Displaying items by tag: Alumni

Excerpted from original story by Judd Bagley for Utah Business

How Whitehorse High School visual arts educator Georgiana Simpson is bridging the equity gap in arts education

Most friendships are the result of happy accidents. The bond that connects Georgiana Simpson and Anna Davis, on the other hand, was premeditated. The bond was forged in an Indianola, Utah, cabin during the annual retreat for Utah Art Educators Association (UAEA) board members, Davis recalls.

“I’d briefly met Georgiana once before and immediately knew she was someone I needed to get to know better. I also knew there were more people than rooms in that cabin, so some of us would need to find roommates. I walked right up and told her she was going to be mine,” Davis remembers, laughing. “We started talking and couldn’t stop.”

The pair had much to share because their stories were so vastly different. Their births are separated by more than two decades. Simpson has long hair she’s allowed to go gracefully gray, while Davis has short hair dyed fiery red. For Davis, the route to a career in arts education was as deliberate and directed as a career path can be, while Simpson practically stumbled into hers at an age when most begin thinking about retirement.

As significant as those differences are, their professional experiences contrast even more.

Davis teaches art at Orem’s Timpanogos High School, in the middle of Utah’s largest school district with a student body that is, according to data compiled by U.S. News & World Report, almost 70 percent white and less than one percent Native American. Nineteen percent of students there qualify for free lunch.

Simpson teaches art at Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek, a town of about 300. Whitehorse sits within the borders of the Navajo Nation in one of Utah’s smallest school districts, with a student population that is 98 percent Native American and less than one percent white. Nearly 100 percent of students there qualify for free lunch, and only 30 percent have home internet access, according to Whitehorse Principal Kim Schaefer

Read the profile on UtahBusiness.com

Published in Finer Points Blog

The short film ‘I’m Hip’ was recently shortlisted for the Oscars— a film on which University of Utah Department of Film & Media Arts alum Talïn Tanielian (BA 2014) worked in several key roles. "I’m Hip" was directed by John Musker, who is best known for his work with Ron Clements writing and directing such Disney classics as "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Hercules," "The Princess and the Frog," and "Moana." The film follows a cat as he musically proclaims his hipness to the world.

We recently spoke with Talïn and discussed her career since leaving the U, her experience working on "I’m Hip," and the future of animation.

Can you give us a brief overview of your journey from your undergrad at the U to where you are now?

After graduating from the U with a degree in Film and Media Arts, I took a summer course at Gobelins L'École de L'Image in Paris. A huge thank you to Cécile Blondel, who helped me get into the program and gave me a personal tour of campus well before the course began. This was an international course, so I met so many students, and lifelong friends now, from places all over the world including Brazil, the Netherlands, Chile, Bosnia, Mexico, Madagascar, and more. During the course, I learned the 12 principles of animation in a fresh new perspective from master animators, Florent de la Taille, In-Ah Roediger, and Yoshimichi Tamura, to name a few. They are all a huge influence on my journey as am animator. After completing the summer course, I attended California University of the Arts, Long Beach, where I obtained my MFA in Animation and Illustration. I worked with committee members, Mark Michelon, Aubry Mintz, and Yu Ji who mentored me in completion of my thesis film, Jinja. Jinja is a hybrid animated film that I wrote, directed, animated, and illustrated myself. Travels to Japan had inspired me to deep dive more into Japanese folklore surrounding spirits and religion. My film had themes about Shintoism, moving away from home, and embracing our differences. During production of my film, I was offered a remote job in the animation industry, and through said job, I've met so many wonderful artists and collaborators who have helped me along my career path. My film was showcased in film festivals all around the world and won several prizes, which was such an incredible experience. Now, I am working remotely on several different short films and other animated projects. 

John Musker’s a big name in animation! How did you get connected with him?

During pre-production stages, John was looking for a lead compositor for his short film, "I'm Hip." I was recommended to John through a colleague of mine, David T. Nethery, who was working with me on another project at the time. John reached out to me through a Facebook message, and I am notorious for never checking my Facebook. His message sat in my inbox for almost 2 months before I knew it was there! David asked me in passing over a work call if I took the position, and I asked "What position?!" I reached out to John promptly after, and it turned out to be a perfect match! 

