Podcasts

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Photo by Cathy Waite

US Army Veteran, actor, and founder of DE-CRUIT

Stephan Wolfert had been in the army for six years when he saw his close friend killed during a training exercise. Wolfert “lost it,” as he put it, hopped a train, and went on a drinking binge that lasted quite a while. He ended up in Montana and wandered into a theater where Richard III was being performed. Wolfert saw in the title character a veteran like himself who did not fit in and who spoke directly and eloquently to the audience about his anger and contempt for those that did. Wolfert’s life was transformed. He left the army, went to graduate school to study acting, and immersed himself in Shakespeare. He quickly saw that Shakespeare populated his plays with soldiers and veterans who faced their own bloody losses and seemed to speak directly to the trauma Wolfert was facing. Believing that Shakespeare and theater could be as transformative for others as it is for him, he began working with veterans using Shakespeare to help them unpack their own experiences. He eventually started the non-profit DE-CRUIT whose basic premise is theater is medicine and Shakespeare can be the key to healing. In this podcast, Stephan talks about his time in the military, his “Aha!” moment in Montana, how Shakespeare helps veterans both penetrate and contain their own experiences, and the unlikely parallels between theater and the military.

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Photo by Janie Airey

Translator and NEA Grantee

Literary translator and National Endowment for the Arts fellow Jennifer Croft was passionate about Polish author Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Flights—so much so that she spent ten years trying to persuade a literary house to publish an English translation. Croft would translate excerpts of the book and send them to journals trying to gin up interest in Tokarczuk’s distinctive work—a compilation of 116 chapters or fragments that travel through centuries and countries, ranging from single-page ruminations on airports or hotels to 30-page-long stories about a man searching for his wife and child who disappear as they are all vacationing or Chopin’s sister smuggling the composer’s heart back into Poland. With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Croft was able to complete the translation. She also persuaded an independent English publisher to take a chance on the novel. The result: Flights was awarded the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, which is awarded to the best work of fiction translated from any language into English, and it was also a finalist for the National Book Award. In this episode of the podcast, Croft talks about Flights, the strange alchemy that goes into translation, the importance of grants and the Arts Endowment to translators, and how her own interest in Slavic languages began (Hint: figure skating played a central role).

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Photo courtesy of Arena Stage

Actor

From Hotspur to Antonin Scalia, actor Edward Gero can (and does) play all manner of parts. An actor’s actor, he is a shining light in Washington DC’s theater community. He began his career as a classical actor playing some 60 roles for over 26 years at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. But he made the transition to contemporary work seamlessly. Bringing an authenticity and precision to roles as disparate as Mark Rothko in Red, Harry Brock in a revival of Born Yesterday, Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and Antonin Scalia in The Originalist a role that was created for him. In this podcast, Gero talks about playing Shakespeare, his move to contemporary work, how Washington DC is a distinctive theater-town, and the power and wonder of theater. He is smart, funny and generous—a true bon vivant. Enjoy!

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Photo: Courtesy of Mary Rand Hess

Poet, Writer,and Multi-Media Artist

In this week's podcast, poet, writer and multi-media artist Mary Rand Hess takes us into the heart of her collaborations with Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander. Together MAry and Kwame have written two best-selling YA titles Solo, a book that has rock and roll weaving through it and Swing, a book that centers around jazz and baseball. Both tell rich and complex stories of teenage boys trying to grow up in a world they didn't create--and both do it entirely in verse. Mary talks about writing for young adults and kids, what draws her to poetry (she started out wanting to be a rock star!), and making a life as a working writer.

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Photo courtesy of Great Performances

Executive producer of Great Performances

Great Performances has been on the air for more than 40 years and Executive Producer David Horn has been there for 39 of them. In many ways, Great Performances, which is the longest running performing arts anthology on television, has been shaped by his vision. The series has brought the performing arts into American homes—from opera to dance, from musicals to drama to concerts. In this podcast, Horn takes us behind the scenes of Great Performances: he explains what goes into putting a Broadway play on television; why and how he brought Shakespeare back to public television with some major star-power; his experiences directing Chita Rivera, Tony Bennett, and Lady Gaga; and his embrace of new technology and new media to both enhance the viewing experience and build new audiences. He’s a deeply thoughtful man who has done a wide variety of extraordinary work for decades. He knows everyone, and I’m not sure when he sleeps.

