IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance welcomes Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown

Nyama2IU Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance professor Dr. Nyama McCarthy-Brown has made it her mission to focus on cultural diversity in dance. “Dance is a human experience, a medium that facilitates social interaction and promotes social justice. It is a platform for performance and a conduit for spirituality.” McCarthy-Brown is inspired by a desire for the Arts to be culturally responsive and inclusive. “Ballet is fabulous,” she says, “but western dance training relies too much on ballet for its legitimacy. I’d like to see our orientation widen to include more ways of understanding dance and also reflect the diversity of our contemporary society.” With a strong background in dance pedagogy and responsive IU dance students, McCarthy-Brown appears poised to do just that.

Originally from San Francisco, McCarthy-Brown went to Spelman College for her BA in Political Science and the University of Michigan for her M.F.A. in Performance and Choreography. She completed her PhD in Dance Education and Cultural Studies at Temple University, where she was awarded the Future Faculty Fellowship. McCarthy-Brown comes to IU from Bowdoin College where she taught Afro-modern, Cultural Choreographies, jazz, ballet, and African-derived Dances in America. She is excited to join a larger contemporary dance program.

Nyama1McCarthy-Brown has published articles in Dance Chronicle, The Journal of Dance Education, and The Journal of African American Studies focusing on cultural inclusion and the experience of African American ballerinas. People of color in dance and the interplay of theory and practice are vital research interests of hers.

McCarthy-Brown has performed for South African President Thabo Mbeki and studied tango in Argentina. In 2014, she was awarded several grants to interview African American ballet dancers in New York City and study dance with Ron Brown.

McCarthy-Brown shares that she would like to stretch students physically and intellectually to go beyond technique in her dance classes. “Learning the movement phrase and being able to perform it is wonderful. Now, try to think of why you do it. What muscles are moving in your body, how is the movement being motivated? Many students will learn movement, and are eager to perform, knowing what lies underneath is also important. The intellectual-physical connection is especially important in modern dance and both physical and theoretical foundations need to be solid.”

What’s next for McCarthy-Brown? Besides teaching classes, she’ll be presenting in Encounters & Collisions this January and is writing a book. We’ll be looking forward to seeing her work-on both page and stage. You can visit her website at www.nyamamccarthybrown.com.

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Heather Milam will head IU Theatre’s new Costume Technology M.F.A.

Milam.HeatherNewBeginning Fall 2014 the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance will offer an M.F.A. in Costume Technology. Heather Milam, the program’s director, most recently served as the Costume Production Specialist for the University of Alabama Department of Theatre and Dance. She has worked for over a decade as a professional costume-maker, cutter/draper,* and pattern-maker in New York City and at other regional and professional theatres across the country. She and I sat down to talk about her work and what the new degree has to offer.  —Sarah Campbell

Sarah: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to costume technology.

Heather: I have been doing theatre since I was in 6th grade. Back then it was just crossing the stage and being in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. But from high school on I realized I was more of a backstage person. I did stage management, too. I went to undergrad at Ithaca College thinking I wanted to be a director. And the reason I thought that was because when I read a play, I saw it produced in my head. So I thought that meant that I was director-minded. But it turns out that you can use those same visual skills in any field in the theatre.

There was an opening for work study in the costume shop. I had gotten my first sewing machine when I was 13 and had the basic sewing skills, so I figured that was better than flipping burgers in the food court. I took the job and realized that it was something that I really enjoyed doing, that costume design and construction were the area of theatre that I wanted to pursue. At that time at Ithaca they required you to do summer theatre every year, so I started doing summer internships, which led to other jobs. In between my junior and senior year I interned at Barbara Matera Limited, which at the time was the top costume shop in New York City. It was an amazing, life-changing experience for me. They offered me a full-time job once I graduated, so I moved to New York and started working there. I worked there on and off for 12 years—I worked on Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Sunset Boulevard, most of what Broadway was producing from the mid-90s to the 2000s, and I learned from some of the best designers in the industry. I moved up the ranks, as you do in the costume shop. I moved to Phoenix for a little while, did some cutting and draping at the Phoenix Theatre Company. I came back to New York City and did some freelance work there. After that I went into academia. I worked at the University of Alabama for four years and then I got this opportunity.

Sarah: So, what is costume technology?

