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The show might not go on

"Oklahoma!" directed by Granada Artist-in-Residence Mindy Cooper, played to sellout crowds at the Mondavi Center's Jackson Hall in April 2009. Courtesy photo

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March 7, 2011 | Leave Comment

The Granada Artist-in-Residence Program — which has brought noted directors, playwrights, actors and choreographers to work with UC Davis students for nearly 30 years — is imperiled by the current round of budget cuts at the university.

Visiting Granada artists come to Davis to do a 10-week project. Sometimes that project is a Broadway-style musical, like American director/choreographer Mindy Cooper’s spring 2009 production of “Oklahoma!” Sometimes, it’s a classic English play from 400 years ago, like British director William Gaskill’s Spring 2001 production of Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus.”

Sometimes, it’s an edgy new piece by a recent Tony Award winner (Dominique Serrand’s current “Come Hell and High Water”) or a Pulitzer Prize nominee (Rinde Eckert’s 2008 “Fate and Spinoza”). Sometimes, it’s original choreography (like “Beyond Belief,” a winter 2009 production by John Jasperse).

Students enjoy the Granada program — more specifically, they enjoy the opportunity to work intensely on a project with a visiting professional.

“The Granada program is a very attractive thing,” said David Grenke, chairman of the UCD department of theater and dance. “It’s a central strand to what we do. It’s pretty significant.”

But the Granada program comes at a cost, and the University of California is looking to reduce costs.

“(The Granada program) is essentially an FTE (full-time-equivalent) at the professor level,” Grenke said. As such, it is budgeted annually at about $90,000, divided over the three quarters of the academic year.

“We pay (Granada artists) major transportation, and the stipend; beyond that, it’s all on them,” including housing, Grenke said.

Director Sarah Pia Anderson was a visiting Granada artist in 1989, 1994 and 1995, then she joined the UCD faculty, teaching here for part of the year and working in Hollywood the rest of the year (directing episodes of TV series like “ER,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty.”)

“For the Granada directors, when you come in as a visitor, you have a lot of stress,” Anderson said. “It’s like the experience in any professional gig. And those pressures are really good for the students.

“It’s fundamentally good for students not to be continually interacting with faculty. … When you’re faculty, your life with these students isn’t just about one show. It’s more of a long-term relationship. Professional directors are much more demanding. The show is the thing. That’s what the students learn, in a professional way.

“The continual influence of the visiting Granada artists has had a profound effect,” Anderson continued. “It distinguishes our department from any other theater and dance department that I know of. I just feel that it is not expendable. It’s absolutely integral to everything we do. I believe that passionately.”

Mindy Cooper, a veteran of Broadway musicals, has been a Granada artist twice — directing 2007’s “Urinetown” and 2009’s “Oklahoma!” She will direct the spring production of “The Who’s ‘Tommy.’ ”

“I think it’s one of the jewels of the department,” Cooper said of the program. “It gets students the chance to work with industry professionals.

“And it’s a very ‘real world’ experience when you audition for a Granada artist. It’s not like doing a project for a professor that knows you. You have to learn how this director works, and work well with them. It’s a professional experience. And students make professional connections for their future.”

Peter Lichtenfels was a visiting Granada artist-in-residence in 1992, 1995, 1998 and 2002, then joined the faculty in 2003. His projects included a complex 1998 production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” that included an all-male cast — the way the play was performed in Shakespeare’s time — and an all-female cast — to give women in the department an equal chance more roles.

The gender difference emerged in different ways.

“The women did their sword-fighting as a form of dance. The men did it as swashbuckling,” Lichtenfels observed. He did some “mixed cast” (male and female) performances, matching, say, a male Juliet and a female Romeo.

“It was like being a baseball manager, posting the lineup the afternoon before the show,” Lichtenfels recalled.

Lichtenfels sees considerable value in the Granada program.

“I think it freshens up the faculty. It’s a new person who comes in and brings their practices to bear on the department. Students love it,” he said.

“As a faculty member, you get to know students over three or four years. The Granadas are different. The students are being seen by different eyes and have sometimes been given opportunities that surprise the (regular) faculty.”

The Granada program was launched in 1982, and for the first five years it was funded by Britain’s Granada Television network, and featured British artists. After that, the program continued with UCD funding, though the Granada name stuck. The program was broadened to include visiting artists from Russia, the Caribbean, the United States and elsewhere.

Current Granada artist Dominique Serrand, a Frenchman, is directing “Come Hell and High Water.”

“It’s great to have time to develop work over 10 weeks,” he said. “In the theater right now, the average rehearsal time for a show is three or four weeks. It’s a capital investment to have 10 weeks. And I think it’s very important for the students — the opportunity to get close to an experienced artist.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com

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