Carmen Inside Out

By Kate Mattingly

Opera. The word conjures images of ornate theaters where dramatic plots unfold with lavish sets and costumes.

What makes “Carmen Inside Out,” a new performance by Kirstin Chavez, distinct is that it reverses these clichés. Rather than distance her audiences from her performance, Chavez invites us to engage with Carmen as a human being. She literally places us onstage with her and a handful of props. A pianist is her only accompaniment, and the production is breath-taking. Suddenly opera is intimate and relevant: Carmen is not only charismatic and compassionate, she’s also one of us.

As a faculty member in the School of Dance, I teach courses in history and theory, and know very little about opera. “Carmen Inside Out” makes me want to learn everything I can about Georges Bizet and this iconic feminist. As Chavez said during the post-performance discussion, performing Carmen grants her entrée into a more confident character than herself, and she has learned a great deal from her. These insights added to Chavez’s tour de force: the performance itself was stellar, with Chavez singing, dancing, and seducing us. She has performed this role for close to two decades and has collected effusive reviews, like this one from Opera News:

 American mezzo Kirstin Chavez is the Carmen of a lifetime. With her dark, generous mezzo, earthy eroticism, volcanic spontaneity and smoldering charisma, Chavez has it all, including a superb command of French and a sense of humor. And she can dance, too. (Larry L. Lash, OPERA NEWS)

What makes Chavez appearance in the UtahPresents 2018-19 season stellar is that she condenses a four-act narrative into one hour and then invites us into a conversation about the challenges and freedoms she has discovered in this character. On Thursday night, Dr. Sarah Projansky, film and gender scholar at the U, moderated the post-show discussion and connected the vilification of strong women like Carmen to today’s news coverage that demonizes independent women. Playwright Kathleen Cahill, who wrote “Fatal Song” about the preponderance of female deaths in opera, enriched the conversation with her own insights: she described how painful it is to see one her characters “interpreted” in ways that destroy her intentions as their creator. Chavez echoed this sentiment when she recalled productions of Carmen that have distorted the title character’s vivacity and charm. In fact, both “Fatal Song” and “Carmen Inside Out” share a similar theme: they shed light on issues of women’s rights and question why a woman with integrity must die.

In a 2012 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, about 2 percent of adults in the United States who attend live performances go to opera. [for survey, see page 7: https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/2012-sppa-jan2015-rev.pdf] I couldn’t help but think of this statistic as I watched “Carmen Inside Out:” if audiences knew how riveting opera could be, I imagine there would be many more fans. Undoubtedly much of the appeal of this show is Chavez herself: she not only embodies the strength and creativity of Carmen, she’s also knows how to make opera compelling, current, and captivating.

Kate Mattingly is an Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Utah.

Proactive Presenting With The Singing Bois

Don’t miss our 2018-2019 LGBTQ programming including Taylor Mac and Gina Chavez

This article by Jake Stepansky originally appeared in Inside Arts Fall 2018 issue.

Although it may come as a surprise to some,  — famous for Mormons and industrial banking — was the setting for a powerful lesson about equity, diversity and inclusion in the arts. “As with most communities that have a very strong dominant culture, there is then also a very strong counterculture,” says Brooke Horejsi, the assistant dean for Art and Creative Engagement in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah. “That very much exists [in Salt Lake City], and it’s growing.” Despite this vibrant counter-community of diversity, Horejsi says, “a lot of the cultural organizations and spaces that support cultural organizations were geared towards the small segment of the community that was very white and Western in their genre or the way they approach creativity.” More recently, that has started to change. Several years ago, Horejsi helped launch UtahPresents, a mission driven approach to multi-disciplinary work at the University of Utah. As its executive director, Horejsi has championed a programming ethos centered around “holding up and supporting a diverse range of artists and creative voices.” She has drawn from lessons learned and relationships built during her time as a member of the inaugural cohort of the APAP Leadership Fellows Program, even presenting a chunk of Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music after seeing the performer on an LFP cohort field trip.

It’s no surprise, then, that Horejsi found a kindred spirit in Beatrice Thomas, whose work as a multidisciplinary artist, cultural producer, consultant and agent for change centers on advancing representation for people of color and LGBTQ communities onstage and off. Born from this partnership was an exuberant and acclaimed presentation at UtahPresents of The Singing Bois, a “genderqueer pop group redefining the boy band as a space for anti-racist and feminist action.”