Heather: It is all of the processes that go into realizing a costume design. So the building of garments, the making of the costume pieces, dressmaking, tailoring, crafts, and millinery.

Sarah: How do you work with the costume designer?

Heather: The costume designer works closest with the director and the other members of the design team, like the set designer or the lighting designer. The costume-maker works, primarily, with the costume designer and then the people who actually make the costumes, which would be the stitchers and others in the costume shop. The designer kind of imagines or creates the idea of what each of the characters will be wearing—or even the functionality, what do they need to be wearing? Also, what they need for the show to indicate different seasons, times of day, or classes, all of that comes from the designer and their research. Then they present their drawings to a draper or a costume-maker and then the costume-maker works with the designer to figure out how it’s going to be built. There are always instances of dealing with how the costume is going to be constructed, whether it needs to be functional in terms of working with a quick change; where holes are going to be, if it needs to fit over other costumes, if it needs to happen really fast, if it needs to be of a certain material. So you work out samples first, that’s often what the first step will be—coming up with a variety of ideas of what the costume will be made of. You collaborate continuously with the designer; that’s really who you work the closest with. Once the designer is satisfied with your proposal, you’ll move forward and work with the shop to build the costume.

Sarah: What is the goal of this program? What do you hope to train students for?

Heather: Well giving the students skills that will allow them to function in a costume shop—that is the primary goal. My specialty is dressmaking and tailoring so that will be, at least in the beginning, the focus of classwork. I worked in a costume shop for many years in New York, and that’s where a lot of my connections still are, but I would like to prepare costume technicians to be able to function in the role of draper, or pattern maker/first hand** out in New York or LA costume shops, regional theatre shops, or Shakespeare companies around the world.

Sarah: How will the students be working in the department and on productions? I know M.F.A. design students work as a designers in IU Theatre productions. What kind of responsibility will costume technology students take on for the productions?

Heather: They will complete their graduate assistant hours in the costume shop working as drapers or first hands. They probably will begin to work on one of the smaller shows or overseeing the alterations for one of the shows that don’t have that many costumes or costumes which aren’t especially complicated. Also for one of the other productions that semester, they would be a first hand to me or for maybe a third-year student. They may not be in charge of how a costume is made, but they are in charge of the stitchers or the other students working in the shop, and they will oversee how that process occurs.

Then they would move up in terms of responsibility to a harder show or a different time period or a different challenge. That’s part of the goal of overseeing the students, that they leave here will all of the necessary skills, whether it’s working in period pattern-making or tailoring, or big builds like a 20-person chorus who all have to be wearing the same thing. I would foresee them having a thesis project that would be similar to the design students—meaning they would do research on different construction methods and innovative technologies in terms of costume production. I would like them to be research-minded as well. I would like them to explore new innovations, materials, and technique, so they can present at conferences. One of the things I would like to see by their third year is that they have done independent research and presented it at a conference like USITT or SETC, and also work on a production where they would be completely in charge of the construction and alterations.

Sarah: Are there other programs like this in the US?

Heather: There are about eight programs that are specific to costume technology. There are a lot of programs that are a dual focus in costume design and technology, probably two or three dozen. The program at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is probably the program that I’ve most modeled my ideas. The person who founded that program, Judy Adamson, was someone I worked with when I was very young when I was in New York, and I saw her transition and build that program from the ground up. Right now that school probably puts out some of the best technologists. But from any of the M.F.A. programs we know— if they’ve gone through three years of intensive training, you can depend on their skill level.

Sarah: What courses are you offering? What do you foresee offering in the future?

Heather: There will be courses in pattern-making, draping, tailoring, period construction, and understructures—like corsets and bustles. They will need to take costume history, the theory/history/literature requirements, and research and collaboration courses along with the other tech/design students. We will offer some special topics courses—these will be offered sporadically depending on the needs or desires of the students. Linda Pisano offers some classes like mask-making and millinery, so if the students are interested in those, they’d obviously be welcome to take those classes. They’d need to take at least one design class, so they understand the language and have the ability to communicate with designers. We are still working on a specific curriculum, but that’s the general idea.

Sarah: What are you the most excited about in launching the program?

