Arts & Culture | Butler Stories
Back

Latest In

Arts & Culture

Sally Perkins
Arts & CultureUnleashed

If Susan B. Anthony Had a Smartphone

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Oct 10 2019

What would the fight for women’s suffrage look like in 2019—a centennial after women won the right to vote?

Sally Perkins, a professional storyteller and Director of Butler University’s Speaker’s Lab, imagines Susan B. Anthony would be texting her fellow activists. Ida B. Wells would be tweeting about the importance of the black female voice. Anna Howard Shaw would become Ellen DeGeneres, and the spirit of Sojourner Truth would shine through Queen Latifah. And no matter how hard the fight for voting rights became, none of them would give up.

In Digging in Their Heels, a one-woman storytelling performance that will hit the stage in New York City later this month, Perkins captures the complexities of this part of American history she’s found most people don’t know much about. Through modern references and comedic elements, she makes this 100-year-old story more accessible to audiences who don’t know much about what it took to win the vote.

The show races through 72 years in 60 minutes. But Perkins helps audience members keep track of the 16 characters by assigning each suffragist a modern alter-ego—a well-known woman who mirrors the suffragist’s personality and activism style. The characters use smartphones and social media to communicate, “in some ways pointing to the fact that they didn’t have that technology,” Perkins says. “It was so difficult what they did.”

And the performance doesn’t shy away from those difficulties, which emerged both from those outside the movement and between the women leading it. Instead, Perkins shows where black women experienced racism from their white counterparts, even as they all worked toward a shared goal.

“I’m doing what I can to bring that truth to the story,” she says. “We cannot talk about issues of gender without talking about issues of race.”

 

Sally Perkins

 

The show first launched at the IndyFringe Festival in 2018. Perkins has performed at several venues since, including a show for Indiana’s League of Women Voters and a few visits to out-of-state conferences. On October 17, she’ll take it to New York for the United Solo Theatre Festival, a 10-week international event dedicated to one-person shows.

When Perkins first applied to perform at the festival, she didn’t really think she had a chance. But she received her acceptance in April, and her October show is now listed as a bestseller among the more than 120 performances on the United Solo calendar. If the first performance sells out completely, Perkins will be able to schedule a second, and that process could repeat for up to eight total shows throughout the course of the festival.

Digging in Their Heels first started taking shape in late 2017, then it unfolded over about 10 months of research and writing. Typically, Perkins is more of an oral performer than a playwright. But to juggle the stories of 16 women over 72 years, sharing the narrative of women’s suffrage demanded a more robust script. And to help keep audience members grounded in the chronology, she called on the skills of Butler CCOM colleague Armando Pellerano, Lecturer of Strategic Communication, to design an interactive set.

“The audience should never have to be thinking, ‘Where are we in the timeline of all this?’” Perkins says. “So I have a huge set with a timeline and a map of the United States, which helps people keep track of which states have granted women the right to vote at different points along the way.”

In Pellerano’s 20 years of experience in the creative services industry, he had never designed a set piece. But on a late-April day when he saw Perkins rehearsing on campus, he stopped to see what she was doing. They chatted about the graphics on her old set, and after a brief critique from Pellerano, Perkins asked if he could help her design something that would tell a better story.

Pellerano chose colors and patterns that captured a Victorian-era mood, making sure the set would complement Perkins instead of drawing attention away from her words.

“I was trying to find something that fit her vision,” he says, “as well as accomplishing what I wanted from a visual standpoint, which was getting people to focus on what she was talking about without being distracted by the background.”

During a recent local performance of Digging in Their Heels, Pellerano had the chance to see the set design in action.

“To me, the coolest thing was seeing her actually use all the pieces,” he says. “There’s a little marker that moves down for the timeline, and we made velcro pieces so she can reveal information more gradually.”

But the show was even more interactive than Pellerano expected, and he was amazed at the way Perkins connected with the audience. Plus, it told an important story he didn’t know.

“What I really learned about was the politics of that time in history,” Pellerano says. “You can read about something, but you’re not really situated in what the conventional wisdom of the time was or what the cultural norms were. To me, it was revelatory that these women were as strategic as they were about when to dig in their heels and when to back off.”

While Perkins has spent the last few months focused on her upcoming trip to New York, she says performance is just one part of her career. At Butler, she teaches public speaking classes and runs the Speakers Lab, a group of tutors who provide students with one-on-one help in creating and delivering speeches or presentations.

In the community, Perkins works with professional clients, helping them effectively tell their stories. She trains organizations on the basics, explaining the power of storytelling when it comes to fundraising, sales, organizational development, recruitment, and more. She also offers individual coaching for a range of story-based projects. This professional service work, along with her commissioned performance experience, strengthens what Perkins does at Butler.

“All my storytelling work has deepened, improved, and impacted the way I teach public speaking,” she says. “Before I started doing all of this, I would never have talked about the importance of storytelling in public speaking class. Now I totally do.”

But it works the other way around, too, and she lets a love of education influence her performing. When audiences walk away from Digging in Their Heels, she wants them to have learned something.

“I want people to feel inspired not to give up, even though, as I say at the end of the story, many of these women went to the grave without ever casting a vote,” Perkins says. “But we need to not give up with whatever our battle is. It matters to me that people walk away feeling inspired by the longevity of the movement, and that they think about how we can be better in the future, no matter what the issue is at hand.”

 

Digging in Their Heels

Thursday, October 17, 7:30 PM

410 West 42nd Street, New York City

Tickets: $45 (purchase here)

 

Media Contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

260-307-3403 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Sally Perkins
Arts & CultureUnleashed

If Susan B. Anthony Had a Smartphone

Celebrating 100 years of women's suffrage, Sally Perkins takes her one-woman storytelling show to New York City.

Oct 10 2019 Read more
Understanding Esports
AcademicsArts & Culture

Butler Prof Explores Rise of Esports in New Book

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Oct 01 2019

When Ryan Rogers was writing the syllabus for a new esports class at Butler University, the required reading section glared back at him. He needed to find books that covered the rapidly growing competitive video game industry, but there weren’t many to choose from. 

