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Lights, cameras, commercials: Clemson performing arts staff and students find opportunities on television

[caption id="attachment_27433" align="alignright" width="259"]Clemson students on outdoor set Clemson students work on an outdoor set. Images courtesy of Lingo Films and Skyline Post (click image for a larger view.)[/caption] by Thomas Hudgins Technical Director Matthew Leckenbusch and his students work all season long to bring sets to the Brooks Center stage for Clemson Players productions. But Leckenbusch also finds time for a different kind of production: commercials. Leckenbusch and some of his students have worked on a number of locally produced television advertisements. Many are for companies such as RIDGID tools and Jackson and Perkins, but he also worked on a project in support of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism. He got his start through connections at the Warehouse Theatre and has been involved in the field since 2013. He frequently works with Lingo Films and Skyline Post, Greenville-based production companies that are contracted to produce content and hire personnel for these projects. For each job, Leckenbusch will receive a call three weeks in advance of the film shoot. The sponsoring company will send him storyboards and other images, and, in return, he will send a quote and drafts of his ideas for the set. After the company approves both, Leckenbusch begins to build, incorporating any changes along the way. The shoots generally consist of one or two ten-hour days, though the parks department project was an exception. Leckenbusch spent two weeks traveling to more than 15 state parks as props master. Two teams of personnel covered ground to put together the advertisement for the department’s “Come Out and Play” campaign. For this shoot and for others, Leckenbusch serves as props master, overseeing tools and other props used during filming. He also keeps track of continuity, making sure the placement of materials and action on camera is consistent from shot to shot. “It’s a lot like theatre, only faster,” Leckenbusch said of the process, though there are some key departures from stagecraft. Unlike his work with the Clemson Players, Leckenbusch steps in at the end of the creative process rather than the beginning. He is also not responsible for building an entire theatrical world, but only what is within the “box” of the camera lens. “In theatre, I’m worried about masking parts of the set and the audience seeing something that’s not consistent,” Leckenbusch said. “In film, I’m only worried about what’s on screen. It doesn’t matter if the edge of the set isn’t finished, because it’s not in the shot.” The proximity of the viewer is also a factor. A theatrical set is meant to be seen from several to sometimes dozens of feet away. On film sets, cameras have to zoom in as close as a few inches. “I’m buying a little upper-scale molding for a film set, whereas, in theatre, I’m buying less expensive molding because the budget is different,” he said. “But I think the attention to detail is the same.” The commercials have ranged from exterior to interior shots, and from rooftop to crawlspace shots. Leckenbusch says the most challenging shoots, in regard to props, are those with sets that blend interior with exterior, such as window shots. These require plants and bushes to give the illusion of being truly outdoors. Regardless of the medium, both film and theatre set out to tell a story, even if that story is only 30 seconds long. “A set is a set,” Leckenbusch said. “It doesn’t matter who the audience is. The main idea is the same. My work is not the main focus, but it is part of the world. If the set doesn’t match everything else, it doesn’t work.” Leckenbusch said he enjoys the variety of these projects, and looks for ways to involve students. Jonathan Bull and Liz Haynes are two performing arts students who have participated in several of these commercials. Haynes has assisted Leckenbusch in tasks ranging from mixing five-gallon buckets of fake snow to repairing molding. She said it has been eye opening to be on the other side of a commercial. “We work hard on the set for days, make last minute changes, and the shot may only be a total of a few seconds of screen time,” she said. “We have even sprinkled dust in just the right pattern around a tool. It’s a different thought process than theatre, but it uses the same skillset.” And getting to see her handiwork onscreen is an added bonus: “It is so cool to not only get to see how it all happens, but to be a part of it. It’s fun to see a commercial I worked on and tell my mom, ‘I built part of that room,’ or ‘I’m sitting right off camera with a spray can of haze.’” As film production continues to expand throughout Georgia and the Carolinas, Leckenbusch and his students will keep pursuing new and exciting film opportunities. So the next time you turn on your television, stick around for the commercials. You never know when you will catch a glimpse of their work. View a RIDGID Tool commercial that includes set work by Clemson staff and students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMyhUTzxspA Image above: Clemson student Liz Haynes works on a commercial set. Thomas Hudgins is director of marketing and communications for the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts in Clemson.

Thomas Hudgins

Brooks Center director receives National Endowment for the Arts grant

From Clemson University -- The Newstand Article by Kathy Elrick

Mickey HarderLillian “Mickey” Utsey Harder has been awarded an Arts Engagement in American Communities grant of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This grant will be matched by an equal amount of $10,000 from private donors for a total of $20,000. Harder is director of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts and professor of music. She is using the funds to support the Utsey Chamber Music Series at the Brooks Center — a series well known for three decades of community outreach through free chamber music concerts. Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said, “I’m pleased to be able to share the news of this award to Lillian Harder for the Utsey Chamber Music Series. In each community, the arts have the power to create new avenues for economic health and physical vibrancy, and for people to feel a sense of pride in their locality. This grant demonstrates this power and affirms that the arts are part of our everyday lives.” The NEA is the federal agency that supports and funds the arts, with programs and funding that supports thousands of activities in communities large and small across the country, including about 30,000 performances and 3,000 exhibitions annually. Harder initially started the Utsey Chamber Music Series as an endowment to honor her parents, Lillian and Robert Utsey, and their love of chamber music. The two goals of the series are to bring up-and-coming musicians to Clemson and to make the concerts free to all. Now in its 30th season, the Utsey Chamber Music Series is synonymous with world-class performances, and the series and its performers are committed to making cultural programs available to people of all ages and socio-economic levels. In collaboration with Clemson University, the Utsey Chamber Music Series was awarded the prestigious Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award from the South Carolina Arts Commission in 2007. It was Harder’s second Verner award, the first coming in 2002. The Verner Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the arts for South Carolina and is the highest award given in the state for artistic achievement. Follow the Utsey Chamber Music Series and the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts on Facebook and @BrooksCenterCU.

