Students Spotlighted at ARTS, by George!

Posted: September 14, 2009 at 1:05 am, Last Updated: September 11, 2009 at 4:52 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Photo by Evan Cantwell

ARTS, by George! promises an evening like no other. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Coming soon: A night when the halls of Mason’s Performing Arts Building are transformed into showcases for marvelous music, dynamic dance, tempting theater, vibrant visual art and creative cuisine.

These delights will unfold at Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) fourth annual ARTS, by George! – a benefit that supports student scholarships and the Great Performances at Mason series. The event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, at 5 p.m. on the Fairfax Campus.

While ARTS, by George! welcomes arts enthusiasts and supporters from across the country, it is Mason’s students who will dominate the spotlight. Guests will be able to enjoy presentations by students from CVPA’s Schools of Music, Dance and Art; the Theater Department and Computer Game Design; Film and Video Studies and Arts Education programs, in a variety of behind-the-scenes studio environments.

In addition, students from the Arts Management Program will help guide guests throughout the evening.

A Starry Collaboration

Vincent Oppido, a graduate student in the School of Music, began his musical career when he penned his first composition at the age of 14. He earned a BA in music from Mason in 2008.

Noting that a composer’s greatest reward is to have their music performed live, Oppido says he is excited to have the opportunity to showcase his artistic talents at ARTS, by George!

Anthony Maillo and Vinnie Oppido rehearsing. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Anthony Maiello, professor of conducting, and graduate student Vinnie Oppido rehearsing. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Collaborating with Tony Award-winning actor and singer Brian Stokes Mitchell, Oppido helped create an original overture that will include a montage of popular songs from the many Broadway shows in which Stokes has appeared, including “Man of La Mancha,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Ragtime.”

The piece will be performed by the American Festival Pops Orchestra in its debut under the baton of Anthony Maiello, professor of conducting in the School of Music, and will lead into Stokes’ performance.

Planning for the overture began last spring when Oppido traveled to New York to meet with Stokes and work on the piece. Within a few short weeks, the pair had created a three-minute arrangement that would, according to Oppido, set the tone for the evening and get the audience motivated.

When composing any piece, Oppido begins his creative process at the piano with pencil and paper in hand. After developing an idea for the piece in his mind, he sets out to create the harmony and melody sections. The most difficult part of arranging this piece, he says, was taking songs with which people are already familiar and creating one composition that flows together.

“Being able to work with a fantastic musician such as Stokes was an extremely rewarding and inspiring experience,” says Oppido. “He is a very gracious individual and sets an example of how one should act in this business.”

Setting the Stage

As guests navigate their way through the Performing Arts Building sipping on wine and enjoying hors d’oeuvres, they will have the opportunity to enjoy theater with the GMU Players. The GMU Players is a faculty-directed student organization within the Department of Theater that produces seven productions each season.

The GMU Players will be performing a short scene from Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!,” a comedy about a 17-year-old boy’s coming of age in a small Connecticut town on July 4, 1906. According to Howard Kurtz, associate professor and production manager in the Department of Theater, the play written in 1933 was intended to show America at its best and bring people out of the slump caused by the Great Depression.

Serving as assistant director for this year’s production is Carina Czipoth, a senior with a double major in theater and communication. While this will be her first time directing, Czipoth has appeared in five main stage productions during her time at Mason and has been acting since she was 8 years old.

“ARTS, by George! is all about helping the students, and I felt that it was very important that Carina use this opportunity to gain experience directing even though her passion is for acting,” says Kurtz. “As a director, she’ll be able to see how actors carry themselves, which will allow her to become a better actor herself.”

Another interesting aspect of this year’s production at ARTS, by George! is that the play will be performed on a stage with seating on three sides – not the traditional theater setting. To challenge students and audiences who were unfamiliar with a different type of theater space, Kurtz created this stage last semester for the final production of the season and decided to reuse it for the production of “Ah, Wilderness!”

Preparation for the play began over the summer, and auditions were recently held to cast the actors. Although she is used to memorizing a script from one character’s perspective, notes Czipoth, directing has been a learning experience and has required her to understand each character’s point of view.

“As a director, I am really enjoying seeing the production process from another viewpoint and have developed a newfound admiration for a production’s designers,” says Czipoth. “I’m very honored to be able to be a part of this scholarship fund-raiser that allows the community to see what Mason students truly have to offer.”

A Night at the Opera

Just down the hall, the sounds of sopranos and baritones will echo off the walls as students from Mason’s Voice Program perform a variety of famous operatic arias throughout the night.

ARTS, by George! veteran Adrianna Sgarlata will perform at the event for the third year. Sgarlata, who is working on an artist certificate in voice, will perform a portion of an aria she perfected while studying in Italy this past summer.

“I have always enjoyed performing at ARTS, by George! because it give me an opportunity to thank all of those individuals who make the scholarships and opera productions possible,” says Sgarlata. “The event also presents an opportunity to introduce newcomers to the arts at Mason and gets them excited for upcoming events during the year.”

Each student will perform solo pieces and then come together for a group performance of several crowd pleasers, including selections from George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”

For more information about ARTS, by George!, see the web site.

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