So Rogers, Assistant Professor of Creative Media and Entertainment, decided to create his own.

Understanding Esports: An Introduction to the Global Phenomenon hit the shelves in late September. Containing chapters written by 30 contributors from a variety of backgrounds, the book explores the rise of the esports industry and its significance within media, culture, education, and the economy.

But, what exactly are esports?

You’ll probably get a different answer from everyone you ask, says Rogers, whose research has explored the ways different forms of media—especially video games—influence their audiences. That’s why he wanted to build a conversation through an edited book with multiple authors. But he says a professional, competitive element generally sets esports apart from other video games.

Almost any time you play a video game, it can be competitive. But with esports, there’s something deeper than just trying to beat your friend’s score in the latest version of Super Mario Bros. Esports have an organized structure, with leagues, tournaments, and governing bodies setting standards and overseeing competition.

“I felt like there was really a need to understand this phenomenon and build a body of knowledge around it,” Rogers says. “Ultimately, I think it provides a broad view of the esports industry so that academics and industry professionals alike can wrap their minds around it.”

While Rogers solicited and edited all of the book’s chapters, he credits the other authors for making it possible—including Butler Journalism and Sports Media Associate Professor Lee Farquar, who wrote a chapter about the fighting genre of video games.

Rogers says the general lack of research on esports has to do with how quickly the industry has grown.

“As gaming culture evolved, esports became a thing that couldn’t be ignored,” he says. “It’s truly an international phenomenon with tons of money flowing in and more attention being paid to it each day.”

The role of esports within culture isn’t all that different from traditional sports, Rogers says. And esports are also similar to things like football or soccer when it comes to why so many people want to play—and watch—them. Whether on a field or on a screen, humans desire competition. People want to belong to something. They want to bond over common interests, and they want to have something to root for.

“People are arranging their media landscapes in order to gratify those needs,” Rogers says. “Video games and esports—whether you’re playing them or watching them—are serving those needs for a large population.”

And even beyond the people playing or watching the games, esports provide economic opportunities for the people creating, promoting, and reporting on them. 

“To me, esports represents another whole industry that our students can find jobs in,” Rogers says. “Traditional sports media is a competitive industry, but it is fairly stagnant in terms of growth. Meanwhile, the esports industry is growing exponentially. I see that and say ‘wow, that’s an opportunity for our students.’”

 

Media Contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

260-307-3403 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Understanding Esports
AcademicsArts & Culture

Butler Prof Explores Rise of Esports in New Book

Edited by Ryan Rogers, the book collects chapters from 30 contributors to provide big-picture view of esports.

Oct 01 2019 Read more
Venue Management students get a tour.
Arts & CultureExperiential Learning

The Show Must, And Will, go on Thanks to Butler Venue Management Students

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Sep 19 2019

Despite graduating in just three months, Drew Soukup’s final bow at Butler University won’t take place until fall 2020.

The Arts Administration major and his six classmates in Assistant Professor of Arts Administration Brenda Lee Johnston’s Venue Management course are already working on their final group project — select a show that will be presented as part of next season’s Jordan College of the Arts Signature Series in Schrott Center for the Arts.

Patrons will purchase tickets just like any show at the Butler Arts Center. The only difference is the show will be discovered, booked, and marketed by Johnston’s class of juniors and seniors.

“It’s going to be wild to come back and see it,” Soukup says. “I’ll be able to say ‘This is something I was able to start from the ground-up.’”

Students in the fall 2020 edition of the Venue Management class will market the event that this year’s class selects, and then work front- and back-of-house duties at the show. The experience will roll on each following fall.

Students explore the Schrott Center catwalk.
Venue Management students explore the catwalk above Schrott Center.

To fund the endeavor, JCA Dean Lisa Brooks gave the class a $10,000 budget to bring the act to the 476-seat theater. But the students must also make sure the money covers marketing and hospitality expenses. 

On a recent Wednesday morning class, students pitched their initial ideas for what artists to present. Most already contacted talent agencies to gather initial specs: cost, routing, travel, visa issues, hotel rooms, technological requirements, average attendance, and typical ticket costs.

The students’ ideas ranged from 2015 Butler alumnus Josh Turner’s folk music group to accordion and clarinet entertainers Double Double Duo, hip-hop flamenco dancers Titanium to a cappella singers Voctave. Eventually, the students will have to unite to bring in the act that’s the best fit. The show selection will be presented to JCA Department Heads in late October.

Johnston says a crucial part of booking the right show is thinking beyond your personal tastes. Arts administrators must take a step outside of themselves to consider what their audiences want to see most. Broad appeal is factored into the formula of show booking. The students must consider if the show is a good fit for the series, the venue, and Butler.

“You have to know how to sell it and build an audience around it,” Johnston says. “You put your tastes aside and you think about who would enjoy this.”

Johnston, who directed the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center and other Milwaukee arts venues for years before joining Butler, explains to the class that having a passion for live performance is crucial, but effective venue management is all about the details. So many different factors can cause bravos or boos.

“You get to know your audience so well,” Johnston says. “My vision as a presenter is to represent the artistic conscience of my community, while also expanding their artistic vision. That means presenting things they’re interested in, but also expanding their horizons. You have to build that trust so that they will come to new things and try it out.

“The greatest compliments I ever get are when you have your regulars who tell you ‘That really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I really appreciated and enjoyed it.’ They come to everything because of that, even if they think they may not like it.”

After just a few class meetings, Johnston and her students mingled with professional booking agents and artists at the 2019 Arts Midwest Conference in Minneapolis. Kelsey Dunn, Programming Coordinator for the Butler Arts Center, introduced the students to talent agencies, which present bands, comedians, dance ensembles, and even eSports stars and YouTube influencers. The students waded through the more than 300 presenters for acts that would be a good fit for their booking. 

