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STANFORD -- Judith Dolan, a doctoral student in Stanford University's drama department, is determined to bridge the chasm that often seems to separate commercial and university theater.
Peering across the gulf, each perceives only stereotypes: university theater people taking pride in unearthing obscure works of Strindberg and Ionesco, commercial theater people focusing on featherweight comedies or musicals.
Dolan, who has designed costumes for everything from the ABC soap opera "One Life to Live" to a New York City Opera production of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, finds herself in between.
"In commercial theater, I'm looked on as someone who does the 'artistic' work, and in the university I'm looked on a little suspiciously as a person who came from commercial theater," she said.
She does not think the two worlds are antithetical, she said. "Brecht's 1946 Broadway adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi is representative of this intersection. He structured it like the American musical, a form he greatly admired."
In 1973, after earning a master of fine arts degree in costume design from Stanford, Dolan went to Ireland, where she headed the costume department at Dublin's Abbey Theater and worked on two movies. She then moved with her husband and son to New York, where she designed for television, theater, movies and opera.
An interest in broadening her artistic horizons and challenging herself intellectually provided the impetus for Dolan's return to academia.
Now in the third year of a doctoral program, she continues to work in a variety of venues. Last year, she designed costumes for a production of As You Like It at the Alley Theater in Houston and directed a campus production of a collage of poetry and prose by Tennessee Williams.
She is continuing a 10-year professional association with director Hal Prince by designing for his "O'Casey Project," in which a troupe of Irish actors will recreate the early years of playwright Sean O'Casey. The show is scheduled for a New York City premiere early next year.
Her association with Prince began in 1980 when, after meeting her and seeing her design portfolio, he hired her to design costumes for the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along. That show - which was panned by the New York critics and lasted only a few performances on Broadway - was nevertheless a positive experience for Dolan.
"It was like having a 40-year Broadway career compressed into one production - you saw it all," she said.
Still enthusiastic about musicals, she designed the costumes for Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was while doing this show that she developed what she considers her trademark style - historical collage leavened with a sense of humor. For example, she dressed Potiphar, a rich Egyptian businessman, in "a silly combination of things" - formal vest and silver pinstripe shorts with spats and sandals.
Dolan has discovered an interest in directing since returning to Stanford, and she is working on a proposal for a designer/director program. That combination is well recognized in Europe; famous director Franco Zeffirelli began as a designer, and still designs his own productions.
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