Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S10 E8 | FULL EPISODE

Potter Roberto Lugo, "Hurricane Diane," and more

Potter Roberto Lugo and his exhibition at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire, Hurricane Diane at the Huntington Theatre Company. Another look at artist’s Sonya Clark exhibit at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, M Ensemble Company in Miami, and images of “Billboard Hope” in John Elliot Square in Roxbury featuring images by 13 artists, including Ekua Holmes.

AIRED: September 10, 2021 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> The hope is that when people see themselves

reflected in the narrative of a person of color,

they grow closer to that.

>> JARED BOWEN: I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

we meet the village potter.

Then, indoor live theater is back.

>> One little piece of a living planet!

>> While the themes are really heavy

and serious and current,

it is through a hilarious lens,

which feels special and necessary

in this moment that we're living in.

>> BOWEN: And artist Sonya Clark introduces us

to the flag we should know.

>> My thought was, what would this nation be like

if that was the image of the Civil War that had endured?

>> BOWEN: Plus, rare stories

rarely seen and performed on stage.

>> Plays that people never heard of,

stories that they never heard of.

These are our stories, these are our words.

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

♪ ♪♪

First up, we pay a visit to the village potter.

That would be Roberto Lugo,

a man who puts family, tradition, and icons

like Harriet Tubman at the center of his work,

all making him a ceramics star.

In mugs and plates and urns

at the Currier Museum of Art in New Hampshire,

we find the porcelain DNA of artist Roberto Lugo.

>> In this exhibition, I have images of protests,

of historical figures like Angela Davis

and Black Thought, and people that have really

inspired me to, to make me who I am.

And I couldn't be that without those people.

>> BOWEN: This show, as the title explains,

is the ceramicist bringing us his joy

in a career literally shaped around culture,

his own roots in graffiti, and his love of family.

>> Here's my mother with her granddaughter

teaching her how to make pasteles,

which is a Puerto Rican dish.

And then there's an image of a family in the '60s,

which is my family, my grandma with the bouffant

and, you know, getting ready for church.

And in some ways I think this,

this table is, is like a self-portrait.

>> He's thinking about his culture, you know,

where he comes from, people that influence him.

>> BOWEN: Contemporary art curator Samantha Cataldo

says she's drawn to how Lugo takes centuries

of prized porcelain tradition from Europe and Asia,

only to upend it with his story.

>> Using this historic form of pottery--

porcelain, especially-- which traditionally

would have kings and queens

and very much within a Western and white narrative,

to put someone like Harriet Tubman,

or himself, or the rapper Missy Elliott

onto a piece of pottery

is really making a statement like,

"I belong here, my culture belongs here."

>> BOWEN: What do you make of how open he is

and how much autobiography there is in his work?

>> Yeah, Roberto's work is very vulnerable.

>> BOWEN: So was Lugo himself,

when, as a young art student of Puerto Rican descent,

he was bluntly told he didn't fit in.

>> I feel judged exhaustively, and, you know,

that's one of the things that drove me

to make the work I did, because when I was in a class

and there's a photograph of me, and someone just says,

"This looks like a Mexican gangster," you know?

And it was this, like, moment where,

you know, I'm sitting there making pottery,

I'm, like, "No matter what I make,

"this is how people are going to see me

if I'm involved in the work."

And so I started making work to counteract that.

>> BOWEN: Which has meant depicting life

the way he sees it, including teatime--

for Lugo, a very foreign concept.

>> When I took my first pottery class,

I'd never drunk tea from a teapot, you know?

And so, I see all these students around me

making teapots and making teacups.

And I'm thinking to myself, like,

"How much tea do these people drink?"

You know? And I didn't understand it.

I'm not sure if people realize that, like,

when a person of color that grows up where I did,

when I'm having tea,

there's all these things that come into my mind.

And it can't just be about tea, because of my experiences.

You know, so, like, I'll look at certain shapes

and it will remind me of other things.

Like, when I look at a spout, I also think of a gun trigger,

because the ghetto that I grew up in.

>> BOWEN: The artist's singular vision has

landed him in museum collections.

He's been awarded the prestigious Rome Prize,

and he's collaborated with celebrities

and fans like actor Seth Rogen.

But Lugo is most mindful of his roots.

He can often be found working with his

and other communities-- giving away work,

teaching kids, and working with veterans.

