Displaying items by tag: Department of Theatre

For many, including U Theatre’s Laurel Morgan, Shakespeare and “The Tempest” feel like old friends. 

 “I did the log scene with Miranda and Ferdinand in a high school competition!” exclaimed Morgan, referring to a well-loved section of the play—Act III, Scene 1, to be exact. A fourth year student in the Department of Theatre, Morgan plays Ariel in  the department’s production of ‘The Tempest’ that opens this weekend  and runs through Nov 19.  

“It was exciting and so playful, and both of those characters are so naive and curious. I was excited to revisit the production in my fourth year of college, after seven years,” she said.  

Fellow fourth year student and assistant director Camden Barrett related a similar experience. “I also did the log scene! I feel like that was one of my first experiences doing a scene from Shakespeare with my peers…I look back on that as one of the moments that ignited that love for Shakespeare.”  

"Theater offers a shared opportunity to communicate emotions and feelings. I think what's so beautiful about ‘The Tempest’ is it's about forgiveness. It's about finding compassion in people when it's hard. It's about taking time to heal.”

Camden Barrett, assistant director

Director Melinda Pfundstein has had over 25 years of formal Shakespeare training and is a long-time member of the acting and directing team of Utah Shakespeare Festival. It is surprising –– and perhaps serendipitous –– that this experience with the U Theatre cast is her first with the famed play. 

“I feel really lucky to do [The Tempest] in this environment with such a supportive program and in a place where all of my ‘Tempest’ dreams could come true –– not just because of the world that I was interested in creating, but in the devised aspects I feel are so woven into the fabric of the story,” Pfundstein said. “This cast, and these artists have been yes all the way.”

U Theatre student Kirsten Henriquez plays Prospera, a powerful noblewoman betrayed by her own family, now living in exile with her daughter Miranda. “There were more layers of her that were discovered throughout the process,” Henriquez reflected. “I think I focused a lot on the themes of, at least in the beginning, power and the misuse of power. Later on, she discovers her own humanity, I would say.” Henriquez allowed this process of discovery to happen naturally: “Prospera takes her time trying to find [forgiveness] in the end, and I took my time to find that in the end for Prospera as well as an actor.” 

For Laurel Morgan, the show’s lessons have bled into life. 

“I feel like ‘The Tempest’ specifically is a show that has kept me curious about how we are all the same,” she said. “I think it's so easy in life and in art to focus on how we are different, but from Caliban, who's seen as the bad servant, [to] Ariel, the fairy –– how do these otherworldly creatures connect and feel in the same way as a human? All of the ways that, instead of trying to be different, how can we look at each other and see ourselves reflected back?”  

tempest1Laurel Morgan and Kirsten Henriquez in "The Tempest" | Photo Todd Collins

The themes of forgiveness, evolution, and transformation are carried not only in the performances but in scenic, costume, and sound design as well. One prominent motif is seaglass: previously used glass that has been discarded and given a new shape by the ocean. 

“Early on, I knew I wanted to dig into the generational habits and what was being passed on to Miranda and the next generation, and what was being burned off or healed,” Pfundstein explained. “[Seaglass] is known to wash up on the shore, smoothed by the ocean, and then becomes this beautiful symbol of transformation. And then the lore around it is that when you wear it, it breaks when it's been used up.” 

Scenic designer Kyle Becker, U Theatre’s technical director, found and incorporated imagery of rising strata. Brenda Van der Wiel, costume designer, worked seaglass into the costume pieces. Props master Arika Schockmel led students to build seaglass lights that immerse the audience in the sea, then spill onto the stage.  

“It's just magical. Just from word 'go,' the whole team has been at their creative best,” Pfundstein said.

The cast and crew have found countless modern lessons in the well-known play, and urge the campus community to discover — or rediscover — “The Tempest” through this production.

“With every production we see, we always take a message for ourselves –– we walk away with a feeling,” Henriquez said. “I think some of those for ‘The Tempest’ could be how to seek for connection, and how to do the inner work in order to reach for each other.”

Camden Barrett echoed the sentiment.

“I think it's hard being a human right now in a really contentious world. I think as students too, it's hard to know what to do with those hard feelings and speak about them when our bodies always feel in conflict with the conflict in the world. Theatre offers a shared opportunity to communicate emotions and feelings. I think what's so beautiful about ‘The Tempest’ is it's about forgiveness. It's about finding compassion in people when it's hard. It's about taking time to heal.”

tempest2Cast of U Theatre's "The Tempest" | Photo Todd Collins

Babcock Theatre
November 10 – 19, 2023

Friday, 11/10 @ 7:30 PM
Saturday, 11/11 @ 2 PM
Saturday, 11/11 @ 7:30 PM
Sunday, 11/12 @ 2 PM
Thursday, 11/16 @ 7:30 PM
Friday, 11/17 @ 7:30 PM*
Saturday, 11/18 @ 2 PM**
Saturday, 11/18 @ 7:30 PM
Sunday, 11/19 @ 2 PM

*ASL Interpreted performance and Audience Talkback
** Sensory-Friendly matinee

U Students free with Arts Pass! 

Published in Finer Points Blog

Preparations are well underway for Salt Lake Acting Company’s highly anticipated summer production, which most Utah theatre lovers know as a more than 50-year tradition. 

Perhaps best known for their previous production of "Saturday's Voyeur," SLAC's annual summer tradition has been restructured and rebranded over the past few years. This year, “SLAC's Summer Show: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” will parody a public broadcasting telethon featuring shows and characters we all know and love, paired with iconic Utah figures and recent news stories. Featuring local flair is a custom audiences have come to rely on.

“The show is meant to be a really fun and unique way for people to celebrate theater, the arts, and also Utah,” Joseph Branca, Director of Communications at SLAC, explained. “We think of it as a love letter to the state while also talking about serious and timely issues.”

