Academy Art Museum Capital Campaign: Opens New Doors to the Arts

As the Academy Art Museum in Easton, MD celebrates 60 years of service to the community with its anniversary year, the Museum is excited to announce the public phase of its $5+ million capital campaign which will open new doors to the arts and build a legacy for the Museum. The campaign will allow the Museum to build on its achievements by expanding the reach of its educational programs and the excellence of its exhibitions and collections. The campaign’s five initiatives will enhance the Museum’s existing programs and facilities for the benefit of its audiences and the community.

The arts education initiative focuses on meeting the growing demand for the Museum’s educational programs by expanding its offerings.Today, the Museum is the leading provider of arts education in the Mid-Shore region.

Pictured is an aerial view of the Academy Art Museum’s new courtyard entrance initiative.

The museum courtyard entrance initiative focuses on relocating the Museum’s main entrance through a freshly-landscaped pathway from Harrison Street to the current Courtyard. This change will help align the Museum with the cultural corridor of Harrison Street and present a welcoming environment for over 50,000 annual visitors. Ziger/Snead is the project’s architect. The firm’s clients have included the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Maryland Institute College of Art and the Maryland Historical Society.

The art stewardship initiative will enable the Museum to build on its excellent exhibition history and continue to pursue shows featuring leading artists from art history and significant emerging artists, while improving the quality and diversity of its collection and enhancing its care.

The campaign’s building stewardship initiative addresses the Museum’s most urgent program and facility needs.  As a museum that combines historic structures with modern additions, significant capital funds are required to maintain the Museum’s infrastructure.

Finally, the campaign’s museum endowment initiative addresses growing the Museum’s endowment to protect its future.

Pictured is an architect’s rendering showing the relocation of the Museum’s main entrance through a freshly-landscaped pathway from Harrison Street to the current Courtyard.

According to Ben Simons, director of the Academy Art Museum, “We are very excited about the courtyard project. We are working with the Maryland Historical Trust to respect the historical fabric of the building as we put a welcoming face on the organization. We are in the planning and permitting process now for the courtyard entrance and are looking forward to construction beginning in 2019.” He adds, “We are deeply tied into the community with over 75 collaborations with community partners, non-profits and neighbors. We want our physical campus to express our relationship with the broader community.”

In addition to the physical changes to the Museum, several new programmatic initiatives are currently underway reflecting the capital campaign’s goals. These include the implementation of the Museum’s first artist-in-residence program and the hiring of the first full-time curatorial assistant.

Jocelyn Eysymontt, Co-Chair of the Museum’s Capital Campaign Committee, comments, “We are thrilled with the response to the campaign and being so close to our campaign goal. We are excited to invite the public to build on the generosity of our donors to help us in our final stage of fundraising.”

The Museum supports its annual operating budget of $1.5 million through membership fees annual giving, tuitions, grants, fundraising events, and to a modest extent the income generated from the current Endowment Fund. Board of Trustees Chair Cathy McCoy adds: “Our prior trustees had the wisdom to start the Endowment Fund and support it, putting us in a strong position on which to build. A larger endowment will better protect the Museum’s future.”

For further information about the Museum’s Capital Campaign, contact Damika Baker, Director of Development at the Museum at 410-822-2787.

The Avalon and Chesapeake College to Partner on Big Shows at the Todd Center

The Avalon Foundation and Chesapeake College have announced the beginning of a new partnership designed to bring large-venue music acts to the school’s Rufus M. and Loraine Hall Todd Performing Arts Center (TPAC).

Beginning in the fall, the Avalon will host a series of concerts and events at TPAC. The schedule kicks off with “An Evening with Melissa Etheridge — Yes I Am 25th Anniversary Tour” on Tuesday, October 9. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m., Friday, June 29 at avalonfoundation.org.

“The Avalon Foundation’s team has nearly 60 years of event management experience, deep relationships with artist agencies and a loyal following of music lovers on the Eastern Shore,” Foundation President and CEO Alexander Bond said. “As part of our mission, we are always looking to expand our programming reach and connect more people with easy access to arts programming. TPAC offers a perfect venue for us to do so.”

The 904-seat TPAC expands the Avalon Foundation’s ability to host concerts beyond the historic, 400-seat Avalon Theatre and 60-seat Stoltz Listening Room in Easton.

“From the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to international performance troupes, the Todd Center has long been a cultural hub and important space for bringing larger acts to the region,” Dr. Clifford Coppersmith, Chesapeake College President, said. “Our capacity to host even more shows and events makes this partnership possible and allows our two organizations to combine resources to grow arts audiences, improve arts accessibility and build and connect communities on the Mid Shore.”

