Arvada Center Blog
A funny and heartfelt look at love, Trav’lin rediscovers the music of Harlem Renaissance songwriter J.C. Johnson. His songs were recorded by legendary jazz and blues artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. Keep reading to learn more about Johnson, the time period this musical takes place in, and the men who adapted these tunes for the musical theatre stage.
- It’s the 100th year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance! The 100th year anniversary celebration started Fall of 2018 and goes on until 2020. Generally considered to have spanned from 1918 to the mid-1930s, the Harlem Renaissance’s unique cultural expressions of literature, art, music and culinary arts spread rapidly across the country.
- As World War I slowed the immigration of workers from Europe, the war effort demanded unskilled industrial labor workers, giving rise to a working class of African-Americans and a new mass culture.
- Co-bookwriter Gary Holmes met J.C. Johnson when he was ten years old and got to attend many living room concerts that J.C. held with fellow musician friends. Gary has dedicated his life to preserving and promoting J.C. Johnson’s music and legacy.
- Most of J.C.’s over 500 songs were about love, so it is fitting that Trav’lin would follow the story of three couples from three different generations striving to hold onto each other in a complicated time.
- Character Billie is based off Pig Foot Mary (real name Lillian Harris Dean), a Harlem street cart entrepreneur and cook from the Mississippi Delta who turned her successful cart into a famous Harlem restaurant and brought her Southern-inspired Harlem cuisine (pigs feet, fried chicken, chitlins) to national attention.
- The characters of Billie and Ella are named after Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but the characters are not meant to be the real people; they are combinations of fictional and famous Harlem characters.
- The Harlem stride style of piano playing was invented and changed the sound of jazz forever. Previously, jazz had been about brass instruments, but the addition of the piano changed the sound and mood of the music forever.
An Interview with Jessica Austgen, playwright of Sin Street Social Club
by Leslie Simon
When English Restoration writer Aphra Behn wrote The Rover in 1677, she broke cultural barriers and became a role model for women authors everywhere. Reputedly the first Englishwoman to make her living writing, Behn broke barriers that subversive female playwrights continue to break down today. The Arvada Center is proud to present the World Premiere of Sin Street Social Club, a play based off The Rover that we commissioned Colorado playwright Jessica Austgen to write. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Jessica Austgen about writing Sin Street Social Club and the importance of female playwrights.
Q: Why did you choose to adapt The Rover, and what differences will we see in Sin Street Social Club?
A: The Rover is widely considered to be the first play written by a professional female playwright and is an important part of theater history but…it hasn’t really aged well. The cast size is humongous (twenty-one named characters!), some of the language is pretty antiquated and—most notably—it features one of Restoration Comedy’s most problematic tropes: comic sexual assault. Sin Street Social Club cuts the cast size to nine, streamlines the plot and moves the action away from 17th century Naples and lands in the tawdry Storyville District of 1917 New Orleans. The plot does still involve the aforementioned moments of sexual harassment and assault but reframes them and, hopefully, puts more power in the hands of the female characters.
Q: Have you learned anything valuable from Aphra Behn on your own journey as a playwright?
A: Aphra Behn was a phenomenal, fascinating figure. I think I was impacted by her tenacity and willingness to compete with her male peers and succeed. She made it into the history books and that is no small feat.
Q: Why is it so important to have female voices represented, both as a writer and a character on stage?
A: While any writer of any gender can write female characters, there’s a difference between imagining a life, and drawing from your own life experiences. Also, it’s so important for everyone—women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, people of different ages—to see themselves represented on stage. If theater is for everyone, then it is crucial that—at some point, in some script, at some theater—they see a version of themselves up there under those lights. How can a human know that they are welcome at the theater if they don’t ever see someone up there who looks like them? Or sounds like them? Or moves like them? They can’t. We have to tell all kinds of stories if the theater is truly for all people.
Q: What do you hope the future of female playwrights looks like?
A: I hope at some point, female (and POC, and LGBTQ, etc) playwrights are prevalent enough in this industry that we can just call them “playwrights.”
