Christal Brown teaching
Ethan Everhart '23 BM Music Pop Tech

Commencement Profile: Ethan Everhart

Ethan Everhart 

BM-Performance: Popular Music and Technology 

Hometown: Lexington, NC 

What was it that led you to pursue a life in the arts?  

I went to my older sister’s band concerts when I was in elementary school, and I knew that I wanted to play an instrument when I got to middle school. My middle and high school band directors encouraged me to continue with music after graduating from high school. When I first heard of the Popular Music and Technology (PopTech) program, I was already a few years into a Music Education degree, but I knew almost immediately that the new program was right for me. I switched programs and saw my passion for music reignite. 

Why did you choose UNCG’s College of Visual and Performing Arts? 

I chose UNCG for the city and the campus. When I toured UNCG, I was astounded by the beauty of the campus and its location within Greensboro—none of the other schools I saw could compare. 

How was CVPA/UNCG a good fit for you? 

UNCG gave me the freedom to take my time and to explore my interests. I think without that, I wouldn’t be completely satisfied in my field. CVPA encouraged me to diversify my experiences in music.

What is your favorite thing about CVPA, UNCG, and/or Greensboro? 

Greensboro is an amazing place for musicians and artists alike. Places like the Coliseum, the Tanger Center, the Carolina Theatre, and countless small venues and coffee shops will ensure that you have a place where your music can be heard and give you places to hear other musicians as well.

What are your future plans? 

I intend to stay in Greensboro to continue work as an audio engineer in live sound while maintaining a music business on the side. 

What is something you gained at CVPA/UNCG that you will take with you on your next step in your journey? 

I was able to successfully start an on-location audio recording business called MANTIS Audio, LLC during my time at UNCG.  

What is your advice for current or future Spartans? 

Don’t be afraid to say “yes,” even if you think you aren’t ready. Opportunities are around every corner and those only lead to more and better opportunities. Your next step in life may only be one “yes” away. 

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo credit: Colby Laws 

Aubria Battle '23 BFA Dance

Commencement Profile: Aubria Battle

Aubria Battle

BFA-Dance, Choreography/Performance, Minor in Psychology

Hometown: Wake Forest, North Carolina

What was it that led you to pursue a life in the arts?

I’ve been an artist for the majority of my life, so it only made sense for me to pursue an education in the fine arts. During my childhood, I was exposed to music, dance training, piano lessons, and creative production. My journey as a dancer began at age four. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a performer: there was something specifically about being on stage that felt like home.

Why did you choose UNCG’s College of Visual and Performing Arts?

The School of Dance at UNCG felt like the best of both worlds—conservatory training in a large, liberal arts setting, and that’s what I wanted as my college experience. UNCG has an essence like no other school, it felt like new beginnings and home all in one. I’ve always yearned for a space that was safe, open to collaboration, and diverse. UNCG and the School of Dance embodied these qualities.

You are also getting a Minor in Psychology. How does that fit with your Dance degree?

I connected on the mental health aspect of dance and how it can be used as a form of therapy. I noticed the correlation between mental health and movement whether it’s artistic—like dancing—or simply going for a walk. These observations inspired me to learn more about the psychology program at UNCG. In the future, I want to become a dance therapist who focuses more on the mental wellbeing of a person by giving access to people from other walks of life to connect with each other and themselves.

How was CVPA/UNCG a good fit for you?

My experience at the College of Visual and Performing Arts was one-of-a-kind. I am beyond grateful for the School of Dance. It was the very first dance environment where I felt valued and seen. The faculty supported me while challenging my ideas. UNCG has supported me by providing a variety of additional resources like counseling and adjustments for my learning disability (Attention-Deficit Disorder). I wouldn’t have made it this far without the collective effort in my undergraduate career.

What is your favorite thing about CVPA, UNCG, and/or Greensboro?

My favorite thing about UNCG is how diverse the environment is. I have encountered so many people with different backgrounds who have added value to my learning experience.

What are your future plans?

I have so many plans! I’d like to continue widening my scope as a multidisciplinary artist. I’m currently into lighting design and want to establish myself in the technical theater field. With that being said, I’m planning on having my own discography with my music, continuing the body of work through movement, and all of the unknown things that I have yet to discover about myself.

What is something you gained at CVPA/UNCG that you will take with you on your next step in your journey?

I have discovered the power of advocating for myself, asking questions, collaboration, conversation, and observation. As a creative artist, “the process” is everything, and these qualities have enriched my learning. My mentor, Christopher Fleming, would always ask his students “What did you notice today?” to take a step outside of yourself and into the world. To honor Chris’s legacy, I’ve integrated his daily question as a part of my process and will continue to carry the conversations and collaborations that I’ve made with all of my professors on my next journey.

