Meet the 2019/20 Season 21st Century Artist Interns
Each year, UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance pair students with a summer internship working for a dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS will present in its upcoming season.
The 21st Century Artist Internship is a highly competitive program developed to prepare students for new demands that working artists face in the contemporary marketplace. In addition to generating outstanding creative work, today’s artists are also tasked with reaching potential audiences in innovative ways. This unique program provides real-world work experience and professional connections to help develop these skills within the context of UMS’s programming.
Full Press Release (PDF)
The 21st Century Artist Internship program is made possible in part by the Jay Ptashek and Karen Elizaga Family.
This Year’s Interns
Class of 2020
UMS Presentation: American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake
Victoria Briones is a senior dance major, expected to graduate in May 2020. She was born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, where she trained in ballet, jazz, and contemporary styles. She loves to choreograph, and, in doing so, strives to connect her passions of art and activism.
Briones will intern in artistic programming at the Joyce Theater (New York, NY), one of the nation’s premier venues for dance presentation. She will also participate in the intern professional development program at American Ballet Theatre and serve as an occasional intern for education.
Class of 2020
Major: Voice Performance
Minor: Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship
UMS Presentation: Stew & The Negro Problem
Zion Jackson, from Dewitt, MI, is studying Voice Performance with a minor in Performing Arts Management & Entrepreneurship. Zion is a member and the Business Manager of the Michigan Men’s Glee Club, a representative for the School of Music, Theatre, & Dance in Central Student Government, and is also an avid performer in student-run musical theater productions. He is very passionate about leadership, the arts, and non-profit organizations. In his free time, Zion enjoys traveling, cooking, and exploring new art. Zion is so excited to represent UMS as a 21st Century Artist Intern this summer, and is looking forward to learning more about what it means to be an arts professional.
Jackson will serve as the personal assistant to performer, composer, and writer Stew. Stew is the creator of the Tony Award-winning musical Passing Strange and front man of his eponymous band Stew & The Negro Problem (New York, NY).
Class of 2021
Minors: Movement Science and Performing Arts Management
UMS Presentation: ANTHEM
Shannon Nulf is a third-year University of Michigan Dance BFA with minors in Movement Science and Performing Arts Management from Hancock, MI. At U-M, she has participated in works by multiple BFA and MFA students, as well as two university productions, one of which included restaging Urban Bush Women’s work Shelter. She co-founded and serves on the board of a dance student organization called “Arts in Color” where she and her peers create and pursue DEI initiatives within the department, and will serve as President of the Dance Student Assembly for the 2019-2020 school year.
Nulf will assist choreographer Milka Djordjevich in the development of her new dance work CORPS during a residency at the prestigious Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University (Tallahassee). Following the residency, Nulf will support the presentation of Djordjevich’s ANTHEM in Philadelphia and Djordevich’s administrative activities in Los Angeles through LA Performance Practice.
Class of 2020
Major: Theatre Arts/Directing and History
UMS Presentation: The Believers Are But Brothers
Isabel K. Olson, from Atlanta, GA, is a dual degree student in History and Theatre Arts with a Directing concentration. Previous artistic projects include directing MUSKET’s Cabaret, serving as a Literary Intern for the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and assisting as a Programming Intern for the New York Musical Festival. As an advocate for new theatrical works and theater for social change, Olson is excited to assist artist Javaad Alipoor in bringing The Believers Are But Brothers to the Arthur Miller Theater January 22-25 for UMS’s No Safety Net festival.
Olson will assist theater artist Javaad Alipoor on the presentation of his two original plays, Rich Kids and The Believers Are but Brothers, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK).
Class of 2020
UMS Presentation: Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Karalyn Schubring is a composer, pianist, and improviser from Gilbert, Arizona, who is dedicated to inspiring others to engage imaginatively with music. Since beginning her piano and composition studies at a young age, her music has received awards from several national organizations. An avid performer of new music, Karalyn is a founding member of Front Porch, a quartet of violin, bassoon, piano, and percussion that reimagines the classical concert as a shared experience of warmth and love. She will graduate in 2020 with her Bachelor of Music Degree in Composition, having studied piano with Matthew Bengtson and composition with Bright Sheng, Roshanne Etezady, Evan Chambers, and Kristin Kuster.
Schubring will intern in artistic programming and fundraising at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
UMS and the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance extend our congratulations to the 2019/20 interns! Follow @umspresents on Instagram for “on the ground” updates from them throughout the Summer!
21st Century Intern Travelogue: Kandis Terry
“My summer experience as one of four UMS interns is one that I cannot put into words. This opportunity not only gave me the chance to grow as a student, but also gave me every tool I didn’t know I needed to heal as an artist.”
Kandis Terry spent the summer of 2018 in New York City with Camille A. Brown & Dancers (CABD) as part of her 21st Century Internship — a program in collaboration with UMS and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
The best part of my time as a 21st Century Intern was that I was able to surround myself with all types of artists from diverse cultures and ancestral backgrounds. I realize that I have a voice and that my quality of movement matters. I saw the possibilities and wonders that artistic “creation”—specifically that of Black Women—can do. Through Camille’s artistry and leadership, and with her unique administrative team, I have been able to make many new professional connections and forge relationships. Here are two of my favorite experiences from my summer:
Dance/USA Annual Conference
One of the most memorable experiences from my internship was attending the extraordinary Dance/USA annual conference in Los Angeles. There I engaged in a delightful conversation with leaders representing many demographics about social stature, gender, and race within movement and culture—in particular, Black men, women, boys, and girls. Although these topics are not always given the spotlight or recognition in what is known today as a common and adequate professionalism in the art of dance, Camille’s work gives voice to social issues that have been presumably swept under the rug for a long time.
Gibney Dance Center Educational Panel
Much of my time in New York was surrounded around mental health awareness. I had the pleasure of working with CABD’s Managing Director Indira Goodwine, whose sense of positive morale and work ethic I really looked up to. She taught me to grow and continue be the best version of myself, or at least strive to be.
On my first day of my internship, I observed her talk as part of a three-member panel at the Gibney Dance Choreographic Center, which represented a perfect balance of poise, eloquence, and artistic measure. Each artist spoke to their unique experiences as a professional dancer up to this point in their respective careers.
Indira was the only woman on panel, and encouraged all of the women in the room to pursue a successful career in the arts profession. She spoke about how incorporating mental wellness in your work field or place environment contributes to one’s success and overall happiness in life, with some wise words on how to conclude each day:
- “We are in charge of what, when, and how we make both sense of and success with the findings we collect from our artistic research.”
- “What you have to offer is more than you know.”
- “Language matters.”
CABD dancer Maleek Washington was also on the panel, and offered great advice to those in attendance:
- Know who you are as a person and who you are as a dancer.
- Instagram gives you instant access to publicity at your fingertips.
- ‘Word of Mouth’ is important.
- Go see shows, take class!
- Put in hard work now.
It was a great way to start my internship! From that point on I knew it was my job and my responsibility to capture and embrace all of the tasks and opportunities presented to me over these next upcoming summer months.
While at U-M, my educational experience has been enriched but challenging. This internship saved me. It showed me that many artists of color struggle with mental wellness. In response and efforts to address this epidemic, we must be resilient and push forward with our talents and passion for creativity.
At times I have felt lost, but my 21st Century Internship experience, in its entirety, was an affirmation for me, and the beginning to my course and journey towards healing and setting new goals.
Student Spotlight: Casey Voss with the New York Philharmonic and the NYU Music Experience Design Lab
Editor’s note: As part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internships program, four students interned for a minimum of five weeks with a dance, theater, or music ensemble part of our 2017-2018 season. Casey Voss is one of these students. This summer, he was embedded with the New York Philharmonic.