Melissa Etheridge has remained one of America’s favorite female singer-songwriters for more than two decades.

Known for her confessional lyrics and raspy smoky vocals, she hit her commercial and artistic stride with her fourth album “Yes I Am” in 1993. The collection featured the massive hits, “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window,” a searing song of longing that brought Etheridge her second Grammy® Award for Best Female Rock Performance.

In 1995, Etheridge issued her highest charting album, Your Little Secret, which was distinguished by the hit single, “I Want to Come Over.”

Avalon management plans to announce several additional “big shows” that will be held at TPAC in the coming months. The concerts add to the Avalon’s already robust 160-act annual schedule in Easton.

To stay connected with big show announcements resulting from the Avalon Foundation at Chesapeake College partnership, Bond encourages music lovers to subscribe to the organization’s email list by visiting avalonfoundation.org.

The Avalon Foundation is the largest arts nonprofit on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Also regarded for the nationally renown Plein Air Easton outdoor painting competition, the Foundation’s mission is to foster a strong community on the Eastern Shore by creating accessible, uplifting arts, education, and cultural experiences that appeal to the interests of a diverse population and to ensure the long term viability of the historic Avalon Theatre.

A key component of Chesapeake College’s mission is to be a center for personal enrichment and the arts and to sponsor a broad range of affordable civic activities that reflect the college’s role as a community-learning center.

Mark Your Calendar: Monty Alexander Jazz Festival Set for 9th Year

Jazz enthusiasts rejoice! The energetic, ever-swingin’ Monty Alexander returns to Easton this Labor Day weekend for his eponymous festival, featuring an exciting lineup that boasts some—
if not the—best jazz musicians in the country.

The Ninth Annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival will be held Friday, August 31st to Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre.

Dominick Farinacci

The festival kicks off Friday with a favorite, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, who the NY Times calls a “trumpeter of abundant poise”. His most recent Avalon appearance was last November in the theatrical music experience, Modern Warrior Live. The masterpiece wonderfully demonstrated Farinacci’s versatile horn stylings and mix of international rhythms, as well as his mastery of composition and knack for re-imagining familiar songs.

Joining Farinacci is his Modern Warrior Live co-star Shenel Johns. With powerful, yet graceful vocals, Johns is known for her distinctive, eclectic style that sways effortlessly from jazz to R&B to gospel. The duo’s performance, aptly named “Lady Sings the Blues,” will celebrate the music of Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.

Shenel Johns

Saturday’s packed program begins with a community concert—a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.

Harry Allen

This year, the stage will welcome a young musician hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world, pianist Matthew Whitaker. Blind since birth, the 17-year-old was recently named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine. Adding to the long list of accolades, Whitaker’s debut album Outta the Box, which was released last year, was named “one of the best debut albums of 2017” by New York City Jazz Record. This show starts at 11 a.m.

Saturday’s matinee show highlights an extraordinary range of American and Brazilian musicians, featuring tenor/alto saxophonist Harry Allen. With more than thirty recordings to his name, Allen has been called the “Frank Sinatra of the tenor Saxophone,” renowned for his inventive tone that’s rooted in tradition.

It’s only appropriate, then, that his 2 p.m. performance be a salute to Stan Getz and the Getz/Gilberto collaboration with Antonino Carlos Jobim, which resulted in an album by the same name—it’s the first jazz album to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album’s single “The Girl from Ipanema” won the Record of the Year.

Monty Alexander

Later that evening, Monty Alexander takes the stage. Considered one of the top five jazz pianists ever, Alexander’s musical expression combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso, and reggae. Known for his vibrant personality, magnetic charisma, and breathtaking talent, Alexander’s performance is not to be missed.

Unsurprisingly, tickets for this show continue to sell out faster each year, so heed this warning if you want to see this dynamo in action—and believe us, you do.

Brianna Thomas

Wrapping up the festival weekend on Sunday is Brianna Thomas, whose soulful voice is often likened to Mahalia Jackson—a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers. The performance will blend two genres, jazz and gospel—a rather fitting theme for a Sunday afternoon.

The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Mid-Shore Arts: Tara Helen O’Connor and the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted some of the most remarkable institutions within one’s community. That is periodically the case with the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival which is now entering its 33rd year of bringing some of the best classical music performers to Talbot County.

Year after year, the Festival spends countless hours to make sure that it has locked in some of the most sought-after musicians and soloists in the world for its annual program for the great benefit of Mid-Shore and the Mid-Atlantic music aficionados.