The Singing Bois are helmed by Bay area-based sound designer and performer T. Carlis Roberts, who spoke, along with Thomas and Horejsi, to a cadre of APAP members at an April webinar on equity and inclusion. The webinar was a part of a series curated by the Leadership Fellows Program in an effort to continue the conversations begun at the annual APAP conference in January 2018,and to explore the difficult and necessary work of creating artistic spaces that foster inclusivity in an authentic way.

For Roberts and the other founding members, creating The Singing Bois was an act of community-building as much as act of creative expression. “Being in very gendered music spaces and very binary spaces meant that parts of our identities or practice were falling on opposite sides of this binary or just not fitting in at all to those gendered frameworks,” says Roberts. “We came together in conversation and also started to share music with each another and figure out how we wanted to bring together these conversations with the music that we loved and wanted to create a bigger space for ourselves within.”

It was out of these conversations that The Singing Bois — a group of masculine-of-center artists (assigned female at birth, but living and presenting in masculine ways, shapes and forms) who perform soul, R&B, rock and pop covers and originals — developed a sizeable following in the Bay area. However, as the group attempted to expand its reach, the members ran into the institutional barriers and knowledge gaps that often face artists of color and LGBTQ artists.

That’s where Thomas came in. After developing a relationship with Roberts grounded in sharing industry best practices, Thomas connected Horejsi to The Singing Bois, who soon found themselves in Salt Lake City at the beginning of an extraordinary whirlwind of art-making and relationship building. Fortunately, Horejsiand the team at UtahPresents — which, remember, was just getting its sea legs at this point — had taken steps to ensure that the group would feel supported and prepared every step of the way.

“Knowing we had the upcoming programming with the Singing Bois, we very intentionally centered our [annual] staff retreat around a local organization that works around equity and inclusion,” Horejsi says. “It wasn’t because we had had something happen that we needed to resolve; it was because everyone needs to be engaging in those conversations. When you look at a team, the real challenge is that often the leader is engaging in those conversations about equity and inclusion, but my house managers or production managers — that’s not an everyday part of their world. Making sure that we intentionally brought the team together to have everyone be part of that conversations and learning was part of preparing [for the Singing Bois].And it’s an ongoing thing!”

Roberts makes it clear that this experience was special because of the proactiveness, not just the openness, of the UtahPresents team. “Something that we felt in a really powerful way that allowed us to hit the ground running doing better work in Utah was that there had been this proactive asking of us: What do you need? What do you prefer in terms of being addressed?,” Roberts explains. “[Proactiveness] is always what a presenter is thinking about, but maybe just more artistically and technically — but [they should be] actually extending that to the other needs artists might have entering this space. It’s great to be able to show up and just do my work and not worry about, you know, where do I go to use the bathroom, but actually to have someone say, ‘Here’s what the options are’ and that not even being something that I need to ask.”

The presentation at UtahPresents was a resounding success. In the coming months, Thomas and Roberts will be collaborating on the next chapter of The Singing Bois’ story. They’ve got their eyes set on a world tour, hoping to find massive and receptive audiences in Asia and beyond.

But that’s not the only goal. “We started off saying, ‘We’re going to bring conversation that’s happening about these issues in the Bay area outwards,’” says Roberts. “But we’ve been realizing that there’s actually a lot for us to take in about how these conversations are happening in local spaces. For us — both for audiences and for other artists — we’re looking forward to continuing to extend this queer and trans network that we are a part of here and that we are really working actively to build.” They — like the webinar series — are just looking to keep the conversation going.

Jake Stepansky is a theater-maker and arts advocate with a passion for making work that sands down boundaries between creator and audience. He recently graduated from Harvard University with a degree in psychology and theater, dance and media. He is the general manager of Forklift Danceworks in Austin, Texas.


A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR First, I have done my best in this article to summarize the key highlights from the Inclusion Without Boundaries webinar hosted by APAP in April 2018, but there is so much deeply important content in the discussion that I recommend readers listen to the entire webinar and many others at apap365.org/Resources/ Webinar-Archives.

Second, you’ll notice that this article is packed with lengthy quotes — many more than I’d typically use. This is intentional. As a white cisgender male reporting a narrative that centers on artists of color and queer/trans artists, my goal is to use this platform to feature the voices of the thoughtful folks who led the webinar discussed in this article. As such, I’ve used direct transcriptions of the participants’ language as much as possible to centralize their voices and their telling.

