We’re Not Tarheels, We’re Pickles – Keep NCSA NCSA!!

Dont let them change NCSA’s name!

Sign the petition at http://www.ipetition.com/petition/NCSAname/

or write to: proposednamechange@ncarts.edu

I am fortunate to be a member of a privileged few – those lucky enough to have been a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Composer Vittorio Giannini was on the faculty at Juilliard during the time I was beginning my studies at the Preparatory Division*(see below) of The Juilliard School. In 1963 he left Juilliard (and his other positions at Manhattan School of Music and elsewhere) to become the founding president of a new institution, the North Carolina School of the Arts (NCSA)

NCSA was a product of the North Carolinian golden age under the leadership of Governor Terry Sanford. Brainchild of Governor Sanford and historical fiction novelist John Ehle, it was established to be "the professional training, as distinguished from the liberal arts instruction, of talented students in the fields of music, drama, the dance and allied performing arts, at both the high school and college levels of instruction, with emphasis placed upon performance of the arts, and not upon academic studies of the arts."

For three years, until his untimely death in 1966, Giannini shaped NCSA into a model performing arts training school. Composer Robert Ward replaced Giannini, and continued to shape NCSA through its first decade.

I came to NCSA in 1973, just in time to be selected to work with Duncan Noble as stage manager for the NCSA Tenth Anniversary Celebration. (I’m convinced to this day that this was like a fraternity rite – "let’s give the little punk from New York City something to knock the chip off his shoulder.")

The training I received at NCSA was just what I had been looking for. I had looked into the programs at Carnegie Mellon, CalArts, and the newly opened SUNY Purchase. Surely the more cosmopolitan setting of Pittsburgh for Carnegie-Mellon, or SUNY Purchase’s close proximity to the great white way would prove more attractive. Then I had somehow been reminded (perhaps by my Mother) of that school off in the boondocks that Giannini had left Juilliard to found.  My interview visit to Winston Salem and NCSA was all it took to convince me that NCSA was the right place. Here was a truly "professional training school." The hands-on learning opportunities available were far in excess of those available elsewhere to freshman and sophomores.

NCSA was indeed unique. In some ways, especially socially, it was a rather bewildering experience for this shy, piano-playing, bookish science nerd from NYC. However, the education and experience were exemplary. The required cross-training (acting and dance class for techies among them) as well as a breadth of training in the technical theatre arts required by the School of Design and Production (I never did get the hang of costuming but I did try) have stood me well in my professional life. Even now, when I have left my 25 theatre career for a second career in Jewish Education, the things I learned at NCSA, the teachers who taught me, and the friends I made continue to be a part of my everyday life and work.

(My NCSA skills are always with me. Whether it’s entertainment at a CAJE Conference, a Purim Shpiel, or the Jewish Folk Arts Festival where I managed the entertainment, the techie inside me still gets it chance to shine. Twice, in the last four years, the local Jewish community here in the DC Metro area has produced a mass-choral extravanganza at the beautiful new Strathmore Music Center. To whom did they turn to try and figure out the logistics of getting 500 people on and off stage, and to serve as liason with the tech staff. Yep, the NCSA alum among them, me. And unlike the many other local community groups that come to utilize Strathmore, the PM and tech staff don’t go running off to hide, and roll their eyes when they know I’m their contact.)

In the 80s and 90s, when I was managing performing arts facilities, I knew that the touring shows coming through with NCSA alumni on their staff would be smoother experiences. Through my activities in the United State Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), an organization I was introduced to and first joined while at NCSA, I could always sense the awareness of NCSA’s professional reputation. When the School of Filmmaking was added, almost 20 years after I was a freshman, I knew that this reputation would only grow bigger.

I am always amazed at the many graduates of NCSA, whether dancer, musician, singer, actor, techie, designer, visual artist, whose names appear in show and film credits, and who have won awards. I am also amazed at the number of my fellow alumni who are still hard at work doing what they learned to do at NCSA.

A while back, NCSA’s current president sent out a note that they were considering changing the name to make NCSA’s connection as a constituent part of the University of North Carolina system. The proposed new names was "The University of North School of the Arts." Initially, while I found the idea distasteful, I was somewhat resigned to the idea that, given the "way things are today" in politics and academia, I suppose this was an inevitable change.

However, given a chance to reflect upon it, I came to the conclusion that such a change would be more than cosmetic, and could potentially change the very nature of NCSA. Given NCSA’s stellar record, particularly because of its uniqueness, name recognition is important.

