Alison Friedman named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts

Alison Friedman is named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts, following a competitive international search, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Robert A. Blouin announced in a campus email Monday.

Friedman, an internationally recognized performing arts executive and producer, will join Carolina in October to lead CPA in its 17th season. She is currently the artistic director for performing arts for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority in Hong Kong, one of the world’s largest arts and cultural developments, and has worked with renowned artists across Asia, Europe, Australia, South America and the United States.

“Alison’s extensive global experience aligns perfectly with CPA’s mission to spark curiosity and inspire its community to engage more fully with the world,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote in the email.

White woman with rainbow stripes in light brown hair wearing green v-neck top.
Alison Friedman, named executive and artistic director for Carolina Performing Arts. (Photo courtesy of Alison Friedman)

Friedman will direct the organizational framework for the arts at Carolina, working with both academic and non-academic units to identify new opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to engage with and experience the arts. She will build on the success of CPA by fostering new partnerships with arts and higher education institutions across the globe and staging performances that appeal to diverse audiences.

Friedman will continue the popular Creative Futures program at CPA, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which brings in artists to work with faculty and students in community-based research, and will help lead Arts Everywhere, a campus-wide initiative to make the arts a fundamental part of the University’s culture and daily life.

In her current role, Friedman leads the dance, theater, music and Chinese opera (xiqu) teams at Xiqu Centre and Freespace, the first two performing arts venues to open in West Kowloon Cultural District. She also oversees program planning for Xiqu Centre and Freespace and future venues being built in the district, including performances, workshops and outreach events. As acting executive director, Friedman led all aspects of production including budgeting, fundraising, administration and human resources, in addition to her regular duties. Her accomplishments include launching an annual indoor-outdoor jazz festival that reached tens of thousands in its inaugural two years, developing an intergenerational program designed for Hong Kong’s underserved elderly population and their families and caregivers and spearheading Hong Kong’s first digital programming in response to COVID-19 theater closures in January 2020.

“I’m thrilled to be joining Carolina Performing Arts as executive and artistic director. Under the  leadership of Chancellor Moeser and Emil Kang, the outstanding team has established CPA as one of the foremost arts organizations in the country. It’s especially meaningful to be joining the  larger UNC-Chapel Hill family, an institution that recognizes the indispensable value of the arts  for the health and well-being of its community and the vitality of society. I step into this role with great anticipation for the important work ahead of us.” 

Alison Friedman

Prior to her work in West Kowloon, Friedman was founder and executive and creative director of Ping Pong Productions, a pioneering non-profit performing arts exchange organization based in Beijing that presented more than 250 performance and outreach events annually across five continents. She also has completed an arts management fellowship program at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Friedman’s professional experience in performing arts includes leadership roles with Oscar and Grammy-winner Tan Dun’s company Parnassus Productions and the Beijing Modern Dance Company. A former Fulbright Fellowship recipient, Friedman graduated magna cum laude from Brown University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

“We are grateful for the hard work of the search committee, led by Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Terry Rhodes, to identify Alison from a strong, international pool of leading candidates,” the email said. “We would also like to thank Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser, who has served as interim executive and artistic director of CPA since 2019 and will remain in the role until June 30.”

When founding executive and artistic director Emil Kang departed Carolina to pursue work with the Mellon Foundation, no one could have predicted the challenges that CPA would face in 2020 as venues closed and the season was canceled due to COVID-19.

“Moeser’s passion and dedication helped CPA continue to bring diverse artists to engage with the Carolina community throughout the pandemic and connected the campus through innovative and expansive virtual arts programming,” the email said. “We offer our appreciation to Michael Johnson, associate director of Carolina Performing Arts, who will provide interim leadership until Alison arrives this fall.”

Over the past 16 years, Carolina Performing Arts has established itself as a University hallmark by offering opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to experience critically acclaimed, global performances that are typically only available in large cities.

“We are thrilled that Alison will continue this vision while starting a new era that will include the return of much missed in-person performances when it’s safe to do so. Please join us in thanking Chancellor Emeritus Moeser for his loyal service and welcoming Alison Friedman to Carolina,” Guskiewicz and Blouin wrote in the email.

