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Staffer Wins Theater Critics’ Circle Award

by D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
posted June 10, 1998

After winning the Bay Area Theater Critics’ Circle Award for best musical score, Berkeley staff member Joel Adlen wasn’t about to quit his day job.

In fact, Adlen says the computer support he provides Agriculture and Resource Economics complements the cutting-edge music technology he uses as a composer.

“Computers are involved in almost every aspect of music production these days,” said Adlen, who combined synthesizers, specialized software and compact disc recordings to create his award-winning arrangement.

Adlen received the award for the musical “Tea and Crumpets,” an Alice in Wonderland-style farce that played to sold out audiences at San Francisco’s 450 Geary Studio Theater last year. He also created the original concept for the play and wrote the lyrics.

The annual award, now in its 21st year, is one of the Bay Area’s most prestigious theatrical honors. The 22-member Circle Award board, comprised of theater critics from radio, TV and print, evaluate nearly 200 productions throughout the year, lauding their top picks with the award.

The idea for “Tea and Crumpets” came in 1995 while Adlen’s father was hospitalized, suffering from a chronic illness.

“I thought it would cheer him up to read about some of our family’s antics in lyric form,” said Adlen.

Although his father died before a performance of the piece, Adlen was grateful he got to see the musical in its early stages.

What started as a gift for his father evolved into a critically-acclaimed play that was so popular, its original three-week run was extended for an extra month. Success continued when Adlen received the award nomination earlier this year.

Fearing he might jinx his chances of winning, Adlen kept a low profile at Agriculture and Resource Economics, where he has worked as an administrative assistant since 1992.

He quietly shared news of the nomination with co-workers Angie Erickson and Mary Graham. However, after finding out Adlen won, they broke their vow of secrecy and broadcast his victory to departmental staff and faculty via email.

“We enjoy acting as his publicists,” said Graham proudly.

To honor his accomplishment, the department threw a surprise party for Adlen. Guests were treated to real tea and crumpets while a CD of the show’s tunes played on a nearby computer.

Graham said she had Adlen autograph a “Tea and Crumpets” playbill for her because “we figure it’s only a matter of time before he becomes famous.”

Said Amor Nolan, Adlen’s supervisor, “Some of us go home from work and barely have the energy to cook dinner, but Joel goes home and creates, composes and writes...I find that amazing. He is a top-notch employee, incredibly talented both in and out of the office.”

Despite closing in San Francisco last year, the popularity of Adlen's "Tea and Crumpets" continues to grow. The Scottsdale/Phoenix Center of Performing Arts and a group of alumni from the University of Southern California are both interested in staging the musical.

In addition to composing live theater, Adlen creates music for film and video. Recently, he wrote, orchestrated and performed the musical accompaniment for the rarely shown silent film "The Scarlet Letter," starring Lillian Gish, at Berkeley's Fine Arts Theater.

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