“The agents were really great about answering their questions,” Johnston says. “They were able to ask questions to presenters. And, now we are ready to go. We are at the stage of  trying to figure out a show.”

Aaron Hurt, Executive Director for the Butler Arts Center, is a 2008 graduate of Butler’s Arts Administration program. Most of his career experience has come within the walls of Clowes Memorial Hall.

“We have these venues on this campus,” says Hurt, who co-taught the class with Johnston in 2016. “Why aren’t we pumping out people in theater management all the time because we have this access?”

When Hurt was officially named Executive Director in January, one of his goals was to hire more students as interns, ushers, box office personnel, and backstage crew. Most of the students in the Venue Management classes have been Butler Arts Center employees.

Soukup is one of those employees. Starting as a first-year usher, he has worked in the Schrott Center throughout his time at Butler. He will soon be able to add show presenter to his resume.

“I think having Clowes, Schrott, and the whole Butler Arts Center here on campus has been one of the most rewarding parts about coming to Butler,” Soukup says. “It’s been constant involvement. I’m graduating a semester early, but part of me would like to stay a little longer.”

Butler Arts Center Executive Director Aaron Hurt leads a tour.
Butler Arts Center Executive Director Aaron Hurt, right, shows Venue Management students the Schrott Center stage.
Venue Management students get a tour.
Arts & CultureExperiential Learning

The Show Must, And Will, go on Thanks to Butler Venue Management Students

For the class’ final project, undergrads will book a real concert for Fall 2020 at the Schrott Center for the Arts.

Sep 19 2019 Read more
Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.
Arts & CultureCommunity

Butler Prof: ‘Local Newspapers Near Crisis Point’

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 30 2019

To understand media mergers like the proposed one between Gannett and GateHouse Media, Nancy Whitmore says “you need to understand the state newspapers are in. And it is a sad state.”

Whitmore, a Professor of Communication at Butler University, explains that mergers are often meant to help papers hold on long enough to figure out a more permanent business model for surviving the digital age. In the time when local print papers provided the main source of information, advertising dollars were key. Now, as most of that money goes to big technology companies such as Google and Facebook, more newspapers have tried to hold their ground with funding from subscriptions. Whitmore says this model mostly works for larger national outlets, but local newspapers struggle to convert readers into digital subscribers.

So mid-sized and smaller papers are “really in a tight spot.” Gannett and GateHouse both focus on these sorts of local outlets.

Horizontal mergers between similar companies can help save money, often by combining and sharing human resources, editing, design, and printing teams. The combined company would also be able to boast a more widespread audience—a draw for advertisers looking to reach the most people.

But good journalism will still be expensive, and combining companies usually means cutting jobs. Whitmore says it’s hard to tell how many layoffs a Gannett-GateHouse merger could cause, since most local newsrooms are already spread thin, but some job cuts would be likely. And there would be consequences.

“I think we are almost at a crisis point here,” she says. “If you’re not getting local journalism, you are losing the independent voice that is monitoring those in power.”

According to Pew Research Center, the number of Americans working in the newspaper industry has been slashed almost in half since the early 2000s. Wages are down, closures are up, and many of the papers that survive have started to publish less frequently.

While mergers and acquisitions can keep some struggling outlets on their feet, about 1,300 communities in the United States have lost local newspaper coverage altogether.

Whitmore says ethical concerns sometimes surround the idea of big companies owning so many media outlets, but a financial need to merge for the survival of local journalism might start to outweigh those worries. Plus, since GateHouse and Gannett own mostly local papers that aren’t in direct competition with one another, Whitmore says combining the two companies might not raise regulatory concerns.

“But mergers are expensive,” she goes on to explain, “and they don’t always work out well. You’ve got different cultures—different ways of doing things. It’s not always smooth sailing.” 

Whitmore predicts that, if anything holds back a merger between Gannett and GateHouse, it will probably be the financing. Given the already-dismal state of local outlets, she’s not sure a deal can be done. But for the sake of local newspapers, she hopes it works.

Because without journalism, even at the most local level, Whitmore says communities will be left vulnerable to “people in power doing unseemly things.”

 

Nancy Whitmore (Professor of Communication at Butler University) specializes in research and teaching about the laws, ethics, and economics surrounding the media industry.

 

Media contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

260-307-3403 (cell) 

Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.
Arts & CultureCommunity

Butler Prof: ‘Local Newspapers Near Crisis Point’

Nancy Whitmore says merger of Gannett and GateHouse Media could help save money, but at a cost.

Jul 30 2019 Read more
Tom Pieciak performs "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Jule Styne, a song that is especially meaningful to him.
Arts & CulturePeople

In The Moment: Butler Summer Institute Student Explores Spirituality Through Jazz

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 18 2019

Tom Pieciak ‘21 can’t explain why he loves jazz. He just knows it makes him feel good.

To him, the genre is more than music. It’s a raw, organic expression of humanity, but perhaps it’s even more than that. For Pieciak, jazz is spirituality.

After watching Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary during his sophomore year at Butler University, Pieciak discovered this wasn’t uncommon.

“I saw how deeply spiritual his music was,” Pieciak says about the jazz saxophonist.

At the time, he was trying to decide which project to pursue during the 2019 Butler Summer Institute (BSI). The Jazz Studies major knew he wanted to research something relating to music, and he had been long fascinated with existential questions and philosophical topics, already starting to connect the two interests.

“It makes music an even more emotional experience for me,” he says of how philosophy affects his trumpet playing. “I really feel like what I’m doing is beyond me: I’m simply a vessel for this kind of creativity.”

After a meeting with Matthew Pivec, an Associate Professor of Music at Butler and Pieciak’s BSI faculty mentor, the two agreed there was something in the intersection between jazz and spirituality. For his project over the last two months, Pieciak interviewed musicians and listened to recordings to study why and how the genre can inspire such a spiritual experience. He also asked what it even means to be spiritual—how people express spirituality in different ways, and whether you can be spiritual without being religious.

