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We Watched Them Fly

By Lauren J Sanders, Burlington Writer’s Workshop

Review of the historical docu-drama Black Angels Over Tuskegee at the Flynn on Saturday, January 29, 2016

Upon entering the theater, you can see that it’s more diverse than most of the exhibitions that I’ve been to throughout the season. That’s because the content of Black Angels Over Tuskegee appeals to people across all walks of life; yet it is a finely tuned story about love and overcoming hardship as black men in this country. Written, directed, choreographed, and acting a major role in the show, Layon Gray and his American Theatre Company put on two and a half hours of beautiful and engaging acting. The off Broadway production didn’t host any singing, but music was a prominent theme throughout. The song “Straighten Up and Fly Right” by Nat King Cole blasted through the sound system more than once, and the airmen on stage utilized the phrase often. Watching six men in uniform (or some nice swanky suits) express themselves through their relationships with one another while overcoming such odds during an obviously despicable and trying time of American history was both emotionally moving and extremely inspirational.

I was amazed that there were only three major scenes in this performance. In the first half I was completely immersed in the backstory and becoming affiliated with the main characters. Time seemed to fly by and when the lights came on for intermission I looked at my friend and said “It’s been an hour and a half already?” These six men – Jerimiah, Elijah, Quentin, Percival, Theodore, and Abraham – all came from different places, yet experienced similar encounters as men of color. Each one had their own story to tell, and did so with so much humor I found myself grinning from ear to ear that my cheeks hurt due to one liners like “Mama named you Abraham so you better be honest!” The love that these airmen grew to create between one another shows the true brotherhood of military members. I personally witness this comradery often as my fiancé is an active duty service member. The way that he speaks about his military family is the same way he speaks about his blood relatives, and the actors in this show depict that same feeling synonymously with that of what happens in our military today.

As we are following the linear timeline of these men attempting to be fighter pilots in the Army Air Corps, we are given riveting monologues. A narrator, whom we later find out to be Abraham’s great grandson,Bottom of Form gives us historically rich details at pivotal points during the performance. Then the characters give us their own stories: we find out why Jerimiah is so bitter and selfish, why Theodore loves his records so much, that Percival has a daughter and wife left at home, why Abraham takes such good care of his brother Quentin, and then we focus on Quentin himself and his lady Lucille pregnant with their future child. Though these men were separated from their families first in Tuskegee, Alabama, then in Northern Africa, we see the way this story will end up.

These men are not allowed to participate both in Alabama and in Africa, but through persistence they end up becoming some of the best pilots in the military at the time. Unfortunately, it is not good enough to withstand the trials of war, and unfortunately all of them but Abraham meet their untimely deaths in the planes they once begged to fly. Abraham is left to take care of his nephew and pass on the stories of these men, so they are never forgotten. The same is happening with this play. It has been running for six continuous years, and though its simple structure is somewhat predictable and easy to follow, the words of its characters ring true. This show made me shed some tears, but they were tears of understanding and a belief that the way we previously conducted ourselves toward people of color in this country was disgraceful. We need stories like this to come to that realization. That’s why I believe our Flynn Theater was packed full of all different types of people. Every single one there recognized this fact. It’s valid what your mama told you when you were a kid, that persistence is key and following the airmen’s motto is a great way to go about life: “Train me and let me demonstrate I can.”

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The Birth of Ambient, Revisited

By Steve MacQueen, Artistic Director

Sometimes I get excited about a show way in advance. For the past year, I have been focused on February 19, when the Bang on a Can All-Stars perform Brian Eno’s seminal masterpiece, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, over the course of two shows in FlynnSpace. It’s finally here.

So, to recap: Brian Eno, Music for Airports, Bang on a Can All-Stars, FlynnSpace.

Let’s start with Brian Eno. A founding member of Roxy Music and a solo artist whose first four records are absolute masterpieces (Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain, Another Green World, and Before and After Science—seriously, go buy one), Eno is best known as a producer/collaborator, having helmed the best of David Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, and Devo, as well as efforts by Paul Simon, Ultravox, Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, and others. His 1981 collaboration with David Byrne, the massively influential My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, paired found radio broadcasts with early hip-hop and world grooves. Like so much of Eno’s work, the record sounds as weird and visionary today as it did then.

