Understanding the Performing Arts Rubik’s Cube

The ‘Musco Center Presents’ series brings in guest artists, like Micaela Taylor, for education on the Chapman campus. Photo courtesy of the Musco Center.

Where do you start solving the puzzle of creating a relevant performance season? 

Dean Giulio Ongaro from the College of Performing Arts calls the process “a gigantic Rubik’s Cube on steroids.”

Ongaro oversees the season selection and creative decisions for both the Musco Center for the Arts, which usually sees big names on its equally big stage, as well as Waltmar Theater, which is located on the south side of campus and often hosts productions from the theater department.

The Musco Center’s fundamental goal is to create an environment for students to perform and work in a world-class venue. The center also claims itself as a place where “the surrounding community experiences spectacular performances and productions from some of the world’s finest practitioners, on a grand scale.”

Macy Meinhardt, a junior former dance major, said she “felt honored to be performing on a stage with such state-of-the-art equipment freshman year.”

Musco Center season selection decisions are assembled by the leadership of Ongaro and the center’s Executive Director, Richard T. Bryant.

“Musco programming depends on many things: budget, availability of artists, schedule and calendar, ability to support and enhance the academic side of things for CoPA and for the whole university,” said Ongaro.

The Musco Center for the Arts presents various events from many groups on campus. Photo courtesy of Chapman University.

Musco Center events range anywhere from its own “Musco Center Presents”guest artist series to many College of the Performing Arts (CoPA) performances to University Program Board (UPB) events, aiming for the lineup to appeal to students and the surrounding community.

Through artists like Micaela Taylor, Kishi Bashi, and others presenting masterclasses and workshops, most of the Musco Center’s own programming aims to educate the Chapman community at large about diversity.  

Sometimes these big names can cost an arm and a broken leg, though.

Although UPB and CoPA events typically have a discount for Chapman students, those put on by Musco have a high price tag, ranging anywhere from $30 to $50.

Katie Palino, a junior theatre major, said that the center doesn’t feel like it belongs in a college environment.

“The Musco Center looks and feels like a smaller version of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts,” said Palino.

The CoPA productions in the Waltmar Theater, by contrast, have a mostly predetermined yet educationally centered lineup.

Student pricing for these shows ranges from $10 to $15.

The Waltmar Theater is the main presenting house for the College of Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of Chapman University.

The Department of Dance hosts four main concerts — Fall Faculty Dance, Works in Progress, Concert Intime, and Spring Dance. Each show, except Fall Faculty Dance, showcases pieces choreographed by students. 

The Department of Music utilizes a similar slot method, but repertory decisions are primarily at the instructors’ discretion due to the close tie to the student coursework. 

A minor exception is the opera productions because “you need to have discussions between the opera director and the conductor of the orchestra,” said Ongaro. “They have to collaborate… to pick a repertory that ‘fits’ the voices we have, so we are doing the right thing by our students.”

The Department of Theatre has a season selection committee composed of both faculty and students deciding the shows for the following year. The committee balances the goals of offering socially relevant pieces, academically parallel material, and practically possible projects. 

The final two theatre productions of the season include “Native Gardens” and “Zanna Don’t!” as well as the annual student-directed “One-Acts.” 

Similar to Chapman, California State University, Fullerton College of the Arts’ line-up includes established plays and musicals (like “The Spongebob Musical” and “The Wolves”) contrasted with devised and student-created work like “Within Reach.” Prices start as low as $14.

Despite many southern California colleges having fully returned to in-person programming, other colleges like the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at University of California, Irvine have opted to interleave live and devised programming with showcases of work created over the pandemic. Prices start at $19.

With a mission of bringing in world-class talent for a community of Chapman students, high-priced donors,  and the surrounding community, it seems these prices are here to stay at the Musco Center in anticipation of drawing big names like John Leguizamo and Chloe Arnold in the spring.

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Blake Huntley is a junior studying theatre technology and visual journalism. He also works as a freelance lighting designer all around Orange County.