The show features many from the University of Utah community, including alumni and faculty from the Department of Theatre filling roles from actor to writer, to management. Branca is one of 20 who can trace their roots back to campus.

It's neat to walk through the halls and know that everyone in the building has some kind of relationship to the University of Utah and that it continues to permeate throughout all the productions we do.

An actor with expertise in communications, he has held several roles in Utah theatres from advertising and project management at Hale Center Theatre Orem to his current role at SLAC. Having made the leap to the corporate side of theatre since he began acting in the SLAC ensemble in 2016, he has a unique perspective on the organization and on the local arts scene.

“We have an incredible atmosphere for theater here in Utah,” he said. “We're very well-known as a training pool for stellar performers. All kinds of national and international companies make stops in Utah because the talent pool is so well-regarded. The theaters here are just well-stocked with unbelievable performers. SLAC is no exception.”

Branca also points out the ongoing connection to the local communities that continues to fuel the professional theaters season after season. “There's such a focus on our local universities, and the talent that they bring, because that talent pool builds into what becomes our mainstays at the theater. It's neat to walk through the halls and know that everyone in the building has some kind of relationship to the University of Utah and that it continues to permeate throughout all the productions we do.”

All the more reason for students to get invoSLAC Summer Show Poster w dateslved early and often. One ongoing opportunity is SLAC’s Professional Theatre Program for Emerging Artists. This program nurtures Utah’s theatre students by giving them the opportunity to work in a professional production. To date, SLAC has created over 150 production-based paid positions for university enrolled students who have received crucial experience as actors, assistant stage managers, assistant directors, and assistant designers. 

“SLAC's Summer Show: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” is written by alumna Olivia Custodio, with creative support by Rob Scott Smith, also an alum and current head of the Actor Training Program. SLAC’s director and choreographer, Cynthia Fleming, also trained at the U.

Actors include alumna Wendy Joseph, faculty members David Knoell and Sean Carter, and current theatre students Bryce Romleski, Laurel Morgan, Akina Yamazaki, True Leavitt, and James Wong. Alumni Anna Blaes, Erika Ahlin, Jesse Portillo, and Jorji Diaz Fadel are all designers on the show, and alumna Jennie Sant is stage manager. SLAC’s staff includes Joseph Branca as well as fellow alums Cassie Stokes-Wylie and Adriana Lemke. 

Don’t miss this opportunity to support theatre in our great state as well as the continuing brilliance of the University of Utah arts community!

SLAC's Summer Show: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood 
July 12 - August 20, 2023
World Premiere

Tickets at saltlakeactingcompany.org

Published in Finer Points Blog

 The College of Fine Arts is delighted to present the 2023 Outstanding Seniors from each of our five academic units.

These individuals were nominated for their academic achievements, artistic and scholarly accomplishments, and ongoing commitment to their craft. We are inspired by each of them, and look forward to witnessing the ways they continue to contribute to our community. We are honored to have shared their time here as students.


S23 Avery Convocation Email banners srs

Avery Greig
Department of Art & Art History 

Pronouns: She/They

Majored in: Art History Major with a Diversity Certificate and a Business Minor

Hometown: I was born in Detroit, Michigan but moved to Utah from Boston, Massachusetts which I consider my second home. 

Three words that describe you: Driven, Visionary, and Open-Minded

Most impactful class or professor: My most impactful professor at the U has been Professor Sarah Hollenberg! She is a wonderful professor who urges her students to think about varying perspectives — which has greatly impacted the way I think as an undergraduate student. I really enjoyed working with her when I was the President of the Art History Student Association (AHSA), of which she was our faculty advisor and truly helped me reach for cool opportunities and get out of my comfort zone. I loved taking her Museum Practices course in which every member of the class was assigned a museum job position and as a class we created our own museum together. I will never forget that. 

A CFA moment you’ll never forget: I will never forget taking group trips to the UMFA with the Art History Student Association! 

What inspires you: Inspiration surrounds me constantly! I find little bits of inspiration all around me. I am greatly inspired by visual art and music — if you see me walking on campus, I always have my earbuds in and my head in the sky, looking at trees and plants or the shapes of the buildings on campus. Music and visual art really inspire me in my writing in the Utah Daily Chronicle, often when I find myself stuck I will turn to various forms of art media to get my writing flow back. My brilliant mother, strong father, and hard-working brother all inspire me and support me to reach my goals each and everyday, and I am inspired greatly by my beautiful and creative friends who push me to reach for big and bright things. 

Summary of major accomplishments on or off campus: I was a pre-professional ballerina at the Boston Ballet when I was in high school, President of the Art History Student Association at the U and Arts Desk Editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. In my time as AHSA president, I co-organized a successful three part professional lecture series centering on underrepresented voices in the art world, bringing in professionals to talk to university students. Last year, I was awarded 1st Place for Best Arts Writing for the University of Utah’s Student Media which was a big honor. I also held an internship with the Utah State Department of Arts and Museums where I worked directly with the state art archive. I am extremely honored to be named this year's Art and Art History Department Outstanding Senior.

Hopes and plans for the coming year: This coming year, I am hoping to transition into an archival-based job position while I start planning for graduate school! I am planning on pursuing a Masters in Library Sciences graduate degree. Additionally, I plan to travel around this summer, including a trip back home to Boston and to Florence, Italy!

