Author: Rick O'Toole

Building up STEAM: Collaborations between the Arts & Sciences

Please join us for an open forum on current and future developments in STEAM at UConn and beyond.

Wednesday, February 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

William Benton Museum of Art

We hope to generate a wide-ranging discussion, structured around brief remarks by invited speakers drawn from faculty across the university and from industry. The event is open to all UConn faculty, staff, and students, and the general public. 
Refreshments will be provided.

For further information contact Alain Frogley (School of Fine Arts) at / 860-486-4783, or Jennifer Pascal (School of Engineering) at / 860-486-3604

‘Be Not Afraid of Greatness:’ Shakespeare’s First Folio Coming to UConn

Recent news coverage of the discovery in Scotland of a previously unknown first edition of William Shakespeare’s collected works has brought increased interest to the national traveling exhibition “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare.” That exhibition is coming to UConn in the fall, and will be on display at the William Benton Museum of Art from Sept. 2 to 25.

First Folio, title page.
First Folio, title page.

The “First Folio” is the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays published by two of his fellow actors in 1623, seven years after the Bard’s death on April 23. The collection includes 18 plays that would otherwise have been lost, including “Macbeth,” Julius Caesar,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Tempest,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “The Comedy of Errors,” and “As You Like It.”

The national tour is being hosted by one institution in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s passing this year. The tour is a partnership between The Folger Shakespeare Library, Cincinnati Museum Center, and the American Library Association.

Table of contents from the First Folio.
Table of contents from the First Folio.

“As an institution with a strong history of championing the dramatic classics through our resident theater, Connecticut Repertory Theatre, we are very proud to have the opportunity to host this exhibition for our state,” says Anne D’Alleva, dean of UConn’s School of Fine Arts. “This is an important document in the life of the arts, and for our students and wider community to experience here on campus.”

During the month-long run of the exhibition, UConn will also present a variety of related academic and cultural programming in its venues, including the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, libraries, and lecture halls. The activities will include a Connecticut Repertory Theatre production of a Shakespeare play, workshops for high school English teachers, a festival of Shakespeare in film and popular culture, a puppet adaptation of “Macbeth,” a menu from the Elizabethan era served at the Benton Museum café, and other events.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!



Acting Alum Debuts as Director of Musical Comedy

There comes a time when many actors think about moving from the spotlight onstage to behind the scenes to direct.

For stage veteran Richard Ruiz ’98 MFA, that time came when he returned to Storrs to play a familiar role as Sancho Panza in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s 2012 Nutmeg Summer Series production of “Man of La Mancha” directed by his longtime mentor, Vincent Cardinal, chair of the dramatic arts department.

“Vince had not directed it before. He would consult me often and ask if this would be a good way to direct a scene,” says Ruiz, who had performed the role of Panza five times previously. “I ended up kind of semi-directing some of those scenes from the wings. I enjoyed that collaborative process. It sparked thoughts about being a director. I pitched it to him that someday I’d like to direct.”

Ruiz makes his directorial debut with this week’s CRT production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” the Tony Award-winning musical comedy based on the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the wacky British comedy troupe’s send-up of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and their quest to find the mystical object in Arthurian legend that would provide eternal youth, abundant food, and happiness. “Spamalot” stars Richard Kline as King Arthur and Mariand Torres as the Lady of the Lake in performances from April 21 to May 1 in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre.

Ruiz, who last appeared onstage at CRT in 2014 with Kline in Neil Simon’s popular “The Sunshine Boys,” says he imagined that his first directing experience would be a small play with two or four actors, not a full-scale musical.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

The CRT production of “Spamalot” will be performed April 21 through May 1 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre in the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, go to the CRT website.



MFA Exhibition Explores Aspects of Self-Discovery

Sculptor Amanda Bulger and painter Kamar Thomas arrived in Storrs as MFA students in art through different paths.

Bulger grew up on her family’s farm in Wisconsin making art inspired by the rural landscape, and studied art at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Thomas first arrived in Connecticut as an undergraduate at Wesleyan University in Middletown, and returned to his home in Jamaica to teach art before heading north again to eastern Connecticut to create large, colorful paintings that draw viewers to the canvas.

Their creations are part of the cohort of works that is “The 2016 Master of Fine Arts Exhibition: Are We All Here?” at the William Benton Museum of Art, continuing through May 8.

Thomas calls his series of large, colorful self-portraits “Schizophrenic Masculinity.” The series  explores his journey of self-discovery during his time as a student in the United States at Wesleyan and at UConn.

