Tag Archive | "Stony Brook Southampton"

A Conference For the Written Word

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Every July in Southampton, novelists, poets and other writers come together like a giant family on a holiday weekend, each year with new faces and old. Director of the MFA in Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton Robert Reeves would no doubt be the patriarchal figure in the bunch, while other writers and faculty like Lou Ann Walker, Roger Rosenblatt and Billy Collins play the role of the unruly offspring who return each year.
“I’m a repeat offender,” said Collins, who is taking part in his seventh consecutive Southampton Writers Conference (SWC).
Rosenblatt joked, “I think I come before the parole board next year.”
The conference, which author Tom Wolfe has called the “best in the country,” is celebrating it’s 33rd year. There are many aspects that set it apart from the numerous other conferences, and one is the family vibe it fosters.
“We’ve created a sense of the familiar,” said Reeves, “with people returning, as they often do.”
Collins described the inner core of returning faculty as adding “stability” while the newer writers add “freshness.” Other “inner core” members include Frank McCourt, Melissa Bank and Matt Klam. This year Amy Hempel, Christopher Durang and Derek Walcott will embody the “freshness.”
Unlike most family get-togethers, according to Rosenblatt there is very little, if any, bickering with his contemporaries.
Said Rosenblatt, “The oddity is that we all get along, even sober, which is saying something.”
What truly sets the conference apart from others, though, is the fact that it’s a teaching conference. Most writers conferences include fly-by appearances from big name authors who drop in, read their work, sign some books and then skip town, or maybe sit in on one or two panel discussions. The SWC involves intense daily workshops where participants are afforded the opportunity to engage with respected authors and hone their craft.
“Most conferences are just for showing off,” said Rosenblatt. “Which is fine. But even writers tire of showing off. At the center of this conference is teaching.”
“We have plenty of big names,” said Reeves, “but we’re not about celebrity, per se. We are about honoring the craft and the people who care about writing as art.”
Collins admitted to the conference becoming a little more “glamorous” as first Long Island University and now Stony Brook University has become “increasingly aware” of the demographic of Southampton in July. He said that awareness, however, has not taken away from the goal.
“Overall the conference still has a serious nuts and bolts commitment to the workshops,” he said. “There is work to be done.”
One of the benefits of the workshop approach, according to Collins, is the breaking down of the author myth.
“[Participants] come into very close contact with well established professional writers. The hope is they find they’re just as human as anyone else. Though they pretend to be gods, they are just regular mortals who have kept at it for a very long time.”
Walker said she benefits from the workshops just as much as the participants.
“What’s always surprising to me each year is how much I learn,” she said. “You feel recharged, as if you’ve gone away for a vacation. You find yourself rethinking how you approach your writing and how you view other people’s writing.”
Rosenblatt said he goes into every workshop with the goal of allowing his students to find their “original language.”
“That’s a center of all good writing,” he said. “I gear everything in class to encourage [that], so they know they have something in them that no one else has. It takes work to discover what Twain called the difference between the word and the right word.”
The SWC has established itself as an institution on the East End, and this year two other bookend conferences were created with the aim of doing the same. Last week Walker presided over the inaugural Children’s Literature Conference.
“It was quite extraordinary,” said Walker. “It exceeded any expectations we could have had. One woman said it was a life changing experience. I’m definitely hooked and I’m already looking forward to next year.”
After the SWC, the inaugural Southampton Screenwriting Conference will be held from July 30 to August 3. About the two new conferences, Reeves said, “I think it can become a wonderful tradition. We have an opportunity to fill up the summer and really make it a writers’ summer.”
In a time when some see the written word as becoming increasingly endangered, Reeves acknowledged that he couldn’t predict the future. He did however say it has no bearing on the SWC and that people will always care about the art of story telling.
“Poetry at one time was a primary genre,” noted Reeves. “It was at the center of the culture. The novel has not always been around and it’s not written in stone that the novel will always be around, but people will always want the equivalent.”
“This is the place for them. If [the importance of the written word] is declining in the world, so be it. It hasn’t declined to us.”

Top Photo: (L to R) Ursula Hegi, Matthew Klam, Meg Wolitzer, Robert Reeves, Billy Collins, Frank McCourt, Carol Muske-Dukes, Lou Ann Walker, Melissa Bank, Roger Rosenblatt and Marsha Norman.

