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UMS Announces Programming Leadership Transition

Michael Kondziolka and Mark Jacobson

Michael Kondziolka and Mark Jacobson

Michael Kondziolka, UMS’s Vice President of Programming & Production, has announced that he will retire at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season after 36 years with the organization. Matthew VanBesien, UMS President, has appointed Senior Programming Manager Mark Jacobson as Vice President, Programming & Production on a permanent basis.

“Michael Kondziolka has had a tremendous impact on UMS, our community, and the performing arts field over the past three and a half decades,” said UMS Board Chair Rachel Bendit. “Under his artistic leadership and curatorial collaboration with former President Ken Fischer, the organization expanded its programmatic portfolio to include a major commitment to dance and theater, as well as jazz and diverse non-Western performance traditions. We are immeasurably grateful for Michael’s decades-long commitment to UMS. All of us who attend UMS events have him to thank for pushing UMS and our audiences to be curious and for introducing us to artists and art forms across an expansive variety of genres.”

“Michael’s tenure and contributions here at UMS are simply extraordinary and have positioned UMS to be the cultural leader it is today,” added UMS President Matthew VanBesien. “He’s contributed so much over his 36 years, and done so with strong artistic conviction, fresh and creative thinking, and true passion for the arts and the artists we present. He will truly be missed.”

“Mark Jacobson has been an excellent and inspiring colleague at UMS for many years, and his promotion to Vice President of Programming & Production reaffirms UMS’s commitment to a vibrant and wide-ranging program,” said VanBesien. “It has been a great joy to work more closely with Mark during this transitional year, and he has demonstrated that he will move UMS’s programming portfolio forward, provide leadership for major projects and new producing opportunities, and work with our staff, board, and guest artists in exciting new ways. As someone who already has a strong historical track record within UMS, Mark’s appointment allows us to build on all that we have already accomplished through Michael’s tenure, and work in even more open and collaborative ways as we look towards our 150th season in 2029.”

Kondziolka began at UMS in 1987 as an intern in the development department while working on a master’s degree in clarinet at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater & Dance. He spent a year in marketing and production before creating and building the departmental structure for artistic planning and production for UMS in 1992. His deep knowledge of classical music combined with his insatiable curiosity for new art forms and ideas led to UMS’s reputation as one of the country’s leading performing arts presenters, recognized through awards like the National Medal of Arts and through international partnerships with major arts organizations worldwide. He was honored by the nation of France in 2016 when he was made a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture.

In 1998, Kondziolka hired Mark Jacobson to assist with the planning, execution, and work of the programming and production departments. Mark’s keen interest and experience in jazz allowed him to take over that part of the programming portfolio, and over the past two decades he has taken on more responsibilities, now serving as UMS’s Senior Programming Manager. In this role, he served as lead producer on the filmed UMS production of James Anthony Tyler’s Some Old Black Man, which was broadcast at no charge to over 20,000 households worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. He was also the chief architect this past fall of a weeklong UMS/U-M residency featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, culminating in the Michigan premiere of Marsalis’s All Rise, composed for symphony orchestra, jazz orchestra, and chorus, and a halftime show featuring JLCO with Wynton Marsalis in collaboration with the Michigan Marching Band, performed for 115,000 fans at Michigan Stadium and aired on national TV.

Wendell Pierce, noted actor, producer, and performer in Some Old Black Man, noted, “I worked closely with Mark Jacobson and the UMS team during the depths of the pandemic as we safely produced a newly filmed theater production. His leadership and collaboration with our cast and creative team was first rate. UMS will greatly benefit from Mark in this new role as Vice President, as he has such a strong commitment to the fullest spectrum of programming, and to the artists who create it.”