Event FAQ

Please note that all spring 2021 events and performances at Carolina Performing Arts are virtual.

Our box office at Memorial Hall on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus is closed to the public until further notice, but our staff is checking voicemail (919.843.3333) and email (cpatixquestions@unc.edu or carolinaperformingarts@unc.edu) regularly to assist you with any ticketing or performance-related needs.

How do i buy a ticket to a cpa event or performance?

You can register for tickets to our virtual performances and events on our website. If you’re watching an event with other members of your household, you need only register for one ticket (unless otherwise specified). Please note that the suggested ticket donation for a single event is $15. All ticket donations go toward our annual fund.

are performances canceled right now?

We’ve gone online for the 20/21 season! Our performances and events through June 2021 are virtual/remote, in consideration of COVID-related restrictions and guidelines set at the federal, state, and University level.

how do i get my ticket?

At the time of registration, you should receive an email confirmation from carolinaperformingarts@unc.edu. On the afternoon of the performance, you will receive another email from the same address with your personalized link to the stream.

When will i get my link to the performance?

On the afternoon of the performance, you will receive an email with instructions on how to access your event. Please add carolinaperformingarts@unc.edu to your email contacts to ensure delivery. If you have not received an email by 4 PM on the day of the event, please contact us.

how do i watch a virtual cpa performance?

All of our performances require registration via our website (they will not be streamed publicly and are not searchable). We use YouTube as our platform for streaming video performances. We encourage you to check out our Livestream Tips and Tricks in advance of an event if you have questions about how to watch on your devices.

If you need assistance during a performance, please contact us via email or on Facebook.

i can’t make the performance; can i have a refund?

All donations made to Carolina Performing Arts (including those made as add-ons during the ticketing check-out process) are non-refundable.

Your gift is an investment in CPA—it demonstrates a commitment to our mission and will help safeguard and sustain the arts. If you have further questions about your donation, please contact Director of Development Ketura Parker.

Virtual season performances are also available on demand to ticketholders for 72 hours from the event time, if you would like to watch at a different time or rewatch the event.

WHEN IS THE BOX OFFICE OPEN?

Our box office is currently closed to the public until further notice due to circumstances related to COVID-19. Our staff monitors voicemail (919.843.3333) and email (cpatixquestions@unc.edu) regularly. You can also register for tickets to our events online.

how can i support cpa?

We’re grateful for our community across the Triangle and the globe who make our work possible. You can support us by signing up for our email newsletter, attending our virtual events, or electing to make a donation with your ticket registration. You can also explore other ways to support us here.

CAN I RECORD A CPA PERFORMANCE?

Recording or filming of CPA performances is not permitted.

Fill Us In: Michelle Dorrance

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 Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance, award-winning tapper and choreographer, and founder and artistic director of Dorrance Dance.

And, join us for The Spark with Tift Merritt featuring Michelle Dorrance on Thursday, April 8, 2021.

Carolina Performing Arts: What is the best way to start your day?
Michelle Dorrance: With gratitude.

CPA: What is the worst way to start your day?
MD: With regret.

CPA: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
MD: Never forget “the last of the human freedoms.”

CPA: What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
MD: The indefatigable human spirit.

CPA: What is your favorite meal?
MD: A Sunrise Biscuit.

CPA: What thing is necessary for you to make art?
MD: Not enough time.

CPA: Plane, train, bus, or bicycle?
MD: Train.

CPA: If you weren’t an artist, what would your profession be?
MD: A teacher.

CPA: What do you splurge on?
MD: Loved ones.

CPA: What does a perfect “room of one’s own” look like to you?
MD: A wood floor, great sound.

CPA: If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
MD: A soaring bird.

CPA: What advice do you have for artists just starting out?
MD: Do it because you love it, not because you want something from it.

CPA: Ocean, pool, or bathtub?
MD: Ocean.

