Elissa Miller

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Elissa Miller is the Arts and Entertainment Editor for Niner Times. She is a junior at UNC Charlotte studying Communications and Political Science. When she isn't reviewing theater for Niner Times, she is working on bringing sex education to campus through Sex Week UNC Charlotte or forcing her friends to binge watch television with her. In the future, she would like to be an investigative journalist, a lawyer, or the second female President of the United States (because if there isn't one before the time she gets there, that's just sad).

From Iowa to North Carolina

Photo by Logan Cyrus.

The stage is empty. On it stands a sole actress in a basic brown dress. The music begins and she sings the story of how she traveled from Italy to Iowa, through big towns and open plains. Around her, townspeople begin to carry in set pieces. Some fencing. A kitchen sink. Stairs. As she sings the last note, the ceiling of her house is lowered into place. In a span of a couple minutes, the stage has been transformed into that of a small farm town. This is Madison County.

“The Bridges of Madison County” was originally a novel written in 1992 and immediately rocketed to popularity. In fact, The New York Times likened it to 1992’s version of “Fifty Shades of Gray.” This was only exacerbated by the book’s adaptation into a movie featuring Clark Grant and Meryl Streep back in 1995. However, with it being so long since the story’s rise, I really have no idea why anyone thought to turn it into a Broadway musical back in 2014. The original Broadway show ran only four months and wasn’t considered especially successful. Despite this, the show managed to win not one, but TWO Tony Awards in a year with especially stiff competition. I’ve actually seen every show it was nominated against for Best Original Score. All of them (except maybe “Aladdin”) would have been more deserving.

I finally saw the piece during Central Piedmont Community College’s production, which ran from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1. “Bridges” tells the story of Francesca (Sarah Henkel), an Italian war bride who moved to Iowa with her husband Bud (Steven Martin) 14 years before the events of the musical take place. When her husband and two children leave to compete at the state fair, she is left alone for four days. Then Robert Kinkaid (Ryan Deal) happens. Robert is a photographer for National Geographic assigned to photograph the covered bridges in the area. After a chance encounter, the two quickly escalate their acquaintanceship into an affair. The show seems to establish that Robert and Francesca are the equivalent of soulmates and that their love for one another is meant to be. However, upon Bud’s return, Francesca’s love for her kids causes her to ultimately choose not to run away with Robert. Instead, she lives out her life with a husband she doesn’t quite care for. Bud must live with a wife he loves but whose heart belongs to Robert. And Robert spends his time alone, waiting for a call from Francesca that will never come. No one wins. They all lose.

Maybe this sounds like a poignant and moving story, a tale of love and heartbreak. It could be, if not for the fact there seems to be little motivation behind the main plot. If the audience never met Bud and the children, it’d be a lot easier to get behind Francesca cheating on him with Robert. However, we do meet Bud and there seems to nothing particularly wrong with him. He looks out for Francesca, consistently wants to talk to her despite being away, and sings about how he wishes he could take her back to visit Italy. The only thing negative we really learn about him is that he does have high expectations of his children and bit of a temper. Still, Francesca’s cheating seems to come out of a place of boredom and a feeling of loneliness. She’s an outsider in a small town and jumps at the chance to talk with (and then have sex with) another outsider. Though we eventually learn of her somewhat tragic backstory in the second act, the audience has already formed their opinion of her by then. Since we’ve met Bud, the audience just feels sorry for him. We also feel fairly sorry for Robert, who falls for a woman who is actively pursuing him but cannot be with him due to her marital status. Still, when he suggested she leave her whole family to be with him, I rolled my eyes. They are both extremely flawed romantic leads.

Photo by Logan Cyrus.

I don’t hate this show. It’s just not that great, largely due to a plotline that feels outdated and unoriginal. The events of the show may take place in 1965, but it largely feels like the show may have been written in 1965 as well. One stark example is when Francesca’s two children grow up to be “successful” adults. Her son goes on to graduate from medical school and become a doctor. Her daughter gets married at the age of 18 and has a child. I realize this musical takes place in a different time period, but that doesn’t mean every character has to fall into a stereotyped social role. Historical fiction, including theater, can be done well and have dynamically written female characters. This just isn’t one of those shows.

However, I cannot fault Central Piedmont Community College with these issues. They did not write the script. The show was staged in the Halton Theater, which gave the show a feel of professionalism that I think was necessary due to the aforementioned problems. It also allowed the show to have a set design that was simultaneously minimalist and elaborate. The set pieces themselves were flown in from the fly system or pushed on stage by cast members. All of it effectively encapsulated the time period and setting. I’m quite fond of CPCC’s rendering of the covered bridge, a piece made with three open wooden outlines that form the overall shape of the bridge. Because it was not closed off or completed, the actors were able to move through it easier and the audience had a better view. In the background, the production used a lit screen of changing colors to evoke different moods and times throughout the show.

The actors in the show do their absolute best to breathe life into a stagnant script. Though they can’t quite push through the show’s plot, the actors are all quite talented and inhabit the personas they take on. Sarah Henkel’s operatic voice as Francesca fills a whole auditorium. It plays especially well during her duet with Ryan Deal’s Robert, “Falling Into You.” However, the best performances came from two side characters. Olivia Aldridge, who plays Francesca’s daughter Carolyn, shows serious promise for a young actress. Not only can you tell she is a powerful singer just from ensemble numbers, she also makes you root for a character that serves little to no purpose in this show. Francesca’s nosy neighbor Marge, played by Taffy Allen, also has a fun solo number that was quite possibly the highlight of the night. The comedic relief was needed and appreciated.

I wish I had more good things to say about this show, I really do. It suffers from a poor script and an outdated plot line. The music, though award-winning, isn’t particularly memorable despite the talented voices in the cast. However, I must acknowledge that while I don’t think this musical will be loved by young people, it absolutely delighted the senior citizens in the audience. I believe this is largely in part to nostalgia for the famous book and movie. Ultimately, I believe that CPCC did the best they could with the material they were given. They had a strong cast with impressive vocals, a unique set design and a talented orchestra. However, even this couldn’t overcome a truly mediocre plot.

Let’s Have a Conversation

Photo by Daniel Coston.

I first noticed the helicopter as I was walking back from my night class. Being both new and female on campus, I wasn’t all that comfortable walking alone and the searchlight from the helicopter wasn’t exactly helping matters. I eventually made it back to my dorm, assumed there’d simply been a crime or police search, and put it out of my mind. Thirty minutes later, I opened my phone to multiple missed calls from my mother and the news that Keith Lamont Scott had been shot by police. Protesters were being confronted with tear gas. Charlotte was in chaos. That damn helicopter still hadn’t left. It circled right outside the window where my friends and I sat, stunned and attempting to follow the news. Some of us cried or locked ourselves in our rooms. Some of us attempted to carry on a conversation like nothing had happened at all.

