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Broadway World Reviews FlynnArts’ Chilling “Carrie, the Musical”

by Erin McIntyre

This review appears on the Broadway World website.

FlynnArts Summer Youth Theater opened CARRIE, THE MUSICAL on Thursday, July 18 at Burlington’s FlynnSpace at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.

Based on Stephen King‘s novel, CARRIE is a musical with a turbulent history. The 1984 New York City workshop and the 1988 Stratford-upon-Avon tryout met with mixed reviews, and the Broadway production flopped in May of 1988 after just a handful of performances.

2009 saw a major revamp of CARRIE by its creators, composerMichael Gore, lyricist Dean Pitchford, and bookwriter Lawrence D. Cohen, along with director Stafford Arima. The revision met with critical acclaim in a 2012 off-Broadway revival featuring Molly Ranson as Carrie White and Marin Mazzie as Margaret White. With the success of the re-imagined show, performance rights were made available and productions have sprung up across the country. The FlynnArts production marks the Vermont premiere of CARRIE, THE MUSICAL.

The storyline follows a group of high school students in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie White, the awkward social outcast and daughter of religious zealot Margaret White, is taunted mercilessly by her peers. If you’ve read the Stephen King novel, you’ve got the gist of the plot – religious fanaticism, teenage rage, and eerie telekinetic powers collide, culminating in a prom night that turns tragic.

The fact that the FlynnArts production is a youth musical, with no cast member over the age of 19, is remarkably irrelevant. There are no weak links in this cast, and many of the young actors display near-professional ability.

Zoë Olson is riveting as the painfully shy Carrie White. Her journey from silent victimhood to empowerment is uncanny and terrifying, and Olson uses both voice and physicality to truly inhabit this role.

Cassidy Thompson’s portrayal of Carrie’s mother is extraordinary. It’s rare for a teenager to possess the maturity to be convincing in an adult role (particularly one as complicated as Margaret White), and Thompson doesn’t just manage it – she delivers a level of nuance that many seasoned adult actors never achieve.

Bonnie Currie is perfect as Sue Snell, the one female student who treats Carrie with kindness. Sue is the primary witness to the horrid events that transpire on prom night, and her testimony guides the audience through the story. Currie does an especially fine job of navigating Sue’s struggle to find the balance between being popular and being kind.

Chiara Hollender is Chris Hargensen, Sue’s best friend and Carrie’s chief tormentor. Hollender’s portrayal is wonderfully devilish, and she also manages to find the character’s undercurrent of loneliness. Charlie Aldrich hits all the right comedic moments as the swaggering bad boy, Billy Nolan, and Adam Brewer is charming as Sue’s kind, level-headed boyfriend who agrees to take Carrie to the prom. Evan Cohen is hilarious as Mr. Stephens, the English teacher, and Olivia Christie delivers some lovely moments as Miss Gardner, Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher.

The cast is vocally strong throughout, and the principals are backed by a fantastic-sounding group of supporting and ensemble characters, played by Audrey Teague, Pearl Guerriere, Kira Johnson, Seamus Buxton, Jackson Bisaccia, Max Chlumecky, Shea Dunlop, Zelda Ferris, Olivia Peltier, Maddy Smith, Arlo Cohen, Seth Jolles, Nathaniel Miller, and Alec Rutherford.

The staging is excellent, and lighting design (Jamien Lundy Forrest), costume design (Olivia Hern), and video/projection design (Dom Wood) are especially effective. The ensemble of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard is top-notch. This production clearly benefits from a skilled creative team, including directors Christina Weakland, Gina Fearn, and Danielle Sertz, and musical director Piero Bonamico. The team has worked with the cast to examine the elements of school culture at play in this plot, and an excerpt from the directors’ note in the program captures the heart of the story:

“Humiliation and ridicule are all too common elements of growing up in our society, and the implications range from damaged self-esteem that impacts lifelong relationships patterns, to full-scale horror, like the massacres at Columbine and Newtown. School shooting have, in fact, become a norm in America; there have been over 74 instances in the past 18 months alone, and bullying is linked to 7 out of 10 of these violent events. [...] We hope audiences (teen or not) will take away from CARRIE the inspiration to do better, to affirm each others’ humanity, to respect the dignity in each soul.”

Stafford Arima, director of the 2012 off-Broadway revival of CARRIE, spent a day with the FlynnArts cast, deepening their understanding of the piece. “The team at CARRIE in Burlington, Vermont have put together an impressive production [...] that tells this story with clarity, horror, and heart,” says Arima. “Congratulations to the entire cast, creative team, and musicians on a successful run.”

FlynnArts provides this age advisory for CARRIE, THE MUSICAL: Although bloody, Carrie is not actually gory. (The blood is a cruel prank meant to humiliate Carrie about the onset of her period.) Overall this is a tale of bullying and supernatural revenge (which will take an abstract form in this production – no gruesome violence.) Carrie’s mother also demonstrates an abusive parenting style that some children (and adults!) might find disturbing to experience in close proximity. That said, we think most youth aged 11+ can handle the content with a parent or guardian present to field questions, and the ultimate anti-bullying message of the piece is a vital one for middle- and high-schoolers to grasp.

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Behind the Scenes of “Carrie, The Musical”

The first FlynnArts theater production of the summer, Carrie, the Musical, premieres tomorrow, July 17 in FlynnSpace at 7 pm (TICKETS). The cast, crew, and director Christina Weakland are working feverishly to get every detail finalized by show time. We thought you’d enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the production process via the memo below, sent to the crew by Christina in the wee hours of the morning.

The "Carrie" lighting and production team.

The “Carrie” lighting and production team.

Hi Team, updates and new items of importance.  Have bolded your names for important items, but please read through all.

RIGGING

1. Prom curtain frame looks like it will work, once eye bolt and hooks are set.  Unfortunately we discovered that the curtain cannot be onstage when the fire starts (projection focus issue), which means it needs to go sooner in destruction, possible right at the end of part 1/start of part 2.  May cause slight shift to destruction staging at start.  Danielle and I to discuss.

2. Five downstage curtains look great with projection.  They are drooping though,Jeff, the webbing does not seem to hold them out, would you to look at this and see if you have any ideas?  More velcro perhaps, or stiffening of some sort?  We hung a teaser to hide it, but can still see some of the worst droops. Danielle, we need to look at when those are struck by actors during fire sequence, let’s do that in a down moment tomorrow.

3. Rigging for end of destruction means cast must be very careful upstage of various wires.  Piero, band will need warning too, in general the area upstage of band is a danger zone for invisible tripping hazards of several different kinds.  