Pieciak first started playing jazz in high school, when he fell in love with the freedom the style offers. So far in his research, he’s found it’s that space for creativity that might help set jazz apart when it comes to spiritual expression. He says the improvisatory nature of jazz—the room it grants for living in the moment—is similar to how humans handle spirituality.

“Within jazz,” Pieciak says, “I like to think that when I’m really in the element, I’m connecting myself to this bigger purpose.”

 

During the 2019 Butler Summer Institute, from May 19 - July 19, rising junior Tom Pieciak studied the power of jazz music to be a vehicle for spiritual expression. Pieciak feels this connection in his own music. Here, he performs "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Jule Styne, a song that is especially meaningful to him.

 

Now, he and the rest of his quartet have the chance to perform every month at Monon Coffee Co. in Broad Ripple. While playing in a group, Pieciak often feels a different kind of spiritual connection in the community that emerges when the bass, drums, guitar, and trumpet all come together.

“You’re listening to each other,” he says. “You’re trusting each other.”

Based on this direct experience of how spirituality can show itself in different ways through jazz, Pieciak has broken the concept into three categories for his project: divine (anything relating to religion or a higher power), community (the spirituality involved in relationships between people), and individual (or, everything else). He assigned jazz songs to each of these categories, providing examples of their musical expressions.

At the beginning of the summer, Pieciak wasn’t sure he’d be able to find enough people to speak about his topic. But with a bit of digging and some help from Pivec’s network, he found five artists to study and had the chance to interview four of them. Some of these musicians are directly involved with church communities, with “one foot in jazz and one foot in religion,” like Indianapolis-based Rev. Marvin Chandler, and Ike Sturn, the music director for jazz ministry at a church in New York City. Pieciak also studied the history of spiritual expression in jazz, as well as identified recordings that reflect that relationship.

Pivec says with so many elements to consider and perspectives to balance, “it gets a little bit messy in the organization process.” And it isn’t the sort of project that will lead to any momentous discoveries. But that’s okay, Pivec says, because the project is giving Pieciak the chance to explore something meaningful.

“Really the biggest thing for the talented young people at the Butler Summer Institute is, in many ways, the transformative experience,” Pivec says.

During the regular school year, students take courses meant to fill certain requirements, often offering less freedom. But for this project, Pivec says “there’s nothing students are not capable of.” For Pieciak, he’s already felt the project’s influence.

“It has been affecting, already, the way I approach practicing and the way I approach writing,” he says. “It’s coming from a much more organic place.”

Scheduling constraints limited the number of interviews Pieciak could conduct this summer, but he plans for the BSI project to be just a stepping stone to a longer-term pursuit down the road. He will share his results at conferences, but rather than presenting any finite conclusions, he hopes he might encourage jazz musicians to embrace the spiritual nature of their music and change their crafts accordingly. He also hopes his research will prompt people to reflect on their own expressions of spirituality, even beyond the realm of jazz.

 

Student Access and Success

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Tom Pieciak performs "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Jule Styne, a song that is especially meaningful to him.
Arts & CulturePeople

In The Moment: Butler Summer Institute Student Explores Spirituality Through Jazz

Through the Butler Summer Institute, Tom Pieciak had the chance to research something deeply meaningful to him.

Jul 18 2019 Read more
Sarah Koenig, host of Serial
Arts & CultureCommunity

Serial Host Sarah Koenig Shares Joys and Drawbacks of Building New Story Form

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jun 11 2019

Before co-creating and hosting Serial, Sarah Koenig never really listened to podcasts. She’d especially never listened to a true story broken into twelve compelling episodes. Because before Serial, Koenig explained to a crowd at Butler University, that kind of thing just didn’t exist.

At the second event in WFYI’s 2019 Listen Up series, held at Clowes Memorial Hall on Monday night, Koenig discussed the challenges and thrills of designing a new storytelling form. Five years ago, Koenig and a team from This American Life produced the first season of Serial, which focused on the case of a Baltimore high school student charged with murdering his former girlfriend in 1999. The podcast’s debut season followed just one true story across several episodes, popularizing this narrative form.

Koenig, along with co-creators Julie Snyder and Ira Glass, didn’t see all that popularity coming. They started Serial as an experiment, recording in Koenig’s basement. There was no pressure, Koenig said: nobody listened to podcasts.

Or at least that’s what they thought.

They aimed to reach 300,000 listeners, and just five days after launching the show, they did. After six weeks, Serial had more than 5 million downloads on iTunes. Now, they’ve released three award-winning seasons.

“Before Serial,” Koenig said, “I was not used to anyone paying attention to me or the work I did.”

She had spent much of her career as a newspaper reporter, writing for both local and national outlets before joining This American Life as a producer in 2004. The radio show is driven by experimentation, she says, which gave her the freedom to explore nontraditional stories and formats.

With Serial, there was no formula. They just wanted to create something that felt alive.

“The goal was to make it sound effortless, like all of our storytelling choices were inevitable,” Koenig said. “Of course, none of it was inevitable.”

At the event, Koenig touched on several complications that journalists often face. How close should she get to a source? Could she earn trust while skirting friendship? Did there need to be a difference between journalism and entertainment?

When it came to her relationship with Adnan Syed, the season-one focus who was convicted of murder but maintains his innocence, Koenig said it would feel fake to pretend their conversations were all business. She wasn’t his friend, but she needed to understand his experience. She couldn’t just tell the story she thought was supposed to be told. She needed to tell the truth.

“We should not reduce people to caricatures,” she explained. “Instead, we should be looking for the details and the stories that reflect life as it really is.”

And as long as you stick to the facts, she believes, it’s okay for journalism to entertain. It’s okay for the truth to look like art, but it takes a responsible storyteller to make that work.

On the internet, not everyone is a professional reporter. Discussing some of the drawbacks to Serial’s popularity, Koening said some online communities started to do their own digging. They exposed damaging information and speculation about real people.

“It was really the first time for any of us that we felt like we were losing control over our story,” Koenig said.