Only four weeks into my freshman year of college, my newly formed friend group was suddenly confronted with the reality of race relations in the United States. We were forced to talk about a subject that is so uncomfortable that it tends to fall on the list of things we are consistently told never to discuss: race, politics and religion. It is in the context of this reality that UNC Charlotte’s Theater Department chose its first production of the semester, the play “Baltimore” by Kristen Greenidge. Written in 2015 as part of an initiative to encourage new work for the theater written by women, the play centers on what happens when college students are thrown into discussing and dealing with race.

In the beginning, it revolves around Shelby (Amberlin McCormick), Resident Advisor and overachiever. Her biggest concerns include writing the perfect newspaper article from her interview with the Dean (Ron McClelland) and passing her sports medicine classes. However, the play diverts sharply and quickly into a chaotic scene, as a racist caricature is drawn on the door of Alyssa (Demi Ellis), a student on Shelby’s hall. The play then shifts from Shelby to a group collaboration, allowing each freshman on the hall to have a voice and the opportunity to tell their story. Through their interactions with others and individual monologues, each is given a distinct history and point of view. In similar form, the exact drawing used to torment Alyssa is revealed piece-by-piece on an electric screen throughout the show until the full disgusting picture is revealed.

Despite being short enough to run straight through with no intermission, the plot manages to cover a lot of ground. Throughout the show, the audience gets to know each student beyond the surface level. The perspectives vary widely and offer points of view just as diverse as the cast. Grace (Linda Lin) tells us about the struggles of growing up both Korean and overweight. Rachel (Ginger Duchi) recounts the story of the time a teacher tore her down for being Latino. Bryant (Kwabena Ekuban Jr.) spends his time with white people to avoid talking about race and Carson (Trevor May) has a Chinese grandmother but “doesn’t see color.”  The play makes a purposeful choice to not show Alyssa until over halfway through the production. Everyone has done the talking for her, and when we finally meet her, she snaps. It’s a beautiful and heart-wrenching performance. Demi Ellis’ voice echoes through the Blackbox Theater. This isn’t the only raw outburst of emotion in the play either. Amberlin McCormick as Shelby displays an intense emotional range, from awkwardness to exhaustion to pure anger and desperation. As her character’s journey depicts her slow unraveling, it is a joy to see an actress so talented in the face of such intense subject matter.

In fact, the entire cast is so exceptionally talented that I have yet to see such a well-rounded group of performers at UNC Charlotte. It’s hard for me to even single out a standout performance. However, if I had to choose, Linda Lin’s Grace is an absolute pleasure. Her character, though played as generally pretty quiet and soft-spoken, has some of the more important lines of the whole show. Lin allows her to be funny, serious and vulnerable, all at the same time and it’s a performance that is fundamentally believable. Beyond a single actor, there is also a specific encounter in the show that continues to stand apart from the rest. When Fiona (Arden Boyle), the student behind the racist drawing, is confronted by fellow dorm mate Carson, the entire theater snaps into intensity. As the two characters navigate around each other and begin to shift to yelling, the entire audience is drawn in. It’s painful and uncomfortable to watch. Each actor manages to sell the conversation so convincingly it breaks the boundary between watching a show and reality.

Photo by Daniel Coston.

However, in all honesty, this show is not without its problems. There were a couple of instances in which I felt the script lagged or that the dialogue covered ground that had already been tread. At a point in the beginning, the show makes a statement about the use of cell phones and technology. This point not only felt unnecessary, it was completely dropped and forgotten about by the end of the play. On top of this, directly after watching the production, I had a number of mixed feelings about the characters. I appreciated the wide range of points of view offered, but felt that some of the dialogue and characterizations played into stereotypes.

As the play came to a close, I also began to worry about something else. The production offered a fairly full explanation of the issues and multiple points of view surrounding race. However, it seemed to be wrapping up without offering any solutions. Granted, who has a solution to stereotypes and race relations in America? I was worried too soon, for Greenidge attempts to offer up one. At the end of the show, the Dean encourages RA Shelby to face her fears. She has run away from the very students she was supposed to be caring for and finally decides to return and attempt to have a conversation with them about what happened. She’s unsure, scared and uncomfortable. So are her students. They form a circle and as the students start to talk, the theater began to play music. The actors mouthed the conversation and the stage faded to black. This simple act, a conversation, is Greenidge’s offering. None of us know exactly how (or even if it’s possible) to fix race relations in America. However, Greenidge tells us that talking and listening to one another might be a good place to start.

In an attempt to continue this message, the Department of Theater hosted optional talkbacks with audience members to discuss the issues brought up by the play. It was this opportunity that I sincerely appreciated. The talkback was attended by about 15-20 people from all walks of life. We were also joined by members of the cast. As audience members spoke about how they related to a number of characters, I began to rethink my original position. If this many people felt the portrayal of their point of view/race/gender was accurate, then maybe these characters weren’t as stereotypical as I thought. Who am I to criticize portrayals of diverse people of color and their viewpoints as inaccurate, when I am not the one being represented in the first place? If people who have actually been through experiences like the ones the characters go through tell me the portrayal is accurate, I trust them more than my own inherently biased perceptions.

The University put out a statement less than 24 hours after I saw this show. Someone had put up a “colored” sign at a water fountain in Holshouser Hall. Likely an odd coincidence, it still felt extremely relevant and, if possible, more awful in the context of this show. I can’t help but wonder how the freshman in that hall are reacting. Are they going through the same struggles as those characters in “Baltimore”? Do they know who did it? This isn’t the first time something like this has happened on campus either. Last spring, a racist sign was found in a dorm. In October of 2016, a Nazi flag was spotted in a dorm room. Clearly, UNC Charlotte has some work to do. I don’t pretend to know how to fix this issue or heal the hurt that has been caused. But maybe we can begin by following Greenidge’s directive: by having a conversation.

Seasons of Love

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

I have a confession to make. Despite the fact I have been a fan of theater for the past 19 years of my life, I have never seen the musical “Rent.” I’ve never seen the movie or even listened to the cast album all the way through. For a long time, this was not intentional. However, there reached a point where I decided to save my experience of this musical until I had the opportunity to see it live. There is something special about the experience of going into a musical knowing absolutely nothing beforehand, everything new and unexpected.

Still, I think my attempt to have that experience by staying as far away as possible from “Rent” ultimately failed. “Rent” is a cultural touchstone. I’ve still heard some of the songs, I know the story of Jonathan Larson’s tragic death (the creator died the night of the Off-Broadway premiere) and I know the musical’s reputation for being life-changing or the best show of all time. Despite all my avoidance, I still went into this musical with high expectations.