Music_for_Airports

Yet, for all those achievements (and there are more), it’s possible that Eno’s most influential work is Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Using layers of tape loops to create evolving soundscapes that are much like the musical equivalent of visual art, Eno sought to create (in his own words) “music that can be actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener…it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” It presaged a new genre, called—you guessed it—Ambient music.

Using music to create atmosphere rather than focus on rhythm and melody was not new—Erik Satie dabbled in what he called “furniture music” decades earlier—but Eno certainly popularized it and created new interest, mostly by making fascinating, remarkable music. It had an immediate impact and a lasting influence on a wide range of genres, including EDM, techno, dub, and chillout.

The six virtuosos known as the Bang on a Can All-Stars have long championed Airports, and their recording and performances have cemented its reputation. Formed in 1992, the All-Stars are dedicated to playing new and experimental music, forging relationships with Steve Reich, Ornette Coleman, and DJ Spooky, while earning Musical America’s Ensemble of the Year award in 2005. Their astonishing Music for Airports makes the audacious choice of carefully reconstructing the piece by replacing Eno’s tape loops with piano, bass, guitar, percussion, clarinet, and voices. The result is ravishingly organic, and the Village Voice calls it “beautiful, and best enjoyed while lying flat on your back and staring straight up, through the palm trees and the sunroof to the deep night outside.”

Well, we have no palm trees or sunroof, but we do have FlynnSpace, the basement black-box where, according to several Flynn staff, “the magic happens.” The BoaC All-Stars’ recorded version of Airports is lush and gorgeous, but the prospect of hearing them perform this seminal piece in the intimacy of FlynnSpace has thrilled me for months.

I’ll be there for both shows. I hope to see you there.

Get tickets to these FlynnSpace shows, happening Friday, February 19 at 7 and 9:30 pm.

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Bang on a Can All-Stars

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“Once” Upon a Time

By Kelly Hedglin Bowen, @kelhedglinbowen, Burlington Writer’s Workshop

Review of the musical Once at the Flynn on Monday, February 1, 2016

It was a Monday night, and I was exhausted, but I found myself sitting in the Flynn among the hustle of the crowd. I’d settled into my aisle seat while couples eagerly filed past to maneuver their partners into open seats. Although there was still thirty minutes left until curtain, a crowd gathered on the stage. I stood and peered over heads noticing that the stage had been transformed into what looked like an Irish pub. The backdrop was a sparsely lit wall lined with antique mirrors, in front of which stood a large black bar. An impromptu party had formed onstage as laughing and chatting people milled about with drinks in hand. There were no other props aside from a few wooden chairs and a mass of bodies.

I was focused on the crowd when the music began with a few sharp notes from a fiddle and a couple of vocal scales. Each seemingly random note gave way to careful choreography onstage as the musicians moved towards each other gently strumming their banjos and guitars and fiddles. A pre-show warm up, I thought, and felt lucky that I wasn’t late to the theater. I clapped through two or three foot-stomping Celtic numbers before realizing that the dress rehearsal had faded and the audience had settled down. As the onstage crowd drifted back to their seats, the theater lights dimmed. A center stage spotlight singled out a male musician playing guitar and singing as a female approached him from out of the darkness.

So began Once, the Tony Award-winning musical by Enda Walsh, which made its Burlington debut this past week to a packed house. Once plays out in modern-day Dublin and follows the simple story of a forlorn Irish street musician (played by the talented Sam Cieri) called Guy and an optimistic Czech woman (played by the gifted Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) called Girl. Pining for a lost love, a lonely Guy is on the verge of abandoning his musical dreams when in walks Girl.  A recent immigrant and a struggling single mom, what Girl lacks in money she has in ambition.  Full of spunk and a talented pianist herself, Girl sweet talks her way into Guy’s heart, and the two embark on their whimsical musical journey.