This was a particularly interesting project to work on, as John was fresh out of retirement after working as a director at Walt Disney Animation Studios for 40 years! During his time there, John was a director, meaning he spent little time actually putting pencil to paper and animating himself. This short film allowed him to become fully immersed in the production side of the process - it was phenomenal to see his deep understanding of the animation industry translated in this way. We were so appreciative of his expertise, especially given how much work it takes even to create a short animated film, albeit, with a MUCH smaller crew than a Disney feature. 

For our readers who aren’t as familiar with animation processes, can you describe what it means to be a compositor?

A compositor's role is to come up with the final image the audience sees on screen. We take all the pieces and layers provided by the background artists, special effects artists, animators, colorists, and anyone else providing assets, and we put them together and add all the last touches to create the final composition and camera moves. 

What other roles did you have for "I’m Hip?"

I worked as a special effects animator, colorist, color key artist, shot planner, crew organizer, production manager, and editor. I wore many hats on the film, which I'm pretty used to doing! I helped John coordinate every single scene in the film, which added up to more than 60 individual scenes. I kept the crew organized and also held some teaching sessions on Skype to help the crew members learn how to use TVPaint. 

What is your favorite part of I’m Hip? Or, the thing you’re most proud of on the film?

John is notorious for his caricature work. He drew dozens of his family members, friends, and colleagues who are all featured, even if for only a frame, in I'm Hip. It was surreal when we debuted the film in Beverly Hills for the first time, because John invited all of the people he had featured in his film, Because I was familiar with all of the cartoon versions of these faces, when I saw people walking into the theater, I immediately recognized them from the film! It was so fun to see people's reactions to themselves in "I'm Hip!" John even did a caricature of me in the film during the rooftop party scene. After he debuted the film, he sent out printed and signed copies of each of the caricatures to his friends and family, which was the sweetest gesture!

imhip stillStill from "I'm Hip"

What do you think is the future for 2D/2D-style animation?

I think there is so much happening for 2D animation in the industry, and it's only getting better and better. We're seeing hand drawn VFX in a plethora of works such as Spiderverse, TMNT, Arcane, and even Blue Eye Samurai. It's very refreshing to see the elements of 2D animation being mixed into a 3D space. A lot of people think 2D is dying out, but I see so many incredible hand drawn films still being produced today on a global scale. We're seeing full length fully hand drawn films from SPA Studios, Studio Ghibli, Ankama, and more that are so groundbreaking in terms of visuals and story. I think in the battle against AI, 2D has been making a major comeback on a much bigger scale than some might realize!

Was there a class or professor during your career at the U that had a particular impact on you?

I have to give a huge shoutout to my animation and game professors from the U. I use many of the techniques they taught me to this day! Mark Jarman taught me how to use light to better portray volumes in Visual Development for gaming, David Kennedy taught me the fundamentals of video game creation, Lien Fan Shen taught me so much about computer animation software and interface, and Steven Peccia-Bekkum taught me all the different traditional animation techniques. I'm so grateful for each and every one of my professors I had at the U!

What advice would you have for current students? 

Always do your research. Knowing your subject is the make or break to good storytelling, and you can really pick out the creators who are passionate and have done their time with studies. It's so important to go through the bad versions of your stories and filter them out to get to the good stuff. 

What’s next for you? Where can people find/follow you?

I definitely see myself continuing to create short films and collaborating with the colleagues I've grown so fond of these last few years. I enjoy this space of filmmaking and sharing these stories around the world in different film festivals, understanding people's perspectives of the films from other countries and cultures, and taking in the audience reaction. It's so rewarding, and I am so happy to continue this journey of sharing stories through the art of animation! I go by @tabbytoons on social media, and you can follow my work there!

