H-T PREVIEW: IU theatre expands into contemporary dance in winter concert

 

By Joel Pierson H-T columnist
Jan 8, 2017

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Morgan Johnson, Natasha Radford and Katie Lea in rehearsal for Jose Limon’s “Psalm”

As you may know, the Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama has expanded to include contemporary dance, and this week, they dance — contemporarily. The 2017 winter dance concert, titled “Roots to Wings,” is a celebration of modern dance through the years. The chosen name, according to Director of Contemporary Dance Elizabeth Shea, refers to the “historic journey of modern dance from its inception to where we are now.”

The concert will feature nine dance works from faculty and guest choreographers. Among the performances:

“Twoness” is a solo piece performed by Broadway dancer Gregory King. It features music from Miles Davis and Steve Reich. “Five Pillars” explores the five pillars of Islam, in the interest of bringing understanding of the faith. These two pieces are choreographed by assistant professor of contemporary dance Nyama McCarthy-Brown. Inspired by the music of the ragtime era of American culture, “Josephine and Louise” is choreographed by Selene Carter, assistant professor of contemporary dance.

Iris Rosa, director of the African American Dance Company, will choreograph a performance, as will retiring professor George Pinney. His piece is titled “Last Dance, elusive inspiration.”

Elizabeth Shea choreographs two performances for this production. The first, “Hunger Moon,” tells the story of a community of women who explore their feminine and masculine energies (represented by the moon and sun, respectively). It incorporates video projections by Xiaoyuan Zhu. The second production, “The Rise of Otherness,” deals with society’s inclination to separate and polarize its citizens.

Two guest artists are on hand to provide choreography. The first is Andrea Miller, founder and artistic director of Gallim Dance in New York City. Her piece, “Spill,” works with both professional and student dancers. The concert concludes in grand style with Jose Limon’s “Psalm,” which is based on the story of the 36 Just Men. Jewish folklore states that in every generation, 36 saints are born, and the fate of the world depends upon their goodness. In keeping with the concert’s theme of dance through the ages, “Psalm” premiered 50 years ago, when Limon was dying of cancer. A former company member named Jennifer Scanlon reconstructed the work, also serving as a guest instructor for dance students during her stay at IU.

Dance fans are usually up for anything IU presents, but there are some people out there who think dance just “isn’t for them.” These are the folks I want to encourage to come see “Roots to Wings.” With a combination of new and classic pieces, the concert celebrates the rich history of contemporary dance. It might just make you a fan of the art form in the process.

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Pierson” in the subject line.

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

WHAT: 2017 Winter Dance Concert: “Roots to Wings”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13-14, 2 p.m. Jan. 14-15

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

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

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Find the original article and more Arts around town at http://www.heraldtimesonline.com.

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Review: ‘The Exonerated’ draws out questions of morality

By Matthew Waterman, H-T Reviewer

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Richkard Saint-Victor portrays Robert, a horse groomer sent to death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Lee Martin, right, plays Georgia, his wife, as well as additional characters throughout the play. Nick Munson (background) also portrays multiple characters that help to create the world of “The Exonerated”.

At any given time, there are several thousand inmates on death row in the United States. At least a fraction of them are bound to be innocent.

The criminal justice system is far from being immune to error. If we are going to use the death penalty, we should at least confront that fact.

Playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen confront it head-on in “The Exonerated,” a 100-minute drama with no intermission. The play tells the stories of six people sent to death row on wrongful convictions, all of whom were later exonerated.

Blank and Jensen’s work had a successful off-Broadway run starting in 2002, and it was adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 2005. It starred Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and others.

A production of “The Exonerated” by the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance plays this week in the Wells-Metz Theatre. The show opened Friday night with both playwrights in attendance.

The most disturbing element of “The Exonerated” is the element of truth. The script is based on actual case files and public records, supplemented by interviews with 40 former death row inmates who had been exonerated.