Evenings of Musical Treasures

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Christine Goerke is a soprano. An opera singer who has toured the world. She has sung in cities across the U.S. and abroad — her European debut was on the stage of the Paris Opera. She has sung the work of Verdi, Mozart and Wagner.

This summer, as the artistic director of Music at Southampton’s 2008 series Sustainable Treasures Goerke will bring her musical talents and those of many others in the field to East End audiences. The series at Stony Brook Southampton is entering it’s second year and if your knowledge is lacking in the arena of classical vocal music, Goerke says not to worry.

“It’s exactly the kind of audience we focus on. You don’t have to know a thing to enjoy this music.”

Goerke is a Long Island girl, a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook and, incidentally, a huge Billy Joel fan.

“He’s a great storyteller,” she says. “I think that’s one of the things I admire about him.”

Opera is also a form of storytelling and Goerke’s story began in Medford where she grew up with an interest in music, but not, ironically, singing.

“I was not a singer until I was in college. I was a clarinet player. I was interested in going to school and being a high school band teacher. I was so impressed and touched by my high school teacher, I wanted to be inspiring to kids so they’d think it’s cool.”

Goerke explains that as part of the college placement process for music majors, instrumentalists were required to take a sight singing test. At the end of her test, two of the choral directors urged her to consider the choir. In the end, Goerke ditched the clarinet and became a voice major.

“I didn’t have to carry anything,” says Goerke who began her college career at Fredonia and attended Suffolk County Community College for a year before discovering the music department at Stony Brook.

“I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about it,” she says. “That’s what makes me happy and sad. I’m excited we have a strong music program there and are starting to use people who are graduates. Makes me sad that for people on Long Island, our first choice is to go away. We don’t push our own schools enough. We urge students to get away from home and be at college and overlook what’s here at home.”

And what’s here at home this summer is a concert series chock full of musical offerings — not just classical vocal numbers, but jazz and cabaret as well. Goerke is charged by the new energy at Stony Brook Southampton. The Avram Theater has been given a long overdue face lift and Goerke has lined up some heavy hitters to come share their talents with East Enders this summer.

The series runs through the end of August and kicks off on Thursday, July 10 with the music of Brahms and Liebeslieder waltzes in a joint concert with PianoFest. In addition to Goerke, performers include soprano Lisa Mandelkorn, mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel, tenor Thomas Wazelle and baritone Dominic Inferrera. Goerke is excited about the music — and the musicians — that local audiences will have the opportunity to hear.

“In the beginning when I started doing this [singing], people would say, ‘You don’t have a real job,’” recalls Goerke. “If we do our job right, the audience should think we’re not working. We should all be in a great mood and having fun.”

The idea for Sustainable Treasures began when Goerke, who was on the board of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook and Linda Merians, the university president’s chief of staff, got wind that Stony Brook University was considering acquiring the Southampton campus.

“We had wondered about the theater there,” recalls Goerke. “I said, ‘The thing is, I grew up here, there’s a lot of high end music out there, but no vocal music.’”

“There was a big hole in classical vocal music out there. I felt we could use the theater for it.”

For the inaugural season last summer, Goerke put together a small program to see how a classical vocal series would be received by East End audiences. The response, she notes, was great and this year, she’s doubled the schedule and called on friends and musical acquaintances to lend a hand to build the festival.

“It’s a new festival, they’re all willing to come for nothing.”

Goerke also likes the idea that the festival is helping to build audiences for opera, a style of music that she feels really is for the masses.

“What’s really cool now, over the last 10 years, every opera house has supertitles or titles in the backs of the seats,” she says. “Even when I’m singing in English, you won’t get the words as easily. I think it’s great the words are in front of folks. That’s what the art form was originally about. It was the equivalent of Broadway.”

“We don’t want anything to be elitist.”

The first concert in the series will be in German. Goerke notes that all the text will be available for the audience.

“If you happen to come in from a day on the water in boat shoes and shorts, that’s fine,” she says. “We don’t care about the tux. Come have a glass of wine and cheese, come have a picnic, hear some music. That’s it. No high falootin’ things here.”

“We’re doing three classical recitals and a joint recital with PiaonoFest,” explains Goerke. “The stuff we’re singing for the most part is not operatic, but art song — you don’t get the costumes and scenery. It’s text and music. There’s not a single pair of eyes I couldn’t see from the stage.”

