North Bennet Street School, "Hadestown," and more
We visit the North Bennet Street School, an institution renowned for its woodworking instruction, to profile professionals who have made the turn away from their careers and into making. We also speak with Anaïs Mitchell, the creator of the hit Broadway musical, "Hadestown."
>> The pandemic made me think harder about how
our individual decisions affect our community
and the local impact that we have.
>> BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,
the professionals making the pandemic pivot
into being artisans.
Then we go to hell and back with the creator
of the blockbuster Broadway musicalHadestown.
>> The very first version of this show,
I think I booked the venue and put tickets on sale
for this show that didn't exist yet.
Like, I had written maybe a handful of songs
and I just thought this, this will happen. (laughs)
>> BOWEN: Plus, a tour of India is an artful revelation.
>> In this gallery it's about
how Indians are viewing themselves, for themselves.
>> BOWEN: It's all now on Open Studio.
First up, we've all heard about the pandemic pivot,
and many of us are actually taking that 180 degree turn.
Amid this existential moment, the North Bennet Street School,
the first trade school in the nation,
is giving some the opportunity
to trade in their pre-pandemic lives
to heed their artistic calling.
(playing single note)
Before the pandemic, Amin Tabrizi was flying high.
>> I was a what they call first officer or some people
casually they know as copilot.
>> BOWEN: But after the pandemic slowed air travel,
Tabrizi was laid off and turned to something
that had long intrigued him, piano tuning.
>> I used to play piano and I was always interested
in looking inside of this thing,
like, man, all these moving parts.
So that kind of rejuvenated that urge to want to one day do it.
>> It looks like we're off.
>> BOWEN: Pre-pandemic, Madeline Grant Colety
was more than 20 years into her career as an urban planner.
>> Working at kind of a national level
on issues around fair housing and disaster recovery,
as well as affordable housing and community development.
>> So now, if you guys pull your chalk again.
>> BOWEN: Gnawing at her though was the fact that urban planning
isn't the same as hands-on building.
>> Housing and affordable housing
and appropriate shelter is a real passion,
and I felt like I wanted to see
more immediate results in my work.
So I have been contemplating carpentry for a while.
>> BOWEN: So both Grant Colety and Tabrizi
have enrolled here at the North Bennet Street School,
making a pandemic pivot
into becoming artisans.
>> It's not just one or two notes,
there's 88 of these things, so. (chuckles)
So, just taking out one key,
repair it, fix it, and then move on to the next one.
I think it's both problem solving
and takes a lot of patience.
So that's essentially what I'm doing,
discovering things about myself as well. (laughs)
>> I actually have two college-age kids, so, you know,
it's important for me to have a good income
and to make a big transition like this,
I can't do it lightly.
But the pandemic made me think harder
about how our individual decisions affect our community
and the local impact that we have.
>> Every time I approach a student
to talk to them about their work,
they're so excited to tell me about what they're working on.
>> BOWEN: Sarah Turner is the president of the school,
which this year marks the 140th anniversary
of its founding in Boston's North End,
a predominantly Italian neighborhood.
>> It was a place that was first giving skills, life skills,
hand skills, to the waves of immigrants
that were moving to this area of Boston.
>> BOWEN: That philosophy continues today
in nine programs as varied as bookbinding,
and violin crafting.
Studies, Turner says, that are as much about the producing
as the producer.
>> When you work with a hand and you work at a small scale,
your relationship to community changes.
I think you start to know the people
who provide the materials, you know the businesses
that you have to intersect,
you start to know the field, the community of makers
that you're a part of.
>> BOWEN: The 150 full-time students here
range from teenagers
to septuagenarians-- when classes resumed
last fall, Turner noticed that as the world was upended,
students were doubling down
on what had become urgently important.
>> I remember standing on the sidewalk as school was starting.
They were coming to take a real risk.
I mean to come to a hands-on school, still in a pandemic,
is really brave, it's such an act of optimism, I think,
and courage to make a life change any time.
But to make it then just was so inspiring.
>> BOWEN: Just weeks into typically
the students find themselves out in the world.
