Arts and Culture

Education steps into the spotlight

Artistic experience and hands-on education prepare Pacific theatre arts students for a bright professional and artistic future.

Professor Lisa Tromovitch, right, gives notes to Joy Clark '14 and Erick Ogle '14 as they prepare for the Livermore Shakespeare Festival.

Ann MazzaferroJul 7, 2014
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An evening of theatre under the stars might sound like a pleasant escape from the rigors of daily life, but for Joy Clark '14 and Erick Ogle '14, the nights they spend treading the boards at the Livermore Shakespeare Festival, running from June 13 to July 20 at Concannon Vineyards, are the final steps in their Pacific educations.

Clark and Ogle are part of the Shakespeare's Associates Apprenticeship program, in which college students from across the country hone their craft and work with some of the best actors and theatre artists that California can offer.

"We're working with some of the top talent from across the country, and they love working with the students," says Livermore Shakespeare Festival founder and producing artistic director Lisa Tromovitch, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre Arts. "We are conscious that we are mentoring the next generation of professional theater artists."

While the 12-year-old festival brings actors and artists together from around the United States, there's a definite Pacific flair to the company. Tromovitch directed this summer's production of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing;" Clark plays Ursula and Harriet Oat-Cake in "Much Ado" and Mary Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice," the company's second summer production; Ogle portrays Prince Don Pedro in "Much Ado" and a servant in "Pride and Prejudice;" Randall Enlow, a professor of theatre arts, heads up the set designs for both productions; and William Wolak, professor emeritus of theatre arts, portrays Antonio and Verges in "Much Ado."

The cast of "Much Ado About Nothing" on opening night
An opening night snapshot captures Joy Clark '14,
Erick Ogle '14, and William Wolak, 
emeritus, in
costume for "Much Ado About 
Nothing" at the
Livermore Shakespeare 
Festival.

"To dive into the work at this level has been an incredible opportunity," says Clark, who will head to Boston this autumn to begin her MFA in musical theatre at the Boston Conservatory of Music. "It has been a wonderful preparation for graduate school to work in such an intensive, supportive, creative and collaborative environment. Because of this experience, and the training I received at Pacific, I know I'll be ready for graduate school this fall."

For Ogle, the education is more than just artistic: He says the experience has given him insight into what it truly takes to make a successful career in the performing arts. "I've worked with Lisa for several years as an undergraduate student, but now I get to watch her balance both the artistic and the business sides of running a theatre company," says Ogle, who will pursue work as an actor in the Bay Area. "Watching Lisa work, and the connections I've been able to make by working with some of the finest actors from the Bay Area and beyond, has been invaluable."

Clark and Ogle are two of the latest theater arts students to benefit from Pacific's approach to hands-on arts education.

Pacific students have been a part of the Livermore Shakespeare Festival apprentice program since Tromovitch joined University of the Pacific in 2007. Before that, several generations of students took the stage at Pacific's Summer Theatre Company at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Park in the Mother Lode. The run-down hotel was restored in the late 1940s by the University, which deeded the facility to the State of California in 1947, when Columbia became a state park, and the hotel became a historic site.

However, the University retained the franchise rights to the Fallon House, and the Summer Company was born when Pacific students staged a historical melodrama onsite as part of a Gold Rush Centennial celebration. The company performed its first full season in the summer of 1950. Pacific relinquished its franchise rights to the property in the late 1980s.

Wolak, who taught at Pacific for 32 years, recalled that the Fallon House students formed an intimate company.  

"They lived together, ate meals together, rehearsed together, performed chores together," he says. "When they were done with the summer, they really knew if this was the life and career they wanted to pursue."

The Fallon House season was intense: five plays staged in five weeks, with every aspect of the production - casting, staging, set and costume construction, rehearsals - starting on a Sunday and the show opening the following Saturday. The shows continued in repertory for an additional four to five weeks. It was a strenuous undertaking, but became a beloved part of summers in the Mother Lode. One of the leading programs of its kind in the U.S., it hosted hundreds of students who went on to become leaders in the performing arts. According to one of the publicity packets produced for the final summer season, over a quarter of a million tickets were sold during the company's 36-year run.

Members of the Summer Theatre Company at the Fallon House in Columbia State Park

The 1977 Summer Theatre Company at the Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Park. Dennis Jones (seated, front row, left, brown shirt) and Sara Jones (next to Dennis, pink dress) started as students at Pacific's Summer Theatre Company; they now run their own theatre company out of the Fallon House Theatre. hoto courtesy of Sara Jones.

Among the successful Fallon House alumni are Sara and Dennis Jones '77, who met during the summer program and went on to found the Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora with three fellow company members.

"It helped make me the man in theatre that I am today," says Dennis, who serves as artistic director and recently directed the company's sold-out run of "Les Miserables" to kick off Sierra Repertory Theatre's 35th season. "I would not have been able to do what I do today without those summer experiences. The kind of minutiae it takes to run a business - all of those things I learned by keeping the books at the Fallon House. It was an educational experience, in every sense of the word."Since 1997, Sierra Repertory has also been the resident theatre company at Fallon House.

"Not very many people get to do what they love for their whole lives, and we feel very blessed to have had this opportunity," says Sara, noting that both she and Dennis get caught up in the romance of their college days every time they step into the Fallon House Theatre where they met and began their life together.

"To be here two decades later - you can't imagine how wonderful it is to be here again," Dennis says. "I feel a certain responsibility and kinship to the place, to make sure it stays standing and continues on."

As Pacific alumni transform and enrich the dramatic arts throughout the region and beyond,  the legacy of learning that took root at Fallon House lives on in many incarnations, including the summer student apprentice experience that Clark and Ogle are now participating in at the Livermore Shakespeare Festival.

"They learn to hone their craft," says Wolak, who has watched Pacific theatre students test their skills for nearly 40 years. "In one show, you have a significant role; in the next one, you're moving furniture. It combines passion with reality, and helps them discover what they truly want to do for the rest of their lives."

For more information regarding the Livermore Shakespeare Festival, please visit livermoreshakes.org. To learn more about the works of University of the Pacific Department of Theatre Arts, plesae visit their department website.