What is your advice for current or future Spartans?

Trust the process and be okay with the unknown. You cannot predict everything. You will fail at things, and that is okay. It’s all part of the process. Your learning experience is yours and no one else’s. So, be open to change and give yourself space to grow because you are constantly evolving as an individual.

Story by Terri W. Relos

Photo credit: Brandon Demery

School of Theatre Alumnus Coming to Greensboro in “Aladdin”

J. Andrew Speas ('21 BFA Theatre) as Genie with Caro Daye Attayek in a vacation swing role
J. Andrew Speas (’21 BFA Theatre) as Genie with Caro Daye Attayek in a vacation swing role

The magic carpet has taken J. Andrew “Jordan” Speas (‘21 BFA Theatre) to hundreds of cities in the United States and Canada, and on October 31st it will bring him to the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Speas is on the North American Tour of Disney’s Aladdin, as standby for the roles of Sultan, Babkak, and Genie (which he’ll play in some of the Greensboro shows.) 

“To do the role of Genie is a dream come true. I always hesitate to say that because it sounds kind of schmaltzy. But this is a twirling, dancing, singing, acting role for a plus-sized man. And as a person who has loved theatre since he was 10 years old, being able to do this role and exist on stage in that character is honestly beyond anything you could ever feel or believe until you experience it. 

Genie really represents joy and light.” 

Anyone who knows Speas would say the same about him. His smile is big and bright, and a conversation with him is filled with warmth, thoughtfulness, and lots of belly laughs. He breaks out into one of those while describing what happens when Genie appears on stage. 

“I really get my cardio in! ESPN did a special on what your body goes through in this role, and they wrote that it’s like running five football fields. No one can quite conceive the rush it is to come out of the lamp. The energy that comes at you. The show starts with the song Arabian Nights and the audience is invited to the magical land of Agrabah and when Genie comes out of the lamp there is all this wind and you’re just at it for the entire rest of the show.” 

Speas has the energy for the physical aspects of Genie, and he says he also connects with the character’s personality and spirit. 

“What I love most about Genie is that he has the responsibility to aid in the journey of someone discovering how to be a better person. The Genie transcends so many things—race, barriers, ethical dilemmas that humans have in life, and he helps Aladdin see his faults and how to overcome them.  

“There’s really something so beautiful about being able to see potential in another human being, and to help bring that out. We can’t always see the forest for the trees, sometimes we need guidance, and Genie is that guiding light in the show.” 

There’s a bit of a parallel in Speas’ life—not a genie, but a professor at UNCG’s School of Theatre. 

“I remember sitting in Erin Farrell Spear’s office my senior year when I was cast as the Leading Player in our production of Pippin. That was the first time I felt like I was a star vehicle, a person who helps carry and guide the show. Erin and I were talking about that, and she said, ‘When you graduate, we’re going to get you in for Aladdin’s Genie.’ I thought I’m not sure I’m ready for that. But Erin did. She saw my potential.” 

Speas is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He has been singing his whole life, and from age twelve, performed with the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. He started college at UNC School of the Arts studying Opera, then transferred to UNCG’s School of Theatre to pursue a degree that offered more acting training. Near the end of his college career, COVID shut down in-person auditions, and so his senior acting class was the first to do their Theatre Industry Showcase online. After graduation, he moved to New York. 

“It’s been a whirlwind,” says Speas as he ticks through the ten months between leaving UNCG and landing the role in Aladdin. “I graduated in May of 2021, and moved to New York in October. I booked my first tour, Spamilton, in January. While I was out on that tour, I got the call from Tara Reubin Casting to audition for Aladdin. Within 24 hours of that audition, I received a call back from the associate director and the music director for the Broadway company.” 

From there, Speas was sent to Genie bootcamp to see if he had the chops—and the stamina—for the role. In March of 2022, there was a final callback. 

“It was pretty daunting. There I am standing in front of Broadway Director and Choreographer Casey Nicholaw and the Disney team.  They were videotaping the audition, and they had to stop and offload the camera. So, I’m like what do I talk about in this downtime? Nerve-wracking! But when I did my Genie, I just gave them the real me. That’s one of the greatest things about this character is that I get to be a version of myself on stage. 

“I thought maybe as a standby my job would be to mimic the person who holds the role full-time.  Thankfully, I’m a great mimic, but they’ve given me the freedom to discover what my Genie is, and they really honor it. I would say I’m a very different Genie than others out there, and in a fun way. You know I’m a Southern man, with all the things that come with that.” 

During the audition process, Speas turned to professors at his alma mater. 