While dialogue intermingled with song, the music truly propelled the narrative. The ensemble as a whole became a character of the show. The actors moved set pieces and props all while singing, dancing, and playing instruments. The cast transformed from musicians to actors taking on supporting character roles and remaining onstage throughout the performance, lending needed energy to the more melancholy intimate scenes. Lesser-Roy and Cieri, surrounded by a band of wildly talented musicians, performed Glen Hansard’s and Marketa Irglova’s lovely score with its rich and layered composition. A special mention to Patricia Bartlett as Baruska (Girl’s Mother) on the accordion, and Liam Fennecken as Svec (a Czech friend) on guitar, mandolin, banjo, drums, and percussion, for not only their fabulous musical talent but the fantastic humor they brought to the stage.

Once is a two-act musical separated by a brief intermission during which folks were invited back onstage. As the pub reopened, the party continued. With everyone in casual dress, I couldn’t tell the audience from the cast. But perhaps that was the point. Within the conjured intimacy of an Irish Pub, the actors felt approachable, like old friends. It made perfect sense that we (the audience) would be privy to such a personal tale. Unlike other large Broadway musicals full of flashy sets and glitter, Once maintained its authentic Irish austerity. In that simple setting, the music prevailed, and the audience felt at home.

Once upon a time is a popular story opener, invoking the illusion of a romantic fairy tale. Once the Musical is no exception. It was all about illusion: from the stage that became a pub, the mirrors which captured the actors’ simple reflections, the warm-up that was the first act, to the casually-dressed cast indistinguishable from the audience itself.  Once sweetly permitted us to suspend our everyday reality and, with renewed hope, bask in the golden glow of love’s fleeting grasp.

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Paula Poundstone to Appear at the Flynn – Be Prepared to Laugh

by Barbara Alsop, Burlington Writers Workshop

Emmy Award-winning comedian, author, and actress Paula Poundstone is famous for her razor-sharp wit and unpredictable stand-up performances. Poundstone returns to the Flynn after her sold-out show in 2012. Get tickets to see her on the MainStage on Saturday, February 6. Note: There are no seats currently available for this event. Seats may open up closer to the performance date. Please call the Box Office for availability.

Paula Poundstone, a stand-up comic, writer, commentator, and general goofball, is coming to the Flynn on February 6. Most Vermonters have heard her regularly on VPR’s Saturday morning show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” where she is a regular performer and a favorite among listeners. She also performed a number of HBO shows back in the 1980s and now is settling into a nice routine of tours and shows for her fans around the country.

head shot redstriped with mic 2012

She is said to never to do the same show twice, which makes writing about her shows a bit challenging. She talks with folks in the audience and riffs off of their answers and listens when people yell at her, as if they are the most important person in the world, before responding in a surprised and surprising way. Unlike many comics, she is never cruel or nasty to those she speaks with, seemingly more bewildered than judgmental. Her feel for the right word is legendary and her folksy manner endears her to the audience.

Dressed in a suit and tie and with her trademark hair, she wanders the stage, talking matter-of-factly about whatever seems to appeal to her. Triggered by cues from the audience, she develops flights of fancy that can go anywhere. Her knowledge is encyclopedic if slightly off kilter, garnered no doubt by her strong support for reading. She’s actually been the National Spokesperson for the American Library Association’s “United for Libraries” since 2007, and has produced videos and a book, There is Nothing In This Book That I Meant To Say, which is her general persona on the stage.

An award winning, bright, political and whimsical comic, she is a delight to behold and we welcome her to Burlington.

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Organized Noise

by John Canning, PCC President and Founder

New York’s Bang on a Can All-Stars bring further innovation to ambient music maestro Brian Eno’s 1978 masterpiece Music for Airports. In their live performance of the album, the All-Stars substitute Eno’s tape loops with piano, clarinet, bass, guitar and voices. The All-Stars have become a genre in their own right, with a massive repertoire of works written specifically for the group’s distinctive instrumentation and style of performance. Get tickets to see them at FlynnSpace, Friday, February 19 at 7 and 9:30 pm.

