Campus Collaborations: Bringing Shakespeare’s music to IU Theatre productions

Huebsch_headshot 1By Bruce Walsh

When Sarah Huebsch plays a reproduction of a 16th century oboe, she feels centuries of music and musicians flowing through her person. It’s a rush to say the least, perhaps not unlike what actors feel when they perform the works of William Shakespeare.

“It’s like you’re bringing to life sounds and compositions that were originally brought to life centuries ago. There’s something really special about that experience every single time it happens,” she explains, while sitting in Angles Café in the IU Art Museum.

A D.M. student at the Historical Performance Institute of the Jacobs School of Music, Huebsch is helping to foster an unprecedented relationship with IU’s Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance, as well as building collaborations that raise the profile of early music on campus. The most recent event, From the HeART, which promoted the current production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, involved the IU Art Museum, IU Theatre, and HPI musicians.


Huebsch in rehearsal with her Renaissance Wind Band, Forgotten Clefs

Last summer she organized concerts of 16th century chamber music on 16th century instruments before each performance of Twelfth Night at IU’s Indiana Festival Theatre. This year, director Nancy Lipschultz invited Huebsch to join the production team of Romeo and Juliet. Advising sound designer Aaron Bowersox, she has helped to create a soundscape of music, evoking the London of the 1590s.

“If you’re going through all the trouble of having period costumes and choreography, you don’t want to hear Phillip Glass in that world – or even Mozart. You want the music to be relevant to the time period you’re working in,” she explains. “I think I was able to give Aaron [Bowersox] a good framework to work in. But I was amazed at the music he found on his own that was completely appropriate for the period.”

And Huebsch’s fascination with the Bard won’t end with this production. She’s currently researching a 1777 production of The Tempest art Drury Lane, London in search of a better understanding of the theatrical applications of music in the period.

“Shakespeare productions provide an incredible opportunity for music historians. Because of the massive interest in Shakespeare’s work, the scholarship is vast and excellent,” she says. “And, because theaters kept copious records, we have so much evidence as to what happened – what instruments were used and what musicians were paid. It’s a fascinating record of how and why music was utilized in the period.”

Since its founding by Thomas Binkley in 1979, the Historical Performance Institute (established as the Early Music Institute) of the Jacobs School of Music has been the pioneering, leading program of its kind in the United States.

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Herald Times Preview: Exploring the aftermath

Something important is happening at Indiana University Theatre next month, something worth talking about. They’re presenting Naomi Iizuka’s “Good Kids,” a new play commissioned by the Big Ten Theater Consortium.

The play deals with sexual violence among young people, focusing on an incident involving a student after a weekend party — something the victim herself can’t remember. But it seems everyone at school is talking about it. With so many stories going around, where does the truth lie?

Some of the cast members took time to talk to the media about this play and how meaningful it is in these times.

Junior Mandy Wenz offered, “This play is important to perform on college campuses because it confronts rape culture in a way that hits home. It’s one thing to tell people that rape can happen to anyone, but seeing the effects of rape culture live, on a stage, is more effective.”

Wenz added, “As an RA on campus, I have been trained to respond to sexual-assault incidents, and it is against my training to victim blame. “In portraying Amber, it’s as if I am playing a younger version of myself, before I had been educated on rape culture. It’s important for the audience to see a character who truly believes that rape is the victim’s fault, so they can see how damaging that is to the victim and to society.”

Senior Kelsey Carlisle shared, “Even though this play is set in high school, it is still very relevant to the college-age group. Sexual assault … happens so much that women feel unsafe walking home at night. This play shows that there are so many gray areas when it comes to what exactly happened at a party and who’s to blame for it. Most of all, it shows that these terrible situations can happen to anyone, whether you play the role of the best friend who didn’t take her home or the guy who was there and watched it happen or … the victim.”

Carlisle’s role is making her work through a lot of old memories, she says. “Kylie has this need to fit in and struggles with it. I remember how how being accepted and liked seemed like the most important thing in the world. I remember dreading going to certain classes because I knew I was going to get left out. I can relate to Kylie’s need to connect with someone. High school is hard. And the girls really are harsh.”

She calls the play “extremely important and relevant to our society right now,” and says that “the great thing about theater is that it can make people see things in a different way. When people start to feel, they remember. That alone can make a difference. This is especially true with our play, and it is absolutely important that everyone be a part of it.”

