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As part of the University of Utah College of Fine Arts’ strategic plan, a new group of faculty and staff from across the college have come together to focus on issues surrounding justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Meet, the JEDI Committee, which was formed during Fall 2019 and began meeting in January of this year:  

Sonia Albert-SobrinoJEDI blog headshots b is a filmmaker and Assistant Professor at the Department of Film & Media Arts. She says, “The world is made of diverse people and it has been always my intention to include them in my works. As a storyteller, I fondly believe in giving them a voice that is distinct while, at the same time, relatable and familiar for everyone else. It is because of that, that I place people who don’t usually star in a movie at the forefront of my work. As an educator, I aim to make sure that my students honor the cultures, background and history of the subjects in their films and media art projects. In the classroom, we work hard as a team to understand everyone’s else’s point of view, challenging and learning from each other.” 

Elizabeth CraftJEDI blog headshots b2 is an Assistant Professor of Musicology in the School of Music, teaching classes on twentieth– and twenty-first–century Western music, music of the United States, opera, and musical theater. Understanding how difference and power are manifested in music and culture is at the heart of her teaching and research. Her published work addresses racial and ethnic representation, narratives of immigrant experiences, and constructions of nationhood in U.S. musical theater, from early 20th-century musicals by George M. Cohan to the recent megahit Hamilton.

Marina GombergJEDI blog headshots b3 is the Director of Communications + Marketing for the University of Utah College of Fine Arts and has nearly 15 years of experience managing public relations and marketing strategies in the nonprofit, private and public sectors. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Gender Studies from the University of Utah, and has been engaged in social justice advocacy ever since, with a particularly focus on inclusive storytelling. Her passions lie in activism, the arts, writing, travel and food. She’s a lifestyle columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune and an occasional contributor to HuffPost. 

Karineh HovsepianJEDI blog headshots b4, Assistant Dean for Finance & Operations in the College of Fine Arts, has over 30 years of experience working in financial management. She launched her career at a “Big Eight” international public accounting firm doing financial consulting and auditing, then became self-employed as a Financial Consultant, working primarily with public entities, non-profits, and small business start-ups. Hovsepian is an Armenian immigrant from Iran and raised in Honolulu from age four. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Accounting with an emphasis in Financial Information Systems from the University of Utah and is a Certified Public Accountant. She has been a passionate social justice activist since the age of 14. 

Liz Ivkovich JEDI blog headshots b5hails from rural Michigan. She is the Development Director for UtahPresents. Liz received her BS in Sustainable Business (Aquinas ‘07) and MFA in Modern Dance (Utah ’16). Her research explores dance and environmental justice, with articles in the Journal of Environmental Studies & Sciences, Local Environment, loveDANCEmore, and Performance Research. 

 

Jay (Jong-Hoon) KimJEDI blog headshots c2 is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Dance at the University of Utah. He earned his MFA from the University of Utah, his BFA from the Sejong University, and is an ABT® Certified Teacher. Kim’s professional career includes dancing as a principal and soloist artist with Universal Ballet Company, Korean National Ballet, Korean Ballet Theatre, and Dayton Ballet Theatre, across 13 countries and 150 cities on the major stages of the world. He created, established, and serves as Director of the University of Utah Asian Campus, International Ballet Summer Intensive held in Incheon, Korea; an international, high caliber, culturally enriching ballet program, of students aged 15-26 from America and Korea.

Brian ManternachJEDI blog headshots b6, DMus, is an Assistant Professor (Clinical) in the Department of Theatre and a Research Associate for the CFA's National Center for Voice and Speech. He has long been a passionate advocate of performing arts as a medium to promote social justice. He also believes strongly in the responsibility of theatre to tell the stories of those in underrepresented communities.  

 

Melonie Buchanan MurrayJEDI blog headshots b7 is the Associate Dean for Faculty & Academic Affairs for the College of Fine Arts and an Associate Professor within the School of Dance. Her research interests lie in exploring the continual evolution of dance as an academic discipline and, and while honoring the past, investigating dance and ballet through a critical theory lens, particularly in terms of gender. Her academic writing has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and she continues to explore the arts, dance, and ballet as scholarly pursuits. Melonie is deeply committed to the arts in education and initiatives supporting equity and inclusion. Professional affiliations include CORPS de Ballet International, Dance Studies Association, and the World Dance Alliance-Americas. 

