Behind the Cover Art
Featured: Caitlin Vickers
Caitlin Vickers is from Colorado and is currently in her 4th year pursuing a degree in English and Management. She has been taking photos since she was 14 years old and has studied under professional photographers at both the University of Oxford and the Rhode Island School of Design. While fashion photography is her personal preference, she also enjoys creating still lives and taking travel photos on her 35mm film camera. http://www.caitlinvickers.com/
When George Floyd died on the 25th of May, light was shed on many of the injustices that the world had either forgotten or ignored. I began to question everything - especially how to respond and how to move forward. Some people advised that the best way to start is with family and friends, having challenging conversations. For others, it was spreading and sharing stories or educational information, fixing the biased algorithms that cloud our social media feeds. Yet, there were also some who confronted the fact that this is not enough. Performative activism is something we all must be made aware of and work through for a long time to come. What are we doing to make people look, and what are we doing when no one is looking? Which actions are genuine and meaningful?
My reflection on these ideas led me to come up with a personal project which I called Should Still Be. The premise is that I would take my time and skillsets - photography, writing, research - to educate myself and give back to the BLM movement. I set out a personal goal to create roughly 10 works of art before I returned to Scotland in August. Each image would be a still life representing a victim of racial injustice, and each would be accompanied by a written statement discussing the person and the art. I didn’t want to focus on how each person died, but instead, how they lived, who they were, and who they should still be.
However, my plans for this project when it began did not go as expected. I managed to create two pieces, one for Breonna Taylor and one for Botham Jean, but these two pieces showed me that I had less time than I needed to continue doing justice to these individuals. On top of this, I was working for Romeo Hunte, a New York fashion designer, who was receiving a lot of attention as a leading Black designer in the industry. I found a different avenue for educating myself. I learned about the prejudice and racism that pervades the fashion industry and witnessed big players such as Anna Wintour begin to listen. I cannot express how meaningful the time working for this company was for me. Coming from a predominantly white background and having attended predominantly white schools, my exposure to the things I was researching and writing about was minimal at best. I even had to face the reality that though I was using my photography to do good, I had little to no diversity in my personal portfolio. So, I put my project on hold. I have spent time hearing other perspectives and holding myself accountable.
Should Still Be is not finished. It is an ongoing project. This still life on the cover of Calliope’s first issue was the last that I created before I left Colorado. The thistles represent my transition to Scotland, the yellow roses represent the friendships that I will carry with me here and continue to value, and the carnations represent my ongoing fascination and love for powerful art. The chess pieces symbolise the ongoing struggle and reflection in seeing each situation or story from other perspectives. Each step forward is a calculated choice built from past decisions and hopes of future victory. However, the difference between this photo and reality is that this isn’t a game. Real people are being affected by this in their daily lives. We are all capable of taking meaningful action towards a better future.
Letter from the Editor
I know what you are thinking: ‘Wow, another St Andrews publication, how fascinating and original!!’ At first glance, you can’t be blamed for such a reaction. After all, in a tiny coastal town with over a dozen student newspapers and magazines, what is the significance of the formation of one more? Well, keep reading, and hopefully my team and I can shed some light on why Calliope Arts Journal is such an essential addition to the Bubble’s journalistic menagerie.
Without the terrible blight of the COVID-19 pandemic, Calliope would never have been founded in the first place. Similar to the rest of the writing team, I had a host of summer plans involving the arts, which included a theatre internship in New York City and performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. When those were inevitably cancelled due to the wildfire-like spread of the virus, I took a moment to step back and reflect. While of course I was upset about my losses, they seemed inconsequential when considering the hundreds of thousands dead or displaced. In the arts world specifically, the ubiquitous suspension of activity meant the evaporation of a steady income for millions of adults globally. In this dire climate, what could a university undergraduate possibly do that would make any difference whatsoever? As an English student, I have always valued and admired the ability of the written word to be an instrument of healing. Now, more than ever, writing about the arts on both a global and local scale is one of the most effective methods of keeping the creative sphere in the public consciousness. By taking our name and inspiration from the chief Muse of Greek mythology, my aspiration is that, with this team of incredible collaborators, we can use this platform to remind everyone why the arts are such an essential aspect of our daily lives. We plan to spotlight some extraordinary members of the international arts community, both experienced veterans and exciting newcomers, and explore how they have reshaped the universal creative landscape. Through all of this, we recognize that gradually, society will begin to return to some semblance of “normal”. While we could not wish for anything better, we don’t want Calliope to be viewed simply as an attempt at Covid relief. We want to create a lasting publication, for artists, by artists, that offers practical wisdom and celebrates the very best that the arts have to offer. We sincerely hope you enjoy your perusal of the inaugural monthly issue of Calliope Arts Journal!
Founder and Editor-in-Chief
Are Dancers Missing the Pointe?
Sarah Johnston explores the history and cultural significance of regional dances
Dance has been a central part of culture for millennia. Before written language, dance was used to tell stories, worship deities, and honour leaders. Cave paintings in India record dances being performed as early as 6000BC. However, when we think of dance now we often think of young, peppy girls in sparkly leotards, bopping their hips to pop hits or graceful ladies balanced on their toes spinning across a stage. I would argue that we should not erase the origins of the dance we are familiar with today, and in fact, that dance history should be openly spoken about in dance classes.