The stage is furnished with five chairs and surrounded by audience members on three sides. The former inmates take turns telling their stories. Other actors take on an array of minor roles (police officers, attorneys, etc.) to bring some parts of the stories to life.

Director Liam Castellan has led a solid cast through a moving and engaging production. At no point during the 100-minute performance did I find myself wishing for an intermission.

At the center of the play is Delbert Tibbs, based on the real Delbert Tibbs, a black man who became an anti-death penalty activist after being sentenced to death on a wrongful conviction by an all-white jury.

Tibbs’ narration is rife with wisdom and poeticism. He is portrayed simply and calmly here by Ansley Valentine, an associate professor of acting and directing at IU. The rest of the actors are students (graduate and undergraduate).

Matthew Murry portrays Gary, a soft-spoken farmer who was convicted of murdering his parents. Murry’s performance brings out his character’s humility and gentleness.

Richkard Saint-Victor enacts the part of Robert, a black horse groomer who went to death row for the rape and murder of a white woman. Robert and his wife Georgia (Lee Martin) express more overt anger at the justice system and its racist tendencies than do any of the other characters.

Nicholas Jenkins plays Kerry, an awkward man who was found guilty largely because the prosecution accused him of “homosexual perversion,” the script suggests.

Kevin Renn embodies the character of David. David was picked up as a young man for a robbery and murder he had no connection to. Years behind bars have traumatized David into a state of addiction and emptiness.

Finally, we have Meaghan Deiter in the role of Sunny. Sunny was a free-spirited hippie who ended up, along with her husband, in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were riding with a sketchy friend (Rhodes, played by Nicholas Munson) when he shot two police officers to death, then blamed it on his passengers.

The structure that Blank and Jensen employ in this show — the characters taking turns telling their stories — means we’re always jumping around to different subplots. Yet, it’s not hard to follow at all. If anything, the scattered narrative is what makes the show so watchable.

There’s something that makes “The Exonerated” especially shocking from a moral standpoint. None of the cases in this play (which, again, are taken from true events) were situations in which the police or justice system made their best efforts to uncover the truth, and they arrived at the wrong answer due to misleading evidence. They are all cases in which outrageous mistakes occurred; confessions were fabricated, vital evidence was neglected or decisions were made on the basis of outright racism.

On the one hand, “The Exonerated” is the opposite of a moral puzzle. What happens is clearly wrong, since Blank and Jensen only tell the stories of the innocent, not the guilty.

On the other hand, the play clearly casts doubt on the morality of giving the state the power to execute its own citizens. Those who walk in as supporters of the death penalty may walk out with uncertainties.

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The Dramaturg’s Desk: THE EXONERATED

THE EXONERATED production dramaturg Kathryn de la Rosa is a sophomore journalism and theater double major from Kentucky. She is an Ernie Pyle Scholar and a member of Hutton Honors College.

It’s unusual for an undergraduate to take on the role of dramaturg for an IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance main stage production. We welcome Kathryn’s first contribution here at 7th & Jordan and we’re grateful that she is willing to share her passion with us.

I started research for “The Exonerated” in July. At that point, 30 of the 50 states had the death penalty. In many of those states, America’s shortage of lethal injection drugs had temporarily halted executions. “The Exonerated”’s Kerry Max Cook finally had his fourth trial where the state of Texas dropped its murder charges against him after almost 40 years.

July was also the month of wall-to-wall national convention coverage.

A play’s significance can change in the years since its first production. Blank and Jensen did much of the research for “The Exonerated” in 2000. These were the months leading up to George W. Bush’s election. Under his governorship, Texas executed 131 inmates, many of whom were convicted in highly flawed trials similar to Kerry Max Cook’s.

We happened to do “The Exonerated” in an election year, four presidential races later. In the hours of Nov. 8, its significance shifted in the course of hours.

Rehearsal started in October. Director Liam Castellan and I finalized the actor’s packet the night of the second presidential debate at Washington University. That packet had an optimistic bent and carries the very wrong assumption that come November, the Democrats would retain the White House and possibly regain some control of Congress. More urgently for capital punishment, I wrote the packet assuming that Merrick Garland would push the Supreme Court further left. I summarized to the cast that the death penalty was on its way out.

