2009-10 OFA Flashback: Performers Pass It On to Students

by Tom Lee

OFA Learning From Performers Program Manager Thomas Lee reports on this year's roster of visiting artists, another in a continuing series of posts taking a look back at significant events and program highlights sponsored by the Office for the Arts during 2009-10.

From a Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright to a "people's diva"; a collective of lesbian artist-activists to a Tony Award-winning composer; and choreographers working in styles from the traditional to the cutting edge—this year's roster of visiting artists sponsored (or co-sponsored) by Learning From Performers had something for everyone.

Thirty-seven individual artists and two artist groups participated in master classes, workshops, lecture-demonstrations, seminars, informal discussions, performances and more, sharing their talent and passion with students and inviting them to take part in the creative process.

How do you describe the hot-house atmosphere, the extraordinary sparks that occur when young people connect with professional artists? There are so many wonderful memories from the past year: students performing original songs for singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, who performed an a cappella version of her own hit song "Tom's Diner"; violinist/composer Mark O'Connor playing an impromptu composition in the midst of a workshop for instrumentalists; actor/playwright Eisa Davis '92 advising budding playwrights:

"These are little baby plays. Let’s treat them like babies. We have to be nice to them, gentle with them. And we have to have fun with them. They’re plays, after all. So let’s play."

There were funny moments, too: choreographer Mark Morris inadvertently spilling a glass of red wine during a discussion at Sanders Theatre (after, thank goodness, the crew removed a borrowed—and very expensive—Oriental rug that had been part of the stage set); opera singer Renée Fleming

exhorting the entire audience at a packed Paine Hall master class to breathe "a finer thread of air" on the spot and in unison; and Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) proudly playing excerpts from his in-process musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton while admonishing the cellphone-wielding students that "this better not appear on YouTube." It didn't, thank goodness again (not yet, anyway).

Click here for a complete list (and project descriptions) of all of the artists who passed through Harvard this year under the auspices of Learning From Performers.

[Caption: singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega]

[Caption: violinist Mark O'Connor performs with students]

[Caption: Eisa Davis (as herself) in her play "Angela's Mixtape," photo by Jim Baldassare.]

[Caption: soprano Reneè Fleming]