Xi ZhangJEDI blog headshots c is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art & Art History. His vibrant paintings manifest the psychological weight experienced in moments of turmoil and tribulations. In his oneiric narratives, melancholia is a familiar companion – overbearing landscapes and foreboding atmospheres suppress his lonely protagonists, obscuring the delineation of fantasy and reality. Zhang has been featured in national press on CNN, PBS, and NPR. In May 2020, Zhang was awarded the SeeMe Grand Prize in Painting by a panel of judges including Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine senior arts critic and Pulitzer Prize winner) and Christine Kuan (CEO of Sotheby’s Institute of Art) for Art Saves Humanity: a web-based juried exhibition to raise funds for struggling artists.

As a group, the JEDI Committee has defined what justice, equity, diversity and inclusion can mean within the context of the College of Fine Arts, and are using these ideas to assess progress and needs throughout:

Justice
The seeking or realization of fairness, equity, and inclusivity.

Equity
The creation of opportunities for historically underserved and underrepresented populations to have equal access to and participate in educational programs, professional growth opportunities, and resource networks that are capable of closing the achievement gaps in student success and completion, and demographic disparities in leadership roles.

Diversity
The variety of personal experiences, values, and worldviews that arise from differences of culture and circumstance. It is the variety created in any society (and within any individual) by the presence of different points of view and ways of making meaning, which generally flow from the influence of different cultural, ethnic and religious heritages, and includes personality, learning styles and life experiences, and from the differences that emerge from class, age, ability, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability and other socially constructed characteristics.

Inclusion
The active, intentional, and ongoing invitation and celebration of diversity — in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities (intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect — in ways that increase awareness, access, knowledge, empathy, and understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.

The group is eager to resume its work identifying resources on campus and across the nation to continue the college’s unending work toward greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion this fall. They will be planning education opportunities and community dialogues for the college community. Stay tuned for education opportunities and community dialogues to follow.

If you have ideas, resources, questions, or want to share your experience, we all encourage you to contact one or all of us.

Published in Finer Points Blog

Research from two University of Utah College of Fine Arts undergraduate students was recently published in the university's 2020 Undergraduate Research Journal. The Undergraduate Research Journal collects and celebrates the contributions our undergraduate students from all over campus make to scholarship in their fields.

Sydney Porter Williams from the Department of Art & Art History focused her research on the outcomes and benefits of a collaborative mural project in Murray, while Amelie Bennett from the School of Dance examined the role of dance therapy in improving empathy and emotion recognition in non-clinical adults and children. 

We encourage you to learn more about these important student projects, as well as discover the work of many other undergraduate researchers from across campus disciplines! 

 

THE MURRAY MURALS PROJECT: CONNECTING LIVES ON CANVAS -- Sydney Porter Williams, Department of Art & Art History
Faculty Mentor: V. Kim Martinez

"The Murray Murals Project is a collaborative effort between University of Utah art students and thousands of Murray youth and community members. These groups worked collaboratively over the course of the fall 2018 semester to create community-engaged, portable murals for nine Murray elementary schools. These murals now hang in the halls of these schools, giving students ownership of their artwork and of their communities." 

HOW WE MOVE WHEN WE FEEL: KINESTHETIC EMPATHY THROUGH MIRROR NEURONS – Amelie Bennett, School of Dance
Faculty Mentor: Kate Mattingly

"This work examines the commonly accepted notion of dance/movement therapy that mirroring another person’s movement will increase both participants’ levels of empathy. Mirroring involves a participant creating expressive dance; in a therapeutic setting, the therapist mirrors their movements to establish a relationship and gain insight into their physical and emotional experience."

 

EXPLORE THE 2020 UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH JOURNAL

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Emeri Fetzer 

As members of the Michie Jazz Quintet, premier jazz chamber ensemble here at the University of Utah, reached their second and final year in their unique configuration, it seemed the right moment to mark their time spent playing together with something lasting, something tangible. 

Supported through an endowment generously made by the James R. and Nanette S. Michie Foundation, the group's five members had many wonderful opportunities to collaborate in a laboratory setting, and maintained a rigorous public performance schedule during the school year. As a result,  Anaïs Chantal Samuels (vocals), Evan Taylor (trumpet), Tony Elison (piano), Alicia Wrigley (bass, vocals), and Matt Wilson (drums) cultivated a unique and synergistic sound. 

