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March 2014 News

Monday, March 3, 2014
March 2014 News

On any given day in Varner Hall, there is so much going on that anyone walking the corridors will sense the hum of artistic industry. We would love to have you visit us, but if you can’t, follow this link to view a photo album that will give you some sense of a typical Day in the Life of OU Music, Theatre and Dance. We're only sorry we can’t bring you the accompanying sounds.

It was a special day when Avner Eisenberg, stage name Avner the Eccentric, was in town. Not only did he give a performance of his celebrated show "Exceptions to Gravity," he worked with our theatre students and he also dropped in to the Fox morning news studio downtown. You can view that appearance on Fox news here.

Some of those theatre students, along with their acting partners, took part in the recent Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions at the Region 3 Festival at Saginaw Valley State University. Stacey Fleming, Rachel Hull, Bianca Keitel, Nathan Larkins, Anna Marck, Lindsay Maron and Melissa Perry were all invited to compete based on a performance in a recent show. Of these, four moved on to participate in the semi-finals: Fleming, Keitel, Maron and Perry. Stacey Fleming, with her partner Colleen Miner, was passed on to the Region III Irene Ryan Finals and received the Selectors’ Award for Musical Theatre. Stacey was nominated to participate in the auditions from her role in our children’s theatre production of Anansi last spring. Three of our theatre design and technology students took part in the finals of the design presentations: Daniel Robinson for his lighting designs for both Dead Man’s Cell Phone and CARRIE, the musical; Kyle Blasius for his sound design of CARRIE, the musical; and Laura Gist in stage management, also for her work on CARRIE, the musical.

On the Saturday evening of the festival, Oakland University presented its production of CARRIE, the musical at the Temple Theatre in Saginaw as the final production of the festival. The response from the audience was extremely enthusiastic. After many laughs, gasps, and tears, the audience rewarded the cast with an immediate standing ovation.

In February, six theatre students and Karen Sheridan, professor of theatre, took a trip to the Wharton Center in East Lansing to hear stage and screen writer Tony Kushner (Angels in America, Lincoln) speak. At the end of the inspiring evening, they met Mr. Kushner and he spoke to each of them individually.

Two of our newly minted theatre alums made the transition to professional actors with amazing speed,  and this spring they are bringing their touring productions to Detroit. Buy your tickets now!  Emily Mitchell, (B.F.A. ‘13) is currently touring as Eva with the show Bring it On. You can catch Emily at the Fox Theatre in Detroit on April 5 and 6. View this video to see the fast-paced action of the show. Emily is the blonde dancer who is front and center.

Sam Rohloff
(B.F.A. ‘13) is on tour as Baby John in West Side Story. His show will be at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit between May 13 and 18. Visit the show’s video page here and see if you can spot Sam. The dance is so fast moving it's hard to be sure where he is, but the show certainly does look great.

Emily and Sam are just at the beginning of what we all believe will be exciting career, but Esau Pritchett, (B.A. ‘99) has been a New York-based working actor since graduation. He was an Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship, Kennedy Center Acting College Theater Festival National Winner in 1997. His reputation continues to grow and his most recent appearance, as Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s modern classic Fences at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, earned Esau this wonderful review in The New York Times. "Troy Maxson is embodied by Esau Pritchett in a potent and fearsome portrayal. His Troy contains multitudes — a principled laborer, a former criminal, an enamored husband, a womanizer — and makes those contradictions not just believable but undeniable. It’s a thrilling performance in a production that’s more ready to explore an angry man’s power than to serve a play’s poetry." Wow!

Another alum at the height of her powers is jazz violinist and artist-in-residence Regina Carter who returns to campus every winter to perform. In January she once again held the Varner audience spellbound with her virtuosity. She played a set with the OU Jazz Quartet, faculty Miles Brown, Sean Dobbins, Scott Gwinnell and Mark Stone, and then another with the quartet and the young musicians in the OU Chamber Orchestra, which is conducted by Alan McNair. During the concert Regina revealed that Alan had been her orchestra director when she was in high school at Cass Tech in Detroit. She told how he had helped her prepare for her very first summer camp at Interlochen, and she declared herself honored to be sharing a stage with him again and happy to feel things had come “full circle.” It was a very touching moment. You can see video of Regina playing with the OU Jazz Quartet on Fox morning news here.