As a dancer myself, I have to say I was ashamed that I did not know anything about the origins of the styles of dance that I practice. I would turn up to classes for a few hours a week, do the exercises, learn the combos, and leave. I was living in blissful ignorance of the history of my art.
The Black Lives Matter protests in June brought dance history into the spotlight, as campaigners sought to gain recognition for the people of colour who shaped dance into what we know it as today. Black artists shaped many forms of dance, but in particular, they are to thank for tap dance.
In the early 19th century when slavery was prominent, African slaves would celebrate their culture by performing traditional songs using percussion instruments, and when slave owners took away their drums they adapted. Percussive dancing became a huge part of African American culture, with slaves using early tap shoes – which consisted of wooden soles with pennies attached to the heel and toe – to recreate their cultural music. Unfortunately, as soon as tap dance was created by slaves, it was taken away. After the American Civil War, traveling minstrel shows adopted tap dance and used it to belittle black people by portraying them as dumb, comical, and animalistic.
It wasn’t until the emergence of jazz music in the 20th century, that tap began to be appreciated as a dance form again. The dancers incorporated syncopated rhythms into their steps to complement the tempo of jazz using tap steps. This renaissance of tap brought us the modern tap shoe and brought tap to the masses on the Broadway stages. However, even though tap was flourishing, the African-American dancers who created this art form were not allowed to perform it to white audiences. Tap continued to grow throughout the 20th century, with stars like Shirley Temple and Gene Kelly bringing it to television screens across the world. Broadway shows like 42nd Street became infamous, and as the fame of tap dancing grew, its origins were lost.
Until personally researching it for a BLM initiative, I myself did not know any of this. I feel a strange melancholy putting on my tap shoes now, knowing that a style that I love so much was used to mock its creators, and recognising that so much of the tap dance I am used to erases the style’s origins as a percussive tool. If you research into the ‘greats’ of tap dance, you will find that many of them are black dancers, like Bill Robinson and John W. Bubbles, as they pioneered tap as a discipline. And yet, I’m sure like many people, when I think of tap I am instantly drawn to images of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, and lines of smiling, white dancers in musicals like Anything Goes and Thoroughly Modern Millie
It would be very easy to blame such erasure of dance history on the cultural discrimination of the times, but if you look beyond tap dance there are many other styles in which the true origins have been lost.
If we want an example closer to home, you can look no further than Scottish highland dance. A now-infamous part of Scottish culture, most can picture highland dance in their minds – girls with hair in neat buns, lining up in matching outfits to hop gracefully to the blaring noise of bagpipes. However, once again, time has skewed our perception of highland dance.
Originally highland dance derives from Gaelic folk dance, and in particular war dances. Forms of the sword dance, a very famous highland routine, were performed by warriors across Europe in the prehistoric and medieval periods. These dances were ritualistic and combative, aimed to intimidate the enemy by showcasing the Scots’ strength and skill, and were performed entirely by men. Passages from the Scotichronicon (an account by Scottish historian Walter Bower in the 1440s) describe processions of warriors performing a ceremonial war dance at a wedding.
It is, counter to modern practice, historically men who performed highland dance. Highland is a difficult dance style that requires excellent balance, strength, and stamina, and I can fully appreciate why it would have been a mark of pride for a warrior to be able to perform. The significant shift in highland comes from the 19th century and Queen Victoria, as a romanticised version of highland culture was brought back into focus due to the queen’s love for it. The modern-day highland games were created, and along with that came highland dance performances. However, the selection of dances performed was narrowed significantly, leaving only those which were deemed more ‘artistic’ and less ‘brutal’. As the style gained influence from ballet it fell out of favour with men, leaving only women competing in it. This transition from a war dance to a competitive art led to the loss of many older dances that fell out of practice as they were not required for competition. This eventually led to the erasure of the original aims of highland dancing. Many modern highland dancers are fighting to regain their lost history and encouraging men to become involved again. The sword dance still remains a popular and central part of highland dance; however, the purpose of the style, especially in the media, has been washed out.
There are many more examples scattered throughout dance, from ballet actually originating in Italy before becoming synonymous with France, to the origins of contemporary dance coming from Zen Buddhism and yoga, to hip hop taking its foundations from swing dance. Much of the history dance has been tragically lost, and we only have knowledge of it due to the hard work of enthusiastic historians.
By highlighting this, I don’t mean to say that dancers should have to learn dance history by sitting in a formal lesson for an hour a week, but I do think it is important for teachers to acknowledge the roots of the styles they are teaching. It would be incredibly easy for teachers to drop the occasional historical fact into their lesson, or once in a while choose traditional music to dance to instead of modern pop. Appreciating our history as dancers doesn’t stall the art form. Instead, it allows dancers to grow and develop more effectively. Dance started out as a way to tell stories and to celebrate and we should try and keep that basis. We should use dance classes to tell the stories of those who created our art form and celebrate where we came from. To truly appreciate dance, we must appreciate everything that has gone into it, which includes struggle, injustice, and erasure, and we must amplify the voices which have been lost over history. When we as dancers step into the spotlight, we should also redirect the spotlight on those who were kept in the dark for too long.
All Fun(d) and Games
Charlotte Perkins argues why state-subsidised arts programs are more beneficial to society
The success of the arts should not be left to the destructive cycles of market capitalism or the whims of deep-pocketed donors. The donor-based system, on display most flagrantly in the United States, is necessarily exclusive, not only perpetuating cultural injustices but also weakening the arts as political forms of communication. Government programs to fund the arts robustly should be the norm, constructed in such a way that they are truly representative and inclusive.