Make no mistake – From its inception, NCSA was part of the  University of North Carolina system. Hard to forget that when the daughter of the President of of UNC, William Friday, was a student. I am certain that the good citizens of North Carolina have been, and remain keenly aware of NCSA’s place as a unique opportunity within the UNC system. I recall touring about parts of North Carolina, showcasing the school to students.

Below are excerpts of an email I wrote  in response to the solicitation of reactions to the proposed name change:

I have come to conclude that changing the name of NCSA by adding the "U" in front  has the potential for changing the character of the institution that has so lovingly and successfully empowered over 4 decades performing and visual artists, can pose potential negatives for student recruiting, and is also disrespectful to the alumni of the school…

The founders of the school choose carefully and wisely in both location and name, creating a school that was at once both unique and recognizable, yet a source of pride to the people of North Carolina. I recall with great satisfaction and fond remembrance being part of the NCSA Showcase that went on the road to different corners of the state. While we  might have thought of ourselves as that "neurotic crazy students asylum" the good people of North Carolina that we encountered on the road appeared to be pleased that such a specialized education was available to their children. There was no doubt in their minds that we were part of the educational services available to them through the auspices of the UNC system-they didn’t need a "U" to tell them that. It was equally clear that they were intrigued by the uniqueness of this particular component of those offerings, and saw it as an alternative for those children who were passionate and serious about the performing and visual arts…

In the three decades I have been away from North Carolina, I doubt that NCSA’s reputation and renown has decreased, so why the sudden push to change the name? I don’t believe the good citizens of North Carolina are any more confused about the fact that NCSA is part of the University system than they were in the 70s. I think it does the citizens a disservice to assume that they don’t know this, and that they need this "special reminder."

As to those from out-of-state, I can only wonder if they can be so easily convinced to apply  to the finest performing and visual arts school in the country – a place where the individual and unique passions of students can be realized – if the first perception they have is that it is just another cog in the machinery of a huge university system.

While I haven’t yet made a reunion, I had the opportunity to visit the campus two summers ago. Even during that time, without the hubbub of student life all around, the passion was palpably present – the ghosts haunting older, now unused spaces which were new during my time at NCSA, and the spirits now occupying the new spaces. There may have been physical changes, but the school felt the same. I think the name change could destroy that.

I urge the Board to seriously reconsider its decision to support the name change."

While at NCSA, I was a recipient of a scholarship in Vittorio Giannini’s name. I want to see the vision carried on under the same good name that it started.

If you are an NCSA alum, or just someone who believes that the name should remain the same, please Sign the petition at http://www.ipetition.com/petition/NCSAname/

or write to: proposednamechange@ncarts.edu


Adrian A. Durlester
Design & Production, Class of 1977

*-Juilliard’s initial program for students in grades K-12 was indeed the "Preparatory Division" and not the "Pre-College Division" as it is now known. Sadly, Lincoln Center insisted that Juilliard abandon the "Preparatory Division" as a condition of Juilliard becoming part of Lincoln Center because it could have the appearance of being amateurish or sub-professional. Juilliard President Peter Menin resurrected the division as the "Pre-College Division" in the new building at Lincoln Center, but, sadly, not before a large number of promising students and faculty had been left behind. (For me, this was a fortuitous happenstance. The Manhattan School of Music took over the old Juilliard Building on Claremont Avenue. MSM Preparatory Division’s, in my opinion, vastly superior approach, proved to be foundational in establishing my initial career and approach to it. Fortunately, as well, my beloved piano teacher, Princess Elena Powstuck-Wolkonsky made the switch to Manhattan. In addition, MSM introduced me to three people who become mentors for me: Cynthia Auerbach (z"l), Jerry Sherk, and M.M. Streicher.

After 8 years of studying piano, solfege and participating in choirs, MSM’s Preparatory Division introduced me to a whole new world, especially through its annual Preparatory Division opera production. I wasn’t particularly eager to be on stage, or in the orchestra pit, so technical production was all that was left. Somehow, I found myself not just a stagehand, but an "assistant stage manager" which was, for all practical purposes, a jack of all trades. I learned an incredible array of technical crafts including building scenery, lighting, props, scenic painting, rigging, and, of course, the fine art of stage management.


About migdalorguy

Jewish Educator & Musician, Technology Nerd and all around nice Renaissance guy
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One Response to We’re Not Tarheels, We’re Pickles – Keep NCSA NCSA!!

  1. Unknown says:

    The Kudzu Gazette (NCSA\’s student newspaper) has an article on the subject: http://http://www.kudzugazette.com/article.php?subaction=showfull&id=1208759639&archive=&start_from=&ucat=4,8

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