And he has a name for it.

>> It's sort of this idea that I'm the village potter.

>> BOWEN: Because Lugo wants to be a connector--

of people and art.

He asked the Currier Museum to place his work

atop or alongside its own historic pieces.

His urn featuring Bob Marley

rests on an 18th-century table.

>> People can see that all these things

can coincide and be beautiful.

And that's really the hope,

is that when people see themselves reflected

in the narrative of a person of color,

then they, they grow closer to that, you know?

>> BOWEN: Much the same way Lugo found himself connected

to this painting in the Currier's collection.

It's by white folk artist Grandma Moses

and reminds him of his parents' upbringing in Puerto Rico.

>> I think there's this, like, sense of displacement

I've always felt as a Puerto Rican growing up

and always hearing about my parents

and, um, you know, the farm life.

These kind of paintings, like, almost transport you there,

where you feel like you're comfortable

however you are there, you know, like, working on the farm.

And I just love that about these pieces.

>> BOWEN: It's a shared experience for the artist,

who's learned it takes a village to be the potter.

♪ ♪♪

>> Doesn't it smell incredible out there?

So fragrant. >> I hate it.

>> Oh, Carol...

>> I hate how it smells, I hate how it looks.

I'm sorry, I hate it, I hate it so much.

>> You have to admit, honey,

it's not exactly the Garden of Eden.

>> I know it's a little outside the box,

but this is how permaculture is supposed to look.

>> It looks like the side of Route 95 in Secaucus.

(laughter)

>> BOWEN: That's a scene fromHurricane Diane,

the Obie-Award-winning play that imagines

the Greek god Dionysus reincarnated

as a lesbian landscaper in New Jersey.

Her goal is to reverse climate change

by getting housewives in the Garden State

to let their shrubbery run wild.

I recently spoke with its director, Jenny Koons,

and Huntington Theatre Company managing director

Michael Maso about the comedy,

which is the theater's first production

to open in a year and a half.

Jenny Koons, Michael Maso,

from the Huntington Theatre Company,

thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you for having us.

>> Great to be here.

>> BOWEN: So, Jenny, I will start with you because,

as we just saw in the little introductory clip,

it's funny, we all need a lot of laughs.

We don't need a laugh,

we all need a lot of laughs right now.

So as you tell us what this show is,

how rich is the comedy in it?

>> I mean,Hurricane Diane is really a rare treat.

It is an ensemble comedy that imagines

the Greek god Dionysus coming back to Earth

to save us from ourselves and from climate change.

And while the themes are really heavy

and serious and current, it is through a hilarious lens,

which feels special and necessary

in this moment that we're living in.

>> If, if I don't step in now, the glaciers are gonna melt

and the permafrost is gonna thaw.

And fast-forward 100 years,

and there won't be a single human left

on the planet to worship me.

And that's not gonna work for me, okay?

>> BOWEN: Can you give us a little refresher about

that particular myth and what we need to know going in?

>> Absolutely, so the god Dionysus was

the god of agriculture and wine and enjoyment

and a connection with the Earth.

And so Madeleine George imagines that god coming back

to help us think of a new relationship

to the planet we live on.

>> BOWEN: And let me get this...

Like, I read through the script, and so,

she comes in the guise of Diane, "a butch charm factory."

(laughs)

That's a very enticing encapsulation.

>> Yes, it's quite a character description.

It's, you know, embodying both

appreciation of the world and the Earth and the ground,

and through a figure that we might recognize

in the world we live in today.

>> BOWEN: Well, Michael, you're here with us on

the business side of things, so tell us, first of all...

We'll start with the good news,

what it's like to be reopened after

538 days of closure, which was just so horrific.

>> Yeah, it's pretty extraordinary.

I mean, even the first day, Jenny can tell you,

that first day in the rehearsal hall was very moving

for all of us who had the privilege of being there,

and certainly, you know, having this cast come together

and start the process, that is what we're about.

We're not about, you know, paying bills,

although we pay our bills.

We're about bringing people together to see works of art,

to, to have this experience, to learn,

the way this very smart and funny play does.

And so it's very moving, and people have responded

and people are really pleased to be back in the theater.

>> I know people can get weird when you

come out to them as a demi-god,

so I'm not going to ride in guns a-blazing, full Greek.

My plan is to slide in on the DL,

and hit 'em with the landscaping design angle.