Leaving arts funding to private individuals affects the kind of art that can be produced. In a society where wealth is highly concentrated in the hands of a few, arts institutions are often forced to produce the kinds of works that solicit large donations. This practice often means that programming directors don’t feel comfortable taking a chance on contemporary works which may or may not be profitable. In the case of opera, for example, the same works are repeatedly performed, meaning that composers from groups which were historically excluded from the classical music world continue to be shut out from some of the world’s most prestigious stages. This systemic exclusion not only means that the worldview and interests of privileged groups are disproportionately represented onstage, but also that the potential for development within the industry is stunted.
Theatre is an especially political art form, since it tells stories live and in public, and is therefore constantly subject to reinterpretation. During WWII, for example, Laurence Olivier’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry V was useful in keeping British spirits up; Kenneth Brannaugh’s reinterpretation during the Vietnam War of the same work cast a new, skeptical light on violent campaigning. This is by no means a call for an instrumentalist assessment of the value of the arts, but rather to demonstrate the power of the arts to speak to a particular moment. A government that chooses not to fund the arts, therefore, could fairly be accused of attempting to suppress public opinion. By contrast, adequately providing for the arts shows a commitment to supporting a plurality of voices, a condition necessary to the maintenance of a healthy democracy.
Funding the arts is also good diplomatic policy. Scholars increasingly recognize the role arts play in the creation of an outward national image; globally, the arts are an important “soft power” tool, communicating values, histories, and lived experiences to people worldwide. Until the late 20th century, American embassies abroad placed an emphasis on hosting cultural events and building libraries to share American literature—and while such an approach could be viewed as a slippery slope to modern imperialism, it at least represents an awareness of the power of national culture. Even from a purely interest-driven standpoint, therefore, governments should be eager to fund the arts. For more on cultural diplomacy, see here.
This is not a call to adopt a cookie-cutter policy; there’s no single model for successful public arts funding. In France, for example, the system is highly centralized, in keeping with the nation’s history of powerful, Paris-based bureaucracy. Local support for arts projects and practitioners is provided through smaller branches of the Ministry of Culture which report to Paris. Sweden, on the other hand, takes a much more localized approach; in Sweden’s arts policy as in its public policy generally, it’s traditional for many different strata of society to be represented. By incorporating many viewpoints and needs, Sweden is able to support arts which are truly public in the broadest sense of the word. Sweden also fosters folk-art initiatives, in an effort to prevent the arts from becoming elite-dominated and inflexible. For more on this, see Zimmer and Toepler’s in-depth article here.
The disparate examples of France and Sweden demonstrate that public arts funding can—and perhaps must—be tailored to the ethos of the country in question. With this understanding, the US’ approach is perfectly logical; a privatized system is consistent with the country’s history and economic context. However, moments of change, as presented by the global pandemic and the struggle for racial justice, demand reevaluation of outdated practices and institutions. This moment of cultural and economic upheaval is an auspicious time to begin rebuilding funding mechanisms which are unsustainable and unjust.
A privatized, donor-based creative industry fails to unleash the true power of the arts. The cutthroat capitalism which sometimes inspires success in other fields (technology, for example) simply does not work for the arts, since the products of artistic endeavor cannot be consumed in the way that the increasing speed of global exchange demands. Arts are more lasting than the vast majority of consumer goods, and are therefore ill-suited to a mass consumerist society. This market failure and subsequent dependence on private donors means that voices are excluded to the point that structures of injustice are recreated with shocking regularity. By contrast, treating the arts as public goods and providing for them as such allows the fruits of creativity to serve everyone, not only those who can pay. Public arts can act not only as a catalyst for change, but a common reference point for groups of people, creating cohesion, supporting healthy discussion, and uplifting marginalized voices. With such a clear political and ethical imperative, governments have a duty to step up and support the nation’s cultural life.
Interview with Frank Rich
Griffin Godsick, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Calliope Arts Journal, interviews former New York Times Chief Drama Critic and current New York Magazine Writer-At-Large Frank Rich. Mr. Rich shared with us his thoughts on his time as a critic, the current state of the arts in a Covid world, how the Black Lives Matter protests have changed the arts, and advice for aspiring arts journalists.
G: Mr. Rich, thank you for agreeing to be our first ever interviewee in our inaugural issue!
F: Thank you for having me, I’m very honored to be the first!
G: Here at Calliope, we want to use these interviews as a platform to keep the arts present in everyone’s minds during this troubling time, and we feel there is no better way to do that than to hear the perspective of a few of the foremost members of the global arts community!
So Mr. Rich, during your tenure at the Times, you earned the nickname “The Butcher of Broadway”. You were regarded by many as the most powerful and influential critic in the theatre world, with the ability to guarantee a hit or condemn a show to an early shutter. How does the role of the critic serve to promote a beloved art form, even while remaining an objective observer?
