Eclipsed is the story of five extraordinary women brought together by the upheaval of war in their homeland of Liberia. During the chaos of the second Liberian Civil War, the captive wives of a rebel officer group together to shape a fragile community, until the balance of their lives is upset by the arrival of a new girl. Drawing on reserves of wit and compassion, Eclipsed reveals the courage and strength of the women who are often overlooked in a world where war endures, and women are still fighting to survive.
The brilliant all-black female cast for Eclipsed include members from the Department of Theatre with McKenna Kay Jensen as Helena, Terryn Shigg as Bessie, Darby Mest as The Girl, Madaeline Lamah as Maima, and local artist Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin as Rita. Eclipsed is directed by New York Artistic Director, Stephanie Weeks.
The Stanford Daily claimed Eclipsed as “a celebration of diversity and the mighty power of women, Eclipsed is the perfect piece for educating and entertaining a modern American audience on issues which typically go unseen and unreported.” Capturing a piece of untold history about women who come together, fight against the war, and bring peace to their homeland of Liberia, Eclipsed is an inspiring tale of hope, humor, and resilience.
The production runs March 3-11 in Studio 115 in the Performing Arts Building, 240 S. 1500 E. There will be a panel discussion with U of U faculty on March 9, and a post-show discussion with the cast and creative team on March 10. Tickets available at tickets.utah.edu.
Speckled with comedy, love, and tragedy, Dogfight takes its audience on a heartbreaking and powerful journey that changes even the strongest soldiers.
The Department of Theatre opened the spring season with Dogfight, a romantic and witty musical adaptation of the 1991 movie with River Phoenix and Lili Taylor. Winner of the Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical in 2013, Dogfight is directed and choreographed by Denny Berry.
The play is set on November 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to a growing conflict in Southeast Asia, three young Marines set out for one final boys’ night of debauchery and partying. But when Corporal Eddie Birdlace (Jesse Klick) meets Rose (Liz Terry), an awkward waitress he volunteers to win a brutal bet with his fellow recruits. “Dogfight is the story of the timeless tragedy of the effects of war on youth. Beyond that, it’s also the story of how one young woman’s sense of self awakens the power of compassion in a young man,” says Berry.
The production stars undergraduate theatre students including Javier Flores as “Bernstein”, Sky Kawai as “Boland,” Mikki Reeve as “Marcy”; and Actor Training Program Professor Sarah Shippobotham as “Mama.” The production incorporates a vividly large and dynamic set designed by instructor Thomas George with a live band conducted by instructor Alex Marshall. The production runs September 16-25 in Babcock Theatre, 330 S. 1500 E. There will be a post-performance discussion with the cast and creative team on February 10, and a panel discussion with U of U faculty members on February 17.
By Annalisa Purser, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications
A new online repository of Pac-12 campus policies is now available to serve as a resource for faculty, staff, administrators and other interested individuals. The database will house information ranging from course sharing to faculty retention to faculty-student issues to budgetary issues to academic freedom to campus safety and sexual assault.
The online system is developed and managed by the Pac-12 Academic Leadership Coalition, or Pac-12 ALC, an academic organization run by faculty governance leaders, including the president of each university’s academic senate, as well as associated staff. The coalition focuses on issues of shared governance but has expanded to collaborate on a variety of topics relevant to higher education.
Xan Johnson (current Academic Senate president), Maddy Oritt (executive director of the Pac-12 Academic Leadership Coalition and U Academic Senate secretary), Bill Johnson (president of the Pac-12 ALC and past president of the U Academic Senate)
Two years ago, the group committed to focusing on campus safety and campus climates around sexual assault because it was an important concern facing all institutions in the Pac-12 and an issue faculty felt affected students’ abilities to fully participate in academia. As a result, the University of Utah’s Academic Senate formed the Academic Senate ad hoc Committee on Campus Sexual Assault to develop a campus climate survey for the U, review results, coordinate follow-up efforts and action plans and administer future surveys.