Shifting Ground: Exhibition at Brooks Center showcases Clemson alumna

by Thomas Hudgins Hilary Siber HeadshotThe seeds of Hilary Siber’s love for art and landscape were planted early. As a child in Ohio, Siber remembers drawing trees and solving jigsaw puzzles. Flash-forward several years, and she found herself exercising those same artistic muscles pursuing a degree in architectural design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. “I was fortunate enough to work in the design field for several years after graduation,” Siber said, “but visual problem solving soon became a puzzle that pulled me toward creating fine art. I am forever challenged by the visual mode of communication. It seems to elude language while simultaneously creating a new one.” She enrolled in Clemson’s Master of Fine Arts program in the art department. There, she “began to understand that creating paintings is two-fold: I am putting a puzzle together while presenting one to my viewers.” Those artistic puzzles will be on display with her new exhibition, Shifting Ground, presented by the Clemson University Center for Visual Arts in the lobby of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts this fall, from Tuesday, September 8, through Friday, December 4. HilarySiberSmoke and Mirrors Shifting Ground opens on the heels of Siber’s thesis exhibition, which, she said, “reflected on the grief and emotion of the death of my father.” In contrast, this oil-on-canvas collection focuses on “universal landscapes that suggest unknown outcomes, unstable grounds, and shifting panoramas.” Her landscapes are not literal, but rather subjective interpretations that she believes “model accurate representations of the rational and irrational landscapes of our emotions, experiences, and intellect.” Siber’s work has been exhibited both regionally and internationally: at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, the Nelson Gallery in in Lexington, Virginia, and the Art Museum of Nanjing University in China, not to mention several others in South Carolina and North Carolina. Susan Kaplar, Business Manager at the Brooks Center and current B.F.A. student, has admired Siber’s work for a while. She and Denise Woodward-Detrich, Director of the Lee Gallery, approached Siber several months ago with the idea of a solo exhibition in the Brooks Center Lobby. Kaplar was first drawn to Siber’s work when she and Woodward-Detrich put together an exhibition for the Brooks Center last year. “We’ve seen her style and we thought anything she does will be a good fit for our audience,” Kaplar said. The exhibition includes art works created since January, including two pieces originally from her master’s thesis exhibition and now on loan from private collections. When patrons attend the exhibition, Kaplar hopes it will be a time for deep self-reflection. “I hope it will encourage people to look within themselves, to engage in inner contemplation.” Siber’s wish is that people see an opportunity to consider both the here-and-now and the everlasting. “I hope that viewing these paintings conjures up a consideration for the temporal. Perhaps by contemplating our finitude and flux, we are more apt to consider what is infinite and never-changing.” Shifting Ground is open from 1 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and before all Brooks Center performances. An artist talk will be held before the 7:30 p.m. performance of National Dance Company of Siberia on Thursday, October 29, at 6 p.m., followed by a reception at 6:30 pm. For more information, contact Susan Kaplar at (864) 656-7951 or skaplar@clemson.edu. Images: Top - When a Body Breaks; Bottom - Smoke and Mirrors. Both oil on canvas. Thomas Hudgins is director of marketing and communications for the Brooks Center for Performing Arts at Clemson University.  