Based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” (which was actually performed on campus last year), “Rent” tells the story of a group of young artists living in New York’s East Village during the early 1990’s. At the core are Mark (Sammy Ferber) and Roger (Kaleb Wells), two roommates living in a run-down industrial loft. Mark is a filmmaker while Roger struggles as a musician. Their ex-roommate turned landlord Benny (Marcus John) demands that they pay their rent. His ultimate goal is to use the money to turn the lot across the street from their building into a cyber-arts studio. The problem: the lot is has transformed into a tent town set up by the homeless. It also doubles as a performance space for Maureen (Lyndie Moe), Mark’s bisexual ex-girlfriend. The first act of the musical focuses on the group of friends during Christmas Eve, as Maureen stages a performance to protest Benny’s cyber-arts studio. After the protest segways into a riot, Benny locks the group out of their building and closes the lot. From here, the second act begins as the group breaks into the building on New Year’s Eve and then follows them throughout the rest of the year. (Note: There is an oppositional reading of this musical in which Benny is just a landlord trying to get his friends to pay him the rent they owe him. I am acknowledging this here because quite honestly, there’s some truth to it.)

However, this does not even begin to cover the real heart of the musical. In the background, influencing it all is the shadow of AIDS. Collins (Aaron Harrington) and Angel (Aaron Alcaraz), a pair of gay lovers, are both diagnosed with the disease and attend a support group. Roger battles both the disease and severe depression, as his last girlfriend committed suicide after discovering she had AIDS. It is later revealed that Mimi (Skyler Volpe), exotic dancer and Roger’s love interest, is also diagnosed. Overwhelmingly, it is the AIDS crisis that reveals the real center of the show. It takes place at a time in which there was little to no hope for those who were revealed to be HIV positive. The characters struggle with this, questioning how they can live while knowing of the inevitability of their oncoming death.

Photo by Carol Rosegg.

“Rent” is currently a traveling production, traversing the country on its 20th-anniversary tour. This past week, it was housed in the Belk Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. This is its rightful home, as every seat in the theater was filled. The tour has also kept the stylings of the original production and even the set and costumes seemed to be the exact same. The original “Rent” was a powerhouse that launched a number of careers, including Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp. The 20th anniversary maintains this history with a cast of relatively young and inexperienced actors. Just from looking at the program, ten or eleven of them have never been a member of a national tour. Some only list credits for college productions or cruise lines. The cast’s Mark even lists an award he won in high school theater, something I’ve never seen in a professional touring company.

This inexperience, for the most part, never shows. All of the actors fully inhabited their characters, making the entire audience believe in and root for them. Their voices were absolute powerhouses and shone in both group numbers and solos. Even the ensemble was allowed their moments to shine through features in songs like “Life Support” and the iconic “Seasons of Love.” The absolute standout was Kaleb Wells’ Roger. Roger is a character with deep physical and mental anguish, struggling from both AIDS and the suicide of his girlfriend. It warmed my heart to watch this character’s growth and maturation throughout the musical. Wells is also an exceptional singer and absolutely nails every solo, group number and duet.

The real question here is whether or not the show managed to fulfill or live up to the reputation it has. While it did not manage to become my favorite show, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining theater experience. The cast makes up for its relative inexperience with vocal and performing talent. Every song, even the well-known ones, was better live than I thought it possibly could be. However, in my own experience, the musical did not quite escape the shadow of its reputation. It lives in it, only just reaching the edges. Despite being a great show with exceptional performers, I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach the level of cult phenomenon that the original created. Still, that does not make this production not worth seeing. It is a story of love, of overcoming hardships, and of the importance of friendships. It shines a light on the plight of those diagnosed with AIDS and of those in poverty in 1990’s New York City. These are topics worth continuing to discuss and keep in the cultural canon. If you’re looking for a night of pure entertainment and some of the best music you’ll ever hear, “Rent” is the place to be.

A Nerd’s Guide to Dragon Con 2017

Courtesy Dragon Con Photography (c) 2017 Dragon Con, Inc

My phone battery is struggling, somehow managing to sink down to six percent in merely a couple of hours. On top of this, I accidentally skipped breakfast to try and catch an extra 30 minutes of sleep and my stomach is punishing me for doing so. In the past three days, I’ve attempted to sleep on a combination of pull out couches, beds, ottomans and the floor. However, I’d still consider today to be one of the best days of my life. My face hurts because I can’t stop smiling and I feel intensely happy for reasons I’m struggling to put into words.

Well, there are two words for it: Dragon Con. This feeling is one I’ve only ever felt there, in the heart of the biggest sci fi and fantasy convention in the Southeast United States. Every Labor Day weekend, thousands of loyal nerds travel to Atlanta to participate in four days of panels, music and gaming. The convention stretches through five of Downtown Atlanta’s biggest hotels, as well as Peachtree Center Food Court and the AmericasMart. According to the convention, this year’s con attracted more than 80,000 people. This doesn’t even begin to cover the number of Atlanta natives who line the streets and join attendees to watch the Dragon Con parade, which closes down multiple roads. This year, the convention also sold streaming memberships that allowed those unable to attend to still be able to view panels and events online.

What exactly happens at a sci-fi and fantasy convention? Everything. However, the heart of Dragon Con is the panels. They feature actors, authors, comicbook artists, or simply fans discussing the things they are passionate about. Typically, attendees are given the opportunity to ask questions to those on the panel. Photo ops and autographs with guests are also a large draw. On top of this, Dragon Con hosts three floors of vendors selling items related to costuming, fandom and original art. Fans also create their own events, including music concerts and screenings of movies.  In all, the convention has programming in 36 different tracks, ranging from Space to Urban Fantasy to Puppetry. If you have ever been interested in anything at all, chances are it has a presence at Dragon Con.

I’ve attended four out of the last five Dragon Cons, skipping it my freshman year of college. Even in this short amount of time, I’ve seen the con expand both in attendance and in the caliber of guests it brings in. Without a doubt, this year’s lineup was the biggest and most impressive I’ve seen. It included (but was in no way limited to) the entire cast of the show “Wynonna Earp,” guests from “Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” movie star John Cusack, almost every companion from Matt Smith’s era of “Doctor Who,” plus  Matt Smith himself and the amazing Stan Lee. It also featured a number of scientists, puppeteers, authors, gamers and vendors. This has drawn record breaking crowds to the convention.

This rapid growth in the number of attendees has, as expected at these types of events, led to some growing pains. The con sells one day passes for both Saturday and Sunday (compared to the typical four-day pass). Along with the parade, this has led to extreme crowding on Saturdays. Movement within the Marriott Marquis Hotel, where a majority of the major panels are held, becomes almost impossible. Dragon Con also has a reputation for parties, which have gotten out of hand in the past. This year, the con made headlines after chairs were drunkenly thrown from the tenth floor of the Marriott and injured at least two attendees. One of those hit by the chair claims that the headgear of her Loki cosplay likely saved her life, the only bright side to that report. The growth in attendance has also led to some troubles with line management for bigger events. Dragon Con has traditionally only allowed people to line up an hour before panels. However, lines this year could form two to three hours in advance. Of course, this is nothing in comparison to the 30+ hour lines at San Diego Comic Con.

