Carolee Carmello and the business of theater

September 24th, 2014 No comments
Carolee Carmello

Carolee Carmello

When you’re a seasoned veteran of Broadway, and a two-time Tony Award nominee, it could be said that you are qualified to show others how to sing like a true professional. That’s why Carolee Carmello, an actor in the American Repertory Theater production of Finding Neverlandwill be teaching a master class to Harvard students 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26 at Farkas Hall. Carmello made her Broadway debut in 1989 in City of Angels and has gone on to originate the roles of Lucille Frank in Parade and Gabrielle de Lioncourt in Lestat, earning Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for both productions. I spoke with Carmello about her business administration degree, how she approaches a variety of musical theater genres and her advice for students interested in pursuing a career in the theater industry.

How did you get involved with theater when you were a student? Was there a particular show or teacher who inspired you? I didn’t really get involved as a student. I was studying business administration, and that’s what I got my degree in. I did some theater recreationally in college, but I hadn’t really done anything before then. I got involved as a lark – a show in my dormitory – and that lead to another show in my dormitory, and I did a community theater show in a local theater. But I didn’t get any sort of teacher inspiration. I just got inspired by getting involved and watching other actors be part of the process.

Do you think your studies in business administration at all inform how you approach theater? I think my attack has always been a little more pragmatic than esoteric. I think I come at it from a more logical perspective than maybe some actors do. Not that that’s good or bad, but that’s the way my mind works. I think about hairstyles and accents, and sometimes work from the outside in. That helps me sometimes. I don’t know if that’s specific to my business degree, or if it’s just my personality, which led me to get a business degree. Read more…

South Asia Institute kicks off arts initiative

September 22nd, 2014 No comments

091814-Das-poster-new-location-2-915x1414The Harvard University South Asia Institute is launching a new enterprise, and it’s all about art. On Friday, Sept. 19 at the Center for Government and International Studies, the Harvard South Asia Institute inaugurated its Arts Initiative with a seminar that explored the role of arts in social change. Cara Moyer-Duncan, assistant professor of African studies at Emerson College, and Indian actress Nandita Das, whose extensive work in the Indian art film industry has gained her critical acclaim (Fire 1996, Earth 1998, Firaaq 2008) discussed the use of cinema in Africa and South Asia as a tool for social activism. The panel was moderated by Mukti Khaire, associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. The event was co-sponsored by the Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the Cultural and Humanitarian Agents seminar at the Mahindra Center for the Humanities.

Das explained why she has devoted her life’s work to art cinema rather than commercial Bollywood film. “Art has a way of getting into our subconscious in ways that we are not aware of,” said Das. Das and Moyer-Duncan went on to discuss the ability of art cinema and documentary film to comment on and engage radically with societal issues in Africa and South Asia, including issues of female incision and slum eviction in Africa and homosexuality and domestic violence in India. Das cited her first popular role in an art film as a prime example of cinema as a platform for difficult social issues. In 1996, the young Read more…

Connected by “and” and “and”

September 16th, 2014 No comments

Zoë Hitzig ’15, a resident of Quincy House concentrating in Mathematics and Philiosophy, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to work on a collection of poems exploring the wrongful convictions and subsequent exonerations by DNA testing of death row prisoners, and to participate in the Ashbery Home School writer’s conference. Hitzig has contributed poems and artwork to The Harvard Advocate and served as its publisher in 2013. She has been a fellow in the Program for Research in Science and Engineering, a staff writer for The Harvard Crimson and a member of The Harvard Generalist art collective. Hitzig, who plans to pursue a career in research and writing, contributed this blog post about her experience this summer at the Ashbery Home School writer’s conference.

One of my favorite poems of all time is Elizabeth Bishop’s “Over 2000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance.” My poetry professor at Harvard recently told me that this is also one of John Ashbery’s favorite poems though I have a feeling we like it for different reasons. In the first two stanzas of the poem, Bishop recounts travel memories from Marrakesh, to Dingle Harbor, to Volubilis and the Vatican City. The final stanza begins with a lament for the discordance of these juxtaposed memories: “Everything only connected by ‘and’ and ‘and’”, the poet writes.

Poet John Ashbery '49 (left) chats with Zoë Hitzig at the Ashbery Home School.

Poet John Ashbery ’49 (left) chats with Zoë Hitzig at the Ashbery Home School.