Wenz also said, “People should see this show because it … deals with things that affect us as a society today. It gives our generation a voice. And we need that. Parents, bring your teenagers. They are dealing with rape culture and social media every day, and they need to know that they are not alone. They need to know that they have the power to make a change — they are going to have to make a change.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “Good Kids” by Naomi Iizuka

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6-7, 10-14; 2 p.m. Feb. 14

TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit

Reprinted with permission. See the original article here.

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Broadway choreographer Ken Roberson joins IU Musical Theatre Faculty to help students “hone the craft”.

By Whit Emerson


Ken Roberson works with Musical Theatre B.F.A. students

How does one go from a degree in journalism to choreographing the smash hit Avenue Q? New professor of musical theatre practice Kenneth L. Roberson smiles as he readies his response, “My family was known to be great social dancers, including my father.” So it runs in the family? “The first thing I choreographed was a piece on the playground in first grade to Marvin Gaye.” It seems experience and environment are equally effective at giving you an edge in your career.

Roberson loved modern dance and musical theatre, performing in plays at the University of Georgia. After graduating with his degree in journalism, Roberson worked for a newspaper but continued to take dance classes. He flew up from Georgia to see The Wiz in New York, his first Broadway show. It was then that he knew eventually he was going to perform on those stages.

Roberson.kennethRoberson’s first professional off-Broadway show was the doo-wop musical Avenue X. He worked on and off Broadway as an actor, dancer, and choreographer for the next 15 years. Roberson went to many “cattle call” auditions for Broadway shows. Outside of one audition, a record company scout asked Roberson to be part of his group. With the addition of 4 more people the disco dance group Fantasy was formed. “It was different, it was fun,” Roberson smiles. They even had a Billboard top 10 hit and toured cross-country.

How did he make the transition from actor and dancer to choreographer? “I would be in rehearsal and directors would ask me things, and I would stay around and look. So I started assisting choreographers.” From there Roberson got a job assisting famous choreographer Hope Clarke with the Tony-winning Broadway musical Jelly’s Last Jam, directed by George C. Wolfe. Tap legend Gregory Hines played the lead in that show. “It was magical. It was all you want it to be. His generosity with other dancers and his respect for the work did not go unnoticed and stays with us.”

Eventually his choreography work lead him to the smash hit Avenue Q. Roberson enjoyed the challenge of working with actors and puppeteers. He had to walk a fine line in designing the dances, “We didn’t want the puppeteers to look like bad puppeteers.” But some puppets had to look like bad dancers. “It was humbling to work with the puppeteers and puppets.”

One of his favorite productions to choreograph was Guys and Dolls in the round at Arena Stage. The entire cast were first rate dancers. Roberson smiles and quips, “They had feet.” Is that a dig at Avenue Q? “No!” Roberson laughs.

So what is the most important thing for musical theatre students to learn? “Make a fair assessment of yourself, set your goals and work towards them. Hone the craft, hone the craft, do the work, hone, hone, hone.” Sounds like a lot of good, hard work. “Listen to constructive criticism. Your gut knows.” Great words of advice that any student can take to heart.

Roberson’s IU Theatre directing debut will be Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS, coming to the Ruth N. Halls Theatre in April of 2015.

Whit Emerson is a first-year PhD student. Whit graduated from Appalachian State University with a B.A. in theatre arts and the University of Central Florida with an M.A. in theatre studies.
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A man of few words – Tarell Alvin McCraney play to be performed at IU

RB Water McCraney

Jean-Marc Giboux | John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationTarell Alvin McCraney was a 2013 MacArthur Fellow. The playwright’s “In the Red and Brown Water” will be open Friday at the IU Theatre.

Through the wonders of electronic mail, I was able to have a conversation with Tarell Alvin McCraney, the author of “In the Red and Brown Water.” For a prolific playwright, I found him to be a man of relatively few words, but I was able to get some more details from exactly the kind of mind that earned a MacArthur Fellowship Genius Grant.

McCraney was born in 1980 in the Liberty City area of Miami, Fla. He attended New World School of the Arts High School, earning an Exemplary Artist Award. After high school, he studied at the Theater School at DePaul University in Chicago, receiving the Sarah Siddons Award and a BFA in acting. Beyond college, Tarell attended the British-American Drama Academy (BADA) at Oxford, studying Shakespeare. But his education didn’t stop there. From the Yale School of Drama, he earned an MFA in playwriting, along with its Cole Porter Award.

With this impressive background, doors opened for him, including Chicago’s Northlight and Steppenwolf Theater companies. I asked him how this opportunity has made him a better playwright, and he responded, “Being an ensemble member at Steppenwolf allows me the freedom to write for a company of actors, directors and artists that I know, love and trust.”