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I fell in love with both classical and electronic music when I received the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange for my 13th birthday. I was not allowed to open the record for several days because the movie itself was X-Rated and my parents needed to figure out if it was safe for a young teen to listen to music by someone named “Beethoven.” As I continued through high school and college, I spent all of my pocket money on records and CDs. I was on a constant search for new and different types of music and could spend hours lost in a record store, painstakingly sorting through the classical music section.

My musical education has always been hands-on. I played the bassoon in the Vermont Youth Orchestra; I created a computer program to play Bach for my high school senior recital; I produced outdoor concerts for the Vermont Symphony and had the honor of conducting the cannons during the 1812 Overture. I never took a proper music theory course, but thanks to A Clockwork Orange, I was always interested in how music could be used to alter moods and behavior.

I was introduced to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports by a very enthusiastic friend (and now business partner). His excitement was contagious—here was piece of music that was supposed to induce calm and create a space for one to think. Would it work? Could it work? I had to know. I rushed down to the corner music store, probably on my bike at that age, and was thrilled that they actually had the album! I could not wait to get home and play it on my stereo. The opening notes and phrasing immediately made an
indelible impression on my brain—and it certainly was trance-like.

I had to share the album with my music geek friends and find out what they thought. Eno’s liner notes sparked quite a lot of discussion, starting with whether or not he was successful in calming people down. These discussions quickly spiraled into more philosophical discussions about music; I remember one where a friend came to the conclusion that music was just organized noise. We played record repeatedly and only later did I learn that this was Eno’s intent. Even to this day, I can listen to the piece over and over again, but I still fidget.

I was thrilled when I heard reports that the piece would be played in United’s Terminal 1 in Chicago. Sadly, those reports were a bit premature. The architect was unable to secure the rights to use the piece, so a new piece was commission specifically for the tunnel connecting the B and C gates. It featured a lot of bleeps and beeps,
but it was nothing like Music for Airports. United pulled the piece after a few months, which resulted in messy lawsuit. The piece was put to work as intended at airports in New York City, Buffalo, and Minneapolis.

My business partner and I were thrilled to hear that Bang on a Can All-Stars is bringing a live performance of Music for Airports to the Flynn. When we were offered the chance to sponsor the event we felt like proud parents.

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Falling Slowly with “Once”

by Kelly Hedglin Bowen (@kelhedglinbowen), Burlington Writer’s Workshop

Winner of eight 2012 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Once tells the tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars to powerful new heights, but their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than your everyday romance. Featuring an impressive ensemble of actor/musicians who play their own instruments onstage, Once is a captivating and unforgettable story. Get tickets to see if on the MainStage, Monday & Tuesday, February 1 & 2 at 7:30 pm.

At a time when we could all use a bit of personal inspiration, the Tony Award-winning musical Once, written by Enda Walsh, makes its Burlington debut at the Flynn MainStage. Once is the spectacular musical adaptation based on John Carney’s 2007 award-winning, independent film of the same name.

Shot for less than 200,000€ in seventeen days, Once plays out on the contemporary streets of Dublin and follows the story of a forlorn Irish musician on the verge of abandoning his artistic future. When a chance meeting with a young Czech woman kindles his hopes, his ambitions and dreams ignite. What results is a tale of perseverance, from the hopeful message of a second chance to the belief in one’s self.

The lyrical narrative comes alive in the music, which is performed by a talented cast of musician-actors. It is this, the music – the raw and uplifting fiddles, guitars, and piano – that draws me to the performance. Billed as “a love story played with fierce sincerity and unexpected honesty,” by the Wall Street Journal, Once has enjoyed critical acclaim since its release.

In 2012, the musical premiered on Broadway and went on to receive eleven Tony Award nominations, which produced eight wins including Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Book. In both the film and the musical, music and lyrics were written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, including the Academy Award-winning smash hit, “Falling Slowly.” In 2013, Once took home a Grammy Award for the Best Musical Theater Album. Since the show’s original North American production, it has since enjoyed immensely successful productions in Ireland, Australia, and South Korea.