“It was really about coming the U.S. and discovering I was black,” Thomas says about the inspiration for his paintings. “Outside of the U.S., [being black] doesn’t mean the same thing. There isn’t the culture and expectations that are here, having to reconcile those expectations and struggling with that, finding it in many ways. I would say it shows the more activist side of my life, struggling with those questions and just growing up, to be many things at once.”

His creative process involves painting his face with different colors and taking photos that he can use as the foundation of painting on large square canvases, each with a different dominant hue. He says working with a large image both helps him to better see his work through the thick eyeglasses he wears while also allowing him to stay engaged more fully with the painting because he must use his entire body while painting.

“And for the subject matter I’m dealing with, faces and masks, it’s the best format for the size,” Thomas adds. “I call it overwhelming intimacy. If you’re ever that close to someone’s face, you’re either making love or a fight is about to happen.”

Bulger says she was attracted to UConn because it would allow her to live in a familiar rural environment that also provides the found objects from farm life that she uses to create her sculptures. By sheer coincidence, she asked her sculpture professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to write a recommendation, not realizing that Jason Lanka, now an assistant professor of art at Sheridan College in Gillette, Wyo., was a 2005 MFA graduate from UConn.

“[Coming to Storrs,] I wouldn’t be suffering from a shift from being on the farm to moving to the city,” Bulger says. “Judith [Thorpe, MFA director,] told me in my interview that there are cows on campus. That kind of sold me.”

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

“The 2016 Master of Fine Arts Exhibition: Are We All Here?” continues at the William Benton Museum of Art, 245 Glenbrook Road, Storrs, through May 8. For more information, go to the Benton website.

UConn Musician Instrumental in Grammy Win

In December 2014, when the U.S. and Cuba announced that they would restore diplomatic relations, UConn string bass instructor Gregg August heard the news not stateside but on the island itself. He was in Havana recording the album “Cuba: The Conversation Continues,” as bassist for Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. One of the tracks he played on that album was “The Afro Latin Jazz Suite,” an energetic four-part work that would go on to earn O’Farrill a 2016 Grammy Award for instrumental composition.

August, who has been traveling to Cuba for the past 15 years to play jazz, vividly remembers the night the news was announced. “Nothing will compare to having experienced first-hand what was happening,” he says. “It was an amazing thing.”

Growing up in Schenectady, N.Y., August was surrounded by music. His father, who played piano, and his mother enjoyed listening to jazz and rhythmic music. He played drums in high school and his music teachers were his father’s sister, who taught piano, and her husband, who taught bass, the instrument he would eventually turn to in college.

“They always had music on in the house,” he recalls. “My parents were listening to all kinds of music, especially jazz and R&B: Cannonball Adderly (with Nancy Wilson), Bill Evans, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Sergio Mendez. There were even classical records, like Glenn Gould playing Bach. I remember getting Earth Wind and Fire and Stevie Wonder records for Christmas. I didn’t hear Latin music as a kid, but I think I developed a certain sensibility for it through listening to Chick Corea’s music; his music always has that Spanish thing, those kinds of rhythms.”

He says he experienced a “natural gravitation” to Latin music because of his background in percussion and bass, the core of a band’s rhythm section.

August received his bachelor’s in bass at The Eastman School of Music, earned his master’s from The Juilliard School before spending time as principal bass with La Orquesta Ciutat de Barcelona in Spain and freelancing as a jazz bassist in Paris. He says he returned to New York City because he knew he had to be there in order to grow as a jazz musician, and he missed the opportunity to play a wide variety of music. Over the years he has performed with percussionist Ray Barretto, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, The Brooklyn Philharmonic, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, American Composer’s Orchestra and saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, among others, before becoming a member of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which plays Sunday nights at Birdland in New York.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!



Intuition, Measuring, Math Underlie Artist’s Work

Installation artist Jong Oh takes a minimalist approach to his work, building structures by suspending Plexiglass and painted string in the air.

As is his practice, before creating his exhibition “Sotto Voce” in the Contemporary Art Galleries, Oh waited for the uniquely configured space to speak to him.

Artist Jong Oh says he wants visitors to sense the ‘Sotto Voce’ exhibit with their bodies, take their time, go closer, and walk around inside. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
Artist Jong Oh says he wants visitors to sense the ‘Sotto Voce’ exhibit with their bodies, take their time, go closer, and walk around inside. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

“I come to the gallery or studio and stay there for a few days looking at the space. I listen to the space,” the New York-based Korean artist says. “I don’t have any plans when I get to the space. The space has to allow me to do something. The process is intuitive, but it’s also a lot of measuring and math. Some people think when they see my work that it’s all planned and I know everything before I start, but actually it’s very intuitive.”