Third, as I’ve reported on this story, I’ve been repeatedly confronted by my own privilege as a white cisgender male, not realizing the extent to which I was blind to the structural inequities of the presenting industry. That’s no excuse — but I put it out there as a wake-up call and a reminder to listen and to learn. I know that I’ll be taking the lessons I’ve learned from this webinar into my own work as an arts administrator — and I’m committed to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion mission of striving toward an inclusive, proactive and informed life.

Fourth and finally, take a minute to visit The Singing Bois at thesingingbois.com. Watch one of their videos — or all of them, as I did. My favorite: Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours on kazoos. KAZOOS! And if you’re a presenter — in the U.S. or beyond — take a moment to consider how you might employ the lessons of this story to find artists who might be a part of your next season’s programming regardless of where you live in the country or in the world. — Jake Stepansky

Support the impact of UtahPresents


As volunteer leaders at UtahPresents, we extend our thanks to all the continued supporters of UtahPresents. Like us, you have witnessed first-hand the incredible artists that UtahPresents brings to local stages.

What you may not see is the care UtahPresents invests in bringing artists that are as committed to community work as they are to their main stage performances.

In 2017, UtahPresents sponsored more than 70 engagement events that reach our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens, especially those who may not regularly experience the performing arts. We’re honored to work with UtahPresents to provide these meaningful opportunities for Utah children and families.

These programs are only possible because of patrons like you who purchase tickets and make financial gifts to support UtahPresents and its mission of creative impact. Please join us in making a gift to UtahPresents, and together we can create lasting connections with our community and the performing arts.

Warmly,

Krista Sorenson
Advisory Board Chair

Robert Mansfield
Advisory Board Vice Chair

 

Arts Sector Harmed in Tax Bills

The Latest Tax Bill Action

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate passed a tax reform bill along an almost exclusively party-line vote of 51-49 with all Republicans voting yes, except for Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), who opposed it for the $1.5 trillion in debt that would be created.

In a rush to pass far-reaching tax reform before year-end, both the House and Senate have passed separate but similar tax bills. Unfortunately, both versions of the tax bill would have a very negative impact on charitable giving. The bill now moves into a joint conference committee to negotiate a final, unified bill that can be signed into law by the President. It is anticipated that the ability to include any new provisions at this point will be severely limited, if not impossible.

What is the Status on Charitable Giving?

Because both the House and Senate tax bills propose doubling the standard deduction, access to specific incentives for income tax deductions of gifts to charity become severely limited to only the top five percent of taxpayers who itemize their deductions. Americans for the Arts and the charitable sector had actively supported the idea of a Universal Charitable Deduction so that the incentive to give to charities would be available to both itemizers and non-itemizers. However, Universal Charitable Deduction proposals offered by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) and James Lankford (R-OK) never made it into the final bill nor were given an opportunity for a floor vote.

Unfortunately, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that charities, including nonprofit arts organizations, could see a staggering loss of up to $20 billion annually as a result of this tax policy change.

Data shows that the charitable deduction under both bills also will no longer be viable to 95% of all taxpayers because of the expansion of the standard deduction. That means:

  • 31 million taxpayers who currently claim the charitable deduction will lose it.
  • Charitable contributions will decline by up to $20 billion per year.

What Do the Bills Mean for the Arts?

Americans for the Arts is still reading through the latest proposals. Although there are some differences between the two bills, both bills overall fail the arts and cultural sector. Here is a preliminary summary of some of the other provisions in addition to the expected reduction in charitable itemizers that they have identified impacting artists and the nonprofit sector.

Thank you for your support of the arts. Be assured that Americans for the Arts will continue to work to ensure that changes made under tax reform will encourage more giving by more Americans, and protect the civic infrastructure upon which our communities depend.

Thank you for helping to #ProtectGiving.

 

UtahPresents Brings White Rabbit Red Rabbit

UtahPresents is bringing the global theatre sensation, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” to Kingsbury Hall, playing on select dates through Dec. 2. This “theatre entertainment meets social experiment” is the work of Nassim Soleimanpour, who penned the play while confined to his native Iran and silenced as a conscientious objector.

A new reader must perform “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” every time, and the reader has never seen the script or the play before. The audience and performers alike take an artistic leap together in this unique experience.

A diverse slate of University of Utah administrators, students and community personalities will read the play each night.

