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UC San Diego Theatre Students Take up Residence in La Jolla Playhouse Productions

UC San Diego Theatre La Jolla Playhouse Productions

Paul Alexander Nolan (on chair) and the cast of La Jolla Playhouse’s world-premiere musical “Escape to Margaritaville,” book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, music and lyrics by Jimmy Buffett, directed by Christopher Ashley, running through July 9 in the Mandell Weiss Theatre at UC San Diego. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The University of California San Diego’s Department of Theatre and Dance is among the best: Hollywood Reporter recently listed the acting program #5 in the world. Part of its reputation is due to its unique partnership with the world-renowned La Jolla Playhouse. The UC San Diego-La Jolla Playhouse partnership includes a theater and dance residency program that offers students the opportunity to gain practical experience in acting, directing, design and stage management that sets them up for professional success. In fact, several students are currently participating in the playhouse’s 2017/2018 season: acting students Andrew Gallop, Volen Iliev and Mo Rodvanich; design students Matthew Herman, Amanda Bergman, Brandon Rosen; and stage management student Jackie Mullen. All are part of the Broadway-bound production “Escape to Margaritaville,” now extended in San Diego through July 9.

“Many of our graduate students participate in the residency program, which offers a unique opportunity for them to work alongside high-profile theater artists working at the top of their game,” said Charles Means, chair and professor of the Department of Theatre and Dance. According to Means, the residency experience is not only unique, but vital for anyone seeking a career in the performing arts.

“As an international student from Thailand, I never thought I would ever be a part of the original cast in the world premiere of a Broadway-bound musical. It was beyond what I had ever expected coming into this program,” said Rodvanich, an MFA candidate in acting.

Rodvanich explained that students in the theater program make connections, and learn by doing and watching others, with whom they share conversations about art and the business world. “It’s very inspiring and fulfilling,” noted Rodvanich. “In addition, we will become members of Actor’s Equity Association. It is just too good to be true.”

UC San Diego Theatre La Jolla Playhouse Productions

Mo Rodvanich in character during a scene from 2016’s “Vieux Carre,” a UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance production. Photo by Jim Carmody

Herman, one of the design students involved with “Escape to Margaritaville,” said he appreciates the collaborative environment of the university’s theater program. “I always feel encouraged to reach out to my fellow graduates and professors, and the staff over at La Jolla Playhouse as well,” he said. “Building a relationship with the community around you is key in theater and UC San Diego’s relationship with La Jolla Playhouse really helps you find your footing.”

And many UC San Diego theatre graduates have found solid footing in the theater world. For example, three recent Tony Award nominees included Michael Greif (’85), nominated for best direction of a musical for “Dear Evan Hansen,” which recently won six other Tony Awards; Jefferson Mays (’91), nominated for best actor in a leading role for “Oslo;” and Paloma Young (’06), nominated for best costume design of a musical for “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” Other notable former students include Rachel Axler (’04), an Emmy Award-winning writer for “Veep” and “The Daily Show,” and Jeff Augustin (’14), who was the first UC San Diego theater alumnus to have a play, “Last Tiger in Haiti,” featured in La Jolla Playhouse’s season last year. This year, MFA playwriting alumnus Mat Smart’s (’04) dark comedy “Kill Local” is one of the playhouse’s featured productions.

“During its DNA New Work Series reading last December, I witnessed how this savage and savagely funny play electrified the crowd, and I was determined to share it with a larger audience as part of our 2017/2018 season,” said Christopher Ashley, Tony Award-winning artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse. In addition to “Margaritaville” and “Kill Local,” the season, which runs through early March 2018, includes “At The Old Place,” “Wild Goose Dreams,” “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” and “The Cake.”

The Department of Theatre and Dance’s close relationship with the La Jolla Playhouse provides many graduate students with at least one professional residency. Upon graduation, students go on to work professionally in theater, film and television. The department resides within the Division of Arts and Humanities, which ranks in the top 23, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities.

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