Matthew VanBesien added, “I also want to recognize the exceptional work of UMS Programming Manager Mary Roeder, Vice President of Learning & Engagement Cayenne Harris, Director of Production Ryan Graves, Vice President of Marketing and Communications Sara Billmann, the entire programming, production, and learning and engagement teams, and our broader UMS staff for their excellent work, alongside Michael Kondziolka, in developing the program for the 23/24 season, which will be announced next month. We’ve also greatly valued the UMS board programming committee, whose co-chairs in Brian Willen and Versell Smith have provided counsel and guidance to the team for the past several years.”

“I’m honored to continue the work of UMS and its mission of offering a broad palette of distinctive and diverse performing arts experiences to the University’s students, faculty, and staff,” says Jacobson, “while also strengthening our creative and community connections throughout southeastern Michigan. UMS audiences have always challenged the organization to innovate and I look forward to engaging our patrons in new and exciting ways.”


Read the full press release (PDF)

Donor Spotlight: Kathy and Bert Moberg

Kathy and Bert Moberg

Kathy and Bert Moberg have spent a lifetime developing their passion for the performing arts — especially theater. After decades of attending UMS performances and supporting UMS’s mission as loyal annual donors, Bert (B.G.S., ’76, L.S.A.) and Kathy (B.A., ’79, L.S.A.) decided that they wanted to help make a lasting and meaningful impact on UMS’s theater programming efforts by making a significant gift to establish the UMS Theater Endowment Fund.

In the following interview, we talked with Bert and Kathy about their passion for the arts and UMS, what inspired them to increase their giving to establish this endowment fund, and their hopes for others to join them!

Tell us a little about your background with the arts.

We both grew up in homes that valued the arts and literature. We each took music lessons, attended occasional concerts and plays, visited museums, and were voracious readers. Our interest in the performing arts has been a work in progress, increasing over the years. This shared interest even led to the choice for our honeymoon location, Stratford, Ontario!

When and how did you first become involved with UMS?

We attended a few UMS performances when we were dating, notably Handel’s Messiah and Zubin Mehta with the Israel Philharmonic. Live performances fell off our radar for a number of years when we were first married and our children were young. Then, when our eldest son, Eric (BA ’05) was about 13 or 14, he happened to pick up a UMS flyer that arrived in the day’s mail, looked it over, and asked, “Why don’t we ever go to any of these events?” We simply had never thought of it, so Bert and Eric picked out a couple shows to see together and enjoyed them. Sean (BA ’08) and Kelsey (BA ’10 from EMU) didn’t want to be left out, so the next year, we bought a few tickets for the 5 of us and it snowballed from there.

Do you have favorite or most memorable performance memories?

We’ve seen so many wonderful UMS performances over the years, it is impossible to pick just one or two. If we stick strictly to theater experiences, the Royal Shakespeare residencies in the early 2000s really stand out. That is when we began ordering season tickets for our family. The Gate Theatre’s Waiting for Godot in 2000 remains fresh in my mind, as does the Globe Theatre’s Twelfth Night in 2004 where the audience watched the male actors transform themselves into female characters on stage before the play actually began. That was astonishingly moving.

A Christmas Carol performed by the National Theatre of Scotland in December 2015 was extraordinary! It’s also memorable because we were able to attend it with all 3 of our adult children. When we bought the tickets, we thought it would be a fun afternoon out over the holidays, never expecting it to be such a magical, immersive experience. The kids still talk about it, too!

One of our very first theater experiences, back when we were dating in the mid-1970s, was Michael Redgrave’s Shakespeare’s People, a one-man show in Power Center where he performed selections from The Bard’s plays. I remember being thrilled to have the opportunity to see such a legendary actor live and felt grateful that being a student at U-M made it possible.

I love seeing so many students and young people in UMS audiences now — we are all part of a continuum.

What inspired you to establish the UMS Theater Endowment Fund? How do you envision/hope this fund will impact UMS now and into the future?