I thought often of this line from Bishop’s poem in the second week of August, during which I had the privilege to attend the inaugural Ashbery Home School writer’s conference in Hudson, New York. The week often felt like a string of events connected only by “and” and “and.” The conference attracted poets looking to reinvent their practice through collision with other arts—sculpture, painting, dance, film—and collide we did; the events of the week slid into each other like the memories of travel Bishop recalls in her poem, explosive yet precise, fragmented, eerily enmeshed. The whirlwind week found its force within Ashbery’s collage-home, and spiraled outward in the form of workshops, artist talks, poetry readings, and film screenings, curated by poets Adam Fitzgerald, Dorothea Lasky, Timothy Donnelly and Tracy K. Smith. Read more…

Humorous journalism vs. serious comedy

September 11th, 2014 No comments

Alexis Wilkinson ’15, a resident of Leverett House concentrating in Economics with a secondary concentration in Psychology, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to support an internship with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette while researching and writing a television pilot and screenplay. Wilkinson is president of The Harvard Lampoon and a former staff writer/columnist for Manifesta magazine. Her written work has been published in New York Magazine, and she served as a research intern for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” during the summer of 2013. After college, she hopes to pursue a career as a comedy writer. This is her second dispatch from Pittsburgh this summer; to read the first, click here.

This is the newsroom! It is a very serious place full of serious news things. I work there.

This is the newsroom! It is a very serious place full of serious news things. I work there.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with one of my editors here at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a piece I had written. It was a feature commentary and I took it as an opportunity to rant sassily about one of my favorite topics: television.

We came to butt heads slightly over a couple of rhetorical questions I posed sarcastically to the reader in an early draft about future content of the new Kickstarter-funded Reading Rainbow. I actually had interviewed LeVar Burton shortly after I wrote the piece for an unrelated feature story about a Comic Con he’d be attending.

“Is this really true?” the editor asked looking over my teasing paragraph.

“No. Not at all. It’s hypothetical. I’m kidding,” I responded, a tiny bit peeved that words I saw as clearly sarcastic had been misunderstood.

“People might not get that,” said the editor. “Look, I get it. You’re a jokester. But our readership might have a tough time getting your humor, especially when it’s surrounded by serious content.”

I immediately understood and, despite me feeling like the offending paragraph was the funniest in the whole piece, the lines were cut before print. The challenge for me thus far at the Post-Gazette has been both editorial and conceptual. I am so used to writing fiction, comedy in particular, that even my breaking news sounds like narrative prose. I use too many adjectives. I’m sarcastic when I should be serious. My opinion oozes into everything, no matter how much I try to be objective. Read more…

Scene painting, translucent-style

Christina Rodriguez ’15, a resident of Cabot House concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies Studio Art Track, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend a scenic painting course at Cobalt Studios in Bethel, New York. Rodriguez has served as scenic designer and/or master painter for over 15 Harvard theater productions and last summer she was a scenic painting and props intern with the Wolf Trap Opera Company. After graduation her goals are to work in the professional theater world as a scenic painter. This is the final post in a series written by Christina about her learning experience at Cobalt Studios this summer; you can read the other two posts here.

At the end of my third and final week, I was very sad to leave Cobalt. I will walk away from this experience with not only a greater and more improved skill set, but also with one or two friends who I am sure will prove to be life long friends.

At Cobalt Studios, Christina Rodriguez adds sunset colors to the back side of her translucency.

At Cobalt Studios, Christina Rodriguez adds sunset colors to the back side of her translucency.

During our final week, we worked on several projects. We did a brief but enjoyable foliage project, where we jabbed at the muslin with a large brush to create background foliage, and used foam stamps on rollers to create foreground foliage. We then worked on a project where we experimented painting on surfaces other than muslin, because in the scenic painting industry, you just never know exactly what the designer might ask you to paint on. I think perhaps I lucked out. I had to paint on linen, which I had done one other time, so it wasn’t as frightening to me. Linen has it’s own challenges, but I was glad I didn’t have to paint on polyester or the like.

The final project we worked on was one I had never before endeavored to produce. We painted translucencies. Essentially, the image would change from one thing to another depending on whether it was lit from the front or from the back. This was made possible by the many layers of barrier starch applied to both the front and back sides of the muslin which prevented the paint from soaking through from one side to the other. The piece I painted was an image of a set of ruins. From the front it appeared Read more…

Work and play in Pittsburgh

Alexis Wilkinson ’15, a resident of Leverett House concentrating in Economics with a secondary concentration in Psychology, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to support an internship with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette while researching and writing a television pilot and screenplay. Wilkinson is president of The Harvard Lampoon and a former staff writer/columnist for Manifesta magazine. Her written work has been published in New York Magazine, and she served as a research intern for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” during the summer of 2013. After college, she hopes to pursue a career as a comedy writer.

