This year we (the Hop’s senior interns and internship coordinator) have been learning about what arts administration looks like within the Hop. We wanted to see how the arts operate outside of Hanover, so we decided to take a capstone trip to New York City May 13-15 to explore the arts. We had the opportunity to meet with arts professionals at Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Jazz at the Lincoln Center, and Hamilton plus we got to see three Broadway shows: The Father, Hamilton and Tuck Everlasting. The first stop during our visit was Carnegie Hall, where we had lunch with Liz Mahler, its artistic administrator:
I had been to Carnegie Hall, both as an audience member and as a performer for various piano competitions in high school. But I had no idea what went on behind the scenes at the iconic world landmark for classical music. Speaking with Liz, I learned that unlike most other performance halls, Carnegie Hall never holds repeat performances for any artist in a season. I learned that for the large orchestras, particularly international ones like the Berlin Philharmoniker and the Concertgebouw, season planning begins three, even four years ahead of the current season.
It was truly fascinating to talk to her about how she transitioned from being a violinist for a good many years to working in arts administration, as this is something that I myself, as a pianist, have wondered. But to speak with her and glimpse the process—going from a pioneering artistic vision for a season to booking the artists at the highest level of the classical music world—was incredible. And since Carnegie Hall just had its 125th Anniversary Gala at the beginning of May, the glossy pamphlet that was in front of me featured classical giants such as Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Lang Lang and Renée Fleming. Lunch with Liz was a fascinating window into what arts administration is like on the world stage of Carnegie Hall.
Next we headed to the lobby of Carnegie Hall, where we were greeted by our tour guide, Michael Ness. He took us through the building’s renovation history, explaining that the building has gone through a few major overhauls since opening in 1891. We visited the “dress circle,” the level above which the audience does not have to be dressed up to see the show, and had the chance to walk out on the second tier of balcony seats. From this perspective we were able to see the beautifully curved contours of the concert hall. This curved geometry, in conjunction with carefully chosen construction materials, is what makes the hall able to project sound without any artificial amplification. It was a fascinating experience.
Then on to Lincoln Center, where we met with Jill Sternheimer, the director of public programming, who walked us through her role. With a great demonstration of passion for her job, she shared stories of a number of big annual outdoor productions which she oversees. Jill says she works to build a program that appeals to the full cultural spectrum of New York City. She takes great pride in the community building that takes place because of this goal.
After our conversation with Jill, we ventured one floor down in the Samuel B. and David Rose Building (the headquarters for the Lincoln Center and its constituent offices) to the New York City Ballet offices to meet with Sloane Bratter, manager of NYCB’s school programs. We meet in a lounge area with background music from a rehearsal going on nearby. Sloane is a New Yorker who discovered arts administration while in college. After she graduated, an opportunity opened up at the NYCB and eventually she wound up in their Education Department. During our time together she gave us an overview of their school programs, which go into the New York City public schools and work with grades 1-5. Their programs not only provide the students mobility in the classroom but are linked to literacy and artistic expression. Sloane also told us about a partnership between the NYCB and Columbia University to help children with cerebral palsy. The children attended a workshop with the professional dancers along with medical experts from Columbia. The kids, who are normally constricted by braces, were able to move about freely. NYCB’s programs emphasized the importance of the arts in education and self-expression.
That night, Friday, we saw the Broadway play The Father (with tickets generously provided by Hop Overseer Barry Grove ). After a delicious meal of vibrantly colorful, fresh, and delicious poke (the trendiest new raw fish dish around), The Father was quite the 180-degree turn. Somber, spartan and psychologically thrilling, The Father left all of us speechless. Told from the perspective of an elderly man with dementia, the audience sees a man forget what his daughter looks like, mistake a hospital for his apartment, and yearn for a daughter that died many years ago. Especially for those of us who know a family member struggling with these experiences, this dramatic representation of emotion was sobering.
On Saturday morning, we met with Simona Ferrara, Company Manager at Martha Graham Dance Company in one of their small conference rooms. I have to admit I was a little distracted by the other half of my delicious roast beef panini that I was finishing up from our brunch at a nearby coffee shop, but Simona get a few key points across. First she can only operate a few months of the year because of budgetary restrictions. Something I didn’t understand about the performing arts was that even near the highest level, organizations still run on a shoestring. Second, Simona has to run her life and the lives of her dancers around the whims of the dancer’s union. For Simona this means that dancers have limits on traveling, rest, pay, etc, which is good, considering the history of long hours or worse demanded by directors or company managers. However, why does Simona have to do so, while other dance companies do not? And moreover, why is there seemingly only one dancer’s union? Simona couldn’t answer all of my questions, especially when I asked them with certain panini-related complications, but I left with a mission to find out more.