So grab your Valentine and your tickets and I’ll see you at the Flynn.

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“Ragtime” is a Study in Contrasts

by Josh MacDonald, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of RagtimeThe Musical on the Flynn MainStage on January 20, 2016.

The more things change, as the old saying goes, the more they don’t. This seems to be the predominant theme of the musical Ragtime, which played recently on the Flynn MainStage. A 2016 performance of a 1996 musical based on a 1975 novel set in the early 1900s, and the social issues plaguing our country have endured. The Flynn’s Artistic Director Steve McQueen made a sly reference to this in his opening statement, remarking on the stark contrast between this show and their previous major attraction (a certain presidential hopeful who shall not be named.)

Ragtime opens with a study in contrasts.

The opening number introduces the extensive cast of characters through a blend of monologue, music, and dance. The unnamed, generic upper-class New Rochelle family sings and moves in a stilted, courtly manner, while the residents of Harlem are more vibrant and energetic, dancing to the music of ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. “Bringing the nation a new syncopation,” the song says – a reference not only to a shift in musical tastes but in cultural style as well.

Rounding out the major players, Latvian immigrant Tateh and his young daughter sing about the hope and promise of their new home. Interspersed throughout this introductory number are several turn-of-the-century celebrities – people like American Industrialist Henry Ford, black leader Booker T. Washington, and celebrated immigrant Harry Houdini, to name a few – to show how these disparate cultures and peoples have already begun to weave themselves into the complex tapestry of American life.

The New Rochelle family finds these other elements trickling into their secluded lifestyle when Mother discovers a black infant abandoned in her garden. She welcomes the child and its desperate mother into the family home. “Everyone is Christian in New Rochelle” is a line that got a hearty laugh from the audience, and Mother seems to be the only one putting that ideology into practice.

This eventually brings Coalhouse Walker to the house, hoping to win back the mother of his child and to do right by the both of them. The family, apprehensive at first, nevertheless welcomes him and encourages his efforts. But some of their neighbors are less welcoming. What follows is a hard and ultimately tragic series of events all too familiar in modern American history.

The sparse but versatile set design allows the action of the play to proceed quickly and efficiently from scene to scene. The narrative is equally economical, skimming easily through the expansive events of the story and hitting the major emotional beats with full force. Along the way it wrestles with the major enduring questions of what this country is and what it aspires to. If it doesn’t offer any answers to our problems of race relations, prejudice, and privilege, neither does it shy away from confronting them head-on.

Towards the end of the second act Mother belts out the theme of the show in her show-stopper, “Back to Before.”

There are people out there
Unafraid of revealing
That they might have a feeling
Or they might have been wrong
There are people out there
Unafraid to feel sorrow,
unafraid of tomorrow,
unafraid to be weak…
unafraid to be strong!

“We can never go back to before,” she sings. And ultimately the show puts its hope in the children. Black, white, and immigrant children brought together by the events of the story, allowed to play together and grow up together, will be the ones to lead us forward.

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Billy Childs Warms with Laura Nyro

by Cynthia Close, Burlington Writers Workshop

Review of Billy Childs’ Reimagining Laura Nyro at the Flynn on Saturday, January 23, 2016.

Upon entering the bustling Flynn on this bitter cold Saturday night in January, my friend, who was a newbie to Burlington, remarked on the size of the crowd. Coming from the people-packed larger metro area between New York City and Boston, she hadn’t imagined such an enthusiastic audience would brave the elements and show up for a concert honoring an artist who had been dead for nearly twenty years. But show up they did and no one left the theater disappointed.

The stage twinkled as a warm, raspberry-colored light glinted off the instruments arranged to the right of the grand piano, offering the promise of a glorious sound soon to come. As we settled in our seats, members of the famed Parker Quartet – Daniel Chong on violin, Ying Xue on violin, Jessica Bodner on viola, and Kee-Hyun Kim on cello – took their place on stage. I hadn’t expected to see them with Billy Childs tonight, but knew they would only enhance what promised to be an exceptional performance. They are based in Boston and I’d heard them play at Harvard during their Blodgett Artists-in-Residence program.

