A sensational smash hit

Celebration of the Arts has become a campus tradition and community favorite.

Performers take a bow following a musical number from Beauty and the Beast.
Costumes provided by the Wick family were front and center in this year’s Celebration of the Arts.

Celebration of the Arts made its triumphant return April 27 to a sold-out Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University. From the pre-show festivities to the main stage show, the event wowed the audience.

“It was over-the-top, fantastic,” said Dr. Katrina Carter-Tellison, executive producer and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Adding luster to this year’s main show were two additions: music director Bruce Linser and exquisite costumes provided by the Wick family, owners of Costume World and The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum.

“Their costumes took us to an entirely new level,” said Carrie Simpson, creative director and associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. She should know. Simpson has nurtured Celebration from its first fledgling production with nine student performers to today’s campus-wide phenomenon showcasing 100 performers and involving hundreds of participants.

Her key collaborator is husband, fellow faculty member, actor, director and theater technician Adam Simpson. He and his team of students in the Wold scenery shop transform Carrie’s ideas from penciled sketches to the magnificent sets that grace the stage. His running crew of 20 students perform the “magic” of perfectly timed scene changes—this year’s quickest took just 7.9 seconds.

But it’s the performances that steal the show, and this year’s opening number, “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Conservatory of Music students, was a perfect introduction. Under the baton of Terence Kirchgessner, the musicians created a buzz of excitement for 18 numbers to follow, including ensembles, soloists and duos.

Dynamic duo

Three-time returning duo, violinist Yasa Poletaeva ’15, ’16, ’18 and pianist Darren Matias ’11, ’13, ’18, dazzled the audience with “Fantasy on Gershwin,” a medley showcasing their instrumental artistry and—for the first time at Celebration—Poletaeva’s vocals. Another surprise: Poletaeva’s dramatic onstage costume change from a flowing fuchsia skirt to a second, shimmering one. Both were her designs.

It’s the kind of creative risk-taking the two strive to incorporate in their performances as the Contrast Duo. Soon after meeting as students in the Conservatory of Music, they discovered a mutual love of improvisation, which they cultivated while earning a Professional Performance Certificate (P.P.C.) in chamber music. (They both hold M.M. degrees from the conservatory; Poletaeva also holds a P.P.C. in violin and Matias P.P.C.s in piano and instrumental collaboration.)

“Musically and aesthetically, we connect,” said Matias, who hails from the Philippines. Of elements like Poletaeva’s costume change, he said, “It’s not just a gimmick. We want to make music more accessible. I think the visual is a part of music-making. Purists might disagree.” And that’s OK. At their young ages (Matias is 31; Poletaeva 29), they are already seasoned global performers and music competition winners.

“The community is so supportive. It’s everyone supporting each other for the sake of art. What could be more ideal?”

Darren Matias ’11, ’13, ’18

“You put your heart out there when you perform,” said Poletaeva, a native of Saint Petersburg, Russia, “and then people can criticize you. You have to understand it’s not a validation of your art or your essence as a human being. It’s just someone else’s opinion. What’s so precious to me is that we have each other for support. If it were just me, I might start doubting myself, but I have my best friend who tells me, ‘It’s great what you’re doing,’ and I feel much better.”

Judging from the Celebration audience’s thunderous applause after their performance, they are hitting all the right notes.

“The community is so supportive,” Matias said of Celebration’s special appeal. “It’s everyone supporting each other for the sake of art. What could be more ideal?”

Violinist Yasa Poletaeva ’15, ’16, ’18 and pianist Darren Matias ’11, ’13, ’14, ’18 perform at the 2018 Celebration of the Arts.
Violinist Yasa Poletaeva ’15, ’16, ’18 and pianist Darren Matias ’11, ’13, ’14, ’18 perform at the 2018 Celebration of the Arts.

A faculty superstar

In recognition of her hard work and dedication, Celebration of the Arts Creative Director Carrie Simpson earned the 2017–18 Faculty Member of the Year award.

“I was so honored to be the recipient of this award,” she said, “and I’m truly thankful for how the entire campus community has embraced Celebration of the Arts.”

“There is something special about having a theater event on a college campus that sells out in three days because people actually want to see the show. It’s a testament to who we are as a community and our appreciation for the arts. Having the opportunity to learn alongside students and create with them is one of my favorite parts of this production. Together, as we sweat, laugh, cry, sing and dance over and over again, we not only become better performers, we become better people, and together, we grow as the Celebration family.”

Carrie Simpson laughs in the Wold.
Carrie Simpson

Crowdfunding success

Celebration of the Arts is a clear crowd-pleaser. Last spring, Lynn University’s first-ever online fundraising campaign (better known as crowdfunding) raised $8,683, a whopping 248 percent of its $3,500 goal.

“It was a lot of work, but surpassing our goal was fun. Everyone involved in Celebration puts so much hard work into the event. It was perfect for our first crowdfunding campaign.”

Sara McAveney ’17 marketing coordinator in the Office of Marketing and Communication

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