We love live performances, and theater is a particular passion for us. We appreciate the experience of sharing auditorium space with the actors on stage and the diverse audience around us. The university setting we have in Ann Arbor is a perfect venue for creativity within traditional theater and we are excited to have found a way we can channel our resources to make an impact. We envision this endowment assisting UMS in researching and bringing world-class traditional theater productions to our community. So much is involved, from travel to discussions with companies, to lining up financing, to arranging for visas… it all takes time, expertise, and money. We hope this endowment can be a catalyst for the larger undertaking of presenting plays that attendees will discuss, ponder, and remember for years.

Our goal is for this endowment to grow as practical way to assist UMS in enhancing its traditional theater offerings. We chose a broad, general name for this fund to make it clear that we would be delighted if fellow theater supporters participated with a contribution to the endowment fund at any level.

What advice would you have for someone who is exploring UMS performances for the first time (or even someone who has been a patron for years)?

Be open to new experiences! In addition to attending the many UMS events we know we will love each year, we always purchase tickets to some shows that sound unfamiliar to us. We have learned a lot by doing this and have added many artists, companies, and even some new categories to our list of favorites. We reliably leave the venue having had a fresh, interesting, thought-provoking experience. How lucky we are to have these opportunities!


If you wish to contribute to the UMS Theater Endowment Fund, we welcome your support! Please call the UMS Development Office at 734.764.8489. Every gift makes a difference and will ensure that traditional theater remains a part of UMS now and for future generations to come.

Announcing UMS’s April Residency at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse

Top Moments from No Safety Net 3.0

Five unique ticketed experiences. Contextual events connecting the University of Michigan Campus. Activities for families and schools. And a powerful free digital presentation.

More than 5,000 audience members of all ages participated in UMS’s No Safety Net 3.0 Festival, centered around critical topics in today’s world — including the environment and climate change, capitalism, forced migration, and unspoken private lives.

Enjoy a look back on our favorite moments:


The Plastic Bag Store Grand Opening

The Plastic Bag Store opened to tremendous success, quickly selling out more than 40 public performances. Extensive local and national media coverage of the show included artist interviews and videos produced by the University of Michigan, The Associated Press, USA Today, and The Weather Channel…just to name a few!

In the week of its grand opening, creator Robin Frohardt joined the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series at the Michigan Theater. The presentation was also streamed online and is available to watch on YouTube.

All attendees to The Plastic Bag Store had access to a digital guide, complete with behind-the-scenes features, program notes, and more resources about the effects of single-use plastics.


Welcoming Students

Michigan students attending The Plastic Bag Store

More than 20 full-length showings of The Plastic Bag Store were made available to University of Michigan class groups and local K-12 schools. We also invited students and teachers to share their post-show experiences with us online.

“I love how much was put into this exhibit and I also appreciate how they got their point of the entire thing while making it entertaining and enjoyable.”


Free Family Days

Plastic Bag Store Family Day

UMS welcomed 500 guests across two specially designed Plastic Bag Store family days in partnership with the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Young “shoppers” (ages 3+) could explore products and participate in a guided, hands-on art-making activity with local artist Sajeev Visweswaran.


Working Backwards

Are we not drawn onward to new erA performance

Immediately following their appearance at New York City’s Under the Radar Festival, Belgian theater collective Ontroerend Goed presented two public shows and one school day performance of their palindromic Are we not drawn onward to new erA. The striking and inventive work, which gets filmed live and then replayed “backwards” for the audience, questions whether we can undo the damage we’ve inflicted on the earth.

The company also presented a workshop at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, showing students their process of performing in reverse.


Crossing Borders

Cultural Exchange Rate at The Stamps Gallery

UMS offered 32 performances of Tania El Khoury’s multi-sensory Cultural Exchange Rate in the Stamps Gallery. Audiences were given a set of keys and invited to unlock safety deposit boxes that held pieces of El Khoury’s family history. The work examines the never-ending story of migration through oral histories, family archives, and reconstructed memories.

During the run, Tania El Khoury joined the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series at the Michigan Theater, exploring the work as a case study in audience interactivity and the political potential of live art. The presentation was also streamed online and is available to watch on YouTube.


