Displaying items by tag: Faculty

Hasse Borup, professor of violin at the University of Utah School of Music, and pianist (and former U faculty) Andrew Staupe have collaborated on a landmark recording containing Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s complete canon written for violin solo and violin-piano duo.

The record, "Carl Nielsen: Complete Works for Violin Solo and Violin and Piano" was released last month by Naxos Records, but the project had been years in the making, a significant undertaking and one of deep historical importance.
carlnielsen 6
For Denmark, Nielsen is a national treasure (his image resided on the 100 kroner note for over a decade). Much of the country is familiar with his staggering breadth of music, from intimate chamber works to his beloved symphonies. But this album marks the first comprehensive record of every composition for violin solo and violin and piano, even down to small fragments recovered in Nielsen’s notebooks. It spans an entire career, from Nielsen’s teenage years to death. 

Borup, a native of Denmark himself, has been deeply familiar with Nielsen’s music since childhood. Knowing how difficult some of the pieces are to play, Borup hesitated when Naxos Records first approached him to record the album. But, recording the complete works has given him a deeper appreciation for just how original Nielsen was for his time.

“You talk about this side of Nielsen that created incredible art music that, I would say in terms of ingenuity and invention, would rival what Schoenberg did at the time. But at the same time, he is the composer of some of the most beloved songs in the Danish songbook, songs that people sing at weddings and gatherings, both sacred and secular. It is this dual Nielsen that has made him the soul of Denmark,” he said.  

Borup enlisted colleague and pianist Andrew Staupe to collaborate, as the two had established a musical synergy while Staupe was working in Utah. Immersion into Nielsen’s music was a process of focused study that led to admiration. 

“Every country has a composer or two that makes up their national identity. In Norway there’s Edvard Grieg... In the US, we have Aaron Copland, and Charles Ives, and Gershwin. In Denmark, they have Carl Nielsen,” Staupe said. “For me, it was very interesting to dive in with fresh eyes and learn about this composer.  At first, I had no frame of reference to understand this music like Hasse did. But as we continued to play it, the meaning and understanding kept coming up. It was a wonderful lesson for me, not only in approaching composers I am not familiar with, but  in my own teaching. I want that experience for all of my students because you don’t look at that composer the same way when you go through that process.”

Many are not aware of the intense preparation that goes into recording classical albums. For the year leading up, Borup and Staupe worked incessantly to get the music into their bones. 

“This is my eighth CD,” Borup explained. “If you want to do it well, you have to plan everything out to a T because it is so expensive — you have halls and engineers involved, so how you lead up to it is so important. You have to prepare everything so meticulously, that when you go to perform, you could do it in your sleep.”

Originally, the team planned to record in Libby Gardner Hall, where Borup has recorded prior albums. But early on, the Danish National Academy suggested that the team travel to Copenhagen to record in the town Nielsen was from, in a hall named after him. Playing the music in its place of origin deepened the experience. The historic home of Hans Christian Andersen, whose literary works are also fundamental in Danish culture, was just down the street from the recording site. Borup was also able to meet with internationally renowned Nielsen scholar Niels Krabbe in the Royal Danish Library and hold Nielsen’s original manuscripts, complete with his scribbles. recording Borup Staupe

“I encourage my students to travel because you get a different understanding of art when you are in the place it was created. It gives it a greater depth,” Borup said. The team felt that by the time they left Copenhagen, they had more of a grasp on Nielsen as a human being, with a playful personality alongside his raw ability. 

Staupe said, "Being a performer as a trade is unlike being an author...when you write a book it’s done. But as a musician, everything is so fluid. It’s never done. So, this is something that musicians do: put things on record, for legacy, to contribute to the canon of research and performance. It feels like we did something special. Something permanent.” 

To commemorate the release, Naxos has planned an online event, in partnership with the Danish National Academy of Music, Royal Danish Library, and University of Utah School of Music. Viewers can join Borup and Staupe in conversation with Niels Krabbe, Claus Skjold Larsen (Dean, Danish National Academy of Music), and Raymond Bisha (Associate Director of Marketing, Naxos). They will also perform selections from Nielsen’s canon.  

Carl Nielsen & the Violin Naxos Intl. CD Release Event

October 23, 2020 | 12pm MDT | 1pm CDT | 8pm GMT+2

Published in Finer Points Blog

As we near our upcoming Fall semester, The College of Fine Arts would like to remind you that all faculty, staff and students are expected to use Umail (not personal email accounts) for all university business. 

Beginning Fall 2020, the College will remove all personal email accounts from our listservs and will only use Umail addresses.

So make sure you are ready for a successful fall semester by ensuring that: 

  • Your Umail is set-up and working.
  • Your Umail address is listed appropriately on university webpages.
  • You check your Umail regularly.
  • You are using Umail exclusively for university business, including all communication with students, staff, and faculty. 


