A behind-the-scenes peek at STG’s Performing Arts Series
Meet Jack McLarnan—STG's Manager of Performing Arts Programs! In the interview below, Jack shares more about his work curating our 2022/2023 Performing Arts Series—a mix of dynamic dance, music and theater. Featured groups include Dance Theatre of Harlem with a program led by Black-women-artists, a performance rooted in Indigenous Mexican life and death practices by Las Cafeteras, the Grammy-winning Soweto Gospel Choir of South Africa, Pink Martini, Seattle Rock Orchestra, Yamato Drummers of Japan, Indigenous Enterprise dance troupe, and much more.
STG's Performing Arts Series always includes an eclectic mix of art forms and traditions deriving from both Western culture, and cultures of the Global Majority. Additionally, artists of color are represented prominently throughout the series. Why is representation so important to STG?
My number-one priority is always getting art from great artists—and art of this caliber comes from many different communities. I'm not really doing my job as a curator if I'm not casting a wide net. There's also a moral imperative to have diversity on our stages. Everyone deserves to see themselves, and to see stories that reflect their community, onstage. Art is part of the struggle for social justice and racial equity, and I embrace that. I also think audiences from all walks of life want cross-cultural experiences. So it just makes sense.
How does STG help to commission new works through its Performing Arts Series? What new work can we expect to see this season?
There are two ways we support new work. One is through being a regular touring partner—building long-term relationships with artists so they can begin to count on us, and count on Seattle as a stop on their tour. (Many artists rely on touring for the bulk of their income). The second, perhaps more intentional, way we support new work is by commissioning. This is when a presenter, or a group of presenters, gives artists money up-front to support a new work with no expectation of a financial return. It's an investment in both the show, and in the arts ecosystem. This is important because it helps ensure that artists can make work. Making new work is very time-consuming and requires space, all kinds of resources, and expert collaborators who need to be compensated.
There's not a hefty public infrastructure for funding art in the United States, so it's important for presenters like STG to step up and help ensure the pipeline of great new work for the future. It also strengthens and deepens our relationships with the artists, which is really important.
This season, our big commission is from our longtime partner Dance Theatre of Harlem, it's called Sounds of Hazel: The Hazel Scott Ballet. We're excited to be a commissioner. Hazel Scott is a really interesting historical figure who remains relatively unknown. She was an African American woman, a classical pianist, a jazz pianist, an actor, an entertainer, a political activist and talk show host in the 40s and 50s in New York City. I am so excited to bring some attention to Scott's story, in addition to looking forward to a new piece from DTH.
Can you briefly talk about your pathway in the arts? What advice do you have for someone who is interested in following a similar career trajectory?
My background and formal training is as a visual artist and as a musician, and that's how I really got started. If we wanted to play a concert or show our artwork, we would just get together and do it. So all my early experiences as an arts organizer came from just a desire to get my work, and the work of my friends and colleagues, out there. It took a while before it even occurred to me that arts administration was a viable career path.
Eventually, my interest in music led me to move to Chicago, where I got an unpaid internship at a museum while I was waiting tables full-time, and everything kind of built from there. My advice to a young person who's interested in this kind of work is to just get right to it. Don't get hung up on getting a specialized degree necessarily in arts management—study whatever is interesting to you, and whatever you're passionate about. Don't wait to get a job, don't wait to get a degree, get out there, and build your practice—build your network!
Get your peers together, and organize something. Curate an evening at a bar or start your own record label and put out mixtapes of the people you know—anything like that—just do it. Don't wait to know how to do it, just do it! Collaborate as much as possible. Get as close to the work as you possibly can. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Don't be afraid of things you don't know how to do. And then finally, I'd say be kind. Show up on time and do what you say you're going to do. Don't be afraid to talk on the telephone, be patient and see everything as a learning opportunity.
What have you learned about Seattle and Seattle audiences during your time at STG?
I've learned that there is no one Seattle audience. There's no monolithic group. People are into everything in Seattle, from super popular entertainment to obscure arts stuff. There's a lot of interest in podcasts, video games, comedy, Broadway shows and more. If you put good stuff out there, people will probably come. People have an appetite for great art and great entertainment in Seattle.
Why is your work meaningful to you?
Art is one of the most important and enduring human pursuits. It's one of the only endeavors that makes total sense to me on like, an existential level. It's a higher level of communication, and it's part of our shared humanity. It's meaningful to me because I'm helping support artists and execute their vision. I'm helping audiences get to a place where they're having an emotional response, or even just a great night of entertainment to get a respite from the stress of everyday life.
What makes STG's offerings unique in the region?
We offer an unprecedented mix of popular entertainment, arts, education and community engagement programs, and boundary-pushing contemporary art. That's not just unique in the Pacific Northwest, it's unique in the United States.
I know you are looking forward to the entire Performing Arts Series—you programmed it! But give us a taste of some of the works that you're particularly excited about.
It's hard to pick favorites, but I'm very excited about having Dance Theatre of Harlem back with this great new piece. I am also really excited for Kidd Pivot, and the show Revisor—which is just incredible. Lastly, I am very excited about the Seattle debut of Indigenous Enterprise.
Talk about the mix of music that people will experience this year.
It's pretty diverse. We have everything from contemporary Latinx folk rock from East Los Angles (Las Cafeteras) to this great Balkan folk music. We have this super eclectic orchestra (Pink Martini), a bluegrass super-group (Marshall/Meyer/Meyer/Sutton), and incredible contemporary jazz (Bill Frisell + Ambrose Akinmusire). So it's all over the place. But I'd say it's all art-music, and it's all folk music in some way to me.
What's one offering in the series that audiences shouldn't overlook?
I'd like to highlight Manual Cinema, which takes a very interesting, multidisciplinary approach to theatre and storytelling. They started out as essentially a shadow-puppet theatre company. In some ways, that's still at the core of what they do. But the company has grown into this multi-dimensional act: There's live camera work happening onstage. There's live sound design happening onstage. There's an original score being performed live onstage. And there's live actors—some wearing facial prosthetics to create silhouettes. There's overhead projectors making shadow-puppet scenes. It is just incredible what they're doing; it's so unique. This telling of the Frankenstein story is like nothing else. It's not to be missed!
Kidd Pivot is one of the acts this year. Some Seattleites may not realize that they are already fans of this choreographer's work thanks to Pacific Northwest Ballet. Can you expand on the significance of Crystal Pite's work?
I want to push back on that a little bit, actually, because we've had four big nights of Kidd Pivot previously. I think both Kidd Pivot and Crystal Pite as a choreographer have a pretty strong fan base here in Seattle. Crystal is a genius. She's one of the most sought-after choreographers out there and it's been interesting to see the impact that her very cool, powerful work has had on companies like Pacific Northwest Ballet. And with Kidd Pivot, you get to see her singular vision—it's her full-time company. Kidd Pivot is both theatrical, and "dancey." It's super innovative storytelling through dance. I mean, it's historic.
The Performing Arts Series takes place in historic theatres (the Paramount and Moore). In your opinion, why is stewarding these historic spaces so important?
It's important because history and beauty have intrinsic value. Shared history is part of how we build community, and also, how we bond with one another. Theaters are places of ritual. So, there is something intangible about the energy of time, knowing that all of these incredible artists for the last 100 years have been performing in these spaces. There's power in knowing that if we do our job well, that could be true again in 100 years from now. If these spaces disappear, there's no getting them back.
For more information about STG's Performing Arts Series, please visit stgpresents.org/season