November 27, 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.

Brick by Brick: UMW Presents Plans for New Theatre Building

Aerial diagram of the theatre site courtesy of HGA

Aerial diagram of the theatre site courtesy of HGA

University of Mary Washington theatre, art and music majors and minors know how to make something beautiful. Now these fine and performing arts programs are engaged in envisioning their next academic home, as UMW prepares to construct a new theatre. The $117 million construction project comes from the 2022-23 state budget and includes funding for the renovation of duPont, Pollard and Melchers halls, a longtime UMW priority.

The case for the project stems from the 2015 strategic plan and was built up brick by brick over the course of five years, through numerous tours of current facilities, focus groups and project planning sessions.

UMW contracted with Commonwealth Architects and HGA Architects & Engineers to develop the architectural plans for the new theatre building and arts and music renovations, which were presented to the Board of Visitors at the Sept. 16, 2022 meeting. A public preview of the design will be presented on Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 6 p.m. via Zoom. View the webinar at https://umw-sso.zoom.us/j/81779295932.

The new home for the Department of Theatre and Dance has been designed with a sense of place and purpose, and with an understanding of the rich history of the architectural language present at UMW. The new theatre will connect to campus and the community, in many ways. Read more.

It’s O-F-F-I-C-I-A-L! The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Opens TONIGHT!

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

NOW THRU APRIL 16
Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.
April 16 at 2 & 7:30 p.m.

 

The Bee. That glorious time of year when words are spelled, hopes are dashed, weird, yet endearing awkwardness is on full display, and there’s a lot of growing up to do. For these young Putnam County Spelling Bee contenders, expectations and emotions are sky high as they spell their way to a coveted spot in the national finals in Washington, D.C., and to a greater understanding of themselves and the people who love them. A celebration of the differences in each of us, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one great big hug of a show attesting to what we know so well—winning may not be everything, but it sure does feel good!

“Irresistible, riotously funny, and remarkably ingenious” —The New York Times

Standard $30 • Alumni/Senior/Student/Military $25 • UMW ID $10

https://secure.fredtix.com/events

UMW Theatre Presents ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee logo

Reserve your FREE tickets to opening night by calling
the Klein Theatre Box Office at 540-654-1111
by 5 pm Wednesday, March 30.

music and lyrics by William Finn, book by Rachel Sheinkin
conceived by Rebecca Feldman
March 31 at 7:30 pm

The Bee. That glorious time of year when words are spelled, hopes are dashed, weird, yet endearing awkwardness is on full display, and there’s a lot of growing up to do. For these young Putnam County Spelling Bee contenders, expectations and emotions are sky high as they spell their way to a coveted spot in the national finals in Washington, D.C., and to a greater understanding of themselves and the people who love them. A celebration of the differences in each of us, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is one great big hug of a show attesting to what we know so well—winning may not be everything, but it sure does feel good!

“Irresistible, riotously funny, and remarkably ingenious” —The New York Times

Can’t make it to opening night? Tickets are on sale Thursday!
Click here to get yours! Standard $30 • Alumni/Senior/Student/Military $25 • UMW ID $10

UMW Theatre presents ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,’ Nov. 11-21

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Nov. 11-21 in Klein Theatre.

UMW Theatre presents
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

November 11 to 21
Klein Theatre
based on the novel by Mark Haddon
adapted by Simon Stephens

Christopher Boone is 15 years old, is quite good at maths, and finds people very confusing. After being accused in the death of his neighbor’s dog, Christopher sets out on a mission to discover the truth. Along the way, he encounters a world that is wildly out of sync with how he sees and processes life around him. Discovering upsetting truths about his family, Christopher ventures beyond what he knows and embarks on a journey that turns his world upside down. Based on the blockbuster novel by Mark Haddon and the winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a coming-of-age-too-soon tale of parents, children, and the challenges of loving, being loved, and accepting who you are.

Tickets available for purchase through the Klein Theatre Box Office, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
540-654-1111 or www.fredtix.com

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

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

Stream UMW Theatre’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Online

When in-person classes were suspended on March 12, walking away from Much Ado About Nothing was heartbreaking; we had to step away from weeks and weeks of work, much of which we knew would never be seen by anyone but us. We are grateful that the UMW administration took decisive steps to keep all of us safe and well amidst so many unknowns; what remains most important is that you, your loved ones, and our greater world do everything we can to flatten the curve of the pandemic and emerge strong and healthy.

And yet, even in this time when we find ourselves apart from one another, we continue to believe in the power of theatre to nurture and inspire ourselves and our community.

Our students will be performing Much Ado About Nothing after all—ONLINE! Mark your calendar—April 16, 2020, from 7:00 – 8:00 pm—just two weeks away! REGISTER HERE.

Our entire department has come together to ensure that our students are engaged, connected, and seizing every opportunity to learn and grow, even when distance keeps us apart. Our performance of Much Ado is but one example of how we continue to teach and learn as a community of educators, artists, and students.

There are so many reasons why this project is important to all of us. Much Ado is the final production Helen Housley will direct for us as she anticipates retirement at the end of this year after two decades of teaching, directing, and serving as our vocal coach for dozens of productions. The same is true of Marilyn Wojdak, our costume shop supervisor, who is also retiring in May having brought a breathtaking level of excellence and professionalism to the shop in her 13 years with us. More than two dozen students have been rehearsing the play in the weeks prior to leaving campus and eight students have senior projects connected to Much Ado. Finally, it’s Shakespeare! We always celebrate the opportunity to bring his work to life.

We are thrilled at the prospect of getting to share our work with you as we wrap up our season. Different than planned, fairly abridged, and not onstage in Klein Theatre (but performed in bedrooms and living rooms across several states), Much Ado, nonetheless, will showcase what we do best—students finding themselves in the work, strengthening their skills, growing their capacity to contribute to our community, and readying themselves for life after UMW. 

Please join us. Our students need your support right now. With so much uncertainty in our world, I want them to know that we are all there for them. Will you celebrate their work with me?

Wishing you good health and strength every day,

Gregg Stull
Producing Director

 

REGISTER HERE.