Below, Casey shares his travel stories with the orchestra in advance of the New York Philharmonic’s return Ann Arbor for three concerts and many residency activities November 17-19, 2017.
Over the course of my internship I worked alongside two arts organizations: the NYU Music Experience Design Lab (MusEDLab) and the New York Philharmonic Archives Department. I was thrilled to be involved with two groups that make a tremendous impact on a global scale. MusEDLab is involved in a wide spectrum of projects, including creating interactive digital content to facilitate music education for children. In addition to being a world-renowned orchestra, the New York Philharmonic is responsible for extensive outreach projects for early education and community engagement.
I spent the first week of my internship exploring some of the projects that the MusEDLab had been developing. Groove Pizza is a fun space for children effortlessly write their first beat using colors and shapes. Projects in collaboration with the Philharmonic included the various Variation Playgrounds where the user recomposes such classics as Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. MusEDLab also creates more research-driven content, such as “Mahler Grooves,” an interactive platform that allows users to explore Mahler’s Sixth symphony with multiple scores and recordings synced in real time.
Photos: On Left, group photo of Guitar Mash NYC’s first-ever youth event, hosted by MusEdLab at NYU Steinhardt. This program is an incredible opportunity for young songwriters and beginners to come together and share their music. On Right, MusEdLab explores their latest analytics data at their weekly “sync meeting”.
Meanwhile, I made my first visit to the New York Philharmonic Archives. I was introduced to director Barbara Haws who gave me the 30-second tour of of an incredibly dense office space. Being surrounded by Grammy awards, Gustav Mahler’s baton, and countless volumes of historic documents sent me straight to music-nerd heaven. After introductions were out of the way, she set me behind a computer screen with the complete volume of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts (YPCs) and said, “go!”
I was immediately overwhelmed at the scope of this content. There were so many episodes––53 to be exact! As alluring as it may have seemed, I wasn’t prepared to sit in a fancy chair and watch T.V. for the next 53 hours. I quickly realized that there was a need for a better way to navigate these programs, but I wasn’t quite sure what that would entail.
The technology that I had witnessed at the MusEDLab continued to settle in my brain. That evening on the 2 train I had my “Eureka!” moment, relating directly to the “Mahler Grooves” platform that I had encountered days before. What if the technology that allowed users to toggle between different scores and recordings could be applied to the various scripts and musical cues concerning the YPC episodes? This tool would streamline the research process, allowing users to spend more time making connections with the data and less time sifting through the content.
Photos: On left, Alex Ruthmann (right) and I pose for a photo during the final week of my internship. On Right, a sunny day in front of Alice Tulley Hall at Lincoln Center.
Equally as as gratifying was the fantastic time I was having exploring New York City. There was plenty of time to visit museums, eat pizza slices the size of my face (or larger), and attend as many shows as possible. Observing the New York Philharmonic’s rehearsal of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in David Geffen Hall was one of the highlights of my visit. Seeing a world class ensemble perform some of the most gut-wrenching repertoire at 9 am on a Thursday really put things into perspective.
Photos: On left, enjoying a Super Slice at the Pizza Barn in Yonkers, NY. On right, a view from an empty lobby in David Geffen Hall as the New York Philharmonic prepares for a rehearsal of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony.
I made many new friends both inside and outside of the internship as well. Some of these friendships began at the Music and Mentoring House (MMH), a brownstone walk-up in Harlem where I lived for six weeks. Hosted by American Operatic Soprano Lauren Flanigan, MMH provided all of the basic needs for artists interning in the city. Lauren cooked, cleaned, and told us incredible stories from her illustrious career. Her generosity eased our anxieties and allowed us to remain focused on finishing our projects. I’m grateful for the opportunities that Lauren created for us to escape the chaos of city life.
Photos: On the left, Sandbox Percussion Quartet takes the stage at the hip Brooklyn rooftop bar simply known as “The Roof” on the final evening of my internship. On the right, taking it easy after a hard-day’s work on the Hybar Pavilion, a twisting grass canopy located on the rooftop of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Since leaving New York, I’ve kept in touch Alex and Barbara, continuing to refine the project for a collaborative course between Harvard College and the University of Michigan. Students in this class are investigating the impact that Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts have had on his audience. One of the most rewarding aspects of this internship was creating something designed to make other’s lives easier. This project was my first opportunity to present and execute an idea for which I had total creative control. Alex guided my work, but our dynamic was unlike that of a typical teacher-student relationship. All of these factors coming together granted me a real-world experience—a tangible achievement that impacts the lives of other people. As I transition from school to the professional world, this 21st Century Artist Internship has given competitive edge in an ever-evolving artistic landscape.
The New York Philharmonic performs in Ann Arbor November 17-19, 2017.
November 28: Giving Blueday 2017
One celebration. 24 hours. One generous match.
Give to inspire students of all ages.
Today is Giving Blueday, and we’re seeking to raise $100,000 to support creative learning experiences at UMS that connect students of all ages with innovative performing artists from around the globe.
For 24 hours, you can double the impact of your gift.
U-M alums, who support UMS, have made a generous commitment to match 1:1 all new gifts to support student experiences at UMS made online on Giving Blueday — not only new gifts from new donors, but also increased giving from those who already support UMS annually. And of course we welcome all gifts from loyal UMS supporters to help us reach our goal that day!
Join us and thousands across the University of Michigan community to support extraordinary student experiences at Michigan.
Your gift to UMS on Giving Blueday will support:
UMS 21st Century Artist Internships
Each summer, UMS offers paid summer internships that give undergraduate students real-world experience, working behind the scenes with professional artists and ensembles from around the world that UMS will present the following season. When students return to campus, they help welcome the visiting artists to Ann Arbor and host a variety of educational and community engagement activities for their peers on campus.
In this video, 21st Century Intern Johnny Mathews shares his experience with Urban Bush Women in New York City, which UMS presents in January, 2018.
Discounted Student Tickets
College students account for 20% of the UMS audience. To ensure they have access to the best and most innovative artists from around the globe, UMS provides $12, and $20 student tickets to our mainstage performances — reflecting a 67% effective discount and over $420,000 in generous ticket subsidies.
Pictured: students at a January dance performance with Igor & Moreno that surprised and delighted audiences.
UMS Engaging Performance Course
A unique undergraduate class where students from across campus attend UMS mainstage performances, connect directly with visiting artists in class, and get to explore a variety of art forms and themes, often around relevant social issues. Rave reviews highlight how the class has opened students to new ideas and given them the opportunity to connect and collaborate with peers from a wide range of academic disciplines.
UMS School Day Performances and In-School Workshops
Each season, thousands of young students from across Southeast Michigan have access to extraordinary learning experiences that inspire and motivate. They bring a contagious and joyful enthusiasm to UMS School Day Performances and participate in free pre- and post-show workshops back at school, where they have the chance to explore an artist’s work in more depth and try similar creations — all connected to what they’re learning in class.
Be a Victor for the Arts at UMS.
And give the gift of uncommon and engaging learning experiences. Join us for Giving Blueday.
Student Spotlight: Johnny Mathews at Urban Bush Women
This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.
U-M student Johnny Mathews was paired with Urban Bush Women in Summer 2017. Urban Bush Women perform in Ann Arbor on January 12, 2018.