However, these negatives did not ruin and rarely affected my con experience. I managed to get into all but one of the big panels I wanted to see and was able to get photos with stars I’ve wanted to meet for years. This included Zachary Levi, star of NBC’s 2007 spy/comedy series “Chuck” (which is, quite possibly, the best show to ever air on television) and Disney’s “Tangled.” I will never be over it. I even attended my first showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, though I have no idea how I managed to avoid doing so for this long. Of course, every person’s idea of a great convention is different. My cousin spent all of his time gaming with strangers in one of the many game rooms and was perfectly content to do so. I didn’t see him all weekend.

Dragon Con, ultimately, is a celebration of love. An unapologetic love for the arts, for television shows and video games, for astronomy and science and for intense dedication to building the perfect cosplay. It’s an event that celebrates the passion people can have for art and all the many ways they can express that, allowing people to interact with art and its creators in a completely unique way. It provides an opportunity for people to truly be themselves, even if that means being irrationally excited about a show from 15 years ago that only had one season. Despite any of Dragon Con’s flaws, I feel incredibly lucky to be have been a part of it.

Little Things, Big Impact

Album art courtesy of Capitol/Visionary Records.

Jeffrey Kopp- A&E Editor

I don’t really consider myself to be a big music fan, but this year I foung myself captivated by an up-and-coming artist named Jon Bellion. Several months ago, I downloaded his latest album, “The Human Condition,” and I have listened to it nearly every day. His music transcends genres, with each song feeling completely different than the last. The plethora of different instruments used, combined with Bellion’s voice, make the songs on the album incredibly catchy. I almost always listen to “The Human Condition” while driving, but also on study breaks, as the album has proved to be a great aid for destressing.

Photo by Jorge Royan.

Stephanie Trefzger- Assistant A&E Editor

The thing I discovered this year was organ music. Okay, I knew about it before, but this was the first year I really learned to appreciate it. And how could I not; it’s an instrument literally designed to emulate practically every other instrument. It’s the BOGO deal of the instrument world. Not to mention the ability musicians need to have in order to use the buttons, keyboards and pedals that make the instrument work, all at once. It’s mind boggling. And finally, some of the best composers in history composed for the organ: Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart and my personal favorite, Max Reger. I was lucky to have a friend introduce me to the organ and change my life in that way (among others), and I hope I can do the same for someone else.

Photo courtesy of Harvest Records.

Tyler Trudeau- Staff Writer

One of the most memorable bands I discovered this year was the English indie pop group, Glass Animals. Quickly entrancing me with their 2016 album, “How to Be a Human Being,” the intriguing synth-pop-meets-alternative-rock captivated me as they took influence from some of my favorite artists like alt-J, Broken Bells, and Chet Faker. Still at the top of my Spotify playlist, the hit songs “Life Itself” and “Season 2 Episode 3” take me out of all the stress of college and send me down a psychedelic avenue of fantastically-addictive music. I’m still waiting for the chance to see these guys live in concert.

Photo courtesy of Nintendo.

Noah Howell- Staff Writer

As someone who has played and owns every game from “The Legend of Zelda,” I was pretty much sold on “Breath of the Wild” as soon as it was announced as the first open-world entry in the series. Despite that, I was not aboard the hype train until the last trailer was shown at the end of the Nintendo Switch press conference back in January. The trailer hit all the right beats in music, visuals, and at teasing the story for the game, which sent me into a craze for any gameplay or analysis video related to “Breath of the Wild” for the better part of a month. The game’s release perfectly coincided with the start of spring break, so when I wasn’t hanging out with friends from high school, I was playing “Breath of the Wild” pretty much anywhere thanks to the portability of the Switch. It amazes me that a game of its size and incredible detail can even be taken on the go in the first place. Needless to say, “Breath of the Wild” exceeded my expectations and is one that I think every gamer should give a shot at some point in their life.

Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Elissa Miller- Staff Writer

Call it cliche or overrated, but this past year I fell deeply in love with a movie called “La La Land.” I have an unabashed love of musicals, including the classic cinematic ones. I can name phases of my life in which I watched “Hello Dolly” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” on repeat. “La La Land” manages to be both reminiscent of these classics and completely new at the same time. The music and dance numbers are beautiful and catchy; I bought the soundtrack less than twenty-four hours after seeing the film. Not only that, but the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. It might be a little overhyped at this point, but in all honesty, if you haven’t seen “La La Land” yet, you really should. It’ll stay with you for hours after it ends.

Tricks of the Trade


Photos by Pooja Pasupula.

The “trickster” archetype is prevalent in most cultures around the world. There is Loki from Norse mythology and Hermes from the Greeks. The stories of Robin Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk contain popular European tricksters. UNCC’s Department of Theater chose to explore this concept with their newest production, “Trickster,” which focused on Southern fables from a variety of backgrounds. The show ran from April 20-25 in the quad in front of CHHS.

The outside setting was absolutely perfect for this type of show, although I wish I’d known beforehand that chairs would not be provided so I could have brought a blanket. Instead, I sat contentedly along the back wall. The weather wasn’t yet the stifling heat of a North Carolina summer, which allowed the show to be comfortable. This outdoor setting also caused the audience to seem more relaxed and less formal. The director himself, Assistant Professor Carlos Cruz, even stated that he approved of the use of cell phones and encouraged audience engagement with the performers.

This was emphasized by the beginning of the performance, in which the character of Kid (Tykiique Cuthkelvin) ran through the audience chased by various students playing police officers. The premise of the show centered around the fact that Kid needed to learn the ways of tricksters to successfully escape the police. What followed were four short tales of southern tricksters, narrated by a Ringmaster (Amberlin McCormick) and her troupe of circus people.

The first of these tales told of Brer’ Bear (Dennis Dylan Lighthall) and Skunk. It told the story of how the Skunk eventually stole Bear’s house from his large family. The costumes for this were excellent, with full body bear suits for the bear family and a tail and hat for Skunk. This story also featured a musical number in which the Skunk convinces the Bear family they need brooms, one I believe was largely inspired by “Everybody Needs A Thneed” from “The Lorax.” Musicals are a favorite of mine and this is the closest to a musical I’ve seen UNCC perform in my time here.

The second story was that of Brer’ Rabbit (Tykiique Cuthkelvin) and the Tar Baby (Arden Boyle) of Disney’s Splash Mountain fame. Cast member Arden Boyle was brilliant as the Tar Baby. I didn’t even think it was physically possible to be that flexible. Her tap dance duet with Meghan Sharpe was equally enjoyable. Another Brer’ Rabbit story followed this, the fable of Brer’ Rabbit and Old Man Terrapin (Matt Miller). Similar to Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare, Terrapin challenges Brer’ Rabbit to a race. However, in this version, Terrapin hides at the finish line and beats Brer’ Rabbit without running the race. Miller as Terrapin especially stood out from the cast. He played the role as an almost comedic character and often moved in slow motion both to emphasize his role as a turtle and for humor. I also enjoyed the references to popular culture, as the cast sang “The Eye of the Tiger” and “Chariots of Fire” during the race scene.

