Having grown up in the California Mojave Desert and spent my youth collecting lizards, I have a fondness for the Geico Gecko and his cross-country journey. In a recent commercial, the lizard can only sigh when the office lights automatically shut off. He attempts to turn on the motion-activated lights by waving his tiny arms, but to no avail. The gecko is saved only by a night-shift janitor. "Did you know that animated lights are only the beginning?" asks the janitor. Appearing spooked, the janitor predicts, "Pretty soon they're going to have eyes...everywhere!" Confused, and perhaps now a little paranoid himself, the gecko can only peer quizzically at the florescent lights as the janitor bids him goodnight.
I recently found out that the janitor in this commercial is played by none other
Wells. A veteran actor of over 50 films and 100 plus television appearances, Wells is best known for his eccentric and offbeat characters, such as the
pedophile priest in
, the time-traveling Mr. Quiche opposite Jeff Daniels in
The Grand Tour
, or the grave-digging Milton in
. Fans of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
will recognize him as the iconic Cheese Man character. And as a UNC Greensboro alumnus
('80 MFA Theatre),
Wells was on hand at the Los Angeles CVPA Alumni Networking Event earlier this year, sharing with fellow alums some of the wisdom gained from his
In addition to the gathering in Los Angeles, CVPA held alumni events this year in Charlotte, Asheville, New York, and Washington, DC. At each stop, alumni had the opportunity to learn about recent initiatives and the strategic direction of the College. I had the pleasure of meeting alumni and learning how our degree programs have served them well in their careers, what advice they might have for students entering the field, and what they wish they had known as students that might have made their transition to professional life easier. Alumni have also had the opportunity to meet one another and to develop networks, which aid recent graduates who move to these cities.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, future CVPA Alumni Networking Events are postponed as we practice social distancing. I am hopeful that alumni events, like so much of our lives these days, will be able to move online, and that social media may help to bridge the physical distance between our College and its alumni. This had been such a banner season for CVPA with alumni appearing at the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, on Broadway, and in Hollywood. Now, with a financial recession looming and our cultural institutions shuttered, the future of the visual and performing arts seems very uncertain.
Here at CVPA we are brainstorming how to share the arts while sheltering in place. We are hoping to post videos, photographic stills, recordings, and links to our students' art, choreography, music, and theatrical productions. Just as the academic training of our students has had to move online, the performative aspects of our College and the public forums for student work will also need virtual analogs. Despite the harshness of the economic climate and the physical distance in which we now find ourselves, I remain hopeful that the arts will find new modes of expression, and like the versatile gecko, will be able to adapt and survive.
Here's to a brighter and healthier future.
bruce d. mcclung, Dean
College of Visual and Performing Arts
|The unbuilt set of the School of Theatre's spring musical, Urinetown.
Photo credit: Chip Haas, School of Theatre Technical Director
COVID-19: A New Medium
Ken White, Interim Associate Dean
Artists exploring new directions and approaches is nothing new. Sometimes those changes are an affirmative choice -- a need to branch out and explore something new arises, but sometimes the choice is forced on us. The universe throws us a curveball, testing our adaptability and resilience, and we are forced either to stop dead in our tracks or to embrace the adventure and see what the new experience has to teach us. This time, ours was not a voluntary choice.
In the arts, we are no strangers to the transformations that can take place as we transition from rehearsal and studio venues to performance halls and gallery spaces. Sometimes the last step of the transformation occurs only when a work is presented publicly. As an artist, I am familiar with such transformations. Yet, if someone had told me that in the span of a week and a half CVPA would go from teaching 2% of our 902 courses online to 100% of our courses being offered online, I would question their sanity or my hearing. For the record, my hearing is fine, and while it still seems a little crazy, this is just what has happened.