F: Keep in mind that in the 1980s, when I was a drama critic, there was a much different media world. There was no internet and no social media, so the Times’ influence reflected that it was the only game in town. It was the newspaper that covered the theatre the most, not just in terms of reviewing it, but in features and essays about both the theatre and the arts in general. That phenomenon couldn’t exist today; no publication could ever have that kind of influence again. To get to your bigger question, which remains eternal, you do have to remain objective as a critic. And you must remember that to gain readers’ trust, a critic must be honest about his views and not censor himself. Readers don’t want to be patronized and told, ‘Oh you should see this because it’s something you should see, it’s a play about an important subject’. They don’t want to be bored and they don’t want to waste their time and money. Conversely, if you’ve earned their trust, readers will take it seriously when you are enthusiastic about a play. That doesn’t mean they have to agree with you. My hope as a critic was that if people read me over time, they would know where I was coming from and where my taste did and didn’t overlap with theirs. I also felt that part of my responsibility was not just to have an opinion. Opinions are cheap. I believed it was my duty to convey my passion for a play not only with adjectives but by explaining in detail just why I felt the way I did. This is particularly important when a theatrical work is breaking new ground. In some cases, I wrote repeatedly about a given play or production I was excited about because I kept discovering new things within it that I wanted to convey to readers. A classic example is the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical Sunday in the Park with George, which opened on Broadway to basically mediocre, if not outright hostile reviews, from most other critics. Indeed, the night I saw it at a press performance, there were lots of walkouts from the audience. It’s now a classic, but at the time, many people found it weird or off-putting. After my initial favorable review, I kept writing about it to make my case for its excellence. In the same vein, there were certain then-new playwrights I championed that I thought needed a continuing commentary to make sure that readership would pay attention to them, such as August Wilson, Caryl Churchill, David Henry Hwang, and many others. That’s an exciting part of the job, championing new work, often by new artists, that you care about.
G: Since your everyday job as a critic was constantly attending and writing about the arts, was your adoration for theatre affected by your close proximity to it? Did knowing the inner workings, the people involved, and the drama unfolding behind the scenes influence your perspective?
F: Let me answer the second part of your question first. When I was a critic, I didn’t know anyone in the theatre. The two or three people whom I knew before I became a critic, I never reviewed them. That would have been a journalistic conflict-of-interest, so I assigned them to another critic at the paper. A critic, to my mind, is never supposed to hang around theatre people. I never went to opening nights, I went to press previews. To this day, I’ve never been to the Tony Awards. So close proximity to the subjects of my reviews was not an issue, in the same way that a White House correspondent is not going to be hanging out with the President and his family. As for the other aspect of your question, I grew up a total theatre nut. My parents indulged me and took me to the theatre. I also became a ticket-taker for a Broadway tryout house in Washington D.C., my hometown, so I could watch shows for free night after night, which was an incredibly exciting learning experience. But I would say, as a critic, there came a point as time went by when I realized I had had enough. You have to go to a play as a critic hoping it will be great, expecting it will be great and be ready for everything. And the truth is that most things you see aren’t great. They are also not terrible, but they are somewhere in that gray middle, and if you go to a new play every night, you have to have a tolerance for mediocrity. In my early years as a critic, I found it fun to see things that didn’t work or were out and out terrible, as well as the plays that were terrific, just as I always had as a young theatergoer. That mix was part of the romance and excitement of the theatre. I’d say after a decade, I started to lose patience with the routine stuff. That was when I told the Times that I wanted out. After roughly 13 years in the job, I switched to being an op-ed columnist.
G: Currently, with the pandemic, New York City is fairly dead in the water creatively. Having written for the New York Post, New York Times, and New York Magazine, you have had your finger on the pulse of the world’s epicenter of arts and culture for over 40 years. How do you see New York City rebounding and returning to its status as a mecca of artistic innovation?
F: The economic plight of New York is awful right now. And if you have a situation where people are not returning to working in offices in Manhattan, where tourists are afraid to come here because they don’t want to get on an airplane or can’t afford it, you have a perilous situation for both the for-profit and nonprofit arts. This affects a small nonprofit Off-Broadway theatre and it affects Lincoln Center, and it obviously affects Broadway. In the case of Broadway, it’s a fact that two-thirds of the audience are not New Yorkers. So, if out-of-town theatergoers aren’t coming here, where will a sustaining audience come from? It’s going to be hard for all performing-arts venues on Broadway and beyond to stay alive financially. In theatre, you have a particularly grave problem. The whole nature of the theatrical experience is that people are close together. Plus, there’s the issue of backstage. Whether it’s a big Shubert musical house on West 44th or a small nonprofit company downtown, the backstage area is incredibly cramped. So are the pits where musicians play at most musicals. How will that work? No one knows, and while we are now seeing announcements about plays opening on dates later this year and in early 2021, it’s aspirational and speculative. Many believe that until there is a widely available vaccine, it’s not going to happen. A friend of mine who runs an important institutional theatre in New York recently met with his Board of Trustees, and the Trustees said that the solution to social distancing would be to sell only every other row and seat people six seats apart. And my friend said even if my theatre could afford that financially, which it can’t, that isn’t a theatrical experience. You can’t be in a 1000 seat theatrical house having actors perform to 1/6th capacity. But I have to hope it will rebound. I live in New York, I love New York, I came here because of my love of theatre. But for the first time, I’m shaken. And I think it’s going to be a long road back.
G: With this universal pause in theatrical production, do you think it is an optimal time for conversations about how the arts need to change with the cultural and social shifts occurring around us?