But given their consistent track record, it sometimes is lost how remarkable the organizers have succeeded in not only ensuring that these world-class performers are present but are encouraged to come back time and time again through the hospitality of local host families and the great beauty of the Eastern Shore itself.

One of those great performers is Tara Helen O’Connor who many critics now consider to be one of the best flutists performing today.

For sixteen years Tara has made the trip from New York City down to Easton not only for the enjoyment of performing in the intimate venues arranged by the Festival but also so she can once again reunite with her host family, in this case, Charlie and Carolyn Thornton, who have become part of Tara’s extended family.

The Spy talked to Tara before her recent performance about her love of her instrument, her approach to performance, and her love of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. Additional video provided by Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. For more information and ticket sales for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival please go here

2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival Brings Some Surprises

This year’s 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival promises to deliver on its promise of an extremely varied program, appealing to the tastes of a wide range of audiences. One of this year’s special offerings will be a crossover concert, paring classical violin with bluegrass music. Marcy Rosen, who is the Festival’s Artistic Director with J. Lawrie Bloom, comments, “Playing bluegrass music on a Stradivarius should be something to see! It is our first time to do this crossover type music at the Festival. We thought it would be fun and a little different.”

Tessa Lark, a violinist from Kentucky who will be playing at this year’s Festival, also plays bluegrass music for fun. She has been playing for years with her family in a family band. Her father, Bob Frederick, who plays the banjo, is coming this year to with her in the Festival’s “Stradgrass!” concert – classical music with a bluegrass twist. Lark’s partner Michael Thurber, a bass player in the house band for Steven Colbert and a musician very adept at contemporary music, will also perform in the concert.

is Marcy Rosen, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

Rosen adds, “I invite partners and family members to come so that they can spend time together at the Festival. What is satisfying is that no one ever says they don’t want to come. It’s our wonderful time together as artists. We love making music and we love hanging out. I go away exhausted but happy I have been here. It’s the only time so many of us are in the same place at the same time.”

Highlights of the first week of this year’s Festival include two concerts on June 5 and June 7 which feature woodwinds. The June 5 concert combines woodwinds and strings in unusual combinations. The June 7 concert focuses on a woodwind quintet, which features a French horn, flute, bassoon, oboe and clarinet. The concert of Friday, June 8 will feature world-renowned flutist Tara Helen O’Connor in the first half and accomplished pianist Robert McDonald with strings in the second half. On Saturday, June 9, the Schubert Octet in F Major will feature both strings and winds.

Artistic Director J. Lawrie Bloom states, “When selecting the music and musicians who will play at the Festival, we are often faced with the decision of whether the music is selected first or the musicians are selected first. It’s a little of both. The availability of the musicians can dictate the music. The first thing we do usually is to determine musician availability. That is also what makes the Festival work – the combination of players.”

Marcy Rosen, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

Both Rosen and Bloom also ask the musicians what they would like to do, giving artists free range for input into the pieces they have selected. Bloom adds, “In inviting flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and bassoonist Adrian Morejon, we realized we had woodwind quintets which would be an incredible resource to the repertoire for this year’s Festival. From individual concerts, we have been able to develop themes for each year’s Festival.”

Bloom states, “Over the years, we consistently have presented music we feel is worthy of presenting. We prepare for it and we present it well. Musicians have the music way ahead of time to practice as these are extremely busy and accomplished artists.”

In recent years, musicians have educated audiences more on the pieces they are playing before they play. Bloom adds, “It has been gratifying that people have been receptive to this approach.”
Highlights of week two of this year’s Festival include Soprano Kendra Colton, who will perform at the Handel and Bach concert. She most recently recorded with Festival oboist Peggy Pearson. On June 13, the Mozart Sandwich concert will feature pianist Diane Walsh. Rosen comments, “The substance of this program is so flavorful with Strauss and Mahler sandwiched with Mozart. It will be an exciting concert.”

On June 15, The Merz Trio, winner of the recent 2018 Chesapeake Chamber Music Competition, will return to Easton to perform in a Celebration of Youth concert at the Avalon Theatre, which will also feature the music of Franz Schubert.

Rosen concludes, “You don’t want to miss one concert of this year’s Festival as each program will give you a different experience – there is something for everyone this year!”

