Sunday, March 14, 2010

Performing Arts Series brings the "big city" to Athens

For 51 years, the Ohio University Performing Arts Series, originally named the Visiting Artist Series, has offered the Ohio University community countless national touring events at a price that can’t be matched. Touring Broadway shows such as “Avenue Q” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” and performances by nationally-known artists like Ben Folds are just some of the unique events that happen frequently at the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium (MemAud), the unofficial “home” of the Performing Arts Series.

Drew Holzaepfel, associate director of the Campus Involvement Center at OHIO, has been working with the Series for over ten years, and said his job never gets boring. He is constantly contacting agents and production companies to discuss potential events for the future and confirm and negotiate current events on the line-up.

I have seen many productions brought by the Performing Arts Series since my arrival at OHIO, and I am always impressed, not only with the caliber of performers, but with the seemingly effortless organization of Holzaepfel’s crew.

But the performance on show night is just a tiny part of what goes into organizing and producing the Performing Arts Series. According to Holzaepfel, the whole process starts in late spring when he or one of his employees attends an annual showcase conference, during which those in the “biz” get a chance to preview touring shows so they get an idea of whether or not they would like to bring them to their venue.

After the OU crew has seen what is available, they survey the Athens community, including the OHIO population, to see what it is that people want to see. With the results, Holzaepfel can get a better idea of what shows or artists would be best for the Series.

Holzaepfel said he loves being able to give the Athens community a taste of the national arts scene.

“Through the Performing Arts Series, we can really bring the ‘big city’ feel to Athens,” he said.

The Performing Arts Series is partially funded through the general student fee, grants and private investors, which allows the University to charge lower ticket prices.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27.4 percent of the Athens community is in poverty. That being said, it would normally be extremely difficult if not impossible for most residents to afford the normally pricy tickets to touring Broadway productions or to see A-list performers, but the Performing Arts Series offers tickets for “a third of the price” they would normally be in a larger city, according to Holzaepfel.

As I’ve discussed before on my blog, experiencing the arts is extremely beneficial to intelligence. This article published by the Dana Foundation discusses new findings that suggest an “openness and creativity” fostered by exposure to the arts increases cognition.

I asked Holzaepfel what his favorite arts performance has been of the over 150 shows since he became the associate director of Campus Involvement, and while he couldn’t narrow it down to one specific event, he mentioned the Moscow Circus that took up residence in MemAud for a week in 2002, and last year’s Wilco concert as events that stick out in his mind.

While Holzaepfel could not confirm any performances planned for the next season, he did mention that there will be some very exciting add-on performances coming up this spring. To stay informed about any upcoming performances at OHIO, visit the Performing Arts Series Web site.

My favorite performance was the Broadway tour of "Hairspray." Below is one of my favorite scenes from the show:

Photo courtesy of

Friday, March 12, 2010

Art fosters change

This quarter I have been in a voice and speech training class through the School of Theater. The class discusses the importance of communicating in a coherent way, namely through the delivery of speech. But what I’ve realized is that making your voice heard doesn’t always mean the literal way, as in the poetry and speech exercises in my class, but also pertains to what artists strive to do with every piece of art they create.

As I was sitting in my English class last week listening to student presentations and one of my peers cited this quote from former National Endowment for the Arts board member Bill Strickland:

“Creativity is the catalyst for change.”

This statement got me thinking about the massive amounts of art we take in every day that cause a stir, or at least make us step back and think about our society or our actions in general.

In high school, I performed in social action plays with a local theater company, and developing the passion and proximity to the subjects we were addressing to the audience really pushed me to develop my voice on stage, literally in my vocal performance and figuratively as an actor trying to portray such deep and difficult topics.

Art that aims to create some sort of social change is abundant on a college campus, putting students, faculty and staff and the surrounding community in a unique position to hear the voices of countless young artists.

This quarter, student artists have performed such crowd-shocking, yet poignant shows such as “The Vagina Monologues,” a series of one-act, one person scenes exploring the ups and downs women face, and more tame yet comical performances by Ohio University’s improvisation troupe, Black Sheep, Inc.

Black Sheep, Inc. performing in the Front Room.

Students that are not involved in a group or in a specific production often take advantage of open mic nights at venues like Donkey Coffee and the Front Room. My friend and roommate Jenna Siska discussed this on her blog.