“When I got that associates call, the very first people I called were Erin, Dominick Amendum (Coordinator of the Musical Theatre Program), and April Hill (Voice) for coaching. We all got on Zoom—I was in my little New York apartment—and I said ‘Okay, here’s the material. What do I do with it?’    

“Even after graduating, UNCG still has your back. I feel like I could call any one of my professors, especially from the School of Theatre, and say, ‘I need your thoughts on something. I need to know what the next step is. Can you help me understand this thing? I know we talked about it like 5 years ago in class, but now it’s making sense and I’m using it.’” 

While Speas credits former teachers with seeing his potential, and like Genie, providing guidance, his brightest guiding light is his mother. 

“My favorite song in Aladdin is Proud of Your Boy. When I first started rehearsing the show I would cry every time Adi Roy (Aladdin) sang it.  It makes me think of my mom and all the rehearsals and auditions she would take me to and how she always made sure I had what I needed. You know my mom told me from the beginning that I should go to UNCG, and I’m glad I finally listened and wound up there. I’m just so thankful for my mother and for my community.” 

Aladdin opens at the Tanger Center on October 31st and runs through November 5th.

Learn more about UNCG Theatre here.

Story by Terri W Relos

Photo provided by J. Andrew Speas

Hugh Hysell '88 BFA Theatre holding Tony Award

Tony Award-Winning Alumnus Teaching “The Business of Show”

“I want to teach my students to say ‘yes.’ Life will give you opportunities, and we need to be open to that. If you say ‘no,’ this is your path that you decided on from the start then you might miss the opportunities. If you say ‘yes,’ there might be a very surprising and rewarding life for you in a profession that gives you great joy as an artist.”

Hugh Hysell (’88 BFA Theatre) knows all about saying “yes.” A two-time Tony-award-winning Broadway producer, Hysell has held several theatre roles, including actor (stage and television), director, marketer, event planner, and during the pandemic, heading up Broadway’s COVID-19 safety team.  

Now he’s teaching School of Theatre students how to prepare for a variety of careers through a course that he created called “The Business of Show.”  

The class takes students through developing a resume, researching different areas of the industry, creating a professional profile and database, developing an elevator pitch, and doing mock job interviews. One of the assignments is to create a budget:  

“You move to a city, and you throw spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks because you really don’t know what it’s like to live there. I ask students to research one of the hubs of entertainment and to learn everything they can. Where do actors live? How much is rent? Where do I find audition notices? How long is the commute from home? All the things you must know to be financially healthy.”  

A second research project focuses on jobs that are not performance related and maybe not even theatre jobs at all but are “theatre adjacent.” For that assignment, Hugh draws on an impressive roster of guest speakers from a network of School of Theatre alumni:   (more…)

Promo Still from Film 8 AM

Alumni Film Explores Artistic Choices

What happens when the dreams you cultivate come into conflict with the real responsibility of life? Many people find their greatest talent cast aside in the face of life’s daily pressures and discover there’s rarely an easy answer forward. Tagline for the film 8 AM 

It’s a question that’s all too real for artists—one that Michael Tourek (’16 MFA and ’12 BFA Theatre) tackles in the short film 8 AM, which he is developing with fellow UNCG alumnus Thomas Mendolia (’12 BFA Theatre): 

“This script has been on my desk for a long time. It’s my white whale that I’ve been chasing. I finally decided it was time to stop being afraid of going forward with it.”

Michael Tourek, Writer, Producer, and Actor in the film 8 AM
Michael Tourek, Writer, Producer, and Actor in the film 8 AM

Tourek says the story is about his oldest childhood friend, a poet, actor, painter, and photographer: 

“He does all these artistic things, but there are forks in the road, obstacles that come into his life and steer him further and further away from his art. His love for his family and the choices he makes for them are never in question, but he does wonder what his life would be if he’d made different decisions. Then, by living in the fantasy of what could’ve been, he sees the poetry in everyday life, which winds up bringing him back to his art.” 

Like the main character in 8 AM, Tourek has been faced with obstacles and decisions about where his art would take him: 

“When I got to New York, I struggled. I was in and out of the City for ten years. It’s been a challenge to stay on the path—to figure out how to balance and to navigate those choices in life. That’s what’s at the root of this movie. I don’t have the answers, but I do have a very supportive wife and family. There’s never been a time when I didn’t have people in my corner. I’ve been fortunate to do one or two gigs a year, and some of those gigs have had some traction and recognition. I’ve had some awesome opportunities.” 

Tourek is modest about his career, but he has worked consistently in film, theatre, and television and has a long and impressive list of credits. Some of those “gigs” he refers to include recurring roles on the shows Ozark (Netflix) and The Walking Dead (AMC). He also teaches acting in UNCG’s School of Theatre.  (more…)