The show’s final fable was entitled “When the Dead Play Tricks” and told the story of how Opossum (Quinn Watt-Riback) managed to escape from Coyote (Samuel Petre). It also included a short tale about Coyote as he attempted to catch turkeys for dinner. The choreography for the chase scene was lovably campy and I especially loved the cast’s rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” as a Turkey attempted to fly before being eaten by Coyote. In the end, the show returned to reality. Kid, remembering all the new skills he was taught by the circus people, successfully convinces the police to release him. The cast takes a bow.
The best part of “Trickster” was the cast. I have never seen a show in which it was so obvious the cast was having fun and this energy from them was infectious. Not only that, they were extraordinarily talented. The circus-inspired theme allowed them to showcase these talents, whether it was through aerial silks (Samuel Petre), aerial hoops (Arden Boyle), or group dance numbers. The enthusiastic and talented cast, excellent costume design and laid back atmosphere all combined to create a unique and entertaining theater experience. The show will also travel, with the cast performing on April 29 at Aldersgate for the International Sandwich Festival.

Music Faculty Impress in Spotlight Concert

Photo courtesy of COAA

Somehow, in my whole first year writing for the Niner Times, I had managed not to see a single show in the Rowe Recital Hall. I finally made the trip on Mar. 27 for the Department of Music’s Faculty Spotlight Concert. This concert was a part of the Faculty & Friends Concert Series. It featured various UNC Charlotte professors and a total of six pieces. When I first walked into the space, I was surprised to find that it felt small and intimate despite its large size. A black piano sat on stage, illuminated by soft blue light. As audience members trickled into the auditorium, a quiet tension filled the room.

It wasn’t broken until the first soloist stepped onto the stage. This was Dr. Mira Frisch, Associate Professor of Cello, who began the concert with “Suite No. 2 in D minor for solo cello” by composer J.S. Bach. The room became so quiet I could hear Dr. Frisch’s breathing. The audience seemed spellbound. After the piece was over, she slowly took her bow off the instrument and held it out before the audience could applaud.

Following Dr. Frisch was the husband and wife duo of David Russell and Zaiba Sheikh. Russell is currently the Anne R. Belk Distinguished Professor of Violin, while Sheikh is an accomplished piano player. They seemed at home together on the stage, exuding a calm confidence as they played “Fratres for Violin and Piano” by Arvo Pärt. The violin often jumped between tempos and sounds while the piano remained slow and beautiful. The contrast was stark, but the two parts managed to complement each other well.

The next two pieces in the concert were trios. The first of these was “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965,” written by Franz Schubert and performed by Dr. Alissa Deeter as a soprano, Dr. Jessica Lindsey on clarinet and Zaiba Sheikh on piano. An English translation of the words was read before the piece was performed in German. Dr. Deeter slowly stole the stage as she allowed herself to express the emotions in the music as she sang. When the piece changed from slow and sad to more upbeat, the audience went willingly with her. The other trio performed was “Trio for Piano, Oboe, and Horn, op. 188” by Carl Reinecke. This featured Dr. Elizabeth Sullivan on oboe, Dr. Christopher Griffin on Horn, and Zaiba Sheikh again on the piano. However,  as the piano music sunk into the background, the song began to feel more like a lovely duet of oboe and horn than an equal trio. It evoked the mood of a love song and was calm and peaceful. In my opinion, this was the best song of the night.

Zaiba Sheikh continued to show her piano expertise during the next piece as she played in the background to Dr. Will Campbell’s saxophone in “Concerto for Saxophone” by Pierre Max Dubois. Still, this piece was clearly designed to allow the saxophonist to shine. Notes changed rapidly in long streams, to the point where I wondered how Dr. Campbell had the oxygen to keep playing. With such a small audience, one could hear his fingers pressing rapidly on the saxophone keys throughout the piece. When it was over, both Sheikh and Dr. Campbell lit up with large smiles, clearly proud of a job well done.

The final soloist of the night was Dr. Dylan Savage on the piano. From the second he walked on stage, one could tell he was confident and well liked. He sat and began his rendition of “Grand Valse Brilliante in E-flat major, op 18” by Frederick Chopin. The piece seemed to flow effortlessly from his fingertips, upbeat and beautiful. Dr. Savage also expertly commanded the audience, holding out pauses and building anticipation. The audience applauded for so long after his performance that he had to return to the stage and bow a second time.

All of the performances were strong and demonstrated the skills of UNC Charlotte’s accomplished music faculty. While I’ve been to a number of on-campus concerts now, this one had a unique dynamic. It was much smaller and more personal than a large ensemble concert. From what I could gather, most of the audience members both knew each other and the performers through their involvement in the Department of Music. This small group changed the dynamic from a typical solo concert to one in which everyone was family and rooting for each other. This supportive atmosphere is what I believe the department was going for, making the name “Faculty and Friends Concert Series” appropriate.

Open Mic Night Done Right


Photos by Pooja Pasupula

In my sophomore year of high school, my teacher decided to show us a video of the spoken word poet Sarah Kay. It was her TED talk, a video I’ve since watched dozens of times. She spoke confidently, with both passion and rhythm. I was in absolute awe. It was a truly magical feeling, one I hadn’t felt since. Until Thursday.

On March 16, the Campus Activities Board sponsored an open mic night hosted by Carlos Andrés Gómez. Gómez is an acclaimed spoken word poet and author of the memoir, “Man Up: Reclaiming Modern Manhood.” He opened the night with a set of his original poems, strung together with personal remarks and humor. Gómez’s uplifting personality was infectious, filling the rotunda of the Student Union in which his poems echoed. He somehow managed to take such a large space and make it intimate, as if those of us watching the poems were the only ones in the room. It was spoken word poetry at it’s finest, and I was hooked.

While Gómez performed multiple sets throughout the night, a couple poems especially stood out. The most notable of these was his poem “What does Hispanic look like?” The poem went viral in 2016 and currently has over one million views on Youtube. It begins with a story of one of Gómez’s personal experiences and then transitions into a moving piece about Hispanic and Latino stereotypes. Other poems I especially enjoyed were “Everything,” a beautiful and creative love poem, and “Handstitch,” an account of the time Gómez held hands with a male friend for an hour as he walked around his college campus.

However, Gómez was not the only one performing. In between his sets, various students chose to perform original poems on the stage. Some were experienced poets. For example, Hilda Kolawole, winner of fall semester’s Last Poet Standing competition, performed pieces about race and feminism. Others were first timers, such as Bestman Eze, whose nervous energy simply made his love poem “My Queen” even sweeter. The poems also touched on a wide variety of topics. Patrice Wilson’s centered on race and the lacking number of black professors on campus. Zeke Peterson’s “Dreamer” told about his urge to escape from his upbringing and achieve his dreams. Jon Lamar’s poem, entitled “Death is a Memory,” spoke about overcoming deep personal struggles.