“Sexual assault and campus safety has been at the forefront of many people’s minds, and our Academic Senate takes a holistic approach to the issues facing our campus,” said Bill Johnson, U Academic Senate past president and current president of the Pac-12 ALC. “The safety and well-being of everyone on our campus is important to us, so it followed that the Academic Senate would instigate an effort to address these issues in a disciplined and thoughtful way.”
Since then, three member institutions, including the U, have completed campus climate surveys. In an effort to collaborate and build upon best practices, these survey questions will be added to the new online repository to benefit other Pac-12 institutions.
“While it is important for each school to complete its own survey to understand the unique circumstances facing its students, we felt that sharing resources and best practices with one another would only strengthen what we learn from the process and provide insights beyond what we learn as individual institutions,” Johnson said.
In addition to the climate surveys, the repository will also house information about reporting policies and campus resources. The database will allow member institutions to upload documents about myriad other interest areas, search through policies and peruse white papers that summarize policies from across institutions.
“The idea is to increase communication between Pac-12 universities in terms of the policies, procedures and best practices on issues affecting all of us,” said Chris Sinclair, associate professor of mathematics and Academic Senate vice president at the University of Oregon. “Oftentimes, we have similar types of questions, and we hope this database will be useful in connecting us to what others are doing about common problems. Additionally, the website will have an internal component for members of the Academic Leadership Coalition where they can ask questions of each other and take these ideas back to their senates to have a more informed discussion.”
Faculty and staff are encouraged to visit the online repository once it opens in January. Members of the Pac-12 ALC will contribute pertinent documents to help build it into a useful resource. The information gathered at the beginning of the year will be used to inform the agenda of the Pac-12 ALC’s annual conference, March 3-5, 2017, on the University of Utah campus.
*Xan Johnson is the current Academic Senate president at the U and a professor in the Department of Theatre.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE CAN BE FOUND AT @theU.
The Department of Theatre’s Student Advisory Committee is a group of student representatives from the ATP, MTP, BA, Stage Management, Theatre Teaching and PADP. SAC has various events throughout the year to promote the program and to bring the different majors together.
2016- 2017 SAC members:
Previous events and activities:
Why Are You Thankful for the Arts Poster
SAC Volleyball BBQ
SAC Halloween Movie Night
Students can check the SAC board in PAB and follow SAC on social media for updates.
Likes us on Facebook at SAC FUN
By: Kim Davison
“This vibrant play moves effortlessly between the centuries and explores the nature of truth and time, the difference between classical and romantic temperaments, and the disruptive influence of sex on our life orbits, the attraction Newton left out.”
Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell (dramaturg)
A dramaturg is the theatre artist who specializes in connecting a play to the performance context in which it will be performed. We do this in a variety of ways. One of the ways in which we do that is by conducting and sharing relevant research with our production team, actors, and audience. We typically do research on the play, the playwright, the content of the play, and the original context in which the play was written and performed. This information becomes creative source material for the theatre artists involved; and it can offer audiences ways to connect the play to their own lives and the world around them.
Arcadia, this took the form of an extensive glossary because the characters refer to dozens of historical figures, places, artistic movements, inventions, and scientific concepts. As with a Shakespeare play, the actors in Arcadia must understand what they are talking about so that they can help lead the audience through the story. The audience may not know exactly what the meaning of “determinism” is, for example, but if the actors understand it, they will be able to convey the significance or weight of it to the audience. The other part of my job is to watch the show in rehearsals at key moments (like run-throughs and dress rehearsals) and provide feedback to the director, with special attention on the clarity of the story telling.
I love this play. I think it’s probably one of the greatest plays—if not the greatest play—of the 20th century. The play addresses an astonishing variety of ideas, not just through the words the characters speak, but through the development of the play’s action, the way props are used and accumulate on stage, and the way characters parallel one another. The variety of complex ideas addressed in the play along with the sheer number of specific references the characters make to various historical figures, made simply developing a glossary an extremely challenging task. To create a good glossary, a dramaturg needs to process the information into bite-sized chunks that are clear and relevant to an actor. For a lot of plays, a glossary will only take a couple of days to put together. This one took me a couple of weeks. I think it ended up being in the neighborhood of 18 pages. So although it’s an extremely challenging text to work on, it’s also been a joy.