Sponsors of this year’s Festival include the Talbot County Arts Council and the Maryland State Arts Council. Additional generous financial support from corporate, public and private benefactors enables Chesapeake Music to offer affordable tickets for Festival concerts and recitals; open rehearsals are free to the general public. For additional information, visit www.ChesapeakeMusic.org or call 410 819-0380. Experience the Extraordinary at Chesapeake Music’s 2018 Chamber Music Festival.

Captions:
#1: Pictured is Marcy Rosen, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.
#2: Pictured is J. Lawrie Bloom, Artistic Director for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

BOX SCHEDULE
Festival 33
June 5-17, 2018
Schedule
WEEK 1
Tuesday, June 5, 5:30 p.m.
Opening Concert/Reception: Christ Church, Easton
“Festival Opening Extravaganza!”
Featuring live concert commentary by Jonathan Palevsky of WBJC
Artists: Catherine Cho, Marcy Rosen, Robert McDonald

Wednesday, June 6, 10 a.m.
Open Rehearsal: Academy Art Museum, Easton

Thursday, June 7, 5:30 a.m.
Concert and Reception: Tred Avon Yacht Club, Oxford
“Winds in the Spotlight”
Artists: Peggy Pearson, J. Lawrie Bloom, Adrian Morejan, Catherine Cho, Marcy Rosen, Wei Ping Chou, Steven Tenenbom, Daniel Phillips, and Tara Helen O’Connor

Friday, June 8, 7:30 p.m.
Concert: Academy Art Museum, Easton
“The Artistry of Tara Helen O’Connor & Her Friends”
Artists: Tara Helen O’Connor, Daniel Phillips, Steven Tenenbom, Marcy Rosen, and Robert McDonald

Saturday, June 9, 7:30 p.m.
Concert: Oxford Community Center, Oxford
“Strings and Winds Unite”
Artists: Tara Helen O’Connor, Daniel Phillips, Steven Tenenbom, Marcy Rosen, Peggy Pearson, Catherine Cho, Wei Ping Chou, Jeffrey Weisner, J. Lawrie Bloom, and Adrian Morejon

WEEK 2
Tuesday, June 12, 10 a.m.
Open Rehearsal: Academy Art Museum, Easton

Wednesday, June 13, 5:30 p.m.
Concert: Trinity Cathedral, Easton
“A Mozart Sandwich”
Artists: Peggy Pearson, Diane Walsh, Kendra Colton, Catherine Cho, Tessa Lark, Catherine Cho, Daniel Phillips, Marcy Rosen, and Michael Thurber

Thursday, June 14, 5:30 p.m.
Concert: Academy Art Museum, Easton
“Handel and Bach”
Artists: Kendra Colton, Soprano; Peggy Pearson, Catherine Cho, Tessa Lark, Daniel Phillips, Marcy Rosen, Michael Thurber, Merideth Buxton, and Diane Walsh

Friday, June 15, 7:30 p.m.
Concert: Avalon Theatre, Easton
“A Youthful Celebration”
Artists: Diane Walsh, Tessa Lark, Daniel Phillips, Marcy Rosen, and Michael Thurber

Saturday, June 16, 5:30 p.m.
Concert: Academy Art Museum
“Stradgrass!”
Artists: Tessa Lark, Michael Thurber, and Bob Frederick

Sunday, June 17, 4 p.m.
Angels Concert: Prager Family Auditorium, Easton
Reception: Talbot Historical Society Garden, Easton
Artists: Daniel Phillips, Tessa Lark, Catherine Cho, J. Lawrie Bloom, Catherine Cho

Spy Minute: The Trippe Hosts Talbot Mentors Photo and Poem Project

The Trippe Gallery is very excited to be hosting the Talbot Mentors Photography and Poetry Project in 2018. And the Spy spent a few minutes checking out these wonderful beginner photographs.

Nine Talbot Mentors youth have been working on a photography-and-poetry project, a six-week affair with mentors and mentees getting together once a week. Each mentee was given two disposable cameras and a “scavenger hunt” list of things to shoot, from family members to representation of the broader communities they live in. Beyond the list, the kids could photograph whatever they like. The purpose of the project, to develop a stronger relationship between mentor and mentee while providing a meaningful focus on self-discovery through artistic expression.

If you are unfamiliar with Talbot Mentors, it is a non-profit, that matches adults with children for a one-to-one mentoring experience. Talbot mentors creates bonds that unleash potential. Every young person has boundless potential. Talbot Mentor volunteers connect with youth to help them unearth the capacity within and to explore and learn from each other’s worlds.

Executive Director, Gerson Martinez states ” “Talbot Mentors exists to support the self-awareness, self-confidence, and growth of our children, and to connect them to our larger community.””

