Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Class Acts 500,000th Attendee Celebration!

Yesterday Sangamon Auditorium, UIS welcomed the 500,000th attendee at a Class Acts event at the 12:30 p.m. performance of Mad Science - CSI: Live!.

Dominic, a third grader from Christ the King, was honored as our 500,000th attendee. Here he is pictured with (L to R) a representative from show sponsor Sangamon Schools Credit Union, Sangamon Auditorium Director Robert Vaughn, UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen, and Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UIS Harry Berman.

Sangamon Schools Credit Union provided 30 tickets to give away to one of the schools attending this performance to use next season. Dominic helped the Auditorium staff by drawing the name of the winning school, Owen Marsh Elementary School.

You can watch a short video from the event:

Announcing 2009-2010 Class Acts Season

In conjunction with celebrating the 500,000th attendee, Sangamon Auditorium, UIS also announced the 2009-2010 Class Acts season yesterday. This will be the 24th season of Class Acts performances; and the first show, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, is the 250th production in the Class Acts series.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Wednesday, October 21 • 10 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.
Grades 3-4

Nine-year-old Peter Hatcher’s life would be sweet if it weren’t for Fudge, his toddler terror of a brother. Two Beans Productions captures all the humor, sibling rivalry and elementary school angst of Judy Blume’s classic book.

The Rainbow Fish
Wednesday, November 4 • 10 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.
Grades K-2

With her lovely coloring and shimmering scales, the Rainbow Fish is used to being the most beautiful creature in the ocean. Will some good advice from the wise old Octopus persuade the Rainbow Fish to share her gifts with those around her? ArtsPower has turned Marcus Pfister’s bestselling book into a delightful and touching musical about the value of sharing true friendship with others.

The Kevin Locke Native Dance Ensemble
Tuesday, November 10 • 12:30 p.m.
Grades 4-12

This one-of-a-kind ensemble of American Indian champions and award winners offers a rich variety of American Indian traditions and aesthetics in dance, instrumentals, song, storytelling, sign language and audience interaction. Surrounding the dance are educational explanations woven into stories and narratives folded into a seamlessly integrated program that focuses equally on intriguing education and inspiring entertainment.

Monday, November 16
10 a.m. Grades 6-8 • 12:30 p.m. Grades 3-5

Hailed as one of the preeminent shows for young people, MatheMagic! features world-class magic, comedy, and theatre. Amidst all the oohs, aahs, and laughter, Bradley Fields challenges, provokes, and elicits critical thinking and problem-solving. Kids leave the theater brimming with confidence and a gain a new fascination for the history, the power and the beauty of the language of math.

Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad
Wednesday, February 3 • 10 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.
Grades 4-8

This stirring drama with music is a classic tribute to the great American who freed herself and hundreds of her people from the bonds of slavery. As Harriet and her friend Sarah Bradford narrate her adventurous life, we share in the joys, sorrows, and challenges faced by this brave woman who changed the world through her courage.

Junie B. Jones
Friday, February 5 • 10 a.m.
Grades K-3

Outspoken, precocious, lovable Junie B. Jones stars in a colorful, funny, fast-paced musical about new friends, new glasses, sugar cookies, the annual kickball tournament, and other various first-grade angst-ridden situations. Follow her adventures as she writes down the story of her life in her “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal.”

The Little Engine that Could
Monday, February 22 • 10 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.
Grades K-2

In this well-loved classic featuring songs, dance and dazzling costumes, the Little Engine overcomes seemingly impossible odds to carry a train full of toys over an imposing mountain. The Little Engine That Could is an entertaining and inspirational favorite that offers a valuable lesson about the power of optimism.

Romeo & Juliet
The Acting Company
Friday, March 5 • 9:45 a.m.
Grades 9-12

Shakespeare’s iconic romantic tragedy of innocent young lovers falling victim to family hatred and cruel destiny... swords clash, everlasting love is promised, and a treacherous sleeping potion is swallowed in the greatest love story of all time. Young love has never been so delightful or as dangerous as in this stirring new production.

Nobody’s Perfect
Monday, March 22 • 10 a.m.
Grades 3-7

Based on the children’s book by Academy Award® winner Marlee Matlin (Best Actress, Children of a Lesser God) and Doug Cooney, this touching new musical—simultaneously performed in spoken English and American Sign Language—is an important reminder that despite first impressions, nobody’s perfect.

More information about all of these shows is available on the Class Acts website.