Macarena Subiabre (Stage Manager)
I was incredibly excited to start working on this show after reading the script. I love working with the people in the cast, many of which I have already worked with before, but have such different roles and challenges in this show. I also have really enjoyed seeing the process that the designers have had during this show, and seeing how their ideas all come together. This show is unique in the sense that there are so many props to keep track of. The scenes in this show are more intimate, and the connection between characters is incredibly important, which is what makes it so captivating. The show is also different in that every line said in this show is important, as it a clue to future scenes or it explains a previous action.
Haley Nowiki (Set Designer)
It has been a whole new experience for me designing the set for Arcadia. This is my third show at the U and it’s also the first show that takes place in another time period. I really enjoyed researching the architecture of the early 19th century and putting my own spin on things to create a more realistic experience for the audience. My favorite part of this set has got to be the floor. I worked with the scenic charge, Halee Rasmussen, and we painted it in the span of 2 days. It was so exciting to see a plain black stage floor transform into beautiful finished hard wood right in front of my eyes. It really ties the scene together for me. The whole set is so elegant and clean that it has become a stately home in our little basement theater. The most challenging part of this design was probably the research I had to do for it. I had to make sure that the elements I wanted to include were built correctly and were selling the right time period to the audience. Historical accuracy is important for a show like this one, so I had to make sure that I was digging deep to find the exact look I was going for, while still allowing me the freedom to mix and match ideas and include some of my artistry. It was pretty cool to design my own crown moulding and wainscoting, though.
Christa Didier (Costume Designer)
This show had a unique challenge of two different time periods, early 1800s and 1993. For the 1990’s, there were a lot of things I could skip; I already know from experience the types of fabrics that were used, the type of undergarments (which affects the silhouette ), and have a general sense of what “fits” the time and what doesn’t. I had to concentrate more on figuring out what was appropriate to each character, and what reads as British and aristocratic rather than middle class or American (Hint: American fashion was flashier and more unhinged.) It takes a lot of specific research to develop an instinct for what works and what doesn’t within a certain context, especially when the differences can be so subtle. I struggled with making things look British enough, particularly since my director, Sarah Shippobotham, is a native Brit who experienced the 90’s personally. She was always able to point out when something didn’t look quite right, even in such small of details as Valentine needing to unbutton his shirt collar.
As for the Regency research, I researched the type of structural undergarments that were used, fabric types, popular colors, accessories, silhouettes, appropriate fabric patterns, and a little bit of research of what came before and after. Something you have to keep in mind is that you usually won’t the luxury of getting to build every costume from scratch. It’s just not economical, especially in a show like this with 43 costumes. Out of those, I was only able to build part or all of the costume pieces for five looks, and sadly one of those actually ended up being cut from the show. The rest of the costumes must be pulled from existing storage, rented from other companies, or purchased and altered. I came up with an idea for a costume to use at the end of the show that was sort of “out there.” It’s more symbolic, less literal; sort of a wearable metaphor. Luckily, Sarah was on board when I explained the idea. I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen the show yet, but I will say I’m really satisfied with how it turned out. Initially this had very little to do with the play itself, but together in a very specific moment of the play, they conjure up powerful imagery and symbolism that I felt added depth and emotion to the scene.
Arcadia runs November 17-20 at 7:30 p.m. and 19 and 20 at 2:00 p.m. at the Babcock Theatre.