On the heels of our conversation with Simona, we strode past (and held our noses at) Trump Tower right below Central Park and into Jazz at Lincoln Center. There to meet us was our energetic and sincere tour guide Shirley Zafirau. We got a tour of the main and recital stages, both of which were engineered and designed for jazz. Not to be overshadowed by our impending viewing of Hamilton, Shirley was an encyclopedia of jazz history and knowledge, and we learned that she would often listen to Miles Davis practicing in his garden. More highlights included a great view of Central Park, Curtis whispering on the main stage and us hearing him crystal clear, and getting a peek at WeBop, a children’s jazz education program.
On Saturday afternoon, we had the incredible opportunity to see a musical that has taken truly the nation by storm: Hamilton. It not only met and well exceeded my expectations, but actually open my eyes to a new world of musical genre capable of intermixing contemporary pop, rap, hip hop, and that quintessential sound that is Broadway. As Ben Brantley of The New York Times put it, “Yes, it really is that good.”
Hamilton is truly unlike any other Broadway show. It is definitely no wonder it’s sold out until 2017 (last I heard), given how phenomenal this show is. On the surface it seems quite, well, ordinary and boring. It is a biographical musical about Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, and is full of congressional cabinet meetings, political manipulations and of course, Revolutionary war battles.
But it is a story told of a simple man becoming one of America’s leaders, told through hip hop lyrics. You need not be a US history buff to enjoy this show. If you like witty humor, daring duels, seduction, rivalry, an underdog and non-stop action, you will most definitely enjoy it, and learn something along the way.
Kudos to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, lyrics, and book of Hamilton, as they are in a league of their own. Though we saw Javier Muñoz in the title role in this matinee, he was as convincing a Hamilton as I imagined Miranda to be. In addition to Munoz, the musical abilities of Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom, Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry really stood out and seemed likes roles written distinctly for them. I have to say though my favorite was the brief cameos by Jonathan Groff as an amazingly humorous if a bit out of touch King George!
I hadn’t listened to the soundtrack prior to seeing the show, but afterward, and still now two weeks later, I listen to it incessantly. The music is fresh, energetic, at times pure genius, and oh-so-catchy. In my opinion there was not a single slow-moving scene of the show. And among the show’s most striking, and moving, qualities is its mixed-race cast. Apparently Miranda wanted to represent America then as America is today—mixed—and I fully agree.
Hamilton is, among many other things, a story about scrappy young men and women, immigrants and heirs, soldiers and sons trying to forge their path in a new nation. The fast dialogue, accented rhythms and energetic scenes matched perfectly with the chaos that surrounded the birth of our nation, and our future now.
After seeing Hamilton, we were lucky enough to talk with Kaitlin Fine and Tim Pettolina, who are assistant company manager and house manger, respectively. Both talked about managing staffing and how they can’t open up Facebook or Twitter anymore because they are inundated with old friends who have recently come calling to get tickets. However, Ana Perdita ’09, who is a dresser for the show, said that the schedule was no crazier than other Broadway show—complete with impossible hours, no life and friends that want tickets. Ana does amazing work with Hamilton costumes of which there are at least four for each character. Dancers sweat through each set during the first and second acts, while the other two sets are being washed and ironed by an army of launderers. We also heard more about the role unions play in these productions, which raised further questions for me about their efficacy and fairness. In addition, Ana told us how working at the Hop led her to become a theater major and to her first job after graduating, and shared advice about life after leaving Dartmouth.
The final show we went to on our weekend was none other than Tuck Everlasting. Tuck takes on one of my favorite topics: time—or immortality, to be more specific. The Tuck family came across a magical spring blessing them with immortality. And it couldn’t have happened to a better family, as Angus and Mae Tuck are the kindest parents to Jesse and Miles Tuck, their young sons. However, over the course of a century this close family has stagnated as Miles and Jesse have gallivanted around the world, never aging, and Angus and Mae’s marriage has stood still.
Enter good-girl youngster Winnie Foster. In her maiden act of disobedience Winnie throws off her mother’s strict rules to run away to the wood behind her house, where she happens upon much, much older Jesse Tuck. The two become fast friends, and Jesse decides to introduce her to his secretive family. Not to give anything away, but Winnie is confronted with the choice to drink from the magical spring or remain mortal. What comes next is a story of decisions. Is immortality preferable or should we just live rich lives in the time we do have? Can marriages be renewed once they have fallen into 80-year-long ruts? You know, the typical questions asked of a fanciful, 11-year-old girl.
Winnie Foster, played by Sarah Charles Lewis, drives this fantasy wonderland, dancing, singing and laughing her way through the serious topic of inevitable mortality. Of course her fantasy wouldn’t be the same without the whole stage, set and lighting crew, which construct this majestic dreamscape. The stage was complete with climbable tree canopies, fog-laden ponds, and fanciful carnivals. But the most resonating figure of the story was Miles Tuck, played by Robert Lenzi, who captured the best and worst of a father stuck in time. His character’s wisdom, humor and care were profoundly the least magical items of the performance. And because of that, like the main theme of the play, his qualities can be emulated in non-magical lives as well.
In some ways Tuck Everlasting was a classic Broadway musical in style, storyline and archetype, but this show proves that classics are classic for a reason. For those who love questions of immortality, time and morality Tuck Everlasting is one for the books.