For more than 100 years, the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications (CFAC) has entertained and uplifted local audiences not just with its own talented students but also with renowned actors, dancers, and musicians from across the globe.
Each year, the college presents more than 500 fine arts performances. Realizing that such a volume of events is otherwise overwhelming, Jeff Martin, BYU Arts Manager for the CFAC sought to help BYU and local arts communities better connect with all the offerings. Working closely with Ken Crossley, the BYU Arts marketing team, and the CFAC’s many divisions, Martin consolidated all the events into a one-stop fine arts hub, BYU Arts.
Uniting BYU’s fine arts productions in this way has allowed Martin to spotlight and enrich BYU Arts’ offerings.
The new OFF THE MAP series, for instance, will provide BYU and local audiences with a line of performances that show unusual ways of telling stories on stage.
“I went to a few theater performances in January, and realized that here at BYU we practice mostly traditional forms of theater. But we would like our students to be exposed to other practices in the industry,” Martin said.
Martin hopes that seeing new modes of storytelling will help deepen students’ values by seeing the performing arts from new angles.
“Experimental does not always mean that it goes against our values. In my mind, experimental theater is about experimenting with the convention of theater in the way we tell stories,” Martin observed. “It’s going to be a different kind of experience in the theater, but it will be enriching. People will learn a lot, and they’ll enjoy it too.”
In working to present the best professional talent at BYU, Martin travels around the world to secure acclaimed performers. Sometimes it takes years to get a particular artist to come.
“Once I find out who I want for the series, I work with the artist’s manager or the booking agents, and figure out all of the particulars. It can take anywhere from six months to three years to bring someone here to perform.”
Even though schedules may not align for years, visiting performers often find that it was worth the wait. Ken Crossley, a marketing manager for the arts, has worked closely with the visiting performers for over 20 years. He expressed an experience he had with Peter Schickele, a parody music performer with an alternate stage persona, PDQ Bach. After the visit, Schickele wrote to Crossley to praise the school’s program.
“When I received a follow-up letter after the visit saying, ‘You really have something very special there at BYU,’ and he thanked me for the opportunity to perform, that stuck with me,” Crossley said.
As a veteran arts administrator, Martin works closely alongside Crossley. They care deeply that the performers that are presented share audience’s values.
“We’re unique here. The high standards of the university make it so that we don’t bring performances here without being very familiar with material,” Martin said.
Such preparation has regularly paid off. For instance, in September 2013, Audra McDonald wowed audiences with a fun-filled evening of classical Broadway songs and her wonderful sense or humor.
Martin emphasized that while seeing these artists perform is an incredible opportunity, the greatest benefits come when they teach classes or conduct workshops with students.
“I really want students while they are here, at least once, to be able to work with the best in their field,” he said.
According to Martin, learning with master performers is one way that BYU aims to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection,” because it allows them to appreciate more fully the extent to which God will help them develop their talents.
“Students at BYU master an art form and realize that they can do something that they never imagined that they could do,” he explained.
Visit arts.byu.edu to see the 500 performances available through BYU Arts this school year.