Fill Us In: Pedja Mužijević

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank questionnaire inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.   

In  this  edition, we’re talking with bold and innovative pianist Pedja Mužijević who has defined his career with creative programming, unusual combinations of new and old music, and lasting collaborations with other artists and ensembles.

A graphical version of Pedja Mužijević's artist questionairre answers with Carolina Performing Arts brand colors and whimsical shapes. The answers in this image are identical to the answers in text below.

What is the best way to start your day?
Waking up.

What is the worst way to start your day?
Not waking up.

What would the title of your memoir be?
“I Got Away With It.”

What is something you splurge on?
Food and wine.

If you had a motto, what would it be?
Walk through every door that opens to you.

What person do you admire most?
Mahatma Gandhi.

What advice do you have for artists who are just starting out?
Question everything, most of all yourself.

How do you hope others describe you in three words or less?
I like him.

If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
A friendly tiger.

What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
Watermelon.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Do something kind to someone you don’t know everyday.

Ocean, bathtub, or pool?
Pool.

If you weren’t an artist what would your profession be?
Chef.

What is your favorite meal?
The next one.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
Playing chamber music with friends and cooking together.

What thing is necessary for you to make art?
Audience.

The “Last Live”: Reflections on Meredith Monk’s Cellular Songs

When was the last time you saw a live performance? Until recently, this was a simple question, but in this COVID era it calls to mind wistful memories of sitting beside friends and strangers in a dark space full of collective concentration.

In my recent conversations with UNC faculty and students, many responded to this question with a distant look followed by a pause or a sigh, signaling nostalgia and loss. Others became animated, enthusiastically recalling the energy in the performance hall or a late-night post-show debate over dinner.

Two women stand outside on UNC's quad holding puppets on long strings as they rehearse for an opera.
Students in Marc Callahan’s class rehearse for Atlas, Monk’s opera.

For both me and professor Marc Callahan in the Department of Music, the answer to this question was Meredith Monk’s Cellular Songs, the last live performance that took place at Carolina Performing Arts in March 2020. The performance, which Callahan and his opera students attended, struck both of us as immediately singular, even before our current extraordinary circumstances. A pioneer of interdisciplinary experimental performance, Monk uses “the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words.”

In Cellular Songs, Monk and her all-female ensemble embodied and vocally expressed a profound connectedness that resonated beyond the Memorial Hall stage and into the audience, where Callahan, his students, and I sat in disbelief. Afterward, student Imani Oluoch described this performance as “primal and primordial.” Her fellow student performer, Hannah Lawrence, recalled “the sense of community as each woman laid their head on each other’s shoulders before the lights faded out.”

“I gained from Cellular Songs…a renewed commitment to presence of mind in each instant I live.”

Carson gartner, unc opera student

Callahan’s students were particularly attuned to Monk’s performance, as they were deep into rehearsals for a student interpretation of Monk’s lyric-less opera Atlas, which was set to premiere on campus in early April 2020. Six months later, the opera students are yet to perform Atlas live. While the current remote semester unfolds, they are working on an Atlas film that they hope to publicly stream this winter (watch a clip here). 

At Callahan’s urging, I made a brief Zoom visit to his class to prompt these undergraduate Monk experts to consider the gravity of their last live Meredith Monk performance. Their insightful reflections were as much about their individual reactions to Cellular Songs as they were about the arts as a practice of togetherness, a practice that has renewed poignancy after extended isolation. Carson Gartner shared, “I gained from Cellular Songs (albeit on a slight delay) a renewed commitment to presence of mind in each instant I live.” Mackenzie Smith wrote that delving into Monk’s practice encouraged her “to learn and explore within the uncertainty.”

For me, the words of these students feel like important lessons for this time. Indeed, I see Carolina Performing Arts’ current pause in live performance as an opportunity to reimagine our organization, to recommit to our theaters not only as stages for performance, but as spaces where artists and audiences are invited to come together to embrace the uncertainty of the live.

Amanda Graham is the associate director of engagement at Carolina Performing Arts. Through her work, she regularly engages with faculty and students across campus. Currently, she is cohosting Feedback: The Institute for Performance, a new set of free virtual courses on performance open to adults in the Triangle. 

Fill Us In: Abigail Washburn

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank questionnaire inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.   