 S23 Megan Convocation Email banners srs2

Megan Lynch 
School of Dance 

Pronouns: She/Her

Majored in: Ballet BFA, History BA

Hometown: Winona, Minnesota 

Three words that describe you: Dedicated, passionate, optimistic

Most impactful class or professor: It is difficult to narrow it down to one person, but I find that Pablo Piantino is woven throughout my entire four years in the School of Dance. He has simultaneously challenged and encouraged me to be my most authentic self, and exude excellence both on and off stage, inside and outside the classroom. I also find that Christopher Alloways-Ramsey, Justine Sheedy-Kramer, and Maggie Tesch, who have advocated for me and mentored me over the years are also essential to my success. 

A CFA moment you’ll never forget: During my first performance with the School of Dance, the entire cast I was performing with got a card and signed it to encourage me. It taught me the importance of creating a community that cares and supports each other, and how a small act of kindness and encouragement can make such a large impact. I still have the card to this day and make a point to do similar acts for my peers. 

What inspires you: I am inspired by kind and passionate people in any area of study, willing to share that passion with others. 

Summary of major accomplishments on or off campus:

  • Merit Scholarship, Ballet Department
  • Service Scholarship, College of Fine Arts
  • Ungraduated Research Opportunity Program (UROP) scholar and grant recipient
  • Research Assistant, Professor ShawnaKim Lowey-Ball, History department
  • President of Character Dance Ensemble (2022-23), Vice President (2021-22), Member (2019-2023)
  • Vice President of Student Dance Exposure Committee (2021-2023)
  • Student Advisory Council (SAC) co-president, School of Dance, Ballet Department Representative
  • FAF grant council committee member
  • Performed in numerous mainstage performances with the School of Dance, including Kitri in "Don Quixote," Princess Florine in "Sleeping Beauty," and Alejandro Cerrudo's "Second To Last," as well as many other original works by faculty and guest artists.
  • Performed in, and choreographed for, peer-directed performances.
  • Studied during the summer months with the Joffrey Ballet, Kansas City Ballet School, Utah Ballet Summer Intensive, and International Summer Program in Incheon, South Korea 

Hopes and plans for the coming year: Dance professionally in a ballet company, and continue to foster a supportive community, wherever I am. 

S23 Cayden Convocation Email banners srs3

Cayden Turnbow
Department of Film & Media Arts

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Majored in: Film and Media Arts

Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT

Three words that describe you: Leader, Motivated, Creative

Most impactful class or professor: I've had the privilege of taking Paul Larsen's screenwriting class for the last couple of years and have learned so much about how to take and give criticism, how to create a compelling story with interesting characters, and how to maintain self-discipline when writing longer form scripts. Paul Larsen without a doubt has been one of the most impactful professors while I've been at the U and I'll be sad to say goodbye when I graduate.

A CFA moment you’ll never forget: When Lee Isaac Chung visited campus I went to almost every single one of the events he attended and took scrupulous notes. It was his advice that inspired certain aspects of my capstone. He encouraged me to take risks and keep chasing my goals even when times get tough.

What inspires you: I find that it's the people closest to me that inspire me the most.

Summary of major accomplishments on or off campus: I co-founded the Film Production Club and as its president produced and co-directed a short film titled "My Baby" which received a distribution award at the 2022 Spring Showcase. "Toothbrush" is another film that I directed that premiered alongside "My Baby" last year. I've received an Epics award through ADTHING (an advertising agency for which I am the current Video Director) for a commercial I made for Tacos Don Rafa. I've had the privilege of being an RA for the Fine Arts Floor, and a resident of the Fine Arts House. As an Emerging Leaders Intern, I helped organize the 9th annual ArtsForce Networking Event and had multiple articles published in the Finer Points Blog. Last summer I had an internship with Blank Space, a rewarding experience supported by the Utah Film Commission. Shortly after I joined Slamdance as an intern and worked up to managing the online festival in 2023.

Hopes and plans for the coming year: I hope to be able to continue to create, in whatever aspect that may be, as well as find a job that will be a stepping stone for my career in the film industry.

S23 Samuel Convocation Email banners srs4

Samuel Judd-Kim 
School of Music 

Pronouns: He/They

Majored in: HBA in Music and HBS in Philosophy

Hometown: Orem, Utah

Three words that describe you: Tenacious, authentic, disruptor

Most impactful class or professor: If I have to choose just one, it would be Dr. Pamela Jones, for picking up on and nurturing my enthusiasm for learning (both before and during the pandemic), mentoring me on the harpsichord, and directing me toward so many amazing opportunities! However, I would also like to recognize Dr. Ken Udy and Dr. Haruhito Miyagi for their generous support and wisdom.

A CFA moment you’ll never forget: Playing harpsichord continuo with the Utah Philharmonia on a few concerts; as a keyboardist, I always relish the chance to play with an orchestra. An honorable mention would be playing the Libby Gardner Concert Hall organ for the very first time.

What inspires you: All of the talented and visionary artists I’ve had the pleasure of working with; I’m incredibly lucky to have collaborated with so many driven musicians who motivate me to keep doing music.

Summary of major accomplishments on or off campus:

  • Two solo organ recitals at the Cathedral of the Madeleine (Salt Lake City) in 2020 and 2022.
  • Original senior honors thesis: “Queering the Pipe Organ,” a musicology paper supervised by Dr. Haruhito Miyagi.
  • Many joyous collaborative performances on harpsichord and organ, with amazing flautists, harpists, strings, chamber groups, and orchestras.
  • With the College of Fine Arts advising team, assisted incoming Fine Arts students as a Create Success Intern
  • Helped found the University of Utah Asian Collective, which is working with the Office of EDI to create an Asian Cultural Center on campus and advocates for Asian and Asian-American communities on campus.
  • Created workshops on sexual violence prevention for queer students, students in Greek life at the U, and high school students, both as an intern at the Rape Recovery Center and as student staff at the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention.