Heather: I’m excited to be in a position to train masters of their craft. In our program you will be coming in for three years and 63 credits of costume technology, where your summers are focused at an internship or working with specialists. You’re specifically coming here because you want to master this craft. In the “olden days” this was an apprenticeship field, where tailors start learning to hand sew at the age of five, where they learned from their fathers and brothers and uncles. The apprentices were learning a trade they would be doing for their whole life; they were trained for decades to become really good at what they do. That’s not the environment here in America now, but this is the closest you can get to that model, where you’re working with someone who will allow you to truly specialize in an art.

*Cutter/draper is responsible for the creation of costumes; interpretation of original design work and custom patterning based on the design, and all facets of the construction process for the costumes as well as alterations, fittings, and maintenance of pulled or rented clothing items.

**First hand = the draper’s assistant, working with the draper to construct the costumes. First hands cut the fabric and distribute the work to the stitchers.

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Herald Times Review – Production features praiseworthy cast

Tantrum Time[1]“In her bones those five fingers know, that hand aches to speak out, and something in her mind is asleep. How do I nudge that awake?” These are the passionate words of Annie Sullivan as represented in William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” a staged docudrama telling the story of Helen Keller’s difficult upbringing.

“The Miracle Worker” makes one half of Indiana Festival Theatre’s 2014 repertory plays, the other half being Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” The two plays (which will rotate in the Wells-Metz Theatre through July 27th) share a terrific cast assembled from professional and student actors.

Annie Sullivan answers her own question — “How do I nudge that (Helen’s potential for using language) awake” — with three words: “Keep at it.” As someone who overcame blindness herself, Sullivan refuses to give up on her mission of teaching young Helen. Through Helen’s screaming, hitting, kicking, slapping and throwing (not to mention a lack of cooperation from Helen’s parents), Sullivan perseveres heroically.

“The Miracle Worker” was adapted from Helen Keller’s autobiography “The Story of My Life” first into a 90-minute teleplay, then into a stage play, garnering the 1960 Tony Award for Best Play. At its heart, “The Miracle Worker” is a story about love and the lengths to which we go for it. In the case of Helen Keller, the love her parents feel compels them to spoil her. The love her teacher feels compels her to devote herself to giving Helen the gift of language.

Dale McFadden’s direction of “The Miracle Worker” is tasteful, simple and adroit. McFadden’s design team effectively establishes the atmosphere of 1880s Alabama.

Hillary Clemens brilliantly realized the character of Annie Sullivan in this production. Clemens brought scalpel-edged focus to the role, resulting in a nuanced and cogent performance.

Similarly admirable is the work of Lola Kennedy in the challenging role of 6-year-old Helen Keller. Not only does Kennedy consistently maintain a realistic portrayal of her character’s disabilities, but she also sustains high energy and reactiveness on stage.

A fervent (albeit somewhat underwritten) subplot involves Helen’s half-brother James (Adam St. John) searching for love and approval from his father. St. John is convincing and humorously cynical as James.

A highlight of this production is Rob Johansen’s fight direction. The play is fight-heavy, with multiple incidents blurring the lines between spelling lessons and wrestling matches. Actors adeptly and vigorously execute Johansen’s seamless choreography.

As Mr. and Mrs. Keller, David Kortemeier and Jenny McKnight bring the audience to understand their characters’ weaknesses in raising Helen. The Kellers struggle to let go of Helen and leave her to Sullivan’s care. Helen’s parents cannot help but treat her with pity, when firm discipline and high expectations will be more beneficial in the long run.

In smaller roles, Nancy Lipschultz (Aunt Ev), Ben Abbott (Doctor), Mara Lefler (Viney) and Ian Martin (Mr. Anagnos) achieve equally praiseworthy performances.

Gentle humor will keep the audience interested through this lengthy three-act play. Helen’s journey is an arduous one, and it is not until well into the second act that she manages to fold a napkin independently. Despite this slow-moving plot, tensions soared on stage; moments of boredom were few and far between.

“Language is to the mind as light is to the eyes,” claims Annie Sullivan near the beginning of “The Miracle Worker.” The events of this play only span a short period of Keller’s childhood, but they were an essential step in Keller becoming the renowned writer and humanitarian she was. This remarkably touching play will humble and inspire audiences, reminding us that determination and patience are the primary ingredients for great achievement.

If you go

WHO: Indiana Festival Theatre.

WHAT: “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday, Sunday and July 22, 24 and 26; 2 p.m. Saturday and July 27.