4. We need to figure out Billy’s rope rigging.  Simple, but one vs two ropes, do they stay or go, how they impact ensuing scenes, etc.  Danielle, let’s confer tomorrow - Cathie and I talked it through today but want to make sure thoughts make sense with your plans for those scenes.

5. Windows work incredibly well.  Thanks guys, and Gina, for figuring that out.

6. We need to look at the levitations.  Will try to do what we can on Sunday, Lesley let us know when you think those statues might come back.  Would love to have one, even unpainted on Monday, but don’t make a special trip.

OTHER SETS/PROPS

1. Floor is fully laid and looks great, need to add the small corner pieces around the poles. Any of us can hammer those in when they arrive.  Jeff is planning to come in Monday or Tuesday morning at 8:45 or 9ish to line the floor with marker.

2. We tested the curtain frame today many many times.  Fell over at first.  Added weights on one side, still tipping, added weight on both sides and finessed placement of the string to pull, replaced the connector pipe with a smaller pipe and gaffed it in so that it neither caught and stuck like the original, nor fell out and bonked Carrie on the head.  Seem to have found a sweet spot where it is stable. However the weights look ugly on the base now.  If props folk and Jeff could confer on how to conceal the rigging of it, that would be lovely. Also we need to drill a hole for an eye-bolt on each side of it, at a specified height, and attach a hook to the tieline offstage so that tieline can be brought onstage and hooked FAST.  We looked at both scenarios at length (hooking onstage vs rigging offstage) and this one seems best for a variety of reasons.  If this could happen before Tuesday morning tech of act 2, this would be great.  Jeff/Tim/Michael, let us know what’s possible.  

3.  One wall of the prayer closet lifted entirely off the platform upon moving it, so prayer closet is currently un-pushable.  Jeff/Tim/Michael, will you let us know which of you can fix this, and when?  Ideally before the kids need to tech those transitions on Monday?  Also Jeff is going to do some aging and abstractifying of the outside walls, and add scratches to the inside walls. 

4. The chaos wall looks great.  We need to tweak placement of some items (raise door a tad, tweak the desk) to help the projections work.  We also need to add shades to the windows, partially open shades so we can still see that the windows are open, but to serve as projection surfaces. Measurements 25.5″ across by 22 down.  if anyone has something like this at home, the sooner we can get it the better.  (Hard to tech the video without being able to focus on the correct surface.)

5. Chairs – Soyo agreed to trade us 4 chairs so that we will have 11 completely the same, and the 12th is almost the same – same color, but slightly different back.  It’s fine, so we are good to go.  Lesley will make the trade on Wednesday evening.  Lesley will you also call to let Hans know the time?

COSTUMES/VIDEO

1.  Prom photoshoot can happen Monday morning at 10 am.  Kerry or Olivia - please connect with kids via Facebook AND email yourselves on Sunday to make sure they have what you need.  Will work out a call schedule tomorrow for the Monday sound EQ check from 10-11:30, and this.  They can happen simultaneously but photoshoot has to be  completely silent.  We can use Flynn camera.  Richie, help remind me to  find camera charger tomorrow as it was low on batteries on Friday.   Jamien, we need to have a good light cue for the prom photoshoot ready for monday morning.

2. We also may need a photo of Carrie’s face, Tommy’s face, and Chris’s face for Epilogue. Let’s get that on Monday too Richie.

3. Video stuff is looking good, some kinks to work out with software that Dom and Richie are working on tonight, connected to making the images fit on the skewed angles of the chaos wall.  We are going to dry tech video tomorrow morning, and lights tomorrow afternoon through late night.

That’s all I can think of for now, but it’s late, I’m sure I’m forgetting something vital. Please reply with any concerns or unfinished items you have on your list that I have left off.

Thanks all – this is a great team effort.  Good work today.

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Meredith Monk on Fifty Years of Art Making

by John R. Killacky, Executive Director

In other cultures Meredith Monk would be called shaman, seer, healer; here we struggle to define her interdisciplinary prowess. Singer/composer, dancer/choreographer, actor/performer, director/playwright, visual artist/filmmaker — even together, these categories cannot capture her resplendent achievements.

She creates visceral excavations of abstracted gesture, sound, and tableau, inviting audiences to experience archetypal, transformative rituals. Distilling idiosyncratic movement, three-octave vocalizing, and luminous stage design to their unadorned essence, she collages these elements into transcultural dreamscapes.

From large-scale, multivenue events with a hundred-plus performers, to intimate pieces for solo voice and wine glass, as well as award-winning recordings and films, we journey through her clear-sightedness into a vision of redemption. Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend and artist hero, now celebrating her fiftieth season of making work.

Meredith Monk performing "OnBehalf of Nature." Photo: Julieta Cervantes.

John Killacky   Fifty years ago when the postmodernists were deconstructing and stripping everyday action down to its essence, you emerged on the New York scene almost as a maximalist with your mixed-media work 16 Millimeter Earrings. Talk about those early years, your influences, and in particular that iconic work.

Meredith Monk   Making 16 Millimeter Earrings was a real breakthrough piece for me, because I had been trying to figure out ways of weaving together different perceptual modes. At first it was very much a personal imperative. As a child I had come from music, I had done movement, I had done theater, and it was a kind of intuitive way of integrating these strands or aspects of myself into one form that represented a totality. I realized early on that this way of putting things together was a holistic antidote to this fragmented world.

After I left Sarah Lawrence and came to New York, I was very interested in the syntax of cinema and was trying to figure out how to transfer that into live performance. 16 Millimeter Earrings was a culmination of a few years of working with those ideas, and it was the first piece that I used film in. It was also the first piece I did a real vocal track that went throughout the whole piece.

I was very influenced by what was going on in the visual arts world. I’d go to a lot of galleries, and I was in some of the late happenings. Working with materials in a very plastic way, using materials that are not usually used on stage, treating them in a very visual way, visual images and sculpture and color and painting, that’s what I was really trying for, a kind of painterly live performance form.

JK   In 1984 you said, “I work in between the cracks, where the voice starts dancing, where the body starts singing, where theater becomes cinema.” Given this framework, where and how does each new work begin?

MM   Each piece begins in a different place. It’s very unpredictable. Sometimes I’ll have a lot of music formed before I even go into rehearsal. With my most recent work, On Behalf of Nature, I had quite a bit of the music done and pretty well formed when I went into rehearsal. Then it was a matter of how you make a piece with images and movement that don’t cancel out the complexity of the music. The music probably is one of the most complex scores that I’ve written in the last few years, and I wanted the movement to be something that allowed you to also hear its complexity. That necessitated a kind of simplicity and purity of the images and movement.

