Musers & Performers

“Musings” is a time of thoughtful inspiration and introspection built into the heart of the busy Academy schedule each day. All participants assemble to think about the role of the arts in education and in life.

At each Musings session, an individual who is significantly involved in the arts acts as a muse and leads the group in examining the richness and depth that the arts add to the lives of all people. Well-known Musers who have led these sessions include Broadway composers Charles Strouse (Annie), Marvin Hamlisch (A Chorus Line), and Henry Krieger (Dreamgirls); concert pianist Lorin Hollander; lyricists Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof), Dean Pitchford (Fame), and Joe DiPietro (Memphis); designer Patricia Zipprodt (My Fair Lady); authors Wilma Dykeman and Will D. Campbell; theatre critic John Simon; conductors Michael Stern, Isaiah Jackson, Giancarlo Guerrero and Robert Bernhardt; educator Graham Down; Emmy and Tony award-winning actress Cherry Jones; Shakespearean directors Adrian Hall and Tina Packer; Hollywood composers Richard Sherman (Mary Poppins) and George S. Clinton (Austin Powers); visual artists Dorothy Gillespie, Charles Brindley, Dolph Smith, Alan Lequire, Harold Gregor, and Sylvia Hyman; Broadway director Scott Ellis (1776) and Richard Maltby, Jr. (Fosse); poet Nikki Giovanni; stage combat director David Leong (Carousel); filmmaker Jay Russell (My Dog Skip); Broadway musical theatre stars Marin Mazzie (Ragtime), Jason Danieley (The Full Monty), Rebecca Luker, (The Secret Garden) and Aaron Lazar (The Light in the Piazza); television writer and producer Marc Cherry (Golden Girls, Desperate Housewives); author, composer, and lyricist Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and many others.

Please check back regularly for updates and information about the 2017 Tennessee Arts Academy.

Christine Brewer

Monday, July 10, 2017

1:20 PM

Grammy Award-winning American soprano Christine Brewer’s appearances in opera, concert, and recital are marked by her own unique timbre, at once warm and brilliant, combined with a vibrant personality and emotional honesty reminiscent of the great sopranos of the past. Named one of the top twenty sopranos of all time by BBC Music, her range, golden tone, boundless power, and control make her a favorite of the stage and a highly sought-after recording artist—one who is “in her prime and sounding glorious,” writes Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times.


On the opera stage, Brewer is highly regarded for her striking portrayal of the title role in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, which she has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, Opéra de Lyon, Théatre du Chatelet, Santa Fe Opera, English National Opera, and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Attracting glowing reviews with each role, she has performed Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at San Francisco Opera, Gluck’s Alceste with Santa Fe Opera, the Dyer’s Wife in Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten at Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Paris Opera, and Lady Billows in Britten’s Albert Herring at Santa Fe Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. She created the role of Sister Aloysius in the world premiere of Doug Cuomo’s opera Doubt with the Minnesota Opera in 2013—a role that was performed by Meryl Streep in the film version of the story. Brewer reprised the role in August 2016 with the Union Avenue Opera in St. Louis.


Brewer has worked with many of today’s most notable conductors, including Sir Colin Davis, David Robertson, Christoph von Dohnányi, Sir Charles Mackerras, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, Antonio Pappano, and Sir Simon Rattle.

Brewer’s discography includes more than twenty-five recordings. Her latest recording, Divine Redeemer, on Naxos contains selections with concert organist Paul Jacobs.


On April 29, 2015, Christine Brewer joined 140 other notable celebrities who received a bronze star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.


Last season, Brewer performed Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem with the Kansas City Symphony and Michael Stern. The work was performed in recital at McKendree University and Concord Trinity United Methodist Church, and in concert with the Holiday Brass Ensemble in St. Louis and the Masterworks Chorale and Children’s Chorus in Belleville, Illinois.

During the 2015 to 2016 season, Brewer toured with organist Paul Jacobs for concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the San Francisco Symphony, Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival, Spivey Hall, and St. Louis Cathedral Concerts. She appeared in the Morgan Library in New York City with the George London Foundation and performed Alban Berg’s Altenberg Lieder with the St. Louis Symphony and David Robertson.


Brewer continues her work with sixth graders in Marissa, Illinois, in a program called Opera-tunities, which is now in its thirteenth year. She also works with voice students at Webster University in St. Louis, where she led a weeklong residency in February 2016 on African-American composers. The residency culminated in a recital with the students and Ms. Brewer.

Bob Mankoff

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

1:20 PM

Cartoon and humor editor for Esquire magazine and former New Yorker cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, believes that “being funny is being awake,” and has successfully kept us all wide-awake for forty years. A student of humor and creativity, Mankoff has devoted his life to discovering just what makes us laugh and seeks every outlet to do so—from developing The New Yorker’s web presence to integrating it with algorithms and artificial intelligence.


Joining Esquire in April 2017, Mankoff is reviving the magazine’s legacy of satire and humor in a newly appointed role, in which he will edit humor pieces, provide story ideas, and even draft his own cartoons. While fostering in a new generation of humorists and cartoonists, Mankoff brings his distinctive wit and flair to the most-honored monthly magazine in America.


During his twenty years as cartoon editor for The New Yorker, Mankoff pored over literally thousands of submissions—analyzing, critiquing, and selecting each cartoon. Through this process, he mentored cartoonists, new and old, towards the laughs readers expect. In 2005, he helped start The New Yorker cartoon caption contest. Faced with the task of vetting 5,000 reader submissions a week and more than 2.5 million entries to date, Mankoff partnered with Microsoft and Google Deep Mind to develop algorithms to help cull the funniest captions.