Donor Spotlight: Susan Credle

Susan Credle, a white woman wearing a white collared shirt and a black vest overtop, poses for a headshot with her arms crossed.

By Tatjana Zimbelius-Klem

When Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer at advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding, heard about Carolina Performing Arts’ recently created 19 Fund, she and her husband Joseph Credle were immediately moved to support it. Named in recognition of the approaching centennial of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, which granted many US women the right to vote, the fund supports commissions of new works by women artists, underwrites artist residencies, and funds engagement events and masterclasses. Says Susan, “For the past 15 years, I have focused on lifting women up in our industry, trying to make sure that we have more female representation in leadership positions, because diversity in leadership leads to better outcomes. When your values align with the mission of an organization, your desire to support it rises exponentially.” 

A leader in her field and the first woman to be named chair of international organization The One Club for Creativity, Credle knows how important it is to step up and get actively involved with issues of personal importance. “Things don’t change unless you put in something to help with the change,” she says. Having remained grateful for the opportunities that her UNC degree has afforded her, Susan reconnected with her alma mater when she joined the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media’s board of advisers. “College is this interim space of independence, where you’re on your own for the first time in your life while still being protected by the structure school provides. UNC’s investment in me spurred my passion to give back, first through donations and later through board memberships.” Last year, Susan also joined the Carolina Performing Arts International Advisory Board, and with her husband has become inaugural lead supporter of the 19 Fund. Their gift, made in memory and honor of the Fowler, Suber, and Credle families, speaks to their unwavering commitment to women performing artists. “Joe and I believe that if you spread the peanut butter on too thin nobody tastes it,” she explains with a smile. 

Susan lived in Chapel Hill as a young child and has fond memories of watching basketball games and attending performances at the old Memorial Hall. She thinks early exposure is very important to a natural appreciation of the arts: “Adults often think of the arts as hard: you have to be well-versed, but kids don’t have that barrier and can appreciate it more immediately.”  

In CPA’s 15th anniversary season, Susan and Joe are looking most forward to she is called by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus (April 2020), a musical portrait of women’s experiences from biblical times to the present day, for which they are generously acting as both performance and student ticket benefactors. It is with deep gratitude that we acknowledge the support of Susan and Joseph Credle and their steadfast support for the mission and values of the mission and values of CPA and UNC-Chapel Hill.  

Staff Intro: Amy Russell, Director of Programming

We are thrilled to introduce you to our friend Amy Russell, director of programming for CPA, in our latest staff feature! A coffee fan, gardener, and baker in her free time, Amy leads the way in bringing artistic talent, familiar and new, to Carolina Performing Arts and the Chapel Hill community.

Amy Russell (left) with Susin Seow (center), former CPA Director of Development, and Ketura Parker (right), current CPA Director of Development.

CPA: How long have you worked at CPA?

Amy Russell: I have worked at CPA for just over six years – I started in the fall of 2014.

CPA: What’s your favorite part of your job?

AR: My favorite part of my job is that I get to devote a lot of time, energy, and resources to building relationships with artists from around the world, and then introduce them to local people and step back and watch as they create something together. My curiosity and my desire to learn are also satisfied every day in my work, and I am very grateful for that.

CPA: Coffee or tea?

AR: Coffee! All the coffee! Every day starts with cold brew that I make at home, or a cappuccino from Open Eye Café which, thankfully, I can order online and pick up outside to maintain social distancing.  That has been a sanity-saving trip to make every once in a while during the pandemic.

CPA: Where’s your go-to place for takeout?

AR: Mint on Franklin Street has been our family’s go-to for years, but the chicken veggie pie at Breakaway Café is a new favorite and hard to beat on a cold winter night.

CPA: It’s a Saturday afternoon. Where would we find you?

AR: Gardening, if the season is right, or inside cooking or baking with my son.

CPA: What’s the most memorable performance you’ve ever seen (CPA or non-CPA)? Why?