Umail FAQ's 


Why can't I use my personal email rather than Umail? 

The University and College expect you to use only Umail for all university business email communications. Not all email systems are compatible with Umail, so using Umail exclusively is the only way we can guarantee secure and consistent delivery of email messages.

I am having trouble using my Umail. Who do I contact?

The University Information Technology (UIT) Help Desk 

Is it okay to set up my Umail to forward to my personal email?

While the university allows this, we strongly advise against it. The process simply does not always work, and messages are often missed or not delivered/forwarded. Forwarding also creates problems when you receive a forwarded email to your personal email account and choose to respond; the response is sent from your personal email account, not your Umail account. So, delivery is not guaranteed, and you are now (perhaps inadvertently) using your personal email account for university business. If you choose to forward, you still need to check your Umail regularly, and please ensure you send and reply from your Umail account only. 

How do I check to make sure my Umail address is appropriately listed on the university website?

There are at least three different places where folks can find your email contact: the Employee Directory, your Faculty Profile, and your departmental website. Here's how to check out what is currently listed for you:

    • Employee Directory 
      • Login to CIS. 
      • Go to the Employee tab. 
      • Select the Change Bio/Demo Info tile.
      • Scroll down to see your currently listed email.
      • If an email other than Umail is listed, please update it with your Umail address.
    • Faculty Profile 
      • Go to https://faculty.utah.edu/index.hml
      • Select "Edit My Profile".
      • You may be prompted for Duo authentification if you are not already logged in. 
      • Your email will be in the upper right corner of your profile. 
      • If an email other than Umail is listed, please update it with your Umail address. (Select the pencil icon to edit.)
    • Departmental Website
      • Check your department's website. If an email other than your Umail is listed, please contact your department admin or Chair/Director to get it changed right away. 

What if I receive emails from someone from the University using their personal email account? 

We are all expected to use Umail. (See the University Email Policy here: https://registrar.utah.edu/handbook/emailpolicy.php.) Please respond to the sender asking them to re-send their email again from their Umail address. If a they are having trouble with Umail, direct them to the UIT Help Desk ( or https://it.utah.edu/help/index.php or or 801-581-4000). 


Published in Finer Points Blog
Tagged under

By Emeri Fetzer 

Where do you access a majority of your movie and television content these days?

If you answered “Netflix,” “Hulu,” “HBO” or “Amazon,” it comes as no surprise.

Streaming services have come into our homes to stay, now a part of our daily routines (hello, quarantine!). All you had to do was be witness to the collective buzz around Netflix’s “Tiger King” a few months ago to realize that we all may be exposed to similar recommendations on our devices. Instead of heading to the RedBox and picking out a rental, quite unique to our current moods and taste, streaming services put “most watched” choices right in front of us for our convenience. And, more often than not, we click play.

These nearly seamless methods of distributing film content are handy for consumers, certainly. And the public has access to perhaps more diverse options than ever before. 

But how will current trends in online streaming affect the film industry going forward, specifically when it comes to independent cinema? Will lines continue to blur between what is Hollywood and what is “Indie?” Will films that don’t end up landing on the home screen of our streaming services see their moment of notoriety?

How do we find films differently through algorithms instead of recommendations from our friends? How do we watch them differently since we are often watching them on our cell phones and our iPods & iPads instead of at the theatre? I have been chronicling these changes over time.”

This convergence of culture, the digital era, and the history of contemporary American independent cinema, fascinates Sarah Sinwell, assistant professor in the University of Utah Department of Film & Media Arts. In her new book, “Indie Cinema Online,” Sinwell examines the ways in which modes of production, distribution, and exhibition are shifting with the advent of online streaming, simultaneous release strategies, and web series. Looking deep into the most popular streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon, she analyzes how the ways we access our content may continue to redefine an entire genre of cinema.

“My book is essentially how and why certain films are available on online streaming services and how we watch films differently on those services. How do we find films differently through algorithms instead of recommendations from our friends? How do we watch them differently since we are often watching them on our cell phones and our iPods & iPads instead of at the theatre? I have been chronicling these changes over time,” Sinwell explained.

Even as Sinwell was finishing the book, new developments were rolling in. Netflix experienced a rapid rise in viewers due to the pandemic. Amazon is becoming more of an active player in streaming, establishing their own production company in the last year. And NBC Universal’s new service “Peacock” is just coming into the game, trying to find its own edge on the market. Needless to say, this conversation is ever-evolving—much like our habit to click “Yes, I am still watching.”

Streaming services hold a wealth of interesting films, documentaries and series of all genres, but you may have to have a strategy if you want something outside your home feed. For those with particular interest in indie cinema, you may want to go on a hunt. And even then, you might not find exactly what you are looking for.