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Photo by Marina Umari

Pianist and 2019 NEA Jazz Master

Pianist and 2019 NEA Jazz Master Abdullah Ibrahim combines the musical influences of his childhood in Cape Town, South Africa, which include traditional South African songs, gospels and spirituals, and Indian ragas, with the improvisation of jazz to create a sound that is distinctly his. Born Adolph Johannes Brand in 1934, he was known professionally as Dollar Brand before changing his name when he converted to Islam in 1968. Ibrahim, along with Hugh Masekela and Kippi Moketsi, formed the short-lived but impactful septet The Jazz Epistles who recorded the first South African jazz album, Jazz Epistles, Verse 1. Because of the limits imposed on black South Africans by the repressive apartheid government, Ibrahim left the country. He traveled first to Zurich, where he met Duke Ellington who recorded him, and then to New York City, where he met everyone else and played in Carnegie Hall. He returned to South Africa briefly and in the mid-1970s composed what became the people’s national anthem, “Mannenberg.” Exiled once more, he returned to South Africa at the invitation of Nelson Mandela and performed at Mandela’s presidential inauguration. In this podcast episode, Abdullah talks about his many diverse musical influences, his deep love of jazz (which he calls “the highest form of music”), living and performing under apartheid, exile, and the musician as healer. We pack a lot into this podcast, but Ibrahim has had a long, rich life.

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Photo courtesy of Christian McBride

Jazz Bassist

Jazz bassist Christian McBride takes us through his own musical journey--from his early days in Philadelphia to playing with some of the great jazz legends like NEA Jazz Masters Sonny Rollins and Chick Corea. He also talks about fronting a group and walks us through composing one of his signature songs "Brother Mister." Christian also reflects on his long friendship with 2019 NEA Jazz Master Stanley Crouch and Stanley's importance to jazz criticism and advocacy.

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Credit Jimmy and Dena Katz photo

Composer, conductor and 2019 NEA Jazz Master

2019 NEA Jazz Master composer, conductor, and arranger Maria Schneider creates highly original and evocative compositions for her jazz orchestra, which she formed in 1992. Much of her music is autobiographical, evoking the Minnesota plains where she was born and raised. She returns to the theme of her childhood in a prairie town again and again; in fact, she’s come to realize that the foundation of her music is her hometown. She finds parts of it magical, and we certainly hear it in her music. Although she’s composed classical work and collaborated with David Bowie, Maria’s musical center remains in jazz. In this podcast, we talk about her connection to jazz (especially to the music of NEA Jazz Master Gil Evans), the ways in which she and the musicians in her band inspire one another, her collaboration with Bowie, and how her deep ties to Windom, Minnesota, translates into mesmerizing music.

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Poet, Playwright, Broadcaster

Meet Maryland’s new poet laureate Grace Cavalieri. Grace is a language maven: she’s a poet (24 published books and chapbooks), a playwright (26 produced plays), and a broadcaster (creator and host of The Poet and the Poem, a public radio series now in its 42nd year). Her range of subject is matched by the depth of her observations. Her poems about old age can break your heart and make you laugh; she sometimes channels other women’s voices writing a series of poems as Anna Nicole Smith and another as Mary Wollstonecraft. She’s a poetic force to be reckoned to be reckoned with. Now, at the age of 86, Grace Cavalieri has been named Maryland’s new poet laureate. In this podcast, you’ll learn about where she’s been and where she’s going, how she made time for writing as a Navy wife with four kids, her long marriage to the boy she met when she was in junior high school, her loss at his passing, and her plans as poet laureate.

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Photo by Peter Serling

Composer

Composer Julia Wolfe recently premiered her third oratorio that is centered on American labor history—this latest piece is based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that occurred in New York City in 1911. 146 workers—most of them immigrant women—died. Julia was determined not show these women as victims, but rather as resourceful people who had the courage to travel to a new country and band together to struggle for better working conditions. Fire in my mouth, a multi-media work, opened with the New York Philharmonic as its orchestra, a chorus of 146 women, a sold-out house and a cheering standing ovation. It was a good night.