Sin Street Social Club opens in the Arvada Center Black Box Theatre on March 15, and runs until May 19. Tickets are on sale now!
An interview with Abner Genece of The Diary of Anne Frank
How often have you attended a play with a vision of what the characters look like beforehand? What happens when they look nothing like what you expected? With today’s atmosphere geared toward inclusion and racial equity, diversity in casting is a hot topic. Color-conscious casting aims to choose performers based on their skill and character fit, but also to embrace how an actor’s race, gender, or disability can reveal new and interesting elements of a character and a story. In the Arvada Center’s 2019 Black Box Repertory season, The Diary of Anne Frank uses color-conscious casting for the role of the Dutch character Hermann van Daan. We spoke with Abner Genece, who portrays Mr. van Daan, on his views of casting diversity and how it can illuminate a play’s universal themes:
- In this spring’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank, you play Mr. van Daan, a character who in real life was a white Jewish Dutch man. As a man of Haitian descent, how did you approach inhabiting the character?
As a man of Haitian descent, I approach the character with a deep sense of respect, admiration and sincerity for Hermann van Daan’s cultural identity and historical significance. In The Diary of Anne Frank, I’m telling the story of a man who actually lived; a specific man: of a specific culture and time in history. My goal is to honor his story and culture as best I can, using all the tools that I have (including my own cultural perspective). In the end, I am telling his story within Anne’s story, in a way that aims to serve and enlighten.
- What universal themes of the play do you think are illuminated when race and ethnicity are not a factor while casting?
I recognize numerous themes that infuse my character’s journey in the play; such as honor, pride, resiliency, patience, humor, discrimination, passion, diligence, love, and loss. My goal was to bring such themes forth, through the character’s perspective.
- How do theatres respectfully create racially diverse companies and casts while recognizing the playwright’s original intentions?
I feel that it begins with an open, honest dialogue. How does one choose to define the position of the company? Is the theatre asking the right questions when it comes to racially diverse companies and casts? We, as theatre artists, have an opportunity to explore such questions with sensitivity, curiosity, and honesty. For me, it’s also important to remember that historically-marginalized groups, as a whole (such as those of African descent, for example) have never been on completely equal footing with regard to “mainstream” storytelling. To a large degree, choices in storytelling have been based on preconceived notions. To start these dialogues with such truths, with each story told, requires patience, commitment, and discipline.
- Diversity of casting is an important part of the Arvada Center’s IDEA initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access). How does this affect the stories we can tell and how a philosophy of IDEA can play a part in telling those stories?
For me, the Arvada Center’s IDEA initiative represents an exciting opportunity to approach and tell stories with uniquely fresh perspectives. The truths of these stories can be explored through formerly hidden lenses. My very casting illustrates a commitment to the philosophy of IDEA, and seeks to uncover truths that can be revealed and celebrated for the benefit of our audiences.
The 2019 Black Box Repertory Company features a rotating cast of talented actors – both new and familiar faces. Meet the company, and learn more about the plays presented this season, on the Arvada Center website. The Diary of Anne Frank runs until May 17.
By Leslie Simon
When the Arvada Center hosts Art of the State, a juried exhibit of local artists, the beautiful artwork on the main posters and invitations is hard to miss.
Every year, Director of Galleries Collin Parson teams with Warren Tech’s Scot Odendahl, choosing one lucky student to provide the main artwork while getting a chance to experience working in graphic design at a professional level. As the students hone in on their unique ideas, they are given assistance in ways to really amp up their work to a professional standard.
“We give the students the concept, theme and title for the winter and spring exhibits. They get to create graphic murals that we incorporate into printed invitational postcards,” Parson said.
While previous years saw only Graphic Design students participating, the program continues to grow and offer artistic opportunities for students in other concentrations to be a part of Art of the State. ODendahl remarks “This year we have expanded once again to create a multi-disciplinary program called the IDEA (InterDisciplinary Enterprise Apprenticeship) Group that consists of Computer Science & Cybersecurity, Game Development, Graphic Design & Digital Photography, STEM: X-TREME Engineering, and TV/Video Production. Students now have the ability to work together with other Warren Tech programs to solve multi-disciplinary problems in a creative environment.”