“Most people are still using Netflix as their primary streaming service, and then after that is Hulu and Amazon. There are streaming services that are much more specific to your interests, for example Shudder for horror films, or some specifically for anime…” Sinwell said. “One thing worth noting is that for something like Netflix or Hulu, it’s the algorithm that is determining what is most readily available to you on your feed. We have to think about how we can do a deeper dive, like if you are looking for a famous director for example. One of my favorite directors is John Sayles. Up until recently, most of his films were not available on streaming. Now a few are available on Amazon Prime including 'City of Hope.' But if you wanted to find John Sayles entire catalog, you would mostly have to search for DVDs.” 

Sinwell loves to discover film through this method of exploring one director’s entire body of work, even down to the shorts. She is an avid supporter of local archives at Tower Theatre and Salt Lake Film Society. She also suggests that film lovers follow trade journals, where they may uncover films not as widely available.

“Trade journals like Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and Indie Wire update audiences on what is playing at film festivals, things you might not have heard of that aren’t on your streaming sites. At Sundance these days, I would say only about a quarter of the films that I go to see will be available later, or even come to my theater. Most of the time you have to hope they get distribution or actively seek them out. The trade journals cover where films are coming out in other forms, and may introduce you to new things.”sarah

Beyond entertainment, the dominance of streaming service is influencing Sinwell’s plans for teaching, specifically regarding questions around representation in film. A discussion made even more relevant by recent events surrounding civil rights and social justice. 

“I’m designing my courses for fall and realizing we typically use DVD’s in our teaching. But if we are teaching online classes, we can’t use those DVD’s. It’s a really different world if you can only use streaming services,” she explained. “I’m also trying to think about representation. I’ve been talking to some students over the summer who are really interested in looking at representation of women, African Americans, people of color, people with disabilities...I think there are multiple ways that can happen. There are some really wonderful documentaries. I saw one at Sundance that is actually now available on Netflix called “Disclosure.” The film shows a history of how trans representation has functioned since the beginning of cinema -- from the classical Hollywood era to contemporary cinema. I think this is really interesting for students to think about. If you were an upcoming filmmaker, how would you approach that topic? If you had a chance to see clips or interviews with trans actors and actresses, how would you define these categories differently if you had a chance to see how they had been represented over time?” 

Sinwell encourages students to examine the history of cinema to find possibilities for how they can guide its future. “There are multiple ways of changing representation, whether it is through how you treat narrative, casting, or genre,” she said.

Even as “Indie Cinema Online” hits the shelves of film enthusiasts, Sinwell is moving on to her next investigation: how independent cinema intertwines with independent television. (Think “Orange is the New Black”, “Transparent,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “House of Cards"…)

“A lot of people, when they watch a series on Netflix, will say “I saw that movie” when it is actually a series. But on Netflix, they don’t always separate those two things. The difference between film and television is blurring in the same way independent and Hollywood did.”

This year, she’ll be busy on a new book following this new twist in genre convergence.
But read this one first. 
Get your copy of "Indie Cinema Online" here! 

Published in Finer Points Blog

Out of nearly 1,300 entries, only 60 nominees are selected for the annual Peabody Awards — one of the most prestigious honors in digital media, storytelling, and broadcasting.

Of those 60, only 30 are named as winners. We are delighted to announce that amongst those honored is Emelie Mahdavian, Producer-In-Residence in the University of Utah Department of Film & Media Arts, for her film Midnight Traveler.

In their announcement of the award, Peabody wrote: “Midnight Traveler begins with director Hassan Fazili and his wife Nargis deciding they must leave their home of Afghanistan, accompanied by their two small children. Fleeing a bounty on the father’s head, the Fazili family set out for Europe, and the film offers a first-person account of a yearlong journey to safety. Shot solely on mobile phones, Midnight Traveler powerfully captures the volatility and chaos of the family’s trip, at one moment pausing on a playful debate between the parents, or on a tender moment of parenting and laughter, only to cut to the temporary loss of a daughter or to the imminent threat of anti-migrant protesters trying to force their way into a refugee camp.”

“Throughout, the film stands as an arresting and deeply moving testament to the power of parenting through trauma,” they continued. “It offers a remarkably rare, and remarkably valuable, humanizing picture of the everyday life of a refugee family, while also stopping at points to consider the ethics of filming such a journey. For a major work of documentary filmmaking that is terrifying and uplifting, difficult and easy to watch, beautiful and important, we commend Fazili and Midnight Traveler with a Peabody.”

At public screenings and Q&A’s, including one on the University of Utah campus, Mahdavian has been able to experience firsthand how the film has affected audiences.

“I think we hoped that by telling a personal story and not backing up and giving a lot of outside information, we could express something that was socially relevant,” she explained. “I think the public response indicated that that part was resonating. And, the Peabody Award validates that too, because they aren’t only interested in the artistry but also in how the film is tackling a broader social topic.”