By: Kim Davison
Daniel Amsel (Septimus Hodge)
Arcadia is a very intense, intellectual show. My character, in particular, demands that I am smart and deceitfully emotional. This is something that is difficult for me to do in my personal life, so this rehearsal process has been full of a lot of self-reflection and I’ve grown a lot personally because of it. I love the wit of this show! Everyone’s ideas bounce off each other so smoothly and powerfully. When everyone in the cast is attuned to each other, the amount of energy between the lines is palpable. It’s really something amazing, and not all plays manage to create that! I imagine people think plays with people sitting around a talking sounds horribly boring. I’d like to prove then wrong. It’s a magical, exciting, dangerous 3-hour play that puts you in the edge of your seat!
Ashley Patlan (Lady Croom)
This rehearsal process has been really unique for me. We focused more on the text and understanding how the thoughts of the characters move through it, rather than just getting it up on its feet as soon as possible. This was quite refreshing, as I feel that this approach allowed me to understand what I was saying/what was being said about my character and how we were saying it before we could even get it blocked and into our bodies. Working with Sarah has been really quite wonderful and a dream come true. I’ve always admired her and her work and so it was truly lucky to have this opportunity. She doesn’t sugar-coat anything and pushes me to the maximum, but does so in a way that it stokes a fire in me to want to do better. I’ve never had a director who was so passionate to find and bring to light the absolute best in everyone’s abilities. She’s unique in the best way possible. I love everything about this show—from the time periods, to the dialect, to the language, to the lighting, attire, music, cast, crew, etc. This show is beautiful in every way possible. People should come see this show because it’s funny, heartwarming, and witty and makes you see things in ways you haven’t considered before. It has humor, language, maths, science, love, sex, fire, tortoises – It has it all!
Gavin Yehle (Gus and Augustus)
It feels amazing being in my first U of U show! I feel like I’ve been waiting these two years for this opportunity. But now that the whole thing is coming to fruition, it doesn’t really feel much different from any other show that I’ve been in before. I definitely think that the first two years of school have really prepared me for the show and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of the tools in order to make the acting the best it can be. This show is definitely quite complex. There are all kinds of things that come back later, or are referenced in a different part of the show, and it’s all of these little connections that make the show so interesting. I also really love that I get to play the character that becomes sort of the crossover between the two different time periods; the last scene, which is when this crossover comes to fruition, is definitely my favorite part of the show, and I really love the ambiguity of the two characters coming together. It is a really beautiful show with amazing costumes, set, lighting, and sound design that really adds to the show. I’m happy that I get to watch the beauty of the very last scene every night as I come onstage.
Kali Scott (Hannah Jarvis)
Arcadia is very complex and driven by energy, character, and relationships. There is a lot to play with and I always have to be on my toes! Also, everyone involved in the production is great to work with. Sarah Shippobotham has the ability to direct people into beautiful, human moments and the play is full of them. It’s funny, sarcastic, sexy, smart, and everyone shines. I’ve never done an accent before, so that’s been challenging and fun. It has been challenging for me to find the ease and subtly, yet driving energy of this world. This play focuses a lot on enigmatic complexity of the world and humans, so finding a way to fully express multiple aspects of a moment or character, giving each its equal due without focusing too much on the moment, has been an exciting adventure.
Joshua Wood (Bernard Nightingale)
It has been a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time analyzing the text as it is a hugely argument driven play. After analyzing language we spent some time building our characters and the world. It has been a very exciting show to work on and I feel like I have learned an incredible amount in the process. This show is a lot more language based than most. It also requires a huge amount of energy. I Love how funny and clever it is while exploring many subjects including sex, literature, math, science, and philosophy. Because it is funny, entertaining, and most of all, it will give you something to think and talk about! The most challenging part has been keeping up the energy and learning to think through each argument every time I say them.
Monica Goff (Chloe Coverly)
The rehearsal process for Arcadia has been really fun and exciting, particularly since we have been working extensively on a lot of different things so we’re always engaged and always working, even when we’re not in rehearsal. Working with Sarah has been really helpful because I have her as my professor for two classes, so we’ve been in constant conversation about acting, text, and how to apply what we’re learning to Arcadia and things we learn during rehearsal to our classes. I am so excited to be in my first show at the U! It’s really thrilling to finally get to apply the skills that we’ve been spending hundreds of hours working on for the past 2 years. I love that this show is really text heavy. It makes you think while you’re watching it and it’s really a challenge to stay in the moment on stage. People should come to see Arcadia because it’s funny, intellectual, and visually stunning!