Photos: Group photo of all Urban Bush Women’s Student Leadership Institute (SLI) participants at the end of the Culminating Performance
This summer, thanks to UMS’s 21st Century Artist Internship program, I was able to spend two months in New York City and had experiences that surely changed my life in known and unknown ways. I was placed within, 33-year-old dance company, Urban Bush Women (UBW), a Brooklyn-based dance company dedicated to sharing stories of the African diaspora and committed to enacting social change through dance and workshops. Most of my time with the company was focused on preparing for UBW’s Summer Leadership Institute (SLI). I assisted in administrative work to help the administrative staff as they readied all that goes into having a long workshop for over one hundred participants and staff.
This ten-day intensive program was entitled: You, Me, We – Understanding Internalized Racial Oppression and How It Manifests in Our Artistic Community. SLI consisted of dance classes that was accessible for every body–type, size, ability– to do and be involved in. These dance classes were used as ways to share different African-American dance traditions, such as the ring-shout, the Second Line, and J-Setting. Dance was just a small portion of the day, however. The first seven days of the program were focused on discussions about racism and how it manifests in our community, as well as how and what we can do as artists to help combat racism.
This first meant that we had to truly understand the systems and operations that have been in place in our country that have systematically oppressed marginalized communities. These workshops were led by an organization that works to undermine racism in communities around the country: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). I learned so much from these workshops, and my frame of reference was completely shifted with respect to how I think and talk about racism in America. I still find myself processing a lot of the information that was presented and discussed to this day.
Photos: On left, Vincent Thomas passionately leading class at SLI. On right, volunteers who helped with Black Velvet Fundraising Performance Art Event at the 14th St Y.
For the last few days of the program, the focus shifted to actually creating a culminating performance that would be presented to an audience. The way this was created was really special and something that I had never been a part of before. Instead of having one leader or creator heading the creative process, the show was created very democratically. It started with the entire community coming together and sharing what they bring to the table; whether it be music, singing, theatre, poetry, sound and light design, dance, etc. Then the performance was created by the people and allowed for everyone to showcase their best talents and abilities. Seeing the entire community come together to build upon each other’s talents was inspiring and made me think about how this can be replicated in all aspects of art making.
Though this culminating performance seemed to be the culmination of my weeks of work, there was one more part of my internship: I was able to accompany the dance company on a four-day tour to Akron, Ohio. This was a truly immersive, educational experience. I was able to follow the co-artistic directors, the company members, the company manager, and the technical director as they traversed all that comes with a quick, one-stop tour. This tour was presented by the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and was composed of two performances, a master class, and a post-show talk back. Something really interesting to see was how adaptable everyone had to be on this tour.
UBW was performing excerpts from Walking with Trane and portions of their 30th Anniversary Collage, two works that the company was not currently working on. Therefore, the dancers had only one or two rehearsals together in Akron to put these works back together. Not only were they putting it together, but they were rearranging the works while we were there, with everyone adapting to the changes perfectly. I was allowed an insider’s look into how a world-class dance company interacts with a presenter, a new community, and each other.
Photos: On left, John Mathews pictured with the New York skyline from the beaches in DUMBO, Brooklyn. On right, participating in Sidra Bell’s Summer Module 2017.
I grew so much as a person by being an intern with UBW. Not only from all the work I put in for the company and the insights I gained, but also because I was able to live in New York City for two months and was afforded opportunities that I would never have been able to have otherwise. While I was in the city, I attended Sidra Bell’s Summer Module, a week-long dance intensive that connected me with a community of New York based dancers; I saw so many different kinds of performances, such as Dearest Home by Abraham in Motion, Onegin by American Ballet Theatre, Hamilton, and many more; I assisted Shamel Pitts and Mirelle Martins in a fundraising event for their world tour of Black Velvet; and I was simply able to feel settled in while living in New York City. I had a summer immersed in all facets of the art-making process and am so grateful to UMS for the opportunity.
See Urban Bush Women on January 12, 2018.
Interview: Handstands with Bassem Youssef, political satirist
Grace Bydalek, UMS 21st Century Artist Intern, spent the summer in New York City as an intern with creative producers Pomegranite Arts. Grace interviewed Bassem Youssef, the political satirist exiled from Egypt, while doing handstands.
Bassem Youssef is at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on November 6, 2017.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Kenny Rampton
University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent Summer 2016 with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. The interview below is with Kenny Rampton, trumpet with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. The group returns to Ann Arbor with pianist Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Photo: Left to right, Wynton Marsalis, Ryan Kisor, Kenny Rampton, and Marcus Printup. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Teagan Faran: How long have you been working with Jazz Lincoln Center?
Kenny Rampton: I joined full time in June 2010. I’ve been kind of in and out as a sub more or less since the 90s. I’ve known Wynton for a long time and had also been in and out of the band before it was an established, regular band. In the beginning, it was kind of a mix with players – maybe nine trumpet players – and Wynton would call upon us, and we’d play depending on who’s available. We were all freelancing with different bands and then eventually became a set band.
TF: What about the organization attracted you to join? What makes JLCO stand out?
KR: First and foremost is the educational aspect of it. I grew up in Las Vegas, and when I was a little kid, my parents were involved in music education. My mom actually fought the school district in Clark County, Nevada where I grew up because they were trying to fire all the music teachers in elementary schools. My mom was against that. She fought the school district to make sure that there was music education in the schools from elementary school on. My dad was a percussionist, and he played in all the schools for the kids. They were both about music education and from the time I was born, music education has been part of my life.
Coming here to New York, I was touring with Ray Charles and then with Mingus Band and Jimmy McGriff. They were all great gigs, but what makes JLCO and this organization stand out more than anything else is the education. We do a lot. I just finished a master class in Poland. I did one in Cuba and others all throughout South America. We do education all over the world. To me, that’s extremely important. For me, it’s full circle. It’s continuing my parents’ work.
The other thing is that it’s just a really good band. I like playing with people who are better than me. Playing in this trumpet session with Ryan Kisor, Marcus Printup and Wynton. It’s just inspiring.
TF: Do you feel like it’s more beneficial to be with the same people in a band and get to know them?
KR: With this band, yes. I’ve done other gigs, like Broadway shows where you’re playing the same music every night, the exact same way. That can be grueling. One thing about this band is that it’s the same people, but we’re always doing new music. Normally, most of the concerts we do are brand new arrangements for that specific concert.
We’re always challenging each other with the arrangements in the band, so that keeps it interesting and helps to maintain an environment where we’re all continuously growing. The better you get, the deeper you get into it, the more you realize there’s always room for improvement. No matter how good you get, there’s always another level to get to. It’s great.
TF: As a musician and arts educator, what do you think is different about what you’re trying to accomplish nowadays, as opposed to 10 or 15 years ago?
KR: For me personally, I’m more conscious of what it is I’m trying to do. I have more direction. Before, when I first got into playing music, it was something I was good at. I was drawn to music because of that, and it was about my ego. Then, I started to become aware that music is actually not about me. It’s actually my purpose. I consider music to be a spirit that touches people and can make a difference. I started to become more aware of that and realized that when we play music, it affects people’s mood. People can come out of a gig feeling good or feeling bad. We can consciously go into it, wanting to make a difference in somebody else and how they feel.
My purpose changed after realizing this. That’s the biggest difference for me in the last decade, as I started to see music as my way of making a positive difference on the planet and life. I started seeing music as something that can really change a life and make a real difference. You realize that music can touch the heart, the spirit, and raise their vibration. Because that’s what music is, it’s a vibration. It becomes more than about me and having somebody to tell me how good I sound. It becomes a spiritual quest or a calling.
