Together, Despite It All

Watch an update from executive director Brooke Horejsi, or scroll down to read the message.

Remember what experiencing live performance, in the moment, gathered with others, felt like?  I do and I miss it.  I miss the anticipation, I miss the moments of shared laughter, awe, tears, discomfort, stunned inspiration.  I miss losing myself in the show, while knowing that you are all there, with me.  The unique together-alone of live performance.

We haven’t been together-alone for months now.  Longer than I think any of us originally anticipated.  Certainly, longer than any of us would like.  Yet, we have been together, despite the first COVID disruption back in March.  We came together to postpone and reschedule.   Then the creative community came together, despite the limitations of quarantine, to share their talents, culture, and ideas with audiences on line.  Then, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many before them, demanded we come together, despite the pandemic.  To speak and to act against racism.  To stand in solidarity with communities of color, to shout BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Last week, we came together for our first virtual fundraiser, despite the continued uncertainty. We gathered virtually to look to the future, to evolve how we serve our community and support artists and to declare that free does not feed.  Art, artists, and art organizations have worth.

As the launch of our 20/21 season is just around the corner, we’ll come together, despite the challenges.  We may not be able to gather, shoulder to shoulder, like we did before, but UtahPresents is still here, and we are still passionate about the role that creativity plays in making our lives vibrant and valuable, especially during a pandemic.  We are still here, figuring out how to create these connections, how to bring all of us together, despite our darkened theaters.

I’m excited to share with you the plans for how we’ll be together – particularly because for some, the virtual space will open up possibility for participation and engagement, in a way that physical gathering sometimes can’t.

Now, no matter where you are, or whether or not you’ve showered that day, you can join us to meet the Russian activist, member of feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot, author, and protest artist Nadya Tolokonnikova!  You can see her up close, from the best seat in your house.

The conversation between Nadya and KRCL’s Lara Jones, host of RadioActive, is now happening on October 15th at 7pm.  All you have to do is register for a free ticket to get the details.  If you want an even more unique experience, and to support UtahPresents’ work to connect the changemakers of the future, our students, with artists like Nadya, donate to gain access to our first ever Virtual Book Club.  Then, grab your copy of Read and Riot and join us on October 8th for a more intimate chat with Nadya and others about the book.

Or, maybe in years past you haven’t acted quickly enough to nab a ticket to the sell out TEDxSaltLakeCity?  Now, because we’ll be together virtually, we’ll have enough spots for everyone!  Join us on September 19th from the back porch, or the kitchen island, or your favorite chair to hear “ideas worth spreading” about (Un)conventional Wisdom from local speakers and performers.

Maybe you were going to be out of town in November when UtahPresents is welcoming Dancing Earth Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations to our community?  No matter now – you can join us for their cutting edge performance piece Between Underground and Skyworld from anywhere. Created by the next generation of indigenous superheroes, BTW US Cyberspace creates an exciting new vision for what online performance can be. Now reimagined as an interactive mini-series of dynamic episodes, the story will culminate in a live, virtual performance followed by an interactive Reflection Pool with the dancers on November 20.

If you are wondering about other shows, particularly the ones that despite best efforts, just really need that in person togetherness, check your email in box, or our website, or social media posts for updates.  We’ll be working on everything and keep you in the know as we figure it out.

We are all anxious to be together-alone in the theater with one another again, and we know that artists will keep exploring complex issues, imagining different perspectives, and inspiring awe. And UtahPresents will continue to be at the leading edge of curating and connecting you with that work.

We’ll be together, despite it all.

COVID update

Dear Patrons

As we move into welcoming patrons back into Kingsbury Hall, we want you to know that our main goal is the health and safety for patrons, artists, and staff and we are in the process of developing policies and procedures.  We anticipate more specific guidelines and information from the government and University of Utah will be available in July and will do another website update by August 1.  We are not scheduled to have patrons in Kingsbury Hall until September 2020. If you have any questions at this time, please contact for more information.

Message from Executive Director Brooke Horejsi

A message from Executive Director Brooke Horejsi:

In response to domestic coronavirus developments, the University of Utah is cancelling large-scale university gatherings of 100 people or more, effective now through the end of the spring term in April. As a result, UtahPresents must cancel all performances in that date range.