Arcadia runs November 17-20 at 7:30 p.m. and 19 and 20 at 2:00 p.m. at the Babcock Theatre.
By: Kim Davison
The Department of Theatre students have the opportunity to work and audition for Pioneer Theatre shows located on the U campus. Students have been cast at all levels from regular roles to understudies. Students also have the opportunity to work backstage as dressers for their productions. Having this theatre on campus gives student the chance to meet people in the theatre community and see a behind the scenes look of professional productions.
Two student from the Department of Theatre were cast as swings in Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of The Last Ship. Swings are members of a cast who don’t go on every night, but they are prepared to go on for any of the ensemble roles they are assigned to. They have to be within 10 minutes of driving from the theatre when a show is happening in case someone in the cast cannot perform.
Jamie is from San Jose, California and has been doing theatre from a very young age. This was her first time being a swing, but not her first production at Pioneer Theatre, she was recently seen in Pioneer’s Count of Monte Cristo. “It was scary, but was a great learning experience,” Jamie said. She auditioned for The Last Ship and got called back for the part of Meg, but knew she was too young to play that part. She was offered the part of a swing and knew she would regret it if she didn’t take it.
As a swing, Jamie covered all of the female ensemble member’s tracks. “During the rehearsal process if a cast member was sick, I would have to cover roles I wasn’t originally assigned to, which was crazy,” she said. Even though she wasn’t in the show every night, she never felt like she wasn’t part of the cast, “sometimes being a part of what you love is enough.” She said that this skill set is something she is going to be able to take with her for jobs for the rest of her life.
Bailey got a little taste of what it’s like to be a swing when he was in Young Frankenstein at The Grand Theatre in 2015. “Being a swing was daunting, enlightening, and most of all hard,” Bailey said. He started doing children’s theatre when he was young and in high school he started thinking about pursuing a career in theatre.
He covered seven tracks in The Last Ship, two of which were speaking parts. It takes a highly organized person to be a swing, so he used the two scrips, one for making notes and the other to organize and color-code the blocking for the various characters he covered. The best-case scenario the swing will brush up on the part before going onstage, but that is not always the case, in case of an emergency the swing might have to go in immediately and rely on their memory and practice or the script.
During the production of The Last Ship nobody got sick or injured, so Jamie and Bailey never had to go on for a role. The director let them perform four of the ensemble scenes during the final performance and they got to take the last bow with the entire cast, an experience both Jamie and Bailey were grateful to have. Being a swing is not easy, but hard work can pay off in the end.
by Kim Davison
Playwright Carson Kreitzer’s Self Defense, or death of some salesmen is the Department of Theatre’s second production of the season. It tells the story of a woman who has been convicted of killing seven men; she claims that she killed them all in self-defense. In her preface, Kreitzer writes, “This play is dedicated to Aileen Wuornos, and all those whose names we don’t know.” The following are some behind-the-scenes conversations on the making of the Studio 115 production of Self Defense, or death of some salesmen.
Alexandra Harbold (Director)
“When I was asked to direct Self Defense, or death of some salesmen, I immediately fell in love with Carson’s script – its questions, velocity, scalpel wit, and compassion. The play makes pendulum swings; a scene will cut to the bone then torque with unexpected theatricality. Studio 115’s three-quarter stage allows for an intimacy and immediacy of the work, and we worked to find a kinetic staging to serve the script in that space. As a Cast and Creative Team, we stayed in a state of experimentation much longer than usual, which allowed us to develop the visual and aural language of our play-world over time.”