"Throughout, the film stands as an arresting and deeply moving testament to the power of parenting through trauma. It offers a remarkably rare, and remarkably valuable, humanizing picture of the everyday life of a refugee family, while also stopping at points to consider the ethics of filming such a journey. For a major work of documentary filmmaking that is terrifying and uplifting, difficult and easy to watch, beautiful and important, we commend Fazili and Midnight Traveler with a Peabody."

This recognition is further fuel for Mahdavian’s fire. “I think there’s an assumption that when you win an award like the Peabody, you’re really excited because you have been externally validated. But I think the reality for a working artist is that by the time an award like this comes in, that external validation is primarily useful to you in building energy around your new projects,” she said. “You’re not doing the work for the awards or you’d never get there. You’re doing it because you love the work and believe in the stories you are telling.”

Proving this remarkable stamina, she is hard at work on post-production of her next film, Bitterbrush. And, even in the face of the global pandemic, she is also strategizing the next after that, a portrait of her favorite choreographer. Although she is persevering in the circumstances, she is not without concerns for how the coronavirus will affect the film industry going forward.

“The community is trying really hard to support people. The tough thing is most of us are freelancers or independent contractors. For me, working at the University provides a level of stability many of my colleagues don’t have. This situation put so much uncertainty out there,” she said. “We are all wondering when in-person festivals will return, but digital film festivals could also pose a massive problem. As a filmmaker normally I go to festivals, then if I’m lucky I go to theatres, then to broadcast, then to streaming. That is a very careful process and timeframe. So, if my film goes to an online festival, according to traditional rules, I may have blown my ability to go to theatres and to broadcast. Filmmakers are hesitant, but trying to think through how it could work...We just have to keep pushing forward.”

We anxiously await the next release. In the meantime, our community celebrates Midnight Traveler’s incredible success.

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Marina Gomberg 

When you study at University of Utah College of Fine Arts, you’re not just introduced to some of the finest faculty members on the planet. You oftentimes also get to enjoy the benefits of those faculty members’ vast and esteemed networks, too.   

This was the case with the graduating seniors in the University of Utah Department of Theatre’s Actor Training Program (ATP), who got to have one final guest artist experience with assistant professor, Rob Scott Smith’s graduate school buddy — oh, and Emmy and Golden Globe winner — Jim Parsons

Smith wanted to provide something really special to the ATP students who are graduating during this global pandemic, and a visit with Parsons was his Big Bang Theory (har har), especially because the two of them had their own experience graduating during a particularly challenging time. 


“I think the thickest common thread of our experience to this experience is that it forces you to realize your commitment to what it is you want,” Parsons said, as he reflected on how the world’s uncertainty made him surer of his own drive and passion as an artist. 


“We finished our graduate work from the University of San Diego after 9/11,” Smith noted. “So, I thought the students might uniquely benefit from hearing how he faced life after school in what felt like a pretty uncertain world.” 

In an intimate and invite-only Zoom meeting, Smith and Parsons bantered back and forth about their time together in school, and Smith posed questions to Parsons from the personal to the professional.  

“I think the thickest common thread of our experience to this experience is that it forces you to realize your commitment to what it is you want,” Parsons said, as he reflected on how the world’s uncertainty made him surer of his own drive and passion as an artist. 

The two spoke about life in quarantine, protecting art in the dollar-driven business of artmaking, Parson’s work producing the series “Special,” and his works on Broadway, navigating between playing to a camera versus a live audience, the value of being prepared, and handing life when it all feels like trial by fire. 

He opened up genuinely about his own personal writing practices, the discovery of his aversion to the business side of the work, and how he overcomes his own doubts and fears.  

“I do think that’s a big part of it, is to understand that fear and uncertainty are the companions — they’re always in the side car. And when you quit fighting them — for me at least — they become smaller, for lack of engaging with them as much. But they also offer their own excitement and mystery, and you learn, sometimes, to let that be the joy.” 

After about 45 minutes of what felt like watching two longtime friends catch up in their living room (which even included the recipe for Parsons’ apparently famous Velveeta chip dip), Smith opened the session to student questions, which ranged from the more pragmatic and tactical to philosophical and lofty. Each of the questions, though, was paired with profuse gratitude for the opportunity to hear from Parsons and pick his brain. 

It was a big bang, indeed. 

Parsons sent one final thought after the call for Smith to share with the students: "YOU ARE ENOUGH. I think it’s THE most CRUCIAL information I ever received and it means something new and deeper to me with each passing year but, as an actor, I HIGHLY advise saying it to yourself as often as you can remember to do so and until you believe it!"

Published in Finer Points Blog

MAGNIFYING is a series dedicated to showcasing the talent of our students, faculty, and staff to help you learn more about the remarkable individuals within our creative community here at the College of Fine Arts.