The Talbot Mentors photography-and poetry project is drawing to a close. The pictures taken by the kids will be showcased at The Trippe Gallery in Easton during the First Friday Gallery Walk on Friday, June 1st from 5-7pm. The gallery os located at 23 N Harrison St. For more information, please call 410-310-8727.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a mentor or would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the work of Talbot Mentors, please visit www.talbotmentors.org ,or call the office at 410-770-5999.

Mid-Shore Arts: A Chat with Singer Barbara Parker

Barbara Parker has always been a singer-songwriter, but it wasn’t until thirteen years ago that a friend handed her a mic at a party, and after she sang one of her songs asked, “Why aren’t you doing this for a larger audience?” And so she did, starting with Open Mic Nights at the Garfield, to various gigs, and the recording of her first CD. But it was the collaboration with jazz pianist, Joe Holt to whom she credits her current success.

They met two years ago when Parker would come to see him perform. Even before being officially introduced, she knew she wanted to work with him. “I told him: I want to do another project, and I want you to produce it. Joe builds around my music, and makes my music complete.” Holt interrupts, “My role here is one of support. This is a duo, but it’s a duo with a structure on facilitating what Barbara does.”

Barbara Parker and Joe Holt. Photo by Sherrie von Sternberg

Listening to them finish each other’s sentences, is a clear indication of their relationship. Parker and Holt seem to have the perfect partnership of lyricist and musical arranger, allowing both of them to do what they love while encouraging each other’s talents. “I have limited skills musically, and he’s got endless skills musically,” says Parker. “That’s the gift he gives me. He makes me sound really, really good.” “I can only do that,” he retorts, “if there is something there to begin with. Barbara is a complicated person, as any artist is. There’s both complexity and paradox in her life.”

Nowhere is this complexity more evident than in what she sings about. As with many songwriters, Parker is inspired by what goes on around her. “I love to write when driving. You should see the music that comes with that! Thank God for cell phones. I have currently 159 voice memos all of which are snippets of songs that come to me.”

Some of these snippets become songs, and some of these songs become audience favorites. One is Blackbird, written in homage to Robin Williams. “When I heard he died that morning, I sat down and wrote the song in less than 15 minutes.” Another song, Sanctuary, came to her after a phone call from a friend who was feeling sad. Her Dragon of the Chesapeake is relatable locally (and deals with her bridge phobia).

Explains Holt, “That’s how it works when a songwriter is not ‘formulaic.’ It’s like opening up a spigot.” Parker laughs, “I’m like a bucket that has a hole in it; luckily Joe is there with a pan. I’ll give him a melody, and I’ll give him a lyric, and he’ll say, ‘let’s switch the timing up just a little bit,’ or he’ll say, ‘this should be a tango.’ ”

Her ability to accept various styles and suggestions from Holt is another reason they work so well together. “I’m influenced by so much, and I really have no specific musical preference. I listen to everything from classical to jazz to easy listening to pop to rock to country, and when a song comes to me, in the amazing way that it does—this bolt out of the blue, it can be any of the styles. From my standpoint I’m a storyteller, I’m a singer-songwriter.” Holt agrees, “She’s stylistically diverse. Her songs are as much country and as much pop rock as much tango. All while being accompanied by a jazz pianist!”

Parker is also creatively diverse. Successful as a professional painter, her artwork was selected five years ago by the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival for use on the Festival’s publicity materials and poster. She is also a photographer and writer. “Creativity is creativity,” she says. “It’s all about relating a message in an emotional kind of way that doesn’t destroy you.”

Asked what her challenge is as a performer, Parker admits she hopes to “keep producing fresh material, that is not like something else I’ve done. I hear it differently in my head, but with my limited musical knowledge, I can’t make it happen. Having Joe as a resource has been such a gift. I am so grateful. Every day I have the opportunity to create something new and how great is that?”

Barbara Parker will be joined by Joe Holt Thursday, June 7th at the Oxford Community Center. Show starts at 7PM and tickets are $15. For more information please go here. For additional show dates, check out her website.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

Mid-Shore Authors: ​Anke Van Wagenberg on the Weenix Impact on Dutch Paintings

You would think that Anke Van Wagenberg’s day job would be a serious impediment for doing any form of serious extracurricular writing. As the senior curator of the Academy Art Museum, Van Wagenberg is in charge of the dozens of art programs and exhibitions the AAM produces every year, but also is responsible for the the cataloging and conservation of the museum’s 1,500 objects in their collection. Not an easy gig.

