December 2011 Newsletter

Department Chair Wins Prestigious Award!
Read about Bruce McConachie's Distinguished Scholar Award. 

Read our interview with the newest faculty member, Cynthia Croot.

A Look Back . . .
Read about our Fall 2011 productions.

Alumni Update
Read the latest news about Theatre Arts alumni. 

Read about what our faculty and students have been up to over the summer and fall. 

Department Chair Wins Prestigious Award!

Bruce McConachie, chair of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts, won the prestigious American Society for Theatre Research Distinguished Scholar Award.  Professor McConachie received the award during the annual ASTR conference held in Montreal this November.  

“I have many people to thank for helping me reach this point,” McConachie said.  “From inquiring undergraduate students whose questions pulled me back to earth when my theoretical explanations flew too high, to my colleagues, co-editors, and fellow artists who allowed me to play in their sandboxes as an actor, director, and academic, to my wife, Stephanie, who has sustained me in many more ways than I have time to recall.”

The American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) is a U.S.-based professional organization that fosters scholarship on worldwide theatre and performance, both historical and contemporary.  ASTR was founded in 1956 to encourage theatre scholarship and to provide a link with other similar groups represented in the International Federation for Theatre Research. 

The Distinguished Scholar Award is given each year to a single outstanding scholar whose body of work has made a significant contribution to the field of theatre, dance, opera, and/or performance studies.  Harry Elam, Tracy Davis, and Marvin Carlson are just a few of the illustrious recipients.


Cynthia Croot is the newest member of the Department of Theatre Arts faculty, and we wanted to see how she was adjusting to Pittsburgh and what inspires her to work in theatre every day. 

Q: How did you get interested in theatre, or what sparked your interest in a career in theatre?
I come from a family of storytellers – deep sea divers, cross-continental hikers, concert violin players, carpenter accordionists, Spanish-Dutch plumbers, intrepid Idaho homesteaders and many other deeply funny, humane, and loving people.  I think storytelling on stage is a natural extension of the joy one finds in family, in community. It is an act of generosity as much as it is an act of creation.  Some pivotal performances I witnessed which helped me catch the bug: Lawrence Olivier’s Lear  (on TV when I was 6 or 7), and Pierre Chabert performing Krapp’s Last Tape in French during my undergrad education.  I couldn’t understand the language, but I could feel what he felt.  It was mesmerizing and irresistible.

Q: What has been your favorite project that you've worked on?
I’m always smitten with what is right in front of me – so no favorite shows, per se.  But looking back, several projects have brought very important collaborators into my life.  I’m grateful to a production of Julie Jensen’s White Money for introducing me to long time design collaborator David M. Barber, for instance.  And I have deep, abiding friendships that have grown out of work in NYC, South Africa, Alaska and Syria. 

Q: Do you have a "dream project?" A particular play or process that you want to bring to life?
Yes.  But it is a secret right now.

Q: What are you excited about working on while you're here at Pitt, either on stage or in the classroom?
 City of Asylum promises to be an exciting venture next season, a great opportunity to bring to life the stories of political/literary refuge-seekers from Burma, China, El Salvador and Venezuela. I’m also thrilled to be teaching a class on Theatre and War next semester, and in the fall of next year, a course on Devising, and a Viewpoints Collaboration Course for actors and directors.

Q: Do your philosophies of directing and teaching overlap or inform each other?
I don’t tend to separate ideas that way – I think there's an effortless flow from the classroom to the stage and back again.  Success in both arenas rests on a foundation of mutual trust, impeccable work ethic, intellectual curiosity, and rigor.  I think life is a classroom - and a stage - and if you’re awake, it all reverberates.

Q: What's your favorite thing about Pittsburgh so far?
So many things… my little apartment in Lawrenceville, the view from my office window (you really should come see it), the vibrant arts scene, the long, luxurious, meditative train ride to NYC.  I love the history of the region, the myriad voices that reside here, and the accomplished, heartfelt work of the students I’ve already gotten to meet.  I love the feel of this city – the steel backbone, and the resilient spirit.  I feel lucky to be here.

Q: Have you lived anywhere else that might prepare you for the Pittsburgh winter?
Chicago?  Juneau?  Idaho?  I bought galoshes.  I’m ready.

A Look Back . . .


