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Photo by Maria Ventura

Producing Artistic Director and Founder of Native Voices

For almost 25 years, Native Voices at the Autry has been providing opportunities and support to Native American playwrights…and by extension Native actors, designers, musicians and other theater artists. It is the country’s only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to producing new works by Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nations playwrights. Deeply committed to developing as well as producing new work, Native Voices also provides a venue for new plays with festivals and public staged readings as well as retreats and workshops for emerging and established Native playwrights. Randy Reinholz is a founder of Native Voices and has been its producing artistic director since its inception. In this podcast, Randy talks about the unique and changing points of view Native artists bring to the table, the issues facing Indian Country, and the place theater has in telling Native stories.

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Photo courtesy of HBO

Actor, director, producer

Actor Jeffrey Wright discusses the documentary he produced for HBO, We Are Not Done Yet, which profiles a group of veterans and service members as they come together to collaborate on a series of poems. The former and current service members are part of a United Services Organizations’ writing workshop at Walter Reed National Military Center; and, all of them struggle to cope with PTSD. The workshop creates a safe place for them to grapple with their experiences through poetry. In fact, they decide not just to write a poem collectively but to present a publicly staged reading of it. That’s where actor Jeffrey Wright came in—he had worked with veterans in the past and was looking for an opportunity to involve himself again. He came to Walter Reed to direct the staged reading of the poem. And that experience became the HBO documentary We Are Not Done Yet. Listen to this conversation with Jeffrey Wright about his work with these veterans, his continuing relationships with them, and his commitment to making sure their stories are heard.

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Photo © blue lily photo

Y.A. fantasy/horror author

In her novel, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, young adult author Kiersten White retells Mary Shelley’s classic. In White’s book, we get the story from Elizabeth Lavenza—the childhood companion and then wife of scientist Victor Frankenstein. Kiersten White closely follows the outline of Shelley’s Frankenstein, but by changing the point of view to Elizabeth, we get another story entirely about Victor Frankenstein, the monster, and Elizabeth herself. For this Halloween podcast, Kiersten and I talk about the original Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s singular life, and the challenges and fun of taking this well-known classic tale, telling it from a different perspective, and finding a story that hadn’t been told before.

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Photo courtesy of David Tomas Martinez

Poet and Big Read author

Poet David Tomas Martinez’s book (and new Big Read title) Hustle explodes with verbal dexterity about street life. Born in San Diego to a working class Chicano family, David Tomas Martinez found power and strength by running with a gang. A father at 17, he ended up in college as a returning student through sheer luck, and there he found strength and power through language. David became a poet and the rough side of town and the people he knew (and knows) there became his subjects. His first collection, and first publication, is Hustle which became a prize-winning book…and a new Big Read title. David’s joy in linguistic playfulness isn’t confined to the page. His honesty, exuberance, and charm comes through in this podcast as we walk with him down the streets of Southern California; there’s violence and meanness—but also heart-stopping moments of grace.

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Photo by Tom Pich

2018 National Heritage Fellow and African American Quilter

2018 National Heritage Fellow African American Quilter Marion Coleman is a story teller with fabric. Her narrative quilts depict personal stories, history, and portraits…from small nightclubs in Oakland to a series about Black Cowboys to the life story of the first African American woman pilot—Marion’s quilts create visual stories. She’s combines both traditional and contemporary quiltmaking techniques, using ceramics, whole garments, buttons, paper, and photographs in her quilts. Sometimes, she transfers photo imagery onto the quilt itself—which she then fills in with fabric. Her distinctive way of looking at the world is apparent in her conversation as well. Listen to the podcast and follow Marion from Texas to Oakland where she had a thirty year career as a social worker and became one of the most innovative quilters of her time.

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Photo by Richard Church, Pottawatomi and Ottawa

2018 National Heritage Fellow

2018 National Heritage Fellow Kelly Church is a black ash basket maker. An Anishinaabe belonging to the Gun Lake Potawami Band, Kelly combines the centuries-old tradition of tree harvesting and processing ash trees, creating ribbons of ash that she then weaves with her own keen visual sense which result in stunningly original baskets. Tied to her artistry is dep commitment to keeping this tradition not just alive but vital. She’s taken on a task that’s become more difficult and more urgent, since the ash tree is being destroyed by an invasive species the emerald ash borer. In this podcast, Kelly Church takes us on the journey of taking a living tree and recreating it as a basket, the significance of the black ash tree for the North East people, and the steps she’s taking to keeping this traditional art intact for the next generations.

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Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre

Herman Cornejo is about to celebrate 20 years with American Ballet Theatre—spending 15 of those years as a principal dancer. You could say the Argentina-born Cornejo practically grew up at ABT. He came to the company as an apprentice at the age of 17; yet, he was already considered a prodigy. The previous year, he had won the Gold Medal at the prestigious International Moscow Competition becoming the youngest dancer ever to do so. Over the past twenty years, Herman has developed a repertoire of more than 90 classical, contemporary and modern ballets—working with some of today’s greatest choreographers including Justin Peck and Alexei Ratmansky. Herman Cornejo is also as charming as he is talented. In this podcast, he talks about becoming a dancer in Argentina, joining ABT—his dream company, the secret sauce to a good partnership, and the process of learning a dance that a choreographer “makes on him.”