There’re so many great humanistic qualities to learning to play jazz music that we can teach students. Whether they become professional musicians or not isn’t the point, but they will become better people. You can’t help but become a better person when you have empathy and when you know how to negotiate and work with other people.
You might be in disagreement about something, but you still work together and you find a common ground, that’s what music teaches us. When we teach students, I always stress that understanding. That’s really what it’s about.
TF: What would you say to a student who’s on the fence about attending the concert?
KR: Why would somebody be on the fence about attending a concert to hear good music? To any student, I say check out everyone and any concert you can that can possibly open up doors and inside yourself. It’s not even necessarily about doors to meet players and network, there’s that. You meet people so you network, and the more opportunities you can have to meet people who are doing what it is that you want to do, the better for networking purposes.
Beyond that, you never know when somebody on that stage is going to play something extraordinary. As a student, you sit there in the audience and think, “Wow, I didn’t know that can be done on the saxophone.” It’s going to open up something that makes you want to practice and to be inspired.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor with Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Vincent Gardner
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent several weeks with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is returning to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017. The interview below is with Vincent Gardner, lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Photo: Vincent Gardner with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Photo by Frank Stewart.
Teagan Faran: Could you tell us about your role at the JLCO?
Vincent Gardner: I’m the lead trombonist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I’m also the director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Youth Orchestra, and I’m the Swing University professor. I teach classes here on jazz history and different aspects of jazz history. I’ve been here about 16 years.
TF: What about Jazz at Lincoln Center attracted to you initially?
VG: I guess when I first joined the band, I was what I’m still now, just a trombone player, who just had to play with the best musicians possible – well, musicians that I like and get along with and enjoy making music with. Those are also the ones who would inspire me to get better playing.
That was the biggest draw for Jazz at Lincoln Center. It’s a great organization. It inspires me and allows me to contribute to it. More so than just being a trombone player in a band, that is the difference. Here I have a chance to be a lot more invested in everything that goes on.
TF: Is there anything else that you would say makes Jazz at Lincoln Center stand out?
VG: I’m encouraged to connect to every part of the music. I think it’s essential in jazz music that you are always connected to every part of the music, not just what you play on your instrument. They’ve taken that philosophy here and put it into an institution, and that’s the greatest thing. You get to be involved. You’re encouraged to be involved as much as you want to be.
TF: What suggestions would you have for other ensembles that want to integrate music into their community in the same way that Jazz at Lincoln Center has?
VG: I would imagine that just about every community has great musicians or somebody doing great things in music or in the arts. You have to embrace those people and bring that community together under the guise of an institution that embraces all of the people who are doing great things for the arts.
We are a very big and prominent institution here in the city. In a smaller city, if you want to start an institution, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be as big, but it could still be very influential. You have to find out who the movers and shakers are in the arts. Who are the people that are genuinely trying to advance the arts and arts education in your city. Find out who the greatest teachers are, most genuine and greatest teachers are. Find the most talented kids, always get around the most talent.
It’s kind of the same thing playing in this group, being around the most talent and being around people who are most motivated. Once you find those people in any situation, you’ll find that you have similar goals.
TF: As a performing artist and arts educator, what are the biggest challenges you feel you’re facing today?
VG: Well, they are the same challenges. They’re not different. The biggest challenge is making sure that the same information is being communicated in the best way. For example, let’s talk about music instruction. The way they teach jazz music is not standardized. You have people who have the title of jazz educator or jazz band director, who are teaching complete misinformation to their students. Their bands don’t sound as good as a result, but because there is no other local standard or no standardized way of teaching it, they think it sounds fine. The community thinks it sounds fine because the community doesn’t really know the music anymore.
That’s one of the biggest things. You don’t find that in classical music, you don’t find that in other music. It’s only in jazz music, which is the music of this country, that you find such disparity in the level of teaching. That’s the thing I see the most in my teaching and in my traveling. It’s very hard at this point to standardize it and make sure it’s all on a high level.
TF: What would you say to a student who’s on the fence about attending a JLCO concert?
VG: I’d say, “It won’t hurt.” It definitely won’t hurt anything, and you’re going to hear a band full of great musicians, playing genuine music that has the ability to connect with people. It’s not something that’s marketed towards any one person or was ever meant to be reserved for any one group of people. That’s inherent in the sound of Swing. It can’t be played in a way that restricts it from anybody. It’s not possible to do that.
I would say that you will come, and you will find something in there that does connect with you. It could be different for every person, but it will be there because it’s inherent in music. It’s meant to connect with people. That’s the thing I would tell somebody: Take a chance. Everyone should give jazz a chance. Everyone should go to jazz concerts a few times a year.
Go to reconnect with that American ideal put into music – what’s great about society, about being American, and about people from anywhere.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017.
Artist Interview: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Carlos Henriquez
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Teagan Faran spent several weeks with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is returning to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017. The interview below is with Carlos Henriquez, bassist with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Photo: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Carlos Henriquez on bass. Courtesy of the artist.
Teagan Faran: How long have you been with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra?
Carlos Henriquez: About 15 years now.
TF: What about the organization attracted you to it?
CH: I was 13 when I met Wynton [Marsalis] through the Music Advancement Program at Juilliard. I just started hanging around him and going to some of the rehearsals. I started playing at the rehearsals, too, and then, just hanging. One thing led to another.
TF: What about Jazz Lincoln Center makes it stand out from other musical organizations to you?
CH: It’s the educational portion of it, the outreach program. JLCO is always looking for talent but also supporting other musical programs.
TF: What would you suggest to other ensembles that want to be a part of the community the way that Jazz Lincoln Center is in Manhattan?
CH: Well, I think they can look at the model for educational programming at JLCO. Many shows produced by JLCO start on a very small scale. It’s good to involve your community like we’ve done in New York and just find people who are really into the arts
TF: What are some of the challenges you think you face as a performer nowadays?
CH: The biggest challenge is the times. Times are changing, so what’s happening is that people are either not informed or their knowledge of music is very limited. People are more informed about pop culture than other culture. It’s complicated.
TF: What is the performance dynamic like in Ann Arbor?
CH: It’s always been an educational environment. Every time I’ve been there, it’s always working with students and the students seeing us play. That part is so great. Ann Arbor is also not far from Detroit, and there’re so many great Jazz musicians who come through that region. Every time we go, we usually meet great musicians and even play with them.
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra returns to Ann Arbor on March 4, 2017.
Student Spotlight: Teagan Faran at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
This post is part of a series of posts by students who are part of our 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season.
U-M student Tegan Faran was paired with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Summer 2016. The group returns to Ann Arbor with pianist Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Left: A sunny day in NYC is well spent exploring Central Park. This was a favorite spot especially thanks to the nearby Dominican ice cream vendors. Right: Serenaded by 2 students of JALC’s WeBop Class learning about the instruments of a jazz band. All photos by Teagan Faran.
New York City is beyond famous. A museum on every corner, neighborhoods full of culture from every corner of the world, everywhere you look the Big Apple is the supreme destination for any tourist. Anyone staying in the city any longer may notice other (un)endearing traits: over-friendly rodents, the same faces camping out on the same subway stairs night after night, that very distinct aroma of over 8 million people sharing the same space. Amidst this wild jungle of life, though, an organization stands as the obvious crown jewel of NYC: Jazz at Lincoln Center. Overlooking the Central Park entrance at Columbus Circle, J@LC works to enliven an American art form, unite the people of NYC, and simply bring joy to as many as possible.
Left: fellow intern Kristina and I demonstrate the props for Essentially Ellington Festival’s social media booth. Right: Watching overhead as Wynton Marsalis directs a JLCO rehearsal.
