AHA! A House for Arts


Local Special #6

Meet Kat Koppett, owner of Koppett, a business that uses improv to build creative leaders. Visit Amity Farm Batik in Fort Ann, New York, to learn all about this unique art form. Take a look at PS21 and learn about the move from the old tent to the new venue. Visit the design studio of Pratt + Hebert to learn more about their handmade art.

AIRED: October 23, 2019 | 0:26:46

- On this episode of AHA,

(cheerful music)


(cheerful music)

the art of Batik,

(cheerful music)


(cheerful music)

Pratt + Hebert.

(cheerful music)

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA.

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided by

your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(cheerful music)

- Hi, I'm Matt Rogowicz, and this is AHA,

A House for Arts, a place for all things creative.

Let's take a trip to the Mopco Improv Theater

in Schenectady, New York, and chat with Kat Koppett,

the eponymous founder of Koppett,

a business that uses the principles of improv

to build creative leaders across the country.

- Improv is not a metaphor.

It's literally what we're doing all the time.

I'm Kat Koppett, I'm the CEO and President of Koppett,

a training and coaching consultancy

that specializes in using improv and story techniques

in organizational development settings.

We're in the Mopco Improv Theater,

which is a performing improvisational theater

here in Schenectady, New York.

(cheerful music)

My background initially was as an actor,

and then eventually as an improviser, and,

I had students who started taking our classes

and said this would be great in business.

I wish my boss knew this, I wish my team acted

the way we act in improv, and so,

I was skeptical, but I kind of went along for the ride,

'cause I was a starving actor and businesses had money.

Then eventually went back and got

a Masters in Organizational Psychology,

and mashed them up into this field,

which is now Applied Improv.

When I started doing this, it was maybe mid-90s,

and it was really a crazy thing to do,

and I downplayed a little bit my skepticism.

I found out very quickly a couple of things,

most people, it felt to me, were starving for something

that we took for granted as artists,

which was this opportunity to be seen and heard

and to access and to express ourselves,

and to have that valued, was something that most people

just didn't get to do.

The second thing it took me longer to come to,

and my clients really helped me come to,

and it's just become more, and more, and more true,

over the, whatever it is now, 20 or 30 years, which is

that improv is literally what we're doing all the time.

- My entire professional life is limited to this moment.

(audience laughs)

- When we bring improv into organizations,

improv is the gem for what people are doing, right?

If people talk about, in organizations,

we need to be better listeners, or,

we need to collaborate more, we need to be more innovative,

and more creative, we need to be more responsive.

What improvisers have done is develop, literally,

tools and exercises to strengthen those muscles,

so that it's not just talking about those things,

but it's strengthening them.

The reaction, initially was, that's wacky and crazy.

Now people will go, yeah, duh.

Our client lists are the big Silicon Valley companies

that you would know, you probably have

their phones in your pockets,

you probably go on their social media sites every day

and spend too much time on them,

so those kinds of companies.

We also work with a lot of companies here regionally.

Really any organization or any individual

in which human beings need to interact with each other.

(crowd chattering enthusiastically)

For my husband, Michael Burns and I to

have this kind of investment in a community

is profoundly exciting.

I think the capital region is a unique environment

that deeply underestimates itself.

I moved here from the San Francisco Bay area,

having only ever lived in New York City,

and the San Francisco Bay area

when I moved here a dozen years ago or so.

I was confounded by the place, I didn't understand it.

One of the things I didn't understand

was how Balkanized it was.

The fact that we didn't think of ourselves, really,

as a region, but as these little individualized places.

I think that it's the artists and the creative economy

which seems to be creating webs and relationships

as much or more than any other part of the economy.

It's the artists that seem to be willing to travel

and cross boundaries, and build relationships,

and I think that's wonderful for us.

(upbeat pop music)

- Carol Law Conklin fell in love with the art of Batik,

an ancient method of painting on fabric with wax and dyes.

We visited Carol at her studio in Washington County

to learn all about this fascinating art form.

(mellow music)

- I love to work with horses.

I've worked with horses for a long time,

and they're one of my main inspirations.

They can express strength and striving,

gentleness, and to me, they merge with the elements,

the wind, the earth, the sky.

(mellow music)

I'm Carol Conklin, and I have been doing Batik

for over 40 years.

Batik is an ancient method of painting on fabric

with wax and dyes.

It is said to have originated in Indonesia,

but it also has roots in Africa,

there are still beautiful African Batik.

India also has a lot of Batik.

China, and Japan have beautiful Batik from ancient times.

Well, I had gone to art school,

and when I was in art school I majored in printmaking.

After I graduated, I got to go to Italy

to do some more studying of printmaking.

But, I found that I loved the country,

and the best printmaking studios,

which require a lot of expensive equipment are in cities.

