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Candidate Statement - October 2017

Maggie Morgan
Professor
Department of Theatre & Dance
University of California, Davis
Since Promotion to Professor Step 3.5

Research and Creative Activity

Since my promotion to full professor I have continued my creative activities in the professional theatre, film and also expanded into the area of digital media.  I returned as a guest artist to design projects at several regional theatre companies throughout California, including Center Rep and the Kirk Douglas Theatre.  I was pleased to work for the first time at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley during this period, establishing new ties to a respected cultural institution in the Bay Area.

In the realm of classic theatre works I was honored to receive an Ovation Award nomination from Los Angeles’ Theatre League Alliance for my costume design of Endgame at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater.  This well-received production of Beckett’s classic play received nine Ovation nominations and was directed by Beckett collaborator Alan Mandell and co-stared Barry McGovern.  This production was lauded as “triumphant” by the Los Angeles Times critic who also wrote “All of the figures are endowed by costume designer Maggie Morgan with a painterly grandeur.”  I was pleased to make my design debut at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley with a new, well-received production of The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard directed by Timothy Near.

I have continued my trajectory of working on new plays and musicals, including the design of several premieres.  Of particular interest was DED!,  a world premiere multimedia theatre piece, based on Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, conceived and directed by Grammy award-winning Mexican director Carlos Lopez Estrada and co-directed by puppetry artist Cristina Bercovitz.  The original music was composed and performed by John W. Snyder.  This dynamic production co-starred Tony Award-winning Bill Irwin as the Man in the Moon who appeared via video projection. I relish the opportunity to work on brand new works like this, being able to help create the visual look of the characters for the first time in the history of a new play.  I also enjoy working on plays based on the lives of real people. Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical at Center Rep was such a show.  I received a Shellie Award nomination for my design of the West Coast premiere.  This musical play was based on the singer’s compelling life story and particularly dealt with the difficult period in her life of drug abuse and an onstage mental breakdown after she witnessed the assassination of Robert Kennedy.  An additional West Coast premiere I designed at Center Rep was It Shoulda Been You, a charming new musical comedy dealing with the timely theme of gay marriage. 

In the area of film and digital media I was pleased to design the costumes for Send Me: An Original Web Series which premiered on BET.com and garnered a large audience with 1.66 million views.  The series was created by playwright and television writer Steve Harper and was in part produced by comedian Chris Rock.  The provocative story explores the idea of how things might change if contemporary people of color could go back in time to the era of slavery.  The series drew much attention, was selected for eight festivals and won two awards at The Indie Film Fest Awards and The Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival.  The star, Tracie Thoms received an Emmy nomination for her performance.  

The independent feature film Car Dogs which I designed in 2013 (and was part of my previous promotion action) premiered at the Catalina Film Festival in 2015 and had its theatrical release in March 2017. This film was produced in conjunction with the Arizona State University Film Program and directed by Adam Collis.  The project utilized a new business model, which included a unique blend of professionals and film students.  I worked with a professional cast of actors including Patrick J. Adams (Suits), comedian George Lopez, Nia Vardolos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help).  My artistic collaborators included production designer Scott Cobb and cinematographer David Stump, author of the book Digital Cinematography and recipient of an Oscar for technical developments.  Aside from my costume supervisor, the costume department crew was all undergraduates in the film and theatre programs at ASU in Tempe.  Typical in the film business we worked at a fast pace, with three weeks prep at the Universal Studios costume department in Los Angeles and four weeks shooting on location, providing a realistic professional environment and training experience for my student crew and interns.  This also provided up-to-date experience for me working with digital cinematography that I am able to bring into my classes at UC Davis.  The film now has national distribution and can be seen on Netflix, iTunes and Amazon.

Teaching, Mentoring, Curriculum Development

During the period under review (2014-17) I continued teaching my theatre and film costume design courses (DRA 124D, DRA/CTS124E) as well as our design survey course, Visual Aspects of Dramatic Art (DRA 24). In addition, I started teaching two new courses which I developed. The first, Visual Language for Performance (DRA 256), is a new “core” class geared to the cross section of interdisciplinary theatre and dance artists we have in our MFA program. The second, “Design on Screen-The Art of Costume Design” (DRA/CTS 116), is a large lecture course which is cross-listed with the Cinema and Digital Media program. My students come from a variety of majors, ranging from theatre and dance, fashion design, and textile science, to cinema and digital media, history, and biochemistry, for example. Through the use of in-class student surveys in my undergraduate courses I adapt the lesson plan to serve these diverse populations.  I continuously update courses to address current professional practices from a designer’s perspective, integrate relatable material, and look at the wide range of new trends and technology in the entertainment industry and the performing arts. In Design on Screen For 2016 I added new material (“Foreign film Stars of design”) to this course to include international films and more designers of color who were featured in my lectures and film clips. In my practical design classes I combine creative projects and learning about the practical process of designing shows in the professional world, integrating theory with professional practices.  Students are able to incorporate new skills gained in oral presentation, visual literacy, research techniques, text analysis, and creative problem solving into successful design projects. These are learning outcomes, which will translate into any area no matter what they pursue in life.  I have consistently received strong course evaluations with numbers in the 4 -5 range and positive feedback from students includes the comments “I enjoyed feeling confident in discussion [of] the course material with Professor Morgan. She has a profound grasp of the subject area and I always was satisfied with my answer from her responses to questions.”, “This is the second class I’ve taken with Maggie and I love her teaching style. It is very straightforward and consistent”, and “She does a great balance of lecture, visuals and hands-on work.”  

