Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E16 | FULL EPISODE

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."

AIRED: November 05, 2021 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

>> 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,

furniture making,

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

nine-month-long programs,

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.

>> Absolutely.

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

in February.

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.

It's uncomfortable.

>> 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

large-scale sculpture.

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,

@OpenStudioGBH.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

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