Dramatists Adele and Ted Shank leave legacy at UCSD


Del Mar residents Adele and Theodore “Ted” Shank have put their lives into the theater. They have written and directed critically acclaimed plays and have taught for more than two decades in the UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance.

To help budding playwrights, the couple are donating $200,000 to establish the Adele and Theodore Shank Professional Playwriting Residency Award Fund. The gift will support students graduating with a master of fine arts in playwriting at UCSD.

“The scholarship provides a professional opportunity for our MFA students,” said Adele Edling Shank, professor emeritus at UCSD. “There’s a sudden feeling of being lost when they graduate — this provides a transition from graduate school to professional life.”

Their scholarship will assist an estimated 20 graduate students over the next 14 years with $10,000 fellowships in playwriting residencies at theaters across the country. In recognition of their contributions to theater at UCSD, the former Forum Studio at UCSD has been renamed the Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre.

During her 25 years teaching at UCSD, Adele developed the playwriting program and was head of playwriting. While she served as chairwoman of the Department of Theatre and Dance, Adele inspired considerable growth.

Under her leadership, the Mandell Weiss Forum Theater and a new 100-seat, black box theater known as the Forum Studio were constructed. The Department of Theatre and Dance at UCSD is one of the top three theater programs in the nation, producing more than 15 productions annually.

Adele became seriously interested in theater in college, when she starting writing plays. Since then, she has written plays that have been produced around the country and in England. She has earned many accolades, including a Dramatists Guild/

CBS Award, Rockefeller Playwrights-in-Residence Grant and a playwriting fellowship from the National Endowments for the Arts. Her plays have been staged four times in the Humana Festival of the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky, including once as the co-winner of the Great American Play Contest.

“What I love most about the theater arts is that it happens in front of a live audience. You can connect with the audience and get a response,” Adele said.

Her works include a series of six interconnected plays set in California: “Sunrise,” “Winterplay,” “Stuck: A Freeway Comedy,” “Sand Castles,” “ The Grass House” and “Tumbleweed.”

Her additional full-length plays include “War Horses,” “Rocks in Her Pocket,” “With Allison’s Eyes,” “The Wives of the Magi” and “Sex Slaves.” Her plays have been produced at local and international venues such as The Magic Theatre in San Francisco, La Jolla Playhouse, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Second Stage, New York, Los Angeles Public Theatre, LA Actors Theatre, Paines Plough, London and Show of Strength, Bristol, England.

“In playwriting, you create a complex situation that reflects ideas people are concerned about — it’s about creating characters and stories about life issues,” Adele said.

Adele’s short play “Dry Smoke” became the text in a chamber opera produced by the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra with music by Victor Kioulaphides. Her radio adaptation of “Stuck” was produced by Slovak Radio.

Adele wrote the text for the dance theater piece “Jardin Blanc” with English choreographer Yolande Snaith and the Yolande Snaith Dance Company that premiered in Brighton, England, in 2004 before touring England and appearing at The Place in London as part of Dance Umbrella.

Adele’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” with composer Paul Dresher and director Les Waters, played at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2007.

Both Adele and Ted are editors of the international theater journal, TheatreForum, published at UCSD. The journal discusses the work of innovative theater artists.

Ted has taught at UCSD for 21 years and is former head of the Graduate Directing Program. A distinguished professor of theater, emeritus, Ted has directed more than 50 productions, including premieres of plays and musicals. His play “Wild Indian!” earned two CBS/Dramatists Guild Awards and premiered at both the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago.

“Many of the plays are about social issues, such as the first black woman to have a pilot’s license,” Ted said.

In addition to being an award-winning director, Ted has received recognition as an author. Ted has published eight books, contributed chapters to more than 30 works, and written more than 100 articles on contemporary theater.

His books include “American Alternative Theatre,” “The Art of Dramatic Art,” “Contemporary Experimental Theatre” and “Beyond the Boundaries: American Alternative Theatre.” He has served on panels of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, Opera America and is a consultant to higher education in England.

Although the couple have retired from full-time teaching, they continue to teach and mentor students.

“The important thing for me as a teacher is that each playwright becomes a unique voice — not a copy of someone else,” Adele said. Ted added, “We want them to find themselves and find their own voices.”