That might be one of the reasons it has taken Anke fourteen years to complete a massive two-volume survey of the complete works of the artist Jan Baptist Weenix and his son, Jan Weenix, entitled Painting for Princes: Dutch Art by Jan Baptist Weenix & Jan Weenix.

The father, who died young at 39 years old, and his son, produced over 500 paintings during their collective lifetime which Van Wagenberg has dutifully documented as part of her own ongoing scholarship in Dutch paintings.

The results of this extraordinary undertaking is finally in print which will add significantly to the art world’s knowledge of these sometimes forgotten Dutch Masters, whose work compares well with contemporaries of the time, including the likes of Rembrandt and Rubin.

The Spy caught up with Anke a few days ago to talk about both father and son and their lasting impact on Western art as she prepares for a series of lectures on the Weenex books before returning for many more years of research on the drawings these two men produced during their lifetimes.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. Anke Van Wagenberg will launch the book’s publication as a Kittredge-Wilson lecturer at the Academy Art Museum at 6pm on Friday May 18. For more information please go here

 

Chasing Sophie: The Search for the Real Sophie Kerr

There are quite a few things that Washington College can hang its hat on with great pride. The easiest one, of course, is the fact that George Washington willingly allowed his name to be used in the creation of the country’s 10th oldest college. That’s pretty good stuff but it does not diminish the other remarkable legacies of this 238-year-old school, and the prime example is the Denton born writer Sophie Kerr.

A native of the Mid-Shore who eventually found her way to hosting literary salons at her Murray Hill townhouse in New York in the first half of the 20th Century, Kerr became one of the most proficient writers of her time. When she passed away in 1965, she had completed over 80 novels, hundreds of magazine articles, and a number of highly sought after cookbooks. She also left enough money in her will to allow Washington College to offer each year the largest literary prize for an undergraduate in the country ($66,000 last year) and an equally significant amount to create what is now an impressive creative writing program at the school.

Another thing she left to the two institutions she had developed a strong kinship with, namely Columbia University, where she donated most of her letters and manuscripts, and Washington College, who was the recipient of her journal-like daybooks, poems, and other personal correspondence.

But even with this extraordinary collection of primary resource material, the real Sophie Kerr remains somewhat of a mystery to both scholars and the general public. The writer took extraordinary steps during her life to keep a large wall between her and her professional writing, but that also held true even with her letters.

The forever private nature of Kerr was a common interest that united three unique partners in a quest to chase down the real Sophie. WC’s professor Elizabeth O’Connor, whose lifetime scholarship had dug deep into American women writers during Sophie’s era, was eager to fill in some important gaps of knowledge. Her student, Brooke Schultz, found in Sophie the a perfect subject for the Friends of the Miller Library to award her a Thornton Fellowship to research her work for a senior thesis. And, finally, Heather Calloway, the College archivist, who had been tasked with making sense of Miller Library’s Kerr collection, also wanted to know more about Kerr’s history on the Eastern Shore as well as in New York.

Over the last year, these women set out to find the real Sophie Kerr as a unique team project which started with a meticulous review of WC’s holdings and ended with spending three days at Columbia’s archive to immerse themselves in the author’s complete body of work.

Some of the results of this work can be found in Brooke’s thesis, but, as the Spy found out in our interview with all three (appropriately in the Sophie Kerr Room at Miller Library), this intensive research project has only just begun to uncover this progressive writer’s unique personality and literary agenda.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about Sophie Kerr and Washington College please go here.

Spy Review: “Sweeney Todd” at the Garfield — a Review by Peter Heck

Anyone who enjoys the theater should make it a point to see Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler, currently playing at the Garfield Center for the Arts.

Directed by Shelagh Grasso, with musical direction by Julie Lawrence, Sweeney Todd is an intense, sometimes overwhelming, story of murder, cannibalism, injustice – and love.  With a touch of humor. That’s a tall order and the Garfield production comes through.

Originally a 1973 play by Christopher Bond, Sweeney Todd takes its material from the Victorian “penny dreadfuls”– one of which introduced the murderous barber Todd in a serialized thriller, “The String of Pearls” in the late 1840s. It was so popular that it was turned into a play even before its final installment, and numerous spin-offs followed. Bond added a level of psychological sophistication to the Victorian original, and the London production of the play inspired Sondheim to adapt it as a musical in 1979.