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When University of Utah Distinguished Professor Emeritus Bené Arnold passed away last week, one truth was reaffirmed: Arnold’s passion for ballet has fueled countless dancers, teachers, and artists. “Bené Arnold inspired a lifelong learning in me and many of her students, not because she adhered to any prescribed teaching method, but because we saw what she loved to do with her life,” said School of Dance faculty emeritus Sharee Lane.

Arnold’s love for ballet began when she took dance classes as part of her recovery from severe childhood illness. At nine years old, she said, “I may not be able to walk but someday I will dance.” By age thirteen, she had decided she would dance ballet on pointe professionally. “Ballet is a wonderful thing for rehabilitation,” Arnold once said. “I know what it’s done for me. I don’t know what kind of condition I would be in [without dance].”

In 1948, Arnold joined the San Francisco Ballet company, where she rose to the rank of Soloist. She eventually transitioned from performing to teaching, and moved to Salt Lake City in 1961 where she studies ballet and education at the University of Utah.

In 1963, Willam Christensen, founder of Ballet West, asked Arnold to be the company’s first ballet mistress, a position she kept until joining the University of Utah dance faculty in 1975. She continued to be involved with Ballet West, teaching at the Ballet West Academy and working as a rehearsal director for the young dancers in the annual “Nutcracker.” Arnold retired from the University of Utah in 2001, though she returned to be Interim Chair of the Department of Ballet from 2008-2011.

Arnold’s students remember her as a very traditional teacher who pushed them to be their best. “She was old school and had a tough demeaner which was indicative of the profession at the time,” said U Professor and alumni Maggie Wright Tesch. “I was continually grateful for the backbone she instilled in me as I moved through my 18-year career.”

Rehearsal director and company archivist at Ballet West Bruce Caldwell said Arnold set him on the course of his whole career. “What remains ingrained with me is her mentorship, and the standards that she set for me in my youthful ballet career,” he recalled. “She would let me know when I was in error, not just in the studio or onstage, but also in my life struggles as well.”

“Bené Arnold was a force of nature” said School of Dance Director Melonie B. Murray. “I remember first meeting her in 2015 when she was recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Fine Arts. I was a new faculty member and she greeted me like a long-lost friend. Bené's presence was magnetic, and she thrilled the students by recounting stories of working with the Christensen brothers and her time with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West—even jumping up to demonstrate some of the iconic choreography from Willam Christensen' “Nutcracker” (in her late 70s at the time!)”

Arnold’s career is marked with many awards, from the Utah Governor’s Award for the Arts to a Lifetime Achievement Award from CORPS de Ballet International. She was instrumental in creating Utah’s ballet scene and is a major figure in the learning lineage of many ballet dancers and educators. “Bené always had a strong opinion, and once she set to work on something, was tireless until its completion,” said Caldwell. “ I can honestly say that I don’t think Ballet West, or more broadly, the Arts scene in Utah, would be where it is at today without all of the incredible (and unsung) work that Bené did to help it progress.”

When Bené Arnold received the College of Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award, she said, “Working in the professional ballet world, and The Department of Ballet at the University of Utah, gave me my biggest challenges and my greatest joy!  I had lots of work, sometimes with a very small salary, but it was worth it, because of the opportunity to keep learning from amazing artists and keen-minded people, who challenged and broadened my mind, by their intelligence and often fascinating ideas!”

Arnold’s drive and enthusiasm for ballet will continue to impact the School of Dance and the Utah dance world for years to come. “Her legacy lives through us all who continue with the passionate work of developing artists in the field of dance,” said Tesch. “She was a rare breed,” said Caldwell. “But I think that I can speak for everyone who has had any interaction with her, you don’t forget her.” 

“The U's School of Dance continues to benefit from her years of stellar stewardship,” said Murray, “and I hope she would be proud of how we continue the legacy of excellence she left behind.”

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Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) has a long legacy of leading the world in cancer treatment. As a National Cancer Institute Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, it meets the highest standards of cancer care and research. But, it hasn’t become a leader just by perfecting the already-established methodologies of treatment. At HCI, they constantly seek out and implement innovative therapies – and for the last decade, more and more of those include artistic practices and experiences. 