Oh spent his childhood in Grand Canaria, Spain. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sculpture from Hongik University in Seoul and an FMA from the School of Visual Art in New York City, where he now lives. He has had solo exhibitions in Austria, Germany, and Mexico.

For Oh’s exhibition in Storrs, the gallery walls are painted white and, as is typical of his work, he uses thread, Plexiglass, and some found objects to create illusions that can change in appearance as a visitor walks through the gallery. He describes his work as “line sculpture.”

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

“Sotto Voce: Installations by Jong Oh” will continue through May 6 at the Contemporary Art Galleries in the Department of Art & Art History Building, 830 Bolton Road, Storrs. For more information go to the CAG website.

Protesting Inequalities in the Art World

When a group of women artists first put on gorilla masks to protest gender and racial inequalities in the art world, their use of humor on advertising handouts and posters called attention to the paucity of works by female artists in gallery and museum exhibitions.

Posters on display as part of the Guerrilla Girls exhibition at the Benton Museum. (Amy Jorgensen/UConn Photo)
Posters on display as part of the Guerrilla Girls exhibition at the Benton Museum. (Amy Jorgensen/UConn Photo)
Taking the names of dead women artists in order to be anonymous, and wearing the masks to protect themselves against possible retaliation, they called themselves the Guerrilla Girls. More than three decades later, they say there is still work to be done. “When we started in 1985, you could hear curators and gallery people saying that women and artists of color were not making art that is part of the contemporary dialogue,” says Frida Kahlo, one of the founders of Guerilla Girls. “No one would say that now.” Kahlo’s namesake is the 20th century surrealist Mexican painter known for her self-portraits and as the subject of the 2002 Salma Hayek film “Frida.”Thirty-nine off-beat “guerrilla-advertising” posters, advertising, and other works are part of the “Guerrilla Girls: Art, Activism, and the ‘F’ Word” in the center gallery of the William Benton Museum of Art through May 22. The exhibition is drawn from the 89-pieceGuerrilla Girls Portfolio Compleat (1985-2012) recently acquired by the museum.

Among the works in the exhibition is a 1989 billboard poster that addressed concerns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The poster depicts a nude woman wearing a gorilla mask lying on a couch with a headline asking: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? Less than 5 percent of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85 percent of the nudes are female.”

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

“Guerrilla Girls: Art, Activism, and the ‘F’ Word” continues through May 22 at the William Benton Museum of Art, 245 Glenbrook Road, Storrs. For more information, go to the Benton Museum’s website.

Puppet Production Explores 1911 Factory Fire

As a youngster growing up in Romania, Ana Crăciun-Lambru ’16 MFA put strings on her dolls, turning them into marionettes and performing in her bedroom. She would go on to earn a degree in puppetry from The National University of Arts in Bucharest. While working as a freelance puppeteer, she found information about a Fulbright Scholarship opportunity and the Puppet Arts program at UConn.

From left, MFA puppeteers Kalob Martinez, Ana Crăciun-Lambru, and Gavin Cummins present a triple bill for the MFA Puppet Arts Festival onstage at the Studio Theatre March 24-April 3. (Gerry Goodstein Photo)
From left, MFA puppeteers Kalob Martinez, Ana Crăciun-Lambru, and Gavin Cummins present a triple bill for the MFA Puppet Arts Festival onstage at the Studio Theatre March 24-April 3. (Gerry Goodstein Photo)

Crăciun-Lambru’s new puppet production, “Dust,” is part of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre celebration of 50 years of Puppet Arts at UConn during The MFA Puppet Arts Festival, March 24 to April 3 at the Studio Theatre.

The three original one-act plays at CRT range in topic and style. “Dust” is inspired by the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City and incorporates shadow and object puppetry. “Ok, I Love You, Bye” by Gavin Cummins ’16 MFA is a one-person play using various styles of shadow puppetry. “El Beto” by Kalob Martinez ’16 MFA molds Macbeth into a story of lust and blood set in the midst of the Mexican Drug cartel.

A fourth original production, “ECHO” by Christopher Mullens ’16 MFA, will take place at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry in conjunction with the CRT shows. ECHO is a multi-media immersive spectacle combining puppets, digital projection and original music in the re-telling of a classic Greek myth.

To read the entire article, visit UConn Today!

The CRT production of the MFA Puppet Arts Festival will be performed March 24 to April 3 at the Studio Theatre, 802 Bolton Road, Storrs. “ECHO” will be performed in conjunction with the Festival at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, One Royce Circle, Storrs. For more information on the MFA Festival, go to and for “ECHO” to There will be an additional free presentation of Krista Weltner’s MFA stop motion film project at 5 p.m. in the Studio Theatre on March 26 and April 1, 2, and 3.