“The thing that was the most powerful to me was to have a recurring group of people I love and trust and that we had the opportunity to have an ongoing journey over a long period of time...I really felt like I grew alongside Evan, Anaïs, Tony and Matt. I will miss that experience so much” 
- Alicia Wrigley 

 “As their coach this year, I encouraged them to document the sound and style of the group that they had forged together, as well as create recordings that can serve as samples for auditions, publicity, and for posterity," explained John Petrucelli, visiting assistant professor in the U School of Music.  

Before they all graduated (and before COVID-19 drastically changed their final semester), they came together to record. “My favorite part of recording the EP was being able to share that space with my friends during our final year at the University of Utah. We've all worked really hard to get to where we are musically and it was really nice to see that all come together and to have something documented that demonstrates our passion for music,” vocalist Anaïs Chantal Samuels reflected. 

As Petrucelli describes it, the Michie Quintet's EP is a study in contrast. "In the span of three compositions, the ensemble moves between multiple styles, meters, and soloists. Anais Chantal Samuels voice is featured on a wonderful old ballad entitled "Till There Was You," while Evan Taylor's arrangement of "Bloomdido" nods to the cutting edge contemporary jazz approach of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Adam O'Farrill. Alicia Wrigley and Matt Wilson have a wonderful rhythmic dialogue throughout "April in Paris," while Tony Elison's piano playing plays provocateur throughout the session," he said. 

“We had to set up a mad labyrinth of sound panels as we tried to minimize bleed between microphones. It felt like the adult version of building a blanket fort, and will be a mental image I’ll always remember,” described bass player Alicia Wrigley.

The experience not only resulted in a strong final product, it also taught them valuabe things about the music business. “I hope that our students have learned that at the heart of recording is the craft of negotiation. Between musicians, producers, composers, arrangers, studio engineers, photographers, videographers, we convene spontaneously and improvise the process as we go. Recordings highlight strengths and reveal weaknesses, leaving a remembrance of ourselves in a particular time, place and feeling, pointing to future musical ideas and passageways,” Petrucelli said.

Undoubtedly, the Michie Quintet shaped its five committed members beyond the classroom, bringing high level professional experience, and friendships to boot. 

“I can honestly say that being in this program has shown me how to act as a professional in music. I started this program in my second year and had no idea what I was doing or how to go about a career in music. From that I learned the business side of things which I now take on when working on gigs that I've booked outside of school,”  Samuels explained.

“Socially, I have to say that the Michie group has been the highlight of my college career. When I first joined this group, all of the members in the band were older than me and took me under their wings to show me all the things music has to offer and helped me build my confidence as a vocalist which was something I really struggled with. Two years ago before performances my stage fright would get the best of me and I really doubted myself but through time I was able to value myself.”

“The thing that was the most powerful to me was to have a recurring group of people I love and trust and that we had the opportunity to have an ongoing journey over a long period of time," Wrigley added. "So much of the work that we do is with pick-up groups—it both showcases our versatility and pays our bills. But playing with a recurring group, having a musical home to come back to and experiment in, that was special. I really felt like I grew alongside Evan, Anaïs, Tony and Matt. I will miss that experience so much” 

Check out "The Michie Sessions" here! 

Published in Finer Points Blog

The College of Fine Arts is delighted to present the 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher award to Alicia Ross from the School of Dance.

In 2015, The Office of Undergraduate Research established the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award to recognize an outstanding undergraduate researcher from each college. Faculty mentors are invited to nominate students, and awardees are selected by committee. The criteria for the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award include: a record of sustained commitment to developing research skills and knowledge under the supervision of a faculty mentor, evidence of independent and critical thinking, active participation in research-related activities on campus, and positive contributions to the research culture of the department, college, and university.

Alicia's impressive accomplishments as an undergraduate researcher and student leader in the College of Fine Arts center around her commitment to her work as a movement researcher and performer.  In the last three years, Alicia has engaged in 14 research related activities, as a performer, collaborator, choreographer or participant.  These include her being selected to participate in work by internationally recognized artists Doug Varone and Anouk van Dijk.

