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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 7:26 am | Fair 44º


Risa Brainin to Take the Helm of UCSB Department of Theater and Dance

She has directed at dozens of theaters across the United States, and joined the UCSB faculty in 2004

Effective Sunday, professor Risa Brainin will take the helm as chairwoman of the UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance. Brainin succeeds professor Simon Williams.

Brainin joined the UCSB faculty in 2004, having previously served as artistic director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Before that, she held posts as associate artistic director at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre and the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and resident director and associate company director at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Brainin has directed at dozens of theaters across the United States, including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Portland Stage Company, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the Great Lakes Theater Festival, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

She has taught and/or directed at many universities, including the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Butler University, UC Santa Cruz and the University of Utah.

In Santa Barbara, she is the artistic director of the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance’s new play program, LAUNCH PAD, where she developed and directed Melancholy Play by Sarah Ruhl, The Dinosaur Within by John Walch, the world premieres of Barbara Lebow’s Plumfield, Iraq and La Niñera: The Nursemaid, Sheri Wilner’s Kingdom City, Beau Willimon’s Biederman’s Match, Lila Rose Kaplan’s Entangled and the upcoming Appoggiatura by James Still.

Local work includes Gunmetal Blues for the Ensemble Theatre Company and Timon of Athens for the inaugural Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival.

Under Williams’ eight-year tenure as chair, the Department of Theater and Dance flourished.

“We designed and built a new theater and dance complex of offices, rehearsal studios and performance spaces, and refurbished the department’s Hatlen Theater, one of the university’s premier theatrical performance venues,” he said. “In 2010, our Graduate Program was ranked sixth in the country by the National Research Council. Indeed, the department has survived these difficult times with panache and renewed energy.”

Brainin concurs: “Professor Williams’ superb leadership strengthened the department, and we are now poised to move forward with great agility.”

What’s next for the department?

“We see ourselves as a magnet for artists and scholars around the world looking for a fertile place to do their creative work,” Brainin said. “Through LAUNCH PAD, we are creating a new model for play development. Our work at UCSB is setting the stage for a whole new way of thinking about the ecology of developing new plays. ‘Preview Productions’ are the step in the life of a new play between readings/workshops and professional premieres. The department is leading the way with this model and our hope is that other universities will follow.”

LAUNCH PAD is one program of several that bring artists and scholars to campus. This summer, the department hosts the Global Theater and Performance Studies Workshop led by associate professor Suk-Young Kim. Its primary mission is to create a network of scholars opening doors for long-term collaborations. Santa Barbara Dance Theater, the professional dance company in residence at UC Santa Barbara since 1976, has begun a new chapter under Artistic Director Christopher Pilafian. He trained at Juilliard and with an extensive professional resume, envisions SBDT as a dynamic creative laboratory for the choreographic and interdisciplinary development of new works.

In the past few years, the department has hosted dozens of artists and scholars, including the premiere playwright of Ghana, Ama Ata Aidoo, Tony Award-nominee playwright Jon Robin Baitz, Chicano theater scholar Jorge Huerta, modern dance legend Jennifer Muller, television director/writer David Zabel, award-winning playwright Brighde Mullins, the Poor Dog Theater Company, Swiss theater director and scholar Anton Rey, MacArthur award recipient and Tony Award winner Bill Irwin, award-winning Irish playwright Marina Carr, British playwright David Edgar, Trinity College emeritus professor Dennis Kennedy, as well as emerging choreographers Suki Clements, Alexandra Beller and Austin McCormick, each a director of their own company in New York City.

“We are extremely excited about our initiative to become a magnet for developing innovative work in theater and dance,” Brainin said.

— Eric Mills is the senior public events manager for the UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance.

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