In addition, I led several group study classes with graduate students in the area of costume design including a Digital Costume Design and Rendering course (DRA 298) with my MFA costume design students.  I taught an advanced costume design seminar for undergraduates (DRA 130) and I have regularly served as a guest lecturer in department colleagues’ classes such as Stage Management and Production Management.

During this period I served as the costume design adviser on a dozen department shows, ranging from large scale shows helmed by professional directors and choreographers under our Granada Artist-in-Residence Program to MFA student-choreographed dance pieces and plays directed by undergraduates. I mentored both graduate and undergraduate costume designers through the process from initial design meetings to fittings to dress rehearsals. This includes meeting with each designer individually at all stages of the process to discuss their design ideas, advise on artistic and practical matters having to do with challenges particular to each show, attending costume fittings as needed and requested, consulting with costume shop staff on student performance and design issues, and attending dress rehearsals to advise on needed improvements.

I served as the major adviser and chaired theses committees of three MFA students and served on two additional MFA thesis committees.  I served on one qualifying exam committee during this period.  I often continue my mentoring into the professional world having developed professional relationships with many of my former students who are working in the arts as designers and educators throughout the country and the world.  I’m pleased to report that Kristine Doiel (MFA ’16) is currently teaching costume design and related courses at Cal State Fresno.

As part of my teaching assignments I designed the costumes for our 2014 department production of the play The Gambling Lady, directed by Granada Artist Fidelis Morgan, and for Nam War Raw Man, an MFA Thesis project devised and directed by MFA candidate Lucas Hatton.  For these shows I had close working/teaching relationships with my collaborators, particularly the cast members, my assistant designers, students at the undergraduate and graduate level.  I also appreciated the creative working relationship with the student cast members as together we created the look of their individual characters.  In particular, I see great value in giving the student actors the opportunity to work with a professional costume designer as part of their training in how to conduct themselves professionally in all parts of their rehearsal process.  Again, these are valuable contact hours with students, both graduate and undergraduate, who I would not normally be in close contact with.  The many hours spent in the costume shop also provided more contact hours with undergraduates in the lab class (DRA 180F) and helped to enhance our production staff - faculty relationship.  These productions are holistic teaching and laboratory-style creative projects, in which the faculty and students collaborate, sometimes on a peer level, work as a team and put into practice what we teach in the classroom.  The process of bringing a show to life in a fully realized department production is the culmination of all our best efforts and provides capstone experiences for a great number of our students.

Service

Until 2015 I served as a member of the Teaching Program Planning and Review Committee for the College of Letters and Science.  I have volunteered my services to university, college and academic senate committees but have not been offered a place on a standing committee in the last two years.  At the department level I participated in two successful searches for our Professor of Acting position and for the interim Visiting Professor position. I continued as the Master Undergraduate Advisor from 2014 -16 and led a successful résumé workshop for students in winter 2017. Since last year I have been serving as the MFA Program Advisor.

In 2016 I organized and served as the faculty advisor for our UC Davis Theatre and Dance Design Showcase.  This exhibit helps to prepare our MFA candidates for their presentations at Design Showcase West at UCLA and is an important part of their professional development.  Undergraduates who participated at a high level in the design classes and productions were also invited to participate in the showcase.  I have been active in the faculty committee for Film Festival at UC Davis for many years and have served for the last two years as a faculty adviser and as a judge for the festival in 2015 and 2016.

In the last three years, I have been invited to be a jurist and respondent of young designers’ work at the state and the national level.  In May, 2017 I was a respondent/reviewer at two national design portfolio reviews held in New York, the National Design Portfolio Review and Design Meeting, hosting graduating MFA designers from over a dozen top training programs throughout the country.  I continue to be an invited respondent for Design Showcase West (2015, 2016) the annual MFA portfolio review hosted by the School of Theatre, Film and Television at UCLA and co-sponsored by the Art Directors Guild, the Costume Designers Guild, and United Scenic Artists.  The “Design Juries” held at San Diego State University is an annual public forum and discussion where MFA work in theatre and film receives responses from a jury of professionals.  In November 2014, I served with theatre artists such as Marco Barrocelli, Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and fellow designers John Iacovelli and York Kennedy. I participated as a presenter at both the first and second annual Dorothy Richard’s Design Educator’s Roundtable at the David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design University of California, Los Angeles.  

Conclusion

Looking to the upcoming year I am currently serving as MFA Program Advisor. I am designing our fall production of Gibraltar (which falls into the next review period). Professionally, I look forward to developing my creative activities over the next few years to build further upon my new connections at Bay Area theatres.  Upcoming commitments include shows at Capital Stage in Sacramento, Berkeley Rep and Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. In the last three years, I have continued my strong commitment to teaching and mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students, maintained and expanded my professional research and creative activities at a level of national prominence, and participated in service to the university and my professional community from the local to the national level.