“Alicia is the first undergraduate artist-scholar that I can remember who has made such a compelling case for movement research as a valid form of critical inquiry. Her proposal for the Outstanding Researcher Award articulated the multifaceted modalities that artists draw on at all times when creating and dancing in movement—physics, musicality, psychology, design, spatial-awareness, history, physicality, kinesiology— all at the neuromuscular level. Her work in the department has exemplied this multiplicity, as she has shone as a performer, maker of dances, and writer/scholar. It was a joy to see her synthesize all of this vast body-mind knowledge at receive this deserved award.”
-Satu Hummasti 
Associate Director for Undergraduate Programs and Associate Professor, School of Dance

 

In Her Own Words 

Name: Alicia Ross
Major: Modern Dance
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Three words that describe you: imaginative, passionate, intuitive 
Favorite CFA class or teacher: My favorite College of Fine Arts class is improvisation because I get to explore all kinds of movement and the infinite possibilities of the body.   
Most memorable moment at CFA: My most memorable moment here was performing "CLEANSLATE" by Satu Hummasti. It was a significant work that encouraged kindness and equality in today's world. 
One thing you learned at CFA: The most important thing I've learned at the College of Fine Arts is that I can make a difference as an artist. I have a powerful voice as a dancer and choreographer that can be used to enact change in society.  
What inspires you: I'm inspired by all of the courageous and graceful women in my life.
Summary of major accomplishments both on and off campus: On campus I have performed in works by Stephen Koester, Anouk van Dijk, Satu Hummasti, Eric Handman, and more. I have also choreographed and performed a solo entitled Introspection, and showcased two of my dance films in our Modern Student Concert. Off campus I have participated and performed in programs such as the Ririe Woodbury Summer Intensive and the Doug Varone Summer Workshop. Lastly, I look forward to continuing my off campus performance career after graduation in a local show at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.    
One sentence that describes your work: My work aims to convey the beauty, complexity, and intensity of the human experience through movement and emotion.

“Throughout my four years here I have been able to explore the potential of the body for creating art that is meaningful and alive. Studying the creative process with my professors has allowed me to make discoveries and figure out what it means to be a movement researcher and performer. Each professor has taught me a new way to study dance and produce material that conveys a message to the audience… Being able to physically create and feel movement that portrays intellectual thoughts and ideas is complex yet fulfilling. Through my corporeal research I have found a deep understanding and appreciation for the creative process and the expression of the dancing body within my discipline. The guidance I have received from my professors and mentors to develop that will definitely impact my future projects and long-term artistic career.”
-Alicia Ross, Class of 2020

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Kate Mattingly 

As a researcher who teaches courses in dance histories, dance studies, and dance criticism, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we communicate through our bodies and our words. My dissertation, which I completed in 2017, analyzes how dance criticism not only responds to a performance but also shapes and influences our value systems and priorities. Historically, dance critics have wielded a lot of power: John Martin named the genre “modern dance” and heavily influenced the success of certain choreographers, like Martha Graham, in the 20th century. 

But digital platforms change the status and authority of critics’ words because there are more immediate opportunities to challenge a viewpoint and to use social media platforms to offer different perspectives. A great example of this happened in 2010 when a New York Times critic wrote that Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy with New York City Ballet, looked “as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many.” The outpouring of support for Ringer led to her appearance on The Today Show and Oprah. These interviews are still available online, making the critic's words less definitive. jennifer ringer

In my scholarship I analyze how the digital sphere opens spaces for a co-existence of different perspectives, and how this brings attention to artists and ideas that have been misrepresented or completely ignored. Much of my current research focuses on how criticism in the 21st century can challenge the sexisms, racisms, and classisms that have circulated through print critics’ writing.  On April 14, I gave a lecture for students and faculty at UCLA on digital dance criticism, and how traces of a project by Amara Tabor-Smith called “House/Full of Black Women,” circulated through photographs Amara posted on Facebook, thereby extending the reach of her processions that happened in Oakland, California. This is an important example of how artists bypass a critic who speaks “for” a project and instead gives the artist access to self-representation and self-definition. 

In my dance studies course this semester, when we shifted to an online format, students shared final projects through PowerPoint presentations and then we opened online discussions about the topics. The students’ work was stellar and the online discussions deepened and extended the conversations we had begun earlier in the semester when we were meeting together. One particularly timely project, by Todd Lani ’20, examined social media users who can promote social justice or their own fame. Todd used Matt Bernstein as an example of a social media “activist” who thinks of others and dismantles hate and violence against LGBTQ+ communities. Todd wrote, “Growing up in a smaller rural area, the media (more specifically social media) was the only outlet and opportunity that I had to see any representation of someone like myself.” 

