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Exculsive Full-Length Interviews with our June 10th Performers!

June 6, 2017

We are super excited about our special performers this year, too, with two of them being resident artist of CHAW: Taffety Punk and Light Switch Dance Theatre! The National Symphony Orchestra, or NSO, will also be showcasing a fabulous pair: Two Divas and A Bear! Curious about these artists?? Our co-executive director, Hannah Jacobson, was curious too, and was able to grab an interview with our performers! See below for details, funny stories, challenges, and why they love CHAW! 

TAFFETY PUNK: Interview with Director, Marcus Kyd

1) What is so cool about stage combat?
Stage Combat is much much cooler than actual combat. For starters, if you do it correctly, no one gets hurt and you can do it more than once — which is very important if you are in a play. Also, real fighting is quite boring and would look terrible on stage, so with stage combat you can add some excellent style and have fun.

2) Do you have any funny stories about past stage combat experiences?
I was once in a show where I had to fall out of a boat and then get hit with an oar. The fight choreographer was very careful with us, and showed us how the oar can be used as a weapon, and made sure we checked our distance and timing over and over again at very slow speeds so that we knew our moves perfectly. Then he said "Okay, let's try it at full speed" and the other actor prepped to swing the oar in my direction and said, "Are you sure? Because I don't have any depth perception." He was about to swing when I shouted "Stop!"  We worked it at slow speed a bit more.

3) How is teaching stage combat different from other theatrical forms?  How is it similar?
I think the title "fight choreographer" is a perfect title, because the work is very much like a dance. At its best, it is a terrific merger of dance and acting. Every moment of a stage fight provides an actor with small and powerful opportunities to look for objectives, test obstacles, try new tactics — everything we do in a scene.

4) What is exciting about working with a variety of people in a workshop like this--some of whom have no experience at all?
It is always fun to see people go from zero to awesome. Naturally it takes years to truly master a skill like this, but by the end of the workshop we can have some solid skills in place and there are tons of ways to keep pursuing this work when we are done. I think for most people an insight into the magic of stage and movie fighting goes a long way into appreciating how much work goes into these art forms.

5) Why are you a part of the CHAW community?  What is special about it to you?  What is special about creating art in this community?
CHAW is the consummate epicenter of art in DC. And as a Taffety Punk — honored to be the resident theatre company here at CHAW - I often tell people the most amazing thing about this building is that it is literally pulsing with art from morning till night.  As I write this (I came to the gallery today, where I am often better focused) there is a dance class happening and a soprano rehearsing a song right upstairs. And the students will be here any minute. It is always so exciting to be here. Our missions merge wonderfully. Art for all, no exceptions.

LIGHT SWITCH DANCE THEATRE: Interview with Artistic Director, Sandra Atkinson

1) What is this show about? 

NEST : every human deserves a home a multi-disciplinary work by Sandra Atkinson using contemporary dance, visual art, music, and film to investigate the concepts of a NEST (home) for those without one. NEST explores the challenges, achievements, and aspirations of current and former members of the homeless community. To those without a “NEST” we ask: How was it lost? Was it ever there? How hard has is it to obtain a “NEST” when you don’t currently have one? What are essentials in our nest for survival in the greater community? To those with a "NEST" we ask; What are you willing to do in your community to help those who don’t have a nest? In exploring these questions the project will illustrate that it is imperative that mankind has a place to call home no matter the structure.

2) How do you come up with topics and themes?
I wanted to do a piece focused on an epidemic that has plagued a country full of resources for far too long, homelessness. I aimed to bring the human story to the surface with more than just the quantative research that we always hear or see. All of my work is rooted in personal core memories. I was homeless as a child with my parents who did everything they could to maintain a "normal" life for me. We went to work and school every day but then we went home to an office building that my parents had rented for their business; I was surrounded by boxes and office supplies but also the two people I loved the most while I watched them struggle to get out of a dire situation. NEST holds a lot of memories from that part of my life but also tells the stories of other people in the same position. Highlighing the fact that homelessness could happen to anyone at any time. 
3) How is dance uniquely suited to tell stories?
Along with the 6ft installation built during the piece and the film, the movement of the piece delivers an abstract messsage of challenges and achievements. The movement was structured to illustrate a collage of emotions that one feels when finding themselves in this situation. 

4) What is exciting about working in this particular space?  What is challenging? 
There are no challenges because I personally love the aesthetic of the CHAW Space. It creates an intimacy that my work for LSDT craves. It allows us to bring our message to the audience in a quaint welcoming space. It allows the audience to have a 3D experience with our work as well as LSDT through access to us directly. 
5) Why are you a part of the CHAW community?  What is special about it to you?  What is special about creating art in this community?
CHAW is a welcoming arts space that serves the community in a way that allows me to bring my socially conscious work to the forefront. The staff is supportive which allows LSDT to expand and move forward with performances and programs that fully embody our mission. As Artistic Director of an arts organization having this support means I can pursue the ideas I have been sitting on for years due to the lack of resources. The community has been so welcoming to LSDT and we look forward to serving the community with performances, workshops, and education programs with a socially conscious focus for years to come. 

NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: Interview with the Two Diva's and a Bear: Marrisa and Kari 

From Marrisa:

1) What do you think is special about music as an art form--how is it uniquely suited to telling certain stories?

Sometimes music has a specific story attached to it--but often times not.  I always tell people the great thing about music is that you can hear it and make up your own story in your mind. I think it really stretches us to use our imagination.  I often encourage children to listen to music, and while they're doing that draw a picture, dance, or write a story or poem.  Music can inspire all of us in different ways.

2) What drew you to violin?