Interview with Dr. Heini Halberstam, Kindertransport Traveler

Interview with Dr. Heini Halberstam, a retired faculty member of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. As a child, Dr. Halberstam traveled from former Czechoslovakia to England on the Kindertransport, an organized movement of nearly 10,000 Jewish children out of Nazi territories before World War II. Dr. Halberstam joined us for a post-show discussion following the performances of My Heart in a Suitcase on March 30, 2009. This interview may further help audience members understand his experiences.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Memorable Class Acts Event

On Tuesday, March 24, middle school students attended My Heart in a Suitcase, a play by ArtsPower Touring Theatre. Based on a memoir written by Anne Lehman Fox, My Heart in a Suitcase portrays the story of one Jewish family’s experience living in pre-WWII Germany. Anne’s parents ultimately had to make the choice to send her to safety in England. Through the Kindertransport program, Anne was able to escape the fate of her parents and other Jews living in Nazi-occupied territories.

As an epilogue to Sangamon Auditorium’s presentation of the play, Dr. Heini Halberstam of Urbana, a Kindertransport traveler himself, spoke briefly to the audience about his experiences. Whereas the play mostly only led up to the time of Anne’s travels on the Kindertransport, Dr. Halberstam was able to fill in the gaps about what happened afterward and share bits and pieces about his own experience on the Kindertransport train and afterwards.
We have received some great feedback from teachers and students who attended this powerful performance:

Teacher - "Took my class to see the show today, and they LOVED it!!...They sat silently watching the entire show-AMAZING!! The interview afterward was also very interesting, we all enjoyed it! Thanks!"

Teacher – “This show has to be one of the best performances I have seen at Sangamon. I could barely fight back the emotions! To be able to get your audience so engrossed in such a short amount of time was powerful. Even our younger students (who had not been studying this topic) were able to understand and fully grasp the concept.”

Student – “The best show I've seen there.”

Teacher – “Most students thought the performance was really great. They loved the story and way it was presented. They liked the dramatic effects. Many commented that they really liked the fact that the professor was there to tell his own story after the performance. They talked about the performance for a couple of days. Impressive!”

Student – “I couldn’t help it, I cried.”
Teacher – “As an adult I was moved emotionally. My students realized that was the last time she'd see her parents and it helped them realize what the Holocaust meant to families.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Class Acts performance open to the public

Sangamon Auditorium, UIS will host a special public performance of My Heart in a Suitcase on Tuesday, March 24, at 12:15 p.m. The daytime Class Acts performances are normally only open to area students and teachers who come on field trips, but Sangamon Auditorium has decided to open this performance to anyone who would like to attend. Although this play was designed for student audiences, the historical and educational content of this presentation make it particularly interesting to many community members.

Based on actual events chronicled by Anne Lehmann Fox in her book My Heart in a Suitcase, this play tells the story of a young Jewish girl named Anne living in Berlin in the 1930s. Following the Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”), Anne’s parents no longer feel safe and realize that in order to protect their daughter, they may have to send her away. During these events Anne struggles to bring meaning out of despair and cling to love and hope in a world that seems to be filled with hatred and violence. A video including interviews with author Anne Lehmann Fox and members of the cast is available online at our website.

The one-hour performance will conclude with a 15-minute question and answer session with Dr. Heini Halberstam, a retired faculty member of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. As a child, Dr. Halberstam traveled from former Czechoslovakia to England on the Kindertransport, an organized movement of nearly 10,000 Jewish children out of Nazi territories before World War II.(Dr. Heini Halberstam with the cast of My Heart in a Suitcase from a performance at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.)

Tickets are $5.50 and can be purchased the day of the performance at the Sangamon Auditorium Ticket Office. Plenty of tickets are available, so it is not necessary to purchase tickets in advance; however tickets may be purchased over the phone by calling the Sangamon Auditorium Ticket Office at 217.206.6160 or 800.207.6960. All phone orders are assessed a $3 processing fee.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Memorable Evening with Susan Werner

I’d long anticipated having Susan Werner in Springfield and Friday’s concert in the Studio Theatre more than fulfilled my expectations. The cabaret setting helped create an appropriate intimacy for the small and engaged audience.

Susan confided to Friday’s audience that she seems to have recently fallen into a pattern of working on “concept” projects, specifically citing her 2007 release, “The Gospel Truth”, hailed as quite possibly the “first agnostic gospel album.” I have been intrigued by this project since first hearing of it in 2007, and was delighted to hear her perform quite a few of the selections live on Friday night. One of my personal new favorites became “Sunday Morning,” a poignant memory of attending Sunday morning church services as a child.