A Powerful Journey

Selina Thompson

No Safety Net 3.0 included another powerful work of storytelling that crossed borders and continents, in our digital presentation of salt:dispersed by UK-based performance artist Selina Thompson. Her award-winning dramatic monologue follows a journey she made by cargo ship to retrace the triangular route of the transatlantic slave trade.

Audience members graciously shared how the experience of viewing salt:dispersed resonated with them:

“Breathe deeply and step into this sacred space. You will have your heart cracked open.”

“Very revealing. Priceless and thought-provoking. Thank you.”

“A beautiful, heartfelt and healing journey.”

“Excellent performance. Excellent storytelling. I felt as if I was in the story.”


President Ono and Guests Visit The Plastic Bag Store

University of Michigan president Santa Ono, Ann Arbor mayor Christopher Taylor, and other special guests attended The Plastic Bag Store alongside UMS’s leadership and board of directors, and had the opportunity to meet and interact with creator Robin Frohardt.


Talking Trash

In support of The Plastic Bag Store, the U-M Museum of Art, U-M Arts Initiative, the Graham Sustainability Institute, and UMS joined forces to offer “Talking Trash” — a livestreamed panel discussion exploring various ways to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics.


Unleashing Inside Voices

Sing It! Spirit of Envy

In advance of their performances of Our Carnal Hearts, theater maker Rachel Mars and singer/arranger Louise Mothersole led students from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s ‘Heightened Language’ class in a traveling project called “Sing it! Spirit of Envy.”

Students submitted their “envies,” which Mothersole crafted into a witty, disruptive, 5-minute choral work they all performed together in the lobby at the U-M Ross School of Business. The performance was filmed and will be shared soon!


The Art of Letter Writing

Sold-out showings of Rachel Mars’s Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters sent audiences howling in the final weekend of No Safety Net performances! The show juxtaposed raunchy, erotic, expertly crafted communications from historic figures — including James Joyce, Mozart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Georgia O’Keefe — with vapid, grammarless, crass text messages of the modern dating app era.

Mars visited with University of Michigan’s undergraduate ‘Engaging Performance’ class in the weeks before and after the show, to share her creative process and hear their performance reactions.


Student Closing Party

No Safety Net Student Closing Part at NOW studios

The University Musical Society’s Student Committee was joined by nearly 50 U-M students to celebrate the success of the festival, with special performances from Cece June and the Calista Quartet at Now Studios. Overall, students accounted for more than 25% of all No Safety Net audience members!

Thank you to our supporters!

No Safety Net 3.0 was presented in partnership with the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

College of Literature, Science, and the Arts


Thank you to the many supporters who made No Safety Net 3.0 a memorable festival for all!


Rachel Bendit and Mark Bernstein
U-M Arts Initiative


Max Wicha and Sheila Crowley
An anonymous donor supporting programming about environmental sustainability
U-M College of Literature, Science & the Arts
University of Michigan Credit Union Arts Adventures program
Oxford Companies
Destination Ann Arbor


Ilene H. Forsyth Theater Endowment Fund


University of Michigan Museum of Art
U-M Graham Sustainability Institute


WEMU 89.1 FM
Michigan Radio 91.7 FM
Ann Arbor’s 107one

Announcing the 2022 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year

The University Musical Society (UMS) and the DTE Energy Foundation are pleased to honor Washtenaw Technical Middle College teacher Emily Zdyrko as the 2022 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year.

The award recognizes and celebrates educators who value the importance of arts education and create a culture for the arts to flourish in their school communities.

Zdyrko is an accomplished theater arts educator who has deepened the Washtenaw Technical Middle College’s already strong performance-based study of drama in the English classroom. She is a dedicated educator and an inspiration not only for her students but the entire school community at WTMC.