My parents are both professional musicians, so I suppose music was ingrained in me.  It certainly surrounded me.  But it was my cousin, Kara, who inspired me to be a violinist.  She is 6 years older than me, and as a child I absolutely idolized her.  She played the violin, so naturally that drew me to the instrument.  She still plays.  Like me, she is a professional violinist--but she plays mostly rock and jazz, so we took different musical paths.

3) What do you think is challenging about music?  What are some ways we can mitigate those barriers to entry?

I do think people are often intimidated by certain types of music.  I often tell people to listen to ALL kinds of music. You may not enjoy or appreciate all the different genres, but you should keep an open mind. You never know what you may end up liking.  If you hear a piece of classical music that you don't enjoy, you can't decide you don't like ALL classical music.  If you don't care for Bach, then try out some Mozart, Beethoven, or Brahms and see what you think. The same is true of rock, jazz, hip hop.  One song alone does not define an artist or genre.
I do think, though, that classical music is not being heard as much by young students in school anymore--and so they are not always familiar with it or don't realize how rewarding it can be to listen to.

4) Why do you think music is important in our lives, for both children and adults?

The wonderful thing about music is that it is completely objective.  It can mean many different things to many different people.  It can touch your soul in so many ways.  It can bring back memories or create new ones.  It can give you strength during tough times, or it can help you celebrate.  It can make you laugh, or it can make you cry.  It can excite you or it can relax you.  The possibilities are endless.

5) How did you come up with this idea of presenting opera in this format?  What has been particularly exciting and/or challenging about it?

There's actually no opera in this show. The songs we used were from Broadway shows and what in classical music we call "lieder" (art songs typically for voice and piano).  Since these songs and pieces were originally for voice and piano, my challenge was to come up with arrangements for the violin part--but I always enjoy tackling this kind of project.

6) Why do you support/perform in the community?  What is special about creating art in this way?

The bulk of my work is done at the Kennedy Center, but I know there's a large population of people that can't always get there. By going into the community, we are sharing our art form with all kinds of people.  I get to present what I love doing, and hopefully introduce new music to different folks.  And I've met so many cool, fun, and fascinating people in the process.  It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

7) Is there anything else you'd like to share?

"Two Divas and a Bear" was such a fun show to create and develop--and we always have such a great time performing it.  I hope everyone enjoys it!

From Kari:

1) What do you think is special about music as an art form--how is it uniquely suited to telling certain stories?

Music is an international language that speaks to the soul. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you can find yourself in music. This is true for both the audience and the musicians. I’m not sure there is a story that can’t be told through music. Its power to excite the imagination and engage all parts of our brains gives it unlimited storytelling potential.  

2) What drew you to singing?

What’s the phrase? It chose me. My grandmother used to tell a story that when I was 10 minutes old and screaming my head off, she turned to the nurse and said, “That child is going to be an opera singer.” Art has been calling for me ever since. Incredible love and support from family, friends and teachers helped me follow it. It’s an honor and privilege to get to do what I love and share it with others. You might say Marissa and I were both born to do what we do! 

3) What do you think is challenging about music?  What are some ways we can mitigate those barriers to entry?  

For the audience, all that’s required is that they come to it with open hearts, minds and ears. If musicians do their job, they come to the performance with the same. Even after preparing and rehearsing, new, surprising and magical things can happen on any given day. Each performance has that potential. Yes, some modern audiences may come to classical music not knowing much about it, but, if we do our jobs, they leave the performance knowing it’s a living, breathing and vital art form. Being a musician is a life-long pursuit and the work never leaves you. When you love what you do, you put in the time and give yourself to it completely. You’re always looking for ways to learn, grow and improve. As my dancer/professor Mom once said, these careers are not for wimps, but the rewards are beyond measure. 

4) Why do you think music is important in our lives, for both children and adults?

It connects us all and reminds us of what humans are capable. I love a sentence I read on CHAW’s website: the “Arts connect to and transform people”. I know that Art has transformed me, and it can do the same for audiences of all ages. Working in community outreach, I have had the privilege of seeing firsthand the transformative power of music and its ability to change lives - in kids from 8 to 80.

 5) How did you come up with this idea of presenting opera in this format?  What has been particularly exciting and/or challenging about it?

Actually, this isn’t opera. I am an opera singer and Marissa has played operas, but this is more of an instrumental and vocal classical and Broadway musical hybrid! Marissa has written a wonderful, highly accessible show, including composers as diverse as Rachmaninoff and Sondheim, and we have a ball sharing our love of the music with audiences. These shows develop out of a desire to educate and entertain. When you love what you do and have a passion for sharing it, it comes naturally. Also, we’re two giant hams! 

6) Why do you support/perform in the community?  What is special about creating art in this way?

Frankly, I think it’s vital that all artists do so. Taking music to the people and out of the concert hall is the way to help it survive and thrive. My work with the National Symphony, Washington Performing Arts and Music For Autism has provided some of the most profound and beautifully rewarding experiences of my life. The magic that can be created between the performer and audience is magnified when you take your music out into the community. It allows for an incredibly deep and personal connection on a much more intimate level. Marissa and I are both highly committed to reaching out to the community, spreading the musical word and helping expand and connect to audiences. It’s a joy to do so with one of your very best friends and it makes the work that much more rewarding. 

7) Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Like Marissa said, I hope everyone will enjoy “2 Divas and A Bear” and can find a little good Diva inside themselves! We do have a bit of fun doing it.:)

CHAW would like to thank each and everyone one of you, and your teammates, performers, and commrades, for helping make CHAW so special! It is a true delight to have you all as supporters and part of the CHAW team! Thanks for being CHAWsome!