Thomas Hudgins

Clemson University Players upcycle discarded material into something beautiful

by Thomas Hudgins Bottles, plastic, and other items were used to create the (under)world of Eurydice. Most of us dutifully take our small container of plastic, glass, and cardboard down to the curb on recycling day. But last season, the Clemson Players had more elaborate (and much bigger) plans for the items we toss out. Faculty and students took recycling to a new level when they mounted their production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice in January of 2015. They integrated traditionally reusable material into the play’s costume and scenic construction for a completely “upcycled” work of art. Members of the Clemson University theatre department set a goal last year to produce at least one recycled show each season. They planned to design a production using materials already in stock; create awareness of campus recycling programs; create awareness of waste in the entertainment industry; teach students studying theatre to think in terms of sustainability and recycling; create ways to upcycle materials in abundance; and build bridges across disciplines with recycling projects. Shannon Robert, Resident Scenic Designer and Associate Professor, was the driving force behind the initiative along with Technical Director Matthew Leckenbusch. “All production design elements focused on telling the story using fewer resources,” Robert said, “as well as using materials that would end up in a landfill if not properly recycled. Though long interested in the idea, Robert was recently inspired to mount the project after she attended a lecture by Tony Award-winning scenic designer Donyale Werle, a trailblazer in popularizing sustainability as integral to the scenic design process. Her presentation dovetailed with the mission of the Broadway Green Alliance, an organization that encourages sustainable practices in Broadway theatres. With these influences in mind, Robert saw an opportunity after reading the University’s sustainability plan: put Werle’s concepts into practice for a student production. This would be no mere exercise. Robert anticipates a future in which renewable materials will be paramount in the theatre industry, both from a social responsibility standpoint and a financially pragmatic one. “Our students are going to be working in a world where this kind of work is honored,” she said. The project would be both an effort to “stem the tide of wastefulness” in the theatre industry and training for the real world. “We had been talking about doing a ‘green’ initiative for two or three years,” Leckenbusch said. He and Robert planned to start small by building an upcycled set for a play in the smaller Bellamy Theatre, but they soon became more ambitious. “Shannon and I were driving to Georgia to deliver something, and we started talking about it. She brought up the idea of using water bottles because of the direct thematic tie to Eurydice.” This modern-day retelling of the Orpheus myth would be staged in the 968-seat Brooks Theatre, much larger than the intimate blackbox space they originally had in mind. The characters traverse a sunny shoreline and a dark, rainy underworld, so recyclable water bottles were an appropriate starting point for the set. The plan was to transform them into an enormous backdrop lit by ethereal colored lights that would transition seamlessly from one setting to the next. Despite its uniqueness, the set would need to act as a storytelling device, not the play’s main focus. Work began in September of 2014, far in advance of usual Clemson Players productions. First, Clemson’s recycling services helped the team devise a plan to collect bottles. This included scouring Memorial Stadium after football games and tapping students in three theatre classes for a friendly competition to see which group could acquire the most bottles. It paid off: the students hauled in roughly 12,000, more than half of the final total. Collection boxes were also set up around the Brooks Center, with the only stipulations being that containers must be clear and relatively clean (some brands were also disqualified because it was too difficult and time consuming to remove the labels). Meanwhile, Resident Costume Designer and Associate Professor Kendra Johnson was hard at work. She and Robert previously collaborated on another production of Eurydice that employed a literal, real-world design concept. This version would remain as abstract as Sarah Ruhl’s script. “To be consistent with the overall design concept,” Johnson said, “my goal was to purchase as little as possible and use recyclable items.” Her research led to a process of transforming trash bags into sew-able material by placing them between two sheets of newspaper and using a clothing iron. The result was a “fabric” not only durable enough for wear, but also able to absorb images on the newsprint like Silly Putty. Johnson was present at early rehearsals, churning out preliminary sketches and allowing the actors to use prototype costume pieces in what she described as an “organic” process. She focused on what the actors were doing on stage, saw what worked, and tweaked her designs accordingly. In addition to the trash bags, Johnson used only what she had on hand, including the bottle caps and labels from the bottles, plus fabric donated from a defunct funeral garment store. “The only things we bought,” she said, “were three pairs of leggings, black lipstick, and a men’s suit.” Back in the scene shop, the team members sought to accommodate an avalanche of plastic bottles. The university’s environmental health and safety department was brought on board to discuss how to prepare and clean the bottles, and a local storage company donated space for storage. Leckenbusch and some student carpenters began work on a small-scale proof of concept. They experimented with stringing the bottles on recyclable fishing line with quarter-inch reusable washers to secure them. “We did four or five strands of these,” Leckenbusch said, “then hung them on a welding screen. We turned off the lights and shone a flashlight through the bottles using a colored gel. That kind of gave us the motivation we needed, because we realized this would be really cool.” The tests complete, the team sought volunteers to help clean, cut, and hang thousands of bottles. Student Liz Haynes served as Assistant Technical Director, keeper of statistics, and unofficial ambassador for the project. When visitors stopped by the shop, Haynes could give a snapshot of the process in 30 seconds. She helped mobilize Saturday work calls, jokingly referred to as Bottlepaloozaganzas. “We really had no idea what we were walking into,” Haynes said. “When I came into the shop in October and they told me about the project, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll snip some bottles, it’ll be great.’ As it began to develop, it became this huge thing, and, for a while, we weren’t sure we’d actually get it done.” She calculated how many hours it would take to complete the project based on the test strings she and Leckenbusch assembled. That estimate came out to around 800. “It seemed like such an impossible task at that point.” The team originally thought 12,000 bottles would be sufficient, so they scheduled three Saturdays. Once this estimate ballooned by 60 percent, workdays were added, as well as volunteers. Students in theatre classes pitched in and even recruited their friends and roommates. Faculty members and their children participated, with Leckenbusch’s young daughter specializing in peeling labels from bottles. These sessions accounted for the bulk of the work, though it was not confined to Saturdays. When unoccupied with work for other productions during the week, the team worked on Eurydice. “There was no ‘down time’ in the shop this year,” Leckenbusch said. The Clemson Players still had two traditional productions left in the season, and the team was working on an expansive new set for the South Carolina Educational Television program, Making It Grow. Organizing this workflow was challenging and the prospect of 800 hours of work was daunting, so the process had to be as efficient as possible. First, caps and labels were removed and sent to Kendra Johnson for use in her costumes. Then the team used 295 gallons of water to wash and rinse the bottles in five-gallon buckets with non-toxic cleaner before cutting them into smaller, randomly shaped pieces. These smaller shards were affixed to 500 to 600 strands of heavy fishing line that were temporarily stored on mobile z-frames using some of the labels. Zipties secured 350 pounds of plastic to the horizontal pipes above the stage. The team loaded around a dozen bricks onto the flyloft system to counter the weight, and sheer fabric, used for the Brooks Center’s 2014 fundraiser, was draped behind the wall of bottles to catch light. The set also contained two rented steel platforms that required fire protection by law, so the team constructed panels of drywall installed at the platforms’ edges. The panels were later donated to a private residence. The team members determined, by counting bottle caps, that 124 volunteers processed around 20,000 bottles and used 17,814 in the final product. Combined, they logged an impressive 584 hours. Tearing down the set was much simpler than assembling it. The steel platforms were deconstructed, fishing line was unstrung, and bottles were placed in a 40-yard dumpster supplied by recycling services, ready to be shipped to a processing plant. An exquisite set half a year in the making took six to eight hours to come down. “It was a really collaborative effort across the whole school and the community,” Leckenbusch said. “We learned a whole world of recycling based on this project.” Despite the non-traditional process, he said it was not terribly different from a typical Clemson Players show. “We were just more collaborative and cognizant of what we were doing. We designed by what we had rather than what we wanted. And renting platforms probably saved us a lot of money.” He was right. Thrift was not the ultimate goal, but the show’s production price tag was 25-30 percent less than similar Clemson Players productions, and Kendra Johnson’s costume expenditures were down by 80 percent as well. Though he never forbade anyone from spending money, Leckenbusch stipulated it be spent only on materials that would be used again. “For the technical students, I think there was more of an awareness of an alternative way of doing shows,” he said. “You don’t have to stay in the mainstream of how to produce a play. Budgets are getting smaller, and the more you can re-use and think about future productions, the better. Not everything is about the moment, but rather two steps down the road.” Haynes said the team established a set of rules and best practices to ensure the next sustainable production remains truly green: “We’ve asked ourselves, ‘What makes an upcycled show different from a regular production that just reuses parts of the set?’” That question will be explored in 2016, when Shannon Robert directs the Players’ next upcycled production, God’s Country. For now, Eurydice’s army of designers and builders can be proud of the project’s “honorable mention” status in RecycleMania’s competition for college and university recycling programs. Their work may change the way we look at both theatre and what goes in our recycling bins. Image: Student Ellen Folk in front of backdrop made of bottles. Thomas Hudgins is director of marketing and communications for the Brooks Center for Performing Arts at Clemson University.

