The lifelong learning program, celebrating its 30th year, offers exciting lectures, book discussions, gallery tours, performances, and social engagements to local retired or elder residents, including many Mary Washington alumni.

Lectures, now held in a hybrid format or on Zoom, are given by UMW faculty experts and accomplished outside speakers, covering a wide variety of topics: visual and performing arts, science and health, political science, business and economics, history, and much more.

“ElderStudy helps nourish one’s intellectual curiosity,” says Carolyn Eldred ’66, whose bachelor’s degree in psychology set her up for success in her career as a social science researcher.

She cites UMW President Troy Paino’s recent Mary Talk on the value of the liberal arts in a changing world. “I’m a firm believer in that kind of educational experience,” Carolyn says. “I’ve found that ElderStudy satisfies my hunger for continuing learning and exposes me to topics I might not have ever thought about. Learning can be an exciting, lifelong pursuit!”

Carolyn discovered MWES around the time of her 50th reunion at Mary Washington. A resident of the nearby Celebrate retirement community, which helps promote the program, she joined the curriculum and membership committees, helping curate each season’s activities, which are suggested by members.

This fall’s events include lectures on the history of education in colonial America, virtual reality, the issue of food waste, and the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House and the contributions UMW students made to the project. Professor of Political Science Stephen Farnsworth will provide an overview of the midterm elections. Theatre and Dance Department Chair Gregg Stull will offer sneak peeks of UMW Theatre’s upcoming season, as well as a lecture on the life and work of Stephen Sondheim in Seacobeck Hall’s newly renovated Weatherly Wing.

Participants can also tour Fredericksburg landmarks and visit UMW’s art galleries. In addition, there are monthly wine and cheese hours and book discussions over Zoom, and an in-person holiday luncheon and social in December.

“I’ve learned information changes over time, so it’s important to have a strong knowledge base in many different areas, so you can keep up as you age,” says Ellen Brown ’69, who majored in physics but enjoyed taking courses in art, literature, and theatre as a Mary Washington student. “With ElderStudy, there’s no homework or tests – just wonderful opportunities for lifelong learning.”

Ellen first discovered the program from former colleagues at Dahlgren’s Naval Surface Warfare Center, where she worked as a physicist for many years. She now serves on MWES’s curriculum and administrative committees. “We also make donations to support UMW departments whose faculty members have volunteered their time and expertise.”

Janet Kimbrell ’72 majored in English at Mary Washington, also loading up on courses in history, psychology, and drama. When she slowed down her real estate business six years ago, becoming involved in MWES gave her the chance to revisit these topics.

“When you’re retired, you have time to choose what you’re doing with your day,” says Janet, who has enjoyed hearing UMW Professor of Art History Julia DeLancey discuss how the bubonic plague impacted Venetian art. With the move to Zoom, she says, MWES now engages outside experts, such as a recent guest lecturer in New York City who spoke about jazz music.

“It’s such a blessing to have ElderStudy in our community because it helps us keep our minds active as we get older,” she says. “And we’re so thankful to be supported by the University of Mary Washington.”

Visit the ElderStudy website to learn more, request information and register for membership. 

-Article written by Assistant Director of Advancement Communications Jill Graziano Laiacona ’04.

Stull on “With Good Reason” Radio, Aug. 6-12

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 and Producing Director of UMW Theatre Gregg Stull is interviewed on With Good Reason radio this week, Aug. 6-12. In the episode titled “Set the Stage,” Stull shares how some industries came to a slow crawl at the dawning of the pandemic, with curtains closing quickly for theatres across the country. Now we are returning to the stage, but theatre may be changed forever. Hear more online. 

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.