During this pandemic, as we find ourselves relying on the digital sphere, we might also be noticing the differences between attending a live performance and watching dancing through a screen. There are undoubtedly things that seem to be missing, like the communal experience of watching a performance with a hundred-plus people, or the feeling of liveness and immediacy as an artist creates the movement in your presence. But there are also advantages: many companies are offering performances to view free of charge, and events that happened in far away places are now visible in our homes. 

A student-run group at the University of Utah, the Dance Studies Working Group, took a trip to San Francisco in 2018, supported by funding from a FAF Grant, to see a festival called Unbound and attend a Symposium of guest speakers who included Dwight Rhoden, Virginia Johnson, and Marc Brew. When the company’s current performance season had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, SF Ballet released performances from Unbound online. This Friday students and alumni of the Ballet Program are hosting a zoom conversation, organized by Victoria Holmes Johnson ’19, to discuss the possibilities of online transmission, and also what’s missing in this virtual realm. 

We think these conversations are important during this time of uncertainty because we hope that the future of dance, like the future of dance criticism, will be more inclusive and equitable. Artists are known for their imaginations, able to problem-solve and think creatively, and their expertise is invaluable at this moment. 

Finally, when people use words like “unprecedented” to describe this pandemic, they are making invisible a lot of people who have not had access to services or movement for years, if not decades. People who are confined and dependent on others due to disabilities could be our teachers. I hope that this moment of "uncertainty" is an opportunity for us to look at our interconnectedness: how do we support and nurture one another? how do we honor  our different needs and capacities? I hope we do not return to a world that is about individualism, convenience, and control, but rather one that embraces the interdependencies and indeterminacy of life. 

Author Kate Mattingly is an assistant professor in the University of Utah School of Dance. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Merinda Christensen 

The 7th Annual ArtsForce Networking Event that took place on March 7th displayed the strength and dynamic of the arts from both students and professionals. 

ArtsForce is a student-led organization under the supervision of CFA Internship Coordinator, Kate Wolsey, that strives to create opportunities that help students develop skills needed for professional growth during and after college. During this event, local artists from film, music, theatre, art, and dance came to speak to students across the College of Fine Arts about how to prepare for a successful and fulfilling career in the arts. 

“The biggest lesson I learned from this event is that community is important…Collaborating with people from other fields in your community might spark ideas that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. I was inspired to find ways that my art could enrich or help others.”
– Kira Sincock, Entertainment Arts and Engineering Major, Drawing Minor

This event started out with a panel of local art professionals (and College of Fine Arts alumni!) David HabbenKylie Howard, and Camille Washington. They discussed times when collaborating with another professional changed their work process, what they do every day that contributes to their success, and how the community has been important to them as they continue their career, including where students can look to build their own community. Their experiences and advice were insightful as they emphasized the importance of doing your best and recognizing where your art and skills can and will take you. The focus of the panelists was to address how to succeed and being true to your work even through the tough times you will experience as an artist. 

Important takeaways: 

  • Kylie Howard communicated to the students that it’s important to pick yourself up, even when it gets hard because you are valuable to your community and workforce. She also mentioned that you don’t have to figure it all out right now, discover your strengths and make it work for you! 
  • David Habben emphasized that there will be times where you are in a rut – times will be hard. But, to find a way to take a risk, even when things are hard, that is the best time to take those risks. 
  • Finally, Camille Washington wanted to present the importance of how valuable your skills are – stay engaged in what you’re interested in and always know you will be able to find a path to apply your knowledge and skills as you reach out and build the community you want to see.  

During the Networking Luncheon, which followed our panel, students had the opportunity to communicate and connect with local artist of different arts disciplines. Students gained support and guidance as they were able to articulate the value of their arts degree in a professional setting. Positive feedback highlighted the importance of this event and how it was beneficial to each student that came. 

“The Networking Event helped me build my networking skills…I have new contacts to help me start to build my career before I graduate. Something that used to be so  intimidating is more doable.” 
– Katie McLaughlin, Instrumental Music Education; Oboe Performance Major 

The 7th Annual Networking Event created opportunities and ideas for students preparing for a career in the arts. We want to thank the panel, local art professionals, University of Utah faculty, staff, and students for joining us this year. CFA Students, don’t forget to join ArtsForce for up-to-date information about internships and career related opportunities, ways to get more involved with the arts on and off campus, and more!