I used to go to Boston every week to work on the prints.

Then somehow I saw Batik.

Of course that was the time, the 70s,

when Batik became popular, and I wanted to try it.

I tried it myself and I loved it.

So, I kept doing it on my own with lots of experimenting,

and developed my own style with it.

Now this is the plain white fabric.

It has been washed.

I'm removing lint.

So, I will get to my chanting tool.

This is the little tool that makes lines of wax.

You can see the wax dripping out very fast.

So, when I get here I'm going to have to move very fast.

(upbeat pop music)

I'm going to do one of my horses with the flowing manes.

I like to just get the flow,

so it's not an actual image of a horse,

but the feeling of the energy of the mane.

It's about ready for its first dye.

When the fabric goes into the dyes,

it hits the edge of the wax and there's just a

certain quality that you can't get with anything else.

I paint wax on the fabric

where I do not want the color to go.

In this way, I'm always thinking of the negative space.

This is a Batik

that the fabric has been dyed a bit

before I applied the wax, and, I have protected

sections of it that I want to keep this color.

Now, this Batik went into a bleaching batch,

and this is what it looks like now.

Now this one is ready to go into another color.

Here is an example of the Batik after it went into

a blue dye bath.

So, this is the third step for this Batik.

I tend to get quite complicated,

it doesn't need to be as complicated as I made it.

But, the design is built up

through many stages of wax and dye.

At the end, the wax is ironed out of the fabric.

It takes several stages of putting down newsprint

and had to be plain newsprint next to the fabric,

and then when the wax is out, the colors are very vibrant.

It's always exciting to me, that part of it,

when it comes like, off the press.

(mellow music)

There's a magic in the wax itself,

as the wax goes through the dye baths,

it crackles a little bit, and that imparts a

almost cobwebbing effect, which I love, I love that.

Most people enjoy it, they find it joyful

and they feel happy when they see it,

and that makes me happy.

(mellow music)

- PS21, which stands for

Performance Spaces for the 21st Century,

celebrated the opening of their brand new venue

in June of 2018.

Let's look back at our visit,

where we spoke with PS21's founder, the late Judy Grunberg.

(mellow pop music)

- I'm Judy Grunberg, and I'm the Founder and President

of PS21, in Chatham, which stands for

Performance Spaces for the 21st century.

PS21 is a venue for the performing arts.

We had our performances in a tent for our first 12 years,

and this year, and I guess the reason I'm here, is,

because we have a brand new building.

We really needed to replace the tent,

I mean, the actual tent that we had bought, originally,

was decaying, quickly, and to rent one every year,

and set it up and take it down

was a real pain in the neck.

Also, there were a lot of other problems

associated with having a tent, such as the bathrooms

were porta-potties outside,

the performers didn't have a nice place to wait

or to dress or to shower.

Scary evenings where the wind blew and people were

afraid that we would be blown all the way to Kansas.

We decided let's go for the whole thing,

let's have a space that can be used all year.

(thoughtful music)

We had an architect, Evan Stoller, who lives nearby here.

So, now we have a black box that is

open the other three seasons, and then,

all of a sudden, in early June,

it just opens up and this appears, magically.

(dramatic music)

(whimsical music)

It's like going from A to Z with nothing in between.

It's exciting, we've already had our first black box season.

We had three or four performances,

we had some silent films accompanied by a live piano.

It's a very nice, intimate space.

(whimsical music)

Today is the opening of the theater.

(whimsical music)

(audience clapping)

The idea of this opening was to present,

kind of have a showcase of some of our

performers that we've had over the past,

to give people an idea, maybe even people

who've never been here before,

of the kinds of things that we present.

(upbeat Celtic music)

(cheerful classical music)

90% of things we present are things that

a lot of our audience has never heard of,

even though, maybe in the wider world,

these people are well-known, they're not here,

and my dream is that people will begin to say,

you know, we never heard of it,

but if they have it up there,

it's gotta be something worthwhile.

That's my feeling.

I just instinctively believe that

this stuff is important, and I mean,

I always feel that when your beliefs

are supported by statistics, you know, that's really nice.

I guess the statistics are showing that

whatever's called the creative economy

is a great builder for the community,

economic development of a community.

It's sort of sad, because those of us

who were sort of in the arts have always known

how important the arts are to lives growing up,

how important they should be in the schools,

how essential they are for your whole spiritual growth.

So, it's really good to be supported

by the statistical evidence, because,

to know that as far as corporations and businesses go,

you have to prove to them that there's a bottom line there.

You can't just say art is good,

you have to say, it's good because of this or that.

But, I certainly believe that it's here

and I believe in it.