In  this  edition, we’re talking with Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and banjo player Abigail Washburn, a CPA/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL artist-in-residence and the first guest artist on The Spark with Tift Merritt.

Fill Us In: Tift Merritt

Welcome to Fill Us In, our rapid fire fill-in-the-blank questionnaire inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire where we take a peek inside the minds of Carolina Performing Arts’ artists.   

In  this  edition, we’re talking with beloved singer/songwriter Tift Merritt, a Raleigh native and UNC alumna who took the music world by storm with the release of Bramble Rose.

A Virtual Graham Masterclass

UNC students dance with Graham dancer Leslie Williams over Zoom.

Jess Abel is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Carolina Performing Arts, and had the pleasure of joining intermediate and advanced UNC student dancers in CPA’s inaugural virtual masterclass, led by Martha Graham Dance Company dancer Leslie Williams, on August 20, 2020.

After a trying week for the UNC community, starting the Martha Graham Dance Company masterclass––CPA’s first-ever virtual masterclass––with a few moments of deep breathing led by Graham dancer Leslie Williams felt both settling and profound.

We inhaled and exhaled to the count of eight from our living rooms, bedrooms, garages, and home offices, connected by Leslie’s voice and identical movements as we moved on to stretching and then to Graham technique over Zoom. As we moved, we pictured ourselves on beaches and in meadows, we related the concavity of Michelangelo’s Pietà to Graham’s iconic and striking poses, and we became more fluid with our movements.

Williams leads the class through an iconic Graham sequence.

Particularly striking was the ease and grace with which Professor Heather Tatreau’s dance students learned the movements amidst the physical distance and less-than-ideal studio settings (trading in Marley dance flooring for shag carpeting, for instance, can’t be easy). But the energy of the class was that of literal and mental flexibility, positivity, and resilience.

By the end of the hour, the home office I was dancing in seemed to become an extension on Leslie’s studio. It was challenging and freeing, private and communal all at once, and as we were nearing cool-down two things were very clear to this arts lover: five months of quarantine had not been kind to my athletic abilities, and masterclasses will continue to be as deeply meaningful over Zoom as they ever were in person.

Ellie’s Must-Have Vegan Eats

If you’re like us, you might be starting to run low on cooking inspiration after all these days at home. We called in Ellie Pate, artistic coordinator and chef of some of the most delicious work lunches at the CPA office, to lend us some inspiration. Whether you’re vegan, looking to jazz up your meals with more veggies, or just want to learn how to make the most beautiful pizza we’ve ever seen, read on.

A woman wearing glasses and a jean jacket smiles. She stands in front of a wooded backyard.

CPA: What are some good plant-based pantry staples to have on hand?
Ellie Pate: One of my favorite things about being vegan is that you can make so many different things out of the same food staples if you have basic spices. I always keep the following on hand, and use generously:
i. Garlic (I always use fresh and usually double the amount)
ii. Ginger
iii. Basil
iv. Oregano
v. Rosemary
vi. Coriander
vii. Cumin
viii. Nutritional yeast !!!
ix. Black pepper

CPA: Favorite single ingredient?
EP: I find many people aren’t big fans of mushrooms, but I love them and eat them probably every other day. They are the only plant-based source of vitamin D (important when we’re stuck inside all day!) and are actually really versatile in the ways they can be used. My go-to way to prepare them is to dry-sauté them by adding them, sliced, directly onto a pan over medium heat without any oil. When they get a little tender, add your spices (I like cooking them in rosemary, basil, and oregano). This method allows them to release water as they heat up, so they won’t stick and they’ll absorb flavor better. Try it this way if you usually find mushrooms too slimy! Add to pasta, pizza, mix in with rice, bake with potatoes, stir fry it, do whatever you want. I like to eat them with steamed garlic greens.

CPA: What’s your advice for meal-prepping?
EP: Most of my meals are basically vegetables on some sort of “base”, like rice, pasta, or quinoa. Some of my favorite ways to avoid eating pasta three days a week are to make polenta, gnocchi, and pizza! (We all have the Italians to thank.)