Hopes and plans for the coming year: Taking a gap year to explore how to apply the knowledge and skills I’ve learned in the School of Music in an impactful way in my communities. I hope to eventually attend graduate school and build on the research in queer musicology I engaged in for my honors thesis, while always keeping sight of the reasons I do music!

S23 Abish Convocation Email banners srs5

Abish Noble
Department of Theatre

Pronouns: She/They

Majored in: Theatre, Performing Arts Design Program with emphasis in Set Design; minor in Japanese

Hometown: Yokota Air Base, Tokyo, Japan

Three words that describe you: Passionate, Detail-Oriented, Overachiever 

Most impactful class or professor: Scenography Lab where I was so excited to assist in building the sets and I realized that I wanted to work in the design part of the theatre world.

A CFA moment you’ll never forget: In scenography lab, I painted a mechanical snake to be used in our production of Men on Boats. That was when Halee offered me a work-study position, and how I could work directly in the shop.

What inspires you: The ability to create amazing things with amazing people.

Summary of major accomplishments on or off campus: Co-set designed the U’s first virtual production in 2020; The Night Witches. I also set designed Storm Still in 2021, and my work was featured in the CFA gala. I was the Scenic Charge Artist for Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience in 2021, and Liminal in 2022. I finished my college career with my set design of the new musical; In Pieces. I have also done some volunteer work off campus for the Utah Pride Festival. 

Hopes and plans for the coming year: I plan to continue to work in theatre here in Salt Lake, and hope to work full-time as a theatre technician. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Aaron Swenson

On New Year’s Eve 1929, American writer Cliff Bradshaw arrives in Germany seeking inspiration and a cheap place to stay. He winds up at the seedy, seductive Kit Kat Klub, where he meets Sally Bowles, a down-on-her-luck British singer. The next day, Sally beguiles and bullies her way into his apartment—and into his life.

Their whirlwind acquaintance soon blossoms into an unconventional partnership; meanwhile, the avant-garde decadence of Berlin is crumbling in the face of a rising totalitarian regime. Despite the danger and uncertainty that creep closer each day, Cliff and Sally cling to their dreams and each other. Tomorrow may belong to someone else, but for tonight, life is beautiful.

jess hirsh 683x1024In the decades since it opened on Broadway, “Cabaret” has come to be regarded as a classic in the musical theatre canon. However, the 1966 musical stands apart from its “Golden Age” predecessors. While musicals from the 1940s and 1950s were characterized by predictable plotlines and happy endings, “Cabaret” broke these conventions, presenting a darker, more decadent, and controversial exploration of human nature, and tackling taboo subjects such as sexuality and the politics of pre-World War II Germany.

“Cabaret”’s popularity has led to multiple revivals and revisions, most recently in 1998, when Sam Mendes brought his successful West End production to Broadway. However, although the Department of Theatre’s production is based on the latest revision, the impact of the script remains the same. Its effectiveness relies in part on its ability to accurately reflect the biases and events of the time period. Some of the material can be difficult for artists to perform and for audiences to watch—particularly the implications of the Nazi Party’s rise to power, which include instances of antisemitic language and behavior.

With this in mind, the Department of Theatre hired cultural specialist Jess Hirsh, who has been providing guidance and support for the cast, creative team and production team of “Cabaret” since last fall. Earlier this month, the department’s Aaron Swenson spoke with Hirsh about her work as a cultural specialist. 


Q & A with Jess Hirsh  

Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us about your role in this production?

My name is Jess Hirsh, and I am the cultural specialist for this production of “Cabaret.” My usual job is helming the musical theatre program at the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts. I have an MFA in acting from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a BFA in musical theatre from Youngstown State University.

What does a cultural specialist do?

My main job is to be a human in the space who can speak to the cast from the perspective of the Jewish culture and community. I do not speak for the entire community, but I am here to provide thoughts and insight. Shows like "Cabaret" deal with some extremely difficult themes, and it's important to have all hands on deck.

How did you get into this line of work? Is there an established process/path or training for people who are interested in becoming cultural specialists?

So, first and foremost, I'm a teacher, director and actor. What's interesting is that I've been involved with many productions where being the cultural specialist was something that just sort of happened, by virtue of me almost always being the only Jewish person in the space. Shows like “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” are examples of shows where this has occurred. It's not something that I ever specifically sought out to do, but it is something that I am always very happy to do.

If someone belongs to a certain group or culture and wants to become a cultural specialist, my advice would be to read up on plays and musicals that involve that group or culture. If you see a local theater doing that show, reach out and ask if they would be interested in involving you. The worst thing they can say is no—and even if they say no, you're still making the idea of a cultural specialist more prominent in their heads.

When is it a good idea to invite a cultural specialist into the process? Is it ever too late? Too early?

If the script deals with a racial/ethnic/cultural/religious experience that no one on the team belongs to or is a part of, that is a great reason to bring in a cultural specialist. I don't think it's ever too early. I was involved with the process of “Cabaret” starting in November, which is long before rehearsals start. I also don't think it's ever too late; if you're concerned that something in a show is being handled in a way that’s insensitive or historically/culturally incorrect, say something!

Are there steps we should take before bringing a cultural specialist into the process?

I think that before you bring a cultural specialist into the process, you should really sit down and be ready for the feedback you hear from them. If there's a moment you love, but the cultural specialist says it's not historically/culturally accurate, you need to be ready to really hear them. Don't hire a someone to check a box. Really involve them and hear them!

How does your work affect or support audience members as well as the folx in the rehearsal room or onstage?

We have a lot of talks about the importance of representation in the media. Seeing yourself represented (truthfully represented!) on stage and screen is life-changing for so many people. I've seen many shows that portray Judaism and often find myself wondering if there was anyone Jewish involved in the dramaturgical end of things. Speaking from "I,” my experience as an audience member is greatly improved when I know that someone from the cultures being represented (in the show) is on the team in some way. I think it's incredibly important that word of this work gets out there, because look at where we are now with something like intimacy coordination. Four or five years ago, maybe even one year ago, people would say, no, that's not necessary. We don't need to pay someone to do that.