The collaborative program for Art of the State is a great way for students to get a head start in their creative profession. Each winning selection is adapted into various sizes and forms, from the 8’x8’ mural in the Main Gallery to the postcard invitations that have the students name credited on them. “It’s a win-win for everyone as they get a professional setting to experience and we get amazing and unique graphics while extending our mission of arts education,” said Collin.
With both the Arvada Center and Warren Tech being important community institutions in Arvada, it only makes sense that there is an overlap for some of the students.
“Our students love working with the Arvada Center, and many of them have been coming to events there since they were in elementary school. Seeing students have an experience working with a venue that has been a great influence on their early life impact and continue on into their future careers has been amazing to witness,” says Odendahl.
So when you see the poster for Art of the State 2019 this year with its beautiful state flower, the columbine, know that the artwork came from the hard work of a Warren Tech student artist and the guidance of the Arvada Center. What began as a student artwork exhibit grew into those students creating professional work for us, and we look forward to seeing how the relationship continues to grow.
Art of the State 2019 begins this Thursday, January 17 with a free reception from 6 – 9 pm. In its third iteration, Art of the State 2019 garnered 1,555 entries from 566 artists in a call for entry that was open to all Colorado artists utilizing all media. It runs until March 31.
9 Skills to Learn for 2019 – Kick your creative energy into gear for the New Year
By Leslie Simon
The beginning of a new year is always a great time to leave behind the things that don’t serve you, and take on new skills and challenges. The arts enrich your life in so many ways, from giving a sense of calm to helping us learn about life, and seeing things in a new perspective. Whether it’s learning the guitar to write soulful songs or using a 3D printer to bring your ideas and sketches to life, the Arvada Center is full of opportunities to learn new skills from renowned and patient teachers. Here are nine classes that can level up your creative energy in 2019.
Classes for Kids
1. 3D Printing –Turn your 2D sketch ideas into a 3D tangible object using a 3D printer in the Digital Creative Arts Lab at the Arvada Center. –Mon., Jan. 7-Mar. 11, 4pm-5:30pm
2. Cartooning: Anime and Manga –Study the popular cartooning styles anime and manga as students learn the techniques of drawing anime art to create their own comic. –Tue., Jan. 8-Mar. 12, 4pm-5:30pm
3. The Art of Magic –There’s a fine art when it comes to magic tricks, and as students learn the history and sleight of hand tricks, they will find themselves well on their way to starring in their own Las Vegas magic show. – M-F, Mar. 25-29, 9am-12pm
4. Digital Movie Making– The perfect class for those with a little Spielberg in them, get to learn all the ins and outs of making a digital film and using green screens at the Digital Creative Arts Lab. –M-F, Mar. 25-29, 9am-12pm
5. Monsters, Myth and Magic– Using a variety of art techniques to depict legendary monsters, students will learn monster origin tales that will give a deeper knowledge of the world around them. — M-F, Mar. 25-29, 9am-12pm
Classes for Adults
6. Pilates Mat Class – Imagine a class where you gain flexibility, strengthen your core muscles, improve mobility, perfect your posture, bring vitality back into your life and even get to listen to relaxing music- that’s the Pilates at Class. – Tues., Jan. 29-Apr. 2, 7:30pm-8:30pm
7. Beginning Guitar Lessons –Beginning with fingerpicking and on to guitar riffs, live out your rock star dreams with this beginner Guitar class.–Thur., Jan. 10-Mar. 14, 7pm-8:30pm
8. Beginning Calligraphy –Bring back the art of letter writing with this Calligraphy class, using your skills for party invitations, holiday cards and more.–Sat., Jan. 19, 9am-1pm
9. Easy Crocheting for Beginners –Baby, it’s cold outside! Learn the basics of bringing hook and yarn together to create fuzzy soft masterpieces in a soothing and relaxing manner. – Wed., Jan. 9-Feb. 27, 6pm-7:30pm