Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E32 | FULL EPISODE

“Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere,” “Lady Day," and more

This week the exhibit, “Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere,” presented jointly at the Concord and the Worcester Art Museums, then a performance by and conversation with actor Lydia Harrell on, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Plus, a discussion with Company One Co-founder, Summer L. Williams on the challenges for theatrical productions during COVID-19. Also, Ohio Doll artist, Randi Channel.

AIRED: March 27, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

one if by land, two if by sea,

and the rest of the story of how we came to revere Revere.

>> It's the poet, not the historian,

who summarizes the entire event in one line:

"One if by land, two if by sea."

>> BOWEN: Then the impact of the coronavirus on the arts.

A performance...

>> ♪ Oooh

♪ What a little moonlight can do to you ♪

>> BOWEN: ...and the toll.

>> I teach at Berklee College of Music.

Seeing my students get sent home

was just really a hard thing to see.

>> BOWEN: And an artist getting all dolled up.

>> It's the making of the thing,

and then spending so much time with it,

that I really feel

like I've imbued it with a sort of spirit.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

This week, I am coming to you from my home.

Like many, we are doing things very differently right now,

and we aim to bring you the arts as much as we can.

But before the coronavirus took hold in our country,

before all of those closures,

we visited the Concord Museum,

which is presenting an exhibition of Paul Revere--

the man, the myth, the artist.

Paul Revere has had a pretty good ride:

a banner for beer,

a darling of Disney,

heroic enough to sport a cape in this enduring image

by N.C. Wyeth.

But what becomes a legend most?

In this case, it's poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

>> "Listen my children and you shall hear."

Now, I was meant to memorize this when I was young--

everybody did.

>> BOWEN: Those few words regaling readers

with the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

"on the 18th of April, in '75,"

elevated one of American history's

memorable, if not bit, players,

into a monumental one.

How much does Paul Revere owe Longfellow?

>> A lot.

Uh... the...

It's interesting, the... the, um...

It's incalculable in a way.

It's the poet, not the historian,

who summarizes the entire event in one line:

"One if by land, two if by sea."

>> BOWEN: David Wood is curator of the Concord Museum,

which, along with the Worcester Art Museum,

is one of two Massachusetts institutions presenting

Beyond Midnight,

an exhibition looking at the man behind the myth--

something even Longfellow struggled with.

>> There's a, a marginal note here

where he's working on a fairly critical line.

Only here it says, "Onefor the land, twofor the sea."

So that didn't quite make it.

He obviously modified that and he nailed it next time.

>> BOWEN: In his day, Paul Revere was known--

in Boston circles, anyway--

for his role as one of three riders

dispatched to warn colonists about a British invasion.

But it wasn't until the publication of Longfellow's poem

on the eve of the Civil War, 86 years later,

when everyone knew.

>> He saw this as a way to suggest,

"Look, we need to look back to our past.

"Look, we need to stay united.

'Cause this is our, part of our history."

>> BOWEN: Nan Wolverton is one of the show's curators,

pointing out that Revere was much more than a horseman--

he was an artisan first.

>> He's engraving on the silver after it's made.

This is very neoclassical design.

>> BOWEN: A silversmith who also worked

in gold, copper, and, later, iron,

Revere was the self-made son of an immigrant.

The silver spoon with which founding fathers

like John Hancock were born,

Revere had to make.

>> The well-known portrait by Copley shows him

as a craftsman, with his sleeves rolled up.

But he really aspired to, to more than that.

He wanted to be a gentleman.

>> BOWEN: Revere was also a printmaker.

His most famous work is this rendering

of the Boston Massacre,

produced in the immediate aftermath,

but it copied a print by fellow engraver Henry Pelham.

>> Pelham was just livid about this, because he said,

"Ah, this is like highway robbery.

"How can you do this?

How could... what..." But Revere...

>> BOWEN: But it was legal at at the time.

>> It was legal, wasn't... was not illegal.

I mean, the, there was no...

There were no real copyright laws,

but he completely scooped Pelham,

and got it onto the market before Pelham could.

>> BOWEN: The print sales were lucrative,

but also affirmed Revere's role as a patriot,

one with a propensity for propaganda

or, less charitably, fake news.

>> People like Revere and the, and Hancock,

they wanted the colonists to look

as if they were completely innocent bystanders,

and that the British are just, you know, shooting

for, for no reason and, and attacking,

and, um, they were the innocents.

>> BOWEN: And that wasn't really how it happened.

>> And that was not how it happened, we...

And we know that now.

>> BOWEN: The exhibition teems with historic artifacts:

the Old North Church's lantern;

tea preserved from the Boston Tea Party revolt;

and this, Paul Revere's handwritten account of the ride,

including a mid-ride mishap.

>> He got arrested.