Madeline Grant Colety has been at work
on a residential project in Haverhill.
>> We were putting up boards siding and, you know,
there are five or six steps involved
and each one has to be just right in order to get that
perfect finished product, so it's...
breaking that down and demystifying it,
is very interesting and more complex than I thought.
>> BOWEN: Do you have doubt about what
you're doing right now? >> Not at all, no.
I feel more like myself,
using my hands and thinking creatively.
>> BOWEN: Which, after graduation,
Grant Colety will channel into
the design firm she's launched.
>> I wanted to really specialize
in kind of small home renovation,
to help design smaller spaces to make them work better,
So for me, that was part of bringing carpentry
and design together with that special focus.
>> BOWEN: Amin Tabrizi expects to fly again,
but also plans to become a piano technician on the side.
After all, there is a thread
between planes and pianos, he says.
>> I would say hands-on coordination,
something we use a lot.
And another thing that we use a lot
in the aviation world is situational awareness.
So it's just essentially anticipating,
okay, I did one part, okay, now what's the next thing?
>> BOWEN: Something he, Grant Colety,
and their fellow North Bennet Street School students
have already answered for themselves.
>> ♪ All aboard ♪
♪ Hey now, Hadestown! ♪
♪ Way down under the ground ♪
>> BOWEN: That's fromHadestown,
one of the biggest musicals to hit Broadway in recent years.
It takes us to the Underworld of King Hades
for a spin on the mythic tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Presented by Broadway in Boston,
Hadestown has just hit Beantown after racking up eight Tonys.
For its creator, Vermont native Anaïïs Mitchell,
the project has consumed much of her life--
about one third of it, to be precise.
>> BOWEN: Anaïïs Mitchell, thank you so much for being with us.
>> Thanks so much for having me.
>> BOWEN: Well, I have been so eager
to talk to you about this show because when I was a kid,
the myth that stuck with me most
from all of the myths that we learned in school
was the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Just to remind people, this is, of course,
what your musical is based upon.
Orpheus, a sweet, dear musical man
who descends into Hades to retrieve his love Eurydice.
Only if he doesn't turn around
and look at her can she return with him.
I'm not sure why it, even all these years later,
I'm not sure why it resonated with me so deeply.
But why did it resonate with you?
>> That's interesting that you say that,
because similarly, for me,
it was one of my favorites as a kid and I,
I remember experiencing it first in, like,
a children's illustrated book of mythology.
And I'm not sort of classically trained in mythology.
I just kind of had a thing for that myth.
And, you know, partly I'm a musician, I'm a songwriter.
And so Orpheus is this kind of hero of songwriters
and musicians, and he is
an artist who believes that if he could just
make something beautiful enough
that he could change the world, you know,
he could change the rules of the world
and the way things are.
I think every artist has that feeling once in a while.
It just was sort of the story that kept on giving,
you know, because I did work on this show for many, many years
and it seemed like it kept on reverberating in different ways.
It's not only a story about Orpheus and Eurydice,
but also you can't tell their story
without speaking about Hades, the king of the underworld,
and his wife, Persephone, the queen of the seasons.
So it just felt like there was always
more to mine in that myth.
>> ♪ Living it, living it up! ♪
♪ Just enough to feel like us ♪
>> BOWEN: You worked on this for about a third of your life,
and for people who don't know, it was,
it was the music you conceived and performed,
and then an album, and then off-Broadway,
then on Broadway and now touring.
You're reopening the the Opera House here in Boston,
Broadway in Boston after a year and a half of closure.
It's great to have a New Englander reopening
this particular opera house. (laughs)
But what was it that
gave it the staying power for you, this project?
>> It began in the state of Vermont,
which is where I am now,
and where I, in my early 20s, where I was living.
It was a DIY community theater project.
Then I made a studio album of the music with guest singers.
That was the whole era
where the piece kind of lived in the music world
as an audio document.
And then I began to work with Rachel Chavkin in New York
on developing it, and that was many years' process also.
And I think, you know, the material kept giving,
that's one thing, and also the people--
the people who were involved in it.
>> BOWEN: Did you have the sense that there was something greater
that you were working on here?
