Expressions of Acceptance: 21st Century Musicianship in Action

In one week, on Monday November 2nd, 2015, something remarkable is happening: a performance which embodies nearly every aspect of Lawrence’s 21st Century Musicianship Initiative. It all started with an idea hatched between Copeland Woodruff, Director of Opera Studies and Matthew Turner, Director of IGLU (The Improvisation Group of Lawrence University). Not long after, Margaret Paek, Instructor of Dance, joined in the fun. They asked this simple question: What if students from Opera Studies and IGLU worked collaboratively to create a series of new “micro-operas?” And what if the theme of these newly created works was alienation and acceptance in society? And what if the source materials were community surveys gathered last year that asked the questions: “Was there a time where you felt like an outsider?” and “What can we do to be a more accepting community?” And what if all aspects of the greater Appleton Community were involved and the performance took place at the Performing Arts Center? And what if the event were free and we invited the entire community to participate deeply by gathering at the Chapel before the performance and walking together to the PAC in an expression of unity? And what if the performance was unlike anything that has ever happened at the PAC with operas staged on stairs, on balconies, in elevators, in foyers, and the audience freely moved around these spaces to find their own musical experiences?


What if. . . ? It started with that question and has turned into something more beautiful and more important than anyone anticipated. For the students directly involved in the project- over 40 of them—the process of creating their own work in a collaborative, improvisational-based setting has been transformational. Creating something from nothing in a group context can be challenging, frustrating, disorienting, exhilarating, and endlessly rewarding. This isn’t learning to sing or play someone else’s composition, this is the messy act of creation itself. This is all about pushing personal and artistic boundaries and nurturing the creative impulse that is central to our 21st Century Musicianship Initiative. Singers are exploring improvisation, instrumentalists and exploring stagecraft and movement, and everyone is finding a creative voice.


One of the key areas of our 21stCentury Musicianship Initiative is to use the power of music to positively impact the greater community. To that end the team reached out to ten community partners including the Mayor’s Office, Goodwill, Include, Riverview Gardens, The Community Foundation, The Fox Valley Performing Arts Center, COTS, African Heritage Inc., and Celebrate Diversity Fox Cities. With this powerful coalition of community-focused organizations, The Expressions of Acceptance Project has transcended a mere performance and has become an event to build community, redefine community, and invite the community to see itself in new ways.


The project also redefines traditional opera performance. Have you ever been to a performance that begins with a community procession to the theater? Have you been to a performance that involves you directly with building a more accepting community through active participation? Have you been to an event where the audience moves through the performance space to hear 13 operatic world premieres from balconies, on staircases, in elevators, and even in the bathrooms? Our 21st Century Musicians are committed to redefining traditional performance and this event will take a wrecking ball to everything you would expect a night at the opera would be!


Finally I would like to highlight the amazing collaborations that made this event possible. Central to 21st Century Musicianship is collaboration. The cross-departmental collaboration between Opera Studies, Improvisational Studies, and Dance provided the creative impetus for the project. The amazing collaborative work of the students who worked together to form new works of art that synthesize, music, movement, story-telling, acting, and improvisation, formed the artistic heart of the performance. The broad community collaboration made this an event that transcends performance and offers an opportunity to bring an entire community together. I invite you to be a part of this historic event this Monday, November 2nd. The Journey for Community begins at 7:00 in front of the Chapel. We will journey together as a community to the PAC where the performance of Expressions of Acceptance begins at 7:30 PM. All are welcome. The event is free and open to everyone in our amazing community! Leave your expectations at the door.