Currently, this includes:
Air Play on March 14 – rescheduled for Sept 11
Phantom Limb on March 20 – rescheduled for Jan 15
Meklit on March 27
The Origin of Love: The Songs and Stories of Hedwig John Cameron Mitchell on April 3 – rescheduled for Oct 30
Across the Prairie by University of Utah Youth Theater on April 10-11
Rigoletto on April 17-18

We appreciate your patience as we work through this significantly difficult situation. We are urgently working with the artists to reschedule performances for future dates and will share that new date and exchange information as soon as it is available. As cancellations of performances and gatherings become more widespread in the wake of COVID-19, the financial impact on artists and presenters around the world is becoming a harsh reality.

We know that this news may be a great disappointment to many, as it is for us. You can also stay connected to us by visiting our website at or following us on Facebook, Instagram (@utahpresents) or Twitter (@utahpresents).

Please note that our physical box office at Kingsbury Hall is closed for in-person service until further notice. Phones and email will be answered from 10AM – 5PM Monday through Friday, and we will be working diligently to address patron questions and concerns. Please click on individual events for specific information on rescheduled dates, cancellations, etc. We appreciate your patience as we navigate this evolving situation.

Thank you for your continued support and understanding, please stay healthy and safe during this challenging time.

Brooke Horejsi
Executive Director, UtahPresents

In the Artist’s Voice: Vietnam…through my lens

Welcome to our new blog series, In the Artist’s Voice – a conversation with artists from our season, highlighting their work and their careers in their own words.

The first in the series features the creators of the upcoming one-man show Vietnam…through my lens. We spoke to writer, actor and Vietnam veteran Stu Richel, along with the show’s director Linda Nelson about their inspiration for the show, what audiences can expect, and their careers in the arts. See more about both artists at the bottom of the page.


STU: So, I’m outside, freezing my butt off, having a cigar and a beer, and sharing thoughts with Michael Kosch, a friend and classical composer.  That was 2011.  A Christmas party at the home of Alex Roe, Artistic Director of the Metropolitan Playhouse in Greenwich Village.  The subject of Vietnam came up.  Don’t remember how.  I recalled the cascade of emotions that I felt on the day I was to leave Vietnam.  Nervousness, because it wasn’t yet over.  Silence as we boarded the plane, because “things” could still happen.  And then, after the plane had taken off, a stewardess announced that this was “Flight G2 B4.  Our destination… Travis Air Force Base, California, USA!”  We cheered.  We applauded.  There was an overwhelming feeling of relief, pride, pure joy.  We were going back, to the place we called “The World.”  We were going home.

Michael was touched.  “Hey, you’ve got to put that down on paper,” he said.  Yeah, right.

The following year, same party, different cigar, more beer, a few more memories.  Again, Michael pushed.  “You’ve got to put these down.  It’s important.”  I guess I still didn’t think so.

Third year.  Different party.  More stories.  More “push” from Michael and actor/director Michael Hardart.  “Okay,” I said.

“I’ll try.”  I suppose I had needed some assurance that I had enough to say.  Beyond that, I had to feel confident that the show would not be just a vanity piece, that the material had some intrinsic value.

As the process of writing began…and goes on…so, too, has a good bit of soul searching.  Are my words honest?  How accurate is my memory, after fifty years or so?  Why did I make some of the choices an audience hears about in the show?  Do I think this play can be a meaningful part of the body of literature addressing the Vietnam War?  Have I shown proper respect for the courage of so many who went over there, so many who were at far greater risk than I?  And, of course, will people just plain enjoy the show?

So far, so good.


LINDA: In 2014 Stu came to me with a couple dozen essays and scenes that he had written about his experiences in Vietnam and how it shaped his life. Problem was, they were all disconnected writings and he wanted to shape them into a play. So he hired me as a dramaturge. It has been so rewarding collaborating with him on this play and I was excited by the project from the beginning. As a dramaturge my focus was on structure and helping Stu build connective tissue between the scenes. Now, don’t misread this, the writing is 100% Stu. I just helped to guide. After he had a play, we produced a very successful reading and at that point he asked me to extend my role from dramaturge to director and producer. I agreed, but only on the condition that he would agree to allowing me to hire Film Maker and video genius, Michael Lee Stever to add a visual component. After all, Stu was a photojournalist in Vietnam and he had all these great shots that he took during his service. It only seemed natural to share the photos with the audience. We produced the show in NYC to rave reviews and then decided it was time to take it on the road. We’ve been touring ever since and here we are!