Focusing on inclusion and belonging, Zdyrko created and continues to sponsor the WTMC Writing Club, a student-led writing group that has become both a refuge and a celebration for many creative, sensitive, and at-risk students in the school. The club is a safe space for many of WTMC’s gender nonconforming or nonbinary students, and it is also a welcoming place where students from more rural and conservative backgrounds participate and get to know their peers.

The WTMC Writing Club produces an annual anthology of original student work. The club maintained uninterrupted meetings through the pandemic, providing a crucial social and emotional outlet and source of interpersonal connections for their students.

Zdyrko continues to lead by example and contributes remarkably to the curriculum by bringing her background in theater arts to the school. Every year, WTMC chooses a local or regional production of a play and teaches that text to their entire first-year cohort, takes them to the performance, then discusses it afterward as an academic text. Through her dedication and care, she has expanded WTMC’s focus to include musical theater and has shared many innovative techniques with students.

WTMC teacher Emily Zdyrko stands with her students as she holds her award

WTMC Writing Club students highlight Zdyrko’s unconditional support and guidance.

“The DTE Energy Foundation is proud to support the University Musical Society and to honor Emily Zdyrko as the 2022 DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year,” said Lynette Dowler, President of the DTE Foundation. “Her commitment to the WTMC Writing Club — including making sure that students had an outlet during the pandemic when social connections were particularly important and also rare — shows her incredible dedication to her students above and beyond teaching English.”

“We’re so thrilled to present Emily Zdyrko with the DTE Energy Foundation Educator of the Year Award for 2022,” said Cayenne Harris, UMS Vice President for Learning and Engagement. “Each year, we’re inspired by the nominations for so many creative, resourceful, and committed teachers who are making a difference in their students’ lives by incorporating the arts into their instructional practice. Emily Zdyrko stood out to us this year for her efforts to use the arts to create an inclusive environment for her students while giving them a creative outlet. We’re excited to see how her program evolves over the coming years.”

Read full press release (PDF)


Talking Trash: an Interactive Discussion Inspired by The Plastic Bag Store

The U-M Museum of Art, U-M Arts Initiative, the Graham Sustainability Institute, and UMS joined forces to offer this illuminating event designed to share diverse perspectives and empower individual action.

Single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, and cutlery, have become a major environmental concern due to their widespread use and presence as a global polluter. These plastics can take hundreds of years to break down, and, in the process, release harmful chemicals into the environment.

During the event, the diverse panel of experts will explore various ways to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, such as using reusable alternatives, implementing policies to reduce plastic production and consumption, and promoting recycling and proper waste management. The speakers will also discuss the role that individuals, businesses, and governments can play in addressing this issue.

Michigan Connections Run Deep in Sphinx Symphony Orchestra’s First US Tour

Sphinx Symphony Orchestra with Exigence

Now in its 25th year, the Sphinx Organization is the Detroit-based, nationally focused social justice organization dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Part of the Sphinx Organization, the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra is a unique all-Black and Latinx orchestra, composed of top professionals from around the country. UMS is honored to present the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, January 29, 2023, before the ensemble heads to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on its first-ever U.S. tour.

The tour combines the artistic forces of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and EXIGENCE Vocal Ensemble, and celebrates centuries of Black excellence in music — from powerful spirituals to exciting new music written by some of today’s most sought-after composers. And, several artists and works featured in the program have deep connections to the University of Michigan:


Aundi Marie Moore

Aundi Marie MooreSoprano Aundi Marie Moore completed her Master of Music Degree at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. She quickly established herself as an exceptional talent with her recent appearance as Strawberry Woman in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2021/22 season revival of Porgy and Bess. She will make her UMS debut as a soloist on the program, singing the spiritual “Fix Me, Jesus.”


Dr. Eugene Rogers

Eugene RogersA two-time Michigan Emmy Award winner, a 2017 Sphinx Medal of Excellence recipient, and a 2015 GRAMMY® Award nominee, Eugene Rogers is recognized as a leading conductor and pedagogue throughout the United States and abroad. In addition to being the founding director of EXIGENCE, Dr. Rogers is the director of choirs and an associate professor of conducting at the University of Michigan.