“It’s a kick,” she adds. “I think, ‘What’s this song about? What does it mean to me and how do I make it come across in three minutes?’ It’s a challenge every time you open your mouth and everyone coming is good at it”.

In addition to the classical recitals, this season, Goerke notes there have been some additional musical stylings added to the roster.

“We took an exit poll last year,” she says. “Folks had asked for cabaret and jazz concerts so we’ve added those. I’m a classical singer, I know a lot of people in that end of the business. I also have friends in Broadway and as far as being advisors, I asked them ‘Can we afford them?’ Why not give a shot. We’re a fledgling festival, in the beginning everyone is working on a shoestring. Those who come really want to be there.”

The series will include a concert by jazz tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm on July 17 and a concert by the New Jazz Generation on August 21 as well as a concert of standards from the American songbook on July 24 and a full out evening of Broadway cabaret on July 28.

“We’re big on hearing from folks about what they want to hear,” says Goerke. “We actually got a huge range of folks last season. We asked if they were local, travelers, weekenders. It was unbelievably mixed. Every age was in there too. It made me so happy to see people come out for the first year.”

“The fact the theater is renovated is great,” she adds. “I’m really proud of something that can bring this much high level vocal music out here as well. I’ve dreamed of it.”

Music at Southampton’s 2008 series “Sustainable Treasures” offers eight concerts on Thursday evenings from July 10 to August 28. All concerts begin at 8 p.m. in the Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton. Concert goers are invited to arrive early to picnic on the grounds and stay after the performance to meet the artists at post-concert receptions. Tickets are $40 ($25 for Stony Brook University and Southampton College alumni,  $25 for senior citizens and $15 for students). Tickets for a series of four or more concerts are $25 each. To reserve by phone, call 632-8000. Tickets may be purchased at the Avram Theater beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the night of each performance. For a full concert schedule, visit www.stonybrook.edu/treasures.



Intimacy Is the Aim


The new Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton. John Bayles photo.

When Stony Brook University took over the Avram Theater two years ago, visitors had to squeeze into tiny seats with little desks attached to them, and for good reason, since the space often doubled as a classroom. Now, after a million dollar renovation to the theater and the adjacent gallery, that’s no longer the case as the narrow, old seats have been replaced with plush new ones, sans the little desks.
The two-decade-old building has been a leading space for arts events on the East End and now with its new facelift, the university hopes to max out its full potential by hosting concerts, drama productions and author readings. The space will be officially christened next Thursday, July 10, when the gallery opens with an exhibit featuring works by Sag Harbor illustrator James McMullan and the theater hosts to the first installment of the music series, “Music at Southampton: Sustainable Treasures.”
“The theater and the gallery is really a one, two punch,” said university president’s chief of staff Linda Merians.
Like the theater, the gallery was less than functional when Stony Brook inherited it. Its concrete patio was useless because of a large satellite dish that sat, pressed up against the door. Now the dish has been removed, flowers have been planted and the patio will be used for receptions. Media Relations Director Darren Johnson said the two spaces now have a “synergy” that was missing before.
Gallery director Marc Fasanella said the plan is to not have the Avram Gallery operate like other university galleries where students’ and professors’ work hangs for months at a time, but instead to allow more of a “museum quality.”
As for the 439-seat theater, which according to Merians “doesn’t have a bad seat in the house,” the renovation covered everything from the carpet to the walls to the sound and lighting. Theater manager Leonard Ziemkiewicz said, “Aside from the acoustics, the design and layout make the Avram one of the most audience-friendly theaters on the East End.”
The most notable difference between the old Avram and the new one is perhaps the most important aspect of a theater, the stage. Ziemkiewicz described the old stage as “angular,” like a “stop sign cut in half,” while the new stage’s thrust is rounded. The stage also has a semi-spring floor, which allows for dance recitals.
Another aspect of the stage, three traveling curtains, makes it more desirable not just for audiences but for performers as well. The stage can be utilized fully, or curtains can be drawn to make it more intimate. Merians said opera singers rarely have the chance to sing in a recital hall setting and that having the choice of a smaller stage allows them to sing songs not included in their normal repertoire. One such singer, soprano Christine Brewer, will have that chance to tone it down when she appears at the Avram in August, as opposed to when she’s on stage at the Metropolitan Opera. Ziemkiewicz said “intimacy” is the aim of the new Avram, to allow people the opportunity to witness the “marriage of music and language.”