*Author Merinda Chrinstensen is an Instrumental Performance major in the School of Music, with an emphasis in harp. She is an Emerging Leaders Intern with ArtsForce. 

Published in Finer Points Blog

We are about to graduate a class of brilliant, creative and remarkably resilient students during a global pandemic. This is a first. And it’s not without sincere disappointment and loss. While this moment presents unique challenges, as artists, we are no strangers to creative thinking, and the leadership of the College of Fine Arts is undeterred in our drive to celebrate the momentous achievements of the graduating class of 2020!   

What will make these celebration powerful is if you participate — as students, faculty, family and friends.
We will be rolling out a full week of celebrations starting on 4/27 on our blog, our social media, and via email.  

To our graduating class, if you haven’t already, please send us a photo or video of your favorite moment, people, or place at the U.
Upload your memory to this UBox or send to this email address by Monday, 4/20 to be included in the virtual celebrations.
Click 'Join Folder' on the top menu bar to access the 'Upload' feature.
Please include a brief description of your memory when you upload your file. Descriptions can be added under “File Properties” section on the righthand side of the window once your file is uploaded.

You have been making us proud for years now, and we can’t wait to see how you continue to shine.

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

By Anastasia Briana Drandakis 

What do University of Utah theatre students do in the wake of canceled and postponed performances amidst a call for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic? They brush up on their Shakespeare through video conference calls. 

Self-Isolation Shakespeare is a collaborative, student-led effort to read through Shakespeare’s canon on Zoom three times a week, with an open invitation for the community to watch actors of all levels participate. The talent range includes theatre students, department faculty with impressive resumes, and even professionals working outside of the university that come together to perform these pieces while socially isolating. All the readings are recorded for YouTube and the shows vary between Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies and historical shows to make each genre available to their growing audience. 

Connor Johnson, a junior in the Department of Theatre’s Actor Training Program, was inspired to start Self-Isolation Shakespeare after viewing a similar project that Professor Sarah Shippobotham shared with his class during the early rise in global quarantining. “The Show Must Go Online” created by Robert Myles are weekly readings on Zoom of the complete plays of Shakespeare by a global cast, in the order they were believed to have been written. Johnson thought there was no reason why the students of the University of Utah couldn’t undergo a similar project, and through the support of fellow students and department faculty, he was able to create a social media presence for the performances so that anyone in the theatre community could access the series. 

 “I realized the other thing this could be is a great opportunity for students to act alongside professionals or professors,” said Johnson. “People who students can’t always easily work with just because of the nature of professional productions.”

The professional theatre faculty of the University of Utah has already participated alongside their students in several of the show readings, including Robert Scott Smith who played Prospero in "The Tempest," Alexandra Harbold who played Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar," and Sarah Shippobotham who played Richard III in "Richard III." Johnson has also seen a mix of outside interest in the project, including actors with working credits from local professional theatres, New York, the West End of London, and The Globe Theater. 

“People have said that it was actually great to be able to ‘look over my script last night’ or 'to prepare for this role the other day, because I was thinking about something other than the news.’ They really latched onto the project, and have really given their thought and time and creativity, which has been wonderful to watch.”

While this series helps to bring the University of Utah theatre community closer during this time, it’s also an opportunity for those involved to broaden their familiarity with a genre of classic works that are continuously produced in the modern entertainment industry in various forms.


“There’s something about Shakespeare that is endlessly entertaining and brings endless variety in ways that most other plays don’t,” said Johnson, who believes that knowledge of this material can be generally useful as a theatre student. “Somehow his plays have managed to maintain interest for hundreds of years, and I think in a more pragmatic sense, for any actor that’s going out into the acting world, Shakespeare is a huge percentage of work that you might get. Even if you don’t want to be a classical actor, every regional company does Shakespeare once a season or once every two seasons." 

In addition to practicing classical theatre, this series is also a practice session in performing for digital cameras, microphones, and the general process that it takes to produce a successful piece of live web content. 

“It’s freeing in some ways that you can do things with your voice that you can’t really do on stage,” said Johnson, describing the new acting possibilities he’s observed that performing scenes via Zoom can spark. “It picks up much more subtlety than your allowed to have when you're on stage in a big auditorium. It’s also really fun to see other people doing that, and picking up on that, and it kind of adds this new layer of possibility and creativity.”