HCI couples a fierce curiosity for new methods of care with a mission-driven focus on the patient and a commitment to unified work, and the results have been unparalleled. One of HCI’s such endeavors is its Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center, which promotes physical and emotional wellbeing and a sense of balance for people affected by cancer.

Established in 2005, HCI’s renowned wellness program has grown to be one of – if not THE – most comprehensive and integrated centers in the nation offering everything from music therapy to group painting projects to modern dance, creative writing, acupuncture, exercise, nutritional counseling, massage therapy, and hypnosis. Unlike other centers across the country, HCI’s program serves more than just the patients – they extend care to both caregivers and the staff of their outpatient clinics and hospital as well.

The degree to which the wellness programs are integrated into the hospital’s overall approach to healing and the hospital’s physical space makes it unique as well. The Center has a prominent 2,200 square-foot space near the hospital’s entrance, and utilizes additional spaces for arts, cooking classes, meditation, yoga, and more. 

The program started under the leadership of Ray Lynch and Janet Bloch who hired Dr. Pam Hansen to complete fitness assessments and provide acupuncture.  Bloch recruited a rowing instructor who also taught yoga for cancer survivors. English and Ethnic Studies Professor Emeritus Meg Brady founded a storytelling program called Your Story, through which Brady asks “memory-trigger” questions giving people the opportunity to reflect on their past and record new perspectives for moving forward.

“Institutionally, it pleases me very much that you allow staff to attend, and that you do not provide only physical activity and spiritual stuff,” said one HCI staff participant. “Art also works! I noticed a big improvement when Shelley White came on. You can clone her… if possible.”— Program participant

As more patients sought these new services, they requested others. And in 2006, Block sought out to Shelley White, MSW, LCSW, to help grow and diversify the program.

And has she ever. 

Now the Manager of the Center, White oversees a staff of 45 who handle around 50 visits daily (totaling roughly 15,000 visits annually). She credits the sizable growth to the overwhelming support and interest in the program.

It’s White, however, who is to be credited for the explosion of the arts-related programs. In 2012, she applied for and won a LIVESTRONG Creative Arts Center grant to fund the Artist in Residence program, for which she snagged local artist Jorge Rojas to the position. He has since gone on to become the Director of Education & Engagement for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, but the walls of the Center are still adorned with stunning pieces made by the collaboration of Rojas and his participants.

In its second iteration, the Artist in Residence program hosted Colour Maisch, a University of Utah College of Fine Arts alumna. And, now in its third cycle, Lindsay Frei, also an alumna of the U’s College of Fine Arts, is the Artist in Residence. However, because the program’s rapid expansion, Maisch has stayed on as a Consultant and Workshop Coordinator to help accommodate the increasing needs and offerings. Together, the two provide creative activities including working with clay, collage, drawing, ink brush, stenciling, leather and craft work, watercolor and facilitating painting parties. They also bring in renowned guest artists like this last month’s visitor, Margaret Peot.

From pain management to personal empowerment, and from creative expression to collaboration, the benefits of these therapies are as diverse as the activities themselves.

“It is the best job in the world to facilitate programs that honor the full humanity of people affected by a formidable disease,” White says. “And seeing their successes fuels our commitment to exploring the power of the arts and creativity as healing tools that can change the way we practice medicine.”

Published in Finer Points Blog

The recently passed dance legend Joan Woodbury once said, “It was through movement that I understood life.” This concept is explored in Contemporary New Works, the vibrant concert presented by the School of Dance this month. Concert director Daniel Clifton urges audiences to prepare for “dances that celebrate creativity, physicality, humanity, and our collective exploration of self, one another, and the world around us.” 

Contemporary New Works will take place on the Hayes Memorial Theatre stage in the Marriott Center for Dance with performances from Nov. 9 through Nov. 18. The concert presents new works choreographed by guest artists jo Blake and Gesel Mason, as well as faculty artists Sara Pickett and Daniel Clifton, all of which will be performed by majors and minors in the School of Dance. Cumulatively, the performance will “present the human body in ways that transcend mere entertainment,” said Clifton.  