AR: It is impossible to pick just one, so I will share the first few that come to mind: the US premiere of Toshi Reagon’s Parable of The Sower which we presented in Memorial Hall, singing at the top of my lungs all the way through a three-hour Bruce Springsteen concert about ten years ago in Greensboro (a.k.a. Steensboro), Akram Khan’s Until the Lions at the Holland Festival, and Karmina Šilec’s Toxic Psalms at St. Anne’s Warehouse presented by Prototype Festival.  I am lucky to say that the longer I think about it, the more truly memorable performances I recall, and hopefully CPA is causing that same “problem” for many people!

Making the Future

A Glimpse Inside CPA’s Creative Futures Artist Residency 

By Michele Lynn 

The process of making art can be a powerful catalyst for creating community. With that in mind, in summer 2018, Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) launched Creative Futures, an initiative funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Creative Futures brings together four visionary artists—Helga Davis, Shara Nova, Okwui Okpokwasili, and Toshi Reagon—to collaborate with UNC faculty, local community members, and one another.  

Christopher Massenburg, Rothwell Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures, says the fellowship “intentionally fosters a deeper collaboration among different communities of knowledge and insight that don’t always have the opportunity to work together.”  

“Artists such as our fellows are always exploring questions in their work, which is similar to how UNC’s faculty—as well as people outside of academia—approach their own research,” says Amy Russell, CPA’s director of programming. “But artists and academics use different means for discovery, which makes them brilliant collaborators.”

Toshi Reagon looks off into the distance for a headshot.

Toshi Reagon is a force of nature.

Toshi Reagon, a Brooklyn-based singer, composer, musician, curator, activist, and producer, has already spent significant time at Carolina since 2017, thanks to her role as CPA’s inaugural Mellon Foundation Discovery Through Iterative Learning (DisTIL) Fellow in 2017/2018.

“I’m grateful that Creative Futures will let me stay in this community, which I love,” says Reagon. “Chapel Hill has a strong black community oral tradition, leading scholars, amazing activists, and great artists, and I’m excited to continue to work with all of them.”

The economy, survival, and music are the threads that Reagon is braiding together during her Creative Futures fellowship. By facilitating dialogue in the community and in classes on campus, Reagon will create connections by exploring what can be learned and listening to the stories told and conversations had.

“Chapel Hill has a strong black community oral tradition, leading scholars, amazing activists, and great artists, and I’m excited to continue to work with all of them.”

Toshi Reagon

One of Reagon’s planned projects is a series of musicals, each of which will “explore something thematic around the issues related to the economy and survival,” says Reagon. She plans to expand on discoveries from her DisTIL partnership with UNC associate professor Renée Alexander Craft and collaborate with other faculty, students and “the amazing musical family in the Triangle,” researching pressing issues and making art that will spur a conversation with the public. This semester, she is collaborating on a UNC course with Alexander Craft and professor Joseph Megel that will culminate in a performance by students. 

“There are going to be a lot of public offerings that will foster communication,” says Reagon. “I hope to bring a deep level of in-depth conversation and interaction that can serve as a point of transformation for this community.”

Okwui Okpokwasili is building a sonic landscape.  

Okwui Okpokwasili, whose 2018 MacArthur Fellow biography describes her as a “performer, choreographer, and writer creating multidisciplinary performance pieces,” seeks to use the practices of art and performance to build bridges and bonds. Holding space where community members can be in dialogue with each other and learn from one another is critically important to her.  

“My project is to build a platform for the creation of an ongoing improvisational song,” she says. Okpokwasili, who is cultivating relationships with local community artists, “develops strategies and exercises that allow us to engage in conversations with people we know and people we don’t know. And from these conversations we start to build a sonic landscape.” 

“I hope that this work builds deeper connections…”

Okwui Okpokwasili

“That landscape could be lyrical, melodic songs, cries, shouts,” she says. Working with local artists—including Murielle Elizeon  and Tommy Noonan, co-directors of the Saxapahaw-based performing arts collective Culture Mill—Okpokwasili and her collaborative partner Peter Born will create a space to create an “improvisational public song comprised of sounds and movement.”  