Of all the times to perform poetry, this was likely one of the best. The crowd was extremely open and supportive. Students cheered poets through any slip-up or misplaced word and clapped as they both entered and exited the stage. Gómez was partly responsible for this, as he encouraged audience members to root for and react to the poets. He also complimented and interacted with both performers and audience members.

Although the event lasted about two hours, I was still sad to see it end. The sense of community felt broken. Still, Gómez stayed behind to speak to and take pictures with audience members and performers, as well as sell copies of his book. I have to applaud the Campus Activities Board for planning the event. If you ever have the chance to attend one of their open mic nights, I highly recommend it. It was a truly moving experience that left me shaken and awed in a way I hadn’t felt since I first saw spoken word. In my book, that’s a success.

The Power of Lies

Photo by Daniel Coston.

The stage was littered with simple 20th century furniture, the perfect replica of a classroom. However, the most important and imposing part of the set was spelled out. Literally. Large wallpapered letters spelled the word “MERCY” across the stage. Most of the time, they blended into the background, acting as walls for the set. However, by the end of the show the word served as a strong contrast from the terrible events occurring on stage. It was a haunting reminder of what the characters so desperately needed.

“The Children’s Hour” by Lillian Hellman is a play with a long and controversial history. Based on real events in 1810, the play first debuted on Broadway in 1934. The plot focuses on the story of two school teachers, Karen Wright (Amanda Sherrod) and Martha Dobie (Jessica Boyles), wrongly accused of being in a lesbian relationship by a student. The rumor is wholly untrue as Karen is straight and happily engaged to a man named Joe (Bowen James Abbey). However, it is also slowly revealed that Martha does in fact have feelings for Karen, though she never acts on them. Performances of the play took place in the Belk Theater of Robinson Hall from Feb 22 to the 26.

The show was split into three acts, each showcasing a different time period and part of the plot. The first act was set in 1934, the year the show premiered on Broadway, and establishes the backstory of the characters. It sets in motion the events that eventually lead to the downfall of Dobie and Wright. The second act was costumed as if the characters were in 1810, when the events of the story originally took place. It is here that the teachers are wrongly accused and events turn for the worse. The final act has the characters in present time, wearing jeans, sweaters and leggings. By putting the characters in modern clothes, the bold statement is made that this play and the events that occur can still happen today, making it more relevant and connecting the audience to the events on stage. In turn, it makes the tragic and explosive finale all the more painful.

“The Children’s Hour” had an especially strong ensemble cast of students, necessary for a show with this heavy and dark of a plot. However, there were two actresses that especially stood out. The first was Brianna Abbate in the role of Mary Tilford, the young girl who accuses her teachers of an “inappropriate” relationship. Her emotions changed with the flip of a coin. One second, she was showcasing a sweet and innocent side to her grandmother. The next, she would transform into a mean, manipulative and honestly intimidating villain. Abbate was brilliant, I cannot imagine a more convincing portrayal of this role.

The other standout was Jessica Boyles as Martha Dobie. The part has a large emotional range, something that really showcased Boyles’ talent. Dobie is both infatuated with her best friend and tortured by it. She feels both love and guilt. All of these emotions read through Boyles’ facial expressions and voice. It was heart wrenching to watch. Other strong performances came from Amanda Sherrod as Karen Wright and the inspired casting choice of Jon Lamar as Mrs. Amelia Tilford, which was funny at first and quickly became convincing.

I went into the production wholly unfamiliar with “The Children’s Hour.” I had no idea what its plot or themes were. However, although the events of the play most certainly were not pleasant, the audience experience was. An exceptionally talented ensemble cast, daring script and interesting set design all combined to create a strong performance. The characters and story stay with you, even after the final moments of the show echo over the audience. In a time of unknowns and “alternative facts,” it demonstrates just how much harm and destruction words, especially lies, can cause.

Female Empowerment Showcased at “Tales From Down There”

Photo by Jay Dunn.

I walked into the Cone building and was immediately greeted by a giant vagina made of felt and craft supplies. People were using it as a background for pictures, the kind that would definitely go on Instagram later. There were also tables surrounding the entrance to McKnight Hall, representing a variety of different organizations, from the nonprofit Girls Rock Charlotte to the Women’s and Gender Studies Learning Community. I walked into the theater where a large screen contained domestic violence PSA’s. Posters with quotes lined the walls.

Where was I? This was UNC Charlotte’s Center for Wellness Promotion’s production of “Tales From Down There.” The show contained monologues from Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” “A Memory, Monologue, Rant, & Prayer” and “I Am An Emotional Creature.” It was a part of V-Day, a global movement with the goal of stopping violence against women and girls. All the money from the UNC Charlotte production went to three local organizations: Community Support Services, Transcend Charlotte and the IPV Fund on campus. Somehow, despite being a fan of both theater and feminism, I had never seen “The Vagina Monologues” before. I was in for a completely new experience.

The monologues came in what seemed like random order, however there was definitely planning to it.  Monologues promoting self love were mixed in with awful depictions of violence. Sadness, hope, hurt and activism all flowed into one. The ensemble cast, all students at UNC Charlotte, had a clear passion for what they were performing that one could feel even as they just walked on and off the stage.

Photo by Jay Dunn.

Of the 22 monologues, there were quite a few that especially stuck out, either due to writing or the acting. The first of these was “Fur is Back” performed by Maggie Gray. It tells the story of a girl, a self proclaimed “party ruiner,” who is unable to concentrate on anything other than the awfulness and violence in the world. She’s the smart and passionate version of Cecily Strong’s “Saturday Night Live” character, Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. Gray performed the piece exceptionally, full of equal mixes of anger and dry humor.

The most moving monologue followed right after: “Celia” performed by Cymone James. Celia is an immigrant from Guatemala crossing the US border in a shipping container. The monologue opens with her frantic attempts to wake the others in the container. They don’t wake up. She then tells her story, one of an abusive marriage with no way out. Cymone James truly became this woman. The entire audience was captivated and the tension was palpable.

“In Memory of Imette” was another personal favorite of mine, performed by Alexis Booth. It’s told from the point of view of a woman in New York City shortly after the brutal murder of Imette St. Guillen, an NYU grad student who was assaulted and killed in 2006. Now scared of leaving the house, the woman has become obsessed with profiling the killer. This was the one that hit closest to home for me. The reality she spoke of, of feeling unsafe walking down the street, of carrying mace just to go out, is a reality many girls live every day. I know little things I’ve been taught to do when walking alone, like calling someone on the phone or holding my keys between my fingers.

Other monologues I found to be especially notable were “Maurice,” where actress Teasha Williams made me both giggle and feel especially tense in a period of maybe five minutes, “First Kiss” performed by Hannah Kahl, and “Angry Vagina” performed by Paulina Hernandez Larumbe. Overall, the performance was an enjoyable and moving experience. It definitely brought awareness to important issues and, based on the size of the audience, was able to give a decent amount of money to community organizations. This is an annual event, one I hope will continue to grow in impact and audience. Consider taking the time out of your evening to attend next year. If the name of the performance makes you uncomfortable, well, that’s kind of the point.