After contacting Reddit to set some ground rules, the team managed to rein things in. They’ve gone on to release two more seasons of Serial, and they’re open to pitches for a fourth. Despite the tension of protecting sources while staying transparent, of entertaining listeners while sticking to the facts, Koenig keeps telling difficult stories.

“Reporters really don’t advocate for change. We’re not supposed to,” she said. “But of course what we really want is for someone to do something—to fix what’s broken.”

Sarah Koenig, host of Serial
Arts & CultureCommunity

Serial Host Sarah Koenig Shares Joys and Drawbacks of Building New Story Form

She didn't think anyone listened to podcasts. Then, Serial got 300,000 downloads in five days.

Jun 11 2019 Read more
Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks at Clowes Memorial Hall
Arts & Culture

Renowned Author Ta-Nehisi Coates Speaks at Clowes on Race and Writing

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON May 09 2019

Ta-Nehisi Coates describes himself as “a black writer, and I write a lot about race,” and on May 8, at Butler University, he talked a lot about both race and writing.

He reiterated the case for reparations that he made in a much-discussed 2014 article in The Atlantic, and he said his goal when he writes is, “I want to feel good. I want to be at peace. I need to internally feel good about my writing.”

He told a 10-year-old white girl who asked what she can do to act against racism to listen and read. “I would be trying to understand more than I would be trying to act.” And he cited E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime as a book that particularly inspired him.

“It’s beautiful and literate, but there’s a lot of history in it,” he said.

Coates, who won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me and has found another level of fame writing The Black Panther and Captain Marvel comics, was at Clowes Memorial Hall to deliver the Indianapolis Public Library’s 42nd annual Marian McFadden Memorial Lecture. Rather than a lecture, it turned out to be a loose, freewheeling conversation between Coates and author Tamara Winfrey Harris.

Among the topics Coates discussed:

  • The importance of libraries. Coates said that as a young man in a rough area of Baltimore, he found safety in libraries. He urged the audience “to support your library system.”
  • What he’s learned about race over the years. “I didn’t understand how fundamental the black experience was to the American experience … If you don’t understand this, you really don’t understand your country.”
  • He’s in favor of taking down Confederate soldier monuments. “I think we are moving in the right direction.”
  • He doesn’t view himself any differently after receiving a MacArthur “genius” grant, the National Book Award, and other accolades, and he doesn’t think of himself as a genius. He compared praise for his work to hearing nice things about your children. “And then you remember every single thing your kid did wrong ... As long as I don’t think of myself as a genius, I think I’m OK.”
  • He said Between the World and Me went through three significant revisions. After one, he received a 2,000-word letter from his editor that he boiled down to this: “Brah, this is not it.”
  • His next book, The Water Dancer, is a novel he’s been working on since 2009. He declined to talk about it other than to say “I hope you read it. I hope you enjoy it.”
  • As a young man, he was influenced by comic books, Dungeons and Dragons, and hip-hop, citing Rakim, Nas, and the Wu-Tang Clan as particularly important to him.
  • “Even now when I’m writing, I listen to hip-hop because … when you write, what you try to do is pack the most emotion and feeling and information into the smallest amount of space. Rappers are really good at that.”
  • He thinks he’s a better person for having quit Twitter. With 1.2 million followers, “you lose the freedom to be yourself.”
  • How his fans should talk to Trump supporters. “I think a lot of times our dialogue assumes that there are people who are decent and good people and if we just gave them the right information and said it the right way, they would see it as you see it. But lost in that is the possibility that there are people—not to generalize—who don’t want to see it that way, and indeed have a vested interest in not seeing it that way…. All I can do is write and speak in a respectful but clear and candid manner.”
  • Asked about reparations, he cited the 20-to-1 wealth gap between whites and blacks, and the need for “radical action” to repair it.

“It’s not just that black people have an infinitesimal amount of wealth compared to white people. It’s that because of segregation, black people only live around other people who have an infinitesimal amount of wealth. Their entire network is other people who have been stolen from, so you have been individually plundered, everybody who lives around you has been plundered—your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother was plundered, and their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were plundered too. So in every direction, it’s theft. And on the other side, what you see are whole communities of people who live around each other who have benefited from that theft.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks at Clowes Memorial Hall
Arts & Culture

Renowned Author Ta-Nehisi Coates Speaks at Clowes on Race and Writing

Ta-Nehisi Coates describes himself as “a black writer, and I write a lot about race.”

May 09 2019 Read more
The Thomas Taggart Memorial
Arts & Culture

$9.24 Million Grant Brings Indianapolis Park Back to Life through Shakespeare

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Apr 24 2019

The Thomas Taggart Memorial in Indianapolis' Riverside Park must have been magnificent when it was dedicated in 1931: majestic columns and arches, a curved fountain in front, balustrades lining the monument to the Indianapolis mayor who had created the city’s park system 34 years earlier.

But in 2019, after decades of neglect, it's a mess: cracking concrete, weeds and trees bursting through the mortar, balustrades collapsing on both sides.

That’s about to change.

In December, the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded $9.24 million to a coalition of the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, Indiana Landmarks, the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company, and Indy Parks to restore the memorial. In summer 2020, the memorial will become the permanent home of the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company—also known as Indy Shakes—run by Butler University Theatre Department Chair Diane Timmerman.

“This is a really great moment in history for the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company,” she says, “because we are deepening and expanding our mission in ways that I don’t believe we fully understood when we wrote our mission statement—which is to share the joy of live theater in ways that appeal to diverse audiences.”

Diane Timmerman at the Taggart Memorial Timmerman says it's also great for Butler Theatre and its students, who will have access to internships and performance opportunities with a professional, growing theater company. Butler Theatre has always had its sights set on transforming the landscape of theater, she says, and its students will be the artists who make the theater of tomorrow.

"When I was first asked to be Artistic Director of Indy Shakes, my first thought was that I would take the job because it would be great for my Butler Theatre students," Timmerman says. "It's been vital for me and other members of the theatre faculty and staff to be professionally connected in Indianapolis so that we can work in our own way to support and improve the arts landscape of Indy. Contributing to theater in Indy is never just about our own professional development, but is always tied to our students and their development as artists."