With each piece, once you find what the question is, then you’re really on the road to discovering that piece. The impulse forimpermanence was the death of my partner. With mercy, a piece that I made in collaboration with Ann Hamilton, we were thinking about the difference between help and harm. We also asked, how do you make a sumptuous piece with very simple means?

You, as a maker of a piece, have to listen to what the piece needs.

JK   Your great-grandfather was a cantor in Russia. Your grandparents opened a music school in Harlem, and your mom was a radio singer.

MM   That’s right.

JK   Ancestry and personal mythology seem to play a central role in many of your works. Does your lineage influence the spiritual biographies you create for the stage?

MM   My grandfather was a concert singer, and my grandmother was a concert pianist first, and then they opened up a music conservatory in Harlem. On my father’s side were people that came from Poland and were woodworkers. My grandfather was a carpenter and opened a lumberyard, and my grandmother was like a salt-of-the-earth country girl from Poland. I remember her in her garden till the day she died.

Meredith Monk’s Songs of Ascension being performed in Ann Hamilton’s Tower. Photo by Babeth VanLoo.

Meredith Monk’s “Songs of Ascension” being performed in Ann Hamilton’s Tower. Photo by Babeth VanLoo.

Having musicians on my mother’s side gave me a voice and the richness of music in my life, a musicality that I was able to take for granted as a child. But mythically, I would say my father’s family, really that Eastern European shtetl existence, was something that was a fantasy of mine.

When I was working on the solo for Education of the Girlchild, I think I was calling up the memory of that grandmother. Having come from an Eastern European Jewish background, making Quarry was also deeply meaningful. I could project myself into what it would be like to be taken away, so it had another layer of meaning. And with Book of Days, I realized nobody I knew of had really done anything about the Jewish community in the Middle Ages.

JK   I’ve seen your work in opera houses, alternative spaces, cathedrals, abandoned buildings, museums, outdoor sculpture parks, and your own loft. How important does site play in the development of your works?

MM   I was one of the early people working with what’s now called “site-specific performance,” and I’ve always loved the dialogue that you have between the space and you. A lot of the times when I’m working in a space, I’ll go in there and sit for a long while and feel what that space is telling me.

I love displacing expectations, and I love changing scale: from working in my loft with that kind of close-up, very intimate performing to something like the Guggenheim which, just by the size and the particularities of the space, invites you to make an epic kind of piece.

JK   You’ve collaborated with theater artist Ping Chong, visual artist Ann Hamilton, and scenic artist Yoshio Yabara, among others, as well as members of your ensemble. Early on, you even wrote a rock song with Don Preston of The Mothers of Invention. Can you talk about your collaborative process?

MM   Each situation is very different. Ping and I were together at the time we were making Paris. It was very much a piece about using our lives as a kind of myth. I remember calling him and saying, “It would be really nice to do a piece about Paris.” The experience there for the first time had been evocative and inspiring for us both.

In a good collaboration, both people let go of their territory to make a third thing that neither one can make alone. In Paris, I really limited my vocal music aspect. Ping did not include audiovisual elements the way that he did in his own work — so we came to something that was very new.

With Ann Hamilton in mercy, it was very much the same thing. One of the reasons I wanted to work with Ann was to renew my energy in terms of the visual aspects. I had been concentrating so much on music and was getting bored with my visual ideas. Even though I usually create a video component for my music-theater pieces, it seemed right that Ann would make the video for mercy. I obviously did the music, and we pretty much conceptually started from scratch together. In Songs of Ascension, I had more or less completed the overall form, and then Ann came in and added her video component.

JK   In much of your work, central characters are visionaries, healers, and spiritual practitioners. Your portrayal of the madwoman soothsayer in Book of Days is yet another extraordinary figure in your pantheon of unforgettable characters, from Joan of Arc in Vessel, the woman in different life stages in Education of the Girlchild, the feverish child in Quarry, the intrepid truth seeker in ATLAS, and your Buster Keaton-esque persona in Volcano Songs. What do you see is the role of artist in society today?

MM   There are basically two kinds of artists. One is a mirror of the particular time that artist lives in. The other is more the way that I think about things, which is a more timeless kind of idea of very fundamental energies and cycles of human behavior and things that recur. We are sensitive, and we stand a little bit away from the world, enough to respond to it, but at the same time we offer an alternative.

What I’m trying to do is to offer an experience, a direct experience in the very distracted world that we’re living in, which might not be so easy. It’s very hard for us to let go of our devices and distractions, and the nakedness of the present is, for many people, very painful. The stillness, the not being entertained, and just the being in the present is not that easy, but I think that that’s what I’m trying to do in my work — to offer a situation where audience members could actually let go of the distractions, let go of the mental narrator, let go of the restlessness for a certain period of time.

JK   In two of your major film works, Book of Days and Ellis Island, time goes backward and forward throughout, and color is introduced ever so slightly into a few scenes. Why the juxtaposition of time and color in these works?

MM   I love dealing with time as a sculptural element, compressing it and extending it. This idea of simultaneous time is something I do a lot in my work.

Color as the present and black and white as the past was a visual metaphor that I started working with in Ellis Island in the early eighties. It was a way of juxtaposing one reality with another. I used black and white as the past because I was very influenced by the photographs of immigrants in the turn of the century, Lewis Hine’s, for example.

And with Book of Days, I decided to stay with that same idea. I let the Middle Ages be shot in black and white, and the color sections represent our present time. There are a few gradations in Book of Days where there’s just a little bit of saturation to get a kind of in-between world.

JK   When you were fifty you wrote, “I think the hardest aspect of having done something for a long time is the sense of carrying around a lot of baggage that has to be discarded to be able to begin again.” Now twenty years later is that burden even heavier? How do you begin and begin ever anew to create?

MM   I’m terrified at the start of every piece, flailing about trying to find a clue. Beginning anew is a very hard thing. I did something interesting in On Behalf of Nature, which is quite different for me. I started playing through some of my old music notebooks where I notate raw ideas and selected a phrase or a measure or just a little piece of material that seemed interesting to me now but at the time I was not able to develop.

I was ready then to revisit some of these fragments, and I started realizing that the process was very much a theme of On Behalf of Nature, which was to not waste anything but to recycle all the elements in one way or another. That’s a way of beginning anew, but it’s also a kind of circling around to the past to make something present.

JK   In the last two decades you have created profoundly moving internal works: The Politics of Quiet, mercy, impermanence, and Songs of Ascension. These seemed a shift from earlier narrative-infused works. Do you see it that way, and why the shift?

