Columbia finds spotlight behind the scenes



Brian Posen, an adjunct professor, was placed on the Newcity list for his work as the artistic director of Stage 773 and the executive producer of Chicago SketchFest.

By Campus Reporter

Several Columbia faculty members and alumni were honored last month by a local publication for their work behind the scenes of Chicago’s performance community.

Newcity, a Chicago-based arts and culture publication, released its annual “Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago,” on Jan. 22. Among the honorees were six current campus community members: trustee Andrew Alexander; alumnus and adjunct in the Theatre Department Brian Posen; Chair of the Dance Department Onye Ozuzu and alumni Anna Shapiro, Michael Weber and Heather Hartley, according to an emailed statement from Cara Birch, public relations manager in the Public Relations Department.

The list alternates each year between focusing on performers and, as is the case this year, the people who work behind the scenes, said Newcity’s editor and publisher Brian Hieggelke. 

Hieggelke said Newcity’s editorial team takes suggestions from critics and other industry professionals to compile a list that is representative of Chicago’s theater, opera, comedy and dance communities. 

“[Making] the list tends to mean something,” Hieggelke said.

Ozuzu, who also made the list in 2013, said she was pleasantly surprised to be honored again. She said she attributes a great deal of her recognition to her faculty and staff within the Dance Department.

“My team has been working hard with me to really think in innovative, new and out-of-the-box ways about the direction that dance is going, what kind of cultural practice we want our students to be involved with in the city and how to keep the Dance Center and Columbia at the leading edge of performance” she said. “We’ve been out there trying and experimenting with new things, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.”

Posen, who also teaches at The Second City, was placed on the list for his work with Stage 773 and Chicago SketchFest. He said he was humbled to be listed among such notable names.

For him, “performing for Chicago” means creating opportunities for local artists to grow, he said.

“I do things that make Chicago [better],” Posen said. “Everything I do serves the community and the artistic community in some way.”

Ozuzu said she believes the phrase “performing for Chicago” is expanding readers’ understanding of where performance happens.

“The list helps us understand that the performance that happens on stage is just the tip of the iceberg of a whole infrastructure of performances that are happening every day in offices, around meeting tables, in telephone call conversations [and] in emails,” Ozuzu said.

Posen said several Columbians made the list because of the college’s strong connections to the local theater community.

“So much of the college is inviting working professionals in to teach,” Posen said. “As long as we still hold on to that mindset, we accumulate some of the greatest minds and talents that are relevant now, that are working now [and] that are changing the world.”

Hieggelke said because the college is arts-based, it normally has some connection to this list as well as other lists published by Newcity throughout the year.

Hartley, a 2007 alumna of the Interdisciplinary Arts graduate program, was placed on the list because of her role as the executive director of Audience Architects, a dance service organization in Chicago.

Hartley, who began her career as a performer, said she also enjoys the administrative side of performance and it was validating to be honored.

“You need to enjoy the not-as-loudly applauded but also important and meaningful work of being an arts administrator,” Hartley said. “It’s hard work, just as the other side of the equation is.”

In addition to the artists on stage, Ozuzu said it is important to shine the spotlight on the people who work behind the scenes because performance is a collaboration of the two worlds.

“That polished, finished product on the stage is the result of a lot of creativity, effort and human endeavor,” Ozuzu said. “That’s why it’s important to shine a light on [the workers]. It speaks to a lot of what Columbia does, which is not only prepare students to fulfill their dreams, but to fill the entire iceberg—to prepare students to fill the whole infrastructure.”