One election later, we know what our country will look like for the next two to four years. President-elect Donald Trump has supported the death penalty for longer than he’s been a Republican. Three of the 11 people on Indiana’s death row were sentenced in the first year of vice president-elect Mike Pence’s governorship. Trump and the ever-Republican Senate will be responsible for filling the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy.

Unnoticed by national media amidst Trump’s victory were the results of state ballot initiatives in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma which variously expedited, reinstated or strengthened the death penalty.

The nation is firmly in Republican hands, a party whose platform says the death penalty is a constitutional right, and which condemns the Supreme Court’s “erosion of the right of the people to enact capital punishment in their states.” The court just heard a capital murder appeal from Texas today concerning mental disability. More death penalty cases will come to Washington in the coming years, before a court sure to be filled by Republican hands.

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Ansley Valentine (Delbert)

In the last minutes of “The Exonerated”, Delbert Tibbs, played by Associate Professor Ansley Valentine, says “I think some things about our country are fucked up — but I also think it’s a great country, you know, I really do.”

The note I wrote for the program is a relic more optimistic than I am now, but still based on reported fact. Anti-death penalty activism is an ongoing fight, with small victories undercut by many losses. The Pew Research Center found that public support for the death penalty was at an all-time low just as Ohio resumed executions. Dozens of inmates on Florida’s death row became eligible for resentencing before the election affirmed capital punishment’s place in our justice system.

We would do well to remember that a victim of our one country’s biggest failures saw no need to make it great again. Delbert’s example is vital.

Kathryn produces the podcast and radio program American Student Radio and has reported for the Indiana Daily Student. She wrote one of the plays produced for University Players and WIUX Presents: An Evening at the Radio in 2015.

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The Player’s Journal: Richkard Saint-Victor, Day 1

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Richkard Saint-Victor (Robert)

My name is Richkard Saint-Victor.

I am a senior theatre major and I am portraying Robert E. Hayes in the upcoming IU Theatre production of The Exonerated.

This play tells the story of six people convicted of crimes, which they did not commit, who were wrongfully incarcerated and put on death row. On my first reading of the play, I thought, “What did you do to get here?” However, after reading the research provided by our dramaturg, it became apparent to me that these events are not unique, and occur more often than one would imagine. In this play, we witness just how dysfunctional the American criminal justice system is.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone”- Kerry Max Cook.

These were the words that echoed in my head after the first table reading. I could not help but wonder how much these characters’ stories could be my own. We all understand the experience of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This can be seen in the many  cases in which others were wrongfully convicted of crimes. Robert Hayes is a man who spends 7.5 years in prison, yet finds humor in his situation. This humor is an extension of an awareness of his place in society. To me, Robert is a comedian, in his own right. Whether he is laughing in pleasure, or laughing to hide his pain, Robert’s one-liners gives an insight into the character.

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Saint-Victor and Lee Martin (Georgia)

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Time Management (Or Lack Thereof)

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It’s November?! Wait, what? What happened to all the other months? It was August, like, four minutes ago! So this means I have one more full month of classes before my first semester in grad school winds down. And considering the stack of books that I still need to read… that’s terrifying.

I’ve become very aware over the last few months that going back to school after a number of years away is really hard. It’s a totally different type of time management than “the real world”, and it’s also a different kind of stress.

In San Francisco, I was very busy: I worked a full-time office job, put in another 20 hours a week at a bar, and crammed theatre work into every spare minute of my schedule. But everything had a ‘reset’: a clean ending point where the stress dissolved. For my office job and bar job, that reset was usually at the end of every shift: no matter how much I had to do at work or how hard it was, I was done when I left the building. When I was directing a production, regardless of how difficult the process was, I was finished on opening night, and the stress dissipated.