Tucked behind them was harpist Carol Robbins, Ben Williams on bass, Billy Kilson on drums and at the edge of the stage Peter Sprague on guitar and Bob Shepard on alto sax and flute. Billy Childs, whose creative energy orchestrated the evening, was surprisingly modest, almost shy as he briefly addressed the audience before sitting at the piano. It was not through glib repartee that he beguiled us, but through the “reimagining” of the magical storytelling of Laura Nyro’s music and lyrics that had the entire audience on their feet by the end of the evening.

The impressive, richly resonant voice of classically trained mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja was the first to fill the rafters. Her career had been growing since her arrival in New York City in 2005, but it really took off following her solo during the 2013 Presidential Inauguration ceremonies. Becca Stevens followed Olatuja at the mic, and we were immediately struck by the clarity and unique complexity of her voice. It was close to otherworldly and the ideal choice to be an interpreter of Laura Nyro’s equally inventive artistry. Olatuja and Stevens alternated between solo pieces backed by the perfectly synced musicians, to duets interspersed with mesmerizing piano riffs by Childs, the explosive energy of Kilson’s drumming, Sprague’s intricate guitar and Sheppard’s deeply resonant sax.

Stevens and Olatuja moved deftly between the more abstract, improvisational pieces to the final, familiar, hip-swaying Stoned Soul Picnic. Although originally released by Laura Nyro in 1968, the version that most of us think of when we hear the call to, “surry on down…” was recorded by the 5th Dimension that same year. As Olatuja encouraged the audience in a call-response to “surry…” along with her and Stevens, we felt the warmth of Nyro’s music wrapped around us, leaving us well prepared to venture back home in Vermont’s cold winter night.

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Start Your Engines

by Lauren J. Sanders, Burlington Writers Workshop

Inspired by true events, Black Angels over Tuskegee follows six brave African American men on a journey to become the first aviators in the US Army Air Force during the era of 20th century racial segregation and Jim Crow idealism. Get tickets to see it on the MainStage on Friday, January 29.

Black Angels over Tuskegee shows at the Flynn on January 29, just a couple of weeks after celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day and only a few days before Black History Month begins.

The Tuskegee Airmen went on to become some of the most elite and renowned fighters within the Army Air Corps, and even to this day their story is told throughout squadrons and bases all over the country. These men were some of the originating members of the United States’ youngest military branch, the US Air Force.

This arose due to the Tuskegee Experiment, which was conducted as a result of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People attacking the military’s segregation laws. The answer was to create a separate unit to train black pilots at the Institute in Alabama. These strong, resilient, and talented men ended up utilizing their separation as an advantage.

The airmen were to become fighters who in over 200 missions only lost 27 bombers, when the average was 46 at the time, thus proving that indeed African Americans can handle and maintain sophisticated aircraft with plenty of ease. The Tuskegee Airmen still exist to this day under the moniker The Red Tails, and now they are based out of Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.

The Red Tails still fly the same World War II era aircraft around the world.

This marks the 6th year the off-Broadway show has been sharing this story. Written, directed, and choreographed by Layon Gray, we will be fully immersed into the history and overwhelming obstacles these men overcame. In two and a half hours, this production has been given praise such as “brilliant,” “poetic,” and a “masterpiece.” I’m in good hopes that given the story, I will be just as blown away by the performance.

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2014-15 Annual Report

Here’s a snapshot of the activity your support made possible. With earned income accounting for only 58.5% of our expenses, your generosity made it possible for us to continue to present world-class artists at reasonable prices; serve over 35,000 students with matinee performances, offer fun-filled workshops, classes, and camps; and provide community access to the arts. We also completed the final phase of renovations with our new box office and expanded men’s room facilities. The Flynn could not exist without you and we are extremely grateful. Because of you, the Flynn remains artistically vibrant and financially viable.

Thanks,
John R. Killacky, Executive Director and Sara Byers, Current Chair of Board of Directors

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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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