STU: A series of heartfelt stories, punctuated by compelling photographs and videos.  The odd path by which I ended up in Vietnam, what I did there, and how that experience has colored my life.  On another level, though, the stories are about people I’ve met along the way…to, through, and beyond my time in Vietnam.  The audience meets a B-52 pilot whose plane was hit by a SAM missile while on a bombing mission over North Vietnam, a priest who served as an Army chaplain in Vietnamand was awarded a Silver Star for valor, a restaurant owner who honors vets in uniform, a spy (!) and a host of other, colorful people.

Some of the stories are funny, some have a touch of drama, and still others are rather poignant.  All are told by a fellow who is proud to have served.

No gore.  No slide show.  No politics.  No military connection needed.  A show for those who simply love good theater.

Folks will see a lot characters on stage, but only one person.  During the course of the show, I play about a dozen, different people.  Theatergoers enjoy the range of accents, voices and mannerisms.

Both men and women enjoy the show.  Young adults, as well as older folks, will get attached to the show within minutes…and there they will stay…absorbed.


LINDA: I think Stu covered this, but this is a play, not a slideshow, not a lecture, a play. You will meet a number of characters along the way, and Stu will share his personal story with you. It is sincere, real, funny at times, and very moving. It’s the story of a young man coming of age in a difficult time in our nation’s history.




STU: Have always had an interest in the arts.  Initially, though, I did not see the arts as a profession for me.  For seventeen years,  I practiced law.  On the side, I began to perform in community theater productions.  Taught some college courses.  Taught and performed in prisons.  My amateur, acting work grew into professional work on stage and on camera.  Then came the gradual realization that I no longer wanted to practice law.  In the mid-1980s, I abandoned The Law and “jumped off a cliff”…into the arts world.  Became a Development Director and Resident Playwright of Northside Theatre Company, a small theater in San Jose, California.  Eventually, I grew “itchy” in San Jose and, heeding the advice of a friend, moved to New York City to “take a shot at it.”  Have been giving it a shot for over twenty years now.  Wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.


LINDA: Well… I started in theatre at the ripe old age of 8 years old when my Fourth Grade Teacher cast me in the lead role of a Halloween Play.. as an unhappy bat. I jumped on that stage and never looked back. That led to more school plays, Community Theatre, Summer Stock and majoring in Theatre Arts in College. I did a lot of technical theatre along the way and eventually focused on directing. I’ve never really known any other way of life. And all of it started right here in Utah. Even though I have lived in NYC for more the half my life, I will always be a Utahan, born and raised in Ogden, then headed to Cedar City to get my degree at SUU, and spent a few years here in SLC before moving on to NYC, working at several theatres such as Salt Lake Acting Company and Theatre 138 before it closed its doors. I sincerely owe so much to the teachers who nurtured my talent along the way and gave me the education and confidence to continue my dream. Teachers like my drama coach at Ogden High, Ruth Darrington, and my debate coach, Doug Threlkeld, then at SUU the legendary Fred Adams, and R. Scott Phillips, Gary MacIntrye, and so many others that believed in me and taught me to believe in myself. I wish I could go back in time and thank that Fourth Grade Teacher, Faye Brown, who started me on this path.  I’ve been fortune to continue working as an actor, mostly on stage but occasionally film or TV including a guest spot on “Orange Is The New Black” and a new Indy Short “Lipstick Ladies”. As a director, dramaturge, and producer, I’ve worked on projects as small as private readings, to as large as producing an opera at the Nation Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, which was televised throughout Eastern Europe. I never could have stayed in the arts without the foundation from those teachers I mentioned, but more importantly, without my incredibly supportive family back here in Utah. They have always believed in me and have never given up on me, even in the craziest of times. And I am so very thrilled that they will be in the audience at Kingsbury Hall with a couple dozens amazing friends. It means the world to me that Utah Presents and the University are allowing me to bring this show to my home turf!




STU: If you have a passion for the arts, find a way to make that passion a part of your life.

