Reflections on the 2021-2022 Season
The 2021-2022 Wisconsin Union Theater season has been a breath of fresh air as we’ve delightfully welcomed audiences back into our beautiful theater spaces for a wide range of performances, from Vijay Iyer’s jazz concert to Gil Shaham’s classical violin performance. We sat down with Wisconsin Union Theater Director Elizabeth Snodgrass to learn more about this season and what the theater team is planning for the future.
We are currently over halfway through the 2021-2022 season. What have been some highlights so far?
Seeing people in-person again! From student leaders to artists to audiences, every performance has felt like a reunion of sorts, and everyone is so grateful to be in the theater spaces again. It’s also been great to host the artists that were rescheduled from 2020 like Gil Shaham, who was as extraordinary as anticipated.
We kicked off the second half of the season with an innovative collaboration between a percussion quartet, called Third Coast Percussion, and two movement artists from Movement Art Is, which was so unique and exciting. They got a standing ovation and so many people left the performance saying, ‘Wow! That was amazing!’ That is definitely the kind of response we like to see. It was also fun because the performance was in partnership with the Mead Witter School of Music over at the beautiful Hamel Music Center, and the artists did a workshop with the percussion students. It was a great start to the spring 2022 semester.
What are you still looking forward to this season?
Some highlights coming up are the events of the Black Arts Matter Festival, which are just after spring break, from March 23-26. The series is a major production with theater, dance, music, and a poetry slam with some of the top poets from around the country!
And of course, there is the long-anticipated world-famous soprano Renée Fleming, who is going to be here in Madison for three days offering a talk on music and the brain, working with UW-Madison voice students, and performing a full recital. She was supposed to culminate our 100th anniversary season of the beloved Concert Series, and it was crushingly disappointing when we had to reschedule not once but twice due to the pandemic. We just can’t believe she’s finally going to be here!
How has COVID-19 impacted this season compared to the 2020-2021 season?
During the 2020-2021 season, we learned how to operate 100 percent virtually, which was a huge learning curve during a stressful year for everyone experiencing so much loss and grief. The major difference between last year and this year is HOPE. The world has learned a lot about the virus, we’re learning how to live with it safely, we can deliver programming virtually or in-person to meet different people’s needs, artists are able to travel here, and we have a great group of students working with us. That’s absolutely one of the best things about working with college students - they are the face of hope! So there are some really good things happening this year.
We heard your team is growing! Can you tell us a little more about the new people and positions on your team?
Yes! In addition to new student staff, we’ve been able to hire Director of Audience Services Amy Rowland, who handles box office and front-of-house operations after our previous employee left to run his own baking business full-time. And we have hired Artist Services Manager Kate Schwartz, who helps coordinate the endless logistics and execution of our season events. And, we are just about to post a new position — events and financial operations specialist — that will support the financial and rental operations of the Theater. We are thrilled to bring more people into our busy and exciting behind-the-scenes operations.
As you prepare for the 2022-2023 season, what should we be excited about?
Next season, people can expect to see the return of dance and theater as well as more options for saving on tickets with new subscriptions and ticket bundles. We also look forward to enhancing student engagement with the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Performing Arts Committee’s (PAC’s) continuation of its Community Performance Showcases in the Play Circle at Memorial Union, featuring exciting collaborations completely produced by WUD PAC students. And, there will be several educational opportunities for students with our guest artists throughout the season, including a chance to actually perform in the concert with one of the groups.
What are some of the goals for the theater as you wrap up this season and plan for the next one?
We will continue along the path of centering social justice and look at how we are addressing and achieving the goals we set in June 2020; we’ll continue fundraising for the André De Shields Fund (Check out how to donate through the Day of the Badger initiative on April 5.); and we’ll get ready to transition in the new group of student leaders!
Additionally, as we build back towards pre-pandemic levels of activity, we are asking ourselves, ‘What is the most meaningful impact we can have? How might we be more responsive to community needs in our programming? What are our roles as presenter, producer, educator? How many events and what type of events should we be doing to have the impact we want to have? Are we living up to our social justice values and priorities?’
However we answer these questions, it will inform and shape our identity, purpose, and impact on people. We’re not just going to ramp up and do everything the way we used to do it. Because nothing is how it used to be.
Ready to experience a night at the theater? Upcoming events include the Black Arts Matter Festival, George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Renée Fleming.