Grant from National Endowment for the Arts fuels research where theatre meets patient communication

A group of interdisciplinary researchers from the arts and medicine at the University of Utah is among a select group to receive federal grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts for their work investigating the value and impact of the arts, either as individual components of the U.S. arts ecology or as they interact with each other and with other domains of American life. “I believe that a public university exists to improve the lives of the community it serves,” says Michael L. Good, MD, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences, CEO of University of Utah Health, and Dean of the School of Medicine. “Fostering a campus culture of collaboration between the arts and health is essential to our success.

This generous support from the NEA validates and supports our efforts to expand interdisciplinary research, teaching, clinical care, and community engagement on the important role the arts play in healing, recovery, and wellness.” These researchers, led by Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell, PhD (College of Fine Arts’ Department of Theatre) and Gretchen Case, PhD, MA, (School of Medicine’s Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities), have developed a unique, theatre-based approach to helping health care providers, trainees, and students develop and practice the skills they need to communicate with patients, families, and care teams, especially when approaching difficult conversations, called Coached Rehearsal Techniques for Interpersonal Communication Skills (CRiTICS). “The value of the arts on culture has been long understood,” said John W. Scheib, PhD, Associate Vice President for the Arts at the University of Utah and Dean of the College of Fine Arts. “And explorations like these are helping us to understand how artistic practices and creative thinking can have powerful benefits outside of galleries and theatres and in ways that profoundly shape our healing.”

CRiTICS uses professional coaches trained in theatre and performance to guide learners through the rehearsal of a difficult conversation scenario, offering individualized, constructive feedback not only on what a learner says, but also on how they communicate nonverbally. And the funds from National Endowment of the Arts will allow the research team to assess its effectiveness using objective measures in a large-scale, randomized controlled trial. Results of this trial will offer insights for improved assessment of communication skills, which are notoriously difficult to measure productively.

“No one wants to hear bad news and no one wants to give it, either, but health care professionals have to do it every day,” said Cheek-O’Donnell. “Providers at all levels of training deserve innovative support to communicate effectively and compassionately in challenging medical settings,” said Case. This project was conceived and planned with the support of Jeffrey R. Botkin, MD, MPH and the Utah Center for Excellence in ELSI Research (UCEER), and the enthusiastic backing of the Department of Theatre, College of Fine Arts, Program in Medical Ethics and Humanities, and the Division of General Internal Medicine.

National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman, Mary Anne Carter, announced 15 awards totaling $724,000 to support research projects that investigate the value and impact of the arts. For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to

Original from the CFA's Finer Points Blog.

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Lynn Nottage's 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Sweat starring Actor Training Program Head Chris DuVal is now playing at Pioneer Theatre through Saturday, April 13. The poignant and powerful play examines race, economics, personal and collective identity, and what it means to be human. Dramaturg and Theatre Studies Professor Alexandra Harbold asks the question, “Is the “American Dream” still alive? And if so, who gets to pursue it?”

Set during divisive economic conditions in a small manufacturing town in Pennsylvania, Sweat takes us on the journey of nine people—friends, co-workers, mothers and sons, former spouses and lovers. —as their lives intersect as they try to hold onto, or reach for, the American Dream in the face of the increasingly precarious and divisive economic conditions of America at the dawn of the new millennium.

SWEAT Now-April 13 | tickets available here.

Contains strong language.

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by guest bloggers Michaela Funtanilla and April Goddard

Imagination is the only limitation for Department of Theatre set and prop design students, thanks to the department’s acquisition of a state-of-the-art Shopbot CNC machine. It was purchased by an anonymous donor in summer 2018.

“Our production capabilities have in the past been greatly limited in time and budget. By having CNC technology available in our small shop, we can now think and create with fewer constraints,” said Department of Theatre’s Technical Director, Kyle Becker. Similar to a 3D printer, the Shopbot CNC uses computer drawings (CAD) to operate. But instead of additive manufacturing, the Shopbot cuts out shapes from materials like wood, plastic, foam soft metal, and composites. The machine can print up to an 8x4 ft sheet of material—larger 3D designs require cutting out multiple pieces to then assemble into a sculpture.

Prior to owning this CNC tool, limited projects were outsourced, but this was too expensive to do regularly. Now that the Department of Theatre owns its own CNC tool, the possibilities are endless, and projects that took days to build can be completed in minutes. “We can ask the machine to 3D carve and 2D cut without these tasks consuming time and money that can go to other areas like assembly and painting,” said Becker.

CNC machines are standard technology in the performance art design industry. Students can receive training on the CNC tool though the department's Computer Modeling and Design course, and become more competitive for set design jobs in theatre, film, and theme parks. Becker said he would eventually like to partner with local high school theatre programs to increase CNC machine education.

The Rivals opens 4/5 and will be the first set to highlight the Shopbot’s capabilities as the set requires intricate architectural facades. Buy your tickets at

Original article by The Finer Points Blog

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For this episode of MAGNIFYING we spoke with Department of Theatre Assistant Professor of Directing and Co-Founder & Co-Artistic Director of the Flying Bobcat Theatrical LaboratoryAlexandra Harbold.

