Following the unanimous recommendation of the Outreach Prize Committee, the Board of Directors awards the 2009 APA Prize for Scholarly Outreach to Mary-Kay Gamel, Professor of Classics, Comparative Literature, and Theater Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor Gamel has been translating, reconceptualizing, and staging Greek and Roman plays for diverse modern audiences for more than twenty years, in Santa Cruz especially but in many other venues as well. Her versions of ancient tragedies and comedies draw audiences into vital engagement with the classical texts through language, staging, music, and theatrical devices that dramatically juxtapose ancient cultural concepts with contemporary entities and concerns, as for example reimagining the women's festival of Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazousai as The Julie Thesmo Show, a daytime-television talk show. She frequently helps audiences think through and articulate what they have experienced by linking her productions to symposia, such as the conference on "Authenticity and Revision in Performance" held after a staging of her versions of Terence's The Eunuch and Hrotsvit of Gandersheim's The Conversion of Thais. In the summer of 2009, she spent five weeks in New Zealand, working with students at the University of Auckland to adapt and stage her Eye on Apollo (a version of Euripides' Ion) in a Maori context; it is hard to imagine a wider outreach, either geographically or culturally!
Professor Gamel's productions have brought ancient drama to thousands of people in an accessible, enjoyable, and meaningful way. The UC Santa Cruz newspaper opened a 2006 review of The Buzz!!!!, her version of Aristophanes Wasps, with this reflection: "In light of a widening divide between conservative and liberal ideology, there is no better time to update a classic Greek satire, using wit and wisdom to illustrate our basic humanities, regardless of political viewpoints." Professor Gamel has worked with and mentored many young actors and theater students who would otherwise not have encountered Greek and Roman drama, giving them a priceless opportunity to creatively engagew with ancient culture and theatrical conventions. She has achieved all of this with prodigious energy on a volunteer basis, including raising funds to support her productions and symposia, since these activities are not part of her teaching responsibilities. Indeed, because of her talent and generosity, Professor Gamel has become the "go-to" person for any group or organization (including the APA) that wants to stage a classically-themed performance.
Her colleague Karen Bassi characterizes Professor Gamel as "that rare academic whose work combines both practice and theory." All her creative practice is deeply grounded in rigorous scholarship and a profound understanding of ancient theater in its original cultural context, which enables her to preserve the essence while adapting the form. Her scholarship, presented in numerous articles and papers and soon to be crystallized in a book on Revising 'Authenticity' in Staging Ancient Mediterranean Drama, has been very influential in theater and performance studies, and her creative productions have actually become the basis for scholarly discussion. The Julie Thesmo Show, for example, inspired a special issue of the American Journal of Philology in 2002 on "Performing/Transforming Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazousai."
The APA is pleased to present this award to Professor Mary-Kay Gamel in recognition of her outstanding and dramatic contribution to scholarly outreach.