With the beginning of the new academic year, schedules and lineups of all kinds are being unveiled. Among them is Kingsbury Hall’s UtahPresents. The self-proclaimed “stewards” of Kingsbury Hall, UtahPresents describes itself on its website as “bringing diverse artistic and cultural experiences to campus.” UtahPresents strives to include productions that showcase powerful messages for the audience to carry beyond the stage. With the upcoming lineup, it seems that diversity is the theme and UtahPresents’ driving factor.
Arguably the most anticipated show from this semester’s lineup is “Taylor Mac: A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (Abridged),” which was brought back by popular demand. For those who aren’t aware of Taylor Mac, whose preferred gender pronoun is “judy,” the performer is a gender-neutral artist, playwright, actor, singer, director and producer. This production, in particular, is told from the perspectives of music groups from years goneby whose stories have been forgotten or buried. According to the show preview on UtahPresents, “the show highlights various musical styles and artistic voices ranging from murder ballads to disco, Walt Whitman to David Bowie and beyond.” Speaking to the diversity notion which is present in UtahPresents’ lineup, Taylor Mac’s show is a perfect — if not fabulous — fit. Judy not only calls attention to the diverse history of music, but also points out the privileges often overlooked in our society.
Katryna Williams, a recent graduate of the Actor Training Program at the University of Utah, had the opportunity to act in the “Taylor Mac” production last year.
“[The show emailed] and asked for all kinds of people — literally all shapes, sizes, colors — all brightly dressed and being free and this immediately spiked my interest,” Williams said, recalling how she came to be a part of the production. “As a plus-sized woman, I have often felt uncomfortable in my own skin, but the opportunity to celebrate my body on stage with a master performer was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Personal experience aside, Williams thinks this show is important for everyone to see — especially in Utah.
“[The show] offers audiences the opportunity and truly requires that one examines one’s own privilege,” she said. “I think this show is really important, particularly in Utah. In a very heteronormative/white state, this show particularly questions one’s own alliance. This show relies on audience interaction and the audience’s ability to reflect on their own experiences whilst paying witness to their fellow audience member’s experiences.”
Another notable show in this year’s lineup is “The Other Mozart: The Untold Story of Mozart’s Prodigy Sister.” This production is the true and untold story of Nannerl Mozart, Amadeus’ sister, who was a composer and keyboard prodigy. She had equal acclaim to her brother’s famous work during her lifetime, but her pieces and story simply faded away over history. With this production, UtahPresents showcases the privilege men have over women despite accomplishing the same feats. It makes viewers question just how many Nannerls we have missed out on.
There are several other extraordinary shows on the lineup that highlight various aspects of diversity, such as “Bassem Youssef: The Joke is Mighter than the Sword.” Youssef is deemed the Jon Stewart of the Arab World and continues to challenge power with humor, which is needed in today’s society. “Bollywood Boulevard” is another production which encapsulates a different culture and showcases some of the best creations from the world’s largest entertainment industry. It is inspired by music from some of the most famous Indian composers like A.R. Rahman, Lata Mangeshkar and R.D. Burman. Another show to consider seeing is “Gina Chavez,” who is a bilingual singer backed by a five-person band.
Diversity, kindness and empathy are some of the most important virtues we have in our society. In today’s political turmoil, it’s easy to lose sight of those. Here in Utah, we are lucky to have a wide array of cultures, cuisines and people. Diversity not only allows us to learn more about others, but to become aware of how our privilege may affect them. UtahPresents is bringing the importance of diversity to campus during the 2018-2019 season — don’t out on miss your chance to experience any of it.