 

*

Indy Shakes needed a new home. The company had been performing for several years at White River State Park, but between increasing competition from concerts at The Lawn next door, and the sun blinding patrons as it set, the time was right to move.

For a couple of years, Timmerman visited “nearly every green space or big concrete space or any space that would remotely work,” including many of the more than 200 locations in the Indy Parks system. She was looking for an amphitheater setup with sightlines that would work and space to build.

Then in January 2018, the Lilly Endowment announced Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Initiatives, a program that offered $25 million to organizations working together to better Indianapolis.

At the time, Indy Parks had just completed a master plan for Riverside Park on the city’s near-westside that called for bringing arts programming to the park. Timmerman reached out to  Butler graduate Marsh Davis '80, the head of Indiana Landmarks, the organization that preserves historic places in Indiana, about converting the Taggart Memorial to an amphitheater.

Davis was behind the idea immediately.

"Indiana Landmarks has worked for over a decade to find a sustainable use for the Taggart Memorial, something that would make it relevant to the community," he says. "We were working on a proposal to the Lilly Endowment to repurpose the memorial when Diane contacted me with her idea. It was brilliant, and thanks to the Lilly Endowment, it will be realized. The Taggart Memorial will be restored and serve a meaningful purpose in the Riverside neighborhood."

Timmerman says what she saw from Davis is what she sees in other Butler people: a desire to give back to the community.

 

*

Representatives from Indy Shakes, Indiana Landmarks, Indy Parks, and Indianapolis Parks Foundation are now meeting every other week with Ratio Architects, and others, to discuss construction, repairs, design, sound, lighting, and other considerations.

“It’s going to be beautiful,” Timmerman says. “With its majestic backdrop, it’s so Shakespearean. It couldn’t be a better location. It’s perfect for Shakespeare.”

Last summer, Indy Shakes launched a traveling troupe, and did a one-hour version of Macbeth in a number of city parks, community centers, and libraries. This spring and summer, Indy Shakes will have two traveling troupes that will perform a 30-minute version of Much Ado About Nothing for elementary school-aged audiences, as well as a one-hour As You Like It for middle schools and high schools.

In addition, the company will perform Hamlet July 25-27 and August 1-3 on a temporary stage in Riverside Park.

 

*

The inscription on the Taggart Memorial reads:

 

To Thomas Taggart
Lover of mankind
whose foresight made
possible this park

 

Timmerman says the revitalization of his memorial will serve, “a very established, vibrant neighborhood that has a lot of other things going on,” for decades to come.

“And now it’s up to us,” she says, “to figure out how we fit into the fabric of the Riverside neighborhood and how we can connect with people in ways that support what is already there arts-wise and add to it.”

The Thomas Taggart Memorial
Arts & Culture

$9.24 Million Grant Brings Indianapolis Park Back to Life through Shakespeare

In summer 2020, the memorial will become the permanent home of the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company.

Apr 24 2019 Read more
Aaron Hurt

A Legacy Fulfilled

Rachel Stern

from Spring 2019

  

To know Aaron Hurt is to understand the way he proposed handling his office décor. After moving into his new space tucked away in a corner on the third floor of Clowes Hall, he was stuck on figuring out ways to dismantle the big screen television fixed to his wall and mount it on a rolling device that the entire Butler Arts Center staff could benefit from. He hypothesized different ways to turn the space into a conference room, saying it was much too large for just himself. And he was concerned that the colors weren’t welcoming enough. In the end, none of these changes were made.

But Hurt did insist on one request.

Donald Hurt's paycheck from 1963
Donald Hurt' on payroll from 1963.

He came across a 1963 art deco painting of opening night at Clowes Memorial Hall. He loves art deco work, but it was about much more than just the style. Hurt’s grandfather was there that night in 1963. Donald Hurt was a member of the projectionist union, and when Clowes was ready to open, he was called to help get the stage ready. He hung the original main curtain and worked the first few shows.

“It’s really bonkers,” Hurt says, as he looks up at the painting on his office wall. “To think that my grandfather was hanging the curtain that night, and now I am sitting in this office working here. It’s really not something I take for granted, and we are going to be hands on and inclusive in how we put our stamp on Butler and the greater community.”

Hurt was officially named Executive Director of the Butler Arts Center on January 1, 2019 after serving as interim executive director since August 2018. But this is a role that, in many ways Hurt has been working toward since he was a little boy, and a role that means so much to so many in his extended family.

“This was in his blood and you can just tell by his enthusiasm that he was born to do this,” President James Danko says. “With Aaron, you can hear his passion when he speaks, and when you hear about his family, it is obvious where that comes from.”

Three years after Hurt’s grandfather hung the first curtain at Clowes Hall, his father, Daniel, hopped on his moped at age 16 and headed from the Eastside of Indianapolis to Clowes for his first ever job, sweeping the floors and holding ladders. Daniel would go on to work at Clowes Hall many times over the years. He also worked the beloved summer theater series on the football field.

Aaron was born into a family of projectionists. He was exposed to film, the arts, and theater from a young age, and often went with his father to work. But he first remembers Clowes Hall when he saw his sister, an opera singer, perform there.

“Butler has been a part of our lives for years and for Aaron, this is a scene he has been around since he was in diapers,” Daniel says. “Aaron would come with us to his sister’s performances and practices. It is pretty amazing when you think about it because the connection goes all the way back to my father hanging that curtain. Aaron grew up on this. We are all tied to Butler and Clowes.”

Hurt wanted to run a venue for as long as he can remember, he says. As an arts administration major at Butler, he learned that he could make a career out of running the programming and operations of a place. After graduating in 2008, Hurt worked for the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, the Chicago Children’s Choir, and then made his way back to Butler in 2013, as part-time manager of the Schrott Center. He became full-time later that year, serving as the operations manager. In 2016, after the Butler Arts Center was established, Hurt was promoted to Director of Operations.