I'm also here to represent the cast and the production team to let people know we’re doing this work, partly just by being involved in this production in an official capacity. And I think with where we are right now culturally, people—especially young people—are very skeptical, and rightly so. When they see a show they might say, “that was great, but was anyone from that community involved in the production?” For lack of better phrasing, I’m not only here to represent and advocate for the culture, but also for the whole team involved with this show.

When I worked on “Caroline, or Change,” I played Rose Stopnick Gellman and served as the choreographer for the production. This was one of those situations where I (very happily) was also utilized as a resource for the Jewish topics and themes in the show. The show was being produced in the middle of Youngstown, Ohio, and there is a Jewish population in Youngstown, but not a huge one. We had a local Jewish community center group attend the show, and one of the women during our talkback thanked us for showing a real Jewish family on stage. The nuances of the conversations and relationships made her feel that she was watching a truly authentic Jewish family deal with conflict and loss, and that was not an experience she had in a theater previously.

What if a production already includes cast members or creative/production team members from the groups/communities represented? Does their presence make the work of a cultural specialist unnecessary?

This is a fantastic question. Actors and creative/production team members already have very difficult and specific jobs. As I mentioned earlier, I have often been a resource for the topic of Judaism when I've been an actor in a show, but it's really not a part of the job description when you’re an actor, dance captain, assistant stage manager, etc. A show can get into some sticky territory when it’s assumed that they're good to go because they have a member of the cast/team that belongs to the group in question. For one thing, many people who belong to racial/ethnic groups that have a deep-rooted history of oppression are extremely tired of being the one in the space who has to fill that role of teaching/explaining/giving.

When I’m working in this capacity, if a member of the cast or team is also a member of the community that I am consulting from, they are always welcome to chime in if they wish for their voice to be heard or if they have something insightful to add. I am here to make sure that they can focus on their other work, and to be the voice for the group if they simply don't wish to be that person!

What’s the most rewarding part of the job? The most difficult?

The most rewarding part of this job is getting to work with this incredible team at the U. These students have so many insightful questions and I love being there to help answer them. When you open the space for young actors to be curious and ask questions, they will!

The most difficult part of this job is the fact that this show deals with incredibly challenging themes. The antagonists in this show are not fairytale-istic. They represent real humans who did horrific things to millions of people. This can be a big ask for an actor, and it's part of my job as the to remind them that by playing this character, they are doing their job and servicing the story. Not every role gets laughs and smiles from the audience, and that can be a really difficult part of this industry to navigate.

Does the fact that “Cabaret” is a musical affect your approach to the work?

Musicals are my bread and butter. I can trace my interest in musical theater back to a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” I saw at Cain Park in Cleveland in 2003. A whole three-hour show about Jewish girls? I said, "Sign me up.”

“Cabaret” is a show that I've been in love with for a very long time, and I believe that it is one of the more perfectly written musicals out there (if such a thing really exists). Whether it's a musical, a play or a film, I approach the work in the same way—through a lens of curiosity and truthfulness.

One last thing: What would you say “Cabaret” is about?

“Cabaret” is an eerily timeless story of the lengths to which people will go for self-preservation.

 CABARET 1920x1080


April 7-16 | Babcock Theatre
Buy tickets here or call (801) 581-7100.
Free admission for University of Utah students with Arts Pass.

Directed by David Eggers
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Joe Masteroff
Based on the play “I Am a Camera” by John Van Druten
Adapted from the novel “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood

Published in Finer Points Blog
Tagged under

When Rosalind meets Orlando, the chemistry is undeniable. Their courtship will have to wait, however: almost immediately afterward, Rosalind is banished from court on pain of death. Meanwhile, Orlando returns home to find his own life in danger.

Accompanied by loyal cousin Celia and court jester Touchstone, Rosalind adopts the name “Ganymede” and travels in disguise to the Forest of Arden. When they discover that Orlando has fled to the same forest, Rosalind is delighted, but decides to stay disguised a little longer. Rosalind has a plan, you see, and it won’t work without Ganymede’s help.

Featuring one of theatre’s wittiest protagonists, As You Like It is stuffed to the gills with the best the Bard has to offer. This classic comedy plays with traditional notions of romance and gender, featuring friends, family members, and would-be lovers forming triangles, quadrangles, and other arrangements that defy geometry. With an updated cut of Shakespeare’s original script (and a few other surprises up its sleeve) our version of As You Like It is a raucous, joyful, musical celebration of the roles we play in life and love. 

According to the melancholy Jaques in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage.”  Occasionally, however, the similarities between the world and the stage are more than mere metaphor — for example, when producing an updated version of a beloved Shakespeare comedy whose plot hinges on one of the decade’s most hotly debated topics.

Gender and gender identity figure heavily into As You Like It, especially for protagonist Rosalind, who spends most of the play disguised as a young man named “Ganymede.” As women were banned from performing in Elizabethan theatre, the role of Rosalind would originally have been played by a man — who would then be playing a woman masquerading as a man. 

This ambiguity arguably extends past performance and into the text. “It’s interesting that the real love and connection with Orlando seems to happen while Rosalind is disguised as Ganymede, in that gender, with those pronouns,” says director Robert Scott Smith, head of the U’s Actor Training Program. “I personally feel that’s when they fall in love. So I thought, ‘well, how can we play with the binary? How can we play with gender? What options do we have?’”