The concert will begin with a piece directed by Clifton, Associate Professor (Lecturer) in the School of Dance, titled “Ribbons of Rust and Analog Magnetic Memories.” The piece, which draws inspiration from post-punk aesthetics, “weaves together nostalgia, post-punk, memory, lost connections, and the activation of voice,” he said.  

Next, guest artist jo Blake presents his piece “a single strand in a spider’s web,” dedicated to WSU dancer Courtney Conver Harris as well as Professor Emeritus Joan Woodbury, and set to music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso. Blake thanked the School of Dance students for their “ability to devour material, explore possibilities, and nurture my creative intention.”  

Following Blake’s piece is “Seraph,” choreographed by guest Gesel Mason. This piece is based on a solo Mason created and performed in 1998 titled “Black Angel,” which was a response to the murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, TX. This murder was eventually recognized in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Acted, signed in 2009. Now, 25 years after Byrd’s death, Mason has restaged that original solo for six dancers. “This work grapples with humanity’s ongoing relationship with violence and hate,” stated Mason.  

Lastly, the concert will end with “One and Nine,” a piece choreographed by Associate Professor (lecturer) Sara Pickett in collaboration with the dancers. The piece was conceptualized by considering “how social media creates space for performing and watching,” said Pickett. “What emerged was a celebration of the group and joy in dancing for and with one another.”  

Tickets for the show can be purchased at tickets.utah.edu and at the door. University of Utah students get free access with their student ID thanks to the Arts Pass program, which makes hundreds of arts experiences accessible to U students each year. 

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November 08 2023

Joan Woodbury, Remembered

By Merritt Mecham 

Last week, dance legend and Professor Emeritus Joan Woodbury passed away. "In higher education, there is a common saying about how we stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Melonie B. Murray, PhD, Director of the School of Dance. “It's a way to acknowledge the many who came before us and laid a foundation for much of the work we do today. Joan Woodbury was an absolute giant of dance in Utah and beyond.”

Woodbury taught at the University of Utah for 47 years, and her influence still permeates throughout the modern dance programs. Woodbury was a philosophy-forward dancer, which directly translated into her pedagogy. In a profile for the website "Life as a Modern Dancer" by School of Dance alum Jill Randall (BFA ’97), Woodbury stated that, through her experience and studies with her own dance mentors, “I have formed my penchant for elegantly designed and unique choreography, the understanding and use of ‘time, shape, space and motion’ in my teaching and hopefully in my choreography, the understanding of and belief in the uniqueness of each individual and their capacity for creativity, plus my desire and passion to help dance become a valued art form in the eyes of every individual with whom I come in contact, and the overriding philosophy that ‘dance is for everybody.’”


“Joan Woodbury was amongst the original faculty in the Department of Modern Dance at the University of Utah,” said Associate Professor Eric Handman. “Everyone who has gone through the Modern Dance program is a part of her legacy. The emphasis on the creative process (improvisation and choreography) in our curriculum is, to no small degree, the result of Joan’s influence.”

Of course, Woodbury’s influence went far beyond the University of Utah campus. Her philosophy that dance is for everybody was something she took direct action on through her teaching and her direction of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. Using grants the company was awarded from the National Endowment for the Arts, Woodbury was instrumental in bringing dance into Utah public schools. She made her belief that dance should be accessible to everyone no matter their race, economic background, or physical ability a reality; Utah is one of the few states that has a dance instructor in every high school.

Woodbury also put Utah, specifically Salt Lake City, on the worldwide dance map. “Committed to the belief that dance can bring something to everyone, Joan was a leader in making dance a vital part of the arts scene in Salt Lake City,” said Professor Pamela Geber Handman.

“Joan Woodbury was a huge part of making Salt Lake City the dance center that it is,” reflected Associate Professor Eric Handman. “She influenced generations of artists who continue to inspire and change lives.”