Uh, he talked his way out of it, more or less.

Um, told, he had a gun to his head, was told,

"We will... if you lie to me, I'll blow your brains out."

And he lied to the guy.

(laughing): So, it's...

He's kind of amazing.

>> BOWEN: How does he write about this account?

Is it cinematic or matter-of-fact?

>> Uh, it's, it's matter-of-fact,

but he's got this way of writing.

You could film this.

It's amazing, and, and I've been thinking about it,

the guy who should play Revere: Julian Edelman.

You know?

The, Revere is just unbelievable.

>> BOWEN: Patriots player, for people who don't know.

(both laughing)

>> Uh, Revere, uh, his commitment is, is complete.

>> BOWEN: In other words, an historic touchdown.

Next, one of the shows abruptly postponed

amid the coronavirus outbreak

wasLady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

at New Repertory Theatre,

a show about Billie Holiday,

the jazz singer with a turbulent life.

The show's star, Lydia Harrell, recently joined me via Zoom

for a conversation and a performance just for you.

Lydia Harrell, thank you so much for joining us.

We appreciate it.

>> Thank you, so happy to be here.

>> BOWEN: So,Lady Day, a performance--

and hopefully one we'll get to see soon,

presuming that we'll get to be on the other side of this.

But tell me how you find your way into Billie Holiday,

and who, what Billie Holiday do we find at this time,

where she's, she's had a turbulent life?

>> Yeah, um...

Yeah.

(laughing): To say the least, yes.

Um, we're... This is Billie Holiday

at, I believe, age 44, or right before she turned 44.

It's 1959.

She's, yeah, she's gone through a pretty rough time,

and at this point, she's just happy to be performing.

Um, and how did I my, find my way to Billie.

I mean, I just was, I've always been a jazz singer

for the most part.

And so, when I saw this role available to be auditioned for,

I was kind of, like, "Oh, my goodness,

I... I kind of have to do this."

(laughing)

So I was very excited to see that they were

gonna do this show.

>> BOWEN: Well, in terms of jazz,

where is Billie Holiday in the canon?

I mean, who is she in the canon?

>> (exhales): Wow.

Um, that's, that's a really interesting question.

I like that question.

I don't know where she would be, but I do believe that she...

had her own unique style, she had her own timing that was...

I mean, nobody else really did timing quite like her.

Um, she sounded so relaxed,

but also had the tone similar to a trumpet,

which is interesting, because after studying up on her more,

I realized, or found out, that Louis Armstrong

was one of her main influences,

which would make complete sense for trumpet.

She just loved the way he felt,

the feeling which you got from the music,

and she loved the way he played.

So she wanted to match that tone and that feeling

as much as she possibly could.

So I think, I think she did a pretty good job of doing that

without it being, like, mimicking,

and more of just a, "Here's what my style is going to be,"

with that influence.

So I really enjoyed learning about that.

>> BOWEN: Let me just ask you, we are in unprecedented times.

We've seen how hard the coronavirus pandemic

has hit the arts community.

Shows like yours have been postponed or outright canceled.

How are you surviving in this moment?

>> It's...

It's been really... tough.

Um, not, you know, not to, like, sound, you know,

um, sad or anything, you know, sob story, whatever.

But at the same time, it...

You know, I teach at Berklee College of Music.

Um, seeing my students get sent home

was just really a hard thing to see.

Seeing all of my music and theater colleagues

all seeing shows and gigs and things just canceled...

Um, even...

I'm also, I have a...

I have a nice little community of people that I speak to

in the film and TV part of the acting side of things, too.

And everything has taken that hit.

Auditions have been postponed.

Things, you know, theaters canceling.

It's just...

When I, when we heard Broadway shut down,

it was, like, "Wait, what?"

(laughing): You know, just, "Broadway shut down?!"

Like, this is crazy.

What I'm noticing is a lot of people supporting each other,

which I really appreciate.

I love seeing people doing their livestream performances

and, and all the different things to just help...

Just to help support the people that need it the most.

>> BOWEN: Well, you're going to lead us out of this segment

by singing "What A Little Moonlight Can Do."

I think we've all heard the song,

but maybe don't all know what it's about

or what she was telling us there.

What is she telling us?

>> Her version of what moonlight could be,

she was heavily into drugs.

It could have been her drugs and her drinking.

That's her moonlight, made her happy,

made her function.

Being up and singing,

singing for her is everything.

A line that she said many times in the script was,

"Singing is living for me."

So I feel like just that alone

is her moonlight, you know, so...

Also the, the relationships that she had,

all of that brought this...

this personality that she had out,

so I think that's what moonlight is for her.

>> BOWEN: Well, Lydia Harrell,

thank you so much for being with us.

And we'll let you take it away as Billie Holiday

from the upcomingLady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill.