He took over as interim Executive Director of the Butler Arts Center in August 2018. When Danko was evaluating what to do about the permanent executive director position, the positive feedback about Hurt was overwhelming.

“Aaron’s passion and enthusiasm for this type of role, coupled with the extraordinary esteem he is held in made him far and away the optimal choice for this position,” Danko says. “I am very excited about him and his potential. It is like an NFL team looking for that young coach who will be a star in 20 years.”

So now, Hurt will work to put his stamp on the place that has been a major part of his and his family’s lives for so long. Something that he called both terrifying and incredible. The goals are numerous.

Donald Hurt backstage at Clowes Memorial Hall
Donald Hurt backstage at Clowes Memorial Hall

Hurt has four major focuses—find new ways to make money, form better partnerships, engage more with the Indianapolis market, and create improved University programming. But, he says, it really does come down to one thing.

The goal is to make the Butler Arts Center an authentic hub for arts programming for all different communities in town. For example, next season, ticket prices will start at $19. This adjustment, he says, is a way to make shows more accessible for a much wider group.

“I want us to be known as open and inviting. I want people to leave happy and to have experienced something they couldn’t have experienced anywhere else in the city,” Hurt says. “That is what Clowes originally was when it started.”

And Hurt would know. He grew up learning about Clowes and hearing about Clowes from a grandfather and father who were there from the beginning. Now, Hurt is ready to take Clowes back to that original model—collaborative and inviting. Just the way he likes his office décor.

Aaron Hurt
Arts & Culture

A Legacy Fulfilled

    A job more than his lifetime in the making.

by Rachel Stern

from Spring 2019

Read more
Arts & Culture

Amid Streamers—and a Bang—Clowes Marks Millionth Matinee Visitor

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Apr 16 2019

 

The second- and third-graders from Walnut Elementary School in New Ross, Indiana, had no idea when they got on the bus this morning that April 16 was their lucky day.

As they filed into Clowes Memorial Hall on Butler University’s campus and assembled for a photo in the lobby, they heard a loud bang. Blue and white streamers rained down, and they got the news: They were the millionth visitors to the Clowes Education Matinee series.

"This is amazing for our students," says Karen Monts, the school's librarian, who coordinated the 40-mile trip. "We are from a very small school in a low socioeconomic community, and for many of these kids, it’s a big treat to go to Crawfordsville, Indiana. So coming to Indianapolis is something they almost never do as a family, and coming here, and being honored like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them."

Over 27 years and 858 performances, the Clowes Education Matinee Series has provided students in kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to see live theater—many for the first time. That could mean anything from daytime performances by Butler groups such as the Butler Ballet, the Percussion Ensemble, and the Jazz Ensemble, to national touring productions featuring favorite children's stories like the Junie B. Jones books, The Magic School Bus, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, coming to life onstage.

The students from Walnut Elementary School—who won prizes including a free visit to a Clowes matinee next year—were among the approximately 3,800 students from 31 schools who attended the two Tuesday morning performances of Junie B. Jones.

“Being able to bring them to Junie B. and  seeing something they read come to life like this is a great way to help their reading come along,” Monts says. “Maybe they'll move on to the next reading adventure seeing that it really does impact their lives."

The Clowes Education Matinee series started in 1991, when Tom McTamney was Executive Director of Clowes Hall. McTamney, who was one of three former Clowes directors on hand when the millionth visitors walked through the door (Elise Kushigian and Ty Sutton were the others), remembers receiving from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, an invitation to create a matinee program for schoolchildren modeled after the successful program at the Kennedy Center.

"We were looking for something to set us apart in the region," McTamney says. "We didn't have any kind of an education program here, and we sat on a college campus. It made no sense to me."

He teamed up with Indianapolis Public Schools, they wrote a grant, and Clowes was selected as one of the original 12 arts centers to participate in the program.

Seeing the millionth student walk through the door was incredibly gratifying, McTamney says.

Donna Rund, who has been Clowes Hall's Education Manager for nearly 20 years, is equally delighted with the success of the long-running program.

"Little did I know 20 years ago when I left teaching to become a program director that we would get to this amazing pinnacle," she says. "And we get to keep going. We get to keep doing this. I've already planned next year's season. We going to have a few more shows than we had this season, and I'm glad to have the support of Aaron Hurt, our executive director. He feels so strongly about giving students opportunities to see live theater—especially those who have not had this experience before."

Arts & Culture

Amid Streamers—and a Bang—Clowes Marks Millionth Matinee Visitor

The Clowes Education Matinee Series has provided students, K–12th grade, the opportunity to see live theater.

Apr 16 2019 Read more
Arts & Culture

The Addicted Brain with New York Times Best Selling Author David Sheff

BY Marc Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Mar 27 2019

The numbers are staggering. Last year, 72,000 people died of drug overdoses, and in three years the death toll is projected to top 82,000. The estimated economic cost of addiction is $700 billion a year. Drugs are the No. 3 killer—and the No. 1 killer of our youth.

Davi Sheff and Lynne Zydowsky ’81 talk addiction at Clowes Memorial HallWith that in mind, David Sheff, the bestselling author of Beautiful Boy, and Butler University Board of Trustee Lynne Zydowsky ’81, a life sciences executive, sat down in front of more than 1,000 people at Clowes Memorial Hall on Tuesday, March 26, to talk about addiction, and what can be done to solve this epidemic. The event was presented in partnership between Butler University, Community Health Network, and the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation with support from Lynne Zydowsky and WFYI.

“There is no way to spin what is happening in our communities because of the opioid crisis,” said Sheff, whose book was made into a movie starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. “But it is getting us to talk about this problem that we’ve kept hidden in the past and we’ve always been afraid to talk about, we’ve been ashamed to talk about it because of the stigma around addiction. So we’re talking about it now and because of that I have to feel that as bleak as everything is, there is some hope because we’re having conversations like we are having here tonight.”

