Bringing International Diversity to the Stage

‘Kingsbury Hall Presents’: Bringing International Diversity to the Stage

The Kingsbury Hall Presents program has existed at the University of Utah for more than 14 years and has helped to bring both international and domestic performers to the Salt Lake valley, from international dance performances to Broadway hits. As successful as the Presents program has been, Brooke Horejsi, Executive Director of Kingsbury Hall Performing Arts Center and Assistant Dean of the College of Fine Arts, has even bigger plans for its future through the incorporation of the Global Arts Series.

“My hope as a campus presenter is to bring artists to campus that represent not just diversity in performance and genre, but also where their cultural traditions are from, and beyond that how they are interpreting traditional cultural forms in new ways and from more contemporary viewpoints,” Horejsi said. “A campus-based arts presenter is a great opportunity to bring the world here, not just to campus but to the Salt Lake Valley. It gives people access to cultures, performances, traditions, ways of thinking, and topical issues from all over the world that we may or may not necessarily grapple with here. It gives us a window into places and people that are struggling with some of the same issues.”

For Horejsi, the idea of finding performances that resonate with the local campus and Utah community is very important. One example she gave was of a dance production she saw in China in November 2014. The performance, titled “Fault Lines,” revolved around the themes of the devastation caused by the earthquakes in Leshan, China, and Christchurch, New Zealand, and was performed by a dance team comprised of residents of both cities.

“This project reflected that experience, from two separate places with different locations on the map, different cultures, different ways of approaching global issues, yet they shared this one tragic but also binding experience of surviving an earthquake,” Horejsi said.

The relevance of such performance to those who live in Utah is not easily lost. With the Salt Lake Valley built near a very large fault line that has caused troubles in the past and is exceedingly likely to do so again, topics such as these, represented in the artistic performance of international artists is exactly the sort of things Horejsi hopes to bring to the University of Utah through the Global Arts Series.

As for whether or not Fault Lines itself will be gracing the stage of Kingsbury Hall, the jury is still out. Horejsi said Fault Lines has not been confirmed for performance here at the University.

Horejsi said she goes about bringing artists to the university in a number of ways, most notably seeking artists who can bring not only cultural learning opportunities but potential service to the community as well.

As part of bringing artists and performers to the University of Utah, Horejsi tries to get them involved with the surrounding community whenever possible as well.

“Right now we take artists out into the campus and regional community. We take them to the Cultural Celebration Center, to local schools, the university theatre department, and more,” Horejsi said. “For example, we had Step Afrika here in the fall, and while they were here with us we took them to the Cultural Celebration Center where they put on workshop there as well as another workshop with the multicultural Greek Council as well.”

Step Afrika, in particular, was able to spend time at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center last year combining movement and dance with literacy to bring about a lasting impact not only through their performance at the university but also in the local community through their workshops.

For Horejsi, diversity is one of the most important aspects she takes into consideration when looking for artists to bring to the University of Utah. As the Kingsbury Hall Presents program begins to evolve, she hopes that the performance brought to the University might be able to extend beyond the traditional hall venue at Kingsbury as well.

“I see myself as a multidisciplinary presenter, so I try to present all kinds of things from world music to theater and dance. Part of curating a season that doesn’t happen just at Kingsbury is curating performers that don’t have to fit the model of Kingsbury’s presidium style stage,” Horejsi said. “One thing that is shifting right now is that performances [for Kingsbury Hall Presents], won’t necessarily have to happen at Kingsbury, but can happen all over the place including the Marriott Center for Dance, the UMFA Auditorium and more. Eventually, I’d like to also be pushing us out into partnerships and collaborations that mean performances might happen at other venues outside the university.”

Even beyond expanding outside of Kingsbury Hall, Horejsi is a big believer in changing things up with the way performances take place even in more traditional venues like Kingsbury Hall.

“There are also some things we’re looking into for next season that will be able to utilize Kingsbury in a different way,” Horejsi said. “Kingsbury may be set up with the seats and stage in a traditional fashion, but who says you have to use it that way? We’re currently looking into a project where we would seat the audience directly on stage. I think a lot of times we get caught up with performing arts venues, in only seeing them in the way they were constructed for shows, when you can change things to make them more intimate [depending on the performance].”

The importance of Kingsbury Hall as a part of the greater academic community of the University of Utah is not something that is lost amidst the search for entertainment either. For Horejsi, finding performers that provide the opportunity to broaden the experiences of students is just as important as the quality of the entertainment being brought to the stage.

”We are an institution of higher learning, so while students are here we should be exposing them to as much as we possibly can to help them to become the people they are striving to become once they leave us. If we only exposed them to Utah cultures and ways of thinking and being we would only be giving them access to a very small amount of knowledge. I think there is a large benefit to being exposed to things during your college career that have you see things differently as you learn something new,” Horejsi said. “We have become an ever more global society with access to a lot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we use it. I don’t know that college students, who have every opportunity to go on the internet and see an international performance very easily, might not necessarily do so.”

Horejsi also stressed the importance of being able to bring a live experience to the university community through the Global Arts Series. Even simple things such as being able to share the experience of viewing a specific performer with those in the theater around you, being able to discuss the performance with them afterward and bring up some of the thought-provoking questions the performance may have stirred up. These are the things Horejsi hopes to see grow out of the performances she curates for each season at Kingsbury Hall.

Horejsi said she believes that it is opportunities such as these live performances that have the greatest potential for impacting the lives of the students, faculty, staff, and even the local community that attend.

“The potential for individual impact is great,” Horejsi said. “Sometimes it might be a huge impact that affects 50 people in the audience all in the same way, but other times it might be a smaller one to one impact. There might be someone in the audience who comes to the realization that the person on stage looks like them, or causes them to aspire to be like that, something that could change the course of their studies or what they choose to pursue when they leave the university.”

While Kingsbury Hall Presents has existed for more than 14 years, the Global Arts Series is an entirely new endeavor that Horejsi began to construct when she first began working at the University of Utah in July 2014.

“The ‘presented’ program here has been what is referred to as professional affiliate, basically a separate entity that happened to exist in Kingsbury on the campus, but it wasn’t embedded in campus,” Horejsi said. “That is the shift that has begun to happen, embedding it [Kingsbury Hall Presents] more into the academic mission of the campus so it will service not only the regional community as it has done but also the students, faculty, and staff.”

The shift in focus for Kingsbury Hall Presents has led to a change in what productions Horejsi seeks to bring to the university as part of the program.

“One of the things that have always been challenging is that when you are a commercial presenter that is driven by ticket sales, you cannot do, for example, a lot of global music because global music is not something that sells out,” Horejsi said. “Because people don’t necessarily hear it every day on the radio, and [the music] is not sold it in stores every day, the same type of fan base isn’t developed for someone like Brushy One String, that exists for someone like Katy Perry. It’s something that is not financially viable as a commercial presenter. So being a university presenter is what allows me to bring more diverse artists in that match the mission of the university.”

This opportunity to bring more academically relevant and culturally diverse artists to the University of Utah has already paid off with Kingsbury having snagged the highly regarded globalFest traveling music performance as well as Irish performers Danu for next year’s season.

Looking to the future of the Global Arts Series, Horejsi said she hopes mostly to increase student involvement not only in getting them to attend the performances themselves, but also to engage more with some of the community-based projects that take place with some of the international artists that come through as part of the program.

Student engagement with the arts presented through Kingsbury and the wider Arts Pass program at the University of Utah has steadily been on the rise. The 2013/2014 academic year saw an increase of nearly double the previous year’s issued tickets through the Art Pass program with 23,610 Art Pass tickets issued over the course of the academic year.