Johnson gives credit to an entire team of peers that have volunteered time to shape the current state of the production, including a designated “stage-manager” for the productions (Kiersten Farley), social media managers (Lexie Thomsen and Liam Johnson), and an assistant producer (Jessica Graham). romeo and julietPoster design Lexie Thomsen

Self-Isolation Shakespeare performances are scheduled every Tuesday at 10 a.m. (MST), Thursday at 10 a.m. (MST), and Sunday at noon (MST) through a Zoom conference link posted on the official Facebook page the day of the scheduled production. Show and cast lists are announced a week in advance on the official Facebook page, and anyone can submit to be cast in the Zoom performances by filling out a Google Doc form asking their preferred contact information, acting background, and familiarity with Shakespeare’s works. The recorded performances are archived on the official Self-Isolation Shakespeare YouTube page as the series progresses.

“I think that something this project made me realize is that we’re all kind of in this together,” said Johnson, reflecting on the support that has been felt by the theatre community for the project so far. “People have said that it was actually great to be able to ‘look over my script last night’ or 'to prepare for this role the other day, because I was thinking about something other than the news.’ They really latched onto the project, and have really given their thought and time and creativity, which has been wonderful to watch.”

Published in Finer Points Blog

By Emeri Fetzer

When Utah’s K-12 schools closed in response to COVID-19, graduate students in the U’s Masters of Arts in Teaching - Fine Arts (MAT-FA) program wondered how to move forward with the projects they and their young students were already hard at work on: things like team murals, original music collaborations, and movement activities. The arts are inherently social, interactive, and tangible.

In this new and developing community challenge, how could they push forward, and ensure their students didn’t lose progress, as well as their connection with one another? 

In a time of increasing isolation, the U’s community of fine arts educators leaned on each other for strength and innovation. To brainstorm solutions, MAT-FA graduate students turned to faculty members in the College of Fine Arts who were facing the same complex challenges in taking their university courses online. What resulted from these collaborative conversations were numerous smart solutions, and an abundance of encouragement.

When the pandemic hit, MAT-FA educator Laura Decker and her students at Monticello Academy in West Valley City were working on developing sculptures about culture and identity. In such a hands-on experience, it is difficult to instruct without referring to a physical example. Also, students at home do not have the access to art supplies that they would at their schools.

So, last Monday, on the first official day of online learning for the state of Utah, Monticello Academy students and families came to the school to pick up art project kits along with a piece of clay and art making instructions that Ms. Decker had prepared. The students were incredibly excited to see her and to be back in the school building even for a brief period during this time of uncertainty. Students were thrilled to collect their art kits and for the opportunity to complete their sculptures at home.

By Thursday, three days later, over 50% of the students had finished their sculptures and sent back photos. But Decker wanted her class to see each other’s work and discuss the finished projects as a group. To this end, she is now asking them to take thirty-second, 360° videos of their sculptures and answer a few questions about their process and inspirations, which they will then share collectively. 

Eric Spreng’s middle school band students at The Open Classroom in Salt Lake City were in the midst of writing original musical compositions on the theme of climate change when they were asked to stay home. They were very much looking forward to performing their pieces for each other and their families this April. But like all other live performances nationwide, this was no longer in the cards for this spring.  Spreng MATFA 3Some of Eric Spreng's middle school music students at work, prior to distance learning

After meeting with Jared Rawlings, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Music, Spreng, another standout MAT-FA candidate, is inspired to take a new direction that he hopes will still unite his student musicians. With their own instruments from their private homes, each student will call into a live Zoom session where Spreng will conduct them all together. They hope to send footage of their online concert to the legislature, sharing their climate change ideas and reflections with their local leaders. 

Examples of adapting education to a format for social distancing abound: theatre students in secondary schools discovering and self-taping monologues related to their current emotions, visual art teachers creating tutorials to follow on YouTube tutorials, or live-streaming the painting of a class-planned mural while students to comment on its direction and progress -- the list goes on and on.

One thing is certain, the arts in schools are not going anywhere.

And even while they are digital, their value is deeply felt, by both Utah's young people and our community at large.

To learn more about the U's Master of Arts in Teaching - Fine Arts program, click here. 

Published in Finer Points Blog
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