Nov. 4: Bill Allred, host of X96’s “Radio From Hell”

Nov. 9: Mckayli Abbe, U psychology major

Nov. 10:  Sylvia Torti, dean of the Honors College

Nov. 11: Jorge Rojas, director of education and engagement for Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Nov. 16: Mark Macey, U theatre studies major

Nov. 17: Deena Marie Manzanares, actress

Dec. 1: Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology

Dec. 2: Derek Kitchen, Salt Lake City Council

“I like challenges and I was drawn to the idea of doing a staged reading of a play for which I would not receive the script in advance,” said Torti. “I believe that my willingness to blindly take on a challenge might provide a good role for all honors students. To me, a good life is about taking risks and allowing ourselves to inhabit uncomfortable spaces so that we might grow.”

On the heels of a long off-Broadway run, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” has received critical praise and has been read by Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg and Martin Short. Entertainment Weekly called the play “a dazzling and transcendent piece of alive-and-kicking theatre.”

“I’m looking forward to just jumping on stage,” said Macey. “You’re not going to see something like this again any time soon. I think it’s going to be a blast.”

“I’m impressed by their willingness to participate in this rather madcap, and possibly foolhardy, adventure,” said Brooke Horejsi, executive director of UtahPresents. “I’m really looking forward to how each of them will navigate the audience through this script, which they’ve never seen before.”

A reception will follow each performance of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit.” Tickets are just $5 for U students and 10 percent off for faculty, staff and alumni.

UtahPresents awarded NEA Art Works grant for $10,000 for Global Arts Series

Haitian singer Emeline Michel, globalFEST March 2016

When you submit an NEA application, it feels like making a wish. A wish grounded in artistic excellence and community support, but a wish nonetheless. In a political climate that places funding for the NEA on the fringes, having that wish granted feels particularly validating. And for UtahPresents, that wish has become a reality with a $10,000 grant award for its annual Global Arts Series.

With over 1,700 applicants and a pool of $24 million funded, Art Works grants support organizations that meet the highest standards of artistic excellence, public engagement with art, and strengthen communities through the arts.

Starting in the 2015-2016 season, the Global Arts Series has brought artists from around the globe to perform for local audiences—including artists from Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Haiti, Brazil, and Mexico, among others.

Compagnia T.P.O., coming April 2018

“The arts reflect the vision, energy, and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support organizations such as UtahPresents, in serving their communities by providing excellent and accessible arts experiences.”

During the 2017-18 UtahPresents season, audiences can look forward to another year of cultural vibrancy on stage with the Global Arts Series, with artists like Compagnia TPO, an Italian theatre group specializing in interactive theatre for children and illusionist Scott Silven from the UK to dazzle with his stylish approach to magic.

Love UT Give UT is almost here! March 30

UtahPresents does more than thrill you with performances on stage. Of course, bringing you amazing performances is an essential part of what we do, but UtahPresents also connects our community with transformational artistic experiences. Through master classes with touring musicians, choreographers, comedians, and playwrights, to school matinees that introduce local students to the performing arts, the work we do in the community is at the heart of the UtahPresents mission. That means YOU, the audience, inspire the work we do—and we are grateful to have a community willing to take chances and be moved by the diversity of the work we present.

To do this important work, we need your help. UtahPresents operates as a nonprofit at the University of Utah, meaning our work is possible because of generous contributions from audience members and patrons like you.

On March 30, please join with us during Love UT Give UT by making a gift to support UtahPresents. Your gift secures access to the arts and to arts education for those in our community who need it most—including low-income school students, community partnering organizations, and underserved families.

Need a little more of a nudge? We also have prizes for our loyal patrons participating in Love UT Give UT on March 30:

  • $10- Credit where credit is due: Special recognition in our playbill during the 2017-18 season
  • $20- Something sweet: Get two concessions vouchers to use during performances at Kingsbury Hall
  • $50- One Night Only: Receive one complimentary ticket to a 2017-18 UtahPresents performance (Some restrictions apply; will be arranged in June 2017)
  • $100- VIP Access: Special invitation to UtahPresents VIP events and intermission receptions, VIP Parking (when available)

Aside from the obvious incentive of investing in the vibrancy of our community, Mark Miller Subaru has joined forces with Love UT Give UT to encourage giving. Each person making a gift of $10 or more will qualify to win a 3-year lease of a brand new Subaru Impreza. This prize is courtesy of Mark Miller Subaru.

Director’s Take: Black Grace

In the latest episode of Director’s Take, executive director Brooke Horejsi talks about Black Grace, coming to Kingsbury Hall on March 22.