One option Smith explored was removing gender identifications from audition breakdowns.Utah THeatre Dept AS YOU LIKE IT 3 15 23 1023 editCaro Ciet as "Jaques" | Photo by Todd Collins

“I read for Rosalind, actually,” recalls Caro Ciet, a junior in the ATP who identifies as nonbinary. “I remember reading a scene with Orlando, [Rosalind’s] love interest. I assumed that I was probably going to be cast in a more feminine presenting role.” Instead, Ciet was cast in the role of Jaques: a male-identified role in the original script.

“I think it's one of the most vulnerable things I've done,” says Barrett. “[Rosalind and I] are very similar in our journeys. Something [U Theatre professor] Sarah Shippobotham helped me understand is that, in Shakespeare, you can bring more of yourself to a character than most plays allow. [Actor] Michelle Terry used the Walt Whitman quote ‘I am large. I contain multitudes’ as a way into Rosalind. That’s something I've been learning to live by: how do I expand in the world rather than conform to the world?”

One response might be to create a world of one’s own, a challenge the company and creative team have met with remarkable creativity and cohesiveness. “For me, As You Like It is a story of love in all its many different manifestations,” says Smith. “That's all it is for me. When I was imagining the Forest of Arden, I was thinking visually about what would be a fun playground. The image I was drawn to was the carnival ride, ‘The Tunnel of Love.’ What if Arden were an old amusement park that's been abandoned, where the forest has crept through and taken over?

“I gave some images that inspired me to [Set Designer] Kaitlyn [Crosby], along with this quote from the UK National Trust:

"Perhaps the most famous forest in Shakespeare's canon is the Great Forest of Arden in As You Like It. First performed in 1599, As You Like It presents a revolutionary rural court held in an ancient woodland. This fantastic forest is full of surprises: girls dress as boys, fools offer wise advice, royal courtiers behave like Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men. The forest is clearly a work of fantasy. When the characters encounter a lioness at the end of the play, we see that this is a storybook wood rather than a real place."

We wanted to create a storybook world that represents the themes of the play — love, tomfoolery, magic, identity — and make it a place where people are able to explore their own identities and express them more freely. Kaitlyn took all of this and ran with it.”

 The striking set is complemented by equally strong design choices in costumes, lighting, props and sound — including original songs composed by sound designer Lilly Stone. “I prefer having fun wherever possible and making a mess,” Smith replies when asked about the factors that yielded this result. “And the right people were in the room at the right time, with permission to say, ‘let's break rules and question everything.”

“The process of discovery always starts with questions,” Ciet adds. “You have to have that initial curiosity and sense of wonder to learn about the people around you, and about yourself.”

Barrett agrees: “In one song [by Sound Designer Lilly Stone], Rosalind sings, ‘I'm who I want to be. We did just as we should.’ I think that’s a beautiful way of acknowledging an individual experience, but also of bringing the community together — the audience as well as the ensemble. What was meant to happen, happened.”

Focusing on joy and discovery doesn’t lessen the responsibility that comes with the text and subject matter, however, and Smith is keenly aware of the connection between this production and recent developments. “It's been great to watch these young students who have something to say, and how they bring it into this story in a way that’s playful, but still important and impactful. The royal court in As You Like It is a world of constraints and rules, and the rules aren't made for everybody. I think the two worlds in the play really reflect the world we live in today — especially now, with what’s happening politically for people who express their gender through drag, for example, or how our trans community is being affected. One world is working to silence these people and these perspectives or eliminate them. That’s what the Duke tries to do in As You Like It: create a world in which he has control, and if you don’t fall in order, you’re removed.” says Smith.

Barrett acknowledges the difficulty of tangling with weighty issues — and elevated language — in a play that is, after all, a comedy. “I struggle when I hear stories being treated as lectures. And that’s an uncomfortable thing to be asked to do as an actor. I connect most to joy, or love, and those are emotions that help me to follow a performer into another world. When I witness someone living a reality, I can really connect with the truth of the story. I hope that’s what we’re offering.”

“It's such a fun show,” adds Ciet. “It's really goofy, there's a lot of physical humor, but it’s Shakespeare, so it's also dramatic. There are characters with real emotional depth, with very specific wants and desires. And when you throw a bunch of people like this together in a room or in a story, it becomes very much about mystery and the things that are happening underneath the conversation — but in a playful context, of course. It’s a comedy.”

“Shakespeare is intimidating,” says Barrett. “The language is daunting. But we're all students here. It was daunting for us, too, but now it's so much fun. I hope [audience members] lean into the parts that make them laugh, even if they aren’t totally sure what everything means. And I hope they're willing to connect with us. I know interaction with performers can be terrifying, and if you don't want to connect, you don't have to. But one thing live theatre captures better than anything else is how it feels to be seen by another human being in real time. I think that’s something really magical.”

d503b79bddae5a3eeed71620c726e5d6 L

March 17 - 26, 2023
PAB Studio 115


For tickets and info, click here

Reposted from theatre.utah.edu

Published in Finer Points Blog
Tagged under

The Babcock Theatre has seen its share of staged combat over the years, but never quite like this.

Opening Friday, February 17th through the 26th, the University of Utah Department of Theatre presents “The Sweet Science of Bruising,” written by Joy Wilkinson, and directed by Alexandra Harbold, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory and Assistant Professor with the Department of Theatre.

Inspired by the real history of female boxing in Victorian London, “The Sweet Science of Bruising” follows four very different women in their bid to become Lady Boxing Champion of the World. As they spar and train under the tutelage of an eccentric trainer/promoter, all four women find an unexpected sense of freedom and solidarity in the “sweet science.”

Although the stakes for victory soon reach life-changing heights, a different fight awaits each of them in the world outside the ring.

"This show has challenged me to stop denying my gut instinct, and to let my body lead the way."