IMG_1457-min

For pizza, I usually just get pre-made dough from Trader Joe’s, but its pretty easy to make yourself too. Throw veggies on there–so easy. For the pictured pizza, first take dough out of fridge to rest for 20 mins. Meanwhile, cut up desired vegetables into bite sized pieces. Here, I used mushrooms, half one green pepper, half one large onion, (thinly sliced), broccoli (stems cut off, about 1 inch pieces), a handful of spinach, chopped grape tomatoes, and 3 minced cloves of garlic. Put them all in a bowl and drizzle 2 or more tablespoons of oil (I recommend grapeseed or olive), and then 1 tsp of each rosemary, oregano, and basil, and ½ tsp of crushed red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste. I also added a good amount of nutritional yeast to get a cheesy flavor, but I put that on everything! Mix so everything looks evenly coated. Roll out dough to about 12 inches across and just thin enough not to tear. Add marinara/ pizza sauce and use the back of a spoon to cover the dough. Top with the veggies to desired thickness, and bake according to dough instructions.

Voila! (I had a lot of the veggie mix left over and ate it with pasta the next day for dinner)

CPA: Give us your best plant-based wisdom.
EP: Embrace the chickpea.

CPA: Best quick meal or snack?
EP: Omg, sweet potato and avocado sandwiches are GREAT. I bake my sweet potatoes in the microwave because its fast – just stab with a fork all over and put it in there for 4-8 mins depending on the size of the potato. Smear these things on toast and put a little salt and pepper – so good, and an easy lunch when you’re working from home.

CPA: What’s a good way to add a little pizzazz to a meal?
EP: Consider adding nuts to top things off and add flavor, texture, and protein! I found a whole bag of frozen walnuts in my freezer and have been experimenting with just toasting them in a pan and adding them to sautéed kale or pancakes.

IMG_1450-min

CPA: What kind of bread should we be baking while social distancing?
EP: If you’re looking for a project, start making sourdough bread. It is a fun experiment and a way to eat bread that is kind of healthy (yay probiotics!)! There’s lots of resources online, but the way to start is to mix equal parts flour and water (leave a glass of tap water out for 8 hours first to evaporate off any chlorine, because it will kill the yeast) in a glass or steel bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. After 24 hours, pour off 2/3 of it, and add equal parts flour and water again. Do this every day for about 5 days – it should start smelling nice and yeasty. When its nice and bubbly (kinda foamy), drop a little of it into a glass of water. If it floats, it’s ready to use. If it sinks, feed and check on it again in about 4 hours, and then at 8 hours, then at 12.

Staff Intro: Mark Steffen, Events Manager

We are thrilled to introduce you to our friend Mark Steffen, events manager, in our latest staff feature! A tea lover, extraordinary meeting leader, and all-around office MVP, Mark works with other UNC departments and student orgs who present their work at CPA’s venues, and was one of CPA’s very first staff members.

CAN YOU GIVE US A SENSE OF YOUR DAY-TO-DAY AT CPA WHEN THE SEASON’S RUNNING AS PER USUAL?

The bulk of my work involves working with organizations that rent our facilities—primarily other University departments or UNC student organizations. So a typical day might involve responding to venue reservation requests, meeting with rental clients to help them plan and budget for their events, and working on invoices for events that have already passed. I also lead our weekly Operations Staff Meetings where we plan for upcoming events and discuss how past events went (both Carolina Performing Arts events and events by other organizations) and what improvements we can make in the future.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED AT CPA?

A long time! I started in November 2005, when CPA was only a few months old. It was supposed to be a temp job, but things turned out differently. I like to tell people my very first assignment at CPA was to assemble a particleboard bookshelf for our administrative office, which was in a retail space on Franklin Street near where CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio is now. It’s amazing to see how far CPA has come over the years.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB? 

I really enjoy working on multiple, diverse events all at once. You never know who will come knocking on CPA’s door wanting to have an event in one of our spaces. We work a lot with student organizations that put on performances in our spaces, which is really rewarding. They always try their best to put on the best show possible, which sometimes leads to some interesting requests. Like when a fraternity performing in the Step Show asks if they can fly a person in from the grid (No) or when one of the student theater groups asks if they can use fake blood for their performance of Sweeney Todd (Maybe, but we have to test to make sure the fake blood won’t stain the curtains first).

From time to time we’ll also have groups bring big name speakers to our venues. Neil deGrasse Tyson (a personal favorite) once spoke at Memorial Hall and Jimmy Fallon filmed an episode of Late Night on stage at Memorial Hall with President Obama and Dave Matthews as guests. That’s a hard one to beat.

COFFEE OR TEA?  