One could legitimately ask, how does someone teach visual and performing arts courses online? The subject matter, however, is only part of the challenge. The time frame for the transition is also noteworthy. Most courses are developed over a significant length of time, and online courses can take months to develop. And as if all of this is not enough, everyone on campus is transitioning their courses at the same time, and everyone has limited access to campus resources. So, this transformation must be accomplished mostly with what is available at home. As you can see, transitioning in a week and a half is beyond challenging, yet this was the reality before our faculty.
||The School of Music kiosk, a.k.a. "the lint roller"
CVPA looks very different right now.
Events have been canceled or postponed.
The hallways and campus are empty.
Most everyone is working or studying from home.
It all feels very strange, and yet the art and the soul of CVPA fundamentally and authentically remain the same: we are simply exploring a new medium as artists do throughout
We may find that this medium is poorly suited for what we want to do, but at the moment we are embracing getting creative and seeing what this new medium has to teach us. And as with any new medium, it is both terrifying and exciting, and our faculty and students are rising to meet
this particular challenge.
|Before social distancing, CVPA alumni gathered at Nick + Stef's in downtown Los Angeles.
From left to right: Angelo Herrera ('19 BFA Theatre), Natalie Abbassi ('13 BFA Art),
Laath Martin ('11 BFA Art), Katie Lambert ('17 BFA Theatre), Valeria Osipova ('11 BFA Art),
Brian O'Sullivan ('07 BFA Theatre), Alex Marshall-Brown ('07 BFA Theatre),
Jenny Greer ('03 BFA Theatre), and Heidi Koling Montague ('04 BFA Theatre)
Alumni Making a Scene on the West Coast
Thomas Mendolia ('12 BFA Theatre) has some advice for students who think they might want to pursue a career in film:
"It's gotta be LA. This is where it all happens. The deals, the ideations, everything. You can move to another city once you've made it and can get into the rooms because you're well-known, but if you're just starting out, you have to be here. Come on out! There's a pretty extensive group of alumni out here."
He's right about that. At last count, University records show nearly 150 CVPA alumni living in the greater Los Angeles metro area. At a recent gathering, about three dozen of them came together to share stories and career leads.
Mendolia, a narrative film director, says he's loved making movies since childhood. That interest was further sparked in Michael Flannery's "Acting for the Camera" class when he asked if, in addition to doing his required scene on camera, he could shoot some of the other students' scenes:
"I was allowed to be behind the camera, telling the story through the lens. It led to working with friends on short film projects, leading to more and more and more opportunities down the line. We entered competitions, created shows, etc. further continuing to explore an art we loved. Now, as a director, I
have an extensive knowledge of acting to pull from, which makes me a much more collaborative filmmaker."
Chrissy Fiorilli Ellington ('03 BFA Theatre) is a casting director and partner of Doyle/Fiorilli Casting.
She says she leans on the training she received every day:
"I read with all the actors when they come in to audition, so I get to flex my acting muscle regularly. When I give direction to an actor, I often have the voice of one of my professors in my head. Our program was really comprehensive -- we also learned theatre history, directing, writing, movement, speech, dance, voice, design -- it gave me a solid foundation and a real appreciation for the craft of entertainment. We recently cast a new film adaptation of
Romeo and Juliet, and I was immensely grateful to have such thorough Shakespeare classes."
Joe Waechter ('00 BA Theatre) is a playwright, who like Mendolia and Fiorilli, made the most of his time while at UNCG:
"I was fortunate to be inspired and supported by two incredible professors, Marsha Paludan and Alan Cook. They both pushed me to explore my various interests while also challenging me to develop a point of view and a voice. I performed, directed, wrote, composed, and designed performances, which ranged from classical, modern, and experimental, within the department and in public spaces. That self-producing model equipped me with some basic skills and a comprehensive idea of what it would take to succeed in the industry."
The opportunities on the West Coast are varied. Thomas Mendolia ('03 BFA Theatre) is a narrative film director, Chrissy Fiorilli Ellington ('03 BFA Theatre) is a casting director, Joe Waechter ('00 BA Theatre) is a playwright, Alison Bayless ('09 BFA Theatre) is a make-up artist, Alex Marshall-Brown ('07 BFA Theatre) is a stunt woman, Brian O'Sullivan ('07 BFA Theatre) is a stand-up commedian, Katie Lambert ('17 BFA Theatre) is a senior analyst at WaterTower Music, Julie Marciano ('08 BA Theatre) is a writer at Second City Hollywood, and David Wells ('80 MFA Theatre) is an actor.