Having only been in Manhattan for a single weekend before this summer, I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I stepped off the plane at LaGuardia. All I can say is that Manhattan truly lived up to its reputation of being a wild place to live!
I began my internship with the Education Department right as the fantastic whirlwind that is their Essentially Ellington Festival started up. The festival is the finale of the year-long program that Jazz at Lincoln Center has put together. Inspired by the idea that jazz should belong to everyone, J@LC has made numerous amateur-level jazz band scores available to schools all over the world. Schools that wish to compete in the Festival can send in a recording of their band playing some of these charts. From all these applicants, fifteen get to travel to New York to compete. The weekend is so much more than a competition, though; each day the students and teachers were immersed in the culture of jazz. Late night jam sessions, workshops with JLCO members, and a chance to perform in Frederick P. Rose Hall – these students truly got the treatment for this weekend!
Left: The majority of a successful show takes place backstage. Monitors in the back hallway track the artists on the Appel Room stage. Right: A performance in the Appel Room gives the audience two shows: musicians on stage and the city that never sleeps through the window.
It was my job to make sure that all of this happened smoothly. I was given a walkie-talkie and a brief tour of back stage before being set off into the crowd of excited students. I began by ushering a band from Utah over to their classroom for their first coaching with a JLCO member. I sat in the back of Dizzy’s watching the band rehearse and listening to Sherman Irby’s carefully thought-out critiques and encouragements. All the while, happy and nervous parents paced the back of the hall, telling me all about how hard the band had worked to prepare for the festival. The bands were also encouraged to get to know each other better throughout the weekend, and by the time the final ceremony ended, Rose Hall was filled with an obvious air of camaraderie and love.
Left: Speaking with the effervescently kind Cat Henry, VP of Concerts and Touring, about a career in arts administration. Right: I was lucky to meet Erika Floreska, former UMS employee, who now runs a community music school in Manhattan.
While all of this was happening, I was simultaneously discovering just what it took to live in Manhattan. Troubles with my housing situation led me to staying in about eight or nine different places in my seven and a half weeks in New York (forgive me, if I’ve lost track of the exact number!). I began to figure out which streets to avoid after sunset and learned how to avoid persistent cat-callers. Ever caring, however, my supervisors in the Education Department took me under their wing and helped to lessen the learning curve of Manhattan life. And this is what made my internship and this organization so incredibly noteworthy: the people behind the idea.
Left: Wherever you turn in NYC, there is ample opportunity to be a tourist. Looking back on Manhattan, the sun breaks past the World One Observatory. Right: My home for two months at Columbus Circle.
Rewind for a second, back to my very first day with J@LC. I was sat down in a conference room and given a large stack of papers – some to sign, but mostly to read. In these packets were the words written by Wynton Marsalis about this very organization. “The mission of Jazz at Lincoln Center is to entertain, enrich, and expand a global community for Jazz…we believe Jazz is a metaphor for Democracy…it inspires us to face adversity with persistent optimism,” reads the organization’s mission statement online. The packet I was given included Mr. Marsalis’s expanded ideas on this topic and his guidelines for how J@LC is to be run. I heard it said at some point that he runs the office in the same way he runs a rehearsal: everyone is responsible for their own ideas and strategies, but all are working towards the common goal.
Left: Band members and parents file past for the 2016 Essentially Ellington Competition. Right: A city saturated in culture! I enjoyed walking from Columbus Circle to see shows by the American Ballet Theatre and the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center.
Manhattan is loud in a busy, noisy, smelly way, and a person begins to look for quiet wherever she can find it. Identifying your favorite patch of grass in Central Park, ducking into that French bookstore to admire the constellations on the ceiling, or grabbing a dollar ice cream scoop from the Dominican shop on the corner, these all make for great meditation. My absolute favorite place in Manhattan, however, has to be the backstage hallway leading to the Appel Room. One of J@LC’s main stages, the Appel Room sets the band up with a glass backdrop that opens to a view to Columbus Circle in all its mayhem. As the band swings, taxis stream by and tiny people scurry across the crosswalk beneath. It was here that I spent my first weekend in the Concerts and Touring department.
Acting as a musician’s assistant, I got exposed to the behind-the-scenes world of making sure all the artists had water and towels and any other necessary commodity in order to ensure their best performance. The most important part of my time with Concerts and Touring was not the quick trips to Whole Foods to buy backstage snacks or the in-office historical work, but rather the opportunity to join in this “jazz family.” Every single person I met was so immediately ready to be a close friend and an ally. Even after the show ended, I would run into musicians on the subway and be greeted by a warm hug and a smile. A few of us even ended up at one of the free Concerts in the Parks programs, determined to hear greats such as McCoy Tyner in person. As we walked to the park, we saw the clouds getting darker but pushed onward anyhow. Even as the rain began to pour down, we laughed and grooved along to the musicians on stage. Afterwards, we wrung out our jackets on the subway and laughed together about the concert.
Photo: A life changing show by Christian McBride at the famous Blue Note jazz club.
The idea of the Jazz Family came out in full form one bright, Sunday afternoon as the JLCO gathered a crowd to remember the Great Joe Temperly. A stoically happy occasion, the JLCO and students of Mr. Temperly came together to share stories and treat everyone to a New Orleans-esque jam in honor of the late tenor saxophonist. Though the room was full of strangers, this music truly united everyone present. This is what J@LC exemplifies in their work every single day.
I am beyond grateful to the UMS and to Jazz at Lincoln Center for this internship opportunity. There are so many more stories that I would love to share about my time in New York City, but I can say one thing for sure: the level of inspiration and brotherhood that I experienced this summer can be experienced every time the JLCO hits the stage. They are a truly magical ensemble and organization.
This Spring, welcome back to Ann Arbor, JLCO, we are so excited to have you here.
See the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Chick Corea on March 31, 2018.
Student Spotlight: Zoey Bond at Druid
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of reflections from students who are part of UMS’s 21st Century Student Internship program. As part of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s on the UMS season. U-M student Zoey Bond was paired with Druid Theatre Company. The company will perform in Ann Arbor March 9-11, 2017.
When UMS asked if I would be interested in interning with Druid Theatre Company’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane in Dublin, I was beyond ecstatic. I was, at the time, in London spending the semester training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). The opportunity to further my relationship with European theater-making was not one I was going to miss.
We rehearsed at the Leinster Sports Complex just off the Bowling Green. Funny place for a theater rehearsal, right? But the space was nice with lots of natural light. Left: Read-thru, day one. Right: A quick glimpse of some local Dubliners playing on the bowling green!
Before entering any new chapter, I try to note my expectations and emotions. Well, I was certainly anxious to get started, somewhere between jittery enthusiasm and complete bundle of nerves. My expectations, however, were clear: I expected to see a full rehearsal process and to learn from some of Ireland’s greatest theatrical talent. Both of these predictions proved to be accurate, but the most valuable skills I took away were those I could never have imagined at the outset.
These are some “Dublin Doors,” the first colorful part of Dublin that greeted me. All the homes in Dublin have quirky and fun colorful doors, which I loved because it added so much character. I even found some maize and blue ones.
The history of the production The Beauty Queen of Leenane is deep and unique, which added to the experience. The Beauty Queen of Leenane was originally produced in 1996, and this production marks the twentieth anniversary of the original. Additionally, Garry Hynes, the original director who, with the original production (Broadway transfer in 1998), was the first female to win a Tony Award for the best direction of a play, is directing the 2016-17 production. Furthermore, Marie Mullen, who won the Tony that same year for best actress in a leading role as the title role, is back. This time she’s to play the role of the mother, Mag. Much of the original design team is working on this year’s production as well. I was really looking forward to watching everyone reunite to re-examine this incredible play, twenty years later, with the fresh eyes of three new cast members as well.