The sailor Anthony rescued and befriended barber Sweeney Todd.      Photo by Carmen Grasso

The original Broadway production featured Len Cariou in the title role and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime, with Hal Prince directing. It ran for 557 performances before going on a national tour. It won an astounding eight Tony Awards, and followed up with nine Drama Desk awards – including best musical, best male and female actors, best director, and best score. Not surprisingly, it has been revived numerous times, with a 2007 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp.

The plot revolves around a London barber banished to the penal colonies of Australia on trumped-up charges by a crooked judge who had designs on the barber’s wife. Now fifteen years later, the barber has returned to England, accompanied by a young sailor, Anthony Hope, who rescued him at sea. After telling Anthony a version of his tale, Todd goes to a meat pie shop on Fleet Street, where the proprietress, Mrs. Lovett complains about how hard it is to find meat. He asks her about her upstairs apartment, which he reveals that he himself used to rent under his former name before he was arrested. She tells him, in turn, that his wife committed suicide and that the crooked judge adopted his then-infant daughter Johanna.

Mrs. Lovett agrees to rent him the apartment and promises to keep his secret. She also gives him back his old set of razors which she has kept all these years, so he can go back into business as a barber again. But Todd has sworn revenge on the judge, and that decision shapes everything else that happens.

Meanwhile, Anthony has seen a beautiful young woman singing out of her window, and falls instantly in love with her. Her name, he learns, is Johanna – then the judge and his beadle chase him away, threatening bodily harm if he returns. Unwittingly, he has fallen in love with Todd’s daughter.

Back on Fleet Street. Todd wins a shaving contest against an Italian barber, Pirelli, allowing him to call himself the best barber in London. The judge’s beadle, impressed, makes an appointment to come back for a shave – which Todd sees as a chance for revenge on one of the men who framed him. When Anthony then appears and tells of his love for Johanna, Todd promises Anthony he can use his shop as a meeting place for their elopement.

But before that can happen, Pirelli and his assistant Tobias appear and Pirelli asks for a shave. Mrs. Lovett takes Tobias downstairs for a meat pie, and Pirelli reveals that he knows who Todd is and tries to blackmail him. So Todd slits his throat and Mrs. Lovett makes Tobias an assistant, pretending that Pirelli has been called away on business. And she sees the need to dispose of the body as an opportunity – after all, she still needs meat for her pie business!

From there, the plot moves inevitably toward its conclusion – a dark and bloody apocalypse in the great tradition of the “penny dreadful.” Needless to say, this is not a play for young children – perhaps not for anyone disturbed by the sight of stage blood, or who thought Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was too gross. However, it’s important to note that while the plot has numerous on-stage murders, there is really not a lot of blatant on-stage gore. But there’s no excuse for anyone else to miss this production – one of the most powerful in the local theater in recent years.

Grasso has assembled a top-notch cast, with many who are making their first local appearance.

Christopher Wallace, who directed CHT’s recent production of Witness for the Prosecution, plays the title role. He does a nice job walking the fine line between Todd as a victim of injustice and as a monster – both aspects of which come to the fore at different times. A memorable performance in a difficult role.

Jane Copple, who has a long string of credits in Church Hill Theatre musicals, is a good fit for the role of Mrs. Lovett. Her voice is one of the best in the cast, and she conveys the comic aspects of the character well.

Max Hagan, who has a theater degree from Sewanee, gets to show off a nice voice as Anthony Hope. One of the most sympathetic characters in this generally dark play, he could be seen as the moral center of the play.

Thwarted lovers Anthony and Johanna in “Sweeney Todd” at Garfield Theatre        Photo by Carmen Grasso

Natalie Lane, who previously appeared in the Garfield production of My Fair Lady, plays Tobias, the young boy who becomes an apprentice to Mrs. Lovett in the pie shop. Her voice is excellent and she is convincing as a London street urchin.

Matt Folker is cast as Judge Terpin, the main villain of the piece, and Nic Carter plays Beadle Bamford, his unsavory henchman. Both do fine jobs of embodying the entrenched evil that ends up creating a serial murderer, the “demon barber of Fleet Street.”

Jane Copple as Mrs. Lovett, Christopher Wallace as Sweeney Todd, and Melissa McGlynn as the Beggar Woman/Lucy in “Sweeney Todd”, a 2018 production at Garfield Theatre.      Photo by Carmen Grasso

Melissa McGlynn plays a beggar woman who turns out to have a more significant role in the plot than first appears. A solid performance from one of our local theatrical stars.