Among his theatrical influences, he lists such acclaimed playwrights as John Guare, August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Amy Herzog, Arthur Miller, Anton Chekov and Katori Hall. With Tarell’s impressive lineup of written works, he undoubtedly appears on the inspiration lists of many young playwrights himself.

In addition to “In the Red and Brown Water” (part of his “Brother/Sister Plays” trilogy), Tarell is the author of “Head of Passes,” “Choir Boy,” “American Trade,” “Without/Sin,” “Wig Out!” and “Run, Mourner, Run.” He also co-authored “The Breach,” a story of post-Katrina New Orleans.

I wondered what led him to choose rural Louisiana as the setting for “In the Red and Brown Water,” and his answer surprised me: “I didn’t. I placed it near the bayou, and everyone assumed that’s where it was, so I said sure, it can take place there.”

When I referred to McCraney’s storytelling style as groundbreaking, he was quick to remind me, “The employ of story theater in my work is not a new theatrical device. The form has been used in theater practice from Peter Brook to Noh. It allows the actors to tell the story directly to the audience and allows them to experience the movement of the story together rather than in two separate spaces.”

Having worked as a writer, actor, and director, Tarell observes, “Theater work is collaborative; it’s important to know what your collaborators do in service of the work.”

The interviewer got himself interviewed when I asked Tarell what he’d say to H-T readers to encourage them to come see his play. He replied, “Do you like the play?” (That’s a yes from me, by the way.) “You know your readers better than I do. What would you say to one of them if they said, ‘Red and Brown Water? About impoverished people in the South? Why should I see it?’ What would you say to them? Are they interested in stories about places far away yet right next door? Are they inspired by people who seemingly are different to them, yet somehow dealing with the same desire to love, live and thrive? To be honest, I hope I have put my best creative efforts inside the play rather than the pitch to see it.”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Story Link

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La otra América: “In the Red & Brown Water” enlazando Africa, España y los Estados Unidos

By Bruce Walsh and Sonia Velázquez

David Koté, director y profesor del programa de maestría en artes en el departamento de Teatro de Indiana University, quiso que la obra debutante de este año fuera algo insólito para sus estudiantes y el público. Leyó un gran número de manuscritos pero seguía resonando para él una obra que vio en 2008 y que fue realmente una experiencia única.

La obra, In the Red and Brown Water (En el agua roja y marrón) se estrenó en el Alliance Theatre de Atlanta, Georgia—ciudad natal de Koté—y desde entonces se ha representado con mucho éxito en lugares prestigiosos como el Public Theatre de Nueva York, en el Fountain Theatre de Los Angeles y el Young Vic de Londres. Escrito por el dramaturgo de Chicago Tarell Alvin McCraney, la obra toma lugar en la Luisiana rural y trata de una adolescente Afroamericana quien debe vivir con las consecuencias de la decisión que tomó de quedarse en su pueblo para cuidar a su madre enferma en lugar de aceptar una beca universitaria para estudiar y competir en pruebas de atletismo.

“Me crié cerca del trópico de Capricornio con huracanes tan comunes como picaduras de mosquitos. Vientos lo suficientemente fuertes para hinchar las velas de los barcos y las noches estrelladas que hacen que los viajes de Colón parezcan distantes y todavía no actual. Sin embargo ahí, en medio de esa belleza vemos traficantes de drogas que gestionan las esquinas de igual medida Wall Street y Beirut.” La cita es de McCraney, en una entrevista para el teatro de McCarter en Princeton, Nueva Jersey, que puso en escena su obra hace poco. “He vivido en la otra América: la América que no se ve en el cine; la América que se nos pide que pretendamos que no existe. Escribí estas obras como mi esfuerzo por inventar un teatro que contara esas historias que no se escuchan.”

Red  Brown Finals 9Aunque In the Red and Brown Water toma lugar en Luisiana, la obra incorpora personajes y temas del folklor Yoruba del Suroeste de Nigeria subrayando así el legado Africano dentro de la vida de los Afroamericanos. Pero sorprendentemente, la obra de McCrary también tiene enlaces con Yerma (1934), obra central del dramaturgo español, Federico García Lorca. Ambas obras ponen en escena las frustraciones de dos jóvenes que luchan por alcanzar si ya no éxito, al menos la mínima satisfacción de haber traído una nueva vida al mundo. Sin embargo, ni la titular Yerma ni Oya encuentran salida alguna a sus trágicas circunstancias y se ven redimidas al final por actos voluntarios de incomprensible violencia. Pero los ecos de Lorca—poeta, músico, dramaturgo, colaborador de los surrealistas Luis Buñuel y Salvador Dalí—no se limitan a la trama. Tanto McCrary como Lorca tienen un oído finísimo para representar las cadencias típicas del habla de su pueblo, un talento para destacar imágenes a la vez novedosas y cargadas de significado casi mítico, y una empatía hacia todos sus personajes que hacen que sus obras sean a la vez experiencias íntimas y transcendentales. De esta manera In the Red and Brown Water representa el poder de culturas múltiples fuertemente entrelazadas en las vidas y cultura de la Luisiana contemporánea.