Here, Greg Clarke (sound) and James F. Ingalls (lights) watch a run of the show. Marie Mullen (MAG) stands in her rehearsal dressing gown. All three were part of the original production. Ingalls is also American, so it was nice to chat with a fellow yank!
The four actors involved in the production are all brilliant artists. Their transformation from day one’s table read to the final run in the rehearsal space was inspiring. They created dynamic characters—deeply layered—and they filled each rehearsal with passion, investment, and care. Additionally, their wonderfully accomplished director Garry Hynes proved to be the artistic guide actors crave. The opportunity to simply observe a rehearsal process was invaluable.
Director Garry Hynes works with Marie and Aisling. These photos show Bryan Burroughs, who was brought in for movement work, as he helps Marie stage the big reveal. I won’t tell you what happens!
The company was very generous in allowing me to see every single part of the rehearsal process. I was able to watch the actors as they navigated the dark truths of humanity within the play, while balancing these dark truths with moments of complete humor. During certain scenes, the team was in full agreement. More interestingly though were the times when the team disagreed.
These moments taught me most because these disagreements revealed many finer character and play details. Often actors shared their perspective on a given beat, and what followed was a much broader discussion about the truths of the world of the play. Through observing and participating in these conversations, I learned to more intensely analyze scripts and characters, but I also learned how to behave in a professional rehearsal room.
Here I am with three out of the four members of the cast! Marty Rea had to leave before we took the photo. I had so much fun getting to know these marvelous actors.
Watching these artists explore a textual masterpiece for eight hours a day, five days a week, for four weeks, would have absolutely been enough. I, however, also had Dublin.
Maneuvering though Dublin proved to be an exciting adjustment. One mundane but noteworthy variation from my American life was having to navigate the hot water situation. In my apartment building, there was a box that regulated hot water, and I had to turn it on two hours before I wanted hot water (to allow it to be heated). I will say this: I will never take immediate/automatic hot water for granted again. Ever.
This is the magical box that controls the hot water. I learned to befriend it very quickly.
Another great challenge was understanding what people were saying. There is no one “Irish accent,” as the country is just as verbally diverse as America. Picture travelling from rural Texas, to Brooklyn, to Minnesota, to Southern California, to Louisiana; of course, none of these residents speak with the same “American accent.” My first week was spent nodding and smiling as I pretended to understand. (As an actor, I found the challenge exciting!)
My first rainy Saturday in Dublin was the first time I realized that I was really alone. I woke up without rehearsal to go to, no friends to walk around with, and not a plan for my day. At first, this was very hard for me. I stared out the window at the gray wet street, and realized: either I could sit in my apartment alone wishing I had friends to explore with, or I could take advantage of being in a foreign country and really immerse myself. That day I took myself to my first play in Dublin, Pygmalion, and started a pattern of choosing new adventures, and of becoming comfortable with being on my own.
This is the set for Pygmalion, the first play I saw in Dublin!
I explored Dublin as well as the surrounding Irish countryside, immersing in the rich Irish culture to my fullest ability. I visited and hiked around a monastery called Glendalough, pronounced [glen-duh-lock], strolled around the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, climbed the cliffs in a seaside village named Howth, saw some fantastic theater, wonderful museums, and of course, toured the Guinness Storehouse. Did you know the Guinness Storehouse is THE most visited tourist site in all of Europe? It sees more visitors than the Coliseum in Rome, Buckingham Palace in London, and even the Louvre in Paris.
These are pictures I took while hiking around Glendalough and Kilkenny Castle. The countryside really is that green. Absolutely beautiful, and peaceful, filled with lots of families picnicking, and others camping for the weekend.
As my time progressed, I found being alone more and more difficult, but this loneliness did make me value my time in the rehearsal room. It certainly increased my appreciation for the opportunity and contributed to my development as an artist and human being.
Left: This is the Long Hall in the Old Library at Trinity College. It reminded me of our Law Library at Michigan. It was beyond impressive. This picture barely captures the height of the ceilings and the millions of old, old books housed here.
Right: This is the seaside village called Howth, though technically it is still considered part of Dublin. Here I got to walk along the seaside cliffs for a few hours, smell the ocean, and have some delicious fish! A much needed city escape.
I do think that learning to be alone is as important as the artistic knowledge I gained from my time in Dublin. At school, particularly in the theater department, people with large personalities abound. We have class together, we rehearse together, and we live with one another. As with my artistic experience, I have already transferred this knowledge into my daily life.
Here I am interviewing Aisling O’Sullivan, one of Dublin’s greatest talents! Her acting is absolutely brilliant and I feel so fortunate to have watched her work for a month. Additionally, I so appreciate the conversations I had with her, which were filled with practical advice for my future career.
See Druid Theatre Company in Ann Arbor on March 9-11, 2017.
Student Spotlight: Shenell McCrary at Ping Chong + Company
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of reflections from students who are part of UMS’s 21st Century Student Internship program. As parts of this paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s part of UMS’s seasons. U-M Theater student Shenell McCrary was with Ping Chong + Company. The company brings Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity to Ann Arbor on February 18, 2016.
Left: Shenell McCrary at Snug Harbor steps. Right: SoHo. All photos by Shenell McRary.
I was standing on the steps of the University of Michigan’s Hatcher Undergraduate Library with a group of actors from my theater program when I received the call. Jim Leija, the Director of Education & Community Engagement at UMS had called to tell me that I had received the highly sought after 21st Century Internship. I almost dropped my phone when I heard the news. Since I had applied the year before and didn’t get it, I was really hoping this year was my breakthrough. And it was. Finally.
Jim told me that I would be assigned to New York City with a theater company called Ping Chong + Company. Right away, I started to research them, going through websites, news articles, reviews, and YouTube videos. And right off the bat, I found their work to be very interesting, especially the Undesirable Elements series. And of course, I was also excited about the opportunity to travel to New York City. I had been to the city a few times, but never own my own or for as long as I would be during the internship. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summer.
Left: Harlem Brownstones. Right: Rooftop view.
As my plane descended, I began to feel those butterflies in my stomach. Would I like it here? Will I be ok? Will I get lost? Will I be alone? My shuttle took me from LaGuardia Airport to my new home in Harlem. I was staying in a spacious apartment that my theater professors allowed me to sublet. One of the many great things about Harlem for me was the liveliness of the neighborhoods. There is always something to do, and there is such a strong sense of community. What I loved most about the neighborhood is the lovely blend of culture and people of all ages. One of my favorite things to do was to sit on the stoop or at my window and watch the kids play. They opened up the fire hydrant on especially hot days, and let the water spray out into the street, splashing and playing to cool off.
One of the most challenging things for me was definitely learning my way around the city. I like to think of myself as someone with a pretty strong sense of direction. However, New York completely threw off my internal compass. Even looking at the map of the subways initially nauseated me. I had never been on a subway train without someone who absolutely knew what they were doing, so the thought of having to navigate the city on my own terrified me. I often imagined myself on the wrong train, ending up lost in the middle Brooklyn (which actually happened once). After many missed trains and rookie mistakes, I got the hang of it. With every week I knew more and more, and what initially terrified me became easy and familiar. Sometimes, I even offered transit advice to confused tourists.
Left: Night skyline. Right: Sunny day at the High Line.