Thomas Hudgins

Collaborative Brooks Center exhibition a good fit for artist and audience

From the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, Clemson University Story by Thomas Hudgins (Note: Four of John Acorn's works are in the State Art Collection, including V.W. Resurrected.)

PENDLETON — John Acorn stands on the ground floor of his art studio in Pendleton, mid-afternoon sunlight slanting through windows to reveal dozens of abstract projects in progress: giant foil-wrapped sculptures of a hand and a fish, a ring of sliced bread made of wood. He prepares to give a tour of his studio, the modified two-story garage beside his home filled with work from his career as a professional artist and longtime chair of Clemson University’s art department. He dips into that archive for his latest exhibition, “Trailer Nails and Fish Heads,” on display at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts through May 1. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"]Sand Dollar - Head On and Side View Left: Portrait of a broken sand dollar created from trailer nails in plywood. Right: Detail of trailer nails in plywood.[/caption] Denise Woodward-Detrich stands alongside Acorn as he pulls out a handful of the trailer nails that make up the exhibit. Director of Clemson University’s Lee Gallery, Woodward-Detrich was responsible for identifying Acorn’s work as a good fit for an exhibition at the Brooks Center. “I was familiar with several bodies of work John has created,” she says, “and I felt his trailer nail pieces had not been that widely showcased in the area. The Brooks Center was a great opportunity for both the artist and patrons.” Each piece in the exhibition is aquatically themed: plywood decked with trailer nails forms portraits of sand dollars, feathers and fossils; metal fish head sculptures lurk on makeshift surfaces. The trailer nails were specially ordered in bulk by Acorn years ago, and the fish heads were created at a fabrication plant and based on his own wooden sculptures. Woodward-Detrich admires the elegant simplicity of the exhibit, but notes that it “also gives the viewer a lot to consider in regards to our relationship to nature.” This is the third exhibition organized by Woodward-Detrich and Susan Kaplar, Brooks Center business manager and current art major. Kaplar fell in love with Acorn’s work immediately during a tour of his studio. “I love the ocean, shells and sea creatures and the serenity I feel when I’m there,” she says. She had also seen similar trailer nail artwork by Acorn at the Anderson Arts Center and took it as a sign. The themes of his work, “a new life for something at the end of its life cycle,” also resonated with her. “He saw art emerge from discarded, broken things,” Kaplar says. “That’s powerful. I hope viewers will realize that no matter where they are in their life, they can give themselves another chance to be something useful and beautiful.” [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300"]Fish Head 1 Metal fish head cast from Acorn’s original sculpture[/caption] Both agree that the Brooks Center offers a huge opportunity for collaboration between the departments of art and performing arts. “The Brooks Center provides another venue for visual arts outside the ‘whitebox’ of the Lee Gallery,” Woodward-Detrich says. “It’s an ideal partnership. Our Brooks Center exhibitions have an extended showing so patrons are able to appreciate them many times during the year.” Kaplar says, “It bridges all areas of arts on campus by offering opportunities for interdisciplinary exercises and outreach.” A self-proclaimed “art educator,” the Brooks Center showing offers Acorn what he constantly seeks: new audiences. His work is familiar to most, even those who have never heard his name. Acorn is responsible for hundreds of sculptures and large-scale installations that populate business and municipal buildings across the Upstate, including the Hampton III Gallery in Taylors and the Fine Arts Center of Greenville. His work has been showcased in venues as prosaic as small-town hardware stores and as prestigious as big-city museums. He also has a story for every piece and venue. When asked where he finds inspiration, Acorn reveals he refrains from that term. “I talk more about ‘source’ of the artwork,” he says. “I’ve always told students: if you sit around waiting to be inspired to make artwork, you’re going to do a lot of sitting around. The way you make artwork is you start making it!” Acorn’s sources are various. He does not seek them out, nor does he care where he finds them. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"]Fish Head 2 Fish Head 2[/caption] “It’s whatever I’m bouncing off of, whatever I’m reading, seeing,” he says. Sometimes the spark is an article in LIFE magazine; other times, newspapers and television. One of his most prominent motifs is the “Camouflage Man,” which was spurred by an advertisement in the Anderson Independent Mail for a camouflage hunting suit. He shows dozens of larger-than-life Camouflage Man sculptures, lined up like an army in formation. Nearby is one of his fish head sculptures. Acorn says the pieces in this series were inspired by Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, “Guernica.” Spanning the entire the left side of the room is an enormous charm bracelet, which he created after giving his granddaughter a (normal-sized) charm bracelet as a gift. His sources truly have no limits. If Acorn’s studio resembles a workshop, it is not by happenstance. His introduction to art came during his formative years in New Jersey, when he was in fifth-grade shop class. He says he essentially uses the same technology in creating his artwork now as he did in elementary school. The creative spirit of that class, in which he used a variety of hardware store materials for his creations, lit a fire for the rest of his academic career. Acorn’s guidance counselor balked when he told him he wanted to pursue art in college. “He did his best to convince me not to be an artist,” Acorn recalls. “He got out all his books about how much money I would make.” The counselor’s plea failed. Acorn matriculated to Montclair State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in fine arts before receiving a Master of Fine Arts at Cranbrook Academy of Art near Detroit. During his final year of graduate school, he presented an exhibition as part of his coursework. At the same time, architect and Clemson University Dean of Architecture Harlan E. McClure was in town for a conference and happened upon it. He liked Acorn’s work and phoned him to schedule a job interview. Dressed in sweatshirt and blue jeans while loading his belongings into his 1955 station wagon, Acorn told McClure, “If you take me just like I am, I’d be pleased to talk with you.” That suited McClure fine. After their meeting, Acorn was beyond impressed. He had already been offered a job at Buffalo State University, but chose Clemson instead. During the winter, he jokes, he is reminded of the rightness of his decision. Acorn would join the faculty in 1961 and become chair of the department of art in 1976, a position he would hold until retirement in 1997. In 1998, he was given the prestigious Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, which is bestowed by the South Carolina Arts Commission as “the highest honor the state gives in the arts.” He also received Clemson University’s Distinguished Emeriti Award in 2010. As the sun begins to dip behind the trees, Acorn goes to his car and retrieves another fish head. This one, he says, was created by a talented young fabricator based on Acorn’s design, and he has decided to submit it for an exhibition as a jointly created work. Retired for almost two decades, Acorn shows no sign of stopping. As “Trailer Nails and Fish Heads” proves, he is always striving for new ways to bring art to the people. “Trailer Nails and Fish Heads” is free and open to the public in the lobby of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts from 1 to 5 p.m. on weekdays and before evening performances. Image above:  Artist John Acorn in his studio.