Wherever you settle geographically, find outlets for your passion.  Volunteer, take small paying jobs, network…do things that will create opportunities and increase your circle of associates who create and foster opportunities for those in the arts.  Your familiarity with and use of technology and social media is important.  (My resistance to technology has not been helpful.)

If you think about moving to New York City, be prepared for very stiff competition, an environment that is rough and tumble,  and a burdensome cost of living.  Unless you have access to a pot full of cash, you will probably need to juggle at least one “day job” with your artistic pursuits.  Some people thrive in this environment.  Others manage to survive, as they develop their artistic skills and opportunities.


LINDA: I always say to other artists “Just JUMP!” It’s hard I won’t pretend that it isn’t. And there are millions of talented people out there fighting for their own shot. If you don’t push, work hard, and JUMP, you won’t survive. And don’t be afraid to collaborate. The Theatre Community is vast and can be your best support system as well as an invaluable resource for projects, ideas, and networking. And get training! An education is essential, not just in your field, but in other areas of the arts, history, social awaremess, politics, environment. A well rounded person is much more interesting to work with and is better prepared for anything the world can throw your way. So JUMP!


About the artists

STU RICHEL (Playwright & Actor) was an Army photographer and journalist with the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1969.  He was a draftee, who later volunteered for service in Vietnam.  He is a Life Member of American Legion Post 0581 in Manhattan and Veterans of Foreign War Post 5195 in Brooklyn. Stu has been a professional performer for over twenty-five years, with appearances on stage and on camera.  He has appeared in over twenty, feature films and on a host of TV shows.  He played a rich guy in a scene with Damian Lewis on “Billions”, a “suit” in a scene with Alec Baldwin on “30 Rock”, a priest in a scene with Giancarlo Esposito on “The Get Down,” a lonely guy in a new episode of “What Would You Do” on ABC TV, Jacqueline Bisset’s husband in “Death in Love”, and Blythe Danner’s husband in “Gypsy”, among other appearances.  He has appeared in Off Broadway, Regional and other, New York City theater productions.  Stu is a member of Actors Equity Association and SAG/AFTRA.  He has written and toured four (solo) shows.  He has written other “full cast” shows that have been produced on California stages.


LINDA S. NELSON (Director & Dramaturge) is also an actor and producer. New York directing credits include Toast, Boast or Roast – A Tribute to Austin Pendleton featuring Olympia Dukakis, Louis Zorich, F. Murray Abraham, Dylan Baker and Becky Ann Baker at the Players Club (Oberon Theatre Ensemble); Missa Solemnis or The Play About Henry by Roman Feeser (World Premiere, Tour, The Barrow Group Theatre, Downtown Urban Theatre Festival and Winterfest); The Necessary Disposal by Bob Ost (Scripts Up!); The Choice by Claire Luckham (Shotgun Productions, North American Premiere); Three Tenors in Search of an Act (Helen’s Cabaret, Backstage Bistro Award Winner); Tongue of a Bird (The Medicine Show); and two interactive murder mysteries The Art of Murder and Delicious Death, both of which she co-wrote.  Founder of Shotgun Productions, she served as its Producing Director for 19 years and produced theatre, dance, opera and classical concerts throughout New York, New Jersey and in Europe.  As an actor, Ms. Nelson has been seen Off Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, Regional Theatre, Film and Television.  She is a member of SSDC, SAG-AFTRA, AEA, NJ Rep, Oberon Theatre Ensemble, and TRU, and is a CTI Graduate.  She served on the Board of Directors of Boomerang Theatre Company (2010-11) and currently serves on the Board of Directors for New York Innovative Theatre Foundation (NYIT) (2011-Present).



By Sheri Jardine
This Article originally appeared in @TheU 

AXIS Dance Company’s artistic director, Marc Brew, uses a wheelchair. He is also an acclaimed dancer and choreographer, with a vision for changing the way dance is perceived by both disabled and non-disabled audiences.

In a story in the Miami Herald, Marc describes his journey of continuing to dance after a life-changing accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, finding ways to eliminate perceived restrictions and incorporate new movements to continue to create and share artistry through dance.

“People with disabilities are often shunted aside by the societies in which we live—ignored, discriminated against, or barely tolerated,” Brew writes in the story. “Today though many of us have forged new movements, new ways of living, finding in our commonalities and our differences a strength that begins to change the world. That has been my experience, and in my work as a dancer and a choreographer, I have tried to express the best of who I am, of who we are, and find the beauty in the challenges we face.”