Ping Chong + Company’s offices are in East Village in Manhattan. Because the company was not working on performances during the summer, the bulk of my work was assisting in the office with day-to-day tasks in preparation for the end of the fiscal year, as well as helping to prepare and plan for upcoming tours and institutes. I also had the opportunity to prepare for one of Ping Chong + Company’s performances-in-progress, Where The Sea Break It’s Back. What I enjoyed most about my experience in the office is the opportunity to gain insight into exactly how a professional theater company runs. Because I aspire to some day become the artistic director of my own company, seeing just how much work goes into keeping things running was especially helpful.
Left: Ping Chong + Company office building. Right: Central Park.
Not all of my time was spent in the office, though. I took full advantage of my free time, exploring the massive city. Many of my adventures included sightseeing, going to Coney Island and Brighton Beach, visiting The Highline, popping into free art galleries around Manhattan, watching movies in the park, kayaking down the Hudson, taking yoga and spinning classes, and, of course, seeing shows.
Left: Coney Island sunset. Right: At the beach.
The Training Institute was probably one of my favorite weeks in New York. I was so excited to actually be on my feet and learning how the Company does what it does so well: creates interview-based theater works. I had so many questions about the process and about interviewing in general.
What I loved about this experience was working alongside artists of all ages from all over the world. Before the intensive, we filled out a questionnaire, answering questions about our history, environment, and culture. We used those packets as well as in-person interviews to form pieces of theater. The intensive culminated in an unforgettable and deeply moving showcase of our work. In documentary theater, the interviewee shares a part of his or her story, which is funneled into a script. The process takes trust and communication. It really opened my eyes to how everyone has a history and many stories. To be able to have someone share these stories, and to then be able to turn these words into something artful, is a great honor.
Left: Institute group, with Shenell in center. Right: Ping Chong.
The trip back to LaGuardia airport was bittersweet. I was sad to say goodbye to New York, but I couldn’t wait to go back to Ann Arbor and share and apply the cool things I learned. My time in New York was some of the most unforgettable in my life so far. The trip has taught me so much about myself, my craft, and the industry I plan to work in. I was so lucky to have the Ping Chong + Company family to take me under their wings for my six week stay. In such an enormous, dizzy city, I felt at home. I cannot thank UMS and Ping Chong and Company enough for the opportunity of a lifetime.
See Beyond Sacred: Voices of Muslim Identity in Ann Arbor on February 18, 2016.
Artist Interview: Actress Aisling O’Sullivan of The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Editor’s Note: University of Michigan student Zoey Bond spent several weeks with Druid Theatre Company as part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internship program. The Company returns to Ann Arbor with a new production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane on March 9-11, 2017. The interview below is with Aisling O’Sullivan, the Irish actress who plays the beauty queen of Leenane.
Photo: The Beauty Queen of Leenane’s Aisling O’Sullivan (left) and Marie Mullen (right). Photo by Matthew Thompson.
Zoey Bond: You’ve worked on playwright Martin McDonagh’s text before, what draws you to his writing?
Aisling O’Sullivan: It’s his characters, the dilemmas, and the wit, I suppose. It’s more than just the writing. It’s the delight I get from performing in the plays, which is so much fun to do and challenging. They are deep. They’ve got all of the colors.
ZB: As you know, this new production casts Marie Mullen in the role of the scheming mother. She won a Tony Award for the role of the daughter in the 1996 Broadway production. Last week you started wearing Marie’s boots in rehearsal, so you were quite literally stepping into her shoes. What has this part of the process been like?
AO: I found it very difficult. In the past, if I’ve seen a performance, and then I have to do my performance, I think I can do better. I don’t feel I can better than Marie. I saw her originally, and she is just extraordinary and really painfully beautiful. It would have been one of Marie’s defining performances. I’ve known her for a long time, so stepping into her shoes, I’m trying to embrace it and go, “Okay, so I’m privileged to be asked by the same director who thinks there is something I can do that might equal Marie. I’ll give it a shot.” I’m going to do something totally different, or I’ll just do what she did. I’m just trying to embrace the memory of her, and the joy that I got from it. So stepping into her shoes helps me symbolically with all of that. And her shoes are nice.
ZB: So then, the follow-up question is: After seeing the original production, has it been hard for you to create your own version?
AO: Yes. It’s difficult because of the way Martin’s work has to be rehearsed. You don’t get to do the scene over and over from start to finish without stopping. I have no idea who is developing in me until we start running the show. And then I’ll start getting the sense of who this person is. At the moment, it’s very much stop, start, stop, start, which is not conducive for me anyway. I tend to work through moods and energy shifts. I’m not getting the sense of that, which is not a problem. I’m very curious as to who’s going to appear.
ZB: What excites you about audiences seeing this today, 20 years later? What continues to be relevant?
A: Well, I think I love the universality of his darkness in relationships. I love that he puts it out there. It’s impossible not to recognize yourself in these desperate, almost psychopathic relationships.
For me, the play would be about owning your own power, or that if anyone ever encroaches on that space, you have to fight very hard to protect it. You’re in big trouble if anyone masters you — and I’m speaking here about the mother-daughter relationship. You’re in big trouble because you have no power. You’ve lost your own. And dark things can happen from that kind of powerlessness.
ZB: How do you think American audiences will respond to seeing this Irish play?
AO: I don’t know. I performed in front of an audience in America for the first time last year. And it was a very strange and scary experience for me because I’have spent 20 years performing to mostly English and Irish audiences. I can read them. If you get to know a species of audience, you can read them and you know how to play them. But with the American audiences, I had no idea of your taste and your comedy. It was a very interesting experience for me because it was unique. It was a totally different culture. I’m very interested in learning more about that. About how you respond, what’s your funny bone? What things move you?
ZB: In the play, do you have a particular scene, or a moment, or a line that you feel resonates the most with you?
AO: Not yet, but I love the humility, and honesty, and gentleness in a lot of these characters. They drop in these little, gentle sentences, and I think they are gorgeous moments for me to hear, as a performer in it, anyway. That it isn’t just razor-sharp.
ZB: How do you find the love in such a dark play? Do you think it is there?
AO: Definitely. It’s a funny thing that deep love can exist with masses of irritation. I irritate people too, I know that. As you get older, it’s less of a big deal. I’d be horrified to think I was capable of irritating anyone or boring anyone when I was younger, but now I’ve accepted that about myself. I think it’s all over the place.
ZB: Do you have a certain routine that you use to prepare for every role, or does it differ for each production?
AO: I don’t, but I’ll tell you what happened. I have been very instinctive until fairly recently, in that I would come completely open and unprepared to the first day of rehearsal. That was the way I worked and great things could come because I hadn’t made any decisions. Well, I worked on my first Shakespeare with this company last year. I was playing a fairly major part, and I’d never spoken a word of Shakespeare in my life.
I turned up one day, one big Bambi in the forest and the tiger Shakespeare stepped out of the trees. I was pretty much on stage for five hours speaking pure poetry and not understanding it. That was a baptism of fire, and since then, I try to come as prepared as I can be, in terms of learning the lines. I don’t have them off, but I know where they’re going, and then I come into the rehearsal space having done a bit of work. I think that makes me feel much more like an artist.
People who have gone to drama school are horrified listening to me going, “What? No preparation at all?” [Laughs]
ZB: So, there is a fine line between coming prepared and knowing enough, but not knowing too much, so that you can still discover.
AO: Yes. I think if you come in with some ideas, your mind has worked enough on it that you can change course. But if you come in with no ideas, you’re just going to accept the ideas that come to you. I think the crucial bit for me is to love the character. Even if you’re playing a psycho, to find something that you love.
ZB: That’s a good lead into my next question. With which parts of Maureen do you feel you identify?