Coffee first thing in the morning to wake me up, then tea throughout the rest of the day. Any CPA staff member should be able to vouch for the tea thing.

WHAT’S BEEN YOUR GO-TO PLACE FOR TAKEOUT FOOD THESE PAST WEEKS?  

I haven’t done a lot of takeout recently, but I’ve definitely been missing Cosmic Cantina. It’s right next to our office at the Porthole Building. When I’m not working from home, it takes all my strength not to eat lunch there every day.

“I really enjoy working on multiple, diverse events all at once. You never know who will come knocking on CPA’s door…”

Mark steffen
IT’S A SUNNY SATURDAY AFTERNOON. WHERE WOULD WE FIND YOU?

Hopefully somewhere outdoors, on a walk or in a boat. I have a few favorite places—University Lake, the Occoneechee Speedway Trail, and Saxapahaw along the Haw River.

WHAT’S SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN GIVING YOU JOY THROUGH THESE STRANGE COVID TIMES?

There are a lot of things I’m missing right now. Many things I either didn’t use to think about or took for granted. But lately I’ve been using those feelings as excuses to be more mindful and thankful for the things I used to enjoy and will, one day, enjoy again. Trading good mornings with my bus driver (extra special when it’s the CPA bus I’m riding), stores with shelves stocked full of toilet paper, and performances on stages instead of screens and with real audiences too. Those things will come back in time. Hopefully once they do, we will all cherish them a bit more. Thinking that way actually gives me a great deal of joy.

WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE YOU’VE EVER SEEN (CPA OR NON-CPA)?

In 2011 CPA presented Black Watch by National Theatre of Scotland. It was a play about a regiment of British soldiers fighting in the Iraq War meant for a black box theater space. This was before CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio existed, so we built the set on stage in Memorial Hall and sat the audience on stage too. It was such an immersive, moving experience. The scale of the performance seemed incredibly huge, with the sounds of explosions making you feel as if you were really on the battlefield. At the same time there were moments that were truly intimate, when you were only ten feet away from an actor portraying a soldier in a way that was based on interviews of real soldiers. It was incredible.

Our Staff’s Top Picks for Summer Reads

Summertime is book club time at Carolina Performing Arts, as we read books that make us so excited for the season to come! Our Artistic Coordinator Ellie Pate and Marketing and Communications Coordinator Jess Abel put together their recommended reads.


Four women smile as they hold books they've been reading and discussing together.


The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece
 by Eric Siblin
A book that delves into the technicalities of Bach’s six cello suites with the energy and curiosity of someone who’s just heard them for the first time, this read is perfect for the classical aficionado and Bach beginner alike. I can’t wait for Johnny Gandelsman to play them on his violin in front of an already (!) sold-out crowd in CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio on February 9, 2020. Fans of Johnny, stay tuned in case we add an additional performance! – JA

And Then We Danced: A Voyage Into the Groove by Henry Alford
What started as a personal account from a Zumba class for the New York Times turned into a new passion for longtime writer Alford. Much like Misty Copeland, Alford found his passion for dance late. But unlike the ballerina, who began dancing at the age of 13 (late in the professional ballet world) Alford didn’t discover his love of dance until he was 50. His story explores personal anecdotes and the history of dance—I’m looking forward to seeing Misty give her own perspective on similar things and much more when she kicks off our season on September 6. This book is a fun primer for all the incredible dance on our season–including Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey! – JA

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original, edited by Sara B. Franklin
This collection of essays is the first ever to position the great chef Edna Lewis (who I admittedly hadn’t heard of before CPA started booking our 19/20 season!) as a fulcrum of American culture. It makes you consider food’s ever-present influence on who we are and what it took for Edna to share her knowledge. Whether you’re a Southerner, gardener, or lover of fried chicken, stories of Edna evoke both nostalgia and a desire to question the institutions that formed her legacy. I can’t wait to get Als’s take on this hero through his work-in-progress, Edna Lewis, this February! – EP

White Girls by Hilton Als
Hilton Als’s latest book paints an experience of life, gender, and race that he narrates and analyzes simultaneously. In this book, identities are less tangible than the dynamics and relationships behind them. I am intrigued by the way Als’s mind makes associations and, from an audience perspective, I’m eager to get such personal insight into the mind of the critic and playwright. This one is sure to be an excellent primer for anyone interested in how performance exists for us every day. – EP

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign Up