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Pitt Rep kicked off its mainstage season with a huge hit! Sweeney Todd, a joint production between the Theatre Arts and Music departments, surpassed all box office goals and laid a strong foundation for future collaborations. Director Lisa Jackson-Schebetta and music director Roger Zahab were true artistic partners from Sweeney’s infancy. When asked to reflect on the experience, Zahab shared “When I met Lisa I found an ideal collaborator with ideas, energy and skill – and I felt we could jump off of any artistic cliff and do far more than just survive.” Jackson-Schebetta, who described the production as “always a joint venture,” too, saw Sweeneyas a challenge worth undertaking and identified a “positive spirit” created and sustained by “a high tolerance of risk-taking…and commitment” as integral to its success. For the director, tackling a musical was a new opportunity that challenged her in both “exciting ways—i.e., let’s run around on a rake, in heels with great swaths of silk—and  in “ah, right” ways—i.e., running around on a rake in interesting patterns means one cannot see the conductor to get the cue to sing!” Zahab also valued the give and take between theatre and music artists demanded by musical theatre: “A particular benefit for each group is to see how the other works and copes with difficulty.” The risk-taking demonstrated by the director and musical director inspired all involved with Sweeney to take creative gambles that paid off. Teaching Artist Theo Allyn acknowledged the high stakes of the production. Jackson-Schebetta’s concept rested squarely on the back of Mrs. Lovett, played by Allyn. Interested in the woman and the city behind the man, Pitt’s Sweeney Todd pushed artists and audiences up against and ultimately beyond traditional interpretations of the piece. Allyn confessed "There's nothing safe about doing this show, especially the way we're doing it. And I'm exhausted. But profoundly grateful."    

Like Allyn, Jackson-Schebetta and Zahab spoke of the student and professional artists that made the production possible with great respect, pride, and gratitude. Theatre is a risky business. Pitt Rep made risk their business and business was good!

Student Labs

This semester also presented adventerous and challenging shows directed by three graduate students beginning with Funnyhouse of a Negro, directed by Esther Terry. With its complex representations of self-identity, the show succeeded in starting conversations about racial perceptions and the difficulties of navigating difference. With powerful performances by a talented group of young actors, the production demonstrated that theatre, like life, requires a great deal of courage. 

Kellen Hoxworth's production of Bedtime Stories was a very different kind of show that wove together Charles Mee's script with a series of devised performance pieces. Alternately funny, tender, and boisterous (and with a killer tap dance number!), the production was a strong challenge to traditional ways in which theatre narratives are presented and a meditation on what storytelling means to us all. In the end, audience members were asked to create their own stories in reaction to a sly and joyful production.

The final lab of the semester was the English-language premiere of famed playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer's This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, directed by Dave Peterson. This fairy tale for all ages about three sisters finding their ways in the world was told through a deft combination of puppets, projections and live performances. A charming and gentle meditation on the nature of family, loss, love, and self-discovery, the play left audiences enchanted and just a bit more in love with the world than when they came in.

This has been an exciting semester of lab productions, with each one taking on new and different risks, as well as both challenging and delighting audiences! Come join us for next semester's productions as our talented students continue to take theatre into their own hands and share their distinct visions. 

Alumni Update

Sarah Andrews (2002)
After being awarded her MA from Pitt, Sarah earned a J.D. at Duquesne School of Law. She served as a judicial clerk to Chief Justice Cappy of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, spent 3 years as a Labor and Employment Attorney at an international law firm with an office in Pittsburgh and is currently clerking for Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster (a federal trial judge). In personal news, Sarah and her husband have a young son, Xavier.

Thomas Aulino (2008)
Working as an actor in Chicago.

Jeffrey Awada (2006)
Assistant Professor (Movement), Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts

Justin Baker (2011)
Currently working as the Technical Director at the Society Hill Playhouse in Philadelphia, Justin can says that his experiences at Pitt got him in shape to handle the trials and tribulations of the world of theatre after college.

Laura McCarthy Blatt (1994)
Currently works as the Operations Manager in the Theatre Arts Department. She was married in October 2010.

Brian Byrnes (1997)
Currently an Associate Professor at the University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance.

Laura Frecon (1999)
Laura works as an Costume Designer in New York and Los Angeles. She works as the Assistant Costume Designer on AMC's Mad Men and is currently in New York filming Men in Black 3.