David Schmidt is an Associate Professor and head of the Voice Area for the Department of Theatre at the University of Utah. His classes include voice lessons, vocal pedagogy, audition technique, and music theory. Prior to his appointment as faculty member with the University of Utah, he was an Adjunct Professor of Voice for both the Musical Theatre and Classical Voice programs at Weber State University. David earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and a Master of Music degree in Vocal Pedagogy, and has worked on his Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of Utah.

David is the co-founder and past Board President of Salt Lake City’s first high school for talented performing artists, Salt Lake High School for the Performing Arts.  He is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Utah Light Opera Company. David has worked with the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) as past State Governor, past president of his local chapter, and Program Director for the 2010 NATS National Convention. David has authored numerous articles about singing and the teaching of singing for many national magazines and websites, and is a frequent lecturer for music conventions and symposiums. 

What do you consider the biggest career risk you’ve taken? 

I was a buyer for Nordstrom in San Francisco. I left that job, and my wife left her job as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, and we both came back to Utah to finish our graduate degrees in music. 

We had four little kids at the time. It was pretty risky, but we knew we were following our passion getting back into what we loved.

How did you come to start the Salt Lake High School for the Performing Arts?

I had always been in dance and singing growing up in Buffalo NY, and I always wanted to go to the “Fame” school in New York City, but my family didn’t have the funds to get me there. When I became an adult I thought, “let’s start a Fame school so other kids could have the opportunity.” So in 2006, my wife and I started the Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts with the Salt Lake School district. It’s still going strong and we have students who come from that school into our Musical Theatre Program at the U.

The district approached us once they found out we were doing it -- we had just submitted the paperwork for the Charter School. They said they wanted to be known as an arts district. They offered us space and a building, and said if we put the school into their district they would help us. The challenges were really in recruiting students for the school and the paperwork required for the charter. You are starting an entire high school -- it was pretty epic.

Because we were a charter, we didn’t have to be so strict about teaching certificates, which allowed us to hire professionals in the performing arts. Some teachers were people we knew, and we also put out postings for various positions. Each year they have about 200 students. And one of the coolest things is that one of the first students we recruited is now the principal of the school! He was in the first ever summer production we put on at Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts.

What brings you the most joy as a teacher?

The tiny things that bring joy daily are when you are teaching a difficult concept in class and you see the light go off in a student’s eyes and you know they got it. That is why we do what we do, we want to pass on what we know to others. And when I’ve worked with a voice student and on a concept for months or years, and after hard work on their part and me trying to find different ways to access them, they get it and it increases their skill level exponentially -- that brings me a lot of joy.   

The biggest moment is when students that have worked so hard and have the drive actually go out and book jobs in this business. Those are the moments when it is all worth it.

What daily rituals are important to your practice?

I had a vocal injury about 5 years ago and it actually took my singing voice. It was absolutely devastating to be a singer and lose your voice. Before I start teaching now I do some very small straw warm ups, some little things to keep the voice as flexible as it can be. I do use my voice daily and I warm up for that -- but it’s not like it used to be. The great thing is that now I can pass on my love of singing to others. I’ve channeled my energy into that.  In weekly lessons, we have students record their warm up which is the technique part of the lesson. We encourage them to do that daily. Now in online learning, we’ve been having lessons on Zoom and they’re doing all the things they know to do to keep their voices in shape.

What might you tell your younger self? 

My younger self is a lot like my current self -- driven and passionate, and a little too anxious. I think I would tell my younger self to calm down a little bit, and let the pieces fall where they may. Really, the reason why we are where we are is because we pushed, because we were hard working. So,I wouldn’t want my younger self to calm down that much, but just enough.  

Published in Finer Points Blog

As we celebrate the Class of 2020 during this convocation week, faculty members across the five academic units of the College of Fine Arts send their congratulations, encouragement and appreciation to this year's graduates. 

Here are just a few of our favorite video messages for the Class of 2020. 

From Beth Krensky
Professor, Department of Art & Art History 


 From Kelby McIntyre-Martinez
Assistant Dean for Arts Education & Community Engagement


 From Stacey Jenson 
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre 


 From Robert Baldwin
Professor, School of Music 

From Connie Wilkerson 
Associate Professor, Department of Film & Media Arts 


From Pablo Piantino
Assistant Professor, School of Dance 

To see all our faculty videos for the Class of 2020, visit our social media channels here: 

College of Fine Arts Facebook 
College of Fine Arts Instagram 
College of Fine Arts Twitter 

And don't forget you can leave messages for our grads all this week at our Live Message Board! 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Edward Bateman 

This is a guest post by Edward Bateman, artist and Associate Professor in the Department of Art & Art History at the University of Utah, and head of the Photography and Digital Imaging area.