“Es importante poder sentir y apreciar aquellas historias que no corresponden a nuestro propio campo de experiencia” dice el director de In the Red and Brown Water, David Koté mientras espera el comienzo del ensayo de la obra afuera del Studio Theatre. “Me encantó haber vistor M. Butterfly en escena aquí en IU por la misma razón. A mi parecer, es una responsabilidad que tenemos como artistas de presentar a nuestro público historias desde otras perspectivas y cuentos de otras culturas o a lo mínimo de otros barrios—contar las experiencias de aquella gente y lugares en los cuales no nos detendríamos a considerar si no fuera porque una obra de arte nos ha hecho la invitación.”

La obra, In the Red and Brown Water, de Tarell Alvin McCraney y dirigida por David Koté debuta el 5 de diciembre a las 7:30 PM y continúa en escena 12/6, 12/9-13 y 9/12 a las 2PM en el Wells-Metz Theatre de la Indiana University. Boletos desde $15 (estudiantes), $20 (adultos de tercera edad) y $25 público general. Para más información, consulte

(Reprinted from El Boletín Comunitario, December 2014, The City of Bloomington Community and Family Resources, Latino Programs and Outreach.)

David Walsh is a first-year M.F.A. playwright in the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance. Sonia Velázquez is Assistant Professor in both the Theatre Department and IU’s Department of Religious Studies.

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THEATER REVIEW: ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’ – IU Theatre’s production will likely live up to Jane Austen fans’ expectations

Review headerBy Matthew Waterman H-T Reviewer

The five Bennet sisters are uniformly unwed at the outset of Jane Austen’s classic 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Without any male heirs, their father’s meager fortune will fall into the hands of Mr. Collins, the odious cousin of the Bennet sisters. Thus is incited the family’s quest for matrimony en masse.

Each character approaches the matter with different expectations of what a marriage should be; some value love, some value dowry and some value reputation. It’s not hard to guess which two aspects of human nature cause much of the conflict in the story (hint: check the title).

“Pride and Prejudice” is brought from page to stage this week by IU Theatre. Jon Jory, the artistic director credited with bringing Actors Theatre of Louisville to prominence, wrote the adaptation, and IU professor Dale McFadden directed.

Emily Harpe stars as Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest of the sisters. Harpe strongly plays up Elizabeth’s wit, earthiness and sensibility. One can’t help but admire her character’s talent for the frank rejection of undesirable men.

Opposite her is Josh Krause as Fitzwilliam Darcy, the wealthy suitor who quickly garners Elizabeth’s abhorrence. Mr. Darcy’s poor social skills make for a rocky start to his pursuits in the play.

A tender romance develops between the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane (Mara Lefler), and the charming Charles Bingley (Jason Craig West). Lefler and West are endearing and heartwarming without crossing into mawkishness.

George Wickham (Austin Wilson) throws a wrench into the works by wooing Elizabeth, then unexpectedly claiming a different Bennet sister as his bride. Wilson underscores Wickham’s allure with subtle tones of sly menace.

Jory’s adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” dials up the humor of the story. When the refined etiquette of the Regency Era breaks down, comic awkwardness follows. McFadden’s direction juices these moments delightfully.

Those who haven’t read the novel may find it difficult to track the plot of “Pride and Prejudice.” Austen weaves together a multitude of threads in the story, and Jory leaves relatively little on the cutting room floor.

Audiences are transported to Regency England by the script’s erudite and archaic language, Kelsey Nichols’ costumes, Andrea Ball’s set and the period movement (coached and choreographed by guest artist Nira Jean Pullin).

On a political level, “Pride and Prejudice” examines the period’s cultural attitudes concerning class and family. The play pokes fun at the upper class with snobbish characters such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Ashley Dillard).

“Pride and Prejudice” proves a worthwhile outing, and will likely live up to the expectations of Austen fans.

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.

WHAT: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, adapted for stage by Jon Jory.

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre in the Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.