“The production is many drafts and layers deep because of their ongoing exploration and investment. Working on Self Defense, or death of some salesmen often felt more like rehearsing a devised theatre piece than on a traditional script. Although it is an established play, I felt it shape-shift with the casting of the ensemble and the particular demands and advantages of the space. This production feels like our very particular telling of Carson Kreitzer’s play. Throughout the process, Carson’s dedication in the play’s preface has been our compass star: attention must be paid.”
Zoe Fetters (Costume Designer)
“The first thing I do as a costume designer is read the play. Then, I read it again. I probably read the play about 40 times to truly understand it. Then I do visual research and talk to the director about their vision for the show. For this play I tried to take ideas of the 80s and 90s and integrate them subtly to the piece. I did research for individual characters to find their visual story. I always want it to look like the costume pieces would come from each specific character’s closet. When I design I start broad and then narrow it down. For this production I found old magazines from the 80s and 90s and found my inspiration from there. Designing Self Defense, or the death of some salesmen stretched a design muscle for me on how artistic I can be.”
Cate Heiner (Dramaturg)
“A dramaturg builds the historical background for a piece of drama by making sure the story is clear and consistent. The first thing I do when starting a new production is get in touch with the director and talk about the concept. Then I do research and make a packet of information to help the actors. For this show I researched the law and sexual violence. After doing that research I discovered how rape and sexual violence are treated in the court system is extremely unfair. It was interesting to see how all of the pieces of Self Defense, or the death of some salesmen came together. One of the most challenging things about being the dramaturge for this production is the more we unpacked it the more we realized it really isn’t about Aileen Wuornos. It is about how other people and people of the court systems respond to sexual assault, rape and violence towards women.”
Isabella Reeder (Jo Palmer)
“The rehearsal process for this show was a great mix of table work, movement-based exercises like ‘flocking’ and ‘Suzuki’, and playing with the set pieces pretty early on in the process. Particularly with the flocking work, it’s been a wonderful gift to see how all of us in the company have come together to grow and trust one another, which I think is so integral in a show that deals with the themes that Self Defense, or death of some salesmen does. These exercises have been incredibly helpful in this show, not only define character and relationships, but also to increase my own awareness of the kind of staging that needs to takes place in Studio 115. My character, Jolene Palmer, is based on the real-life first female serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. The most interesting part about playing my character has been diving into the personality, drive, and story of the actual woman. When I first started researching Aileen Wuornos, I expected to come up with an embittered, violent woman, but was surprised to find that she was actually a very loving, charismatic—and moreover, incredibly intelligent—individual. I love the collision of themes in this play: justice, shame, and hope in a kind of metaphorical (and at times, physical) courtroom; being able to hear the voice and points of views of women who are usually silenced in our everyday reality. It’s a very muscularly logical play, but it has such a deep vein of humanity running through it, which makes it all the more powerful.”
Cece Otto (Lu)
“Working with Andra has been awesome. She makes you feel like a star and like you are in a safe space. Being in my first show at the U is nice and scary at same time. I feel like I have been out of practice the last few years; I haven’t performed for the public at the U and have been undercover, hiding, learning technique freshman and sophomore years. In the last two years in the ATP we focused a lot on the voice work, which was something I had never done before. Learning how to speak properly and following arguments are important and are helping me in this production. Something that I discovered in this show is that sometimes the bold choice isn’t always the loud choice. This show is very ensemble-heavy, unique, and it is a female-based show. People should come see it because it’s fun. It is full of strippers and prostitutes. What more could you want?!”
Alex Coltrin (Prosecutor/Cameraman/Cop)
“This is my first time working with Andra, and it has been interesting. She’s not like any other director I have worked with. She has been hands-on since the beginning. In this production, we have spent more time discovering the world vs. discovering characters. Being in a contemporary show like this has been fun, because it is easier to relate to. I love the movement work and ensemble work we have put into this show. It has a Greek chorus feel and is very compelling to watch. This show has a new take on storytelling, and is not told like any other play I’ve seen. Self Defense, or death of some salesmen is a different kind of show for our department to do, and there is a lot of new talent in the show because of the number of sophomores in the cast.”