MM   The music has gotten more and more complex, and I’ve been more consciously aware of trying to create sacred space as an antidote to this world we’re living in. I feel like I don’t have so much time left on the planet, and I really want to do something that might be helpful or useful for people to connect to their lives. Music itself and movement — this experience speaks louder than narrative — it goes directly into the bloodstream of the audience.

JK   You have been a student of Buddhism for many years, even singing for the Dalai Lama. How has this study influenced your work?

MM   When I began teaching at Naropa in the seventies, I first connected with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and I started realizing that some of my aesthetic principles were very connected to fundamental Buddhist principles, like silence, stillness, flexible time, presence. I became more and more interested in Buddhism, and then years later, I started a formal practice. I’m not sure how much it’s influenced my artwork, but my aspiration of what it is to be an artist has become much more conscious.

JK   In doing research for this conversation, I came upon a dialogue you did with Bruce Nauman at the Walker Art Center in 1994 talking about horses and what they taught you. Any lessons there applied in your work?

MM   If I’m teaching, sometimes I use riding or horse metaphors. They’re very useful. For example: not anticipating, being just in the moment. If you’re going over a jump on a horse and you anticipate, then you actually throw the balance of the horse off. If you lay back and you’re holding on so tight that you’re afraid, then you’re left behind, and it’s really hard on the horse’s mouth.

That’s very close to what it’s like to perform — you’re really trying to be completely on axis, neither projecting out nor pulling in, but just being very centered. I still ride, and it’s something that has been a wonderful part of my life.

JK   In the last decade, you received orchestral commissions from St. Louis, New World, and San Francisco Symphonies, as well as Kronos Quartet, Western Wind Vocal Ensemble, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and other groups. Is your working process different for these than when you are working and collaborating with your own ensemble?

MM   When I’m working with an orchestra, I have to have a full score ready for them to play, whereas with my ensemble, it’s much more hands-on, an organic kind of process. I can really work through material with the ensemble, and we learn the music in our bones. I still prefer to work with my ensemble because I like to work slowly. I love the intensive rehearsal process. I love how over the years a piece can keep on changing.

Once you set a score, you can change it, but it’s difficult, and in the orchestral world, they just don’t have that many rehearsals. It’s because of the expense of the rehearsal process, so you might get one or two readings or rehearsals before they have to perform, and that’s hard for me. This music is something that’s very physical and also has a kind of momentum. You really have to play it for a while to understand the way the energy works in the piece.

That’s not to say that I’m not very grateful for working with orchestral groups because this is how I’m learning. I’m so excited to learn the possibilities of the instruments, and I’m a person who loves to learn. I went to Sarah Lawrence. If we learned one thing, it was the joy of learning. I hope I’ll be learning for the rest of my life. I’ve always thought of the voice as an instrument, and now I’m trying to think about the instruments as voices.

JK   Beginning this fall, you will be composer in residence at Carnegie Hall, and many of your compositions will be featured in a number of concerts over the season. Who will be performing?

MM   Ursula Oppens and Bruce Brubaker, two fantastic pianists, will play a concert of my piano music off-site at (Le) Poisson Rouge on my birthday in November. This will also celebrate the release of the CD Piano Songs on ECM Records.

St. Louis Symphony will be performing WEAVE, a New York premiere. It’s very exciting for me that people in New York will hear it — a piece for chamber orchestra, chorus, and two vocal soloists from my ensemble, Katie Geissinger and Theo Bleckmann.

The American Composers Orchestra will perform Night, which is also for chamber orchestra and eight of my singers. I’m being commissioned by Carnegie to write a piece for Ensemble ACJW, a group of young preprofessional instrumentalists. And then I’m doing an evening called Meredith Monk & Friends, which will include everybody from Jessye Norman to John Zorn performing my work. We’ll conclude with a concert featuring my Vocal Ensemble.

JK   At seventy-one years old, do you feel finally that you are getting your due recognition as a composer?

MM   It’s a wonderful exciting time for me to have the music heard. My way of working is very different. I think it’s been hard for the classical music world to realize there are alternative ways of making music, but that seems to be changing.

I love to think my music has as many values of folk music and jazz as classical music. I want the flexibility of jazz, and I want the honesty of folk music in my music, but it’s very exciting for me to be in this context.

JK   What other projects can we look forward to as you celebrate your fiftieth season of making art?

MM   We are doing the New York premiere of On Behalf of Nature at BAM. I’m very much looking forward to that, and I’m right in the process of beginning to work on an installation of Songs of Ascension. I’m going to work with my friend Paul Krajniak, who was the director of the Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee. When we performed Songs of Ascension in 2008 in Ann Hamilton’s tower at Steve Oliver’s ranch in Sonoma, California, Dyanna Taylor filmed it with three cameras, including one from overhead on a crane. It was such beautiful filming from different angles of our performances in Ann’s eight-story tower, and we recorded twenty-four tracks of music. I’ve been planning an installation to convey that experience, and I am just beginning to work on it.

JK   You’ve been blessed throughout your career with commissions, grants, fellowships, and artist residencies. Any advice for grantmakers?

MM   Trust the artist — we’re very dependable. It’s a strange myth that artists are these crazy kind of unpredictable people. Funders should also trust what they love; that way they will always support the right people.

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive the Guggenheim, USA Artists, and the Duke. All of those awards have had that level of trust. In the old days we were supported very much by the NEA and NYSCA. In my life, the MacArthur was extremely important; it actually changed my life because I had the freedom to use it in any way I felt was right. New Music USA has also been a wonderful help, and the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation has given consistent support that I’m grateful for.

A lot of funders give to institutions and then think it’s going to filter down to the artist, instead of trusting that the artist knows how to use that money. It doesn’t always filter down to the artist. All of us have worked for so many years, and we always, always come through. You can trust that it’s going to happen.

To make something, you have to be a deep-sea diver. You can have fear at the beginning, but then ultimately when curiosity takes over — at least this happens for me — then my fear goes away little by little because I get really interested in what I’ve discovered. We’re the R & D branch of the world, doing research and development all the time just to make an artwork. Making an artwork itself is a political statement in the world that we’re living in.

JK   New York and the art world seems a very different place than when you first began performing and creating in the early 1960s. What do you tell young emerging artists about how to sustain themselves and their careers?

MM   Follow your dream, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. We never thought we were going to make a living from this, so we were doing this out of love. We supported ourselves by doing jobs that were not that difficult: I modeled for artists and taught music and dance classes for children. My rent was seventy-five dollars a month. I could live alone.

The young people I know that are really wonderful artists are just keeping their heads above water — being scrappy and inventive. Because there’s not much money in the art world, it’s coming back more to a kind of grassroots way of thinking about art.