Alexis Wilkinson

Alexis Wilkinson (photo by Mark Olson)

“What are you doing in Pittsburgh?”

Since I arrived here a little less than a month ago, some version of that question has been posed to me at least 50 times. Every time I explain where I go to school (Harvard, not UPitt or CMU), what I study (Economics and Psychology, not English or Journalism), what I want to do (write for TV or film, not necessarily for newspapers), and where I’m originally from (Wisconsin, not anywhere in Pennsylvania and I’ve never been to Pittsburgh before), I’m met with the same wide-eyed confusion about what exactly brought me to Steel City for the summer.

How I ended up here is a serious of lucky coincidences. I had a great summer last year working at “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and happened to simultaneously land a gig through the Institute of Politics to work for journalists Mark Halperin ’87 and John Heilemann KSG ’90. In both jobs, I was doing more researching than writing, which made me determined to spend my next summer not looking up figures or transcribing, but putting pen to paper, for what or where I couldn’t be sure. In the fall, I happened to meet David Shribman, the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who told me about their amazing internship program. And now here I am, in the City of Champions, living in a sublet with a cat named Lennox and trying to figure out the ‘Burgh’s unique brand of slang when I still haven’t mastered Boston’s. Read more…

Land of milk, honey and conflict

Ethan Pierce ’14, a resident of Lowell House who is concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies (VES) Studio Art Track with a secondary concentration in History of Art & Architecture, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to curate a transnational, transcultural discourse between Harvard students and Israeli and Palestinian artists. His work has been shown in a number of exhibitions on campus and he is the head curator of the Monday Gallery and the bbp gallerie. Pierce has also been involved in set design for over seven Harvard theater productions and is a member of the Signet Society. In addition, he has served as a curatorial intern at the MIT List Visual Arts Center and at Klosterfelde in Berlin, Germany. He plans to pursue a career in studio art and curating.

Ethan Pierce '14

Ethan Pierce ’14 (photo by Mark Olson)

{Re}orientation: The Art of Reflexive Revision

While at Harvard, I  have devoted a significant amount of energy to exploring national memory, trauma, diaspora, and exile through the lens of art. I’ve  focused particularly on 20th-century German art history, but over the past year, a related narrative—that of Israel and Palestine—came to occupy more and more of my attention. Last March, I leaped at an opportunity to join 52 peers on a 10-day spring break trip to the land of milk and honey.

Instinctively, I began to explore methods of documenting this forthcoming trip and ways in which I could incorporate the experience into my studio practice. Well before hitting the tarmac, I decided to bring “The Walker” and “The Poet”—two of my fictional personae—along on the trip. Their project: to create a book of braille poetry embossed on top of visual images, which would be known as Silence, and which would explore the conflict and the dialectic between visual, tactile, and auditory.

My first venture to Israel and Palestine challenged this predetermined format. Dialogue—the antithesis of the silence I sought to grapple with—required partnership. Days after returning, I began recruiting collaborators for an expansive artistic project which would pair Harvard students and alumni with Israeli and Palestinian artists. Read more…

Competing with the hammer

Reylon Yount ’16, a resident of Lowell House concentrating in Environmental Science & Public Policy and East Asian Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing to study yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) with master Huang He. Yount has performed on campus as a soloist at Harvard Foundation’s 2013 Cultural Rhythms, with The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, at the Chinese Student Association’s Chinese New Year’s Banquet and at the 2013 Asian American Association’s event FEAST. Additionally, in the fall of 2013 he was a featured soloist with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. After graduation, he plans to pursue a professional music career and development work in China. This is the second of his blog posts about his studies in Beijing this summer.

Yangqin master Huang He (left) and Reylon Yount '16.

Yangqin master Huang He (left) and Reylon Yount ’16.

When living in China, one gets used to plans changing at the last minute. I originally thought that I would be staying in Beijing for the entirety of my yangqin study. But Professor Huang invited me a week in advance to join his students on a trip to Inner Mongolia where we would attend the 2nd Annual Chinese Dulcimer Arts Festival—a conference and competition that brings together the yangqin community from across Asia.