No matter what your passion, I challenge you to make your voice heard, across the room as in my voice class, or across the world if you have that kind of ambition.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My top art experiences at Ohio University

As you can see from one of my most recent posts, I have been fortunate in that I’ve gotten to experience a lot of different art in a lot of different places. But some of my most memorable art experiences have happened right here on the Ohio University campus. I’ve compiled a Top 5 list to commemorate some of these experiences:

5) McCracken Art Expo: As an intern for the College of Education, I helped plan and promote the third annual McCracken Art Extravaganza Silent Auction. Students from South Elementary School had their art on display in the halls of McCracken and visitors could bid on the artwork. It was such a neat experience getting to see the excitement on the children’s faces when they saw their work displayed and sold.

Photo from

4) “No. 6: Portraits in an Appalachian Coal Mining Town”: Last year, a friend of mine whom I used to do theater with in Charleston, WV, choreographed a dance about the difficult life of miners and their families in Appalachia as her senior thesis for the Honors Tutorial College. I usually have a difficult time understanding modern dance, but this piece told an amazing story.

Photo by Sean Howlett

3) “Rent”: I saw the Broadway tour of “Rent” during the winter of my freshman year. The show, brought to Athens by the OHIO Performing Arts Series, showcased a lot of issues our generation faces, and was performed by an amazing cast of artists. The show, which premiered on Broadway in 1996, was made into a movie in 2005, which attracted a new generation of Rent lovers, another testament to its broad themes and brilliant artistic strengths.

Photo from

2) “Glee”: The first episode of this hit show choir dramedy aired in early September 2009, right after the start of fall quarter. My roommates and I started watching it together and it has proven an awesome bonding experience, not to mention we’re addicted to the music. The show pretty much explains my life in high school, as I was a four-year member of show choir and can really identify with the scenarios in “Glee.” Our viewing party numbers increased as the quarter went on, and we are anxiously awaiting the show’s return in April.

Photo from

1) Spring Awakening: As a theater minor, I am required to do a certain amount of practicum work to obtain my degree. Winter quarter of my freshman year I took part in a costume practicum where I made costumes for the main stage show, “Spring Awakening.” I have traditionally been a performer only, so it was an awesome experience getting to see the behind the scenes workings of a show and getting to see garments I made on stage in action.

Photo from

I look forward to experiencing much more art during my final year and a half at OHIO.

What arts experiences have you had on campus?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Marisol" proves another School of Theater success

Photo courtesy of The Post

I recently posted a video showcasing the behind the scenes aspects of putting on the School of Theater’s production, “Marisol,” written by Jose Rivera. I finally got the chance last Thursday to see the show in its entirely, and was thoroughly impressed.

The show was set in New York City at a time where the “global body” was sick. Apples and coffee were extinct and people were being murdered in the streets.

It was an apocalyptic scenario, and the guardian angels of the world were planning an uprising against a “senile” god. You can read more about the plot in this New York Times review from 1993, when the play premiered in New York City.

The School of Theater never fails to put on a great show. The costumes were great, the set amazing and the acting was above par as usual.

I’ve seen countless School of Theater productions since coming to OHIO and something that stands out to me is the energy between the characters. Growing up in theater, I’ve seen and taken part in a lot of shows that have individually dynamic characters but together they simply clash. The relationships, close or otherwise, in School of Theater productions, are consistently believable and stand out.

What I really love about seeing live theater is how it forces you to collectively experience things with other members of the audience. I love listening to the people beside me whispering about what’s happening on stage, and even chime in every once in a while.

I also love when theater addresses current and relevant issues, which is often, but it’s particularly great when several days after the show you are still trying to wrap your head around the ideas.

“Marisol” was a very dense show and boggled my mind. Luckily for me, my instructor for Voice and Speech Training, Casiha Felt, just happened to play the lead role in “Marisol” and let us ask questions about the show in class on Tuesday. It was neat hearing others' opinions of the show and I loved hearing Casiha’s point of view.

I think most plays and art forms in general are supposed to be interpreted however the audiences sees them, but for me this does not necessarily mean only one audience member’s interpretation. What’s so great about being on a college campus is the fact that I know a lot of the students who are frequent theatergoers and therefore have the opportunity to discuss it with them. I look at every opinion as a way to broaden my understanding of the particular piece.

I encourage you to take in as much art as you can, because I think it helps you make sense of the world and what is going on around you. In this particular show, a main theme was addressing the fact that people tend to avert personal responsibility because they think a higher power will take care of everything, Jose Rivera makes the point that we must take responsibility into our own hands and not sit back and “watch the world burn” in the case of “Marisol.” This really hit home for me in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, because it seems that sometimes we turn our heads and pretend that others don’t need our help, when in fact there is so much more we can do.

These are only my opinions--I would love to hear what YOU think.