F: Yes, it is an optimal time to have those conversations, and the Black Lives Matter protests have accelerated them, and that’s a good thing. I don’t know a single person in the arts who isn’t talking about these shifts a lot and reaching out to find new voices, new points of view, new ways of doing the arts, and being more inclusive. The only problem is, you can’t actually execute anything yet, because nothing is up and running. It’s a great conversation, healthy, essential, and overdue; but it’s happening against the pandemic backdrop, when actors can’t act, playwrights can’t get plays on, and theatres can’t get audiences. Sure, there are some Zoom events and outdoor events, but that’s a very, very small quantity compared to the huge number of artists that are essentially out of work. So even as the theatre community wrestles with the big cultural and social shifts that are buffering it, it also must attend to the existential question of its survival in New York.
G: Let’s talk a bit about how your background led to your career. Your interactions with theatre icons started at a young age when you garnered acclaim and interest from Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince for a review of Follies that you wrote for The Harvard Crimson. For students writing for university publications, do you have any tips or wisdom to impart about how they can be recognized by industry professionals?
F: What happened to me was a fluke. It never occurred to me that anyone connected to a show I reviewed for a school paper would know I existed. Somehow my review made its way to its creators, which led to Sondheim asking to meet me. This is when I was a college senior. I never met Hal Prince, but I would later learn that Prince recommended me to the Times at some point later on. But that didn’t lead to my becoming a professional drama critic. I didn’t become a theatre critic at the Times until 10 years later. I first was a political writer and a film critic at other newspapers and magazines. My advice to any writer starting out in journalism is to do as much work as you can, the best work that you can, publish it anywhere you can, and see what happens. I do feel that if you write well, someone will notice it. It’s harder now because the whole journalism industry has suffered so badly in the digital age. But there are still many places that hire writers, so do the best that you can and write as much as you can.
G: Do you find that there are any particular traits that someone who is graduating from university and who wants to work in the arts or write about the arts needs to have?
F: Arts journalism is a tough gig to land. It's a great job to be paid to write about movies and plays and TV shows. At New York Magazine, a lot of the people who are being hired are being found at fairly obscure places, writing essays for off-beat, online publications. What is true now was true back when I was starting in the 1970s, if the writing is good, it really doesn’t matter where it came from. If outlets are looking for a new writer on subject X or Y, they are going to dig deep and ask around, ‘Who’s someone I haven’t heard about, writing somewhere I haven’t heard of?’ There is always a premium on new and fresh voices.
G: Finally, if students are looking to go into arts journalism, how important do you find the balance between pursuing this interest academically versus pursuing it as an extracurricular?
F: Of course, like everyone else, I feel that my own experience is the way to go. I only wrote about the arts in college extracurricularly. Not only that but during my time at Harvard, there were virtually no theatre courses. There were one or two English courses about theatrical literature, which I took, but I wouldn’t say that they affected me differently than some better courses I took in American History and Literature, which was my major. My biggest education in writing about both the theatre and film came from doing it constantly, doing it the best I could, every day I could, at the Crimson. That was my training. That and being a ticket taker when I was in high school. I think extracurricular writing is the way to go in college, though if possible, you can also try to place pieces beyond your campus. I’ve always been wary of journalism schools. Many people I know in journalism did not go to one, and I think particularly as an undergraduate, it’s a waste to take journalism as courses. You should get as wide a background as possible in the liberal arts, including literature, history, all the things that make for a classic well-rounded education. And simultaneously go to work for any college publication that looks like fun.
Fighting For Space
Tabitha Benton-Evans weights the advantages of alternative staging locations
Image(s): University of St Andrews
St Andrews has a thriving performing arts scene, but the town’s small size means that it is often a challenge for the various student, amateur, and professional groups to find venues to perform in. For example, from September to December 2019, there were eighteen student theatre productions in St Andrews, along with ten more from other amateur groups or professional theatre companies. Of these twenty-eight productions, fifteen took place in the Byre Theatre (the town’s only professional theatre), ten in the Barron Theatre (the university’s black box theatre), and three in the StAge (the Club 601 space in the Students Association). If a group wishes to perform in St Andrews, these appear to be their choices of performance space, and The Byre is especially contested. Student performances are being pushed increasingly earlier in the semester due to competition from professional companies, which can lead to a compromise in quality (or, in one memorable case, an entire opera being learnt and rehearsed from scratch in three weeks).
Of course, each theatre has both benefits and drawbacks. The auditorium of the Byre has the most stage space, audience capacity, and the best lighting, sound, and set capabilities, as well as an orchestra pit – a vital consideration for those wishing to perform opera or musical theatre. However, it is by far the most expensive to hire, and groups wishing to perform in the Byre often have to book their slot over a year in advance due to crowded schedules. The audience seats are also fixed, so groups are limited to proscenium arch staging. The StAge, The Barron, and The Byre Studio are flexible enough to allow for more unconventional stagings like theatre in the round, but they have a small audience capacity and limited tech capabilities. Overall, there is a sense that students and professional companies seem to have to compete for performance slots in these traditional venues. Furthermore, if a group wants to either earn a profit from ticket sales, use sophisticated tech, or include an orchestra, they are limited to proscenium arch-based staging.
A possible solution to this problem is site-specific performance: performing theatre in spaces other than traditional theatres, in unique locations adapted for theatrical performance. Dr. Gay McAuley, professor emeritus of drama and theatre at Royal Holloway, sums up the purpose of site-specific performance as “to reject the dominated space of traditional theatre buildings in favour of found spaces in which new relations between performer and spectator can be explored”. These can be used to recontextualise a canonical work (e.g. performing Hamlet in a Danish castle), emphasise a political or social message (e.g. Girls Just Wanna Have Fund$, staged by Women's Project in the lobbies, escalators, and bridges of New York's World Financial Center) or exploring and deconstructing traditional actor/audience dynamics through immersive and promenade theatre in alternative spaces.