In the Spotlight

Photo by Daniel Coston.
Photo by Daniel Coston.

The lights go down. A string of guitarists (and one bass) sit on the front of the stage and begin to play. The piece is entitled “Rumba,” written by Bernard Andres. It feels quite Spanish or Latin, especially as a sole drummer accompanies the guitars. When they are finished, the audience applauds loudly. This is how the Student Spotlight concert on Jan. 27 began. The performance consisted of three different musical groups, the Guitar Ensemble, the Chamber Orchestra and the Jazz Ensemble. It was held in the Belk Theater in Robinson Hall.

The show continued with the introduction of the Chamber Orchestra. They performed four songs, each featuring a soloist. Their first piece was “Romance for Violin and Orchestra in G, Op. 26” composed by Johann Svendsen. The Soloist was Idunn Lohne on the violin, who stood front and center in a beautiful dress. The work explored a number of different tempos and emotions and demonstrated the range of Lohne’s playing. You could see her passion in her performance as she often closed her eyes and seemed to really feel the piece. This was followed by “Concerto for Horn and Orchestra in E-flat, KV 417” by W.A. Mozart. The piece featured Benjamin Shafer playing the Horn. Though he seemed to be slightly nervous at first, it was unnoticeable in his music. The sound of his horn was always clear and confident. At the end of the piece, the large smile that spread across his face showed that he knew how well he had done.

The highlight of the night was the performance of “Signore Ascolta” from Turandot and “Art is Calling for Me” from The Enchantress. Soprano singer Cecily Bednarek brought down the house with her high soprano notes and enthralling performance. The first work was a classic opera piece in Italian. Bednarek truly channeled distress and sadness. This was completely changed by the second song, in which she played an over the top royal who longs to be a star (specifically, a prima donna). Bednarek interacted with the audience and used large hand gestures. It was thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. Personally, I still can’t believe someone’s voice can go that high.

Photo by Daniel Coston.
Photo by Daniel Coston.

After a brief intermission, the evening finished with the Jazz Ensemble. They played three pieces. The first was “Interloper” composed by Thad Jones. This song started loud and strong, catching the audience’s attention. It also featured a number of soloists, of which the drum player Colin Ray especially stood out. This was followed by “Nardis” by Miles Davis and arranged by George Stone. It featured solo performer Casey Blackwelder on Trumpet. In contrast to the first, this piece had a much cooler and smooth tone. The final piece of the night was “Tones for Joan’s Bones” written by Chick Corea and arranged by Mike Tomaro. Brian Gilbert had a solo on the guitar while Bryce Harris shone on the soprano saxophone.

Overall, all of the music was exceptionally performed and everyone seemed to be very passionate about their art. It was a lovely way to spend an evening.

“Taking the Time” with Rick Joy

As part of the college of Art and Architecture’s speaking series, renowned architect Rick Joy visited the campus on Wednesday. Joy received his B.A. from The University of Maine and his M.A. at The University of Arizona. In 1993, he founded his own architecture company, Rick Joy Architects (now named Studio Joy). Nine years later, he won the Architecture Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Joy also received the National Design Award from the Smithsonian Institution in 2004.  His program, entitled “Taking the Time,” discussed his company’s principles and projects.

Joy framed the speech around his company’s core values, the most important of which was “being comprehensively observant.” He places a special emphasis on his surroundings, often taking pictures of things he finds interesting and may incorporate into a design. Some of these come from nature, others are manmade. Photos he showcased included pictures of spray paint in downtown Charleston, sunsets, fish traps and canyons. A lot of his work seemed to be inspired by the desert and mountain scenes around his home state of Arizona.

Rick Joy has a special skill for showcasing natural light and building with heavy materials such as stone and concrete. Many of his buildings are cubic in nature, with wood paneling and bright light filling the rooms. He also likes to fit and design the houses to the inhabitants. In one situation, the owner wanted the house to be built quickly so they could move in as fast as possible. Joy devised a fundamental design that allowed the house to be built in eleven months. Still, the house looks anything but simple. Found in Woodstock, Vermont, it has stone ends, gable roofs and solar panels. In another example, Joy highlighted a couple with contrasting personalities and wants. To solve this, he designed specific parts of the house to fit each of the two.

Joy has no fear of admitting his struggles or failures. Once, his team had managed to build one third of an elaborate home only for the owner to suddenly lose their money. In another house, his company had to fire a contractor and build the rest of the project themselves. Joy also discussed his business and the hard decisions he has had to make as owner. Most notably, he described an offer he recently had in China to build resort towers. However, he turned it down when he found out it would destroy nearby fishing villages.

Rick Joy’s architecture is beyond beautiful. One of the hotels he designed, Amangiri in Arizona, makes me wish I was rich enough to even spend one night there. When asked what his advice was to young architects, he stated that one should always make the design “as pure as possible” and stay true to the original concept. He is currently working on several projects, including a train station on the Princeton campus and a resort in Mexico. Joy also urged those in attendance to apply for his Immersion Vermont Master Class. Considering the exceptional designs he showcased, I think it’d be worth it to apply.

New Faculty Members Showcase Their Art In Rowe Exhibition

Photo by Allison Tran.
Photo by Allison Tran.

I am not an art expert. Quite frankly, I don’t know if I would even refer to myself as an art beginner. Still, I do enjoy art and museums, which made attending the opening reception of the Andrew Leventis and Ally Sulpy Galleries a wonderful experience. Leventis and Sulpy are both new faculty here at UNC Charlotte, however, they have completely different styles and messages in their art.

Leventis’ exhibition is entitled “Recollections,” which references his process of making the art. First, he chooses a film still to paint which he then photographs off of a screen. This helps him create distortion in the image. He then transfers the image to linen via oil paint. Leventis is specifically interested in how humans define themselves by the objects they surround themselves with. Many of his paintings showcase this, featuring phones, playing cards and candles.

Probably due to his process, all of Leventis’ work takes on a photographic quality. For some of them, it was hard for me to believe they were actually paintings. The paintings also play with light, many in the shadows or at dawn or dusk. Personal favorites of mine were “Kansas Field,” which features a woman chopping firewood in the morning and “Sarcophagus Fly,” which focuses on a female hiker in the mountains.

Sulpy’s exhibition features three different (but connected) series of her work, all in bright color and made in a multimedia format. It’s a stark contrast to Leventis’ much more traditional, still life inspired work on the first floor. The first, and main focal point, of her collections is entitled “Store Facades.” Inspired by abandoned small town business districts, it seeks to reimagine old store fronts as they once were. However, since Sulpy never lived in this time period, the reality she creates in her work is a blend of history and her imagination.