Founded by Neil Ieremia, one of New Zealand’s most accomplished choreographers, Black Grace draws from Neil’s Samoan and New Zealand roots to create innovative dance works that reach across social, cultural and generational barriers. The work itself is highly physical, rich in the story telling traditions of the South Pacific and expressed with raw finesse, unique beauty and power.

Black Grace features some of New Zealand’s finest dancers and has toured internationally to Europe, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Australia and New Caledonia. In 2004 Black Grace made its USA debut, performing a sold out season at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, with a subsequent return to the Festival in 2005. Since then, the Company has performed regularly throughout North America earning audience and critical acclaim.

For the Salt Lake City performance, Black Grace will perform Minoi, based on a traditional Samoan dance, Pati Pati, based on some of Black Grace’s early work, Mother Mother, which was originally choreographed for a music video for a New Zealand band, As Night Falls, a new work about hope in response to news stories from around the world, and an excerpt from Crying Men, a new work exploring the challenges and expectations of what it means to be a “real man.”

Take a moment to hear about this amazing company.

 

Director’s Take: The Crossroads Project

brooke-horejsiUtahPresents Executive Director, Brooke Horejsi, shared her thoughts about the upcoming performance of  The Crossroads Project at The Leonardo Museum on February 24.

The Crossroads Project brings the power of performance art to bear on one of the great conversations of our time: humanity’s growing lack of sustainability and the quest for truly meaningful response. The show is a blending compelling and poetic science, evocative imagery and powerful music. The Fry Street Quartet, along with physicist and educator Dr. Robert Davies, explore the impacts of society’s unsustainable systems, Earth’s rapidly changing climate, and humanity’s opportunity for a new direction. The result is an inspiring and deeply personal contemplation of the paths before us.

The Crossroads Project has been discussed on NPR’s All Things Considered, and marks UtahPresents’ first collaboration with The Leonardo Museum in downtown Salt Lake City.

Watch our interview with Brooke to learn a little more about The Crossroads Project.

 

APAP Conference Through the Eyes of a Student

Guest Blog Post – Cece Otto, Junior in the Actor Training Program of the U Theatre Department and UtahPresents Intern

Cece attended the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference with UtahPresents’ Executive Director, Brooke Horejsi, for a crash course on arts administration, building a performing arts season and working with artist agents.

 

Attending the Association for the Performing Arts Professionals Conference (APAP) this January was incredible. Not only did I get a taste of what the professional world of performing artists, presenters, and agents looks like, but I also learned many valuable skills I can put into practice in my life as a student at the University of Utah.

One of the best surprises of the conference was the comradery between all parties present at the conference. It seemed like everyone was working as one big team, and wanted everyone to succeed at what they were doing. This really impressed me, and left me with the feeling of encouragement.

The information I gained by attending APAP is both something I can stow away for future use, and a valuable resource that I can draw upon right now. Currently, I am an artist preparing to perform in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer, as well as the intern at UtahPresents, and the tour manager for Grassroots Shakespeare Company. Viewing the conference through the eyes of a presenter, an agent, and an artist has given me insights into how I can more efficiently work on my current activities/jobs.

Manual Cinema’s Lula Del Ray

My favorite showcase was Manual Cinema’s Lula del Ray. I was so excited to see that Manual Cinema would be showcasing at APAP because I had previously learned about the group in my Theatre History course with Martine Kei Green-Rogers. Their work is so unique- using overhead projectors, shadow puppetry and live music to create seamless narratives that are incredibly captivating. It’s like watching a movie being put together right in front of your eyes without an editing process. I have always enjoyed watching their work online, but having the opportunity to be in the theatre while they perform was an experience I’ll never forget.

My favorite speaker from the conference was Allison Orr from Forklift Danceworks. I had the pleasure of hearing her present in a panel based around collaborative work processes. Her main focus was The Trash Project which is basically a garbage truck ballet which she created in collaboration with the sanitation workers of Austin, TX. She stood out to me because it took her 5 years to create this project, and during that time she would go on the morning routes with the sanitation workers, learning how to do their jobs, and building a line of communication. Ultimately, the final project was a compilation of moves these people do every day as a part of their job, but she was able to help them find an artistry within their work.

I left the APAP conference with a greater respect for artists, agents, and presenters, as well as an excitement to return to my own work. This community was so welcoming and helpful. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to celebrate the beginning of a new year by attending this conference with performing arts professionals from across the world.