We spent a week under the clearer skies of Baotou alongside 700 yangqin students and 100 teachers. I got to meet many well-respected professors and students throughout the conference, including renowned composer Wang Se and famous performer Wang Yujue, both of whom were Professor Huang’s former students and left me star-struck.

When I first arrived at the competition site, I was stunned by a storm of metallic sound blasting out of the first floor. I walked into the wide rehearsal room to find dozens of young people hammering away at brand new dulcimers, mothers by their sides using pamphlets to fan them while they played. It was astonishing—I had never physically encountered so many yangqins in one space before. Walking through the hallways, I could hear students of all ages practicing an array of different pieces, most of which I recognized, including “Spirit of the Yellow Earth” and “Falling Flowers, Night,” which were my competition pieces. I noted that about two-thirds of the pieces being played were ones composed by Huang He or Wang Se. This observation affirmed for me that Professor Huang is arguably the most influential person in the yangqin world at present, making me even more grateful to have the opportunity to study with him.

The competition was long and grueling, but ultimately very rewarding. According to my teachers, I’m the first American to have ever entered a professional yangqin competition in China. I competed against 98 full-time yangqin undergraduates and managed to get a silver prize. To be able to participate already made me plenty happy, and I really enjoyed observing and learning from other competition entries. Read more…

From faux to factual

Christina Rodriguez ’15, a resident of Cabot House concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies Studio Art Track, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend a scenic painting course at Cobalt Studios in Bethel, New York. Rodriguez has served as scenic designer and/or master painter for over 15 Harvard theater productions, and last summer she was a scenic painting and props intern with the Wolf Trap Opera Company. After graduation her goals are to work in the professional theater world as a scenic painter. This is the second in a series of posts written by Christina about her learning experience at Cobalt Studios this summer (click here to read the first).

For a faux wood piece, the base coat is applied...

For a faux wood piece, the base coat is applied…

My second week at Cobalt Studios was thoroughly enjoyable. We spent much of the week applying the texturing and paint application techniques we covered during the first week to create a variety of faux finishes. We painted old weathered wood, and finely stained wood, marble cornices, and patterned drapery. It is truly amazing how paint can transform a flat surface into a seemingly dimensional piece.

...texture is added...

…texture is added…

The steps to each of these projects are really quite simple. First we apply an appropriately blended base coat, either directional or scumbled, depending on the intended finished product. Then the desired texture is added to the piece, and finally the highlights, shades, and shadows are added to give the piece shape.

...and final highlights are added.

…and final highlights turn it from faux to almost real.

One of my favorite pieces to work on was the fine faux wood piece. The figuring of the wood grain was so much fun. We all practiced on brown paper for a good 20 minutes to a half-hour, simply making concentric squiggly shapes with our sash brushes at the end of our bamboo sticks. I found that there are certain ways of holding a bamboo that afford a much greater amount of control. It also became apparent that once you push the brush away from your body, it is unwise to try to swing it back toward your body. For this reason, circles, and other closed oblong shapes must be made with at the least two strokes.

Through the living room

Reylon Yount ’16, a resident of Lowell House concentrating in Environmental Science & Public Policy and East Asian Studies, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing to study yangqin (Chinese hammered dulcimer) with master He Huang. Yount has performed on campus as a soloist at Harvard Foundation’s 2013 Cultural Rhythms, with The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, at the Chinese Student Association’s Chinese New Year’s Banquet and at the 2013 Asian American Association’s event FEAST. Additionally, in the fall of 2013 he was a featured soloist with the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra. After graduation, he plans to pursue a professional music career and development work in China.

Reylon Yount '16 in Beijing

Reylon Yount ’16 in Beijing

I walked through the modest gate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, listening to the wet clack of my flip-flops against the muggy air. After I pressed a button at the base of his building, I could hear another student’s yangqin arpeggios emerge from the call box as he buzzed me in. I felt like I was in a time warp as the dim elevator sporting an advertisement I recognized from two summers ago took me swiftly upward (a different kind of rabbit hole). I waited quietly at the threshold of the apartment and finally heard the yangqin music crescendo as Professor Huang opened the door.

Huang He is a professor at the Central Conservatory of Music and a renowned master of the yangqin. Also known as the Chinese hammered dulcimer, the yangqin is a 400-year-old instrument that evolved from the Persian santur, which was brought to China along the Silk Road. The yangqin world is defined by Huang He’s work almost as essentially as the Chinese landscape is defined by the Yellow River, after which he is named.

Professor Huang has composed a significant portion of the standardized repertoire taught to students throughout China. As a tenth Read more…