Brooks Center among “25 Most Amazing University Performing Arts Centers”

The Brooks Center for the Performing Arts at Clemson University was recently listed as one of the “25 Most Amazing University Performing Arts Centers” by bestvalueschools.com. It was listed eighth overall, in the company of the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (New York University), the Lied Center for the Performing Arts (University of Nebraska), and the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (University of Florida). The Brooks Center’s entry states: “[The state of] South Carolina’s Brooks Center for the Performing Arts was dedicated in 1994 with the help of a $2.5 million gift from Clemson alumni Robert Howell Brooks. With over 90,000 square feet of performance space, and a 1,000-seat theater, the center is also the home of a Black Box Theatre and a recital hall. With modern lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system, the facility boasts nearly 75 productions yearly including Broadway productions of Hairspray and Avenue Q. The Lillian and Robert Utsey Music Series has offered nearly 135 free performance in 28 years, and students are given opportunities to work with artists through various workshops, including Dr. Paul Buyer’s Steel Drum Workshop.” “This is great news for the Brooks Center,” says Director Lillian U. Harder. “So much of what we have accomplished is due to the loyal patrons who believe in the importance of the arts, and the hard work of our faculty, students, staff, and crew. This accolade belongs to everyone who supports the arts in Clemson.” Dean Richard Goodstein of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities echoes these sentiments. “Clemson's formula for success with the Brooks Center is straightforward; we put our students first, always,” he says. “We give them the venues, the mentoring and the tools to explore and develop their art, the time and tolerance to test their limits, and the warm support of an engaged community. In return, they've opened our eyes, lifted our spirits and brought us to our feet. We're at number eight because of our students, and we never forget that.” The 2014-2015 season will mark the Brooks Center’s 21st year. Via: The Brooks Center for the Performing Arts

Clemson theatre students pursue opportunities across the nation

Donors help underwrite participation in career-boosting conferences. (Pictured above: Clemson Students at USITT (from left) Marie Rosasco, Kelsey Bailey, Thomas Fernandez, Elizabeth Haynes, Gabriella Lourigan) Clemson student performing artists have a history of success. Though less than two decades old, the production studies in performing arts major has produced top-tier professionals who have excelled in every aspect of the theatrical and musical worlds. Whether accepting offers to graduate programs or securing summer employment, Clemson students have continuously shown they have what it takes to compete on the big stage. This was never more apparent than when students and faculty loaded up for two road trips to theatre conferences in March. Seventeen theatre students and three faculty members traveled to Mobile, Alabama, to attend the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). Here, professional theatres and graduate programs from across the country gather to hold auditions and interviews for young theatre artists based in the Southeast. Graduating seniors have the chance to earn slots at highly selective graduate schools or compete for full-time positions at theatre organizations, while underclassmen are able to seek out summer internships in their chosen fields. A total of 10 technical theatre and design students participated, and all 10 were offered employment and/or summer internships:

  • Elizabeth Haynes will be a carpenter for Porthouse Theatre in Kent, Ohio, for the summer.
  • Kelsey Bailey accepted a position as assistant prop master at the Heritage Theatre Festival this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • Vanessa Galeno will travel to Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York.
  • Kat Watson will become a full-time stage management intern at Omaha Theater Company in Omaha, Nebraska.
  • Marie Rosasco will work with Flatrock Playhouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina, as a staff scenic painter.
  • Gabrielle Lourigan will be a general technician and stagehand at the Castleton Theatre Festival in Castleton, Virginia.
  • Cassie Lanier, Thomas Fernandez, and Wylder Cooper will be working at Unto These Hills in Cherokee, North Carolina.
  • Trevor Floyd will be the assistant director for Greenville Light Opera Works in Greenville, S.C.
  • Another student, Gabrielle Norris received offers, but accepted a position from Spoleto Festival USA through a contact with Technical Theatre Solutions of Charleston.
Clemson acting students who were advanced from last year’s auditions at the South Carolina Theatre Association’s (SCTA) Theatre Festival were able to participate in SETC auditions. These students had 90 seconds to make an impact with a monologue and a song (and just 60 seconds without a song). Students Meredith Kidd, Sara Tolson, Drew Whitley, Alessandro McLaughlin, and Preston Taylor Stone all passed their SCTA auditions and participated in this extremely challenging process. Kidd received a full-time offer from B Street Theatre in Sacramento, California; Other students taking part in SCTA were Jessica Houston, who wrote an original play; Trevor Floyd, who directed in the Ten-Minute Play Festival; and Claire Richardson, who attended as a Clemson ambassador. Students saddled up once again, this time for Fort Worth, Texas, traveling to the United States Institute for Theatre Technology Conference (USITT). Three faculty members, Shannon Robert, Matthew Leckenbusch, and Woody Moore, served as Clemson ambassadors. Five design/technology students attended and participated in a number of classes and workshops: Kelsey Bailey, Marie Rosasco, Gabrielle Lourigan, Elizabeth Haynes, and Thomas Fernandez. Fernandez participated in the Rosebrand Action Design Competition with a number of professional designers, teachers, and students. Haynes participated in the “Tech Olympics,” in which participants are given technical challenges to complete. According to Robert, USITT sets the standards for theatrical technology, safety, architecture, and design industries, and is the largest technical theatre conference in the United States. Robert, one of the faculty members who made both trips, is an associate professor of theatre with a focus in scenic design. She says both SETC and USITT can be valuable career-building tools.  “SETC is a really great conference for students because it provides multiple opportunities on multiple levels. The best thing about it is the opportunity to network, because students get the chance to be in the same room with a lot of industry professionals.” Students also have their instructors to lean on when it comes to making professional connections. “If some of the faculty know people from having worked with them in the past, students get introduced to them,” Robert says. “It’s easy to remember people through associations.” Clemson student Elizabeth Haynes Robert says SETC is the largest conference of its type in the United States, a fact that makes freshman Elizabeth Haynes’ (pictured right) achievement that much more astonishing. Haynes, a production studies major from Nashville with a technical theatre concentration, received a dozen summer job offers after attending the conference. “SETC was a touch overwhelming at first,” Haynes says. “I talked to a lot of other students my age who are doing the same things I want to do for a living.” She says she did not expect to receive as many job offers as she did. “I was hoping to receive at least one so I could work somewhere over the summer,” she says, “but it was a reaffirmation that I’m doing what I should be doing.” Haynes says she has been well-prepared by the quality of instruction she receives in the production studies major. She says technical director Matt Leckenbusch, who, in addition to organizing the creation of set pieces for Clemson Players productions, supervises students who work on projects for other theatres and venues around the state. “If I didn’t have that variety of experiences in my portfolio, I never would have gotten a job,” Haynes says. “Freshmen here are allowed to pursue any aspect of technical theatre they want. I learned to weld, and that’s what got me the job this summer. I would never have gotten that at another program.” Haynes says she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after she graduates, but knows she wants to continue in the field of technical theatre. Leckenbusch and Robert both emphasize how proud they are of their students’ accomplishments, and are excited that the preparation and training they receive as production studies majors has paid off. They are also thankful to the Friends of the Brooks Center, a group of donors who give to the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts and the Department of Performing Arts, who made the trips possible (additional funding for the USITT trip was secured through a grant from a theatre industry business contact). “We wanted to make sure everyone got to go, regardless of financial situations,” says Leckenbusch. “That was why the Friends of the Brooks Center funding was so important.” He says that, without this help, the conferences simply would have been out of reach. Both SETC and USITT are on the docket for next year, when another crop of students will lay the foundation for their future. It will be a good thing that they have such capable instructors on hand to guide the way.