Okpokwasili believes that this work is the perfect way to integrate CPA’s “desire to reach out into the community in a deeper and more sustained relationship.” She says that building community and having individuals communicate with one another are at the heart of her work.  

“I hope that this work builds deeper connections with the artists who are part of the larger Chapel Hill community who might find that they might not be seen or feel welcome in some of these spaces,” she says. “I also hope that this fellowship with other incredible artists will help the Chapel Hill community recognize how vital arts practices are to a strong, sustainable and healthy community.”  

Shara Nova wears a white collared shirt, her bright red hair in a bun.

Shara Nova wants to explore how to find our common humanity.  

There are three branches to the musical life of Shara Nova: composer, singer/songwriter for My Brightest Diamond, and singer for music by other composers. With Creative Futures, Nova and fellow artist-in-residence Helga Davis—who have been friends for more than 20 years—are creating a piece with the choirs at Durham’s Northern High School, working with choir director Rachel Spencer alongside faculty partner Tanya Shields, associate professor of women’s and gender studies at UNC. 

“We interview choir members, ask them questions to better understand their life and use that to create the work that will be performed,” says Nova. “The students are from lots of different places and have varied experiences and backgrounds. That was appealing to me because I want to explore how we cross these divides and where we find our common humanity.” Nova says that the job of artists is to provide a safe environment for people to say what they are feeling and talk about their experience. 

The work will be incorporated into Body Vessel, a piece Nova and Davis are creating based on their friendship and lives as people with different skin color and different experiences. “I’m from the South and Helga is from Harlem,” says Nova. “I’m 5’2” and she’s somewhere around six feet tall. The reality is that because of our skin color, we’ve had to learn a practice of community in our friendship that’s not taught. We want to share with people the love that we have for each other and create a space to have what can be hard to do in this country: to self-examine and to listen.” 

Nova says that the personal nature of the work is important. “We’re not trying to have a big conversation about skin color that is outside of ourselves,” she says. “It’s a very personal examination.” 

Helga Davis wears a textured white sweater and stares intensely ahead.

Helga Davis dislikes labels. 

“I live in many fields of saying ‘yes’: yes, I will work on that film; yes, I will curate this conversation; yes, I will write a song,” says Helga Davis. Often described as a vocalist and performance artist, Davis sees her work as a mirror for people.  

“This is an opportunity to see what the community is holding and to help them hold it.”

helga davis

Davis believes that developing a piece with Shara Nova about their relationship will be valuable for the larger community. “Shara and I have a lot of conversations about being women of different races, and how we experience those things in the world as performers and as people who are concerned about the communities in which we live,” says Davis. 

“We’re not coming from the outside to tell people what to do, how smart we are, and what we know and they don’t,” says Davis. “This is an opportunity to see what the community is holding and to help them hold it.”  

As visiting curator for performing arts at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Davis has experience in commissioning people from the community to create work and conversations around a myriad of topics. “That experience has fattened me up for understanding the importance of how to do it somewhere else, and I’m looking forward to bringing that to Chapel Hill,” she says. 

Davis and Nova’s work will include a piece that involves local musicians and community. “The work will manifest itself in song and there will be dialogue,” says Davis. “The big thing for us is to take our concerns for our society and for ourselves and bring that into the work and include as many people as we can into that dialogue. We want to make something that serves as a snapshot and as a place on a road that we might be able to take as a society.” 

The Gift of Fellowship 

Massenburg says that Creative Futures is designed to “lift up the voices of women in art, to make sure that they are supported not only in acclaim for their work but also in terms of resources and capacity.”  

“To create amazing work, you need the opportunity to have funding, space, and support to be able to create sustainably,” he says. “We have the opportunity to do that with this project, especially for women of color.” 

Reagon agrees. “Getting support, not just so that you are able to function in your life, but support for the vision that you have is exciting and beautiful,” she says. “This fellowship allows me to be in another part of the country I adore, to expand community, to learn and receive from people, and produce new work.” 