For actor Dorothy Mayer, this tale is deeply resonant in today’s culture, despite taking place in 1869. “The ‘Sweet Science’ subject matter is near and dear as ever, with the struggles of women within a patriarchal society continuing and evolving today.” Mayer said. “How can women support and help each other whilst still pursuing our own agendas? Where do we draw the line? What does working together actually look like?’ The Sweet Science of Bruising’ grapples with these same questions.”

Mayer plays Matty Blackwell, one of the four female boxers, who is anything but a shrinking violet. 

“Matty’s fiery resilience inspires me again and again to keep pushing through this beautiful beast of a show!” Mayer said. “When she falls, she gets back up; when she’s thrown a curve ball, she throws one back. That’s the goal.”

As is common with challenging roles, this one has taught Mayer quite a bit about acting itself. “I have learned so much about the connection between body and mind through this show, quite ironically as Matty is obsessed with ‘Cartesian Duality’ –– the body knows things before the mind does. This show has challenged me to stop denying my gut instinct, and to let my body lead the way,” she reflected. 

U Students should take a break from their rigorous studies and make their way to the theatre to see the show, particularly if they have been waiting for the right moment to use their Arts Pass. 

As Mayer described: “This show has it all! Action, relationship, conflict, and change are some of the many elements that make ‘The Sweet Science of Bruising’ so beautifully human. Students can come for a thrill, and will hopefully recognize a bit of themselves along the way.” 

“This is the kind of piece that takes a whole community of artists to put up, which feels connected to what the playwright is celebrating,” said director Alexandra Harbold. “We’ve got three different rooms per night going on at the same time in rehearsal: dialects in one room, fight choreography in another, scene work in another. It’s about collaboration, working together to make progress, to take something from vision to reality. This idea of pitting people against each other as the ultimate end, where there has to be one winner and everybody else is a loser . . . [Wilkinson] challenges that. It’s a different model for victory, and for living.”groupboxing smStanding L - R: Taryn McClure (Polly), CoCo Berwald (Violet), Tristian Osborne (Prof. Charlie Sharp). Seated L-R: Dorothy Mayer (Matty), Hannah Ekstrom (Anna) Photo by Meghan Gibson

Principal cast members include Tristian Osborne (Professor Charlie Sharp), CoCo Berwald (Violet Hunter), Hannah Ekstrom (Anna Lamb), Dorothy Mayer (Matty Blackwell), and Taryn McClure (Polly Stokes). Additional cast members include Lina Boyer (Aunt George), Aly Carter (Nancy), Brandon Ernst (Gabriel Lamb), Maggie Goble (Emily), Grayson Kamel (Dr. James Bell), True Leavitt (Referee, Dr. Foster, Ensemble), Luke Morton (Captain Danby, Ensemble), and Michael Tirrell (Paul Stokes). Tessa Jones and Macey J. Shackelford are the principal cast understudies.

Creative team includes  Scenic Designer Nikayla Starr Nielson, Costume Designer Mae Hinton-Godfrey, Lighting Designer Meghan Gibson, Sound Designer Summer Stevens, Prop Designer Anna Blaes, Wig and Makeup Designer Samantha Wootten, Fight and Intimacy Director Adriana Lemke, Dramaturg Laurel Morgan, and Choreographer Constance Anderson, with Stage Manager Savannah Gersdorf.

The Sweet Science of Bruising 
Babcock Theatre 

February 17 – 26, 2023
Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm

*ASL Interpreted performance and Audience Talkback on Friday, February 24

Published in Finer Points Blog

Get ready to feel the love with the University of Utah Department of Theatre.

Opening Friday, November 11 through November 20 2022, “IN PIECES” is an exciting contemporary musical by award-winning songwriter Joey Contreras, directed by Eric Sciotto. Told entirely through song, “IN PIECES” chronicles the near-misses, triumphs, and tragedies of young adults searching for connection in present-day New York.

“’IN PIECES’ is a song cycle with a collection of songs that all involve eight characters. It's little snapshots of their lives as young adults growing up, and understanding what love is, understanding heartbreak, understanding how relationships develop in a really complicated way,” said Alex Marshall, music director for the production.

“The audience can expect a lot of singable lines, recognizable grooves and feels, and something that they can connect to that feels a little bit more contemporary."

Although the contemporary style of the music is demanding, stretching performers in new directions, it is particularly relatable to students because as Marshall put it, “it's music that's in their ears. It’s things they hear on the radio, more so than in the golden age of Broadway.”

Many classic musicals carry the stamp of the performers that have embodied the roles over time. For a new musical like “IN PIECES,” the cast can come with entirely fresh eyes.

“It's about creating their own vision of who these characters are and how they represent their stories through music,” Marshall said. “I think it's important for these young artists to explore new work because ideally they'll move into the career of being theater performers and get the opportunity to create new work.”

He added, “I also think this piece is wonderful because it's written by a BIPOC composer, and it's written for gender fluid or identity conscious casting – so we can recognize stories that aren't the traditional white bodied stories that we see in musical theater history. We can see modern understandings and contemporary social structures that help us tell stories that apply to us.”

So, what can spectators look forward to?

“The audience can expect a lot of singable lines, recognizable grooves and feels, and something that they can connect to that feels a little bit more contemporary,” Marshall said. “It’s a way for them to investigate their own relationships and investigate their own lives in a way that maybe challenges some of their expectations or understandings about how we relate."

Babcock Theatre

Nov 11 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 13 @ 2:00 pm
Nov 13 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 17 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 18 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 19 @ 2:00 pm
Nov 19 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 20 @ 2:00 pm
Nov 20 @ 7:30 pm

Talkback and ASL interpreter November 18th!
Free admission for U student with Arts Pass, and free admission for high school students with valid ID. 