When I first came to New York, there was a community of like-minded artists, even though there was a lot of diversity in the way they manifested. The “downtown scene” of artists coming from all different mediums was trying to find new ways of doing things. We all knew each other, and that was a support structure. Whereas now, it’s a little bit more dispersed, and it’s hard to find out who your community is. It’s also harder to be connected to history. It is very important that you know what came before you.

So, it’s more challenging, but if you really follow your path step-by-step and you don’t let anyone get in the way of what you dream, something will happen one way or another. It’s a matter of following your own path with as much honesty and integrity as you can muster.

This interview appears in GIA Reader, Vol 25, No 2 (Summer 2014).

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“Carrie, the Musical”: High School Torment in the Social Media Age

by Christina Weakland, Education Director

See FlynnArts’ “Carrie, the Musical” in FlynnSpace from July 17-20, 2014. GET TICKETS.

When Carrie, the Musical first premiered on Broadway in 1988, it quickly gained notoriety as one of the biggest flops in the history of musical theater, closing after only 16 performances, even earning pride of place in the title of a book about Broadway flops: “Not Since Carrie…” by Ken Mandelbaum. Since then the authors put a moratorium on performance rights – nobody could produce this show, presumably because it was so broken. Why did the ’88 production fail? Maybe it was the sexy chorus girls looking closer to 35 than 16, maybe it was their miniature togas (a miscommunication between authors and costumers – they were supposed to be inspired by Grease, not Greece!) Or maybe it was the fact that the physical production never quite found the heart of the story. Yes, Carrie is traumatized at school and at home, and yes telekinesis yields a fascinating and horrific revenge. But revenge is not what this story is about. It’s about kids, and why they do the hurtful, derisive things they do to one another…and how it’s possible to get beyond the need to fit in, and really see the commonality, really see each other. (As Sue Snell puts it in the show, “Once you see, you can’t unsee.” The lyric refers not to the horror of Carrie covered in blood on prom night, but to the fact that once our eyes are opened to injustice, once we recognize our unity with others, regardless of surface differences, we can’t go back to thoughtless victimization.)

Enter Stafford Arima, NYC director who posed a reconceived version of the tale to the show’s original creators. They liked his vision, signed on, and re-wrote the bulk of the show to achieve new ends. It became darker, more serious. The “kids” were more clearly drawn as normal young adults, wrestling with the same insecurities and united in their desire to belong. We see the whole drama through the eyes of the one teen who survived (Sue Snell) and take her emotional journey from thoughtlessly unkind to regretful, to reparative, to horror-stricken, to grieving, to reflective.  The revival, produced at Manhattan Theatre Club, received rave reviews. Carrie was rescued from oblivion, and is now, finally, available to be produced by companies around the world. Our production is the Vermont premiere, and we are so excited to bring this important story to the Vermont community. Even more, we’re thrilled that Mr. Arima himself is coming up to Vermont to watch a rehearsal and work with our young actors on their approach to the piece.

Carrie’s story, while complicated by the telekinesis factor, is sadly very relevant to today’s young people. Humiliation and ridicule are all too common elements of growing up in our society, and the implications can range from damaged self-esteem that impacts lifelong relationship patterns, to full-scale horror, like the massacres at Columbine and Newtown. School shootings have, in fact, become a norm in America; there have been over 74 instances in the past 18 months alone. Harassment and bullying are linked to 7 out of 10 of these violent events, and then of course there are those who turn their pain inward instead of outward, making suicide the second leading cause of death for middle and high school students. In our cast, more than one student has lost a classmate/close friend to suicide in the past year. The perils of adolescence are indeed high-stakes.

Furthermore, today’s kids bully each other in ways that we could never have dreamed. Since the revival of Carrie is set in the present, we have decided to incorporate web and social media use as the tools of torture they can so easily become. A young person’s entire world closes in around them terrifyingly fast when Facebook and Snapchat deliver instantaneous public humiliation. When the derision of her peers starts to build up for Carrie, the social media landscape will explode around her, via projection. The tampon-attack will be filmed and streamed to YouTube. Queen Bee Chris Hargensen’s party will be promoted on Facebook but will be clearly (and publicly) only open to the cool crowd.

Depressing stuff, huh? But I think what audiences will take from this production is the inspiration to do better, to affirm their humanity, to respect the dignity in each soul. I know that some of our youth actors are already making changes in their actions have come clean to one another about times they’ve behaved less than kindly, are recognizing their impact upon one another, and seeing their potential anew. I am hopeful that our students AND our audiences will take away that serving our own ends by hurting others, no matter how powerful those ends seem (belonging, eternal redemption), is never the right choice. I am hopeful that we all have room to grow in kindness. As Sue so pointedly asks, “What does it cost to be kind?”

The FlynnArts Summer Youth Theater Program is a hidden gem. Drawing top talent from schools around the state, our students are so eager to grow, not just as people but also as artists, and their hunger is inspiring. Consequently, we teach them not just the music and the steps but also how to analyze the text, how to assess the stakes, how to pursue objectives with varied strategies and moment to moment tactics, etc. We are graduating seniors every year who are going on to the best musical theater and classical voice programs in the country, and although our program is young, I have no doubt that in a few years we will have some big stars to invite back to share their successes and tips with the next crop of young actors. In addition we want our physical productions to support the strong, authentic, acting work our young performers are demonstrating onstage. Artistry and innovation and challenge are important to our team; our productions are usually re-imagined reinventions of chamber musicals; last year’s Into the Woods was set in an attic, framed as a young child’s effort to come to terms with her mother’s death. Carrie will be no exception to our efforts not to merely replicate the original productions, but to find our own approach, and teach our young people about what it means to have something to say as an artist.

Quality aside, what I love most about the program is the community these young people have built. Often theater kids can be the odd ones out in their own schools, but here they have found their people and have learned how to eschew jealousy of each other’s skills, to instead support one another with joyful mutual admiration. The impact on their self-esteem is enormous. It gives me incredible pleasure to see them travel sometimes as far as two hours away to see one another’s high school shows during the school year, and I chuckled with delight when I found that the boys had created a facebook group entitled “Show Bros.” We as a team choose to work with young people because we have great respect for the perils of adolescence (as Carrie so viscerally demonstrates) and we foster community because we know it makes a huge difference. We know that the powerful bonds formed in youth theater programs help young people to weather their own personal storms as they journey toward self-acceptance, self-confidence, and self-actualization. We invite you to join us this summer, and see what we mean!

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Neko Case Is an ‘Around the Way Girl’

by E.K. Narey

This piece originally appeared on VTDigger.

Neko Case is a good neighbor.