Deborah Chaya Gordon-Bland (2008)
Assistant Professor, University of South Dakota

Jennifer Hunter (1994)
Jennifer is currently the Drama Director of The Palms Drama Ensemble at Palms M.S., Gifted/High Ability Magnet School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she’s put together some amazing productions: The Egyptian CinderellaNARNIAJames and the Giant PeachThe Phantom TollboothRnJ: The Urban Remix (a Shakespearean hip-hop tour-de-force of Romeo and Juliet w/original raps by Ms. Hunter), and this year, they've created a middle school version of Alice's REVOLUTION in Wonderland based on Lewis Carroll's classic, that goes up in March 2011. Jennifer is an avid Shakespeare performer, and completed the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum’s Shakespeare Acting Intensive, as well as Ellen Geer's Master Class and a Julius Caesar intensive at A Noise Within theatre company.

Jennifer Juul (2004)
Assistant Professor, Radford University.

Richard Kemp (2005)
Associate Professor, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

LaShawn Keyser (2009)
LaShawn Keyser is in her third year with the Kitchen Theatre Company in Ithaca, NY. She stage manages about ten shows a year, supervises a production intern, and manages half of the Production Management responsibilities. Other professional credits includes work with the Bakerloo Theatre Project, Windhorse Arts, Prime Stage Theatre, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, and the Hazlett Theatre.

Amanda Kircher (2011)
Currently, Amanda is working at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, PA as the Stage Management/Production Management Apprentice.

Tavia LaFollett-Zabriskie (2002)
Tavia La Follette's politically-driven work has been the subject of articles in the EconomistRolling Stone Magazine and the New York Times. In the fall of 2010, she joined Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Arts in Society as the first Artist-in-Residence. La Follette has entered her 2nd year in residence where she hopes to complete her doctoral work on The Firefly Tunnel Project.

Originally from New York City, Tavia is a director, designer, writer and performance artist. Her work has been seen at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, Arts at St. Ann's (St. Ann's Warehouse), the Tenement Museum, the Williamsburg Historical Society, and the Cooler in NYC. In Pittsburgh, where she is currently based, she has exhibited/performed the Mattress Factory Museum, the Three Rivers Arts Festival, First Night, the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival, the Cultural Trust's Gallery Crawl and Gallerie Chiz.

Tavia earned her MFA in Performance-Pedagogy from the University of Pittsburgh and is completing her PhD in Leadership and Change through Culture and the Arts at Antioch University. She has taught, directed and designed at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, the Carnegie Museum, Colby College, Point Park University, Carnegie Mellon University, Earlham College, the University of Pittsburgh, Chatham University and the University of Virginia through the Semester at Sea program.

She is the Founder and Director of ArtUp, a non-profit organization for artists and companies that are concerned with exploring the contextual inter-relationships of theater, visual arts, movement, media and sound.

Tavia's work has toured all over the United States, Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. Awards include the Artist Recognition Award (a $10,000 anonymous donation), The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Project Stream Award, the Heinz Creative Heights Award, William and Clarissa Stainer Arts Award, the Sprout Fund, the Heinz Small Arts, the Greater Pittsburgh Artist Opportunity Grant, and the Pittsburgh Foundation's A.W. Mellon Award.

La Follette has recently opened SITES OF PASSAGE at the Mattress Factory Museum. The exhibition consists of installation and performance revolving around a yearlong art exchange between the U.S. and Egypt. This is the culminating work for her doctoral work, The Firefly Tunnel Project. The project takes place as the U.S. observes the 10th anniversary of 9/11, having executed its "architect", as Egypt fights for democracy while the U.S. questions its own, and as both countries begin elections for a new leader.

Gala Lok (2011)
Since graduating from Pitt, Gala has worked at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and Allenberry Playhouse doing sound and electrics.

Sheila McKenna (2003)
Assistant Professor, Point Park University.

Doug Mertz (2002)
Doug is the new Director of the Foote Theatre School and Young Companies at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta. In addition, he taught Dialects to 4th year BFA students in the Drama Department at the University of Alberta and will be coaching the students in a campus production of Nicholas Nickleby. He will be appearing in August: Osage County at the Citadel in January.

Stefano Muneroni (2008)
Stefano is an Assistant Professor in Intercultural Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton where he serves as Coordinator of the MA Drama Program.

Tiffany Owen (2006)
Tiff graduated from Pitt in 2006, and went on to do an SM internship at the Naples Dinner Theatre in Naples, FL for the 2006-2007 season. Following the company's final show, Tiff took a leap out west and landed in Tempe, AZ where she stage managed a national tour for local TYA company Childsplay. For the next couple seasons, she worked as ASM/PSM/ AEA SM for Southwest Shakespeare Company, and was Props Master/Designer for most of the shows in their 2009 - 2010 season. Tiff also works as a freelance theatre technician to help supplement her income, and has been working at ASU Gammage, a local roadhouse, and the Mesa Arts Center.Currently, Tiffany is the stage manager for Phoenix Theatre's TYA group Cookie Company.