by Thomas Hudgins, Matthew Leckenbusch & Shannon Robert

Greenville father-daughter duo to perform with Clemson University Symphony Orchestra

Father-daughter bonding takes many forms, but it isn’t often that it takes the form of virtuoso classical music performance. Fabio and Maria Parrini are that rare duo. Father Fabio and his 16-year-old daughter, Maria, are both world-class pianists based in Greenville who will perform with the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Dr. Andrew Levin, on April 1, at 8 p.m., at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. Levin is familiar with both artists. “Fabio has performed twice with the orchestra in the past,” he says. “Then Maria played a few years ago as a winner of our concerto competition as a cellist rather than a pianist. A while later, I attended a performance of the Greenville County Youth Orchestra in which Maria played a piano concerto. As I was waiting outside for the concert to begin, it suddenly struck me that we should find a piece where we could feature the two of them together." It wasn’t long before that idea became reality. Discussion of such an event began that evening, as it was on Fabio’s "bucket list" to perform a concerto with his daughter. Levin, who received a grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission for this project, says the concert has been a long time coming. “It's been in the planning stages for two years and I'm excited to finally be able to lead this great event.” Daughters who attend the performance with their fathers will receive free admission. Just stop by the box office before the performance and inform box office manager Nancy Martin, or one of the box office attendants, or contact Martin for more information at nmartin@clemson.edu or (864) 656-7787. Fabio Parrini has performed twice before with the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra: first in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, then in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with his brother and sister. Mr. Parrini is professor of music and piano coordinator at North Greenville University, as well as an active adjudicator. He has won numerous international piano competitions and has given master classes across the country. In addition to performing on several recordings and television broadcasts, Mr. Parrini is a Steinway Artist who is repeatedly selected for programs sponsored by South Arts and the South Carolina Arts Commission. His daughter, Maria, is a senior at Wade Hampton and the Greenville Fine Arts Center. She has studied piano since the age of three and has also studied cello with Martha Brons and Christopher Hutton. A member of the Fine Arts Center’s chamber music program as both a pianist and cellist, Ms. Parrini made her orchestra solo debut as a 13-year-old playing a cello concerto with the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra. She has won several piano competitions, including the Jan and Beattie Wood Concerto. Passionate about spreading music in her community, Ms. Parrini organized a benefit concert for the South Carolina Upstate Homeless Coalition in November, and she regularly teaches strings to students at the Frazee Dream Center in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. The pair will perform in the first half of the concert. They begin with Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite. This work, originally composed for piano four hands when the composer was in his twenties, was orchestrated by Debussy's friend and composer Henri Büsser twenty years later. Debussy liked the arrangement so well that he even conducted it in concerts around Europe. The work is in four movements: In a Boat (Sailing), Cortège, Menuet, and Ballet. The entire work is light, tuneful, at times dancelike, and engaging from start to finish. The featured work is the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra by 20th century French composer Francis Poulenc. This piece is for two pianos, which dance around each other, play together, and play against each other. There is much of the "perpetual mobile" about this work, the constant running of notes in a seemingly never-ending rush of excitement. Throw into the mix some good humor and some French café music and you end up with an irresistible work, in three exciting movements. “The Poulenc is a very engaging, rollicking, and serious, work that should be quite entertaining for the audience,” says Levin, “even if they are not familiar with the piece or composer.” It is a unique piece in that it captures different styles. “There's a bit of the dance hall in the music as well as some heart-wrenchingly beautiful melodies.” After intermission the orchestra presents the well-known Finlandia by Jean Sibelius. This work was composed in nationalistic fervor against censorship by the Russian Empire, rulers over Finland for almost a century. The work was first performed under a variety of alternate names to evade censorship, but it was immediately understood as a work promoting the sounds and soul of the Finnish people. The slow melody in the middle has become a national hymn of Finland and has even become a popular Christian hymn under the name "Be Still, My Soul." As a change from orchestral music, the Clemson University Trio will perform an early work by Beethoven, his Variations on "Là ci darem la mano," an aria from Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni." Originally for two oboes and English horn, this performance will feature an oboist, violinist and cellist from the orchestra. Beethoven first states the familiar tune, then subjects it to a variety of changes, of melody, harmony, accompaniment – even key and meter, yet the melody remains recognizable throughout. The concert will conclude with music from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, composed by Howard Shore. This familiar and exciting music features all sections of the orchestra: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, for a rousing conclusion to the concert. “[The Parrinis] are both gracious people who have the music itself as their primary focus,” says Levin. “This isn't about them, but about preparing and presenting this wonderful concerto in the best possible light. It will be a joy to present this concerto to the audience.” Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and are available for purchase online at www.clemson.edu/Brooks and through the box office at (864) 656-7787 from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