My favorite of her three collections is entitled “Bland Intruders,” though she also refers to it as her fern series. According to Sulpy, the purpose of ferns is to be ignored and looked over. You don’t see successful ferns. In this series, the hidden ferns become the focus and main idea of the artwork. Her third series, “Beefcakes,” recreates men’s “muscle” magazines of the 60’s and 70’s. However, these paintings also contain her hidden ferns, representing the hidden homosexual undertones the magazines often had.

Photo by Allison Tran.
Photo by Allison Tran.

Sulpy’s multimedia work often contains a variety of elements. I noticed everything from wood paneling to vintage ads to sale stickers. Quite a few had working lights and signs. Much of the art was presented with vivid colored paper on the walls as background. Her works “Old Car” and “Closed” were particularly memorable to me. “Old Car,” a part of the fern series, showcases a vintage car museum. “Closed,” from “Store Facades,” features a young African American girl in three different poses.

Even if you haven’t been to an art exhibition or museum before, the Leventis and Sulpy galleries are worth checking out. The different styles of the two artists guarantee they’ll be something of interest for everyone. The exhibitions run through Jan 27 in the Rowe Galleries.

Best Songs of 2016 as Selected by A&E Writers

Album Art courtesy of Chance the Rapper.
“Coloring Book” album art courtesy of Chance the Rapper.

Jesse Nussman- Staff Writer

  1. “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper: With joyous energy and excitement, the Chicago based rapper forges his anthem on staying independent and not compromising his music to big labels. Like almost every other song off Chance’s “Coloring Book,” “No Problem” is the an uplifting, soul enriching extravaganza, impossible to listen to without smiling in joy.
  2. “Lazarus” by David Bowie: A reflective and somber swan song that seems to show the iconic artist viewing the end of their life in front of them. Paired with the incredible music video of Bowie–eyes covered and in a hospital bed–one can’t help but shake the feeling that all the signs of his tragic death were there, hidden in plain sight.
  3. “Ultralight Beam” by Kanye West: The powerful, musically epic gospel tune that opens West’s “The Life of Pablo,” “Ultralight Beam” is maybe the best example of how West not only knows how to deliver the goods himself but also how to place other artists in exactly the right position to shine. It may not be the kind of song you throw on to get the party started, but it is possibly the most moving and mature piece of music West has ever crafted.

 

Jeffrey Kopp- A&E Editor 

"Wild World" album art courtesy of Virgin/Universal
“Wild World” album art courtesy of Virgin/Universal
  1. “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots: What may be one of the year’s most played songs, “Heathens” demonstrates the genre-bending geniuses that are Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun. This gritty and chilling song manages to be thought-provoking, but also oddly relaxing.
  2. “Hymn For the Weekend” by Coldplay: One of the year’s first hits, this mystical-sounding track features powerful vocals from Beyoncé. This particular Coldplay song is a personal favorite of mine for studying with its uplifting tone and melodies.
  3. “Good Grief” by Bastille: The first word that comes to my head when I hear this song is “summer.” While “Pompeii” may be Bastille’s most popular song, “Good Grief” is incredibly catchy and has a strange nostalgic feel, making it worthy of multiple replays.

 

"Drive North" album art courtesy of Fueled by Ramen
“Drive North” album art courtesy of Uncool/Burger

Stephanie Trefzger- Assistant A&E Editor

  1. “Lose It” by SWMRS: This may be my favorite song off of SWMRS’ debut album because it is something that I can relate to.  Who hasn’t had a song ruined by the sour memory of another person?  It also has such a chill vibe that it’s almost hard not to jam to it.
  2. “Leave Me Lonely” by Ariana Grande: This song off of Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” album is criminally underrated.  The moody instrumentals and background vocals paired with the unusual voice of Macy Gray makes this song incredibly interesting.
  3. “Bang Bang” by Green Day:  The first album I ever bought with my own money was “American Idiot” in 2004.  This song marks a return to the angry, political style that made me fall in love with Green Day in the first place while also being relevant to 2016.

 

Elissa Miller- Staff Writer

"The Hamilton Mixtape" album art courtesy of Atlantic.
“The Hamilton Mixtape” album art courtesy of Atlantic.
  1. “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” by K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC & Residente: Just days after the announcement that Donald Trump was the President Elect, Lin Manuel Miranda decided to release two tracks early from “The Hamilton Mixtape.” This song was a perfect response to the anti-immigrant rhetoric we’ve seen in recent years. It’s both angry at injustice and celebratory of immigrant contributions. Snow Tha Product raps in a breathtaking blend of Spanish and English, while Riz MC’s verses have some great wordplay referencing his role in “Rogue One.”
  2. “When” by dodie: I’ve been a fan of this artist’s YouTube channel for years and am happy to have seen her achieve mainstream success this year through the release of her first EP. This track about struggling to live in the moment is absolutely beautiful. A combination of dodie’s voice and stringed instruments creates a sense of sad and wistful nostalgia. It will induce automatic tears.
  3. “Waving Through A Window” by Ben Platt: If you are into musical theater, this is it. The next Hamilton, next year’s Tony’s darling. Written by team Pasek and Paul (“La La Land,” “A Christmas Story”) and sung by Ben Platt of “Pitch Perfect” fame, this song is clearly the star of the show. Ben Platt’s vocals are almost unbelievable, you can hear the raw emotion in his voice while he continues to hit notes I thought impossible. Watching the live performance of this from “Late Night with Seth Myers” gives me chills. Every. Time. The rest of the cast album has yet to be released and I continue to wait (impatiently) for it.

 

"Big Baby D.R.A.M." album art courtesy of Atlantic/Empire
“Big Baby D.R.A.M.” album art courtesy of Atlantic/Empire

Tyler Trudeau- Intern

  1. “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots: While “Suicide Squad” may not have the top superhero film of the year, I loved its frantic, catchy and at times nostalgic soundtrack, especially this hit from Twenty One Pilots.
  2. “Do You Love Someone” by Grouplove: With their album kicking off the Fall season with an exciting post-summer flair, this foot-tapping hit from the indie rock band reeled me back into the band’s dynamic alternative appeal.
  3. “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M.: While I may not roll or smoke “broccoli,”  but this catchy hip-hop entry from D.R.A.M. still puts me in a good mood whenever I hear it playing.

 

 

Erin Cortez- Intern

"Anti" album art courtesy of Roc Nation/Westbury Road
“Anti” album art courtesy of Roc Nation/Westbury Road
  1. “Soundcheck” by Catfish and the Bottlemen:  I chose this song because it has an upbeat yet gritty feel to the song, just like what most alternative songs sound like. It is a perfect song to listen to when you are having a bad day and you just want to forget your problems.
  2. “Handclap” by Fitz and the Tantrums:  I chose this song because it never fails to make me want to dance to the music. This a perfect song to listen to when you are driving. I also feel inspired that the band members are in their 30’s and 40’s and still traveling the world and performing to thousands of people.
  3. “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna:  I chose this song because Rihanna has powerful vocals. The song is really powerful, and it gives me chills every time I listen to it. There is so much soul in the song.