Sheff’s book is subtitled A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, and in it he writes about his son Nic, who started smoking pot at age 11, and eventually graduated to crystal meth. Sheff recounted how Nic would disappear for a day or two at a time. One time, Sheff had to call the local sheriff to ask if he’d seen Nic.

The sheriff said, “Have you called the morgue?”

The night Sheff was able to get his son into rehab, he remembers being able to finally sleep because for once he knew where his son was.

Nic went through rehab—and then relapsed—at least nine times over a 10-year period, Sheff said. It wasn’t until Nic had a psychiatric evaluation and was found to be bipolar and suffering from depression, that he got the medication he needed and began to make progress.

He’s now 36 and has been sober for nine years.

“It’s a miracle, but it also is appalling—and it’s appalling that it took 10 years,” Sheff said.

In an hour-long conversation with Zydowsky, Sheff emphasized the fact that addiction is a mental illness that should not be stigmatized. He said it is a brain disease that is about chemistry.

He also explained that the treatment system in this country needs major improvement.

There was a program that made Nic go outside in the middle of winter with a pair of scissors and cut the grass because he didn’t make his bed ‘the right way.’

“Some of the treatments make the addiction worse,” Sheff said. “As if that’s the way to treat someone who’s ill.”

Doctors should be trained to recognize signs of mental illness, he said. Sheff said if medical schools offer their students any training, it’s typically an hour or a half-day workshop. He said only 9 percent of pediatricians were able to identify a child with a drug problem.

“If there’s an overall message here,” Sheff said, “it’s that if you’re in the throes, don’t give up hope. It’s hard. Take care of yourself. Get support for yourself. And don’t give up over and over and over again. And there’s hope. There is hope for recovery, and I think that’s something we really need to know in the middle of this crisis.”

Arts & Culture

The Addicted Brain with New York Times Best Selling Author David Sheff

Sheff spoke to more than 1,000 people to talk about addiction and solutions to this epidemic.

Mar 27 2019 Read more
Arts & CultureCommunity

Blue Note: The Butler Youth Jazz Program

BY Marc Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON Mar 26 2019

Kent Hickey snaps his fingers—one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two. The drummer kicks in—CH-ch-ch, CH-ch-ch, along with the piano—doo-doo-dah-doo-doo.

"Good afternoon, everybody," the Butler University senior trumpet/jazz studies major tells the audience. "We're very excited to be here on a Sunday afternoon at the Jazz Kitchen."

Hickey introduces the five-piece band, and it launches into Charles Mingus' Nostalgia in Times Square, segueing into Henry Mancini's Days of Wine and Roses.

It's the final day in the spring session of the Butler Youth Jazz Program, and the musicians—students from local high schools and middle schools—are getting a chance to show what they've learned. They've been rehearsing for two hours every Sunday for eight weeks, and now they're finishing with a concert in front of  about 200 friends and family members.

"It's been a real pleasure working with these guys," Hickey says from the stage. He serves as a Teaching Fellow in the Butler Community Arts School, which administers the Youth Jazz Program, and has taught at summer jazz camps, as well as during the school year, for almost all of his time at Butler. "These guys are really special. They're really hard workers. They practice their parts and they're ready to play at every rehearsal. Great questions, really curious."

Hickey's band—the second of three that will perform—finishes with Duke Ellington's Caravan, then yields the stage to the program's 17-piece big band for three songs. The last of those is a version of Freddie Hubbard's Crisis.

*

The Butler Youth Jazz Program is Associate Professor of Music Matt Pivec's brainchild. Pivec brought the idea with him from California State University, Stanislaus, where he taught previously.

In California, he was responsible for everything in the program—attracting students, teaching, scheduling, and more. At Butler, he teamed up with the Butler Community Arts School (BCAS), which offers a variety of affordable arts instruction to anyone ages 5 and up, including adults. hat enables Pivec to recruit and teach.

"My job is easy," Pivec says after the concert. "You get great kids in a room with really good teachers and let them learn great music. Then, usually, good things happen."

The Youth Jazz Program yields numerous benefits. Butler's Jazz Studies program gets an early look at local talent, as well as the opportunity to recruit those students to Butler. The Butler students who serve as Teaching Fellows get to hone their teaching skills and work with older, more experienced teachers and professionals who are part of the program.

As for students in the program, they learn to play together and develop self-confidence. They meet other musicians they might never have met otherwise, and they get to raise their talent level. Pivec says he's seen several students arranging jam sessions and gigs on their own through the relationships they've made through the program.

"That's really special," he says. "That comes with working hard at something and getting better at it—and being recognized for it, too."

*

Mitchell Remington understands that. Remington, now a senior at North Central High School in Indianapolis, started in the Butler Youth Jazz Program when he was a sixth-grader.

"There's a really wide spectrum of skills in the program," he says, "so the learning curve gets pretty steep. But it's cool to have an environment outside of school. The teachers know where you're at and they respect it and they really help."

Mitchell's mother, Lynn, heard about the program from the band director at his middle school and thought it would be a good fit for her son. He was a little younger than students were supposed to be, but she contacted Pivec, who offered Mitchell an audition. He passed.

"It's become his passion," Lynn says. "He's in the jazz band in high school. This allows him so much more of an outlet for him to learn, collaborate with other musicians, and play with a group that's different from what he experiences at school."

"We've tried to encourage his friends to do it," adds Mitchell's dad, Grant. "Other people I know, if they have kids who are interested in jazz, we tell them, ‘you've gotta get down there and try it’. Because it really is a great program."

Mitchell says he's been able to parlay what he's learned through the program and the friendships he's made into gigs in the Indianapolis area.

"And all of them are with people I've met here—whether it's an instructor or a Butler student or another student I'm in a combo with," he says. "The networking piece of this has been huge for me."

And in the fall, Mitchell will be a first-year student at Butler.

Arts & CultureCommunity

Blue Note: The Butler Youth Jazz Program

Students are able to parlay what they learn through the program into gigs in the Indianapolis area.

Mar 26 2019 Read more

Pages