What do Japanese drummers, a comedy troupe, Afrobeat musicians, and giant marionettes have in common? Well, not much. And that's the point.
The diverse group of acts represents a few of the artists coming to Davidson as part of the 2013-14 C. Shaw and Nancy K. Smith Artist Series. An annual tradition more than 60 years running, the entirely student-led program brings to Davidson artists to perform and work with students in short residency programs.
"An important aspect of the Artist Series is to introduce students and townspeople to acts they wouldn't normally see," said Ben Gauthier '15. He served as chair of the 2012-13 Artist Series Committee, which planned this year's series. "Being part of the Davidson community means expanding your horizons and discovering new interests, and we try to promote that through the Artist Series. "
"This variety of offerings is such a treasure for the community," said Stephanie Glaser ‘92, associate vice president for campus and community relations. She regularly attends Artist Series events with her two sons, ages nine and 12. "It's wonderful to be able to expose them to different cultures this way."
Each year the committee, which is part of the Union Board, works to ensure that the acts are diverse both in the cultures and artistic genres they represent. To help ensure that diversity, the committee chair and adviser intentionally recruit as members students with diverse interests and expertise.
"We want to be sure the acts we bring in reflect the diversity of the Davidson community," said Ashley Owen, assistant director of the Alvarez College Union and adviser to the Artist Series Committee. She travels to showcases and conferences nationwide to gather information about potential acts and may present as many as 150 to the student committee, which meets multiple times throughout the fall semester to review the choices.
"The hard work is whittling down those 150 into 10 finalists," said Gauthier. "We watch videos and read about them, then by late December select six for the season."
After the Union Board has approved the season's performers, Gauthier said, "The spring is a multiple-month dance of calling the artists, waiting, submitting proposals, getting rejected, resubmitting, etcetera."
Choosing acts is only one part of the Artist Series Committee's responsibilities.
The student members are also responsible for all aspects of the season's Artist Series performances, from transportation for the artists, to ushers at the performances, to ticket sales and publicity. The committee also arranges co-curricular components of the series, including workshops and residencies with the artists. This year, five of the six troupes will present short residency programs on campus, working with students across disciplines.
In the past, artists also have worked with students at Davidson Elementary School, the Ada Jenkins Center, and with other community groups.
"This year is unique in that we chose a few acts that are more non-traditional," Gauthier said. "While we have our staples of professional dance and theatre, we tried to adhere to our goal of providing a novel cultural experience."
Gauthier, a jazz musician himself, wanted to be sure the series included jazz music. "It can be an under-appreciated art form, and one of my goals is to increase exposure of the Davidson community to jazz," he said.
The jazz genre for the 2013-2014 season will be represented on October 2 by Antibalas, a 12-piece Afrobeat collective out of Brooklyn that combines Latin, jazz, funk and African rhythms. "It's a great way to interest people in this kind of music from a highly-talented and exciting group of musicians," Gauthier said.
In addition to Antibalas, Gauthier said he is particularly excited about the November 8 performance by Yamato, a group of 17 master taiko drummers from Japan. With athleticism and intensity they play Wadaiko drums of all sizes-including one that is six feet in diameter.
While every Artist Series performance draws a diverse audience, Owen said the cultural shows seem to particularly peak the interest of the campus community, while dance performances seem to draw the "Charlotte crowd." With that in mind, Owen expects many Charlotteans will attend Jason Samuels Smith's A.C.G.I. (Anybody Can Get It) Tap Company show on September 20.
"Tap dancing on the surface may not seem like a ‘cool' or ‘contemporary' show," Gauthier said. "However, A.C.G.I. spins the classical notion of tap on its head, providing a fun show that appeals to not just dancers, but the entire community."
The Reduced Shakespeare Company on January 24, 2014, also promises an evening of crowd-pleasing fun with All the Great Books (Abridged), in which they review the great literary classics in comedic abridgement. "This group has a great history with us," said Gauthier. "Having a topic that appeals strongly to the literary and arts fans in our student body is key."
As an alternative to the light-hearted, irreverent Reduced Shakespeare show, Aquila Theatre Company's performance on February 4, 2014, of Fahrenheit 451 will bring a high-quality piece of theatre to the stage for those who want a more classic, traditional theatre show.
In 2008, the Artist Series series began including one free act each season, thanks to support from the Activities Tax Council, McGaw Endowment, and Friends of the Arts.
This year, community members can enjoy at no cost on February 25, 2014, the Cashore Marionettes: Life in Motion, a small act showcasing the art of puppetry. "This show should raise some eyebrows and cause people to do a double take," Gauthier said, "and that's exactly what we're going for."
The 2001 opening of Duke Family Performance Hall changed the face of the Artists Series, which began at Davidson as a faculty initiative in the 1950s and transformed into a student-directed program in the mid-1970s. The new 619-seat hall has allowed the committee to select larger acts that require more production resources, Owen said. Now, when she travels to the artist showcases and promotional events, she is able to consider acts that previously were out of reach.
The Artist Series is funded in part from the McGaw Endowment, which also supports the Public Lecture Series, and in part by the Friends of the Arts, and an annual allocation from the Activity Tax Council . Any surplus realized from ticket sales is returned to the Activity Tax Council and made available for student organizations.
The Activity Tax Council has granted $93,000 to this year's Artist Series, and ticket sales and other support generate about $50,000 of income. Those two sources should cover the $140,000 of expenses for the series, Owen said. "The goal is always to break even," she said.
The committee hopes to have faculty, students, and staff represent the majority of audience members each year, and to sell about half the seats as season tickets. Ticket holders have assigned seats, but the orchestra pit remains general admission so that students can sit together .
As sales pick up and the committee prepares for the A.C.G.I. Tap Company on September 20, the 2014-15 season is already taking shape under the direction of new committee chair Dan Van Note '14. Van Note and his committee members will meet soon to review potential acts, and will present their proposed season to the Union Board by the end of November.
"Our goals for this upcoming year are to get as wide a variety of acts as we can, and to choose acts that will attract more students," Van Note said. Dance seems to be of growing interest on campus, he said, so he hopes to choose one or two high-caliber dance shows as part of the series.