We've had one performance, just say,

and the next day, someone will say to me

why didn't you tell me it'd be so great,

I heard it was wonderful, and I say, you know,

I can't call everybody I know and tell them

it's gonna be great!

You've gotta take a chance.

(mellow pop music)

- Sarah Pratt is a ceramicist,

producing functional wheel-thrown porcelain and stoneware.

Curt Hebert is a furniture maker and sculptor

using wood and metal.

Together, they formed Pratt + Hebert.

We visited their design studio

to learn more about their handmade art.

(upbeat pop music)

- I just love the idea that you have this raw material

and then you can turn it into something

not only beautiful but useful.

(upbeat pop music)

My name is Sarah Pratt, and I run Pratt + Hebert

with my husband, Curt.

I make ceramics and he makes furniture.

(upbeat pop music)

Often I think when people think of pottery,

they think like chunkier work, maybe a little bit heavier,

a little bit more rustic,

and my work is very smooth and clean and precise.

I think that's very surprising to people,

especially when they find out that it's wheel-thrown.

(mellow music)

My degree is in political science,

so I was working for a company based out of DC.

I quit my job because I knew I wanted to

do something more creative.

I took a pottery class, actually it was my mom who

suggested that I take the pottery class,

'cause she was taking one down in Louisiana,

and she said, this is really fun, you should do it,

and I said well it'll be nice to explore other mediums

even if I don't really like it that much.

So, it was a Hudson Valley Community College course

that I took and it was really great.

I was very comprehensive, and then I just decided

I wanted to learn everything I could about ceramics,

and started working at

The Arts Center of the Capital Region,

just learning everything I could and eventually was

the studio manager there for a little while,

and started teaching there, and so,

now I teach there as well.

Curtis has also done some teaching.

- This piece of white oak, I got it from

some friends in Berne, who have a sawmill.

This is a piece that really wasn't good enough to saw,

but it's good for me to turn a bowl.

(upbeat pop music)

- We went to LSU together,

and started dating my senior year of college,

and he's always made furniture.

- I started woodworking, I was about 13 years old,

and it's kinda just all I wanted to do was make things.

Also, there's just the necessity, you need stuff,

and I hate buying stuff,

and I'm frustrated a lot of times

with either the things I can afford

or the things that are available, so,

this is a good solution for me.

Sarah, my wife, she's next door in the pottery studio.

She's got superb tastes.

- He's very creative.

- An eye for beauty.

- Really brilliant.

- She's got the clear thinking.

- I mean, he's kind of a genius.

He still has another job as an engineer.

- I design large generators for power plants.

Been doing that for about 11 years now.

(upbeat pop music)

I am just addicted to tools and machines

and I am always on the hunt.

(upbeat pop music)

Well, this planer is an Oliver from 1926,

and it's got a GE motor on it that was built

right here in Schenectady in 1925, probably, I guess.

This planer was owned by the City of Schenectady,

they auctioned it off, and I got it.

My dream was kinda to buy the Superdome and just

fill it up with machines and be able to wake up every day

and just build whatever I want

and have unlimited capabilities.

- We finally have this studio almost done,

so this is brand new, and it's not even completely done,

but after we get this done,

then we can really do more furniture production work,

more collaborative work, and just bigger things.

People in this community wanna support local makers,

and wanna buy things from us and know how important it is

to support artists, and they really value that here.

That's extremely touching and makes me feel

very, very fortunate.

- Finally, let's take a look back

at one of my favorite classical student musicians

we featured as part of our

Student Musician of the Month digital series.

- My name is William Lauricella.

I am 13 years old.

I go to Bethlehem, and I play piano and percussion.

There's really not a lot of words that can describe

why I really just love the instrument,

I just really have this deep passion for music,

especially for piano.

I think my parents saw I was very engaged into music

I think when I was a toddler I really liked to dance,

and I started taking piano when I was about five or six.

The more years I progressed with it

the more I felt close to the instrument

and I began to really enjoy it.

I played Tchaikovsky's "The Seasons: September".

I've been playing this piece for a while now.

I started playing it almost two years ago

for the local Tchaikovsky competition, Russian competition.

Each piece was written for the month of the year

and this was September, so it was supposed to be

the start of the hunting season and you could really

hear this is the first opening octave,

that's gonna be the horn that they used to communicate.

I really like the nature, just the bombastic nature of it,

the very loud, and you can really just

play the piece very passionately.

- Do you know a talented student musician?

Send us their info at wmht.org/studentmusician.

And that'll wrap it up for this edition of AHA.

For more arts and culture, visit wmht.org/aha

where you'll find features about our creative world

in our back yards and across the country.

Until next time, I'm Matt Rogowicz.

Thanks for watching.

(cheerful music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA has been provided by

your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malisardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that

the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.


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