Tom Pacio (2010)
Currently on the Acting Faculty and Conservatory Staff for TISCH at NYU.

Chad Rabinovitz (2002)
Chad is currently working as the Producing Artistic Director of Bloomington Playwrights Project, the only professional theatre in the state of Indiana focused solely on new plays. Among many new plays, they offer the Woodward/Newman Drama Award ($3,000 prize, full production), the only award named after Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and sponsored by Joanne herself as well as Newman's Own Foundation, in search of the best new drama across the globe. In addition, they offer the Reva Shiner Comedy Award ($1,000 prize, full production) to the best comedy across the globe. Both contests are open to the public.

Adrian Rooney (2008)
Adrian Rooney is currently living the dream, working as the head of electrics and sound at Studio Theatre, one of Washington DC's premier theatres.

Elizabeth Salisch (2008)
Elizabeth is currently the Educational Touring Stage Manager at the George Street Playhouse where she stage manages three shows (PeacemakerNew Kid andIRL:In Real Life) as part of the outreach program that travels around New Jersey with a forth show coming in January: Austin The Unstoppable which is a new musical about wellness. Her Off-Broadway credits include: Vieux CarreTartuffeTwelfth NightNathan the Wise, and The Oedipus Cycle all at The Pearl Theatre Company. Off-off Broadway Elizabeth participated in the productions of Futura (NAATCO), A Streetcar Named Desire (Mississippi Mud Productions), The Cradle Will Rock (Theater Ten Ten) which was nominated for an innovative theatre award for best musical production in 2010, Slave Shack (Algonquin Productions) and Mr. Kolpert (Artist Collective NYC). Her regional credits include; American Mud (Straw Flower Productions), The Next Reunion, A Marriage Minuet (City Theater), Snow WhiteThe Emperor’s New Clothes and, Jack and The Bean Stalk (Storybook Musical Theatre).

Cory Tamler (2009)
Cory is a freelance playwright, theatremaker, and teaching artist. She has a passion for international collaboration and community engagement in the arts. Past productions include What You Wanted (The Neapolitans) and Eighty-Four (Collaboraction) in Chicago; The Yellow Wallpaper (Bakerloo) in Troy, NY; You Can't Get Lost in America (Yinzerspielen) and The Funeral (Pittsburgh New Works) in Pittsburgh; and You Can't Get Lost in America and Left-Right-Straight (Theater Panoptikum) in Augsburg, Germany. In 2010, she began working with Open Waters Theatre Arts in Maine as the playwright for Of Farms and Fables, a community-based theatre project that is bringing together farmers and farm workers with professional theatre artists to stage an original play about the future of farming in October 2011.

Cory is the recipient of a 2010/2011 Fulbright grant, and is funded by The MAP Fund as a lead artist for Of Farms and Fables. She is a proud member of international performance collectives Yinzerspielen and bluespotsproductions. When not working in the theatre or traveling, she enjoys agricultural work.

Holly Thuma (2003)
Holly is currently the Director of the University of Pittsburgh Theatre Arts MFA Program.


Summer and Fall Semester Work from Faculty and Graduate Students

Postdoctoral Fellow Jocelyn L. Buckner has recently published: “The Angel and the Imp: The Duncan Sisters’ Performances of Race and Gender” in Popular Entertainment Studies, 2.2 (Sept. 2011); “Diggin’ the Material: Ideological State Apparatuses, ‘Capitalizm’, and Identity in Suzan-Lori Parks’s Red Letter Plays,” in Journal of American Drama and Theatre 23.2 (Spring 2011); and a performance review of Lynn Diamond's play Harriet Jacobs at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in Theatre Journal 63.3 (October 2011). She has also presented the following papers at recent conferences: “Sausage and Sensorial Affect in Naomi Wallace’s Slaughter City” (America Society for Theatre Research, Montreal, Canada, 2011), and “A Canonical Century: Towards a Pedagogy of Inclusion” (Association for Theatre in Higher Education, Chicago, IL, 2011). She has contributed to the Pitt Repertory 2011-12 season as a faculty advisor for Funnyhouse of a Negro and as part of the dramaturgical team for Sweeney Todd. She has also recently been appointed to the Professional Alumni Advisory Board of the Department of Theatre at the University of Kansas, and as a member of the American Theatre and Drama Society's Publication Subvention Committee.