In addition to selections from “The Gospel Truth,” we were also treated to selections from her new February release, “Classics,” which is a collection of new arrangements of pop songwriter tunes from the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, Susan performed an assortment of comic songs that are quintessential to a Susan Werner concert, including “When They Make the Movie of My Life”:

When they make the movie of my life
I hope they get somebody beautiful to play me
Somebody eloquent and beautiful to play me
When they make the movie of my life

The song goes on to describe all the burdensome sacrifice of this life:

And everyone will see
How hard it's been for me
How much I've overcome
To be someone
Deserving of a motion picture

But the singer ultimately realizes that her life is no more special than anyone else’s and the song ends (humorously) as follows:

And everyone will see
My mediocrity
How I deserve to be
Forgotten just like everybody else
So please don't make a movie of my life
Don't make a musical or write me into fiction
I don't deserve any portrayal or depiction
Please just let me live my little
Very very very little

To add local flavor to the event, Susan and cellist Julia Biber added mention of Abe Lincoln and …yes…even Rod Blagojevich, creating a tongue-in-cheek “newly-commissioned” (that is to say, “made-up-on-the-spot”) modern musical piece about our fallen governor. Susan herself currently makes Chicago her home, so there is no doubt our capital city happenings are a little more familiar to her than they would be to an East or West Coast artist.

Susan’s closing piece in her encore was a touching song about her own experience in Chicago’s Grant Park on the night of the 2008 national election. I hope we hear more of this song; I doubt it has yet been recorded or released.

I have heard it said several times in recent years that one of the primary reasons many patrons choose to attend arts events is to spend time with people they care about. I attended Susan Werner’s concert with two close friends with whom I’ve enjoyed many “girls’ nights” over the past several years. Many of my memories of the evening will stem from our conversations before and after the concert and at intermission, yet the concert itself really framed the gathering and sparked much of that conversation.

Did you meet someone important in your life at an arts event? Have a particularly memorable date at an arts event with the person who eventually became your spouse? Did a performance you’d seen inspire a memorable discussion with a person you care about? Have you ever surprised someone important to you with tickets to an arts event? I think these are some of the most significant functions an arts event can serve for its patrons.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Private Lesson...with Wynton Marsalis!

Think of your favorite entertainer. For many, there is an artist, actor or musician that in one way or another has had a positive affect on your life or someone you know. You have probably wondered, what would happen if I ever had the chance to meet this individual? What would they be like? What would I say? What if they called me up on stage?

My mother would just die if she ever had the opportunity to meet Barbara Streisand. I would probably become speechless if given the chance to meet Stevie Wonder or Allison Kraus. Having been in the business of presenting artists, I have met a few. Sometimes, as you would suspect, expectations are not always met and sometimes, sometimes…expectations are far exceeded. So was the case this past Saturday evening following the Auditorium’s performance of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis.

Being a “jazzer,” I have often wondered what Wynton Marsalis would be like in person. Musically, few are more respected. The man has played such an important role in the preservation of one of America’s proudest artistic achievements – jazz. As the Smithsonian Jazz Appreciation Month poster in my office reads – Born in America. Enjoyed worldwide. Wynton Marsalis has played no small part in that statement. But what is he like at the coffee shop or after the show? We’ll, just ask DaRon Fanniel.

Post show Saturday evening presented an opportunity for Wynton Marsalis to meet with a small group of individuals – sponsors, family and friends of the artist, etc. At Karen Lynne Deal’s request (Music Director of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra), Bob Vaughn and Auditorium staff were able to arrange for DaRon Fanniel, a local young man, age 12, with trumpeting aspirations, to meet Mr. Marsalis as well. The meeting of the pair couldn’t have been sweeter. As a bystander, I was very impressed that Wynton took time to ask the young man if he practiced, if he got good grades in school and shared that a good musician has to be a smart musician. After a few minutes of conversation Wynton said, “Did you bring your horn? Is it in the car? Go get it, were going to have a lesson.” The young man and his mother went to fetch his horn and upon return Wynton took this young man, his mother, and others that were there with him, back to his dressing room for a private lesson.

Can you imagine? I was among the small group that was still in the reception area outside the dressing room. Scales were practiced, knowledge was shared and advice given. After about 20 minutes the lesson concluded and DaRon came out first to put his horn away. I asked him if the kids at school were going to believe his good fortune on Monday? He smiled and said, “probably not.” “It’s a good thing you have pictures,” I replied with a smile.

This scenario, though unique to DaRon, is one that plays out night after night. As the rest of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra musicians retire back to the hotel or the bus, Wynton Marsalis often stays behind to greet those that await the opportunity to meet him or give a short lesson to an aspiring musician that was just lucky enough to have his horn in the car.

The scene has left me to wonder why does he do it? Such dedication is a sign that he loves what he does and knows that music education positively affects young lives. It did mine. His kindness was something I’m glad to have witnessed and will not soon forget.

Though the before mentioned was the highlight of my evening, the show could not have been better. Pulling from the orchestra’s extensive repertoire (they travel with an archivist that oversees 3000 some odd charts that can be called at any moment) the evening featured a heavy dose of T. S Monk inspired pieces and arrangements that left many saying it was the best show they had seen yet at Sangamon Auditorium, UIS.