And then, when I'm all the way in,

pull out the stops! (laughter)

>> BOWEN: How different is the theater experience going to be,

knowing that we're still in this pandemic,

knowing that there are the concerns about

the delta variant out there, and yet we are--

and I know we'll be doing it safely,

because we all want to see theater,

we want to experience it and have it go on

as long as possible, safely.

So how different is it from what we knew in the before times?

>> Well, what's different is simply the care

we're all taking to keep everybody safe.

So, you know, we are asking audiences to be vaccinated.

We are asking audiences to stay masked.

By the way, people have asked the question,

"Are the actors masked?"

No, they're not.

>> BOWEN: Michael, where did you and how did you

land on vaccination status?

Again, keeping in mind that in New York, Broadway,

which I think a lot of people are paying attention to,

has demanded, as well, that you show proof of vaccination

except for religious or medical exemption.

>> I think, and it's the same thing for us.

Of course, if somebody needs an exemption,

you can take a COVID test

in advance of coming to the theater and show up

with proof of a negative test.

But our, our inclination and, and our decision

comes down on the side of safety to the most extreme.

And it is what's happening in Chicago, in New York,

in Los Angeles, and here in Boston,

in a growing chorus of organizations

that have just said, "Let's just make sure

"we can be as safe as possible

and protect this art form that we love."

>> BOWEN: How do you think theater

is going to survive this?

I ask this mindful of New Repertory Theatre here

in, in the Greater Boston area, it's a major theater.

It cannot open a season this year

and it may end up closing, because it just doesn't

have the funds to be able to launch going forward,

given the losses it suffered during the pandemic.

Are we only at the beginning

of seeing more stories like that?

Or, or do you have a sense that if people

have made it through this far,

maybe they can still make it through?

>> I have more hope.

The response to the pandemic by the federal government

has resulted in the greatest, um,

coalition of support mechanisms

for the American theater and for the performing arts

since the Federal Theater Project in the '30s.

I think what it really needs is the audience to come back.

That's the, that's the missing element.

And if our audiences come back, we will be healthy,

and we will continue to produce plays

for, I think, you know, for generations.

>> Most recently, I've been living outside

of Burlington, Vermont.

I have my own landscaping business up there,

with a focus on sustainability and small-scale permaculture.

(laughter) And I've been happy.

Vermont is a (muted) paradise.

Great hiking trails, curbside compost collection...

(laughter)

>> BOWEN: So, Jenny, I mean, this is hilarious,

that Diane comes from Vermont to basically be

with these housewives in New Jersey

and tries to spin them on the wonders of, of actual gardening

and paying attention to the Earth.

However, I, no sooner did I finish reading,

and the recent climate change report came out.

But, but this is a great entry point into that.

I mean, how do you see this play as being

more resonant than ever?

>> Absolutely.

At the heart of the play, I feel like, is

this question that Madeleine is asking

about what it will take for us to change our ways.

The climate report that you brought up feels like

we are grappling with enormous questions,

and it often can feel like,

"I don't even know how to start to think about that question."

So what I love about this play and stories like Madeleine's

is that it offers you, as you said, a way in,

through comedy, through humor,

through characters that you recognize on stage.

>> He likes me in natural prints.

(laughter)

>> That's a natural print?

>> It's animal. >> What animal is that, Pammy?

>> It's leopard. >> It's ice blue!

>> It's snow leopard. >> Girls...

>> I feel like laughter, especially in this moment,

is such an opportunity to open us up.

And again, to feel that, as you said, Michael,

that feeling of laughing in a crowded room--

that I miss.

Netflix can't do that for me. (Bowen chuckles)

>> BOWEN: Michael, I'll just end with you, and

this is in the smaller space that the Huntington operates,

because your big space, the Huntington Theatre itself,

is undergoing renovations-- for people who may have missed

what's been going on during the pandemic.

Where does the new, robust, glitzy,

if I might call it that, theater stand?

>> We are eight months into renovation

of the historic Huntington Theatre.

And we are going to have a restoration

of the gorgeous architecture of the original theater,

but it will be surrounded with a modern infrastructure,

with much more comfortable seating,

lighting, we will have better bathrooms,

and we're gonna be opening up

our beautifully restored theater

in the fall of 2022.

>> BOWEN: All right, well, Michael Maso and Jenny Koons,

thank you so much and congratulations

on getting us all back safely

inside of the theater, we're loving this.