Our creative community here at the College of Fine Arts is diverse and wide spread. With the goal of gaining a deeper knowledge and awareness of the people within our community, we bring you MAGNIFYING, a series dedicated to showcasing the talent of our students, faculty, and staff.

Tell us about yourself: Name, where you are from, what you do and how you got into in your field of work My name is Alexandra Harbold. I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia and earned my bachelor’s at Middlebury College in Vermont and my masters at the University of London, Goldsmiths College. My grandparents met playing opposite one another in a production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, so theatre always felt encoded in the DNA and lore of our family.

What has surprised you the most in your life? Where we find and make our homes and lives. Having grown up on the East Coast, I always expected to land there. When I was in London for grad school, I felt like I’d found home. Which made coming back to the States challenging in new ways – I found myself looking for that kinship I felt to London and couldn’t really find it. I’ve lived in New York City, Seattle, and Chicago… When we moved to Salt Lake City for my husband’s work, we thought it was a stopgap and that we would only be here for a year or two. That was in 2004.

What do you wish you had known/been told? I wish I’d recognized that the sense of not knowing enough that used to get me tangled in knots was only problematic because I thought I was supposed to ‘get it’ the first time. As if our capacity to understand and create are fixed points, our once and future reality. Now I recognize that creativity and craft grow in direct correspondence to curiosity and resilience/stubbornness. In a SITI Company blog a few years ago, Artistic Director/author Anne Bogart wrote about the necessity of deep practice, referencing neuroscientists’ discovery that ‘only after 10,000 hours of practice is real progress and innovation possible.’ So I keep working towards that 10,000 hours.

Original post by CFA The Finer Points Blog


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by Director Sarah Shippobotham

When asked to direct this show I initially didn’t see what all the fuss was about. So what that ten men were being played by ten women? We’ve turned male roles into female ones many times before—we did a female-forward Julius Caesar last semester—because we have always had such strong women in our program, often outnumbering the men, and we have tried hard to give them the opportunities they deserve. I have always been aware of the gender disparity in theatre and I have always decried it; and yet I still didn’t think the gender make up of this play was anything noteworthy. How wrong I was!

Being in a rehearsal room with fourteen young minds, including ten actors, three stage managers and one assistant director/movement director—of whom only two are male identifying—has actually been an eye-opening experience for me. I have learned so much about myself and what it is to be true to my own strength as a woman; about how privileged I was to have a mostly single-sex education; about how fearless many of these young women in the show are in their exploration of their roles in this world; about how we can listen to a lone male voice without it coming off as mansplaining (even though I was worried it may), and about how much work there still is to be done to give women the space they deserve as a matter of course without needing to talk about it because it is still an issue.

Jacklyn Backhaus said that she wrote this play because she wanted to write an adventure play. While writing it she realized she couldn’t be in it, as it was an all-male adventure. To change that, she wrote it for women to play the roles of John Wesley Powell and his crew. She has been asked why she didn’t write a story about women and did she discover women’s stories as she wrote it. She wanted to tell the Powell story. And she did encounter females’ stories along the way, but they had to be looked for as most of our historical documentation puts men’s—and mostly white men’s—stories on show, hiding or overlooking those of the “others” who helped to shape the world.

I love seeing the women of our theatre department taking up male-sized spaces, having fun with each other as they embark on Powell’s epic journey. And I hope you too will value the experience of seeing so many women on stage together at one time.

MEN ON BOATS MARCH 1-10 in Studio 115 Tickets: 801-581-7100

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The Edward Lewis Legacy

When Edward Lewis was a student at San Jose State University, he discovered that their theatre department had never done a black play. In 1971 he created People Productions, a theatre company designed to bring together underserved youth with community artists which donated all of it's profits to the Glaucoma Foundation, to fight a disease from which both his mother and his grandmother suffered. He later revived People Productions in Los Angeles, where he directed and acted in plays by Eugene O'Neill, Lonne Elder (of the original Raisin in the Sun cast), and Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Gordone. After his son Edward Lewis Jr. graduated from the University of Utah, Edward Sr. moved to Salt Lake City. By that time Department of Theatre Professor Dr. Richard Scharine had been teaching African-American theatre at the U for nearly 20 years, and a former student of his, Karen Alexander (who graduated from the Department of Theatre in the late 80's) connected the two. Together, Lewis and Scharine revived People Productions in the summer of 2000 with James Baldwin's The Amen Corner, performed in the Department of Theatre's Studio 115. People Productions continued creating diverse theatrical experiences for the next 17 years, ending in April 2017 with August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. During that time Edward played leading roles in such plays as Lonne Elder's Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play, August Wilson's Jitney, Richard Wesley's The Mighty Gents for People Productions, and Rita Dove's The Darker Face of the Earth. Edward Lewis died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, and that winter (with several plays featuring black actors being performed) Jerry Rapier had the idea of marketing them all under the title "The Edward Lewis Black Theatre Festival." The Festival has continued yearly in the month of February, usually in the Salt Lake City Public Library auditorium, with several different local theaters contributing short plays or scenes from their current productions.