Neko Case

Photo: Jason Creps

Granted, she’s better known for her other, higher profile attributes: her critically acclaimed music career has earned her three Grammy nominations, breathless accolades from magazines such as Bust and Rolling Stone, and appearances on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Austin City Limits, and NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. A longtime collaborator with Canadian indie band The New Pornographers, Neko’s also contributed songs to HBO’s True Blood and The Hunger Games. Pitchfork Media writer Lindsay Zoladz, reviewing Neko’s most recent album, The Worst Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, called Neko’s voice “a meteorological event … imposing, opalescent, and surprising in its sheer force.”

Still. Aside from all that … she happens to be a really good neighbor. She’ll loan you her pickup if you’re moving, fix you some homemade borscht if you’re hungry, give you half a dozen tomato seedlings if you lost your plants to a late frost. She grows produce for the neighborhood café (Dylan’s, on Eastern Avenue in St. Johnsbury), frequents the farmers market, and has opened her home to strays of all kind: rescued greyhounds, a retired theater horse, abandoned pianos. In short, whatever Neko Case has: time, shelter, Season 3 of Deadwood on DVD, she’s willing to give (well, willing to loan, at least, in the case of the Deadwood discs). And if her music career provides her with some unusual resources (a large social media following, say, or a 1967 Mercury Cougar) she finds ways to channel those resources toward the greater good. (That Mercury Cougar, for example? She raffled it off to benefit a nonprofit writing group for kids.)

It’s no surprise, then, that since Neko wandered several years ago into Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury, she kind of never left. To hear her tell it, she came in to rent a movie, and grew quickly enamored with the community atmosphere, the friendly staff, and the chatty regulars stopping in to grab a cup of coffee and check the marquee for upcoming events. It wasn’t long before Neko herself became a fixture in the Catamount community: she bought the Old Post Office building next door (Catamount’s former home) where she keeps an office and studio in the back while a restaurant and satellite art gallery operate in front. She donates frequently and generously to Catamount’s primary fundraiser, its annual auction; her contributions have included signed tour posters, a 1960 Gibson guitar, and a vintage leather rocking chair. She’s performed not one but two benefit concerts, donating all proceeds to Catamount. (The first benefit introduced fellow Vermonter Anais Mitchell to the Northeast Kingdom. Both women were reunited at UniteWomen’s 2012 women’s rights rally in Montpelier, where Case was a featured speaker and Mitchell performed.)

For her third and upcoming Vermont benefit concert, Neko’s casting a wider net, reaching out to a broader community. Her July 2 concert at the Flynn will benefit the arts education programs at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury and Burlington’s Flynn Center, fostering a creative alliance between two vital Vermont arts organizations. See, here’s the thing: every public arts center aims to enrich its community by creating a vibrant arts culture, but resources are scarce. At a time when economic uncertainty and diminishing federal support have left many community arts centers with barely enough resources to keep their own doors open, the Flynn has taken stock of its available resources — a broader audience base, more seating, a well-traveled, accessible location — and offered them to their Northeast Kingdom neighbors at Catamount.

Leave it to Vermont to demonstrate that the best way to stretch resources is to share them. And ultimately, people, not finances, are any community’s most important resource. Neko Case, in addition to being whip-smart, brazen, brilliant, and raw, is a tireless and generous resource. In these parts, neighbors often are.

E.K. Narey is a writer and resident of the Northeast Kingdom. She teaches at Lyndon State College and Marlboro College Graduate School, and always leaves room in her garden for Neko’s tomato transplants.

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Reflections on the 2013-14 Season

by John Killacky

Another season is winding down, my fourth at the helm of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Managing this $6.6 million dollar organization is a precarious balancing of earned income and contributions from government, corporations, foundations, individual, and members. Throughout the financial roller coaster ride of any given season, I’m nurtured and replenished by splendid artistry and our generous community of audiences, participants, and supporters.

For me, artistic highlights from Artistic Director Steve MacQueen’s programming this season include Broadway divas Kelli O’Hara and Patti Lupone, who both included our teen performers on stage. Elvis Costello and Tony Bennett were fantastic as well. Kronos Quartet, whom I first worked with 26 years ago, stayed true to their experimental roots and played avant-garde masterworks alongside new compositions. Choreographer Kyle Abraham showed us the future of modern dance and Mark Morris returned as the master of beautiful lyricism. And comedy proved quite popular, from the wonderfully weird Reggie Watts to the shenanigans of The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

New this year was an off-site partnership with Merrill Jarvis and his Palace 9 Cinemas as we co-presented National Theatre Live screenings of the very best in British theater. The Flynn was originally a movie house acquired from the Jarvis family, so this new partnership was very fitting and allowed us to expand theatrical offerings.

There were many surprise and delights this season. All eight evenings in FlynnSpace during the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival introduced me to artists I had never seen. Standouts were the astonishing virtuosity of Julian Lage’s solo guitar and vocal prowess of Cécile McLorin Salvant. Both under the age of 30, they previewed the very future of jazz, and we got to see them first in our intimate club-like atmosphere. Kudos to the festival’s Managing Director Linda Little for her adept handling of this, her second festival.

I’m at my happiest when those yellow school buses arrive, bringing 38,365 kids to student matinees. It was also truly awesome when the entire Integrated Arts Academy walked en masse to see Step Afrika. Another show with Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara had the house filled with happy stomping, dancing, and clapping kids. Off-site, we facilitated over 950 classroom workshops in 95 schools through the great work of Assistant Director of School Programs Stacy Raphael and her team. Summer camps started this week – 28 in all for pre-schoolers to teens.

I particularly enjoy our “triple-threat” teen performers who sing, dance, and act in our Show Choirs and summer musicals. Right now, they’ve just begun rehearsals for Carrie, the Musical and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I love sneaking into early rehearsals and marveling at how far these young actors develop in such a short time. Education Director Christina Weakland spearheads these efforts with a marvelous group of collaborators.

After 13 years, we bid a fond farewell to our splendid Membership Manager Paula Roberts, who is retiring at the end of this month. She gave so much to the Flynn during her tenure, developing myriad special fundraising events and taking great care of our 2,300 members. She will be sorely missed by all. Joining us is Brennan Neill—you’ll soon get to know him.

Every season there is economic uncertainty, as ticket revenue only accounts for two-thirds of the cost of any given event. Even sold-out shows seldom add to the bottom line. However, your generosity keeps this organization vibrant, resilient, and sustainable. Your patronage, underwriting, and membership support is essential. Thank you for all you do for us at the Flynn.