Artists have always used the power of their work to rise the challenges of their times. Together with my Advanced Digital Imaging students, we doing something very different for the end of our semester… a creative response to our current pandemic situation. We are basing our group project on a work of classical Italian literature: "The Decameron" by Boccaccio that aptly reflects our circumstances: 

In Italy during the time of the Black Death (March 1348), a group of seven young women and three young men flee from plague-ridden Florence to shelter in a deserted villa in the countryside. To pass the evenings, each member of the group tells a story each night, resulting in ten nights of storytelling. Thus, by the end they have told 100 stories. Each of the ten characters is charged as King or Queen of the company for one of the ten days in turn. This charge extends to choosing the theme of the stories for that day.

We have been doing the same thing photographically – telling the stories of this time… and are creating a book to document what it is like to live in this pandemic crisis. Like the storytellers in "The Decameron," we are sharing our art. Twice a week we gather together on Zoom to look at our images, compare experiences, and get our next theme from the one designated as our leader for the next “day.”  

Their willingness to share their trials and also their optimism and creativity has been a genuine source of strength and hope for me at this time. Our book will go beyond this moment to show the complexities, feelings and responses that we as a group, sheltering from the plague, have experienced together.

For our new "Decameron," each student has given us a theme which will be a chapter in the book. Their choices have been remarkably challenging, and given us all much to consider as we go through this time of isolation. Out images have become a place to creatively embody our experiences.

  • Day 1 - At This Time
  • Day 2 - Collectively Disconnected
  • Day 3 - Routinely Interrupted
  • Day 4 - Photographs Not Seen
  • Day 5 - Silver Linings
  • Day 6 - Solace and Inspiration
  • Day 7 - Indoor-Outdoor
  • Day 8 - Collapsing
  • Day 9 - CHAOS! in the supermarket
  • Day 10 - Heroes 

We all have a need to share our stories and feel connected. Art is a way to create meaning, especially in times of uncertainty. Also, we are doing what photographers have always done – produce a lasting record documenting this moment in time. The eight of us (I am included at their invitation) have now completed our images – 80 of them! So along with a personal text from each, it is time to make our book.

I couldn’t be more proud of my students! Both in how they have faced the difficulties of these past weeks, but also in how they have creatively challenged themselves and produced art that far exceeded my expectations! These are my heroes: Will Betts, Sam Devine, Ethan Edwards, Brandi Gilbert, John Moffitt, Claire Palmer, and Heather Pierce. Their willingness to share their trials and also their optimism and creativity has been a genuine source of strength and hope for me at this time. Our book will go beyond this moment to show the complexities, feelings and responses that we as a group, sheltering from the plague, have experienced together.

The gallery below offers a sneak peek into the work of the Advanced Digital Imaging class!
Take a look. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Anastasia Briana Drandakis

We don't know what life looks like on the other side of this, but we do know, specifically about the arts, is that the arts persist. 
-David Eggers, assistant professor 

David Eggers, experienced Broadway professional and new assistant professor of musical theatre at the University of Utah, had planned to spend the spring 2020 semester organizing the Senior Showcase and teaching acting scene work. However, when the U switched to online courses and all on-campus performances were canceled or postponed for the remainder of the semester, his priorities changed, just like many other College of Fine Arts educators. The following responses are his thoughts on the shift to online courses within his field, what he’s done to help his students get the most from their remaining courses, and how he’s balanced life for himself. In a time of change and uncertainty, he’s leaning on the arts.

When the transition to online courses happened, what were your first priorities?

My first priority when we shifted to online classes was really to figure out how I could pivot our focus with the senior class so that they would feel like they were still going to graduate in the spring, having gotten a lot of value out of their Studio 4 class. We were grieving the loss of the senior show, and I wondered if there could be any way we could preserve our work. Ultimately, I concluded that we wouldn’t be able to honor the fine work that we had done because it was all choreographed and staged. So really, my first focus was to try to figure out, “Okay if we can’t do that show, how can we cram in as much value as possible for these seniors in the ultimately 5 ½ weeks of classes left, so that they feel like they have grown and are even more prepared to leave the university setting and move out into the real world and the job world?

What was it like to grieve the loss of a show with your students? 

This is a new experience for all of us, but personally, I have been through something that this reminds me of. I have worked on shows in the past in the professional world, in New York City as a creative artist. One day, we were working on the show and preparing the staging and the choreography, and then the next hour, it was taken away because funding for the show disappeared. It was an immediate loss -- it upheaves your sense of security, because you’re suddenly facing something that’s out of your control, and everybody responds to that differently. For our seniors, some of them were quite devastated by that show, that they had already worked so many months on, to be taken away. Some of the others were more quickly able to decide that although it was sad and upsetting, it was ultimately the best option in order to stay safe. They were grateful for the work that we had already accomplished on the show, and they were already finding positive things that they had taken away from the experience. I felt a whole range of emotions for certain individuals in my class. For certain seniors, this was their big performance opportunity. We had worked so closely on crafting those performances, their characters, their vocal work, their staging, their acting, and we were looking forward to that next step in terms of crossing the finish line. The grief really is different, depending on who you talk to, but all of us, collectively, are facing a loss of normalcy that none of us could have foreseen. 