AO: I identify with the weakness in her, the self-doubt, the way she tries to protect herself in her relationships. I see so much of me, and so much humanity, in her. That’s what is so brilliant about the play. Martin McDonagh was so young when he wrote it, and he just hit the seam of something about human beings that doesn’t often get shown.
Druid Theatre Company returns to Ann Arbor with a new production of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane on March 9-11, 2017.
Student Spotlight: Claire Crause at Mark Morris Dance Group
Editor’s note: This post is part of a series of reflections from students who are part of UMS’s 21st Century Student Internship program. As parts of the paid internship program, students spend several weeks with a company that’s part of UMS’s seasons. U-M Dance student Claire Crause was with Mark Morris Dance Group. The company performs in Ann Arbor October 13-15, 2016.
Left: NYC skyline from across the reservoir in Central Park. Taken during one of my post-work runs. Right: View from one of my walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. The Statue of Liberty can be seen in the distance.
This summer was one of such profound gratitude. I never pictured myself in Brooklyn interning for Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG). Yet there I was, and it was better than a dream. Within nine short weeks my heart had virtually exploded with pure joy and fulfillment. I learned so much and experienced incredible opportunities. I found myself in the right place and time for miraculous things to occur. I know my words will not do justice to my summer, but if there is anything I learned in New York it’s that doing anything with full confidence is never a fruitless endeavor. So here I go.
Left: The Mark Morris Dance Center! My daily destination from Harlem to Brooklyn. Right: MMDG dancers perform a work by Mark Morris for students during the Summer Intensive.
I threw myself headfirst into MMDG. My first two weeks I did nothing but dance from 9 am – 5 pm in the MMDG Summer Intensive. I took class with and from company members, learned MMDG repertory, and had the occasional class or coaching from choreographer Mark Morris himself. The training I received in the intensive was excellent, and I especially loved learning excerpts of Mark Morris’s choreography. I was grateful to physically experience the work before delving into the administrative side of the company. As the majority of my time with MMDG was spent interning in the office, I was excited for my first interactions with the company to be in the dance studio, the place where I feel most at home. Connecting with the MMDG dancers and getting to know them as people also made my office work more relevant. I now had faces and personalities to pair with the names I would eventually enter into documents.
Left: Pictured here with Derek Crescenti, an alumni from the University of Michigan Dance Department. Derek and I met for the first time during the Summer Intensive. Right: View of my office on the third floor of the Mark Morris Dance Center. My desk is behind the middle dividing-wall.
After two blissful weeks of dance training I was honestly bracing myself for office work to be a slight disappointment. I’m glad to say that I was very wrong. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed working with the management team. I would always rather be dancing, but the work I did at my desk was fulfilling in its own way. I worked under Nancy Umanoff, the company executive director, Jen Rossi, the company manager, and Huong Hoang, the general manager. Julia Weber, the management assistant, was my desk buddy and accomplice. We became quick friends and worked side-by-side on similar projects.
Left: Snapshot of my desk while I researched Layla and Majnun. Right: View of the studio where I took class from Mark Morris.
I worked primarily on tasks relevant to MMDG’s upcoming tour of Layla and Majnun, a new work Mark Morris has choreographed to music by the Silk Road Ensemble. (The performance will be in Ann Arbor October 13-15, 2016.) I organized information relating to ancillary activities for each city on the tour, contacted co-commissioners about these activities, organized flight information, conducted interviews with dancers and a violinist, and created a Brooklyn “welcome” directory for the Silk Road Ensemble, which they will use during their rehearsals with MMDG at the Mark Morris Dance Center. (And, yes, I also made the daily trips to Starbucks and neighboring restaurants to pick up coffee and lunch for Mark Morris.) I’m looking forward to seeing my work come into fruition when MMDG and the Silk Road Ensemble come to Ann Arbor.
The company took a field trip to the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, where Mark Morris was recently inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame. The museum included an exhibition on Mark Morris and his life’s achievements.
My experience suddenly shifted remarkably during my last three weeks. With Mark Morris’s permission I began taking the morning ballet class he teaches for his dancers. Most of my workdays now began at the ballet barre, surrounded by MMDG dancers, breathing in Mark Morris’s insightful words. I was intimidated at first. I was dancing in a room full of beautiful professional dancers and receiving corrections from Mark Morris. The same Mark Morris I had learned about in my dance history and dance composition classes. Was this even real life? I quickly discovered that yes, it was real, and that it was also quite amazing. The dancers were so generous and kind and treated me as an equal. They grew to joke with me and playfully tease me along with Mark Morris. I felt my dancing grow as I became inspired by the talent of everyone around me. After class I would thank Mark, take his lunch order, and proceed back to the office with a mind full of sandwich toppings and fresh perspectives on ballet.
Left: Lincoln Center at night after the performance of American Ballet Theater’s Sleeping Beauty. Aside from seeing performances I occasionally went to Lincoln Square for some peaceful relaxation time. Right: Daily breakfast at Music and Mentoring House, prepared by Lauren Flanigan. We all ate breakfast together in the mornings before parting for our busy days.
By the end of July I had formed close friendships with the office staff and the dancers. I had also made a home in Harlem at Music and Mentoring House, the house where I stayed with opera singer Lauren Flanigan. Lauren was a lovely host, mentor, and friend. Those of us young artists staying with Lauren this summer became fast friends, and the welcoming atmosphere inside the house was a true gift. Returning back to my Michigan home at the end of the summer was bittersweet.
At school it is easy to become narrow-minded and trapped within the confines of a schedule flooded with exams and rehearsals. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember why I love art. In New York, all of that melted away and I was able to live.
As much as I learned at the desk, I also found ways to become nourished as an artist. I attended performances each week (dance companies, operas, Broadway musicals – although I’m still resenting never having won the Hamilton lottery), went to a variety of dance classes and auditions, rented studio space and improvised alone, visited museum galleries, had many inspiring conversations with Lauren Flanigan, and listened to what the urban rhythms of the New York streets had to offer me each moment.
I carried around a small notebook everywhere I went and constantly scribbled down choreography inspiration for my upcoming senior concert. The world of performing arts moved a little more into focus everyday. It was insane; I walked down the streets smiling like a fool because I was just so happy to be alive. I have no more words other than thank you. Thank you UMS, thank you Mark Morris Dance Group. From my smiling heart to you, thank you so much.
See Mark Morris Dance Group in Ann Arbor on October 13-15, 2016.
Artist Internships for 21st Century: 2015-16 Students
The fast changing environment of the 21st century poses new demands on artists. They must reach potential audiences in innovative and unexpected ways. To address these needs, the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance and University Musical Society (SMTD and UMS) launched a new student arts internship program for four SMTD undergraduate students in the summer of 2015. Chosen through a competitive application process, each student fellow interned for a minimum of five weeks between May and August 2015 with a professional dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS planned presented during the 2015-16 season. The program will continue and we’re currently selecting fellows for next season.
Meet the students
Christina Maxwell worked with the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán. See photos from her internship and watch as she performs the classic Mariachi song “Besame Mucho.”
Interested in more? Explore internship experiences from past seasons.
Artist Internships for 21st Century
Follow U-M student Sophia Deery on her journey through our 21st century internship program.
Open to U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore and junior students, the next session of this arts internship program will take place in the summer of 2016. Chosen through a competitive application process, each student fellow will intern for 5-7 weeks between May and August 2016 with a professional dance, theater, or music ensemble that UMS plans to present during the 2016-17 season.
Interested in more? See photos by this year’s student interns.