St Andrews, a town over 700 years old with a rich cultural and religious history, is full of unique, atmospheric spaces that seem primed for theatrical exploration. Indeed, several groups have already taken advantage of these alternative venues: in 2016 students performed George Orwell’s Animal Farm in the darkly ironic setting of Balgove Larder Steak Barn, as well as Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband in an immersive experience in the historic Cambo House. Site-specific performance has also been used as a tool for opera in St Andrews: in 2019 Byre Opera, the University Music Centre’s opera company performed Riders to the Sea and Cupboard Love in the Eden Campus Biomass Energy Plant, where the location adds another dimension to the opera’s exploration of our relationship to the sea. We have seen that site-specific performance can be used to great creative effect in St Andrews. Settings that emphasise the social commentary of plays like Animal Farm and An Ideal Husband give audiences a point of entry to classic theatrical works, and performances like Riders to the Sea allow audiences to connect more deeply with their location. However, site-specific performances like these may now serve a purpose that is more than purely artistic.
In the midst of a global pandemic, when traditional theatrical spaces are closed and the conditions under which performance can take place are constantly changing, adaptability is crucial, and open-air, non-traditional performance spaces seem the key to theatre’s survival. In St Andrews, the wide range of striking, historic open-air spaces could become alternative theatres: the cathedral, the beaches, and the multitude of public parks and gardens all have the potential for socially-distanced dance, theatrical and musical performances. The exact practicalities of live theatre may remain unknown at the moment, but site-specific open-air performance appears to be a way for performance to occur while complying with safety measures. Ultimately, transforming the unique locations of St Andrews into creative theatrical spaces may be an excellent way of not only adapting performance to these challenging times but also engaging more fully with the fascinating place in which we live.
Who wants to buy a painting?
Amanda Roberts takes a critical look at the contemporary art market right now
Image(s): Instagram, jerrygogosian
The image appearing on my phone shows a raging fire on the top half and a photo of actor Will Ferrel, hands around his mouth, screaming out into the void in the bottom half. The caption of the fire reads “THE WORLD RIGHT NOW”, and below that the words across the Will Ferrel photo read “ART DEALERS: ANYONE WANT TO BUY A PAINTING?”. It’s mid-July, and I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed, paying little attention to what’s on my screen. But this meme by much-loved art world meme account @jerrygogosian catches my eye. I have to say I am not one to really understand memes (it’s a running joke in my friend group), but this one is pretty clear: the world is on fire, but art dealers, mega galleries, and auction houses are still there too. And they need collectors to buy art.
The luxury contemporary art market has long been criticized for exorbitant prices. Damien Hirst’s $12 million stuffed shark in a vitrine of formaldehyde and Jeff Koons’ $91 million ‘Rabbit’ are just a few examples of the high prices collectors are willing to pay for a work of art. Those in the art world generally tend to accept these price tags. They are what they are and if a collector wants to pay that amount for a work, what is the issue with that? It typically takes massive amounts of work to sell artwork, and at the large galleries and auction houses, there are many departments and staff (from sales and curatorial to publishing and catalog production to registrars and art handlers) involved. Money from big sales - while flashy and newsworthy - has the very real effect of helping to support all the departments required at a large gallery or auction house and the people who work in them. But what happens when the world metaphorically goes up in flames, as it has over the past several months of the coronavirus pandemic? In a time of global crisis, when millions have lost their jobs and millions more have been forced to cut down their spending to only the essentials - in a time when there seem to be more calls for help than ever and when every social and economic injustice that already existed has been magnified and multiplied - how should art dealers navigate this new normal? How to strike the balance of being more than just aware of the global circumstances right now, while also continuing to pursue collectors and sell art?
The memes poking fun at the seemingly pointless endeavor of trying to get collectors to purchase expensive art abound on Instagram. The best ones can all be seen on the aforementioned account @jerrygogosian (the name is a play on art critic Jerry Saltz and mega dealer Larry Gagosian). One meme shows an image of an anxious and terrified looking man trying to force a smile with the caption in bold caps “WE NEED ART NOW MORE THAN EVER.” Another features an image of a 90s Ben Affleck and Gwenyth Paltrow, with Affleck whispering into Paltrow’s ear as she disinterestedly looks away. Affleck is labeled “Art declaring itself essential in these usual times:)”, while Paltrow is aptly captioned “Everyone else:”. The meme says it pretty clearly: what is the role of art (specifically luxury modern and contemporary art) in a global pandemic, and how are the sellers of this art to navigate this new climate?
As with pretty much everything else in the world, the art world went fully online last spring. While online viewing rooms used to be something still relatively new and not a feature every gallery offered, they are now commonplace. In addition to gallery exhibitions, auctions and art fairs also moved online. If you are a collector or art lover, and you are subscribed to just about every gallery newsletter, your inbox filled up in June with galleries advertising their viewing rooms for Art Basel, one of the largest and most prestigious art fairs which normally would have taken place in Basel, Switzerland at the beginning of the summer. As the world deals with a raging pandemic that has also highlighted a multitude of socio-economic inequalities, art galleries are still there - and they need collectors in order to exist.