If you ask our LA alumni if they'd work with, or hire, other
Spartans, the answer is a resounding "yes," because of the strong training and preparation
that they have in common.
In casting his films, Mendolia says he always looks
for UNCG alumni:
"Education is the first thing I look at on a resumé. If it says UNCG, you're in. We're hungry, hardworking, malleable, and dependable."
And apparently hire-able. Watch out West Coast, you're going to be seeing a lot more CVPA graduates heading your way!
Photo on left: David Wells ('80 MFA Theatre)
Center photo: John Gulley (Associate Professor of Theatre and Coordinator, MFA Directing Program) and Dean bruce mcclung with CVPA Alumni at the LA Alumni gathering
Photo on right: Joe Waechter ('00 BA Theatre); Tate Ellington, husband of Chrissy Fiorilli Ellington ('03 BFA Theatre); Fred Maske ('98 BA Theatre); and Jeremy Mickel, husband of Joe Waechter
Spring Alumni Networking Event Postponements and Cancellation
TENTATIVE DATE JUNE 11
6:00 - 8:00 pm
NC Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Road
Cocktail Reception and Exhibition: Front Burner: Highlights in Contemporary North Carolina Painting, curated by Ashlynn Browning ('02 MFA Art). Contributing artists: Carmen Neeley ('16 MFA Art) and Barbara Campbell Thomas (School of Art Faculty)
NEW DATE SEPTEMBER 20
12:00 - 2:00 pm
650 North Avenue NE (in Ponce City Market)
Brunch and Meet the Dean
May 11, 2020
8:30 pm - until
356 W. 44th Street
After-Party of the UNCG Theatre Industry Showcase
There is no charge to attend these events, but we do need to know you're coming!
ALUMNI NEWS & NOTES
Rhiannon Giddens ('05) is on the cover of Garden & Gun and profiled as one of the magazine's "30 Southern heroes who are uncovering untold histories, keeping the best of the region's traditions alive, and charting a better course for the future."
Dan Hitchcock ('16 BM Saxophone Performance) recently won first place in the North American Saxophone Alliance jazz competition.
lumni News & Notes are compiled from self-submissions
and from the university's news clip service.
FACULTY AND STAFF NEWS & NOTES
Theresa Heiland (Associate Professor of Dance Education) has been appointed a Member of the University's Graduate Faculty.
Andy Hudson (Assistant Professor of Clarinet) and his studio took part in a digital hangout and Q&A with Staff Sergeant Manuel Antonio Ramos of the U.S. Army West Point Band last month. The studio also participated in a masterclass with Dr. Lisa Perry, clarinet faculty member at East Tennessee State University, on music by Broeders, Widor, and McAllister.
Jennifer Reich (Director of Undergraduate Advising and Student Success) has received the University's 2019-2020 Professional Advising Excellence Award. The award recognizes a professional academic advisor and a faculty academic advisor for their dedication to advising. Because of her strong relationships with her advisees, depth of knowledge about student resources and services, and her commitment to student success, she has received this honor, which comes with a $1,500 development award.
Andrew Willis (Professor of Piano and Historical Keyboard Instruments) recently hosted guest artists Elizabeth Field, violin and Stephanie Vial, cello for a masterclass with students in the Historical Performance Consort using historical instruments and performed with them in a concert of classical piano trios. The guest artist visit was sponsored by Covington Distinguished Professorship.
Faculty and Staff News & Notes are compiled from self-submissions
from the university news clips service.
UNC Greensboro Concert and Lecture Series season subscriptions are on sale now.
Buy yours and see six world-class artists from the best seats in the house.
Subscribers also save 10% over single event ticket prices.
Hope springs eternal:
Hellebores in the
Elizabeth Herring Garden by the Music Building