by Thomas Hudgins and Dr. Andrew Levin

The Brooks Center for the Performing Arts turns 20

“I’d venture to say we have 2,000 students coming through the building every week,” Lillian “Mickey” Harder estimates. Harder, who is in her 18th year as director of the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts at Clemson University, marvels over how busy the facility is on a daily basis. It was not always like this. Two decades have passed since the dedication of the Brooks Center in April of 1994. In that time, the Center has played host to hundreds of student and professional productions. It was the birthplace of the production studies in performing arts major, the only one of its kind in America, which has graduated roughly 140 students in 12 years of existence. On Thursday, February 6 at 8 p.m., it will welcome hundreds of students, alumni, and patrons in an anniversary celebration of the value the Center has brought to the community. But the story of the Brooks Center is much richer than a handful of numbers. That story began decades before ground was broken. The performing arts have always been a part of Clemson. In the nearly 80 -year span between 1893 and 1972, the Men’s Glee and Cadet Corp formed, the College Concert Series started, the first full-time music faculty were hired, students founded the Clemson Players, and a chamber music series began. Littlejohn Coliseum, Tillman Auditorium, Daniel Hall, and the Clemson Field House (now known as Fike Recreation Center) all took turns hosting these myriad performers. In addition to resident student ensembles, legends such as Itzhak Perlman and Dizzy Gillespie graced the campus of the modest agricultural institution. Harder remembers Perlman’s concert vividly. At the time a piano instructor at the University, Harder was a page-turner for Perlman’s collaborative pianist the night he gave his concert in Littlejohn Coliseum. The stage, which consisted of a make-shift platform at the center of the coliseum floor, was accessible only by a tall flight of stairs. Harder remembers holding Perlman’s Stradivarius violin for him while he took his bows between pieces. The acoustics, she recalls, left a lot to be desired. It was no doubt better than orchestra concerts at the Field House, however, where quiet moments in a piece were interrupted by the sounds of radiators letting off steam. World-class musicians clambering over precarious platforms and noisy heating devices were not ideal performance conditions. Nor was the set-up in Daniel Hall, a building on campus that was and still is home to English classes. Though Daniel boasted an auditorium (then used for concerts; now a lecture hall) and an annex (then used for Clemson Players productions; now a lab for building rockets), the spaces were not conducive to full-scale concerts and theatrical productions. “I would greet people and pass out programs in the lobby, then go outside, around the building, and back inside to turn off the lights in the theatre,” Harder recalls of the auditorium. “Then I’d go back outside to take my seat.” That was nothing compared to how Harder says the piano had to get to the stage. “My piano studio was across the hall from the back of the auditorium. We would open the double doors of the studio, roll the piano down the hall and to the backdoor of the auditorium.” From there, a three-foot drop awaited the instrument from¬ the hallway to the stage, calling for a dozen facility workers to ease it onto the lower level. After the concert, same story… only lifting instead of lowering. It was a production inside of a production. David Hartmann, current chair of the Department of Performing Arts, came to Clemson in 1990 as the scenic designer and production manager for the performing arts department. He vividly recalls the challenges inherent in producing student plays in the annex. “We didn’t have a catwalk above the stage,” Hartmann says, “so, to hang lights, you had to go up on a ladder, hang the light, go back down, move the ladder a few feet, climb up, hang the light, and repeat.” Clifton “Chip” Egan, former chair of the Department of Performing Arts, came to Clemson in 1976 as the department’s first designer and technical director. His remembrances are similar. “As the designer of nearly every set and lighting design for many years, I always felt like I was solving the theatre space rather than the play,” he says. But, ironically, this sometimes worked in favor of the performances. “Our production values were very high, considering our limitations. In fact, the limitations drove some amazing creativity.” The production aspects themselves were not the only challenges. Daily logistical problems plagued the department. The performing arts faculty was not nearly as large as it is now, so Hartmann was in charge of teaching all aspects of technical theatre, from costumes to lights to scene design. His office, along with the rest of the theatre faculty, was located in Daniel Hall. It quadrupled as his classroom, another faculty member’s office, and that instructor’s classroom. With the exception of Harder, music faculty were located just across the sidewalk in the adjoining building called Strode Tower. Almost inconceivable in 2013, the two departments shared one printer, and it was on the seventh floor of Strode. Both Hartmann and Harder made the trek across the sidewalk and up the stairs each time a document was printed. Nothing, it seemed, was easy. In 1976, the year Egan arrived, a petition for a performing arts center on campus was begun by B.J. Koonce and Susan Smith, members of the Clemson Players. They garnered over 4,000 names, which, at the time, was more than half of the student body. Though it did not lead to an immediate groundbreaking, it was not in vain. Egan says “[Koonce and Smith] clearly made an impression, because I came to Clemson in part because the administration was talking about building a performing arts center. Eighteen years later, it finally happened.” At the same time that pianos were being hefted about and stairs climbed, the wheels were turning in a positive direction toward a true performing arts space. “I credit Bob Waller, dean of the College of Liberal Arts during the 1980s and early 1990s” for tirelessly advocating to the administration, Egan says. “His decision to create the department of performing arts in 1986 by merging music with theatre strengthened the case enormously.” Dean Waller then appointed Richard Nichols, “a national figure in theatre education,” as the inaugural chair of the new department. Egan says Nichols was instrumental in getting the project off the ground and made it possible for things to come. Enter Robert Howell Brooks, who grew up in Loris, South Carolina, a rural community where he worked on the family farm during his youth. A man from modest means, he graduated Clemson in 1960 with a degree in dairy science by way of the W.B. Camp scholarship. Brooks made the decision early to one day repay the kindness offered to him and give back to Clemson. Seven years after graduating Clemson, Brooks created the first non-dairy creamer with his first company, Eastern Foods. The success of this product led him to take on even greater challenges with the company that would come to be known as Naturally Fresh. He eventually purchased the Hooters of America restaurant chain and pursued other successful ventures. The young man who grew up with so little now had so much to give. So when the W.B. Camp family made the first move in donating $1 million to the as-yet-unnamed arts center, it seemed natural that Robert Brooks followed. Much like Brooks, Wofford Benjamin Camp was a self-made man. Graduating in 1916 from Clemson, he became well known as a successful agricultural developer in California. His establishment of the scholarship was obviously an attempt to pay forward his good fortune. Brooks wanted a chance to make good on his vow to do the same. Egan recalls then-University President Max Lennon working with Brooks to secure the $2.5 million gift for the building that would become the Brooks Center. Dreams were becoming reality. “The decision to have the Brooks Center designed through an international competition was a Clemson first,” Egan says, “and Jim Barker, dean of the College of Architecture at the time, was an instrumental member of the competition jury.” The Brooks Center’s physical design was heavily influenced by the performing arts department itself, with members of the administration making major decisions in its planning. With the blueprints complete, ground was broken on the 87,000-square-foot facility in 1991. A period of heavy rain delayed the opening by a year, though that was nothing compared to the previous wait of 15 years. The Brooks Center opened in 1994 with Bruce Cook as its director and Egan as the chair of the Department of Performing Arts. Festivities greeted its opening. “We did everything on a shoestring budget,” Harder explains. She herself baked roughly 800 tea cookies for the opening reception. Community members excited about the prospect of an arts center attended en masse. The Greenville Symphony performed Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The original 4,000-name petition was “re-presented” to the Board of Trustees. “It was very much a celebratory time,” Harder says. All around, it was a grand opening for a grand building. Finally, Clemson University had its state-of-the-art performing arts facility. “Every day that I come to the Brooks Center, I feel like Cinderella. And both shoes fit,” Harder says from her office, the window overlooking the Center’s courtyard. There is a printer right outside, not nearly as difficult to access as the seventh-floor machine of years ago. Next door, Hartmann’s office is just that: an office. On the floor below, practice rooms hum with the sounds of instruments. The theatres, too, are busy with students painting scenery and perching on the catwalk, hanging lights without a ladder. In the arts, a piece of music or theatre usually starts with an idea, a brief glimmer of something that visits in the middle of the night. No matter how magnificent the end product, it all starts with a single strike of inspiration. Brook's gift allows so many to wake up in the middle of the night from a dream with a spark of inspiration, knowing that, when morning comes, they will have a laboratory in which to experiment, a canvas on which to paint, and a place to come where they can say, "Ah. I'm home."