The @jerrygogosian memes I mentioned suggest that art is essentially useless right now. But there are those who would disagree, who would state that in fact, we need art now more than ever. Art is a core part of culture. It can facilitate important conversations and help people see the world in a new light. Above all, art (good art at least!) can bring with it a hopefulness that is desperately needed in these times. As artist Judy Chicago wrote in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, “When art is meaningful and substantive, viewers can become enlightened, inspired and empowered. And this can lead to change, which we urgently need.”
Rather than carrying on ‘business as usual’, it is crucial for galleries to take a more nuanced and socially-aware approach. I think it is necessary that galleries devote a portion of their time, energy, and online viewing space to artworks and special projects that have an intentional message of social action. Galleries can do this by supporting artists in their rosters who want to be involved in special projects and exhibitions various art institutions and nonprofits are putting on right now. One great example of such an endeavor is the #CreateArtForEarth campaign. A partnership between several prominent contemporary artists, Greenpeace USA, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Serpentine Galleries, the global campaign highlights art that addresses the climate crisis and urges people to take action. While for-profit galleries may not always be name partners on such projects, there is a lot of work they can do behind the scenes to support artists on their rosters who want to participate, and they can advertise the work to collectors through their newsletters.
Another solution is for galleries to make room in their own exhibition schedules to highlight art that deals directly with current social issues. A great example of an artist who adjusted her practice in response to current events is Marilyn Minter. Since the U.S. presidential election of 2016, Minter has dedicated her practice to exclusively political work, creating a flag declaring “RESIST” that was installed atop a building in Manhattan and paintings depicting urgent calls to action with phrases such as “OUR COUNTRY NEEDS YOU!!”. Judy Chicago (who is participating in the #CreateArtForEarth campaign) is another great artist to look to. Her series of works about climate change highlights the dangerous effects our society has on the state of the planet. One work, ‘Stranded’ (2013) depicts a polar bear on a floating ice cap with a quote from environmentalist Derrick Jensen underneath reading ‘Every creature on the planet must be hoping...that our culture’s time of awakening comes soon.’ Other works in the series depict trees, sea turtles, frogs, and other elements of nature, all accompanied by text highlighting how humans are endangering the planet.
Art like this can both expand people’s views and inspire them to take action. Art can wake people up and make them pay attention to critical issues in today’s world - and now is definitely the time for that. However, in order for galleries to participate in those special projects and shows and dedicate time, energy, and money to supporting such work, they still need to be able to sell the art they were trying to sell before the pandemic - the art that may not deal as explicitly with political and social issues. The solution is for galleries to strike a balance between on the one hand supporting their artists in participating in nonprofit projects and carving out exhibition time and online space to highlight socially-relevant work and on the other hand still doing the same job they always have. Now is the time not for the art market to ‘pause’ but rather for it to expand.
Image(s): Instagram, jerrygogosian
For St Andrews students looking to go into various careers in the arts fields, how well do you think the course options on the whole and the curriculum of existing arts degrees like Art History and Film Studies actually prepare students for working in the arts?
Sarah: As a science student, I don’t have much idea of how things work in arts degrees, but I do think there are a lot of general skills that any degree can bring you. Time management, independence, planning, and networking are all useful additions to whatever career path you choose. A lot of the arts degrees offer a more academic look at the arts, giving insight into history and the educational side of the arts, rather than a careers-based approach. I think a full music degree would be a very worthy addition to the St Andrews course catalogue, but I do think there could be a negative impact on the student art scene if such degrees were introduced. Part of the wonder of arts at St Andrews is the incredible work all students involved do. I would be concerned that introducing more formal arts teaching would render this community irrelevant, and limit the options for students interested in arts, but not sitting an arts career-based degree.
Griffin: I definitely agree with Sarah that full arts majors can in many cases be detrimental to the artistic experience of students. As someone who transferred from another university where one of my majors was theatre, I found the curriculum and the culture, in general, to be one that limited artistic expression and freedom, and that served to promote the agendas of a select few faculty. While the importance of studying the history of your chosen field cannot be stressed enough, I have learned much more about the practicalities of the arts from my extracurricular activities. Working on the largest student-run fashion show in the UK for two years, for example, has provided me with far more business acumen than three years of academic courses. Both have their merits, but I think to actually be successful, you need to supplement one with the other.
Isabelle: I think that Sarah and Griffin both make excellent points. The current degree offerings in the arts are much an academic perspective on the arts, but this hole in the curriculum leaves great opportunity as well. It allows students whose degree is not even in the humanities to get involved and be creative and artistic without feeling out of place or that they don’t belong. A production team in St Andrews could be made up of one person studying English, another studying Economics, and a third studying Medicine, and not one of them would be any more entitled to their role because of their degree. This also means that students who are extremely talented in the arts but do not wish to pursue it as a career have the chance to hold leading roles without going up against students who spend their academic career studying theatre.
Tabitha: I agree with the above points: there is significant value in the fact that the current lack of practical arts degrees allows students to be much more creative, organising artistic projects entirely independent from university management. The courses offered at St Andrews are largely traditionally academic in approach, and I think broadening the university’s scope to include practical arts degrees may stretch it too thin. I would also add that creating whole new degrees and departments would add yet more students to St Andrews and put an even greater burden on the town’s already limited resources. Overall, I think the wealth of student-created opportunities are a major part of what makes St Andrews special, and adding extra degrees and departments would make it more difficult for students to create projects independently, as well as adding to the overcrowding of the town.