How were you best able to support the students during this time as their professor? 

We quickly pivoted to online teaching on Zoom, which gives us a chance to all see and hear each other, and I’ve only ever done live classes since we switched. Because of this sense of loss, I really wanted to keep communication open with everyone and give them a chance to express themselves. I literally say, “Okay how’s everyone doing? What’s going on?” Then I’ll try to dive deeper and see if there’s anything that’s been challenging someone or see if they need help and try to be a resource for them. If it’s something beyond what I’m qualified to support, then I connect them to resources from the U. I’ve also created dialogues outside of the online classes where I’ve posted links to resources from the U where they can get counseling, support, and can reach out to advisors, just so they know that they have these tools at their fingertips. Because some days are harder than others. I think that just having another person in your life who cares about you and supports you has been really valuable for my students. So, I’m trying to show up for them. Not just as a professor, but as a person offering support and being of service to them any way that I can. 

Now, when we’ve got both video screens open the whole-time side by side and they’re the only two things on my computer screen, I can see both of these young actors close up for the entire scene. It’s almost like putting their work under a microscope. Some of my actors are now revealing a deeper level of work, that I wasn’t able to necessarily see in the larger classroom environment. 

What was the shift in curriculum and how have the students received the most out of it?

Some things that have worked really well in the studio or classroom setting, just don’t work as well, even on a live video call. But some of the core basics of what I was trying to achieve as an acting teacher, I’m still able to achieve even in an online setting. We’re finding that with live video classes, other things that weren’t part of the classroom are now adding to our work. In the scene work that we’re doing with the sophomores, in the classroom, you weren’t able to always see both actors in the scene close up enough to see what was going on emotionally with each person.  Now, when we’ve got both video screens open the whole-time side by side and they’re the only two things on my computer screen, I can see both of these young actors close up for the entire scene. It’s almost like putting their work under a microscope. Some of my actors are now revealing a deeper level of work, that I wasn’t able to necessarily see in the larger classroom environment. With Zoom, my students figured out that they could change the background that is behind them. Some of them have been able to use new backgrounds to do their scene in an environment that totally changed their work, and it was magical. It was a different form of creativity, where they were actually able to show us what they envisioned that environment to look like, and that was exciting for us to see.

For the seniors, we ended up focusing on getting them ready for the real world. I come from the commercial theatre, New York City, Broadway, all of that, so I found resources and connections that could help them prepare and shed light on the profession that awaits them. I brought in several guest speakers to meet the students virtually, make connections and give insight into auditions, casting, what it means to be a good employee in a show, and what kinds of things directors and choreographers from Broadway today are really looking for. The students responded that this is the kind of stuff that they wanted, in addition to putting together a show. Now they’re able to ask professionals all these questions. It took away so much mystery for them, and shed light on what they need to focus on, how they can best represent themselves and how to start stepping into auditions.

The following list of topics were covered by the top tier guest artists for Eggers’ senior class:

Kathleen Marshall (Tony Award-winning Broadway choreographer & director) 

-Best practices for auditions and being a valued member of a show once cast

Michael Kirsten & Diane Riley (A-list agents in NYC with the agency Harden-Curtis-Kirsten-Riley (HCKR))
- Getting an agent, self-marketing, reels, and video submissions

Kate Reinders & Andrew Samonsky (Musical theatre actors with credits on Broadway, national tours, and TV & film)
-Making it in the business and the differences in all the various opportunities

Lorin Latarro (Broadway choreographer ofWaitress, Doubtfire and other high-profile shows)
-Auditioning for shows  and how to best present yourself

Kirstin Chavez (Accomplished singer and actor, known for her portrayal of Carmen)
-Managing finances for the artist

Michael Lavine (In-demand vocal coach in NYC for Broadway leading players)
-Working on material for auditions and performances

How would you say your life as a professor and a parent is being managed at this time, and do you have any supportive advice for fellow educators in that position?

We are all figuring this out together. I think one of the things that has helped me is to practice some patience and some self-kindness. I always try to practice self-care, and it involves a whole routine, but it’s even more important now that we take care of ourselves. Physical health, mental health, and all the individual tools that a person may use for each of those areas of health are extremely important. We also model that behavior. If you’re a parent, you can model that behavior for your children. If you’re a professor, you can model that behavior for your students. I shared a prototype of a journal that I do as part of my daily practice with my sophomores, and about 6-10 of them wanted to imitate it. Because I’m modeling behavior for these younger people, I’m offering up things that they can do to be productive and that they can do to support their own mental wellness. I also speak to how energy and enthusiasm is a choice, and I always remind my students (and myself) that what I bring to each moment of every day is up to me. 