A university semester has that reset as well, of course, at the end of the semester. But that’s a four-month period, which is quite a long duration to have ongoing stress, and nearly all my responsibilities here are running concurrently along the same schedule. So now, in this final month of the semester, I’m swimming in unfinished projects, unread books, and unwritten essays, and time is running out.

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Okay, one of these has just GOT to be more important than the other, but I can’t for the life of me figure out which one…

Clearly, I made a few time management errors this semester. But at least I still have a chance to turn this into a learning opportunity for myself. Here you go, Future James, I made you a list:

THINGS JAMES NEEDS TO REMEMBER NEXT SEMESTER FOR BETTER TIME MANAGEMENT:

  • Don’t save all your ‘end of semester projects’ for the end of the semester. If I had broken up my reading list evenly over all four months, I wouldn’t be cramming so much right now. If I had started researching for my 15-page Caryl Churchill paper or chipped away at my term project for directing class, I wouldn’t be rushing to the finish line on them. I’ve had all of these on my plate since August, so why didn’t I try to knock out more of the work earlier?
  • Use your short pockets of time. Every day, I have small windows of time – 15 minutes here, half an hour there… if I add up all that extra time in between classes, rehearsals, and meetings, it’s a substantial amount of potential productivity. I need to snap out of the mentality of “Ah, it’s only a few minutes, what could I really get done anyway?” 
  • Plan tasks accordingly for time of day: I’m most alert, creative, and productive between 10AM and 1PM, so to be most efficient, I should plan my most mentally taxing activities during that window. It feels good to work when your brain is working too.
  • Don’t read in bed. All right, let’s settle down, turn on this dim light, and read fifty pages of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  • Don’t let yourself get distracted on the internet. When you’re already on your computer working, it’s so easy to click over to Facebook (or in this particular semester, FiveThirtyEight to check the status of the election) after every paragraph of writing an assignment for class. This eats up SO MUCH TIME. Not just the time spent looking at something else, but the time that it takes me to get my head back into the work I was doing. If I fail all my classes this semester, it’s Donald Trump’s fault.
  • Give yourself a to-do list for each day. But not just the most urgent, immediate things: chip away at some long-term projects too. If I assign specific tasks for myself to get done at some point during the day, I’ll either get them done or at least I’ll be aware that I didn’t, and hopefully try to catch up the next day. 
  • Take breaks, but keep them short. I’ve started setting a timer for myself when I play video games or watch TV. Relaxing for a bit is really great, but it’s too easy to let it stretch on way too long. I mean, as good as Uncharted 4 is, beating the game doesn’t have a due date. 
  • Always carry work with you. I frequently find myself with a spare few minutes – maybe a class got out early, or parking was easier than usual. If I’ve got something to do at the ready, I’ll be more likely to use the time productively and less likely to bury my face in my phone. 
  • If you’re writing on your blog, make sure you limit your articles to 800 words. Otherwise you’ll neglect your other
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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ last stop for IU’s George Pinney

By Joel Pierson H-T Theater columnist

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Ryan Sandy, left, works with director George Pinney in last season’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

I usually look forward to writing my column. Through it, I get to share exciting theater news with the people of this community. But today that exciting news is tinged with a little melancholy, because George Pinney is directing his farewell performance for the Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. After an amazing 30 years in the department, George is hanging it up in favor of retirement, so I’m happy for him and sad for us.

In the interest of going out in style, Pinney has chosen to direct the 1971 musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The duo’s second effort at pillaging the Bible for hits resulted in a hippie-friendly retelling of the gospels that has had a strong following for the past 45 years.

If you know your Bible, then a synopsis is a bit superfluous here. Let me instead say that the musical presents song after memorable song about Christ and his followers in his final days on Earth. Mary Magdalene features prominently, with such songs as “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” as does Judas Iscariot, whose role in the crucifixion is presented as an inevitable, unalterable occurrence, one he wants no part of.