Charlotte: I’ve taken Art History as well as some of the music courses on offer in St Andrews. I chose them not to prepare myself vocationally for a career in the arts, but to take advantage of the rigorous academic approach of this particular university. The high standards for teaching and learning—particular within the school of Art History—have helped me to feel ready for whatever field I choose. In my case, form was more important than content itself. My degree subject is International Relations, and I’m thrilled to have chosen it even as I look into postgraduate performance degrees; my time at St Andrews has prepared me to be disciplined, flexible, and socially engaged, all attributes essential to a successful arts career.
Amanda: I have been an art history student for the entire time I have been at St Andrews (and I’m now going into my fourth year). I love the art history program here so dearly and it really is so fantastic - the professors in the art history department are particularly committed and caring teachers. However, I do also feel there is a lot missing from the education on offer for someone like myself who wants to work in the contemporary art world. When I first started at St Andrews, I was doing a joint degree in Art History and Management. I wanted to eventually go into art business, but as this isn’t an undergraduate course available here, I figured taking management alongside art history was the next best option. However, as the Art History and Management programs are completely separate, I found it incredibly difficult to split my focus, and as a result, I am now single honors Art History. I wish that St Andrews expanded their offerings to include courses such as art business and communications for cultural institutions so that students looking to work in the arts could have a fuller education.
Juliana: I'm an Art History and English Literature joint honours student entering my fourth year, and I somewhat disagree with my peers. While the art scene at St Andrews is fabulous, the only way to get involved in formal visual art is through the Art Society, which in my experience has been limited to weekly life drawing sessions and a small gallery-like showing per semester at someone's flat. In English Literature honours, students have the option to take a creative writing module and can choose from "Writing Poetry", "Writing Prose", "Writing Poetry and Prose", and "Screenwriting", just to name a few without checking the actual module guidebook. I am looking into graduate programs now, and there are about five different arts fields that I would love to study further in. But since I haven't had any formal training beyond my high school AP Studio Art classes, I am afraid that I will be vastly behind my peers at graduate school who did go to formal arts universities/ colleges. I would love to see the Art History department add even perhaps a few fundamentals classes for honours students who are interested in the practical aspect of creating art. Perhaps even just "Drawing", "Painting", and "Sculpture". I believe that offering formal classes such as these to those within the major will provide students who dream of working as artists full time with the skills and confidence required to enter the art industry, or a graduate program. I also believe that it would not in any way detract from the already flourishing art community in St Andrews, but rather enhance it and even help students interested in art to feel that our degrees and career choices are not inferior to those studying STEM modules.
Muse of the Month
In this monthly feature, Juliana Zaharevich highlights a figure in the arts who inspires her
Image(s): Explore Dance
My muse is… Moses Pendleton
He is… the founder and artistic director of MOMIX, a modern dance company based in Washington, Connecticut. Before founding MOMIX in 1980, he was a co-founder of and performer with Pilobolus Dance Theatre, which began at Dartmouth College in 1971. He is an internationally renowned choreographer and performer and has worked with such organizations as the Paris Opera, the Deutsch Opera Berlin, and the Winter Olympics, both at Lake Placid in 1980 and Sochi in 2014. He has also worked in film and television on a wide variety of projects. These include the feature film Fx2, Moses Pendleton Presents Moses Pendleton for ABC Arts, and the music videos with Prince, among many others.
I first learned about him when… I attended MOMIX’s performance of Lunar Sea at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, Connecticut at the age of five.
I am obsessed because… MOMIX’s stunning choreography (of which Pendleton is the primary creator) is elegantly emphasized in its seeming effortlessness by its genius use of all formal aspects of the theatre - lighting, costuming, and props. Some pieces, such as “Tuu” from Classics, feature dancers in minimal costuming, without props, and a general wash for lighting. The emphasis is purely on the movement, the incredible strength, and the raw power of the human body. In contrast are pieces like “Skiva” from Classics, where two performers are dressed in black bodysuits, boots, and skis. These surrealist ideas question the range of motion and movement possible within odd, yet playful constraints. Further works such as “Marigolds” and “Undecided?... Triceratops”, both from Botanica, seem to respond to the curiosity of how nature itself would move, as flowers and triceratops skeletons come to life on the stage. The result is nothing short of dream-like - the theatrical equivalent of Dali and Reidon’s wildest imaginings. It is illusionistic, even psychedelic, in its depiction of our world at its most whimsical.
My favorite works by him are… “Pole Dance” from Opus Cactus, “Aqua Flora” from Botanica (co-choreographed and originally performed by Cynthia Quinn, MOMIX co-director), and “Table Talk” from Classics. Each of these has a seemingly simple prop and costume design in comparison to some other projects but utilizes the materials presented in an imaginative way that strikes nothing short of awe in the audience.
The work by him you absolutely have to check out is… Moses Pendleton Presents Moses Pendleton, a self-narrated autobiographic film that explores the creative process and the vital ways in which theatre expresses reality, or surreality. It received over ten international awards, including a Cine Golden Eagle award and Sundance Special Jury Award. If you do get the change to see MOMIX perform any of their repertoires live, it is guaranteed to be an unforgettable evening of artistic genius, displaying nothing less than all the joy and beauty of life itself.
If you are interested to learn more, a more complete list of Mr. Pendleton’s works, achievements, and awards can be found here: