The Guilford Performing Arts Festival (GPAF) has awarded grants to three Connecticut performing artists to create new works and premiere them at the upcoming festival, scheduled for September 21-24, 2023.
Each artist will receive a $2,500 grant and a place of choice on the festival’s main stage. The 2023 festival will once again be centered on the Guilford Green and is expected to feature at least 20 free dance, theater and music performances, as well as workshops, interactive events, masterclasses and children’s activities.
The winners of the festival’s 2022 Artists’ Awards and their proposals are:
Black and Silver Productions, Madison, Drama. A collaboration between Jennifer Munro and Denise Keyes Page, Black and Silver Productions will present Women Tell: Our Firsts, a collection of untold stories told by and about women.
The performance, featuring up to six female storytellers selected and mentored by Munro and Page, will be an evolution of Black and Silver Productions’ Women Tell series in Madison, which has featured women-themed storytelling programs from different decades, starting with the 1920s. Stories told at the 2023 Performing Arts Festival will feature stories of being the first: the first child in a family to attend college, the first to marry outside the culture of the family, the first generation American, the first to go out, to learn a foreign language, to be elected to a government office, to perform surgery, etc.
Munro and Page, professional storytellers themselves, will solicit video submissions from women across the country, and even the world, and choose those to perform at the festival; depending on their location, artists may appear live or via livestream. Some will be professional storytellers, others amateurs coached by Munro and Page to construct captivating and seamless stories and deliver them with presence and impact.
“Denise and I have learned that women crave to hear and tell extraordinary stories about moments in the lives of ordinary women,” Munro said. “We think we’ve struck a chord and realized that this is an area too often overlooked in storytelling and the arts in general.”
Peter Sonenstein, Madison, Drama. Sonenstein, a playwright, will present a staged reading of The End of Empire, a multimedia theatrical experience that tells the story of a tech billionaire struggling to control the impact of his inventions on society. Using live actors complemented by video footage and animation, The End of Empire will examine the outsized impact of technology through the eyes of those who believe they control it, while showcasing the evolution of digital technology – from the invention of the first algorithm in 825 CE to the development of the Internet and the growth of social media and other online platforms that increasingly shape our lives, our society, and the world.
Inspired in part by Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, The End of Empire is about how we’ve come to a place where technology can be anything but out of control and the hope that lies with those who question the infallibility of leading tech gurus and see a bright future in harnessing the power of technology responsibly.
“Technology has reached a scale beyond most people’s comprehension,” says Sonenstein, who supported himself in high school as a computer programmer. “The End of Empire is my way of trying to help people understand something about the world that they may not have known before, and the next time they sit down in front of a computer or pick up their phone, they might have a different perspective on this world they’re interacting with.”
Ilana Zaks, New Haven, Music. Zaks, a classically trained violinist, will create The Sounds of New England, a six-movement work featuring collected sounds and melodies from low-income and under-resourced communities in the North East. The piece will be performed live on solo violin and loop pedal, with composed and improvised music intertwined with music and other sounds from the communities she visits.
Zaks will travel throughout New England, spending time among musical groups, documenting and recording the music of these places and the legacies/cultures from which it emerges. The idea was inspired by the work of Bela Bartok from Hungary and Charles Ives from Connecticut, whose discoveries and incorporation of folk and regional music into their compositions made them some of the most innovative and important composers from the beginning of the 20th century.
Zaks’ intention is to call attention to, uplift and honor some of New England’s poorest communities. “We are more divided than ever as a country,” she says, “With this new work, I hope to raise awareness of poverty lines in New England cities and bring all six states together through music, collected sounds and melodies and improvisation Zaks plans to donate part of her grant to music education programs in the cities and towns she visits.
In three cycles since 2018, the festival has awarded 11 artist awards and a total of $27,500 to Connecticut artists for the creation of new works in music, theater and dance. GPAF President and Chief Executive Peter Hawes said the number of applicants has increased each year, as have the levels of talent and innovation.
“What we love about this year’s winners is that not only are they incredibly talented and imaginative artists, but they want to listen to, explore and tell the stories of different slices of humanity through their art,” Hawes said. “Their work is particularly relevant in the wake of a global pandemic and in the midst of social and political upheaval. Many people revisit their own stories as they try to make sense of their place in the world, their connections to people. others and the cultural and technological forces around us.We hope these artists will show us new perspectives on life and inspire us to reflect on our personal stories, rewrite them where necessary, and share them with others.
The winners were chosen by a panel of 14 festival programmers and independent judges from an array of applicants from across Connecticut, based on artistic merit, originality, innovation, and cultural or social relevance. Artists must use the grant to create or complete a new original work and premiere it at the 2023 festival. GPAF created the Artists’ Awards to support the creativity of Connecticut’s professional artists and to provide a vehicle for the premiere of new works at the festival.