>> Thank you. >> Thank you so much.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: There's more theater to see

and two more museums reopen in Arts This Week.

♪ ♪

At last, the doors to the Harvard Art Museums

have reopened!

Sunday, seeStates of Play to chart the artistic process

and evolution of Rembrandt, Picasso, and other printmakers.

The museum is now free on Sundays, with reservations.

Visit the McMullen Museum of Art Monday

to see an exhibition of more than 140 pieces

from Cuban Modernist painter Mariano Rodríguez.

Because of his ties to the Cuban Revolution,

many of his works have never been seen before in the U.S.

>> ♪ Wop bop a loo bop, a lop bom bom ♪

>> BOWEN: Little Richard recorded his hit song

"Tutti Frutti" 66 years ago Tuesday,

ushering in a combination of R&B, gospel,

and boogie woogie that would eventually be known

as rock and roll.

Check out Gloucester Stage Company's production

ofReparations Wednesday.

The play centers on a white book editor

who must confront her past when a Black writer

threatens to reveal a dark secret about her

after they spend a night together.

Next, we move to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

That's where you'll find artist Sonya Clark,

winner of the museum's prestigious Rappaport Prize,

in a deep interrogation of the Confederate battle flag.

This is the last weekend to see the show,

so we take another look at the story

we first brought you in April.

Unfurled as a monumental sea of off-white

filling much of this gallery space

is a Confederate flag of truce.

Or, as the title of this exhibition explains,

The Flag We Should Know.

>> I want everyone to know what this flag is

so we can conceive of what "truce" really means.

>> BOWEN: History has largely forgotten

this simple white flag, actually a towel,

used by Confederate troops to signal a truce

during General Robert E. Lee's surrender in 1865.

The original is now housed

at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

That's where artist and Amherst College professor of art

Sonya Clark discovered it during a visit in 2010.

>> And I have to tell you, I was, like,

"How come I've never seen this thing before?"

And that question is why there is the show

that you're in right now. (laughs)

>> BOWEN: Haunting this show is a flag that's not seen here--

the Confederate battle flag, that, unlike the truce flag,

survived to become a ubiquitous emblem in this country.

As Clark documents,

it adorns all manner of merchandise

from baby onesies to nipple pasties.

>> My thought was, what would this nation be like

if that was the image of the Civil War that had endured,

that something was surrendered?

But instead, we have the Confederate battle flag

in our consciousness, yeah.

>> BOWEN: Deeply so.

When Clark and a curatorial team

assembled this show in Philadelphia two years ago,

they sought out red paint to pop

in the exhibition's otherwise neutral palette.

>> Because the Confederate flag of truce has these

three minimal red stripes on it, I said, "Well,

that's the color we'll use."

>> BOWEN: The Benjamin Moore sample

they inadvertently selected? - ...was Confederate Red.

That paint chip color, Confederate Red,

lived between two other paint chip colors.

One was called Raspberry Truffle,

and the other was called Cherry Wine.

In between these two confections

is a color that is about insurrection,

about enemies of the states, about people who wanted

to keep Black and brown people enslaved.

>> BOWEN: Clark has interrogated the legacy

of the Confederate battle flag both intellectually

and physically.

In her pieceReversals,

she used a dishcloth featuring the Confederate flag

to remove dust covering a section

of the Declaration of Independence preamble.

And inUnraveling,

she collaborated with audience members

to literally deconstruct the flag

thread by thread--

a metaphor for the glacial pace of dismantling racism.

>> I think when people see the Confederate battle flag

being paraded through the U.S. Capitol,

Sonya's work offers some tools to process,

what does that incredibly complicated image mean for us?

>> BOWEN: The deCordova's Sam Adams

oversaw both this installation

and the companion show Heavenly Bound.

InConstellation, Clark delivers us into a night sky,

honoring the guidance it provided enslaved people

escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

>> We're thinking about people whose stories

were incredible, they're full of bravery

and they're inspiring and deeply important

to the foundation of the country.

But they're not recorded.

>> BOWEN: However, their history may live in the artist's hair.

Here, Clark offers a white sky dotted with black stars

created from her own head.

>> If you pluck a hair, in that hair

is this genetic code

for all the people who have come before you.

So your hair is both singular, like, it's the hair that I grow,

but it's also absolutely collective.