Kelsey Jensen (Cassandra Chase/Pandora/Reporter/Corner 4)
“Working with Andra has been great; she pays attention to every little detail. She wants the best for every person in the cast and wants them to be the best they can be. Being in my first production at the U, I feel like all my hard work from my classes the last two years finally gets to pay off. One of the most challenging things in this show has been diving in and finding the back-story for each character. Finding out who a character is and why they’re speaking, and what each word means. People should come see this show because it shows how corrupt the justice system can be. It is also very visually appealing; there are so many cool tech elements. The show is fast-paced so the audience will be on the edge of their seats the whole time.”
Bailey Walker (Daytona/Jean/Muse)
“The rehearsal process for this show has been awesome! We’ve been experimenting a lot with movement and the world of this non-linear play. Working with Andra on this production has been absolutely amazing!!! She has such a creative mind and is constantly looking at how to incorporate movement to help move the storyline. She is so passionate about this play; on her time off she was sending us research, inspiration, or working with cast members who want to work more outside of rehearsal. Self Defense, or death of some salesmen has a story that is very relevant to today’s society: how we perceive the truth, gender roles, sexual assault, and how the media portrays all of these things.”
Make sure to catch Self Defense, or death of some salesmen in Studio 115 while you can! This thrilling play is a must see.
Marketing and Communication Coordinator, Josiane Dubois sat down with Visiting Professor, Michael Pinkerton this September to talk about his career and his move to Salt Lake City, Utah.
J: What led you to want to move to Utah?
M: Well, this is really the first time I’ve ever spent any extended time in this part of the country. Anywhere West of the Mississippi is new territory for me, growing up in the South. My last residence in the U.S. was in Washington D.C.. That’s where I lived for five years in grad school. Then I moved to Europe. My wife’s family lives in Florida. So when we come back to the U.S., we go to Kentucky, where I’m from, and Florida. We also travel to New York quite a bit. We have great friends –who are actually relatives in Seattle. So I’ve been there and I’ve been to Alaska a number of times. But this amazing expanse of beauty right in the middle I’ve always flown over and wondered what it really looks like.
J: We’re really happy to have you here. Did you work in the U.S. after grad school?
M: Yes, I worked in Washington, D. C. two years after grad school. Then I got a scholarship to study in Vienna, Austria. So I left the U.S. and went to Europe.
J: I know you have a very accomplished career as an educator, producer, artistic administrator and stage director. You were the department chair of Voice and Opera at the Konservatorium der Stadt Wien, which in English means the Conservatory of the City of Vienna. How long were you there for?
M: Ten years, right before coming here.
J: Could you tell us more about that experience? Any specific shows you got to do, people you worked with or highlights?
M: I would say some of the highlights of that time were getting to work with artists outside of the university conservatory who happened to be in the Vienna performing at major the big concert halls and the opera houses, or theaters. We would try to book them while they were already in town to come and speak to the students. We had very little money to pay them. It was always just a matter convincing them that they would have a meaningful and fun time with the students. What’s so exciting is that generally the more famous the artist, the more willing they were to give their time, usually for free. We would present master classes or sometimes talks to the students in an open forum. Daniel Barenboim was a particularly memorable guest – he came several times. It was really fun and inspiring to experience him in an informal, really intimate conversation group where we could ask questions and discuss all sorts of topics, not only music. He is such a strong political-minded person, as well as a genius and legendary musician. This was very inspiring for everyone present. It was an honor just to be able to experience this man’s aura.
J: How are you adjusting here? You’re working with a lot of students and people that are trying to learn, how’s your experience here?
M: One of the things that I’m realizing, learning, is that the learning process is exactly the same wherever you are in the world. There has to be a plan, a goal. The student has to give it a try. Then we have to think, ok, what’s good about it, how can this be better, how can it be improved? We communicate that, and then the student tries to get it. As simple as it sounds, this is like a cycle that never stops. That’s the same, really all over the world. One of the things that really fascinates me is the role body language plays in communication. Particularly when we’re working with multiple languages. In Vienna, German is the native language. Many students speak English, but not as their first language, and some don’t speak English at all. International students (and teachers) are confronted with many Asian languages, Russian, and several other complicated, eastern languages. Without a common language, how do we communicate? It’s so interesting how the intonation of the language, the melody, the eye contact, and body language reads almost as clearly as the words do – at least in basic conversation. That’s fascinating for me.