Published in Finer Points Blog

Join the University of Utah Department of Theatre for "SOMEWHERE: A PRIMER FOR THE END OF DAYS," opening Friday October 28th, 2022 in Studio 115. 

Written by Marisela Treviño Orta and directed by Penelope Caywood, the play explores a world transformed by climate change – but it's not what you may think. Treviño Orta was originally inspired by the idea of a world without insects. “I came across an article that was literally about the question of what the world would be like if there were no more insects." she wrote. "And the moment I read the title, I kind of knew, this is an interesting world to set a play in.”

The play tackles an important subject without preaching to its audience. It incorporates magical realism and puppetry and draws on history, biology, and mythology, and more. 

As the Department of Theatre describes: 

"Sometime, somewhere, something went wrong. Now almost all the insects are gone, and crops are failing everywhere. With society on the verge of collapse, entomologist Cassandra and her brother Alexander prepare to follow the migration of the last monarch butterflies in the world.

But it’s not just butterflies that they’re following: sometimes Cassandra has visions. These tiny glimpses of the future don’t always make sense, but they always come true. When they encounter a group of survivors at a remote truffle farm, the pieces of Cassandra’s latest vision begin to fall into place.

Poetic, provocative, and magical, 'SOMEWHERE: A PRIMER FOR THE END OF DAYS' presents a vision of the future where evolution is not only essential but inevitable." 

Studio 115
Performing Arts Building

Oct 28 @ 7:30 pm
Oct 29 @ 2:00 pm
Oct 29 @ 7:30 pm
Oct 30 @ 2:00 pm
Nov 3 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 4 @ 7:30 pm
Nov 6 @ 2:00 pm
Nov 6 @ 7:30 pm

Friday, November 4

Free for University of Utah students through Arts Pass! 

Published in Finer Points Blog

University of Utah Department of Theatre alumni Connor Nelis Johnson (BFA '21) and Harrison Lind (BFA' 20) will premiere a new play next week in Brooklyn, NY.  "The Wreck of Queen Thomasina," is written by Johnson himself and directed by Alexandra Harbold, assistant professor in the U's Actor Training program. It will be presented as part of "Marooned!," a series of short plays set on desert islands, produced in tandem with spit&vigor, a Brooklyn-based theatre company. 

"The most exciting part was finding out the show had been selected – the most difficult part was ten minutes later, realizing how much work I had to do," Johnson remembered. "That said, even the most difficult moments of putting the show together have been deeply rewarding. It helps that I have a great team around me, they make everything feel possible."

"The industry is something I still have yet to understand in any meaningful way. Which, I suppose, is why this show is happening. Because what I do know is how to make theatre."

In addition to their work on "Marooned!," Johnson and Lind have started Footpath Theatre Company. "A main goal of ours is to make [Footpath Theatre Company] a locus point for U Theater grads in New York to collaborate and create work," Johnson said. 

Not only is it exciting to follow these alums as their work expands into other localities, but also rewarding to see the relationships formed at the U continuing to thrive in professional spheres. 

"I knew theatre was a hard industry to break into but I didn’t realize what that meant until I was in New York and I asked myself ‘what next’ and didn’t have an answer," Johnson said. "It’s not even a question of ‘Will I get this role?’, it’s a question of ‘How do I even find an audition?’ The industry is something I still have yet to understand in any meaningful way. Which, I suppose, is why this show is happening. Because what I do know is how to make theatre." 

For more information on spit&vigor's "Marooned!," visit https://www.spitnvigor.com/marooned

Published in Finer Points Blog

Name: Jonathan Onyango  
Pronouns: He/Him 
Major: Theatre with an emphasis in musical theatre performance 
Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya 
Three words that describe you: Goofy, funny, and sincere 
Most impactful class or professor: The most impactful professor in the department has to be Dr. Brian Manternach. He has mastered the art of teaching voice while simultaneously inspiring and encouraging his students. He has saved the self-esteem of countless people by empowering us and teaching how to find our voice and relish in our unique sounds all while giving us the knowledge necessary to be able to continue to explore our voices even more once we graduate. I know every other student in my major would agree when I say, he is the greatest delight to work with and is a wonderful human as well as professor. 
A CFA moment you’ll never forget: When one of my classmates (Jace Von App) single handedly changed the curriculum of an entire class by filming a video of him singing at work behind the counter of the Smith’s gas station (because he forgot about the assignment) and it was so funny that our professor wanted us all to do unique things in our videos.
What inspires you: If anything it’s my peers. I am in constant amazement by the things my friends have accomplished from the jobs they’ve booked and callbacks they’ve gotten to the energy they bring to class. They know I’m their biggest fan and I’m grateful to have been able to work with them in any capacity.
Summary of major accomplishments on or off campus:

  • Got cast in a regional production of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Grand Theatre my freshman year as Tom Robinson
  • Got cast in the U’s production of "She Kills Monsters" at Kingsbury and played the role of Orcus my sophomore year
  • Got to work with the Salt Lake Tribune to write a story on our department along with some other students my junior year
  • Got to help a series of film students with a handful of different capstone projects. I had the honor of playing leads in two different projects
  • Got cast as Grand-Pah in the U’s production of "Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience" my senior
  • Got to perform in "Elf" at the Pioneer Theatre my senior year. I played the role of Sam and understudied the role of Mr. Greenway

"I am in constant amazement by the things my friends have accomplished from the jobs they’ve booked and callbacks they’ve gotten to the energy they bring to class. They know I’m their biggest fan and I’m grateful to have been able to work with them in any capacity."

College of Fine Arts 2022 Convocation will be held Friday, May 6 at 9a at Kingsbury Hall. For more information, click here. 

Published in Finer Points Blog