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Photo by Mark Markley

2018 National Heritage Fellow

Chicana altarista and 2018 National Heritage Fellow Ofelia Esparza carries on and extends her family’s tradition of celebrating The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos by creating altars to honor deceased loved ones and create a bridge between the living and the dead. She brings an artist’s eye to this cultural practice: her altars are colorful, intricate multi-level structures embellished with photos, traditional food, flowers, as well as handmade and found ornaments that evoke ancestors and deceased relatives. She’s also been in the forefront of reclaiming this practice for the Chicana community in Los Angeles. In this podcast, Ofelia shares her stories of growing up in East LA and discusses the essential meaning at the heart of Dia de los Muertos which is to remember.

A man and a woman look towards the camera. The man hold a violin in his hand, a piano in the background.
Photo by Molly Haley

2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows

2018 NEA National Heritage Fellows Don and Cindy Roy are the embodiment of Franco-American musical tradition.  He is an outstanding fiddler and she backs him up with her wonderfully rhythmic piano playing and her pretty fabulous step-dancing.  They have been married and playing together for 38 years—giving audiences across the country a flavor of the Franco-American traditions they both grew up with—the music their grandparents played in the kitchen while family and friends gathered.  Their love for this music and the joy they take in it –and each other--is immediately apparent.   Meet the Roys and their music in this tuneful podcast.

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Director and cast of the documentary, Personal Statement

Director of the documentary Personal Statement Juliane Dressner and the cast students Karoline Jimenez, Christine Rodriguez, and Enoch Jemmott join me to talk about the film which documents the challenges New York public school students have when applying to college—especially when they are the first generation in their family to make the leap. There is a profound lack of college counselors in public schools which often leaves students on their own to negotiate applications, financial forms, and personal statements. But back in 2005, students themselves got together and created a peer counseling program where they can get the training to help not just themselves but their fellow students as well. Karoline, Christine and Enoch, although they’re facing challenges of their own and struggle with their own college possibilities, embrace their roles as peer counselors and pour their hearts and souls into helping their classmates succeed.

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy

Documentary filmmakers

Documentary filmmakers Dana Nachman and Don Hardy have co-directed the award-winning film Pick of the Litter. The litter in question are five Labrador Retrievers bred by Guide dogs for the Blind (or GBD) for the specific purpose of becoming service animals. The film follows a litter of puppies from birth to their graduation and assignment to a person who’s visually impaired…that is if the dog makes the cut. Not every pooch is cut out for the rigorous training in which intelligence and perspicacity is valued as much as experience…which also makes for risky documentary filmmaking. When Dana and Don began, they had no idea if any of the dogs would pass muster. Tune in and listen to Dana and Don share their experiences of centering a film on five principal subjects who can’t speak for themselves.

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Photo by Peter Schaaf

Composer, Conductor, Commentator

Let’s celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a trip to Broadway! Bernstein only composed a handful of shows on Broadway, but he was a game-changer. From On the Town to West Side Story, Bernstein mixed genres and styles of music—incorporating jazz, blues, ragtime, Latin sounds-- mixing them with popular song traditions and the rhythms of the streets and then filtering it all through a classical voice. He was fluent in all languages of music and so created a music distinctly his own. Composer, conductor, and commentator Rob Kapilow takes us on a musical journey through Bernstein’s Broadway career. You may know Rob from the public radio program “What Makes It Great?” in which he takes listeners inside of music to explore that very question. Explore Bernstein’s Broadway music with Rob Kapilow (and me) in this week’s podcast!

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Chief Digital Officer of MIA Douglas Hegley and inventors Samantha Porter and Colin McFadden turn the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) into a puzzle room.

More and more museums are moving away from focusing entirely on the content of their collections to focusing on the experience of visiting a museum. Douglas Hegley at MIA had the idea reach out to the tech community and ask them to develop ideas for alternative ways to experience the museum. So MIA teamed up with 3M to create The 3M Art and Technology Award to do just that. Meanwhile founders of the Advanced Imaging Service for Objects and Spaces at the University of Minnesota, Sam Porter and Colin McFadden loved puzzle rooms-- places that create a challenge or mystery that a group of friends solve together by finding and deciphering clues usually within a specified period of time. Sam and Colin combined their expertise to create the app which won the 2018 award: “Riddle Mia This” which transforms MIA into a giant puzzle room. Douglas, Sam and Colin join me to talk about the how and why of it all.

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Sunni Fass and LuAnne Holladay

Executive director and former staff of The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

The Lotus World Music and Arts Festival is turning 25 this year. So it seemed like a good time to talk with its executive director Sunni Fass and long-time staff member LuAnne Holladay about this one-of-a-kind festival.

Lotus is an urban event—turning streets in downtown Bloomington Indiana into a center for music, dance and visual arts for one weekend each September. The musicians come from all over the world—over the course of the festival’s history it has welcomed artists from over 120 countries-- and they reflect the great diversity of these cultures as well as appreciation and respect for their fellow-artists. In another music-filled podcast, Sunni and LuAnne talk about what it takes to put the festival together and the deep impact the festival has had on Bloomington and Southern Indiana.

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Photo by Sekou Luke

Singer, Educator, Conductor and Music Director, The Dessoff Choirs

Although he’s only in his early 30s, singer, educator, conductor and music director of The Dessoff Choirs Malcolm J. Merriweather has already made his mark on the world of choral music. It is his passion; and, his mission is to open singers to all its possibilities, students to it wide and varied paths, and audiences to its wonders. His mission is as simple as it is ambitious: “impacting the world through the gift of music.” And after speaking with him, I’m convinced he’s doing it. As you’ll discover in this week’s podcast, it’s hard to resist his love of voices joining together to make song…and, as you’ll hear, Malcolm himself is a brilliant baritone.

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