Thank you so much.

>> Thank you.

(piano playing)

♪ Ooh, ooh, ooh

♪ What a little moonlight can do ♪

♪ Ooh, ooh, ooh

♪ What a little moonlight can do to you ♪

♪ You're in love

♪ Your heart's fluttering all day long ♪

♪ You only stutter 'cause your poor tongue ♪

♪ Just will not utter the words ♪

♪ I love you

♪ Ooh, ooh, ooh

♪ What a little moonlight can do ♪

(piano riff plays)

♪ Wait a while

♪ Till a little moonbeam come peepin' through ♪

♪ You'll get so

♪ You can't resist him and all you'll say ♪

♪ When you have kissed him is

♪ Ooh, ooh, ooh

♪ What a little moonlight can do ♪

♪ Ooh, ooh, ooh

♪ What a little moonlight can do ♪

♪ Wait a while

♪ Till a little moonbeam comes peepin' through ♪

♪ You'll get so

♪ You can't resist him and all you'll say ♪

♪ When you have kissed him is ooh ooh ooh ♪

♪ What a little moonlight can do ♪

(holds note)

>> BOWEN:Lady Day's director is Summer L. Williams,

also the co-founder and associate artistic director

of Company One Theatre, which has suddenly had to make

some very difficult decisions.

Summer L. Williams, thank you so much for joining us.

>> I'm happy to be here with you-- thank you.

>> BOWEN: Well, I have no doubt we'll all be back together again

soon, at least, I hope.

But some are... >> I hope so.

>> BOWEN: We just heard a performance

fromLady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill.

And we're in the process of getting that underway.

I mean, tell me what it was like to have that be shut down.

>> Um...

Quite frankly, not surprising,

given what was kind of happening across the country,

um, and the way information was kind of...

rolling out about it.

I got notification that districts were closing schools.

And I just looked at everyone in the room and said,

"I, I don't know what's going to happen going forward,

"but it would be so irresponsible for us to, like,

"not stop what we're doing, and get to the grocery store,

"and get to medications that you might need.

Et cetera, et cetera."

I had no idea that it was going to result in this,

and I unfortunately think there's, like,

still more to come.

Um... but it...

It's really odd to go from doing all the things

to not so much.

>> BOWEN: Well, let me ask you, what...

We see, we saw the sudden mass closure of museums and theaters

and actors suddenly being out of work.

What do you see as being the immediate widespread impact

of all of this?

>> Oh, uh, it...

I think it's going to be devastating.

And I think it's going to be really devastating

if we don't take control of what we can take control of,

and work hard to make sure that institutions don't perish.

We know that there are lots of fantastic orgs

in the commonwealth

that are large, that are well-funded,

and they're going to get hurt, and they're going to feel it,

and they're going to run a deficit.

But that's a deficit for some.

I think for other organizations, it's survival.

That this is a moment of...

If we can't pivot,

if, if we don't have any other options,

I think there are a lot of orgs that are going to go down,

and that's awful for our cultural landscape.

>> BOWEN: Let me just interrupt and ask you

about your own organization, Company One Theatre.

I know you have your season coming up.

Your season's about to launch in the next couple of months.

What's the decision making

that you're having to, to do right now?

>> So, we are looking at the numbers.

Company One Theatre, as you know,

we are at the... we build community

at the intersection of art and social change.

And so, it's really hard to build community

if you can't get folks together.

And so, we've had to postpone our spring show.

We also are contemplating what it might look like

to postpone the majority of our season, our two shows,

and figure out, "Can the following season absorb it?"

Which is a tough conversation,

because, do we take the, the risk

of dramatically slashing our programming

and doing what we can to maintain

paying our staff members, and paying artists, or...

And then risk a great deficit?

Because we're going to be highly dependent on individual givers,

we're going to highly dependent on foundations

to help us continue to do the work that we are doing,

that we have been doing, and that we're known for.

>> BOWEN: Give me a sense of what the landscape is right now.

What has happened to all of the directors, the actors,

the costume designers, the stage management teams,

who've suddenly lost their jobs? >> Mmm.

>> BOWEN: And we don't know

when any shows are going to be starting up again.

>> It couldn't be more frightening.

People are needing to go into their savings,

and that isn't sustainable.

And so often, folks who are working as artists,

and strictly in the sector, or maybe picking up side gigs,

maybe working in the restaurant, service industry,

they're being hit in multiple ways.

It's, it's unprecedented.

And if we don't figure out a way

for the folks who support that local artists' economy--

like, people who are casting local artists in their shows,

who are producing with local playwrights,

who are working with local designers--

if we don't figure out a way to infuse those companies,

those production houses that are doing that work,

with the (audio cuts out),

where are those folks going to turn

when we can kind of rise from this?