WHERE: Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: $15-$25. Available at www.theatre.indiana.edu or call the IU Auditorium Box Office 812-855-1103.

Reprinted with permission.

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WFIU – The Miracle Worker: A Story Well Worth Retelling


“The production’s Helen, Lola Kennedy was simply amazing. Her spirit, her anger, her own frustration and occasional joy were wonderfully transparent. Never for a moment did you think that she could see or hear.”

“If you don’t come to the show, you’ll have to put up with friends who do telling you that they’re sorry you missed it in the months and perhaps years to come.”

You can hear the full story at WFIU and see The Miracle Worker on stage in the Wells-Metz Theatre, July 22, 24 and 26 at 7:30pm, and July 26th at 2pm. For tickets, visit theatre.indiana.edu.


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Summer School

Tantrum Time[1]

The Miracle Worker’s Hillary Clemens and Bloomington’s own Lola Kennedy

The Indiana Festival Theatre is underway in Bloomington, and the move to Indiana University’s local campus has proven worthwhile to managing director Drew Bratton.

“By moving into our full-time theater spaces here on the Bloomington campus we’ve had the ability to do more technically complicated theater, do larger scale productions,” Bratton said. “We were sorry to leave Nashville and the tradition of the Brown County Playhouse, but with the opportunities to do more and involve more students and members of the community, our summer company has grown immensely.”

IU’s summer theater program was located for years at the Brown County Playhouse in Nashville, until it moved to the Bloomington campus in 2011.

Everyone involved in the summer program, including the students, are paid a professional salary for their work. This makes it a unique, first-time experience for a lot of the cast and crew.

“We’re very proud of the fact that we run a full-fledged summer based company here in Bloomington,” Bratton said. “It’s sort of the first of its kind.”

Bratton said the Theatre Department at IU focuses on students’ academic responsibilities during the school year, so students usually make up 100% of the cast and crew for shows during the fall and spring semesters.

And that’s the other key difference with the Indiana Festival Theatre — they bring in professionals to work alongside the students.

This year two designers on faculty joined the team: Reuben Lucas on scenic design and Linda Pisano on costumes. And as they’ve done since the summer program came to Bloomington, the company is recruiting professional actors through the Actor’s Equity Association, including Hillary Clemens, Andy Sullivan, Jenny McKnight, David Kortemeier and IU professor Nancy Lipschultz.

“There’s a little less hecticness in the summer, simply because everybody involved isn’t also going to class,” Bratton said. “We have a little bit more time, we can work rehearsals during the day without too many conflicts. They get a taste of what that really feels like, to be in that professional world. That being said, there’s the whole added pressure of trying to do five shows in a really compact period of time.”

Work for the IFT started in May and continues throughout the summer, which means students are doing five shows in what Bratton said would normally span five months.

He explained another challenge, that the sets this year are quite different from one another, making the component of scenic construction and changeovers day to day truly transformative.

“It’s really quite miraculous to see,” he said. “Some people actually see two shows in one day, so you can see Twelfth Night with a mid-Shakespearean setting in Italy, and later that evening you come back and it’s The Miracle Worker, and it’s America in the 1880s. That’s part of what people always talk about as theater magic. A lot of work goes into the theater magic, but we’re happy to create that illusion for people.”

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a Shakespeare comedy being performed this year in repertory with the Helen Keller drama The Miracle Worker.

Chad Singer, a sophomore at IU, is performing in Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Twelfth Night. It’s Singer’s first time in the summer program, and his first time on a main stage. He joined because he plans on going into musical theater after graduation.

“It’s really inspiring and eye-opening to be working with professionals,” Singer said. “I’m very motivated and driven when I’m with those people.”

“Being in Twelfth Night, I don’t think I’ve ever understood more of [Shakespeare’s] language than in that process,” said Jennifer Smith, a rising senior at IU who is also house manager for Schoolhouse Rock Live!. “ Everyone in the show is so talented, and they’re all really good at communicating the story with language that’s kind of difficult to understand.”

Schoolhouse Rock

Schoolhouse Rock Live! is this year’s show for children, a musical based on songs from the popular 1970’s animated series.