Brew was named artistic director of AXIS Dance Company in 2017, bringing more than 20 years of experience to the nation’s most acclaimed ensemble of disabled and non-disabled performers. The company, founded in 1987, burst onto the dance scene with a commission by acclaimed choreographer Bill T. Jones. They have toured through the US, Europe, Israel and Russia. Through live performances through the US, Europe, Russia and Israel, in addition to multiple appearances on “So You Think You Can Dance,” AXIS has introduced integrated dance to millions of people worldwide.

As part of its mission to bring diverse artistic and cultural experiences to Salt Lake City and the U campus, UtahPresents, in partnership with the School of Dance and the Disability Studies Program, is bringing AXIS Dance Company to campus for a week of classes and workshops, culminating in a public performance on Friday, Nov. 8.

“The visit by the highly acclaimed AXIS Dance Company offers an amazing opportunity to experience the artistic and creative possibilities generated by diverse bodies in performance,” said Angela Smith, director of the Disability Studies Initiative. “AXIS’s dynamic performances transform the norms and boundaries of dance and movement, highlighting the creative and disruptive power of disability culture and art.”

During the company’s time on campus, Brew and the company’s dancers will conduct classes and workshops for students from a wide variety of disciplines, including dance, interdisciplinary teaching methods and special education, and will perform a matinee at Kingsbury Hall for over 1,700 fifth and 12th grade students from schools across the Wasatch Front. The company will also work with students and teachers at Jordan Valley School in Midvale, through support from the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program.  And, in conjunction with Jordan Valley School and Tanner Dance’s Disabilities Creative Dance Classes, AXIS dancers will teach three classes to dance students with disabilities ranging in age from 5 years old to adults.

“By bringing AXIS to Salt Lake, we are providing opportunities for people with and without disabilities to see disability represented in a new way through dance,” said Robin Wilks-Dunn, community engagement manager at UtahPresents. “Having the company on campus for a full week means we can impact and inspire over two thousand students and community members by seeing the beauty and creativity of differently abled performers.”

Tickets are still available for the public performance on Nov. 8 with discounts available for students, faculty and staff.

AXIS Dance Company at a glance

Date and time

Nov. 8 | 7:30 p.m.


Kingsbury Hall
1395 E. Presidents Circle


General: $20-$30
U faculty and staff: Save 10% with UCard
U students with UCard (Arts Pass): $5
All other students with valid student ID: $10

Click here for more information.

Kealoha and the Magic of Connecting Through Creativity

Kris Johnson

Written by Marina Gomberg | Photos by Melissa Kelsey 
This story originally appeared in Studio ’19, the official magazine of the University of Utah College of Fine Arts

When UtahPresents executive director, Brooke Horejsi, booked Hawaiian scientist-turned-slam-poet, Kealoha, she knew his visit would provide ample opportunities for collaboration on campus and in the community, but nothing could have prepared her for what would eventually transpire during the latter part of the fall 2018 semester.

In what would become the campus-based arts presenter’s longest artist visit in history (two full weeks), a single performer (with the support of his dedicated team) was able to connect with students, faculty, community members, incarcerated youth, young people, old people, poets, scientists, artists, and others.

As a proud Pacific Islander, artist, scientist, and educator who focuses on the importance of protecting our planet, Kealoha’s combination of interests, skills, backgrounds, and talents presented opportunities for connection so profound it was if they were served ona silver platter.

The brilliance and power of UtahPresents’ work, perhaps largely manifested by Horejsi’s duel appointment as the leader of the organization and also as an Assistant Dean in the University of Utah College of Fine Arts, is brought to life by its rich partnerships on campus and in the community.

It is often complicated, but it is always worth it. And the impact and complexity were not lost on Kealoha.

“Being able to talk to the Diversity Scholars, being able to talk to the climate change environmentalist crew, being able to branch out and go into the community and really interface with the students throughout Salt Lake City and beyond (and not just students but teachers), and getting to have that full experience getting completely integrated into the entire outreaching system — that’s no small feat to pull off by UtahPresents,” he said.

And he’s right. But UtahPresents didn’t do it alone, and Horejsi is quick to give credit where it’s due.