South End Kitchen and Pascolo Ristorante generously hosted two sold-out dining adventures in their new restaurants. Artists, too, are generous to us. We started the year with a joint benefit for the Flynn and Lyric Theatre featuring Kelli O’Hara. On July 2, Neko Case performs to support arts education at the Flynn and Catamount Arts. Finally, 671 of you took a chance with a $20 raffle tickets to win a pair of tickets to ten shows next season. Congratulations to Christine DuMond of Lincoln, our raffle winner. All of these efforts help shore up the Flynn’s bottom line, for which I’m deeply grateful.

Upcoming events of interest:

Finally, over the summer we are expanding the men’s bathroom in the main theater, adding a shower for artists downstairs in FlynnSpace, and creating an entirely new entrance to FlynnTix box office on Main Street. All of this resulted from the generosity of donors who contributed to the same capital campaign that gave us an enclosed loading dock, new comfy seats, hearing assist loop, and spruced up lobby. Even when the Flynn isn’t open, it’s busy, as dance troupe Lucky Plush has a creative residency on the MainStage during the down weeks.

We at the Flynn believe the arts touch people’s lives in profound ways, providing enrichment for children, stimulating creativity and transformation, and enhancing and strengthening our overall community. The Flynn’s evolution from a movie house into a nationally recognized performing arts center demonstrates our community’s commitment to the power of the performing arts and its ability to break down barriers and bring people together. For more than 33 years, the Flynn has provided the foundation for a vibrant arts community. With your generosity, the Flynn can continue to inspire creativity, expand understanding, foster artistic excellence, and help ensure the performing arts remain alive for future generations. The Flynn exists because of you. Thank you for keeping the dream flourishing. I hope to see you soon.

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The Final Artists’ Journal Entries from Grup Anwar

Grup Anwar is the most recent recipient of the Flynn’s Vermont Artists’ Space Grant. The group presented a work-in-progress showing of new music in FlynnSpace on Wednesday, May 28 at 7:30 pm. 

May 22: Maqam is the system of musical scales (or modes) that is the foundation for musical composition in Arabic music.  It is ancient and not exclusive to the Arab world as some form of the maqam system is used in Persian, Turkish and Greek music today.  Indian classical music, which many Western audiences have been exposed to, also boasts a highly developed but less closely related system of modes on which ragas are based.

Maqam modes have many similarities to Western musical scales. There are typically seven intervals in an eight-note octave; modes can be transposed or shifted to start on different notes.   And though some intervals may sound similar to traditional Western major and minor scales, Arabic modes are not “well-tempered” and most have a decidedly Eastern sound brought on by “in-between” notes known as quarter tones.   Two maqams with the same intervals such as nahawand and farahfaza that start on different notes (C and G, respectively), though they share many intervals with C and G minor, are not otherwise comparable; they are developed very differently from one another in both composition and improvisation (taqasim) and convey different moods to an informed audience.

Tarab (Ar. ‘ecstasy’) is the term used to convey the powerful emotions evoked in the experience of performing and listening to music.  This is a concept that is difficult to define but I like to think of it as “soul.”  It expresses the ability of the performer to transport the audience to an emotional state through the musical performance.

Individual maqams are thought to reflect a particular mood and by some are felt to be imbued with healing properties.  (One medical research study in Turkey purported to demonstrate the effectiveness of maqam in treating hospitalized patients!).  While maqam rast may be felt to be uplifting and thus express joyfulness, maqam saba may reflect sadness and longing.  Maqam hijaz is associated with spirituality and mysticism.  The Jews of Aleppo, Syria choose a maqam that matches the mood of the subject matter in their weekly Torah chant.

Anwar composes in the maqam system.  His choice of maqam is based not simply on the sounds he wishes to express but also on a particular mood.  If a time, place or person has inspired a particular composition, the maqam he chooses will reflect that.  The compositions we will be performing showcase a varied selection of maqam: beyati, nahwand, hijaz, farahfaza, ajam nakriz.  We are interested to see if our audience next week agrees with us that Anwar’s music indeed has “tarab.”

June 18: Thanks to the Flynn Center for hosting our concert at Flynnspace and to all the fans new and old that turned out to hear Anwar’s Wasla Vermont Suite work-in-progress performance.

Having a dedicated space is so important to the creative process.  The iconic ‘garage’ where so many bands got their putative start.  Works great for the homeowner…..what about all the apartment-dwelling musicians though?  Where to practice, make a racket without disturbing the neighbors.  The Artist’s Space Grant was definitely the impetus we needed as an ensemble to come together, learn the musical style and feed off one another’s energy.  What we performed was only a sampling and with Anwar on his second wind in a long career, the wasla is at sixteen works and counting.  We have a lot more to learn.

Having successfully completed  the first of our year’s three-part strategy for presenting and disseminating Anwar’s music, we look forward to a performance this fall of the complete suite followed by a studio recording. Inshallah.

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Joy on Display

by Josh McDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band at Burlington Discover Jazz Festival on Sunday, June 8.

The final performance of 2014’s Discover Jazz Festival began with Eddie Palmieri giving the audience a brief description of Latin Jazz. “It is the fusion of the Twentieth Century,” he said. The rhythms from Africa were brought to the Caribbean, he went on to explain, where they encountered the realities of man’s inhumanity to man. From this blending of music and suffering, he said, comes an expression of joy. And from the first notes of the concert, that joy was on constant display.

Most demonstrative were the three percussionists, whose driving Caribbean beat kept the night lively. Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas was especially animated, slapping his drums and exchanging gleeful looks with his fellow musicians throughout. Camilo Molina on timbales and Antony Carillo, switching between bongos and cowbell, kept the rhythmic foundation going. The drumming tended toward freeform improvisation, with each man doing his own thing, but every so often they came together in unison for a staccato punctuation. Rounding out the rhythm section was Luques Curtis on bass, keeping mostly to the background but taking every opportunity to shine in his frequent solos.

The two-man horn section provided the fiery and melodic icing on these musical confections. Jonathan Powell blew a bright, vigorous trumpet while Louis Fouche was a bit more mellow on alto sax. Whether blending their tones in the melody line, taking center-stage for a vibrant solo, or playfully tossing solo phrases back and forth, they made a good and lively duo.

And tying it all together, of course, was Mr. Palmieri on keyboard. His constant, bright grin was infectious and his piano solos vivacious and fun. Occasionally he would jump to his feet and lead the audience in clapping along to the music. With his contagious joy and boundless energy, he was as much a spiritual as a musical leader of the group.

After the intermission, Palmieri introduced a surprise guest: Vermont’s favorite adopted son Ray Vega added his unique trumpet stylings for the remainder of the evening. Vega fell in effortlessly with the rest of the group, and kept the energy going through another four songs.