Shannon Whitaker is well cast as Johanna, Sweeney’s daughter. She displays a beautiful singing voice in her featured number, “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”

Zack Schagg, Howard Messick, Zac Ryan and Kendall Davis round out the list of characters with speaking parts, and all do good jobs. Likewise the chorus – which includes a large number of familiar on-stage faces – is an impressive presence, acting, as Grasso said after the opening night performance, almost as a Greek chorus, telling the story in operatic style. There is a wonderful “madhouse” scene in which Anthony goes to rescue Johanna from the lunatic asylum.  The lunatics–in particular, Marcia Gilliam–are delightfully mad. And then there is the “more pie” scene where the local townspeople wipe their lips and swing their mugs of ale while calling for “more pie”.  All in song!

The set, designed and built by Carmen Grasso, is astonishing in its own right. The main piece, sitting at center stage, swivels around to show two different fronts – one Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, the other a generic street scene. On a second level, it shows Todd’s barbershop – including a chute down which he drops the victims of his butchery so the “meat” can be used for pies.  A very clever and useful feature!  And this is just the centerpiece – there are levels upon levels all around it, with chorus members lurking to observe and add their voices where the score calls for it. There’s even scaffolding out in the audience, behind the orchestra pit. Be sure to look all around you as the play goes on – there’s a lot happening!

“Sweeney Todd” performance at Garfield Theatre          Photo by Carmen Grasso

The costuming convincingly recreates the look of 1840s London working and middle class.  In the early scenes, both Lovett and Todd’s clothes are worn and not of the highest fashion.  But as the “pie” shop prospers, both characters sport a posher look, with Todd in a good-quality suit and Mrs. Lovett wearing a fashionable dress with a beautiful–and obviously expensive–embroidered shawl. Johanna, the barber’s daughter, looked lovely in a white gown and long flowing tresses.  A great wig!  Good job by costume designer Barbi Bedell and her crew.

In fact, despite the complexity of the choreography and blocking and the large number of characters onstage at any given time, the play feels very tight. Grasso has done an impressive job bringing everything together into a unified whole. This only adds to her already high ranking among directors in the local theater community.  A special mention should also go to choreographer and assistant director Greg Minahan.  Minahan comes to the Garfield with an impressive list of credits that include singing, dancing and choreography on Broadway in such productions as CATS and Peter Pan.  Locally, Minihan has acted and directed for both Shore Shakespeare and Church Hill Theatre.

A couple of quibbles. The dialogue was sometimes hard to understand – especially with characters singing in Cockney accents. Occasionally, lyrics were covered up by the orchestra – especially in some chorus pieces. This may improve as the cast settles in. And the lighting seemed dimmer in spots than it might have been.  There were also a few opening-night glitches such as when actors moved out of their spotlights.  But nothing that really detracted from the enjoyment of the production.

“Sweeney Todd” performance at Garfield Theatre      Photo by Carmen Grasso

Sondheim’s music is complex and challenging.  Some songs are gentle and sweet, expressing themes of love and loyalty, such as the duet “Not While I’m Around” between Mrs. Lovett and Tobias.  But Sondheim also uses dissonance–sometimes high-volume dissonance–to convey the more shocking emotional elements of the story.  This is, after all, a story of murder and mayhem! And the music reflects that.  Those who are more attuned to the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lerner and Loewe may want to adjust their expectations accordingly.   I myself lean more toward Gershwin and Porter but found the music in  Sweeny Todd to be both powerful and dramatically effective.

There’s plenty of energy, and the orchestra seemed to be very tight. The quality of the singers’ voices is universally high. There were a couple of points where two singers in a duet appeared to be in different keys – but without having the score right there, it was hard to tell if this was intentional or not. Again it was not enough to detract from the overall excellence of the music.  Of course, given the theme of the show, it is consistent for the music–though quite lyrical at times–to also be uncomfortable at other points.  Kudos to Julie Lawrence who brought it all together.

Sweeney Todd, as noted above, is an intense, gripping theatrical experience, and Grasso’s production pulls no punches.  Note that it is a long show, running just under three hours.  The local theater community deserves high marks for bringing this show to the Garfield and bringing to it such an effective performance. Go see it.

Sweeney Todd runs at the Garfield through May 13, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sundays. For reservations, call 410-810-2960 or visit boxoffice@garfieldcenter.org.

The local beggar and mad woman confronts Anthony.  Sweeney Todd at the Garfield Theatre. Photo by Carmen Grasso

Another victim of the Demon Barber meets his fate in “Sweeney Todd” at Garfield Theatre.      Photo by Carmen Grasso

Mrs. Lovett and her assistant Tobias in “Sweeney Todd” at Garfield Theatre.     Photo by Carmen Grasso

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