“As we sought partnerships with the U’s Sustainability Office and Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, and off-campus entities like Utah State University, a youth detention facility in Provo, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and others, we encountered nothing but enthusiasm,” Horejsi said. “In working with us, they shared financial investment, they brought new audiences, and they helped connect us deeply in our community.”

In addition to offering guided poetry workshops in public schools, coffee shops, and detention centers, Kealoha taught teaching workshops and facilitated an exercise with U environmental science researchers called The Think.

“I had read about this exercise that Kealoha had developed in San Francisco where he gathers a group with a common interest to find solutions to a given problem,” said Robin Wilks-Dunn, UtahPresents’ Community Engagement Manager, who led the efforts to coordinate the marathon of connection points. “I knew it would be perfect for campus, so I asked if he’d be willing to do it. And, of course, he was up for the challenge.”

Wilks-Dunn worked with Brenda Bowen, the U’s Director of Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC), to set up a lunch with faculty from various disciplines who all focus on sustainability.

“Kealoha immersed us in a scenario,” Bowen said. “And invited us to think through this particular problem, pulling from our various disciplinary perspectives. It was such a powerful experience that we already have plans to replicate it in an ongoing series here on campus.”

They weren’t the only group to be so moved. At a student matinee hosted in Kingsbury Hall with 14 schools, students from Mana Academy Charter School returned Kealoha’s effervescent performance with a unified call and response chant called “i ku maumau,” which is an ancient Hawaiian chant about unity and working together to accomplish a task. The moment was as powerful as it was profound.

Mikala Jordan, a graduate student studying City and Metropolitan Planning who attended Kealoha’s talk at the GCSC Speaker Series and his main performance at Kingsbury Hall, also shared the experience of being so moved.


“In the five years since I began studying climate change,” she said, “I never felt more encouraged in the collective power of people to make a difference as I felt after Kealoha’s performance.”

Kealoha’s visit changed people. Lots of people.

“Everyone who met Kealoha was just glued to him,” Horejsi described. “Even outside of when he was speaking his poetry — because he just has that magnetism, and I think a lot of artists have that. That’s part of how we train; we train to bring people in, and keep them interested in our explorations.”

After all was said and done, and leading up to his main performance on the stage of Kingsbury Hall, the UtahPresents’ staff had successfully facilitated connections with more than 1,700 people for a total of nearly 2,000 impact hours (the organization’s measurement of the number of people multiplied by the number of hours of engagement).

The folks at UtahPresents understand that what they do are generally revenue negative endeavors. That is, they don’t expect ticket sales to cover all the costs to pay performers what they’re worth, the productions, marketing, and hospitality. They fundraise and accept partnership funds to cover the gap because they aren’t trying to replicate a commercial model. Their priority isn’t money, it’s impact. (Although, it’s not bad when they can generate both.)

With a largely not-yet-known artist, they had only projected to sell 300 tickets. And much to their pleasant surprise, more than 800 people — perhaps making one of UtahPresents’ most diverse audiences — packed the theatre to attended Kealoha’s headline performance.

“For me, the reason why I enjoy doing outreach — I mean, the performance aspect, the art that we do is great…” Kealoha said. “But to actually go and interface with people and make an impact on their lives — that’s why we’re here. That’s part of being human.”

Carmen Inside Out

By Kate Mattingly

Opera. The word conjures images of ornate theaters where dramatic plots unfold with lavish sets and costumes.

What makes “Carmen Inside Out,” a new performance by Kirstin Chavez, distinct is that it reverses these clichés. Rather than distance her audiences from her performance, Chavez invites us to engage with Carmen as a human being. She literally places us onstage with her and a handful of props. A pianist is her only accompaniment, and the production is breath-taking. Suddenly opera is intimate and relevant: Carmen is not only charismatic and compassionate, she’s also one of us.

As a faculty member in the School of Dance, I teach courses in history and theory, and know very little about opera. “Carmen Inside Out” makes me want to learn everything I can about Georges Bizet and this iconic feminist. As Chavez said during the post-performance discussion, performing Carmen grants her entrée into a more confident character than herself, and she has learned a great deal from her. These insights added to Chavez’s tour de force: the performance itself was stellar, with Chavez singing, dancing, and seducing us. She has performed this role for close to two decades and has collected effusive reviews, like this one from Opera News:

 American mezzo Kirstin Chavez is the Carmen of a lifetime. With her dark, generous mezzo, earthy eroticism, volcanic spontaneity and smoldering charisma, Chavez has it all, including a superb command of French and a sense of humor. And she can dance, too. (Larry L. Lash, OPERA NEWS)

What makes Chavez appearance in the UtahPresents 2018-19 season stellar is that she condenses a four-act narrative into one hour and then invites us into a conversation about the challenges and freedoms she has discovered in this character. On Thursday night, Dr. Sarah Projansky, film and gender scholar at the U, moderated the post-show discussion and connected the vilification of strong women like Carmen to today’s news coverage that demonizes independent women. Playwright Kathleen Cahill, who wrote “Fatal Song” about the preponderance of female deaths in opera, enriched the conversation with her own insights: she described how painful it is to see one her characters “interpreted” in ways that destroy her intentions as their creator. Chavez echoed this sentiment when she recalled productions of Carmen that have distorted the title character’s vivacity and charm. In fact, both “Fatal Song” and “Carmen Inside Out” share a similar theme: they shed light on issues of women’s rights and question why a woman with integrity must die.

In a 2012 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, about 2 percent of adults in the United States who attend live performances go to opera. [for survey, see page 7:] I couldn’t help but think of this statistic as I watched “Carmen Inside Out:” if audiences knew how riveting opera could be, I imagine there would be many more fans. Undoubtedly much of the appeal of this show is Chavez herself: she not only embodies the strength and creativity of Carmen, she’s also knows how to make opera compelling, current, and captivating.

Kate Mattingly is an Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Utah.

Proactive Presenting With The Singing Bois

Don’t miss our 2018-2019 LGBTQ programming including Taylor Mac and Gina Chavez

This article by Jake Stepansky originally appeared in Inside Arts Fall 2018 issue.

Although it may come as a surprise to some,  — famous for Mormons and industrial banking — was the setting for a powerful lesson about equity, diversity and inclusion in the arts. “As with most communities that have a very strong dominant culture, there is then also a very strong counterculture,” says Brooke Horejsi, the assistant dean for Art and Creative Engagement in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah. “That very much exists [in Salt Lake City], and it’s growing.” Despite this vibrant counter-community of diversity, Horejsi says, “a lot of the cultural organizations and spaces that support cultural organizations were geared towards the small segment of the community that was very white and Western in their genre or the way they approach creativity.” More recently, that has started to change. Several years ago, Horejsi helped launch UtahPresents, a mission driven approach to multi-disciplinary work at the University of Utah. As its executive director, Horejsi has championed a programming ethos centered around “holding up and supporting a diverse range of artists and creative voices.” She has drawn from lessons learned and relationships built during her time as a member of the inaugural cohort of the APAP Leadership Fellows Program, even presenting a chunk of Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music after seeing the performer on an LFP cohort field trip.

It’s no surprise, then, that Horejsi found a kindred spirit in Beatrice Thomas, whose work as a multidisciplinary artist, cultural producer, consultant and agent for change centers on advancing representation for people of color and LGBTQ communities onstage and off. Born from this partnership was an exuberant and acclaimed presentation at UtahPresents of The Singing Bois, a “genderqueer pop group redefining the boy band as a space for anti-racist and feminist action.”

The Singing Bois are helmed by Bay area-based sound designer and performer T. Carlis Roberts, who spoke, along with Thomas and Horejsi, to a cadre of APAP members at an April webinar on equity and inclusion. The webinar was a part of a series curated by the Leadership Fellows Program in an effort to continue the conversations begun at the annual APAP conference in January 2018,and to explore the difficult and necessary work of creating artistic spaces that foster inclusivity in an authentic way.

For Roberts and the other founding members, creating The Singing Bois was an act of community-building as much as act of creative expression. “Being in very gendered music spaces and very binary spaces meant that parts of our identities or practice were falling on opposite sides of this binary or just not fitting in at all to those gendered frameworks,” says Roberts. “We came together in conversation and also started to share music with each another and figure out how we wanted to bring together these conversations with the music that we loved and wanted to create a bigger space for ourselves within.”

