The Role of the Arts

"Burnt-Out Wife," created and performed by Sara Juli, premieres on Feb. 25. 

The Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College’s doors may have been shut since the start of the pandemic last spring, but this spring is about hope and renewal — and the crucial role of the arts during this unprecedented and challenging time in all our lives.

The same innovative lineup of programming that hits the Redfern stage every spring — filled with music, theater, dance, performance and community engagement — will arrive in 2021, only it will be offered virtually and with a bit more added for viewing audiences.

Through May, the Redfern will present four virtual artist residencies and performances, productions from Keene State’s theater and dance departments, a series from the music department, a new season of the Redfern’s monthly podcast series called “Inside the Redfern,” and ongoing behind-the-scenes glimpses into how the Redfern is thriving through this pandemic and engaging with local communities.

There were nine visiting artist residencies and mainstage performances planned for the season that were adjusted to the virtual world. Performance updates are ongoing and will be available online at keene.edu/arts/redfern.

If there was a theme to the programming, Sharon Fantl, Redfern Arts Center marketing and grants manager, would describe it as the integral role of the arts in our collective well-being.

“It’s about how the arts provides a place to escape, express, heal and think about relationships and social issues in places where people can feel safe to do so,” she said.

Up next this month is Maine-based artist Sara Juli’s “Burnt-Out Wife,” premiering Feb. 25 and shown on-demand through Feb. 29. Juli, who describes her work as comic-dance pieces, takes on topics in “Burnt-Out Wife” such as intimacy, loneliness, monogamy and other marital taboos. Her solo performance pieces fuse movement, text, sound and song along with humor and audience interaction.

She tells personal stories in her pieces, highlighting topics that resonate with her at the time she writes. Past shows have focused on sexual promiscuity, being a Jewish woman and member of a family consisting of Holocaust survivors and dating a non-Jewish man (now her husband) as well as post-partum depression.

Juli began writing “Burnt-Out Wife” after her children were no longer toddlers and, she said, she turned a lens on her marriage.

“I took a deep dive into being unhappy in marriage and the facade around cultural and social pressure to make sure things look good,” she said, “while behind closed doors I wasn’t feeling good.”

Her mission, she added, is always to connect with audiences in a meaningful way.

“I use myself as the portal,” she said. “Humor is part of the glaze that allows me to get into people’s psyches.”

Juli will lead a post-performance live discussion after her pre-recorded piece premiers on Feb. 25.

On March 3 and 4, the Boston-based Flamenco Dance Project will provide a virtual residency and performance excerpts of their piece, “Flamenquando!” on Thursday, March 4. A company of artists dedicated to the evolving art of Flamenco dance and music, the dance project was founded in 2009 by Sabrina Avilés, with a mission to promote intercultural understanding, community growth and cultural diversity by showcasing the exceptional talents of U.S.-based flamenco performers. During their Keene residency, the artists will offer workshops on the history and structure of Flamenco music and dance and will explore flamenco as a modern art form.

“[The performance] will feel like a work-in-progress,” Fantl said.

Keene State’s music department will host a Community Kitchen Fundraiser Faculty Recital on March 10, with all proceeds (admission by donation) going to the Community Kitchen of Keene. The livestreamed event from Alumni Recital Hall will include a world-premiere violin and piano sonata by Keene State music faculty, Heather Gilligan, along with musical works by Peruvian, Cuban and Ecuadorian composers.

“In music department meetings, specifically over the past several months, a question has been, ‘How can we demonstrate equity and inclusivity?’” said Keene State Professor of Music, Christina Wright-Ivanova, “and ‘How can we help the community?’”

The idea arose to maximize musical impact by putting on a performance for the Keene community featuring the work of a diverse group of composers and donating proceeds to the Community Kitchen. On Feb. 27, the faculty performance series will also feature “A Performance and Conversation with Composer Michael Grebla,” winner of the 2020 Call for Scores competition led by Gilligan and the music department.

Dan Froot and Company will conduct a five-day virtual performance residency during the week of March 15. In that time, the company will intersect with a variety of campus and community groups focusing on food insecurity and community health. Residency activities include Instagram takeovers, TikTok challenges, guest classes and workshops at Keene State College, as well as listening parties of the company’s podcast, Pang! From March 17 to 19 at 6 p.m., the company will perform excerpts from their evening-length performance, also titled Pang!, involving three short radio plays based on real families around the country who are living with food insecurity.

The performances will be co-hosted alongside the departments of Public Health, the Wellness Center, and the Keene Kids Housing Collaborative, with each performance followed by virtual “Kitchen Table” community forums, providing space to socialize, eat and dialogue across socio-economic lines.

“Everything we do — in performance, residency, community, whether virtual or physical — is help foster dialogue across different populations of the community,” Froot said. “When we perform live, we’re at a literal kitchen table that is onstage with us, and people in the audience are onstage next to us at the kitchen table, listening and talking about the performance. They are miked so the audience and the rest of the community can hear the conversation, which leads into the full audience by the end.”

Replicating this in a virtual setting will be done using Zoom breakout rooms. Viewers will be able to listen to these conversations in the breakout rooms and listen to the performance and have the opportunity to talk to each other in a larger facilitated conversation following the performance.

“It’s part community forum, part performance, part listening party,” said Froot, who came up with the concept for Pang! when his twin children were born in 2000.

“My wife and I experienced the powerful sense of privilege we had that was able to provide what our kids needed,” he said. “It led me through the process of thinking about how one uses one’s privilege and the choices it gives a person. In my case, what I know how to do is tell stories, so I told stories of people who didn’t have enough food.”

The stories presented in the plays are based on oral histories of real people, families, in Los Angeles, Miami and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Next up will be a presentation by the college’s theatre and dance program of the musical, “The Last Five Years,” written by Jason Robert Brown, from March 30 through April 3. The show explores the five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein, a rising novelist, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress, exploring gender and relationship dynamics.

Finishing the season from April 19 through 22, David Dorfman Dance will lead a virtual residency consisting of workshops, class visits, a community brown-bag conversation, and a behind-the-scenes presentation of their new work, “A(Way) Out of My Body” on April 22. Created by award-winning, internationally recognized choreographer Dorfman, “(A)Way Out of My Body” uses the out-of-body experience as a metaphor for our times.

The residency marks a return to Keene for the company, who were in residence at the Redfern in January 2021 to develop “A(Way) Out of My Body,” and who have contributed work for the Theatre and Dance program’s 2019 Evening of Dance performance.

Inside the Redfern, a monthly podcast developed as a partnership with the KSC Department of Journalism, Multimedia and Public Relations, explores how and why artists, students and faculty at the Redfern create, collaborate and share their work, providing listeners with more connection to the arts in Keene. Episodes can be accessed via Redfern’s website: keene.edu/arts/redfern or https://redfernarts.podbean.com.

Virtual performances and activities are free to audiences, with some events requiring a registration process. Attendees are encouraged to make a contribution in lieu of purchasing a ticket; and purchasing a membership is also encouraged. For questions regarding upcoming events, call the Redfern box office at (603) 358-2168 or email boxoffice@keene.edu. Audience members are encouraged to sign up for Redfern’s newsletter for more information and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube @RedfernArtsCenter. Performance updates are ongoing and will be available on Redfern’s website.