Michigan Muse Magazine

Winter 2020

Message from the Dean

As I write this letter, another semester is coming to a close. The bright beginnings of the academic year settled into a kind of purposeful and joyous rhythm, and now the entire School is focused on semester-ending performances and academic projects. New members of our community and newly initiated artistic endeavors have added to the pervasive sense of artistic and scholarly possibility. This fall, we welcomed 342 new students and five new faculty. We broke ground on our new building for the Department of Dance and we launched a comprehensive Global Engagement Program. And in October, President Mark Schlissel committed to establishing a comprehensive presidential arts initiative designed to “unleash imagination and creativity” at the University of Michigan.

I am honored to be part of a working group of arts leaders on-campus who will collaborate with all parts of the University to design the initiative. Beginning with a two-year startup phase funded by President Schlissel,  we will work collectively to produce a roadmap for an ambitious and innovative re-envisioning of the role of the arts at Michigan. This new undertaking will build upon the historic strength of the institution’s vast artistic assets, including the stellar programs at SMTD, and will aim to elevate the impact and integration of the arts across the full breadth and depth of the enterprise. I am proud of our University for putting the arts at the center and I look forward to sharing with you how SMTD responds to the president’s bold vision.

Of course, SMTD’s engagement with the greater University is part of the fabric of our School and history. Our students take full advantage of extraordinary opportunities to collaborate across disciplines, and in the process, refine their individual artistry and scholarship, build valuable professional skills, and help to stretch and transform their disciplines. This year, Jacob Ryan Smith, a senior in Musical Theatre, collaborated with Michigan OPEN (Opioid Prescribing Engagement Network) at Michigan Medicine to create a musical inspired by true stories of opioid addiction and recovery. Painless will be performed for middle and high school students across the state, accompanied by discussion led by Michigan Medicine researchers, offering the opportunity to connect deeply within our community. Dr. Chad Brummett, director of Michigan OPEN, says: “When we can take medical research to its highest form of translation—the arts—that’s when we are leveraging the full breadth of our campus.”

Many of our faculty also engage in exciting collaborations with their colleagues across the University. Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Technology Professor Anıl Çamcı, whose scholarly work investigates world-making using a variety of media ranging from electronic music to virtual reality, is currently collaborating with professors from Medicine and Nursing. Using VR and special audio, his interdisciplinary team is addressing the underlying auditory causes of one of the top patient safety hazards in clinical environments—alarm fatigue—a form of sensory overload that causes healthcare professionals to be desensitized to alarm events due to extended exposure.

These are just a few of the examples of the kind of far-reaching work that I anticipate will be amplified by the Arts Initiative—work fueled by the creative power of SMTD’s faculty and students that draws on the remarkable power of the arts to address the world’s most vexing and complicated problems.

Our cover story highlights SMTD alumni who have been honored with awards in their respective fields for the diverse contributions that they are making to their art forms and communities. These awards are a measure of success and important markers in career journeys that we’re all shaped by formative time at SMTD. As a School, we have always educated our students with the intention that they will enter the professional world as leaders. I hope you will enjoy reading how our graduates have continued to flourish in such impressive ways after leaving Ann Arbor, and how they’ve built their careers upon their experience at SMTD and its unique blend of faculty mentorship, exceptional curricular and extra-curricular opportunities, and engagement with the broader resources of the campus and community. And now imagine how those experiences will be enhanced as the Arts Initiative takes shape!

It is indeed an exciting time at the School. All of us who support the work of the faculty and students are inspired by their commitment, creativity, and talent, and we are pleased to share in this edition of Muse our pride and enthusiasm for all that is happening here in Ann Arbor, and through our remarkable alumni, around the globe. Stay in touch, and Forever Go Blue!

Dave Gier, dean
Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music School of Music, Theatre & Dance


In this issue

  1. Why Awards Matter

    SMTD Alumni Reflect on Their Top Honors The Long View They say it’s an honor just to be nominated, but after four Tony nods over a 14-year span—and a successful and varied career as a stage actress—Celia Keenan-Bolger, BM ’00 (musical theatre) was eager to take home a trophy. “With each nomination, I found that my…

  2. Learning Beyond the Classroom: Community Engagement with SMTD’s PEERs Program

    The University of Michigan has long included public engagement in its educational mission, aiming to reinvest its resources in the communities it serves. Such engagement also contributes to the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) strategic plan by increasing awareness and access among underserved populations in the state of Michigan. At the same time, U-M students’ participation…

  3. Connecting Through Theatre

    A LIFE-CHANGING TRIP TO SOUTH AFRICA In early March 2019, 10 SMTD students traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa for a cultural immersion experience at the Market Theatre and Laboratory as well as other local theatres. Professor Anita Gonzalez (theatre and dance) led the trip, accompanied by Associate Professor Christina Traister (theatre) and Rachel Francisco, SMTD’s special events producer. The students were…

  4. Simply the Best

    When Nkeki Obi-Melekwe (MT ’18) was a young girl growing up in the Bronx, she remembers many of Tina Turner’s songs playing in the background of her Saturday and Sunday mornings. By the time Obi-Melekwe heard those hits coming from her father’s stereo, some of them would be more than 40 years old—which is why…

  5. Belle Isle and Beyond

    Last year, during an impromptu workshop on campus to visiting middle schoolers from Detroit Public Schools, Sara Adlerstein Gonzalez noticed something concerning.

  6. Kind of Blue — LLama

    The Blue LLama Jazz Club is Ann Arbor’s newest venue for live jazz performances and jazz-inspired cuisine—frequently featuring faculty, students, and alumni of the Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation. The jazz scene in and around Ann Arbor has always been lively. On any night of the week, several local venues and restaurants—including Canterbury House,…