It was out of these conversations that The Singing Bois — a group of masculine-of-center artists (assigned female at birth, but living and presenting in masculine ways, shapes and forms) who perform soul, R&B, rock and pop covers and originals — developed a sizeable following in the Bay area. However, as the group attempted to expand its reach, the members ran into the institutional barriers and knowledge gaps that often face artists of color and LGBTQ artists.

That’s where Thomas came in. After developing a relationship with Roberts grounded in sharing industry best practices, Thomas connected Horejsi to The Singing Bois, who soon found themselves in Salt Lake City at the beginning of an extraordinary whirlwind of art-making and relationship building. Fortunately, Horejsiand the team at UtahPresents — which, remember, was just getting its sea legs at this point — had taken steps to ensure that the group would feel supported and prepared every step of the way.

“Knowing we had the upcoming programming with the Singing Bois, we very intentionally centered our [annual] staff retreat around a local organization that works around equity and inclusion,” Horejsi says. “It wasn’t because we had had something happen that we needed to resolve; it was because everyone needs to be engaging in those conversations. When you look at a team, the real challenge is that often the leader is engaging in those conversations about equity and inclusion, but my house managers or production managers — that’s not an everyday part of their world. Making sure that we intentionally brought the team together to have everyone be part of that conversations and learning was part of preparing [for the Singing Bois].And it’s an ongoing thing!”

Roberts makes it clear that this experience was special because of the proactiveness, not just the openness, of the UtahPresents team. “Something that we felt in a really powerful way that allowed us to hit the ground running doing better work in Utah was that there had been this proactive asking of us: What do you need? What do you prefer in terms of being addressed?,” Roberts explains. “[Proactiveness] is always what a presenter is thinking about, but maybe just more artistically and technically — but [they should be] actually extending that to the other needs artists might have entering this space. It’s great to be able to show up and just do my work and not worry about, you know, where do I go to use the bathroom, but actually to have someone say, ‘Here’s what the options are’ and that not even being something that I need to ask.”

The presentation at UtahPresents was a resounding success. In the coming months, Thomas and Roberts will be collaborating on the next chapter of The Singing Bois’ story. They’ve got their eyes set on a world tour, hoping to find massive and receptive audiences in Asia and beyond.

But that’s not the only goal. “We started off saying, ‘We’re going to bring conversation that’s happening about these issues in the Bay area outwards,’” says Roberts. “But we’ve been realizing that there’s actually a lot for us to take in about how these conversations are happening in local spaces. For us — both for audiences and for other artists — we’re looking forward to continuing to extend this queer and trans network that we are a part of here and that we are really working actively to build.” They — like the webinar series — are just looking to keep the conversation going.

Jake Stepansky is a theater-maker and arts advocate with a passion for making work that sands down boundaries between creator and audience. He recently graduated from Harvard University with a degree in psychology and theater, dance and media. He is the general manager of Forklift Danceworks in Austin, Texas.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR First, I have done my best in this article to summarize the key highlights from the Inclusion Without Boundaries webinar hosted by APAP in April 2018, but there is so much deeply important content in the discussion that I recommend readers listen to the entire webinar and many others at Webinar-Archives.

Second, you’ll notice that this article is packed with lengthy quotes — many more than I’d typically use. This is intentional. As a white cisgender male reporting a narrative that centers on artists of color and queer/trans artists, my goal is to use this platform to feature the voices of the thoughtful folks who led the webinar discussed in this article. As such, I’ve used direct transcriptions of the participants’ language as much as possible to centralize their voices and their telling.

Third, as I’ve reported on this story, I’ve been repeatedly confronted by my own privilege as a white cisgender male, not realizing the extent to which I was blind to the structural inequities of the presenting industry. That’s no excuse — but I put it out there as a wake-up call and a reminder to listen and to learn. I know that I’ll be taking the lessons I’ve learned from this webinar into my own work as an arts administrator — and I’m committed to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion mission of striving toward an inclusive, proactive and informed life.

Fourth and finally, take a minute to visit The Singing Bois at Watch one of their videos — or all of them, as I did. My favorite: Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours on kazoos. KAZOOS! And if you’re a presenter — in the U.S. or beyond — take a moment to consider how you might employ the lessons of this story to find artists who might be a part of your next season’s programming regardless of where you live in the country or in the world. — Jake Stepansky

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Krista Sorenson
Advisory Board Chair

Robert Mansfield
Advisory Board Vice Chair