In 1993, I played Francis Flute in the American Shakespeare Company's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," directed by professor Homer Swander at UC Santa Barbara. I've kept in touch with many of my fellow student-actors, and the woman who played Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, is Genesis Phillips (now Hansen), and is not only the namesake of the Phillips-Holsen Grand Hotel in "The Upstaged Coroner," but is also Director of Library & Cultural Services at the City of Mission Viejo, about 45 minutes south of Los Angeles. I asked Hansen to write about her latest trip to UC Santa Barbara and the theater where we spent most of the winter and spring of 1993.
A few weeks ago I visited my alma mater, UCSB, with my family. At the top of my to do list was a stop by Girvetz 1004—the theater where, nearly 30 years ago, I had the great pleasure of studying and performing two plays with renowned Professor Homer Swander. (This is also where I met one Paul Austin Ardoin.)
Professor Swander was by turns inspiring and exasperating, delightful and infuriating, a sage and a scoundrel. I also learned more from him than in the rest of my college classes combined.
The little theater in Girvetz Hall was a magical place—a bland lecture hall transformed by a couple of wood platforms, some curtains, and the ingenuity of the students and professor into, say, a forest, or a street in Padua, Italy. As students, we were also transformed. It is impossible to step into Shakespeare's world—especially as Queen of the Amazons—and come out the same on the other side.
As an appropriate cap to my summer nostalgia, I had the great joy of being an early reader of The Upstaged Coroner. Fenway fans, you are in for a treat! While the story is set against the backdrop of a university theater program that felt very familiar to me, the very smart—and very human—coroner Fenway Stevenson is the real leading lady in this dramatic production.