“We have seen an older crowd turn out that grew up with the cartoon,” Bratton said, “and a lot of people raised in the 70’s are raising kids now too. We like to do programming that’s for kids but doesn’t play down to kids, doesn’t make their parents fall asleep with boredom.”

To cater to a younger crowd, it’s being performed in a small studio space separate from the other four shows.

“The kids are really responsive,” Singer said. “It’s cute, we bring them up to dance, it’s really fun to see their reactions. The Studio Theater provides a more intimate experience for the audience, it’s nice for the kids.”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times

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“We will draw the curtain and show you the picture.”

Before you see Twelfth Night in the Wells- Metz Theatre, flip through our audience guide for a behind the curtain look at our production!



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Indiana Festival Theatre’s ‘Twelfth Night’ fast-paced, uproarious, moving

The 12th night of Christmas, in Tudor England, was a night marked by social unrest; peasants superseded their landlords, servants were the betters of their masters, law subsided to festivity and the lines of gender were crossed. This immoderate celebration was dubbed the “Feast of Fools.” All things considered, it’s easy to understand Shakespeare’s reasoning in titling his 1602 comedy “Twelfth Night.”

Though a fitting name, “Twelfth Night” was not actually the play’s original title; it was first called “What You Will.”

Indiana Festival Theatre brings a superb production of “Twelfth Night” (or “What You Will”) to the Wells-Metz Theatre this month as its annual Shakespearean comedy. Starting next weekend, “Twelfth Night” will play in rotating repertory with William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” based on the story of Helen Keller. These productions combine the talents of IU’s best student actors with those of seasoned professional actors.

“Twelfth Night” incorporates all the aforementioned aspects of the “Feast of Fools.” The play’s primary plot revolves around Viola (Hillary Clemens), a shipwrecked young lady, swapping genders and disguising herself as a page to Duke Orsino (Ian Martin). Additionally, echoing the power reversals of the “Feast of Fools,” it is the characters of lower stations driving the plot forward.

Not yet 20 minutes into the play, a dicey love triangle has already developed. Viola loves Duke Orsino, who thinks she is a boy, Duke Orsino loves Countess Olivia (Jenny McKnight), who will have none of him, and Countess Olivia loves Viola, also duped by the disguise. As if this weren’t enough, Shakespeare throws a new wrench into the works: Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby Belch (David Kortemeier), is attempting to set Olivia up with his degenerate companion Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Ben Abbott).

To add a little more fun, Shakespeare brings in a wild subplot involving Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Olivia’s maid Maria (Mara Lefler) conspiring to undo Olivia’s fastidious and egotistical steward Malvolio (Rob Johansen).

Under the inventive and masterful direction of Jonathan Michaelsen, the show’s actors achieve profound comedy and comic profundity. Rob Johansen brought the house down with his impassioned portrayal of Malvolio, the butt of the play’s grand joke. Johansen effectively highlighted Malvolio’s tragic flaws: arrogance and asininity.

Jenny McKnight was convincing as the love-struck Countess Olivia. David Kortemeier and Ben Abbott were hilarious as the carousing duo of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew.

Nat Zegree played Feste, Olivia’s jester, as well as providing the show’s music. Wielding on various occasions a guitar, a drum and a melodica, Zegree performed original music for scene transitions and the scenes themselves. At times, he was assisted by violinist Chad Singer. In his acting role, Zegree made the fool wise, quirky and lively.

Tim Pyles (Fabian), Ian Martin (Duke Orsino), David Gordon-Johnson (Sebastian), Mara Lefler (Maria), Adam St. John (Antonio) and Hillary Clemens (Viola) rounded out the principal cast of “Twelfth Night” with comfortable yet energetic performances. The show had no weak links.

Scenic designer Reuben Lucas crafted a huge, beautiful set for “Twelfth Night.” Linda Pisano’s costumes were sometimes regal, sometimes oceanic and always appropriate for the character.

Michaelsen’s production is fast-paced and hysterical. For all the mistaken identities, there is potential for confusion. However, the actors color and chew the Bard’s language clearly enough that audience members needn’t be Shakespeare scholars to follow the story or get the jokes.

Attendees might choose to arrive slightly early for live pre-show music and a little painless audience participation.

To catch an uproarious and moving performance, make your way to Seventh and Jordan this month to see Indiana Festival Theatre’s exquisite production of “Twelfth Night.”

Reprinted with permission from the Herald Times

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