>> BOWEN: Do you foresee a possibility

that the arts landscape is going to look entirely different

on the other side of this?

Or, more bluntly, is everyone going to survive this?

>> It's going to shift dramatically.

And it's controversial and hard to hear,

but we cannot only create resources

for larger institutions who may have large endowments,

who may have reserve funding.

I'm talking about figuring out

how we are going to save the small companies

like the Theater Offensive,

who, they're doing very specific work

with queer- and trans-, people of color-centric,

like, that is a crucial, crucial sector

within our arts community.

And there's real potential, if those companies,

if we overlooked,

that we are going to drastically and profoundly shift

what has been a really flourishing, thriving

Boston theater scene and arts community.

And that's dangerous.

It's dangerous for a host of reasons.

>> BOWEN: Let me just end on a positive note,

if we can try to find one.

But in a circumstance like this,

where are you finding art?

How are you, how are you getting the art out?

>> Really making sure that we are de-siloing in such a way

that we make sure that the, the mom-and-pop operations

of the theater community

are really able to not only survive this,

but be able to thrive afterwards.

And so a lot of my energy has been spent thinking about,

what could forward look like if we all were to be resourced?

What could forward look like if we were all dedicated

to building up our local creative economy?

And that's, that gives me hope.

>> BOWEN: Well, Summer L. Williams,

thank you so much for joining us,

and hopefully, things will work themselves out

so that we do get to see the full play

ofLady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill.

>> (laughs): I hope so, too. >> BOWEN: And not just...

Not just the excerpt we saw earlier.

Thank you again so much.

>> Thank you for having us.

And thank you for using your platform to help.

It's really important.

>> BOWEN: My pleasure, thank you again.

Finally now, artist Randi Channel

makes unique porcelain, ball-jointed dolls,

each as distinct as the next.

We meet the Clintonville, Ohio, artist in her studio.

>> I think that there's something

really magical about dolls.

There's a mystery, and there's a potential to tell a story.

I grew up loving dolls.

It was my favorite thing to do, was to dress dolls.

I didn't even act out stories so much with them

as got really involved in, like, building a house

or making clothes

or wiping their face off with nail-polish remover

and trying to paint their face back on.

There are so many differences

between Barbie and, and this type of doll.

They're made from a different material.

They're made from porcelain.

It's a material that requires a lot of patience to work with.

Ball-jointed dolls are...

go back for hundreds and hundreds of years,

but they're not intended for children,

which is I think maybe another reason

people kind of have a hard time, like, understanding,

"Why would you make a doll that's not for a kid?"

That love of a doll never leaves a person.

And I'm not really exactly sure what that is.

Even though I spend so much time making dolls,

I'm constantly asking myself this question,

"What is it that is so special about a doll?"

And I think the idea of replicating the human form

on a small scale

is so compelling for people.

And for me, it's not so much the owning the thing,

because I actually have very few dolls.

It's the making of the thing

and then spending so much time with it

that I really feel like I've imbued it with a sort of spirit.

This is a thigh, and this is a little piece of suede.

So, you just kind of, like, put this inside the joint,

so that when-- or inside the socket--

so that when you put the joint in place,

you have a cushion that protects the porcelain

and helps the doll hold a pose better.

The whole process of making a porcelain, ball-jointed doll

takes an incredible amount of patience.

I do try to give them a character, a personality.

I really like at the bottom of her feet the best.

Um, I feel also like my work kind of straddles the line

between what might be considered a craft

and what might be considered fine art,

because I also love to sew, and I also love to screen print.

And I also love to make a hair, a hair style happen.

I like to make shoes.

She wears a platform shoe, not a high-heel shoe.

Typically, Barbie is on her tiptoes,

and she wears high heels.

However, I, I do avoid a tiptoe foot.

I like a flatter foot.

I like the idea that this doll can stand on her own.

Sometimes I think the reason I make dolls

is because it's an excuse for me to put a lot of time

into paying close attention to a detail.

So, the box takes quite some time to make.

And a thing that is really important, I think,

in the doll-collecting community,

is the box.

The box is part of a ritual called a box opening.

That's a thing that I noticed when I started making dolls.

And I was, like, "Well,

I can't just shove this doll in a shoebox."

And I try to make a box

that is going to make a doll collector very happy to open,

and document the process.

I think about them as a part of myself that comes out

and then is made tangible through porcelain, alpaca hair,

lamb locks, suede, steel springs,

and so many other materials.

>> BOWEN: Before we leave you right now,

I just want to mention that we have set up a list

of all of the funds that have been established

to financially help artists in need right now,

both for those who need it and who want to donate.

You can find that at wgbh.org/news/arts.

And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can follow us online

at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram,

where I've started a daily dose of art nourishment

from my years of museum travels,

and you can follow us on Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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