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UC San Diego Theatre Excellence Reflected in Tony Award Alumni Nominations

Michael Grief

Michael Greif, UC San Diego alumnus and 2017 Tony Award nominee for Best Direction of a Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” Photo courtesy of The Broadway League

The University of California San Diego takes the stage in many programs — its Department of Theatre and Dance easily commanding the spotlight. Ranked among the top five acting programs in the world by Hollywood Reporter, the department’s students graduate well-prepared for the theater profession. Cast with experience — due in part to a dynamic partnership with its acclaimed neighbor, La Jolla Playhouse — UC San Diego graduates consistently take the lead in television, film and stage careers. Proof positive are three recent Tony Award nominations earned by alumni Michael Greif (MFA directing, ’85), nominated for Best Direction of a Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen;” Jefferson Mays (MFA acting, ’91), nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, “Oslo;” and Paloma Young (MFA, costume design, ’06), nominated for Best Costume Design of a Musical, “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.”

Jefferson Mays

Jefferson Mays, alumnus and 2017 Tony Award nominee for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Play, “Oslo.” Photo courtesy Jefferson Mays

Division of Arts and Humanities Dean Cristina Della Coletta said, “In the past few years, the division has seen a substantial increase in its overall rankings from prestigious sources such as U.S. News and World Report global rankings. The most recent accolade comes from the Hollywood Reporter. It is to be noted that UC San Diego is the only public university to be among the top five in the world. We are proud of our faculty, students and alumni who continue to win prestigious awards, such as Tony Awards, Emmy Awards and Princess Grace Awards.”

Charles Means, chair and professor of the Department of Theatre and Dance, credits the department’s excellence to the faculty — many of whom are alumni — who are working professionals and scholars with direct connections to the professional world. Means, himself, is headed to the Lincoln Center on Broadway in the fall as production stage manager on “JUNK,” a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar that originated on campus at La Jolla Playhouse.

Paloma Young

Paloma Young, alumna and 2017 Tony Award nominee for Best Costume Design of a Musical, “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” Photo courtesy of Paloma Young

“There are several alumni currently teaching in the department, so the students see first- hand the work and achievements of our alums,” said Means. “We host a number of alumni events throughout the year here in San Diego as well as in Los Angeles and New York. We also have a weekly newsletter posted on our website and an alumni Facebook page that details what our alumni are doing and their great successes.” The department also invites industry professionals to campus to share insights with and impart advice to aspiring thespians and other theater professionals.

Means said faculty members understand what is required of working artists and build the foundation students will need in order to be successful in whichever profession they decide to conquer. “We also encourage our students to reach out to alumni to seek advice and guidance,” added Means. “Our alumni are very generous with their time and take our students under their wing.”

Means also credits the department’s residency program at La Jolla Playhouse as another aspect that makes the theater program unique. In fact, many students are participating in the playhouse’s current season of productions. “Our students work alongside working professionals in the professional environment, while still a student. This level of mentorship and connection is vital to anyone beginning a career in the performing arts,” Means noted.

Josh Groban

Josh Groban as Pierre in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” Production photo by Chad Batka. © Chad Batka and Broadway.com

The Broadway-bound professor describes the theater training at UC San Diego as rigorous. “You need to be disciplined enough to endure the long hours and inevitable vulnerability it takes to train as a theater and dance artist. It requires a certain dedication and love for the work. The students are in classes all day and then in rehearsals six days a week in the evenings,” he said. “This kind of dedication and rigor is needed to jumpstart and sustain a career in the performing arts.”

Several other shows with UC San Diego ties are also nominated for 2017 Tony Awards, including “Come From Away” and “Indecent,” both developed at La Jolla Playhouse, whose artistic director Christopher Ashley is also a 2017 Tony Award nominee. The three UC San Diego Division of Arts and Humanities nominees are no strangers to the Tony Awards — all have either earned nominations or won before:

Michael Greif
2009 – Best Direction of a Musical, Nominee, “Next to Normal”
2007 – Best Direction of a Musical, Nominee, “Grey Gardens”
1996 – Best Direction of a Musical, Nominee, “Rent”

Jefferson Mays
2014 – Best Actor in a Musical, Nominee, “Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”
2004 – Best Actor in a Play, Winner, “I am My Own Wife”

Paloma Young
2012 – Best Costume Design for a Play, Winner, “Peter and the Starcatcher”

“The consistency of which Theatre and Dance alumni have garnered iconic awards speaks to both the wealth of talent and vibrancy of the department,” commented Jonathan Wray, alumni director for the Division of Arts and Humanities.