>> BOWEN: Clark is mindful of the "we" throughout her work.

She wants museum patrons to become pollinators,

taking her ideas with them as they leave--

but not before participating.

>> All the way to the other side,

just give it a nice push through.

>> BOWEN: Visitors here are invited to help make truce flags

on looms in the gallery.

>> And then you'll send it through again.

Take it out, let your foot off the lever.

Bring the beater down.

Pull it tight, back up.

And then the next pedal.

It's important that we all participate

in this collective work of healing,

of racial and social justice.

>> BOWEN: And how does weaving do that?

>> So we do that on a symbolic level by...

Every single visitor who participates

will contribute to a collective truce flag.

>> BOWEN: With some deft pedal work,

precise shuttling, and maneuvering,

the visitor weaves their own self

into the show-- imperfections and all.

Are you mindful that people will leave their interaction

with your work or leave a museum exhibition different?

>> Maybe they leave

with a question, which actually is more powerful,

I think, than an answer.

Because a question is...

Is an invitation to keep thinking.

That's actually how the artwork grows and lives beyond me.

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: M Ensemble is the oldest theater company in Miami,

and the longest-running African American theater company

in the state of Florida.

Their legacy brings the works of established

and new playwrights to life.

>> She gave me her recipe.

(laughter)

>> My name is Shirley Richardson, and I am co-founder

and executive director of M Ensemble Company.

♪ ♪

We are the oldest,

not just African American theater company,

but the oldest theater company here in Miami-Dade County.

♪ ♪

M Ensemble Company started in 1971.

That's a long, long story. (laughs)

Under the direction and founder, the late T.G. Cooper.

And he decided to come

to the University of Miami and pick up his master's degree.

And while he was there,

he had to do a project called Purlie Victorious,

and he needed, uh, a Black cast and a white cast.

Unfortunately, there weren't many Black students on campus

at the University of Miami during that time.

I think there were about three of us.

So he recruited the three of us.

T.G. left, but before he left,

he left some money and he left a staff in place.

And we maintained that relationship with him,

you know, till his passing.

We are here now at the Sandrell Rivers Theater,

after being bounced around from one place to another.

I can't even tell you how many places we've been.

There've been so many, you know,

trying to keep up the legacy.

>> (singing)

>> Being in this space,

it allows the company to show the, the audience

the technical aspects.

Because in many places

that we've been in, we have not been able

to really see it like we really want to see it, you know?

When we did Kings of Harlem, we had...

All these seats were out

and they were, could form into a basketball stadium.

The space was set up, you know,

to give you that ambience, you know, being back in that time

in this old stadium where,

um, the first basketball, Black basketball team played

and the story behind all of that.

But the biggest impact is that

the presentations that we bring to the stage

is the plays, is the playwrights, you know?

The play, plays that people never heard of,

stories that they never heard of.

These are the stories, these are our stories,

these are our words, and so that's important.

>> (talking indistinctly)

>> It's a lot of work, but, you know, it's the passion

that keep us going.

And hopefully when it's time to pass that torch,

we will be able to identify those people

who has that same kind of passion,

and willing to make the sacrifices to keep it going.

You know, we're 50 years old now.

So, that is a legacy,

and we are an institution.

>> (singing)

♪ ♪

>> BOWEN: Finally now, we leave you

with images of billboard hope in Roxbury.

There, arts lover Dayenne Walters came up with the idea,

and her own money,

to lease a billboard in John Eliot Square.

She's featuring a full year of images by 13 artists,

including Ekua Holmes.

Again, the key there is that Dayenne Walters

took it upon herself to fill her neighborhood with art.

She is a trailblazer.

Well, that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, we tour what some are calling

the art show of the year anywhere.

A group of Titian paintings reunited for the first time

in more than 400 years at the Gardner Museum.

>> Titian was the celebrity painter of Europe.

He painted for popes.

He painted for princes.

He was the personal painter to the Holy Roman Emperor.

Everybody who was anybody wanted a Titian.

>> BOWEN: And we speak with comedian Jacqueline Novak

about her one-woman show that has many women, and men,

thinking about, well, how we relate.

>> There is a sex act at the center of my show called

Get on your Knees, which has many meanings

and doesn't, you know, necessarily imply

anything specific,

but could also be considered relevant to,

you know, adult listeners.

>> 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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