TICKETS: $15-25. Available by phone at 812-855-1103 or online at

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Story Link

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Just Like A Butterfly

by Lucia Xiaoran Zhu

It seems like the butterfly is always a popular metaphor choice in eastern theme stories, from the Chinese folktale The Butterfly Lovers (Chinese: Liang Zhu) to Puccini’s most well known opera Madame Butterfly (which inspired M. Butterfly). While most people compare the butterfly to a woman who is beautiful, delicate, and fragile, I prefer to see it as a figure that is struggling with her assigned destiny changing from one state to another, as are both Cho-Cho-San (heroine of Madame Butterfly) and Song Liling (heroine of M. Butterfly). Song Liling’s story sounds dramatic and audiences may doubt the truth of her experience. How similar is it to the real life story?

LuciaWhether or not you think this is true, the pain people suffered during the Cultural Revolution of 1960s China is immeasurable. And in that unconscionable 10 years, many people’s lives were changed permanently. My grandmother is one of those people whose destiny was hugely changed by China’s Cultural Revolution.

My grandmother had two dreams when she was young: to be a writer, and to be an engineer. Women in her generation who received a good education are rare to see in 1950s China, since most of the Chinese were still facing hunger at that time. She is not only knowledgeable in classical and western literature, but also adept in solving mathematical problems. Even now when she is well into her seventies, she is still able to tutor my little cousin’s high school algebra mathematics. She is the one who first read theatre stories to me when I was still in preschool, and I still remember the first Chinese drama she read to me was Thunderstorm. The first Western drama I know from her was Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Though she was a brilliant woman, all the universities rejected her application. The only reason was because of her background: she was a daughter of a capitalist. Capitalism was a sharp word. Chinese society had accepted that it was reasonable to force those who embraced it to live like dirt because, as M. Butterfly’s Comrade Chin says, “you lived above common people” and should feel shame. I have to say my grandmother was lucky that she wasn’t hurt. Since she was just a student and didn’t live with her “capitalist” family, the red guards didn’t harm her physically, though she was robbed of the opportunity to receive higher education and could not realize her dream of becoming an engineer. Later, for a more stable life, she chose to go to work in a fabric factory as one of the “Proud Labor”.

Reading is my grandmother’s hobby, but all literature books from Western countries (especially Britain, America, France) were forbidden in China during the Cultural Revolution because they are “poisons from capitalist countries”. Therefore, the only way my grandmother could read literature was to borrow from her sister’s husband, a general in the Navy whose position was high enough to have these restricted materials at home. My grandmother told me that she wrapped those books with many pieces of newspaper, to make the book titles invisible so that no one would know that she is reading something forbidden. And everyday when she took a break from working on the machine, she would just find a remote corner, reading books quietly until her break ended.

Time flies fast when you have to spend most of your time struggling to earn a better living, with no time to devote to fulfilling your own dreams. Being a factory worker will not allow you to have much time to write a book, especially when you have two children to educate. For my grandmother, when she finally realized that she was dreaming to be a writer and an engineer, she was already old. My grandfather passed away in February this year, which was a shock for my grandmother and it also worsened her health: she has not been able to read or write since that time. Now she can only spend her time watching TV or going to the theatre to watch the Chinese Opera or theatre production. This summer she was complaining to me about how Thunderstorm has become a comedy in modern audiences’ eyes since the time has changed so much. I hope one day I can produce a play for my grandmother, I hope one day I can be capable enough to tell a beautiful story to her as what she did to me many many years ago.

M. Butterfly means more than a normal IU Theatre main stage production for me, I spend all my love and passion on this play, and I feel grateful that this play allows me to make connections with both my multi-cultural background and skills I obtained in the past two decades. Every minute I work for this production makes me feel how wonderful my life is with theatre. Personally, “butterfly” reminds me of my grandmother, who could not say “no” to all the unfairness she was given. This play, M. Butterfly just like a mirror that reflects those political events my grandmother might have gone through long ago.

As an assistant director, each time when I come to the rehearsal, watching this story performed live in front of me, I am reminded that no matter if it is a celebrity’s theatrical story like Song Liling’s or a common person’s story like my grandmother’s, the truth is they did actually happen in real history.

If you are available from Oct. 24th to Nov. 1st, please come to join us at the Wells-Metz Theatre to watch David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly! It is a fantasy. It is reality. Give us a chance, and we will fulfill Song Liling’s promise to “further expand your mind!”

Many thanks to our director Prof. Murray McGibbon who offers me this opportunity to work on M. Butterfly; I have an intuition that this production will change my life. And also special thanks to our department’s former faculty Prof. Fontaine Syer, who is the one that brought me back to the stage again.

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