The 10th Annual Edward Lewis Theatre Festival Performances include:

University of Utah Adjunct Assistant Professor Dr. Lynn DeBoeck’s The Lynchpin Life which brings together Civil Rights pioneer Ida B. Wells with a Black Rights Matter woman of today. GUISE by Chris Curlett and DoLs by Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin (Plan-B Theatre) · Script-In-Hand readings of two short plays-in-progress from Plan-B's Theatre Artists of Color Writing Workshop. Me Too Monologues (Wasatch Theatre Company) Let Me Down Easy (Canary Down the Mine) · Written by Anna Deavere Smith, founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at New York University.

The 10th Annual Edward Lewis Theatre Festival Sunday, February 10 2 to 5 p.m. Salt Lake City Public Library FREE admission

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The Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company presents, 'the live creature and ethereal things'
Feb. 1-2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre
This production is in collaboration with Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory, founded by University of Utah Assistant Professors, Robert Scott Smith and Alexandra Harbold.

the live creature and ethereal things' draws inspiration from the Red Fred Project which collaborates with children living in extraordinary circumstances (rare diseases, critical illnesses, life-limiting situations) and asks them the question: If you could write a book for the entire world to read, what would it be about? Their stories are full of colorful characters both humorous and wise. Guest performer Robert Scott Smith joins the company on this curious, shapeshifting, and theatrical quest. Flying Bobcat’s adaptation with storytelling with both English and Spanish, explores the power of storytelling and forming connections in a magical theatrical quest to prove that every voice matters. Choreography by Artistic Director Daniel Charon, storyline in collaboration with Alexandra Harbold and Robert Scott Smith of Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory, and original score created by John Paul Hayward. Additional support provided by Mary Jane O'Connor, the Price Family Foundation, and Zions Bank. Music commissioned by the Charles and Joan Gross Family Foundation. Tickets: $35 ($40 day of)

Purchase Tickets: 

All photos by Tori Duhaime

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Penny Caywood was invited to attend the 2019 Latinx Theatre Commons Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) Sin Fronteras Festival and Convening. Caywood has been the Artistic Director of the University of Utah’s Youth Theatre Program for twelve years. As the program has grown, Caywood’s involvement in the community has as well. She’s presented at several art integration and teaching training workshops throughout the state and has been involved in dozens of local productions.

This year’s festival will take place at the University of Texas from Jan. 24-26. Caywood will be among the artists, scholars, and educators across the Americas to experience theatre with youths. Five plays will be featured during the Festival, while the Convening focuses on workshops, panels, discussions, and artmaking.

“I am excited to be a part of HowlRound’s Latinx Theatre Commons where I will have a chance to celebrate my cultural identity and my stories and have time to think about how that can apply to our community in Utah.”

Caywood’s upcoming play is a reimagined Alice, based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The play’s cast are the young actors of the Youth Theatre program. It will be showing in Kingsbury Hall this April.



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University of Utah’s former Department of Theatre Chair, Gage Williams, has been invited to participate at the 2019 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (PQ).

PQ is the biggest international performance design event in the world. Only 51 USA designers were invited to showcase their work and discuss their careers. Williams’ set of Romeo and Juliet at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare will be featured at PQ, making this his third time to participate in 25 years. Williams’ set designs for Anne of Green Gables at Childsplay Theatre Co and Hamlet at Idaho Shakespeare Festival were selected by PQ in 1999 and 2003.

“The set design for Rome and Juliet is a fragment of a Renaissance building, being supported by a scaffold.” Williams explains. The city longs for recovery and some sense of stability in this production of Romeo and Juliet, and Verona is a place of danger, a war-torn city just recovering from the first World War. A single wall in a state of ruin set against the enormous beauty of Lake Tahoe juxtaposes the central themes of this play. “At times the set strives to capture the beauty of an ancient ruin in the setting sun against the greenery of the trees and blue of the lake while foreshadowing the ultimate total demise of these two families. By the end of the play, only the tomb and fragments of the wall are visible through the edgy lighting, and the beauty of the lake and trees are lost to darkness.”

Williams started teaching at U of U in 1994 and served as chair from 2009-2018. He was the resident set designer for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival (ISF) from 1995- 2008, and continues to design for ISF and for other regional theaters and opera companies including, Great Lakes Theatre, Actors of Theatre Phoenix, Childsplay Theatre Co, Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, Salt Lake Acting Company, Pioneer Theatre Company, and Utah Opera Company. He has designed numerous productions for the U’s Department of Theatre, including Hello, Dolly! at Kingsbury Hall, that was featured in the quarterly USITT publication TD&T this past summer.

From 1990 to 1994 he lived in LA and was a staff Art Director for Bruce Ryan Production Design. During that time, he art directed productions for ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, HBO, Showtime, ESPN, Disney, VH-1, and MTV. Williams received a CableACE Award for his art direction of the Showtime film Mastergate. Since 1994 he has art directed numerous comedy specials for HBO, including productions featuring George Carlin, Bill Maher, and the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, CO. from 1995-2008.

Williams is currently on sabbatical from U of U for the 2018-2019 academic year. He will return to teaching at the U in Fall 2019.


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