>> Yeah, for sure, that, that's a good way of saying it.
You know, it always has felt like it's bigger than me
and any of us who worked on it.
>> ♪ Who do you think you are? Who are you? ♪
>> Sometimes it felt like,
what's that thing of the carving of the David
where it's, like, the sculpture was already in the stone,
and you had to just find your way to it?
And I think there was so many discoveries along the way
that felt like, you know, maybe it was a costume choice
or an orchestration choice, or a choreographic choice,
that felt like, oh, there's the,
that's the sculpture in the stone.
Like, it was there waiting for us.
>> BOWEN: I was wondering, given...
knowing how much of the time
the development of the music happened in Vermont,
how much this is a product of Vermont,
which is a very unique and, you know,
as somebody who loves that state,
I think it's a very special place.
You know, I sometimes wonder,
because I lived in New York for seven years,
but in my early 20s, I was living here in Vermont,
and there's a way in which if I'd been in New York,
I'm not sure this ever could have happened,
partly because I would have been too intimidated
by the scene in New York. (laughs)
And also the earliest version of this show was
a bunch of friends coming together to make it happen.
It was really, it was a DIY community theater experience,
and people were game enough or,
you know, trusting enough
to just jump on the train wherever it was heading.
And that's sort of what was required.
The confidence is kind of, like, staggering.
But at the time,
I think I had to create an occasion to rise to.
>> BOWEN: That's interesting that you would,
despite the success you have now, the Tonys, the acclaim,
a show that's running all over the place,
you have less confidence than you did then, do you think?
>> Yeah, well, you know,
there's that early 20s confidence, right?
I think that the Orpheus myth is a lot about that,
because Orpheus is this sort of not-of-this-world,
you know, eccentric artist character.
He's in his own world,
and he has a vision of the way things could be.
But he also, he has sort of a hard time
living in the world that is, you know?
And he's got that, like, Wile E. Coyote running off the,
running off the cliff and then, like,
is able to keep running on thin air until he looks down,
and then he falls, and I think there is
that experience when you're in your early 20s
of you haven't looked down yet, you know what I mean?
The world hasn't knocked you around.
>> BOWEN: Yeah. >> And so you're able to achieve
things that are, like... and yet,
I think this sort of part of the tragedy of the Orpheus character
is that he does this impossible thing.
He goes to the underworld where no mortal, you know,
alive person is allowed to go, and he almost succeeds,
but now he's seen too much to actually follow through.
>> BOWEN: Speaking of seeing,
and I know you get asked this all the time,
people talk about you being a soothsayer of sorts
because of how resonant they feel
this piece is for our times.
I saw it two years ago,
when we were in the midst of talking about a border wall.
And, of course, you have your song that deals with a wall.
But as you remind people, you wrote this so long ago,
so as you look back at what you, do you think
that you anticipated the world
we were to be in as you wrote this piece?
>> I think when I first wrote that song,
it was one of these magical songs
that sort of appeared fully formed.
It wasn't one that I labored over a lot.
>> ♪ And we build a wall to keep us free ♪
♪ That's why we build a wall ♪
♪ We build a wall to keep us free ♪
>> But at the time I was,
I was thinking about climate change
and just sort of parts of the world becoming less inhabitable,
unhabitable, and those folks looking for higher ground,
and how scary that might be for people
that are in a place of relative wealth and security,
and who, in that circumstance,
isn't going to want to be behind a wall of some kind.
You know, it sort of was just, uh...
But I think it's, um... it's an archetype.
It's one of those symbols that
will withstand, you know, the ages.
>> BOWEN: Well, Anaïïs Mitchell, thank you so much.
It's such a pleasure to speak with you.
>> Likewise, thanks so much for having me.
>> BOWEN: A night at the opera featuring three
of the greatest minds working today tops Arts This Week.
>> Let my people go.
>> BOWEN: Monday marks 65 years since the release of
The Ten Commandments.
The epic biblical drama starring Charlton Heston was filmed
on location in Egypt and was the highest grossing film of 1956.
The Cambridge Art Association presentsBlue 2021,
an all-new exhibition by local Massachusetts artists
inspired by the color blue.