In a statement by the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Woodbury was quoted as saying “It was through movement that I understood life.” A native of Cedar City, Woodbury was involved with music and dance from a young age. Once she began tap-dancing lessons at age 4, she was hooked on dancing. In high school, dancing became her main focus, and a teacher encouraged her to attend University of Wisconsin to study modern dance. At the time, the University of Wisconsin’s dance program was led by Margaret H’Doubler, who wasn’t a dancer herself, but used her knowledge of biology and anatomy to teach movement, and was a major influence in dance pedagogy.

After graduating from University of Wisconsin, Woodbury planned to move to New York City to pursue a dancing career, but agreed to interview with Elizabeth Hayes, Chair of the dance department at the University of Utah, while on a visit back home. Woodbury never ended up moving to NYC, but instead accepted a position at the U.

In 1955, shortly into her tenure at the U, Woodbury received a Fulbright Scholarship, and spent a year studying with Mary Wigman, a pioneer of expressionist dance, in Berlin. When she returned, she and her friend Shirley Ririe decided they both wanted to continue teaching dance while also taking care of their young children, so they arranged to share Woodbury’s position, including the salary. Together with Elizabeth Hayes, the three women began to expand the dance department.

Woodbury and Ririe also started their own dance company, eventually named Ririe-Woodbury. In 1963, they invited Alwin Nikolais, whom Woodbury had met during her time at Wisconsin, to come and teach summer workshops. Working with Nikolais, who was not only a choreographer but also a dance philosopher, greatly influenced Woodbury and her firm belief that dance is for everybody.

woodbury3Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, 1985.

Woodbury taught at the University of Utah until 1999 and served as Executive Director of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company until 2011. Throughout her career, she danced and taught throughout the world, including in France, England, Canada, Portugal, South Africa, Slovenia, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Ireland, and Italy. She received Distinguished Alumni awards from the University of Wisconsin and Southern Utah University, as well as Honorary Doctorates from Southern Utah University and University of Utah, and the Chimera Award from the Nikolais Dance Theatre. 

“Sometimes I look and think I haven’t accomplished much of anything,” Woodbury told KSL.com earlier this year. “But I’ve opened the doors for many people to come into a field and dedicate their information and their spirits and their love to something they love just as much as I do.”  

Woodbury’s love for dance, and her generosity with that love, has left an indelible mark on the School of Dance at the University of Utah.

“She influenced generations of artists who continue to inspire and change lives. I will always remember her as transformative — a powerful, persuasive mentor and advocate for dance,” said  Handman. Geber Handman reflected, “Joan’s presence has been huge in my life since I moved to Utah almost 24 years ago. I will miss her vitality and spirit, her ability to say it just like she saw it, and her unwavering commitment to excellence.”

Woodbury’s contributions have drastically, positively changed the creative ecosystem of dance in Utah and introduced the joy of dance to people all over the world. Summed up by Murray, “For all of us engaged in the Utah dance community, we have inherited and benefited from Woodbury's tremendous contributions, whether we realize it or not, and in ways that we likely cannot even imagine.”

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By Merritt Mecham

A horror-inspired family show may seem like an oxymoron, but for writer and University of Utah Department of Film & Media Arts alum Jeff Dixon (BA 1999), it’s about time for a family television show to lean into scarier territory.

Enter "Curses!," Dixon’s new animated television show that premiered October 27th, 2023 on AppleTV+. The show follows the Vanderhouven family, who, when dad Alex gets turned to stone due to a multi-generational curse, must return the magical artifacts stolen by their ancestors in order to keep the family together.

"Curses!" began with Dixon’s desire to write gateway horror like the stuff he loved when he was a kid; things like Gremlins and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and Goonies. “The reason I thought gateway horror was something I really wanted to do was because when I was a kid, growing up in Utah, I would test myself by watching horror things,” Dixon said. “I watched them and I’d be scared, and then the credits would roll… and I’d have this sense of accomplishment. And then I’d watch something maybe a little scarier.” Dixon found that watching scary movies gave him a huge boost of confidence, and that watching people overcome their fears on the screen helped him overcome fears himself. “I actually found a lot of growth that way as a kid.”