Chip Crane's recent publications and presentations include:

Book Review: “D.J. Hopkins, Shelly Orr and Kim Solga, eds. Performance and the City.” Theatre Survey 52.2 (Fall 2011).

“The Performance Historian as Cold Case Detective: Reopening Nikolai L'vov’s Investigation of the Blue Blouse Movement.” Performing Arts Resources 28: A Tyranny of Documents: The Performance Historian as Film Noir Detective. Edited by Stephen Johnson. New York: Theatre Library Association, 2011.

“From the Worker’s Club to the Archive: Documenting the Economies of Early Soviet Popular Theatre” American Society for Theatre Research. Montreal, QC. TLA Plenary Session.

“From the Editors: Imagining the Soviet Living Newspaper Movement on the Pages of Blue Blouse.” University of Pittsburgh Center for Russian and East European Studies. Pittsburgh, PA. Lecture.

Additionally, he also served on the organization committee of and participated in Pittsburgh Russian Film Symposium 13—Other Russias/Russia’s Others: Films in and on the Margins. He alsoReceived a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship from the Center for Russian and East European Studies.

Kathy George's edited collection, Pittsburgh Noir, was released in June. In July, a new paperback edition of The Odds was released, and her newest novel, Hideout, was published in August.

Tamara Goldbogen's article "Re-Imagining a Brand" appeared in TYA Today, Vol 25, No. 2, 2011.

Kellen Hoxworth presented the following:

“Re-Colonising the Mind? Playing on ‘Universal’ Classics in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Economies of African Performance Working Session. American Society for Theatre Research Conference. Montreal, PQ, November 2011.

“Settling Differences: Locating and Challenging the Foundational Structures of the Standard Bank National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, 1996-2010.” Emerging Voices in Theatre History: Theatre History (TH) Focus Group Debut Panel. Association for Theatre in Higher Education. Chicago, IL, August 2011.

“Looking At and Looking Through: The Prismatic Body of Anna Deavere Smith.” Panel: Anna Deveare Smith. Philadelphia Theatre Research Symposium. Philadelphia, PA, March 2011.

Lisa Jackson-Schebetta's recent work includes:

"Repertoires of the Asturian Diaspora: The Latin Unit's Production of 'Eso no puede ocurrir aquí' in Ybor City." New England Theatre Journal, December 2011.

"Air Raid Dramas and International Ethical Responsibility in America, 1936-1939." Theatre History Studies. Volume 32, 2012.

ASTR 2011 Working Group: Performance and the Economy of Global Topographies: Ascription, Value and the Body. Co-convener.

Bruce McConachie was given the American Society for Theatre Research Distinguished Scholar Award at its recent conference in Montreal. Given for lifetime achievement, the award recognized the valuable work and service that Bruce has performed for the field. 

Dave Peterson played King Lear in the Oakland Shakespeare Company's summer production. In the fall he directed the North American premier of Finegan Kruckemeyer's "This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing." He presented his paper "Performing Shakespeare’s Clowns: Reevaluating Realism" at the Popular Culture Association of Canada Conference in May, and in November shared his paper "Priscilla Horton and King Lear: The Reemergence and Gendering of the Fool" at the Shakespeare Performance Working Group at the American Society for Theatre Research.

David Wright has served as the Arts & Science Departmental Teaching Mentor, President of The Eleonora Duse Society, and Representative to the Arts & Sciences Graduate Student Organization. He has presented his research at Puppetry and Post-dramatic Performance: An International Conference on Performing Objects in the 21st Century and The American Association for Italian Studies, and has served as the Production Manager for the department's production of Sweeney Todd.

We would also like to acknowledge the great work done by our actors who were recognized by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival:

Certificate of Merit for the Ensemble (Moira Quigley, Emily Gray, Laci Mosley, Mary Siki, Sarah Ivins, Kyle Bogue, Michael Plantz, Rocky Paterra, Ashley Krysinski, Tara Velan, Michael Miaglocci, Ben Kaye)

Certificate of Merit, Stage Management: Ben Coppola

Certificate of Merit, Music Direction: Roger Zahab

Irene Ryan Nominees: Ashley Krysinski, Ben Kaye Irene Ryan Alternate: Michael Miaglocci

Student Design, Dramaturgs and Stage Manager Entrants: Dan Carr, Ben Coppola