It opens Tuesday.
Visit Jordan Hall
Wednesday forAcross Continents,
a program blending classical composers like Tchaikovsky
with non-European sounds from China
and the Black American musical tradition.
It's performed by the N.E.C. Symphony.
Friday is the world premiere ofIphigenia,
a contemporary operatic work inspired by the Greek myth
of the same name,
composed by Grammy-award-winning musicians Wayne Shorter
and Esperanza Spalding
with set design by famed architect Frank Gehry.
Join the Society of Arts and Crafts Saturday
for CraftBoston Holiday Online,
an annual showcase of juried items all handmade by artisans.
Next, the Peabody Essex Museum has one of the largest
and most extraordinary collections of 20th century
Indian art outside India.
And a new permanent installation at the museum takes us
inside the country, its people, and its struggles.
We're taking another look at a story we first brought you
The first of the Peabody Essex Museum's new
South Asian Art galleries just doesn't feel right.
There are low, oppressive ceilings,
and stereotypes and tropes abound.
>> I want people to walk through the galleries
and ask that question of, you know, when we repeatedly see
images of people and cultures that are different from us,
and they're repeatedly shown in a particular way,
how does that change the way we see others
who are different from us?
How do they foster prejudice?
>> BOWEN: Most of this work was produced in the 19th century,
while India was under British occupation,
when Indians were as much an object of classification
as they were of interest,
from photo albums that portray Indian people
almost as specimens, to sculpture which both enchants
and troubles Siddhartha Shah,
the museum's South Asian Art curator.
>> I see so much beauty in this figure.
He's so realistic and lifelike.
But over the period that he's been here,
he's been painted darker and darker over the years.
He's been made more and more other.
>> BOWEN: But move on from here into galleries that reveal
a renaissance of Indian art spanning the latter half
of the 20th century, and it's...
>> A real contrast, a big explosion.
Whereas in the 19th century,
it's how outsiders are viewing India and its people,
but in this gallery it's about
how Indians are viewing themselves, for themselves.
>> BOWEN: Tell me about the installation.
>> I wanted it to be overwhelming at times
because India is overwhelming.
India is a very, very overwhelming place,
with moments of solitude and contemplation.
>> BOWEN: As you might have gleaned already,
Shah approached these galleries
with both a curator's clinical eye,
and with a deep sense of personal history.
>> People are often surprised that I am...
you know I went to Johns Hopkins for my undergrad,
and so then people assume that I am a physician.
I'm not a physician, I've never taken biology.
I'm also not an engineer,
I don't actually understand anything about engineering.
>> BOWEN: What he understands acutely, though,
and as we see here, is how Indian artists responded
to the events and consequences of 1947.
That's when the British left India
and a lawyer who had never even been to the country
divided the region into the Islamic nation of Pakistan
and the secular nation of India.
It came to be called Partition.
>> The line he drew went through communities, split up families.
Millions of people were displaced,
and millions of people died.
In India, I mean it was both a moment of celebration
and a moment of deep trauma.
The birth of the nation was a very bloody birth.
The image behind me, by Tyeb Mehta,
is the visualization of that.
You see that line dividing the canvas, and it's both the line
across the subcontinent as well as the suffering of limbs--
I mean, tremendous violence.
>> BOWEN: This collection comes from Chester and Davida Herwitz,
a Worcester, Massachusetts, couple who became so enamored
with Indian artists in the 1970s,
they collected thousands of pieces.
It was a time when few inside or outside India
were paying attention to the arts scene,
but when it was electrifying.
>> There were amazing teachers.
The art schools in India were thriving in the '50s and '60s.
>> BOWEN: One of India's most famous 20th century artists,
M.F. Husain, painted these works,
part of a 29-part series based on theMahabharata,
an ancient poem of 1.8 million words.
We're literally standing in the middle of an epic right now.
>> The climax is a war, a very, very intense battle
between two factions of the same family,
where nobody, even the victors, don't really win.
There's loss on all sides.
And so it actually made for a great metaphor for Partition.
