WHYY's ArtWorks draws on performing and visual arts stories from its sister PBS stations to bring viewers a geographically diverse arts experience.

Featured Artists: Olympia Dukakis, Julie Seltzer, Daniel Bernard Roumain and “The Hollow Crown”

An award-winning actress returns to a favorite theatrical role; a female scribe writes herself into the history books; a Haitian composer marches to the beat of an experimental drum and behind the scenes of an ambitious Shakespearean play.

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Olympia Dukakis

Acting legend Olympia Dukakis returns to the stage in one of her favorite roles as the lead in Mother Courage and Her Children. Playing the title role of Anna Fierling, also known as “Mother Courage” this experienced actress could have a great deal in common with the tenacious protagonist. Reporter Jared Bowen from WGBH in Boston sits down with the Academy Award-winning actress to discuss her work with the Shakespeare & Company Theater of Lenox, Massachusetts.

  • Olympia Dukakis - Mother Courage

    Olympia Dukakis as Mother Courage. Photo from WBUR

Julie Seltzer

Art figures into the work scribe-in-residence Julie Seltzer creates at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in more ways than one. Commissioned by the San Francisco museum to write the Torah, Judaism’s sacred text, from beginning to end using scribal techniques and traditions passed down for thousands of years, Seltzer must follow strict rules governing the document’s production. And she faces the added challenge of completing the lengthy spiritual practice in plain view of museum visitors observing her progress.

One of very few soferets — a soferet is a woman trained to write the Torah — Seltzer is performing the ritual as part of the museum’s As It Is Written: Project 304,805, a yearlong living exhibition allowing public access to a private religious act almost exclusively performed by male scribes. According to tradition, Seltzer will handwrite the 304,805 letters of the Torah on 62 sheets of paper using parchment ink and feather quills she sharpens by hand.

As she works, Seltzer follows tradition and states out loud the words she is about to write. She then creates the sacred text using calligraphy lettering techniques learned during an apprenticeship with Brooklyn-based soferet Jen Taylor Friedman, widely considered to be the first known woman to write a Torah from beginning to end. Rules dictate how many columns of text appear on each page, how many lines make up a column, and the spacing and formation of each letter.

Seltzer’s work is as potentially controversial as it is methodic and meditative. Performing an act long reserved for men, Seltzer is producing a text that many conservative Jewish communities will not consider Kosher or suitable for religious use. Ultimately, the Torah she completes will be given to a Jewish congregation that is accepting of its origins.

Daniel Bernard Roumain

Daniel Roumain’s acclaimed work as a composer and a performer has spanned more than two decades, and has been commissioned by venerable artists and institutions worldwide. Proving that he’s “about as omnivorous as a contemporary artist gets” (New York Times), Roumain is perhaps the only composer whose collaborations span the worlds of Philip Glass, Cassandra Wilson, Bill T. Jones, Savion Glover and Lady Gaga.

Roumain was the first artist to be awarded Arizona State University’s prestigious Gammage Residency. His outreach and residencies have garnered extravagant praise and long-term relationships with countless universities, orchestras, and performing arts centers including the Berklee School of Music (Boston), More Music @Moore (Seattle), The Academy – a program of Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute, PACE University and the Tribeca Performing Arts Center (New York City), NC State University and Vanderbilt University (Nashville). He served as Chair of the Music Composition/Theory Department and Composer-in-Residence at The Harlem School of the Arts.

Recent work includes a third commission for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Symphony for the Dance Floor), and a new work for the Atlanta Ballet (Home in 7) in collaboration with the choreographer Amy Seiwert and the poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Roumain has recently performed at The Macau International Music Festival, Ten Days in Tasmania, Central Park SummerStage, 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the Sydney Opera House.

Great Performances: The Hollow Crown

The Hollow Crown is a lavish new series of filmed adaptations of four of Shakespeare’s most gripping history plays; Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V. The films – chronicling a bloody tale of family, politics and power — tell the rise and fall of three Kings and how their destiny shaped English history. Richard II (Ben Whishaw) is a vain, self-indulgent man who rules with little regard for his people’s welfare. He is ultimately overthrown by his cousin Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), who ascends the throne as Henry IV (Jeremy Irons). Henry IV’s reign is marred by his own guilt over Richard’s death, civil war, and the gnawing fear that his son Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is a total wastrel unworthy of the throne. When Hal comes to the throne as Henry V he is left to bury the ghosts of his father’s past while fighting both the French forces as well as his own inner demons.

Neal Street Productions, NBCUniversal International, and THIRTEEN have brought new life to William Shakespeare’s history plays in these epic adaptations. And this marks the first time these four plays have been seen on PBS since the epic BBC Shakespeare Plays series presented domestically by THIRTEEN in the early 1980s.

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