J: What advice would you give to the students here in the Department of Theatre and at the University of Utah with the experience you have?
M: I think what I would say –it is extremely important for everyone to experience cultural/social ideas and situations that are not familiar. Things that are different from their personal norm and comfort zone. Then use all of the energy that you can to try to understand, AND make yourself be understood. This applies to whatever you’re doing. Translated to the world of theatre and music, we must keep trying to make communication simpler. The situations or ideas are usually NOT simple. Just assuming that the audiences, or our students, will understand what we mean is NOT enough. There must be an intensity of purpose – the desire to express a specific idea. If an idea is presented with passion, conviction, intensity of purpose, and simplicity, the odds are very good that it will be understood. It’s fascinating. It’s so simple. Most of the characters that actors portray, or all the characters, are complicated. Maybe it’s more accurate to say, the situations in the stories are often complicated. But the characters themselves are quite simple. We (and the audience) get confused if there’s more than one emotion going on at a time. The audience can’t filter all those varied emotions at the same time. They need one specific idea or emotion to concentrate on. When the audience (like the actor) can focus on one emotion at a time, then as new emotions, desires and situations are presented, the audience understands that the character is experiencing the complexity of the story. The actor should play one emotion at a time, simply. However, there can be many new and contrasting thoughts that pop into the characters mind. These new elements can appear slowly or super fast. This series of clear, contrasting, simple thoughts reveals the depth and complexity of that character and/or story.
J: I’m sure that they’re all going to appreciate that advice. What do you see yourself doing in the future? I know your title right now is Visiting Professor. What do you hope to do? Would you like to stay in the States?
M: I would like to stay in the states, that’s one of the reasons I’m doing this now. In most European countries there’s a mandatory retirement age. This is part of the social system. Although I’m not at that age yet, it is in the near future. The majority of my professional life has been outside of the United States. It is an adventure for me to come back “home.” Much of my professional life in German-speaking Europe involved helping American and British creative teams deal with the concerns and fears that their musicals would not be understood in German. Their language of expression and experience was/is English. Can and will their intentions be understood? My job was (also) to help them trust in the universality of storytelling. This has been thrilling for me because bridging both cultures, I could help them trust that emotions and human situations are, indeed, translatable. Now here I am back in the U.S.A. working in my native language. I am learning so much! Our American culture is constantly changing, evolving, adapting. I love what I do. I adore teaching. And I feel that I’m getting better at it, too.
J: There’s a lot happening around social media thing here and the news, things happening in the U.S, a lot of social change that people are fighting for–do you think some of that affects your teaching or your students learning, things they think about or want to learn?
M: I do think it affects all of those things – what the students are thinking about, what’s bothering them, what’s on their minds. The same goes for me. We are all trying to put it together and figure it out, why is this happening, what’s going on, what does it mean? Where is my place in this story? When I can get some perspective and compare events here with what’s going on in Europe – that’s really exciting for me. Everything seems so immediate with the social media. It’s right up in your face, which has I think, for the most part, is good. But it has to be dealt with, we have to work through it. I don’t think we really know how to really work through it, yet. I know I don’t.
J: Personally, I think that theater is a great platform to express some of that, even if there’s not a resolution, it’s a good space to observe and explore.
M: That’s really true, theatre is very therapeutic that way. We’re lucky that we get to have an outlet for some of these thoughts. So we all try to think and articulate what is the role of the theatre in the 21st century. Maybe this is one of them, to help facilitate dealing with these issues. Maybe role-playing and dealing with these questions in a community situation can be helpful.
J: Thank you for coming and meeting with me.