Julia Wolfe, who has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur fellowship, has a large and varied body of work. A composer that is hard to classify, she not only embraces all musical genres, she hears sound itself as a music which is helpful when you want to recreate the particular roar of a factory floor. In this week’s podcast, Julia talks about her deep interest in history, her wide embrace of music and her methods for translating the sounds of work into music.

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Photo by  Joanne Mullin

Filmmaker

Aislinn Clarke is the first Northern Irish woman to direct a feature-length horror film The Devil’s Doorway, and she brought a particularly female point-of-view by setting it in a Magdalene Laundry in 1960 Ireland. The Magdalene Laundries were institutions run by the Catholic church that were real-life horror stories for an untold number of women. They were essentially workhouses for women of “ill-repute” which could mean unwed mothers, prostitutes, women who wouldn’t get out of the way…the list of women who could be put away is quite long and varied. Aislinn Clarke feels connected to the laundries—shockingly, the last one closed in 1996—there was one in the town she grew up in and her father worked for a bakery and would deliver bread to the place. His stories stayed with her…as did his love for film, particularly horror films. Aislinn and I have a wide-ranging conversation about the history of the Magdalene Laundries, women in the film industry, what makes a good horror film and not a word about St. Patrick!

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Photo credit: NAACP

Prize-winning YA author

Author Renée Watson talks about her prize-winning YA title, Piecing Me Together and her most recent book, Watch Us Rise (co-written with Ellen Hagan). Both look at the lived experiences of black girls as they grapple with identity right at the intersection of race, class and gender. But Renée tells stories--she's not preaching...and, as in life, her characters can respond in unexpected ways. In the podcast, we talk about what goes into writing for young adults and Renée's own trajectory as a writer, educator and performer.

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Documentarians

Documentarians Gordon Quinn and Tracye A. Matthews discuss their film ’63 Boycott—a documentary about one of the largest (and possibly most-under-reported) civil rights actions in the 1960s. On October 22, 1963, more than 250,000 students boycotted the Chicago Public Schools to protest racial segregation. Many marched through the city along with their parents demanding to be allowed to enter under-enrolled white schools. Standard policy had been to erect trailers on playgrounds and parking lots of overcrowded black schools rather than let students enroll in nearby schools populated by white students. It was an extraordinary political moment that laid bare the racism of Chicago’s public school system and changed the lives of many of the students involved. By some quirk of fate, Gordon Quinn, who would go on to found Kartemquin Films, was a student at the University of Chicago in 1963 and took his camera out on the street to film the demonstration. That footage is at the heart of ’63 Boycott along with the participants’ reflections of that astounding time. Gordon Quinn and Tracye A. Matthews, who is also a historian, take us through the process of creating this documentary, from locating the people who were in the original footage to getting the history of the boycott right to finding the money to see the film through. (Spoiler alert: The National Endowment for the Arts has a role!)

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Editors: Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives

Rachel L. Swarns and Darcy Eveleigh are two of the four editors of Unseen: Unpublished Black History from The New York Times Photo Archives. In Unseen, the editors took on the monumental task of going through millions of unpublished photos in the archives (or morgue) of The New York Times. They were looking for pictures of African Americans--both the ordinary and the famous. They then tried to get the story behind the photo centering around two major questions: why was the photo taken and why wasn't it used. The process was like unraveling a mystery taking a lot of determination. And the result is pretty extraordinary. Both Rachel and Darcy were longtime staff journalists at and are now contributors to The New York Times--Rachel is a writer and Darcy a photo editor. They talk about the book from these different perspectives and also share how putting this book together influenced their own approach to the work that they do.

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Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Producing Artistic Director, Theater Alliance

Raymond O. Caldwell recently stepped into the role of Producing Artistic Director at Theater Alliance-the resident company of the Anacostia Playhouse. Theater Alliance is a small company that produces socially-conscious and thought-provoking work that aims to lead its audience toward positive constructive dialogue. It also happens to be terrific theater—nominated for five Helen Hayes Awards in this season alone. In today’s podcast, Raymond Caldwell talks about what it takes to create good, meaningful theater that speaks both to the neighborhood and the larger DC community. He also takes us on a journey through his own experiences as an actor and director who has worked in locations from India to Kiev to Berlin...and how those experiences inform his work at Theater Alliance.

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