Tips from Eggers' daily routine to support mental wellness include:

  • Do something physical every day.
  • Meditate every day, even if it’s only for five minutes.
  • Create a mission statement for yourself and your life that you write every day. 
  • Writing three promises to yourself that change every week that you promise to accomplish to contribute to your own sense of success and self-reliance.
  • Practice a random act of kindness at least once a week.

They’re not afraid to be who they are and bring what’s going on with them to the classroom. I feel like I’ve tried to foster a safe place for them so that they know that that’s okay. They are keeping an open mind. They are exploring with me these new ways of meeting, these new ways of communicating. These new ways of telling stories as actors, and we’ve found those silver linings. 

How do you feel your students are handling the current events? 

They’re showing up and I am super proud of them. The grief could be so extreme, the feeling of loss could be so extreme, the fear of the unknown could be so extreme that it could be debilitating. But they are all showing up, and they’re also showing up with these emotions. They’re not afraid to be who they are and bring what’s going on with them to the classroom. I feel like I’ve tried to foster a safe place for them so that they know that that’s okay. They are keeping an open mind. They are exploring with me these new ways of meeting, these new ways of communicating. These new ways of telling stories as actors, and we’ve found those silver linings. The cool things that are only available with a live online class that we didn’t have in the classroom. And they’re not blowing this off, they’re still showing up, being there for each other, turning in their assignments and they’re still applying themselves. The thing is, we don’t know when this will all come to an end, but we are all together just supporting each other through each day and each class, and making the best of it. 

What are your thoughts on the future of the arts? 

We don’t know what life looks like on the other side of this, but what we do know, specifically about the arts, is that the arts persist. The arts have been a pillar of society from time memorial. Look back at the Greeks, look back through the Middle Ages, look back through every time period of humanity and the arts remain a constant. And it will remain a constant through this time period as well. What we don’t know, which is both scary on one hand and exciting on the other, is how the arts will keep evolving through this. There will be new expressions of theatre and of storytelling that come out of this experience. There will be new plays, new films, new musicals that are written addressing this whole experience. We don’t know how we’ll tell those stories, necessarily, on the other side of this, because we don’t know exactly what and how our society will thrive on the other side, but we will find a way. Those art forms will reveal themselves as we move forward, and some of our colleagues will be the creators of those pieces of art and they will also be the leaders of those new forms of expression. 

So, the arts persist. That’s something that I feel needs to be shouted from the rooftops and everyone needs to remember that. We need to take confidence in that and be proud of our own position in this moment in humanity, in our history as a people. Another way to look at it, is not so much about being scared about what is no longer with us right now, but focusing on what could come out of this. I try to remind myself that, this wasn’t the moment we expected, but this could be the moment that we were born for. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

Lee Issac Chung, MFA alumnus of the University of Utah Department of Film & Media Arts, swept top honors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Chung’s film, “Minari” was awarded both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.

Dean of the College of Fine Arts, John Scheib, chair of the Department of Film & Media Arts, Andrew Patrick Nelson, and associate professor of film Kevin Hanson (former chair of the department), attended Chung’s screening, which received a standing ovation from the Park City crowd. They, too, were deeply impressed by the film.

“‘Minari’ is a beautiful, moving film about the pursuit of the American dream, at once timely and timeless,” Nelson said.

“Minari” tells the story of a Korean family that moves to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980’s. As described by the official Sundance synopsis: “David, a seven-year-old Korean American boy, is faced with new surroundings and a different way of life when his father, Jacob, moves their family from the West Coast to rural Arkansas. His mother, Monica, is aghast that they live in a mobile home in the middle of nowhere, and naughty little David and his sister are bored and aimless. When his equally mischievous grandmother arrives from Korea to live with them, her unfamiliar ways arouse David’s curiosity. Meanwhile, Jacob, hell-bent on creating a farm on untapped soil, throws their finances, his marriage, and the stability of the family into jeopardy.”

The film draws on Chung’s own background and childhood memories. An Arkansas native himself, Chung grew up on a farm in the Ozark mountains. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Yale University before attending the University of Utah for his graduate studies in film.

In an interview with Dino Ray Ramos for Deadline, Chung explained how he began writing Minari: “I had my daughter in 2013, we moved to LA and there’s just lots of things that were happening that were feeding into the desire to tell a story that’s more personal and to talk about what it’s like to be a father.”

Minari stars actors Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton, Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho. A24 is expected to release the film in theaters stateside this year, but a formal release date has not yet been set.

Stay tuned! 

Published in Finer Points Blog
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