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Norman Coates (on table) is flanked by Chancellor John Mauceri (in back) and Provost David Nelson (at left)

WINSTON-SALEM -- "Those aren't diplomas; that's a dead body!"

Not exactly what you'd expect to hear at a university graduation. But this wasn't just any graduation -- it was the University of North Carolina School of the Arts' (UNCSA) 46th commencement, featuring speaker David Rambo, a playwright and screenwriter whose credits not only include the new CBS series "NYC 22," but the most-watched TV show in the world: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

To honor that connection, UNCSA staged a scene straight out of "CSI": a "body" was on the table where the diplomas were supposed to be!

Interim Liberal Arts Dean Dean Wilcox threw off his academic robe and donned black, a badge and a pair of sunglasses as homage to actor William Petersen, attempting to "solve the case." He was joined by a student "forensics team"; actual UNCSA Police officers, Capt. Gary Davis and Lt. Melissa Collins; the "culprit," Liberal Arts faculty member Ellen Rosenberg (who loudly complained: "We academics have always played second fiddle to you artists!); and Design & Production faculty member Norman Coates, who clearly was not dead.

Rambo, who had already given his address, was clearly amused and surprised, laughing 

throughout the skit.

Rambo recently adapted Sinclair Lewis’ novel “Babbitt” for the stage, which saw its world premiere production at UNCSA earlier this month with the School of Drama juniors directed by John Dillon. Rambo is a friend of and artistic collaborator with UNCSA Chancellor John Mauceri, with whom he worked on a staged concert performance of Sunset Boulevard at the Hollywood Bowl.

"The remarkable University of North Carolina School of the Arts and you - students, incipient graduates, artists – hold a cherished place in my heart," Rambo said. "Yesterday, I mentioned to Chancellor Mauceri that this is a rough time for art. He astutely reminded me that it’s always a rough time for art. Which is what makes the commitment of the state of North Carolina to this school all the more extraordinary."

David Rambo delivers his commencement address.

Rambo recounted how he had trained to be an actor, but got sidetracked into becoming a real estate agent.

"How is it that I was ready when I got the call asking if I’d be interested in writing CSI?" he asked, rhetorically.

He began writing plays.

"I’d been using my theatre training to succeed in business. Now, I was making a U-turn, using experience gained in business to say something through art. And I was hooked," Rambo said.

"I wrote that play, and then another, and another in every spare moment I could grab. It took a few more years of countless disappointments and incremental successes before I could turn in my real estate license and actually make a living as a writer. But I did it.I was a working American playwright," he said.

He told the students that they were well trained and that now they are ready. After all, he said, quoting Shakespeare (Hamlet, specifically): "The readiness is all.”

To read the complete text of Rambo's address, download here. (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

Rambo received an honorary doctorate at the ceremony, which was held May 6 at UNCSA's Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem. 

One hundred and ninety-nine college students graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts on May 6.

Also at the ceremony, Eric Larsen, UNCSA School of Music faculty member, was awarded the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. And Susan and John D. Gates received the Giannini Society Award.

David Rambo’s professional career was launched with the world premiere of his play God’s Man In Texas at Actors Theatre of Louisville’s 23rd Annual Humana Festival of New Plays in 1999, directed by John Dillon. Within a year that play was one of the most-produced in the country. Since then he has written The Lady With All The Answers (a Lortel Award nominee in its New York production at the Cherry Lane Theatre), The Ice-Breaker, The Spin Cycle, and an all-new new book for Lerner and Loewe’s Paint Your Wagon.

His plays have been widely produced at America’s regional theatres, including Actors Theatre of Louisville, Geffen Playhouse, Old Globe, Denver Center Theatre, Alliance Theatre and Pasadena Playhouse. He has adapted several classic screenplays for live performance, including All About Eve, Casablanca, Adam’s Rib and Sunset Boulevard, which Chancellor John Mauceri produced at the Hollywood Bowl, conducting Franz Waxman’s Oscar-winning original score with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra as the script was performed live by an all-star cast led by Betty Buckley, Len Cariou and Douglas Sills. As special events, several of his screenplay adaptations have benefited The Actors Fund with casts that have included Angela Lansbury, Sir Ben Kingsley, Stockard Channing, Kirk Douglas, Tim Curry, Calista Flockhart, Blythe Danner, Jennifer Tilly, Annette Bening, Zoe Caldwell, Cynthia Nixon, Anjelica Huston, Anne Heche, Christian Slater, Peter Gallagher, John Slattery, Carl Reiner, Melissa Manchester and John Ritter.

In the summer of 2003, William Petersen, the star of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” called the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles asking if they knew a playwright who wanted to work in television. David’s name was on the Geffen’s list of suggestions. He wrote a free-lance script for the series, which led to seven seasons on the series, a total of 138 episodes, working as a writer and/or producer, with guest actors and directors such as Laurence Fishburne, Faye Dunaway, Liev Schreiber, Quentin Tarantino, Roger Daltry, Taylor Swift, Len Cariou, Tim Conway, Tippi Hedren, Robert Guillaume and the Myth Busters. Following work on other series, David Rambo is currently a co-executive producer and writer of the new CBS series “NYC 22,” produced by Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal.

A frequent guest lecturer on the arts at high schools and colleges, Rambo has an enduring relationship with the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. He is married to his longtime partner, Ted Heyck; they live in Los Angeles and Lake Arrowhead, Calif. He is a member of the Western Council of The Actors Fund, The Dramatists Guild, The Writers Guild of America, and The Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights, and serves on the board of The Blank Theatre in Hollywood.

More scenes from the day follow. (More to come.)




Commencement 2012 Photos

Chancellor John Mauceri presents honorary doctorate to David Rambo.

Drama Dean Gerald Freedman speaks to the graduating seniors --

his last commencement before stepping down as dean.


                                                                                                                     Photos by G. Allen Aycock