She appreciates that Carolina Performing Arts is bringing artists into the community for “in-depth conversation and interaction as a point of transformation.” She says that CPA’s ongoing commitment to fostering these collaborations can help dissolve boundaries. “This deep investment continues to increase the possibility for art to have an impact on education, both on campus and in the community,” says Reagon. 

The duration of the grant is unprecedented, in Nova’s experience. “To be able to spend four years with a community is very different than coming in to do a big event and then leaving,” she says. “Having the opportunity to be in a community with the time to figure out how you can best serve that community is a unique experience.” 

Okpokwasili is grateful to have support in a way she hasn’t experienced before. “Having the space to make more mistakes, to really push, to be completely liberated from some idea of a finished piece and to dive deeply into the rigors of the practice is a gift,” she says. “This partnership—the university, the resources, the rigor of the academy in creating a space that feels really wild—is exciting.” 

“This fellowship gives us an opportunity to work over a period of time and figure out how to continue the conversations we start,” says Davis. “That’s a huge thing for me as an artist, and as someone who cares about the sustainability of the work. It’s such a tremendous opportunity for the four of us to be resources for one another, to be mirrors for one another, and to be in deep sisterhood and friendship.” 

Creating the Future 

In conversation, Reagon mentions the giant garage door that is part of the theater space at CURRENT. 

“That signifies something at the heart of how CPA would like to impact this community. It says that this door is open and anything is possible.” 

Fill Us In: Allison Loggins–Hull of Flutronix

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 CPA artist-in-residence Allison Loggins-Hull who, with collaborator Nathalie Joachim, make up flute and electronics duo Flutronix.

A questionnaire titled "Fill Us In" featuring a picture of artist Allison Loggins-Hull, who provided the answers. The answers on the questionnaire are reflected in the text below this image.

What is the best way to start your day?
My husband and I make a point to have coffee together first thing in the morning, before the children wake up and the demands of the day begin.

What is the worst way to start your day?
Looking at the news right away.

What would the title of your memoir be?
Whelp, That Was Crazy: A Story of Impossible Ideas and Enormous Undertakings

If you had a motto, what would it be?
Trust the universe!

What person do you admire most?
Michelle Obama. She is ALL of the things!

How do you hope others describe you in three words or less?
Black girl magic.

If you could transform into an animal, what animal would you be?
I’d be a bird, only because of the ability to fly.

What does a perfect “room of one’s own” look like to you?
No clutter, lots of sun, some flowers, a fireplace.

What smell can transport you back to your childhood?
The original cherry almond Jergens lotion.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Listen to your gut.

Ocean, bathtub, or pool?
Ocean.

If you weren’t an artist what would your profession be?
Something involving home renovations and/or architecture.

What is something you splurge on?
Food. I once spent $800 on a sushi dinner for two. No regrets.

What advice do you have for artists who are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and trust your gut! Also, it’s okay to take time to figure yourself out.

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

Changing through Collective Creation

Engaging with Affordable Housing: The Musical

Black man dressed in black on foreground of stage, with several people in background holding up a hand-painted sign that says "Welcome to Church Mound"

In November of 2019, Affordable Housing: The Musical premiered at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio to a completely sold-out audience. Presented as part of a partnership between community organizations, including Chapel Hill’s Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) and Carolina Performing Arts, the weekend run of this grassroots performance reminded us that the work we do outside of our presenting season is ongoing—and important. 

Founded in 2009, CEF serves and supports Orange County residents experiencing housing insecurity. Co-founder Maggie West had recognized that members of the organization were looking for more opportunities for artistic expression, and so, over more than a year-and-a-half, she and others collaborated to create a performance that would “educate community members on issues of affordable housing and, in the process, reduce the stigma of homelessness.” 

Simultaneously, UNC music major Rachel Despard was searching for ways to use her voice to support the community. An intern for the engagement team at CPA (which works with faculty, students, and community to create connections with artists and the arts), she had also performed at CEF benefit concerts. Soon, Rachel dove into helping bring the musical to life. As production got underway, she offered her experience in mixing and mastering audio to create an official soundtrack for all streaming platforms, which was released in May 2020.     

