It’s getting windy these days and this Chopin etude (op. 25 no. 12 “Winter wind”) reminds me of that hard frozen gusts of ice and snow.
The etude or study is an “exercise” but this Chopin etude can be played in concert. It’s a harsh workout for the right hand which emulates the torrential onslaught of the wind and is reinforced by the proud left hand.
Last year it snowed today. Winter wind is coming… maybe not today or the next week, but it is inevitable.
This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Vince Cardinal, Professor and Chair of the Department of Musical Theatre here at the University of Michigan. He offered insights as to what the department does in a typical year, how they’ve been adjusting to the restrictions of this semester, and how students can still view and participate in theatre on campus!
If you didn’t already know, the Musical Theatre program here at Michigan is one of the best in the country. Professor Cardinal told me they accept less than 2% of applicants — roughly 20% less than Michigan’s already-competitive acceptance rate. This is, in part, because of the department’s incredible reputation; they are one of the most represented schools on Broadway and are increasingly being featured in TV and film productions as well. A typical MT major’s schedule is around two-thirds filled with musical theatre courses, with the rest left for general requirements, minors, or even dual-degrees. Through their involvement in University Production shows, as well as participating in a variety of student productions, MT students gain experience performing a wide variety of genres and become equipped for whatever opportunities come their way after graduation. Check out this video featuring some Maize and Blue alumni:
Of course, like most programs, the Department of Musical Theatre has had to make some adjustments in their teaching and performing this semester. Almost all of their current curriculum has been moved virtual, except for dance classes, which have been reduced in density while utilizing masks and social distancing. Although having to teach and learn the performing arts online is obviously not ideal, Professor Cardinal told me that there have been some silver linings in all of it. For example, they’ve been able to bring in top-tier talent to help their students – including Andy Blankenbueler (the choreographer for Hamilton) and representatives from the Fosse Legacy. The increased access to such impressive professionals via video calls is something the department hopes to continue utilizing in the future.
If you’re like me and the musical theatre productions on campus are something you look forward to, you may be disappointed that you can’t see them in action at the Mendelssohn, Power Center, or Arthur Miller Theatre. The good news, however, is that there are exciting opportunities to come! The department has been working to film a series of performances by their students called MT Ghostlight 2020, asking them to respond as artists to what’s happening to them at this point in history. These will be streamed on the first three Fridays in December – the 4th, 11th, and 18th – so mark your calendars! If you’re missing theatre in the meantime, you can check out the Senior Entrance of MT21.
If you’re interested in participating in theatre on campus, Professor Cardinal recommends auditioning for one of the many student groups on campus such as MUSKET, Rude Mechanicals, Basement Arts, and so many more. He also noted that the Musical Theatre Department sometimes needs crew help for their shows. This semester, specifically, they are in need of videographers, sound editors, and other digital media creators to help them produce content in this new environment. Be sure to follow their Instagram @umichmusicaltheatre to stay up-to-date with what the current MT students and alumni are up to!
That’s all for this week. Special thanks to Vince Cardinal for taking the time to speak with me. Check back next week for a feature on the Shapiro Design Lab!
Bing Liu, a young Chinese-American director and cinematographer, released his debut feature film, Minding the Gap, in 2018. The documentary accrued positive reception from skateboarders and film critics alike, and racked up several awards and nominations, including one for Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.
Minding the Gap is a beautiful, deep film that follows Liu himself and two of his friends, all young men who grew up in Rockford, Illinois, a Rust Belt city plagued with unemployment and violence. Although footage was accumulated over 12 years, the bulk of the focus centers on the most recent few years, when the men are entering adulthood from adolescence.
The documentary follows Liu’s peers Keire and Zack, who struggle to create content lives for themselves after growing up in abusive homes. Keire, an 18-year-old black young man, works as a dishwasher and then a waiter. Throughout the film, interviews reveal that his father was emotionally and physically strict, then passed away when Keire was a teenager. Zack is 22 years old, and works as a roofer to support his girlfriend and their infant son.
Throughout the ninety or so minutes, thrilling scenes of skateboard tricks are interwoven with heartfelt interviews with the subjects. Posed as a film about friendship and skateboarding, the film explores dark but real subjects such as domestic violence and abuse, alcoholism, and toxic masculinity. Information about Liu’s childhood are slowly leaked, through self-narrative and interviews with Liu’s mother. She tearfully addresses the camera, and admits her regret for not interfering or leaving sooner when discussing how her husband/Liu’s abusive stepfather beat both of them regularly. Meanwhile, Keire grapples with growing up and setting up a positive path for himself, while Zack deals with increasingly violent disputes with his ex-girlfriend Nina and heavy drinking. (Liu discovers that Zack has been hitting Nina during their fights). Viewers realize that skateboarding is truly a way through which the men escape their difficult realities, especially during adolescence. Shared trauma and an emotional understanding clearly connects the trio beyond skating.
I won’t reveal the post-script, but it provides a nice sense of closure to the moving film. I was so pleasantly surprised by the content of the film, which touches on the realities of racism, domestic violence, and economic disparity in 21st century America. If you’re an avid skateboarder or a passionate film buff or just searching for a documentary to obsess over, I strongly recommend Minding the Gap. It’ll change your perspective on a lot things.
In the second episode of the mini podcast series “Antidote to Apathy,” I talk about refining the self as a way to gain knowledge. In the past few months, I’ve learned so much more to live with myself and my own thoughts. In the shower and the delirious post-morning half-dreaming state and while doing mundane tasks, like my laundry or cleaning my room, there is no where that I can escape my mind or my infinite and growing number of selves that make up who I am today. The world is constantly filtered through my perception of it, through my almost painful subjectivity. But I’m learning that it’s not in spite of the self that we gain knowledge, but because of the self, through the self. Doing that work is grueling and difficult, but it is, perhaps, the only antidote to apathy.
I’m not sure if any one can share the same sentiment, but I feel like washing clothes is such a hassle. I think I can be productive between loads, but, since each break is kinda small, I can never be productive and just end up wasting that time. Rinse (no pun intended) and repeat.
However, for the few minutes I spend putting in the clothes and listening to music, I feel relaxed. It’s hard to describe. My mind normally moves at a really fast pace, but something about the mindless act of throwing clothes into a washer numbs it to a slower pace. So I can actually enjoy certain things about my life that I usually view in a much more anxiety-ridden mindset. However, this smooth motion between different thoughts in my head can be dangerous as well. If I unconsciously bring up something negative, that negativity can spread everywhere. It smears onto the next thought and that smears to the next in a vicious cycle.
This kind of functions as the motor behind the piece. How even the thing that feels most healthy for your brain in the moment can turn into something just as toxic as the rest of your day. Those few moments before it turns rotten seem so productive in its own way, but then it quickly turns and all progress is lost. Honestly, it’s more disheartening than anything.
Welcome to the nights of the beautifully broken,
a sign we should’ve passed on this unraveling road.
Music slips through every word unspoken
and you begin to navigate us to nowhere.
We are driving without a destination in mind,
I could not fall asleep, so I fall apart instead.
These silent roads are all intertwined,
and you continue to navigate us to nowhere.
Like a sudden deer in headlights, our conversation changes.
We tense up, and then release all inhibitions.
This dynamic is starting to reach new stages,
and you accurately navigate us to nowhere.
We eventually reach nowhere without a hurry.
But still, this long drive has gone by,
in the blink of an eye.
And now looking back, it’s starting to seem blurry,
so again, I want you to navigate us to nowhere.