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Special thanks to Lillian U. Harder, David Hartmann, and Clifton “Chip” Egan for their reflections. Tickets for the 20th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday, February 6 at 8 p.m. are $35 adults and $10 students. They may be purchased through the box office, which is open Monday – Friday, 1 – 5 pm. The box office is available by phone at (864) 654-7787 or online at www.clemson.edu/brooks. Thomas Hudgins is director of marketing and communications for the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts.

by Thomas Hudgins

Professor to use music to benefit S.C. Botanical Garden

A desire to see Clemson music faculty connect with other parts of the university sparked an idea for music professor Lea Kibler. Article by Thomas Hudgins, director of marketing and communications for Clemson University's Brooks Center for the Performing Arts.

CLEMSON — When torrential summer rains fell this summer, the South Carolina Botanical Garden was one the most devastated victims. Flooding forced the garden to close for a time, and some of the damage lingers. Enter Clemson University music professor Lea Kibler and two colleagues, who plan to help the Garden’s recovery through music. Kibler, a flute professor in the performing arts department, will be joined by harpist Lelia Lattimore and speaker Phil Sageser in a benefit concert for one of Clemson’s most scenic destinations. The concert, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” is themed around Welsh writer Dylan Thomas’ work of the same name. Proceeds will help with Garden flood damage. Audience members will receive a 25 percent discount in the Garden Gift Shop that afternoon (Garden Friends receive an extra 10 percent). The concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, in the Fuller Gallery at the Garden. Kibler said the idea came about through her desire to see Clemson music faculty connect with other parts of the university. The Garden was the perfect venue for such an endeavor. “I really liked the South Carolina Botanical Garden Visitor Center,” she said. “The upstairs Fuller Gallery is a beautiful room and I thought that it would be a good small venue for chamber music.” A few years after Kibler and her family spent a month in Wales in 2007, she hit on the idea of producing a performance of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” with musical interludes between scenes played on flute and harp. Thomas’ piece originally was written as a one-person radio play for the Welsh BBC. “I have always loved this work,” she said. “It is not performed as much as it should be. It is very nostalgic, gently funny, but mainly the words are just so beautiful. I knew that it was sometimes performed with music.” Next year is the 100th anniversary of Thomas’ birth and “a ‘birthday eve’ performance seemed fitting,” she said. The evening’s music, almost entirely British Isles-based, tie in thematically with the words and scenes of the play. Traditional carols like “The Holly and the Ivy,” “Gloucestershire Wassail” and “Deck the Halls,” mingle with songs relating to the Christmas toys, food and drink mentioned in the play. The final scene features the “Interlude” from Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” for solo harp. Lattimore performs as a soloist and with a number of orchestras throughout western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. Sageser, a seasoned public speaker who is Kibler’s husband, will read the play. Tickets for the benefit concert are $20 and can be purchased at the door or through the Garden’s web site, www.clemson.edu/scbg. Seating is limited.
Images: South Carolina Botanical Garden Via: Clemson University