So when Dixon his and friend Jim Cooper were walking their kids to and from school, it was natural that the subject of “gateway horror” would come up. Cooper, also a writer, wrote primarily family and comedy stories, and Dixon had a horror/thriller background. How could they combine their two expertises into a new gateway horror that the whole family could enjoy? They soon landed on a concept and began writing.

cursesCourtesy AppleTV+
Writing for animation was a new thing for Dixon, but as a writer, he’s always been prepared for anything. This started when he was a student at the U. Dixon remembers his F&MAD educational experience as having a strong independent filmmaking ethos. “Everything there was kind of a run and gun mentality,” he recalled. “When you’re forced to do all the different roles, you learn all the different roles a lot better.” This sort of scrappy attitude had him prepared for all kinds of experiences, and taught him to view challenges as opportunities to learn.

For example, earlier in his career Dixon spent some time writing for the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). “One of the things that I would do is write for very specific wrestlers,” he recalled. “Writing for live television you have to time everything… and there were certain wrestlers that literally couldn’t say big words. So I had to make my dialogue very succinct to both meet the timeline and to get it so they could say it.” He’s carried this throughout the rest of his career: “Whenever you need three lines of dialogue… it’s better served in one.”

So while animation presented a challenge, it also presented an opportunity: Dixon wasn’t constricted by the budget and feasibility of live-action filmmaking. “When you’re writing for animation you can actually set that aside a little bit.” And having a writing partner helped a lot; Dixon found that he and Cooper’s sensibilities balanced each other out. “Anytime I had a tendency to go a little more dark and scary he’d pull me back,” he said. And anytime Cooper leaned more zany, Dixon would reel him in. “We just found that sweet spot.”

Read the whole story here.

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Those making plans for a perfect Halloween outing need look no further than Pioneer Theatre Company’s “The Rocky Horror Show,” running October 20 - 31, with a special 10p performance on Halloween night.  

A groundbreaking cult musical and beloved glam rock tribute to B-horror films, “The Rocky Horror Show” returns with some of the most iconic characters in musical theatre history: squares Brad and Janet, mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter, his “monster,” and, of course, a swath of drive-in usherettes and creepy sidekicks.

"It's not every day you get to throw a styrofoam hotdog at a Broadway veteran!"

Several members of the University of Utah community are integral in the production, including Department of Theatre alumna Micki Martinez in the featured role of Columbia.

"One of my favorite parts about being in 'Rocky Horror' is working with the incredibly talented cast. They have all been so wonderful, and it feels great to be back at PTC taking on such a fun role," Martinez said. 

Audiences have the unique opportunity to see the cult classic come to life in a way they have never seen it before...and everything is LIVE!," she continued. "They can participate in the usual call outs and even purchase prop kits to use throughout the show. It's not every day you get to throw a styrofoam hotdog at a Broadway veteran!"

The show’s costumes are designed by fellow alumnus and current Marketing & Communications Coordinator, Aaron Asano Swenson. "This is my third time designing 'Rocky' for PTC, and that’s an opportunity you rarely get," Swenson explained.

"It’s always challenging, time-wise (I think we had twelve days of rehearsal before first dress?), but it’s uniquely rewarding. You don’t have time to second-guess anything, so there’s this incredible sense of trust and collaboration. And after eight years away, I get to see it with fresh eyes — the design aspect, yes, but also the amazing work from the costume shop, wardobe, stage management, the artistic team, the cast, the musicians…that’s what makes this insane process survivable and fruitful and enjoyable."

Also appearing in the cast as Phantoms are five current University of Utah Department of Theatre students: Lauren Crutcher, Jordan Cruz, Evan Latta, Lila Prince, and James Wong. 

Join PTC for a full throttle Rocky Horror experience in all of its interactive, campy glory—celebrating the landmark musical’s 50th anniversary. Let’s all do the time warp again!

University of Utah students are able to get up to two $5 tickets with their UCard (thanks to Arts Pass!) if they go to the rush window within an hour before show time. If students want reserved seating ahead of time, they can get up to two tickets half price by scanning their UCard in person at the box office. 