>> BOWEN: But where there is carnage,
there is also quiet contemplation
as the galleries slip into spirituality.
>> India is known for yoga, meditation, contemplation.
So I have these moments where people are seeing that aspect
of our culture.
Where some people have emphasized the differences
of the various religions in India, others have emphasized
the universality of them.
>> BOWEN: Which is the essence of the story,
as we see in these galleries and in this art,
presented by a curator who knows it chapter and verse.
>> For me this was really personal.
And what I wanted to just show
is that India is not a monolith.
We are complex beings, just like everybody else is complex.
>> BOWEN: For 40 years, eco-feminist artist Mira Lehr
has been rendering abstract artworks that reflect on nature.
In her painting, sculpture, and in video,
she laments what's happened to our planet,
although she frames her work in hope.
>> The beauty is very important to me,
but I have to take the bloom off the rose.
I'm Mira Lehr, I'm an artist.
All of my work has burning of some kind in it.
And I think it does reflect both sides of creation--
creation and destruction.
And that's what nature is all about.
It's always related to the environment.
I always drew when I was a little kid,
I never really knew I would be a professional artist.
As I grew older,
I decided I was going to study art history in college.
I was so lucky because at the time I graduated,
the abstract expressionists were holding forth in New York
and it was a major movement.
So I was right in the middle of this really wonderful scene.
So from then on, I did art,
and I was not really into the environment as much
in the beginning.
I just did nature, a lot of nature studies,
but eventually I heard of Buckminster Fuller,
a man who was very much about the planet.
And I saw an opportunity
to work with him in 1969.
I went to New York and I worked with him
on something called The World Game.
And that was about how to make the world work
in the most efficient way
and doing more with less.
So, from then on, I was hooked.
I'm feeling two urgencies.
One, I'm getting older.
That's an urgency.
You know, how many years do I have left?
And the other urgency is how many years
does the planet have left?
So we've converged.
Every day I get up raring to go.
The Orlando exhibit,
it was calledHigh Water Mark,
because that's where we're at
and that's where they felt my career was at.
So that show had very, very large sculptures of mangroves.
And you could walk through the mangroves
and feel you were encased in the roots, the root system.
There's something about being
enclosed in the space
that makes the viewer much more attentive
to what's happening.
And so I watched people walking through the mangroves
and they were all moved by it.
So that's really the first time I've done that kind of
I love doing it.
It's a big... the smaller I get, and the older I get,
the bigger the work becomes
(chuckling): it seems to me.
And so now I'm back in the studio,
and I'm turning to something I'm callingPlanetary Visions,
because I'm doing images of earth masses.
I've also added writing,
which some of it is from Bucky Fuller
about the planet.
Some of it is just poetry about nature.
I've always felt abstraction is the highest form.
Even though I like...
I like representation, but to me abstraction gets the essence...
the essence of everything.
And you can take it and go on with it.
And it's more spiritual to me.
I think like Cézanne at the end of his life,
his paintings became kind of dissolved in light,
like light entities.
At the end of Rembrandt's life also,
his work became less literal and more also dissolved in light.
So light is very important.
And that to me is the height of it.
If you have a light entity in your work,
I think it's profound and meaningful.
The light on the big sculpture.
Yeah, those are special lights that grow curls
in the laboratory.
And the, the sculpture is the shape of a wave,
and it's mesmerizing.
You know, if the world pulls apart
and people are concerned just with their
little everyday existence,
I don't see a great future.
But I'm hoping there's still time.
The clock is definitely ticking.
And I'm not a politician.
And I'm not a scientist.
The way I can express it is through my art.
And that's what I'm trying to do
along with having a wonderful experience making it.
>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, the outdoor museum that has transformed
a Salem neighborhood.
>> This is an example of what could be if we took
a lot of the investment in the arts
and put it in community organizations
who are already working in
neighborhoods like The Point around the country.
>> BOWEN: And artist Katherine Bradford--
as a painter, she's a people person.
>> I started out as an abstract painter using shapes,
and I realized that I could make those into people.
>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen,
thanks for joining us.
As always, you can visit us online at GBH.org/OpenStudio.
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
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