Putting together any season of theater can be a taunting task for any producer. Throw in the educational needs of a large student body and respectful consideration of that student body’s interests, and the task of putting together a balanced season becomes even more complex. This is the work that the University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts chair Annmarie Duggan happily takes on each school year.
Professor Duggan and the rest of the UP Stages team have also prioritized diversity and inclusivity in their show choices in recent years. Professor Duggan elaborates, “…we have made it a conscious decision [to include] at least one female playwright and one playwright of color.” Gender parity in casting plays an important role in show choices, as does the goal to “cast as diversely as the pool of students allows us.”
Professor Duggan reports, “The faculty has embraced it wholeheartedly. We have become a very inclusive department and we are proud of that, and we are proud of every single one of our students.” Duggan notes Theatre Arts undergraduates are making great strides as both scholars and artists, and points to scholars Kami Beckford, Aida Augustin, and Maya Boyd, who spent ten weeks this summer researching theater projects at the New York Public Library and then creating library displays. Additionally, undergraduate designers could be found at Williamstown Theater Festival (Lea Bosilovich), St. Michael’s Playhouse (Steve Yates and Josephine Coyle), and Berkshire Playhouse (Laura Valenti).
Duggan is proud of the department’s recent achievements, noting the department has “reinvented ourselves” over the last three to four years, and has become “a very strong place for students to practice theater and go out and make it happen.”
And make it happen they will during UP Stages’ 2018-2019 season.
In Qui Nguyen’s 2011 play, She Kills Monsters, Agnes Evans goes on a quest to learn about her deceased 16-year old sister, Tilly. When Agnes discovers Tilly was an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, she enlists the help of Tilly’s dungeon master to learn how to play D&D, in an attempt to get to know more of Tilly’s world. What follows is one crazy trip down the D&D rabbit hole that invites its players to find their true bad-ass selves.
Directed by the team that brought you last season’s Our Town, Kelly Trumbull and Ricardo Vila-Roger, She Kills Monsters not only showcases several strong female roles, it also provides the design team with some amazing challenges, flipping between the realistic modern world and a D&D fantasy setting complete with gelatinous cubes, homicidal fairies, cheerleading succubi, and Tiamat, the 5-headed dragon god. That’s right: Tiamat, fellow D&D folks. Tiamat.
The cast of She Kills Monsters will feature Ariana Starkman as Tilly and Peri Walker as Agnes, along with Emily Cooper (Lilith), Bonnie Klopfer (Calliope), Davis Weaver (Orcus), Dennis Sen (Chuck), Jacob Wiersch (Miles), Cheyenne Neuenschwander (Narrator/Evil Tina), Alexis Primus (Vera), Jeff Zeng (Steve), Jenna Teplitszky (Farah), Nikki Friedberg (Evil Gabbi), and Landon Bryant, John Tolentino and Kayla Grutkowski (Kobals, Bugbears, Tiamat the Dragon).
She Kills Monsters will be a very physical show, providing the student cast with the opportunity to focus on physical acting techniques and fight choreography, which will be created by local fight professional Tonya Lynn.
Ms. Lynn received her M.A. in Theatre and Performance Studies at Pitt in 2005. She maintains active membership in the Society of American Fight Directors and has worked as an educator, actor, and fight choreographer throughout the region. When asked about working on She Kills Monsters, Ms. Lynn declared, “In some ways, I feel like I’ve been training my whole career for this show – I was in high school at the time the play is set, and would have been contemporary in age with many of the play’s characters, and was also an avid D&D player for many of those years. Combine that with all the years I’ve spent doing stage combat, and the fact that I did my graduate school study in Pitt’s theatre department, and it feels like I’ve done some pretty thorough immersive research for this play!”
She Kills Monsters runs from Thursday, October 4, 2018, to Sunday, October 14, 2018, in The Charity Randall Theatre.
UP Stages’ second offering will be William Shakespeare’s, Much Ado About Nothing. Much Ado tells the duel love stories of Hero and Claudio and Beatrice and Benedick. Hero and Claudio’s story is wracked with innocence maligned, devious plots, misunderstandings, tricks, and attacks. Beatrice and Benedick, on the other hand, only have themselves and their rather cantankerous natures to contend with. But never fear, this is a romantic comedy, so, most everything should turn out ok.
Stage director Victoria Rhoades has recently been brought on as guest faculty for the fall 2018 semester. She will be teaching classes and directing Much Ado About Nothing.
Dr. Rhoades served as guest director for UP Stages’ 2015 production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is an actor training faculty member at the renowned Shakespeare&Company and holds a Masters’ and Ph.D. from NYU. Dr. Rhoades is the founder and executive director of the newly developing SAGE Center (Shakespeare, the Arts, Gender, and Education).
Much Ado features undergraduate actors Adam Nie as Claudio, Emily Peifer as Hero, Brenden Peifer as Benedick, and Sarah Kwiatek as Beatrice. Other roles will be played by Zev Woskoff (Don Pedro), Kyle Corbin (Don John), Madaly Lenahan (Margaret), Katrina Dagenais (Ursula), Kevin Gross (Leonato), Robert Pell (Conrad), Joe McHugh (Borachio), Meg McGill (Dogberry), and Marisa Postava, Casper Peters, Josie O’Connel as ensemble members.
Much Ado About Nothing performs Thursday, November 8, 2018, to Sunday, November 18, 2018, in The Charity Randall Theatre.
In addition to UP Stages’ mainstage season, the department also has a student-led lab series. The fall semester labs will include:
Written by Laura Marks
Directed by Kelly Hadfield
“The Author’s Voice”
Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Bradley Keller
October 3 – 7, 2018
The Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre
“The Last Five Years”
Written by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Chloe Torrence
November 14 – 18, 2018
The Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre
UP Stages’ main stage spring 2019 productions will include Pearl Cleage’s depiction of the black pioneer experience in Flyin’ West, scheduled for Thursday, February 14, 2019, to Sunday, February 24, 2019, and James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s fairytale mash-up, Into the Woods, scheduled for Thursday, April 4, 2019 to Sunday, April 14, 2019.
Pittsburgh in the Round will feature more on these productions and the student labs in our winter preview.
ALSO IN THE WORKS:
Department chair Annmarie Duggan is pleased to announce that the Charity Randall Theatre will be getting a bit of an upgrade this year. A new elevator is being built that will allow entry to the Charity Randall Theatre level and will go down to the Henry Heymann Theatre level. In addition, the box office will move from downstairs to the main lobby level. As Professor Duggan states, “Renovations are all about the patrons, and making everything easier for patrons who come through our doors.”
Renovations are only just beginning, and a specific end date is not known at this time. “It’s a complicated process since we are dealing with a historic landmark.” Patrons will notice some changes to the seating availability in both the Charity Randall and Henry Heymann theaters due to renovations.
For information about the UP Stages 2018-2019 season or about the University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts, please visit www.play.pitt.edu.