Of the eight or so songs that made up the program, the only one Palmieri identified by name was “Crew” – a number he wrote for his youngest daughter when she was on her college rowing team. For the rest, they alternated between hot, lively numbers with a few more subdued ballad numbers. It was a great show, and we couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish off another Discover Jazz Festival. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year!

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Perseverance and Preservation

by John R. Killacky

This commentary first appeared on Vermont Public Radio.

Earlier this month I traveled to the Northeast Kingdom to attend the annual conference of the Vermont Downtown Program and The Preservation Trust of Vermont. The Flynn Center in Burlington was one of ten awardees recognized by the Preservation Trust for recent renovations. The winners were a disparate, determined group, most taking decades to rehab, renovate, and rebuild historically significant buildings.

It’s such a balancing act to honor the archeology of century-old structures, while adapting for energy efficiency and accessibility needs. Attention to architectural details and craftsmanship is very important, but community participation and buy-in is just as essential for these facilities to be relevant.

Here are a few stories from the awards ceremony:

Dot’s Restaurant was built in 1832 alongside the Deerfield River in Wilmington.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Sadly, Hurricane Irene destroyed the building’s foundation. Neighbors raised funds to repair the foundation, as well as flood-proof and reconstruct the restaurant’s interior in a historically sensitive manner.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

In Guilford, citizens have been restoring derelict properties and remediating a toxic brown-field site. Five years ago, they took ownership of The Guilford Country Store, originally opened in 1817.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Donations, grants, loans, and sweat equity allowed them to refurbish it, guaranteeing this community a vital gathering place.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Green Mountain College and the town of Poultney did the same by transforming Charles Humphrey’s 1900 mansion.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

They transformed the structure, taking what had become a deteriorated storage facility and creating a central meeting and event center for both town and college.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Another award celebrated the efforts of volunteers over a 15-year period to resurrect the 1891 Bloomfield Town Hall.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

The town hall is one of Vermont’s only stick style buildings. Its resurrection began in 1999, when residents raised funds for a new roof, window repair and a polychromatic painting restoration.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Residents of Island Pond had a similar journey as they restored their Brighton Town Hall’s original architectural elements from 1889.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

The town hall is one of the most prominent landmarks in the town. As the building was repeatedly repurposed over the years, most of its historic characteristics were covered. In 2010, the idea of restoring the building to its former grandeur took hold.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

The Housing Trust of Rutland County was recognized for its rehabilitation of a former Catholic school and convent into 17 units of affordable housing.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Installation of solar panels made this one of the lowest cost housing projects in the state to operate.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Bellows Falls Middle School also rejuvenated its building, modeling adaptive historic reuse with sustainable energy features in creating their 21st century classrooms.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

The school was constructed in 1926. By 2010, the building was deteriorating. After much discussion, the community decided pursue renovation over rebuilding.

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

Credit: Preservation Trust of Vermont

On a regional level, Two Rivers Ottauquechee Planning Commission was acknowledged for its work prioritizing redevelopment in downtown districts, thereby keeping villages robust and farms and forestlands secure.

Finally, historians Glen Andres’ and Curtis Johnson’s comprehensive study, “Buildings of Vermont” received accolades for its quality and for their persistence.  It took them 20 years to complete this important compendium.

At the conference, I heard a new term, not a word really, but still apt as it combines preserve and perseverance.  It’s called “pre-serverance.”  I know it’s made-up, but it reflects the grit and dogged determination needed to save iconic landmarks, not as relics of by-gone eras, but as vital components in the heart of each of our communities today.

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Big Chief Donald Harrison Keeps It Swinging Free and Nouveau

by Rose Eggert, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Big Chief Donald Harrison and The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group at Burlington Discover Jazz Festival on Friday, June 6.

Big Chief Donald Harrison opens his imaginative but listener-friendly performance by walking quietly onto the Flynn MainStage. He builds a focused yet steady head of steam with “Quantum Leap,” allowing pianist Zaccai Curtis, who is becoming a force in jazz in his own right, to get some serious love early on. (His brother Luques Curtis played bass with Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band at Flynn Center MainStage on Sunday night).

Bassist Max Moran, one of the bright lights of his generation, guitarist Detroit Brookes who Harrison intros as one of the most soulful guitar players in jazz today, and drummer Joe Dyson, let loose as Harrison bops through “Free to Be” in his own brand of Nouveau Swing.

If there’s any doubt that The Big Chief can move a crowd of jazz aficionados, Friday night music freaks and even the merely curious, it ends here, as he takes us now on a song and dance trip to the 60s, where he grew up listening to James Brown, the funky Meters and Motown on the radio. He loves funky music (turns out this audience does, too) but he has this dilemma, he really loves jazz; so suddenly we’re listening to jazz swing beats as drummer Dyson sets off with James Brown’s funky baselines, and bassist Moran gives us even funkier bass rhythm. Dwain Hitchens adds swing to his percussions, while Curtis is killing it on jazz piano, and Detroit Brooks from NOLA gives us that soulful guitar. The Big Chief blows some serious saxophone, too, which he likes to keep free and danceable and swinging. They mix it up with some jazz, and some funky soul for dancing because that’s the realm he loves to explore.

We are catching on to some good feeling here with “Nouveau Swing” (drummer Joe Dyson’s favorite song) and catching a needed breath with one of Charlie Parker’s favorites, “Cherokee.” “Mr. Cool Breeze,” a nickname Lena Horne gave Harrison when he played in her band, takes center stage. BTW: He definitely prefers this nickname to his childhood name of Donald Duck.). Suddenly he’s off on a vocal scat proclamation of Nouveau Swing, which we are totally digging.

This evening just keeps getting cooler. Trumpeter Ray Vega, a veteran of Tito Puente’s band and who has played with the likes of Lionel Hampton (musical creds up the wahzoo folks) also happens to be a UVM faculty member. He joins Harrison center stage for a Coltrane standard, “Mr. P.C.” followed quickly by a brass duet of “Misty,” which is pure poetry.

But it’s time get on our dancing shoes as the spirits of NOLA and Mardi Gras descend upon us in dazzling traditional costume for “Iko Iko.” Jazz aficionados, Friday night music freaks and the merely curious take to the aisles as Big Chief Donald Harrison and the Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans Cultural Group finally bring the house down with Dr. John’s “Find a Levee and Burn it Down.”

Oh, one final musical note: Even before The Big Chief took to the stage, he was busy gob-smacking the amazingly talented Vermont All State Jazz ensemble, who opened for him to a well-deserved standing O. The kids told me he played pretty much every instrument in the ensemble to show them how the music should be played, by ear – and he nearly missed his own sound check. Glad he didn’t.

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
153 Main Street, Burlington, Vermont 05401
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