Our music alums continue to do amazing work in classrooms around the country and we were reminded of that once again at the recent Michigan Music Conference in Grand Rapids, when both Kent Wattleworth (M.M. '02) and Julia Holt (M.M. '06) were elected to conduct the Michigan School Vocal Music Association State Honors Choirs in 2016. Julia writes, “I feel very honored and can't wait to make beautiful music with kids from all over the state!” Julia teaches in Utica Schools and Kent in Chippewa Valley. The 2015 MSVMA State Honors Men's Choir will be conducted by our own director of choral music, Associate Professor Mike Mitchell.

At OU, Mike conducts the Oakland Chorale, which performed last year at the American Choral Directors Association Michigan Conference. Their outstanding performance won them not one, but two standing ovations! Several of their recordings are available on iTunes and fans of choral music will want to seek them out. Find them here.

Playwright and theatre alum Franco Vitella (B.A. '09) opened a play on Friday, January 31 at the Abreact Performance Space in Detroit. It was a highly unusual and creative concept, which won him considerable attention. The play, which was called A Play by Franco Vitella! was well reviewed by EncoremichiganThe Detroit Free Press had a few more reservations, but a feature article by writer Andrea Daniel which ran in the Detroit News explains how intriguely experimental the idea of the play is, and such works are never quite to everyone’s taste! Bravo to Franco for creating a work that caused such a stir. It obviously struck a chord with area writers, perhaps because one of its themes was writer’s block!

We told you in the fall that dance alumna Alexis DeCapua-Collins was recognized as the Oakland University Outstanding Young Alumni for 2014 for her achievements in business, community service and volunteerism. The Oakland Press recently ran an article about Alexis’s success.

Lastly, we have faculty news and we begin with a timely Olympic story. Christina Tasco and Stephanie Pizzo, both of whom teach dance for our program, have been working with a diverse group of international skaters who train in the Detroit area, including US men’s national champion Jeremy Abbott and Canadian pairs skaters Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam who are OU students. You can read more about their work in this OU News article.

The Community Lifestyles newspaper in Rochester recently published an article about Jennifer Kincer Catallo, who teaches music for non-majors at OU. She also works in front of the camera in national commercials and movies, and runs a private voice studio. The article highlighted Jennifer's work with her private student Abbie Lane Isham, who recently appeared on the Detroit "American Idol" audition show, but also expanded on how Jennifer balances her career and her family life.

Assistant Professor Drake Dantzler spent several weeks this winter preparing to perform the tenor role Gerald in Lakmé at the Opera Theatre of the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with performances at the end of February and the beginning of March. Martile Rowland, Opera Theatre of the Rockies’ Artistic Director, said about Lakmé, “ . . . The soprano and tenor [have] very difficult tessituri … It takes intense vocal and acting ability to fulfill the enormous requirements of these roles.” You can see more details here. 

Most of us were not be able to make those performance, but everyone in the Detroit area will have a chance to hear Drake sing when the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and the Oakland Symphony Chorus perform Carmina Burana at Orchestra Hall on April 16. You can buy tickets for that event here.

It is also going to be easy to catch the performance of theatre instructor Mila Govich in the movie The Fault in Our Stars. We told you a few months ago that Mila had won a featured role in the high-profile movie based on the bestselling book by John Green. The official trailer is out. See it here!   And the release date is set. Coming to a theatre near you on June 6.

Finally, we want to draw your attention to an upcoming dance event that features the work of two of our current faculty, Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner of Take Root , as well as Professor Emerita Laurie Eisenhower. On Saturday, March 22 at 8 p.m., a performance at the Music Hall in Detroit will feature seven choreographers and their dancers (three from New York City and four from Detroit). They will present sizzling, cutting edge new dance work: Sonya Tayeh (well known from her work on “So You Think You Can Dance”) Ron DeJesus, Nicholas Leichter, Eisenhower Dance, Joori Jung, Take Root, and Bryan Strimpel. All tickets are $20.

On Sunday, March 23, Sonya Tayeh (10 a.m.) Bryan Strimpel (noon) and Ron DeJesus (2 p.m) will offer master classes onstage. The classes are $20 each or $50 for all three. No pre-registration is required and payment is accepted at the door. Students should plan to arrive early. What an amazing opportunity! Find more information here.

Top: Avner Eisenberg with theatre students at the workshop he gave.

Middle right: (front l-r) Luciana Piazza, Anna Marck, Aubrey Fink, Maggie Hinckley, Briana Fogleman, Sarah McEneaney;  (back l-r) Karen Sheridan and Tony Kushner.

Middle left: The cast of
Fences with director Phylicia Rashad (front row, far right) and McCarter artistic director Emily Mann (front row, second from the right). Esau is back row, far left.

Lower right: Julia Holt and Kent Wattleworth.