Through her work with both CPA and CEF, Rachel forged connections that led her to a new understanding of the role of performance in daily life. This experience carried into her academics, as well. In her senior year, she authored (and successfully defended!) an honors thesis that presented a “study of socially engaged art-making and micro-activism in Chapel Hill in 2019 and 2020,” based on her intersecting experiences of collaborating with CEF and CPA, and her study of “existing scholarship on artistic advocacy and ethnomusicological activism, inform[ing] my argument for the significance of micro-activism and socially engaged art making.” 

Finding new pathways for pedagogy and participation is at the core of CPA’s engagement work, and the work extends long after the curtain falls on a performance. From Rachel’s thesis: 

“When you sing a song for an audience, you can immediately witness their reaction and feel a connection. Within the strong relationships that are built through music, participants in collective creation can see others change over the course of a musical project or collaboration. This was the kind of impact I was searching for, and one I witnessed through Affordable Housing: The Musical.” 

When Rachel came to UNC, she didn’t know how her passions of music, advocacy, and academia would evolve and mesh as they have done. And for CPA, getting to encourage and help make these connections for students and community members is an integral part of the “backstage” work we do.

Ellie Pate is an artistic coordinator at Carolina Performing Art, working both in artist services and in engagement. 

CEF serves and supports Orange County residents experiencing housing insecurity, and its work is just as urgent as ever: in the face of COVID-19, members without housing are some of the most vulnerable to the virus, and those with housing face financial uncertainty from economic turmoil. If you are able, you can support this crucial work by donating directly to Community Empowerment Fund or The Marian Cheek Jackson Center, or by donating a dinner through Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe (contact Vimala’s for more information).

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.

Idalis’s Stay Home and Stream Guide

A What to Watch Guide from CPA’s Patron Services Coordinator

A woman wearing a bright dress and jean jacket stands in front of window boxes filled with plants, her hand on her hip.

Hey y’all! Hope this time at home is treating you all kindly, as it’s not a normal time. Many of us are having to transition to a work-from-home lifestyle which, I’ll admit, hasn’t been super easy – at least not for me. Although this is a challenging time, trying to retain a sense of normalcy and comfort has been a major key to me keeping some of my sanity. Below are four shows that currently have my attention.

Gilmore Girls – Netflix

Quality wholesome television. A pop culture classic. I’m on my first watch of seeing the Gilmore women take on the world, and I can’t complain. If I had to pick a small town to live in, it’d be Stars Hollow. One of the few shows where I don’t have the urge to press the “skip intro” button, mainly because I can’t help but sing along to the theme song, “Where You Lead” by Carole King.

3rd Rock from the Sun – Amazon Prime Video

Oh, the nostalgia. For some reason, I have very vivid memories of watching reruns of this show during the early mornings when I was home from elementary school. I’ve been working my way through this comedy since last fall, but now that we’re in full social distancing mode, I’ve found myself going back to this comedy. Quite frankly, I’d give almost anything to be Sally Solomon right now because who wouldn’t want to be an alien during a pandemic?

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness – Netflix

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge binge watcher. Every time I’ve tried, I usually don’t succeed. But y’all, Tiger King is just that wild – it’s worth the binge. There are only 7 episodes, not including the after show hosted by Joel McHale. Each episode is like traveling further down a never-ending rabbit hole of things that really happened. Even if you’ve been fighting the urge to watch because you don’t want to seem too mainstream, I guarantee you it is worth caving to peer pressure. This series does depict some very heavy topics and even though they aren’t always presented in a serious manner, I encourage everyone who watches to take a step back when necessary.

Good Mythical Morning – YouTube

Led by North Carolinians Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, Good Mythical Morning (GMM) has recently been a source of many early morning laughs – which are definitely needed during this strange time. Honestly, GMM is one of my favorite channels on YouTube and while we’re holed up, I highly recommend giving them a watch. Most of the videos are no longer than 20 minutes and sometimes feature special guests, which makes whatever challenge, game, or taste test that much funnier.

-Idalis Payne

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