Of the show, Pinney says, “Having wanted to direct ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ since I saw the first national concert tour back in 1971, I have always been intrigued by the lyric, ‘If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be.’ This ambiguous statement about faith is fully explored and debated through the actors’ intentions, the soaring music, and the spectacle created by costumes, sets, lights, and sound, wedded with a passionate creative team and enormously talented acting company.”

I asked Pinney how it felt to be on the cusp of his final IU production, and he replied, “Elated and terrified all at the same time. But truly, the students are making every minute of this final shot an absolute dream.” I then asked if he’d be doing anything especially extravagant and surprising for this show, and he gave me only a hint by saying, “Oh, yes! This production is full of surprises created by a dynamite team that gives excitement a whole new meaning.” Well played, Professor. Well played.

Bloomington won’t feel quite like Bloomington without George in it, but his plans may just take him a bit out of reach. He told me, “Scott and I plan to transition to a house on a lake with a kayak on the dock in the midst of a vibrant art scene. With family and friends close by, we are seriously considering the Berkshires (in Massachussetts).”

He offered a personal message to local audiences: “Thank you for your support, enthusiasm, love and joy. I always have said, ‘The final character to a production is the audience.’ Bloomington theatergoers are first-class leading players!”

Contact Joel by sending an email to features@heraldt.com with “Pierson” in the subject line.

If you go

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

WHAT: “Jesus Christ Superstar” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4-5, 8-12; 2 p.m. Nov. 12

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

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

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times.

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IU professor, director, choreographer George Pinney ready to graduate

By Marci Creps, The Herald Times

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George Pinney (right) works with Robert Toms and Miles TIllman in rehearsal for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in Spring, 2016

After 30 years of teaching at Indiana University, George Pinney is ready for something new.

His first job at IU was doing choreography for a production of “The Boyfriend.” In 2001, he was nominated for a Tony Award and a National Broadway Theatre Award in choreography. And he’s won an Emmy for outstanding choreography for the PBS broadcast of “Blast.” And with such an impressive resume, he admits he loves to teach.

“It’s my first passion,” he said.

But since the age of 5, Pinney has been on one side of the desk or the other — first as a student and then as a teacher. “And it’s time for me to graduate,” he said.

Graduation is something Pinney is familiar with as he’s had to say goodbye to many students as they’ve moved from student to professional.

Over his years of teaching, Pinney has seen a lot of changes, too.

“The bar keeps rising every year,” he said, adding that students come to IU with much more experience and training. They’re also looking at theater as a profession.

“The talent level, too, has also been going up every year,” he said.

Pinney has also been thrilled to see the students succeed.

For the theater faculty, it is important that everyone continue to stay active in their profession. Pinney said that was something that was emphasized that the faculty would be working and staying current in their field.

The advent of social media has most definitely changed how students can be judged in a very different light. In recent years, students have learned that having a high presence on social media can make a difference to a theater production looking to reach younger audiences. In other words, those who have lots of followers and use social media often may be chosen over an equally talented actor with less of a social media presence.

Staying active in their careers means the faculty can more easily help students as they know what they will experience through their own professional career.

“Things change. Attitudes change. Expectations change,” Pinney said. “A faculty member needs to be a part of that.”

Pinney may be leaving but he’s quite confident that the remaining staff will continue to provide a high-quality education for the students. Ken Roberson, Ray Fellman, Liz Gennaro and Terry LaBolt are just a few of the incredible staff members that Pinney pointed out as actively working in their field and creating great opportunities for their students.

“They’re incredible,” he said.

As for what’s next, Pinney will move after he finishes in May. He and his husband Scott Jones are making plans to move. Then, Pinney will be ready to try something new.

“I truly want to reinvent myself,” he said.

He’s had some ideas of what he might do including writing a book about his method of teaching.

And while he looks forward to the future, Pinney knows he’ll miss a lot about teaching.

“The big thing I will miss will be walking into the classroom with highly motivated, talented students,” he said.

Arts editor Marci Creps can be reached at 812-331-4375 or mcreps@heraldt.com.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times.

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