The Rocky Horror Show 
October 20—31, 2023
Pioneer Theatre Company

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Pivotal parts of Miles Borrero’s (‘99) becoming transpired when he was a student in the University of Utah Department of Theatre’s Actor Training Program. Though, then Miles went by the name Mila — the one given to him at birth that came with the set of expectations of a girl growing up in Colombia during the Pablo Escobar years. Picture femininity, acquiescence, and a propensity for shame.

Much has changed since then, not least of which is Borrero himself, who now lives as the authentic trans-masc, non-binary, Latinx yoga teacher and author who’s releasing his new memoir, “Beautiful Monster: A Becoming” this month, published by Regalo Press.

And he’s returning to Salt Lake City on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Dumke Auditorium of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts for a conversation with former classmate, dear friend, fellow actor, and beloved Assistant Professor Robert Scott Smith. In conversation, Borrero and Smith will explore the themes of his book from queerness to transness to death to love — the “heart-breaking, whole-heart-making ride.” He will then entertain questions from the audience before doing a book signing.

As he writes in the book, "Entering PAB, the Performing Arts Building [at the University of Utah], however, felt like a confirmation that I had landed exactly where I needed to be." And he is excited to return to his alma mater after the experience of unraveling the notions of who he was “supposed” to be to then put himself back “together with love.”

"Attending the Actor's Training Program at the University of Utah was simultaneously one of the greatest things that happened to me and one that changed my life for the better most significantly,” he said. “Not only did I make a slew of amazing, lifelong friends there, but it also set me on the path that was to lead me here — to this moment."

If you would like to be part of this moment, you’re invited. This event is open to the public and tickets are free and available online, though space is limited so early registration is encouraged.

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Musicians worldwide dream of performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. For professionals and emerging artists alike, it is an honor to play in the revered venue.

Next month, on Oct 13, three of our own will take this stage in a unique performance curated to inspire audiences to delve into their own imagination and experiences. The program includes Bach’s "Erbarme Dich, mein Gott", Strauss’s "Morgen!," Op. 27, No. 4,  Ravel’s “Tzigane,” and much more.

The concert was catalyzed by former U School of Music faculty member and world-renowned violinist David Park. Park will play the Earl Falmouth Stradivarius violin from 1692, an honor reserved just for musicians of the highest caliber. 

When selecting his team, Park jumped at the chance to invite pianists Melissa Garff Ballard and Alex Marshall to perform. 

“It is very unique in Carnegie Hall to have so many people from one state collaborating, so it really showcases the fine arts at the University of Utah."

Both Ballard and Marshall are two-time alumni of the University of Utah School of Music, earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Alongside her work as an accomplished pianist, Ballard serves in the Utah House of Representatives. Marshall is currently Music Director in the Department of Theatre. 

The abundant representation from our community on an international stage is something for which we are deeply proud, and showcases the remarkable talent at home in the College of Fine Arts.

But there’s more. 

Knowing that many Utahns might not be able to make the trek to the Big Apple, the group felt compelled to share the program locally –– at Libby Gardner Hall on Oct 2 at 7:30p. 

“It is very unique in Carnegie Hall to have so many people from one state collaborating, so it really showcases the fine arts at the University of Utah,” Ballard said. “Our hope is that if you cannot get to Carnegie Hall, which is where they have the best-of-the-best in the world featured, come hear us at Libby Gardner Hall.”

As an added benefit, soprano Michelle Dean, a fellow School of Music alumna in vocal performance, will join the local concert. Later at Carnegie Hall, celebrated singer Marina Poplavskaya will perform. 

For those University of Utah alumni and friends living on the East Coast, and those able to travel, the Carnegie Hall concert will be the perfect opportunity to enjoy music and connect as a community.

David Park, Melissa Ballard, Alex Marshall, and Michelle Dean
Libby Gardner Concert Hall
October 2, 2023


Click here for tickets to the Carnegie Hall performance.

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