Carlos Simon

Carlos SimonThe program will open with a work by Michigan alumnus and composer Carlos Simon. Simon wrote Motherboxx Connection originally as the first part of his four-movement Tales: A Folklore Symphony, commissioned by the Sphinx Organization for its 25th anniversary and by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra. This piece is inspired by the heroic characters found in the work of creative duo Black Kirby, whose work references pop culture contributions of comic book artist Jack Kirby, in evolving conversation with Afrofuturism, struggles for social justice, and the politics and poetics of Hip Hop.

Read program notes on Motherboxx Connection from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.


Seven Last Words of the Unarmed

Seven African-American men — each killed by police or by authority figures — are the subject of a powerful multi-movement choral work by composer Joel Thompson titled Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. The piece premiered in 2015 by the University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club under the direction of Dr. Eugene Rogers. Filmed at Michigan, the video above mirrors the poignant finale of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra’s tour program, pairing Seven Last Words with “Glory” from the motion picture Selma (arranged by Eugene Rogers).

View a full documentary of the work and educational materials at


Buy Tickets

Experience the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra with EXIGENCE, Sunday, January 29 at 2 pm in Hill Auditorium. Full Program Info & Tickets

Conductor Eugene Rogers joins composers Joel Thompson and Carlos Simon to give further insight into Seven Last Words of the Unarmed and Motherboxx Connection in a pre-concert talk, Hill Auditorium Lower Lobby at 1 pm.

Dear Most Valued Customers…

Robin Frohardt ouside The Plastic Bag Store

UMS presents Robin Frohardt’s The Plastic Bag Store, January 17 – February 5, 2023.

Dear Most Valued Customers:

It’s almost impossible for me to try to explain what it is you are about to experience and the journey it took to get here. I started working on The Plastic Bag Store in 2015 after watching someone bag and double bag all my groceries that were already bags inside of bags inside of boxes. I wanted to highlight the absurd amount of packaging we are using and throwing away by making something even more absurd: a grocery store that only sold packaging.

Over time the project evolved into an elaborate live immersive puppet play with transforming sets and hidden rooms. For several years, my amazing team and I slowly pieced together this epic beast of a project. Sometimes that meant working with the support of prestigious residencies at architectural firms and fellowships at Universities. But more often it meant grueling rehearsals, endless schlepping and hours spent sifting through NYC garbage.

With all the pieces finally in place and a venue to die for, The Plastic Bag Store was set to open in the heart of Times Square on March 18, 2020…ya know… the day the whole world shut down? We did one amazing dress rehearsal and locked the doors and walked away.

I think part of me wanted to give up after that. Thankfully, with the persistence of vision of the team at Pomegranate Arts and the generous support of CAP UCLA, we were able to create a filmed version of the project. I was relieved that there would be a record of what we created (we didn’t film that last rehearsal), but I never imagined how beautiful the film would turn out, and how perfectly it would capture the story as I see it in my head.

We then found a way to integrate the film into the installation for a truly unique live experience which we opened in Times Square, and have since taken to Australia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Austin! I couldn’t be more excited to share it now with the lovely people of Ann Arbor.

-Robin Frohardt

Robin Frohardt: The Magic of the Mundane

The Plastic Bag Store creator Robin Frohardt joined U-M’s Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series on January 12, 2023.


UMS Connect: Rachel Mars

Welcome to UMS Connect, a new digital series that invites audiences to dive deeper into the season’s performances in casual conversations with artists and creators.

In this Episode

Programming Manager Mary Roeder speaks with writer and performer Rachel Mars, in advance of her two shows coming to UMS’s No Safety Net 3.0 Festival:

Our Carnal Hearts
Feb 1 – 4, 2023 // Arthur Miller Theatre

Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters
Feb 4 – 5, 2023 // Arthur Miller Theatre

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