Mankoff’s career started, unexpectedly, when he quit a Ph.D program in experimental psychology at the City University of New York in 1974. Shortly thereafter, he began submitting cartoons to The New Yorker. Three years and more than 2,000 cartoons later, he finally made it into the magazine and has since published more than 950 cartoons. His story and day-to-day at the magazine were the focus of the 2015 HBO documentary Very Semi-Serious


Mankoff’s memoir, How About Never—Is Never Good For You?: My Life In Cartoons, was published in 2014 and became a New York Times bestseller. The Washington Post said, “Mankoff's deep understanding of humor, both its power and its practice, is the live wire that crackles through his book.”


Mankoff continues to submit cartoons to The New Yorker while curating its Cartoon Bank, the world’s most successful cartoon licensing platform. He is also continuing work on his forthcoming book The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons. In addition to appearances on 60 Minutes and Charlie Rose, Mankoff was the host of The New Yorker web series The Cartoon Lounge.

Christopher Durang

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

1:20 PM

Christopher Durang is one of America’s most prolific and celebrated playwrights. His play Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike won the 2013 Tony Award for best play in addition to the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Outer Circle Critics Award, and the Drama Desk Award. He received Obie Awards for his plays Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, and Betty’s Summer Vacation. Durang was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in drama for Miss Witherspoon and received a nomination for a Tony Award for best book of a musical for A History of the American Film. In 2010, he was presented with the very first Luminary Award from the New York Innovative Theatre Awards for his work off-off-Broadway. Durang won the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for Master American Dramatist in 2012. That same year, he was also inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

Other works by Durang include Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge; the musical Adrift in Macao, with music by Peter Melnick and book and lyrics by Durang; Beyond Therapy; Baby with the Bathwater; The Nature and Purpose of the Universe; Titanic; The Idiots Karamazov, co-authored by Albert Innaurato and featuring Meryl Streep; Laughing Wild; ‘Dentity Crisis; The Actor’s Nightmare; The Vietnamization of New Jersey; Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them; and Naomi in the Living Room.

Durang is also a performer; he acted with E. Katherine Kerr in the New York premiere of Laughing Wild and with Jean Smart in the play’s Los Angeles production. He shared an acting ensemble Obie for The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Durang has performed his crackpot cabaret Chris Durang and Dawne with John Augustine and Sherry Anderson at the Criterion Center, Caroline’s Comedy Club, Williamstown Summer Cabaret, and the Triad. The show received a Bistro Award in 1996.

In the early 1980s, Durang and Sigourney Weaver co-wrote and performed together in their acclaimed Brecht-Weill parody, Das Lusitania Songspiel, and were both nominated for Drama Desk awards for best performer in a musical.

In 1993, Durang sang at the Manhattan Theatre Club with Julie Andrews in the five-person, off-Broadway Sondheim revue Putting it Together. He also played a singing congressman in the Encores’ presentation of Call Me Madam with Tyne Daly at City Center.

In movies, he has appeared in The Secret of My Success, Mr. North, The Butcher’s Wife, Housesitter, and The Cowboy Way, among others.

Durang has been awarded numerous fellowships and high profile grants including a Guggenheim, a Rockefeller, the CBS Playwriting Fellowship, and the Lecomte du Nouy Foundation grant. In 1995, he won the prestigious three-year Lila Wallace Readers Digest Writers Award; as part of his grant, he ran a writing workshop for adult children of alcoholics. In 2000, he won the Madge Evans and Sidney Kingsley Playwriting Award.

Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Durang has degrees from Harvard College and the Yale School of Drama. From 1994 to 2016, he and Marsha Norman were co-chairs of the Playwriting Program at Juilliard. He is a current member of the Dramatist Guild’s Council.

Bryce Pinkham

Thursday, July 13, 2017

1:15 PM

Bryce Pinkham is a Grammy and Tony nominated American stage and screen actor. He is perhaps best known for originating the role of Monty Navarro in the Broadway production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The performance earned him a Grammy Award nomination as well as a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Pinkham played this role on Broadway for more than 700 performances, and the show was named Best Musical of 2014. Pinkham went on to star in the Broadway revival of The Heidi Chronicles as Peter Patrone, for which he was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award, as well as the Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance in 2015. In the fall of 2016, he returned to Broadway leading the cast of Roundabout Theater and Universal Pictures’ Holiday Inn, performing in the role originally played by Bing Crosby in the classic 1942 movie. Pinkham also originated roles in Ghost the Musical and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on Broadway.


His upcoming film and television appearances include a regular series role in the second season of Mercy Street as well as performances in the Robert DeNiro comedy The Comedian and Baz Lurman’s Netflix drama, The Get Down. Previously, Pinkham has appeared on The Good Wife, Person of Interest, and the PBS miniseries God in America. In 2012,Pinkham was awarded the prestigious Leonore Annenberg Fellowship, which is given to “a limited number of exceptionally talented young dancers, musicians, actors and visual artists as they complete their training and begin their professional life.”


In 2012, Pinkham and fellow actor Lucas Caleb Rooney co-founded Zara Aina, a non-profit organization devoted to helping at-risk children expand their capacity for achievement through theatrical performance and storytelling. Rooney and Pinkham regularly travel to Madagascar to help empower at-risk students through theatrical story-telling techniques and performance and to provide them with much-needed medical and educational assistance. Pinkham also performs regularly with the theatre company Outside the Wire, which takes performances of Greek tragedy to American-military audiences around the world to foster discussion about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and soldier suicide.

Pinkham is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and Boston College.

The appearance of Bryce Pinkham throughout the Academy week is made possible by a generous gift from Pat and Thane Smith.