Center for the Arts prepares for 2015-16 season

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.
Published in print edition, front page centerspread, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015.

According to NPR, 90 percent of the music we listen to is music we’ve heard before, due to repeating riffs in similar tunes. The remaining 10 percent is what the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech strives to explore through a variety of musical, physical and visual performances.

“How do we expand that 10 percent?” asks Ruth Waalkes, executive director of the Center for the Arts. “That’s where you really learn. Maybe you’ve never heard of an artist, but that doesn’t mean it might not be interesting or something that expands your thinking.”

Set for its third fall season, packed with visits from musicians, dancers, painters and even puppeteers, The Center for the Arts designed its events to challenge students. Among this year’s performers are Los Angeles, New York and London-based artists, deliberately unique in their shared theme of storytelling through multimedia.

With a total of 27 different programs this year, one of the first anticipated events is “STREB,” a company that blends dance with athletics, rodeo, circus and athletics, performing on Oct. 2.

“Elizabeth Streb is kind of a force of nature all on her own,” Waalkes said. “It’s these death-defying things they’re doing onstage, but it’s really because she’s interested in pushing the human body and seeing how far it can go.”

As a part of STREB’s visit, they will host a talk with the choreographer, Elizabeth Streb, and a documentary screening at the Lyric Theatre. Other opportunities to work with and learn from visiting artists are planned, including a jam session with the St. Laurence String Quartet on Oct. 25 and workshops with Diavolo, which combines architecture and dance.

Based in Los Angeles, Diavolo was one of the first performers at Moss Arts Center and will be returning by popular demand on May 6.

“One of the things that struck me, aside from just the beauty of the work, was that Diavolo really had a strong commitment to education and doing things off the stage, as well,” Waalkes said. “That’s really interesting to us, when artists want to come here and they’re interested in engaging somehow with students and the community.”

On Feb. 20, “Vocalosity” performs a cappella, featuring two (yet to be determined) cast members from “Pitch Perfect 2” and directed by Deke Sharon, the vocal producer for “Pitch Perfect” and NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” One on-campus a cappella group will be chosen to open the show.

The cast of L.A. Theatre Works will also grace the stage with familiar faces from television and cinema as they present “Dracula” on Oct. 30, in time for Halloween.

On April 14, 15 and 16, Teatro Hugo and Ines, a Peruvian couple, transform puppetry into art and poetry in the Cube inside the center.

“They put little eyes on their hands or they are somewhere she will sit on the floor and she puts a nose on her knee and drapes fabric, and all of a sudden, her knee becomes this face, this puppet,” Waalkes said. “It’s hard to describe, but it’s really, really beautiful work that’s very small and intimate.”

This season’s artists are no strangers to stages around the nation, with some performances anticipating full capacity months prior to opening, such as the United States Marine Band on Sept. 17. The Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, which stages most shows, seats more than 1,000 and is equipped with state-of-the-art acoustics, which was prioritized during construction.

“The quality of the space itself is amazing,” Waalkes said. “You can have the quietest moment with a string quartet or a violin and there’s really not a bad seat in the house.”

Student tickets are available now to all shows and for all seats for $10. Subscriptions comprise one third of attendance and allow flexibility in show choices to encourage exploration of diversity. Last-minute rush tickets are also available two hours in advance of shows if seats remain and can be claimed via text notifications (sign up by texting “arts” to 31996).

“We absolutely want to fill the theatre, and if we have capacity, we’d much rather have those free tickets to hand to students,” Waalkes said. “I think once students come in and have an experience here and see the theatre, they realize it’s an incredible place to hear music and see these highly visual projects we’re bringing in and they’re much more likely to come back.”

Shows attract a diversity of majors and ages, even from surrounding counties. Placed as a front door to campus from downtown Blacksburg and an arguable equivalent to the Kennedy Center for the New River Valley region (without the traffic or expense), the center prioritizes access and hospitality for its students, faculty and community members. As a part of outreach, matinees with artists who extend their appeal to primary school students are scheduled, with classroom involvement for younger students, as well.

“There really is a great interest and need for arts programming that some in our region just don’t have access to,” Waalkes said. “This is here for everyone.”

The center collaborates closely with the School of Performing Arts, the School of Visual Arts and the Institute for Creativity, Arts and Technology (ICAT). Since the Center’s conception, Waalkes has noticed changes in the university, such as an increase in music majors, potentially due to the increased visibility of arts on campus.

“We’re deliberately reaching out to different colleges and departments,” Waalkes said. “We’re seeing a lot of cross-pollination happening and people are really excited about that. All of us see arts as a creative practice and process that’s important for students, regardless of what you’re studying.”

To further encourage conversation, the website features an “Explorer’s Guide,” with multimedia, information and questions for audience members. Students are invited to enter a contest to win a trip for four to Busch Gardens by attending five events.

Plans for next year’s lineup have already started, with hopes of bringing artists from even farther parts of the world, including East Africa and Cambodia. As the Center for the Arts continues to entertain and excite, their commitment to learning and connecting remains as they challenge students to expand their minds past that 10 percent.

For a complete calendar of this year’s events, visit the Moss Arts Center or their website.

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