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Arts & Culture

From a Tony Award-winning director to a choir leader getting his turn on center stage to a family of artists who capture the glory of the human form, the North Shore is influencing the art world here and abroad with talent galore.

In late March, Anna D. Shapiro directs Mary Page Marlowe, written by Tracy Letts and premiering at Steppenwolf—the same winning combination as August: Osage County.

The Lincoln Trio musicians are on stage at the new Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall at Northwestern’s Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.

The sun-filled gallery space at Evanston Art Center holds curated
art shows throughout the year. This one featured art by students and professors from Illinois colleges.

Matthew Hunter shares the limelight with members of the Northwestern Community Ensemble choir, photographed
at Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University.

Itamar Amrany, Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany pose in their studio, which is also a museum of their art.

Stephanie Rogers commands center stage whenever she performs one of her jams, or just poses for a photo shoot at Park West, Chicago.

Anna D. Shapiro
A dynamic season is ahead for Steppenwolf Theatre.

Tony Award? Check. Artistic director of a world-class theater company? Check. Anna D. Shapiro isn’t a check-the-box kind of person, but her success as a director, and now as a leader in the arts world, makes this Evanston resident someone to check off on any list of art influencers. In 2015, she became Steppenwolf Theatre’s artistic director after working with the company for 20 years. “As a director, my job is to carry a project through and to get everything I need for that project to succeed,” she says. “As artistic director, the frame gets way bigger. It’s about moving the entire organization forward, not just a single project.” And Steppenwolf is unique in that it’s made up of an ensemble of 44 actors, directors and playwrights who collaborate in different combinations for each project. “We’re not followers,” Shapiro says. “The fun thing about looking at a season is that it’s like looking at a menu instead of a meal. You want to have breadth, dynamism and excitement that spans the whole year and adds up to a great whole.” She’s already working on the 2016 to 2017 season. “I’ve been in on the program conversation long enough to know it never goes the way you think it will,” she says, and recounts the story of a past season when one of her favorite plays never connected with audiences. In contrast, she thought people would leave August: Osage County during intermission. (She won the 2008 Tony for best direction of a play when that show went from Steppenwolf to Broadway.) “You have to believe with all your heart that other people will want to see it too,” Shapiro says. “You may not be right, but that doesn’t mean you won’t try.” –LH

The Lincoln Trio
Performing everything from Beethoven to Ned Rorem, these musicians deliver a wealth of music.

The symphonic form may be the pinnacle of classical music, but in the right hands, a violin, cello and piano can pack quite a punch. And The Lincoln Trio—Desirée Ruhstrat, Marta Aznavoorian and David Cunliffe—does just that, again and again. Ravinia regulars, they have recorded on the Naxos and Cedille labels, and appeared abroad and across the country, earning accolades as they go. Central to the trio’s success is its championing of new music. “One of the ways we have managed to stay current is by always programming one newly written work at every concert,” pianist Aznavoorian says. “It’s an imperative for us to bring our audiences the great music of the past while introducing exciting new music. And sometimes, the new work ends up being the audience favorite.” The thrill of hearing beautiful music performed live is a singular pleasure. And audiences aren’t the only ones enriched by the experience. “I think the most wonderful moments,” violinist Ruhstrat shares, “are the silences after a beautiful movement or a piece, where the audience is transfixed and there is a pause for what seems like an eternity, and the world just stops.” April 3, 7pm, Triumph and Transcendence with the Chicago Philharmonic, Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Evanston –TC

Paula Danoff
The President and CEO of Evanston Art Center brings a community resource to life in its new home.

For nearly 50 years, the Evanston Art Center resided in the Harley Clarke mansion on Evanston’s lakefront. When it set sail in June 2015 to its spacious new location on Central Street, Winnetka’s capable Paula Danoff was at the helm. Danoff oversees a robust program: 80 faculty members share their expertise with more than 3,000 adult students and 800 kids as they explore traditional media ranging from painting to digital photography to 3-D printers. “Art can bring another dimension to your life,” says Danoff, who is also a master sensi of ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement. “What we try to do here is to [help you] experience something that opens up another window in the brain and allows you to see things in a different way.” Clearly, the North Shore community agrees. The Arts Center has raised 90 percent of its targeted $2.5 million capital campaign from 400 donors, due in no small part to Danoff, who has worked tirelessly on the project. This beloved community resource now has a gorgeous contemporary home that is as vibrant as the art that fills it, breathing new life into a venerable institution that’s been part of the Evanston fabric since 1929. 1717 Central St., Evanston, 847.475.5300 –JC

Matthew Hunter
From school to stage, this performer is sharing his gifts and lighting up the theater.

Matthew Hunter shines as if lit from within. It’s the delight that comes from doing what he loves most. An Evanston native and Michigan State grad, Hunter is now a music teacher in Evanston, dividing his time between Chute Middle School and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School. Hunter comes from a musical family—his mother made her children take piano lessons—but he didn’t see himself as a performer until he got the lead in Ragtime during high school. “It was a pivotal moment in my career as a singer,” says Hunter. “It was such an emotional experience.” In college, he moved from performance to music education, an occupation his mother could get behind since it offered benefits and longevity. But despite loving his day job and the choral work he does with local church and community groups, he was starting to miss the stage. His first professional audition was for Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater; he was cast as Jeffrey Osborne in Men of Soul, a huge hit this past summer. His second audition, for Porchlight Musical Theatre, yielded an ensemble part in the upcoming Dreamgirls. It’s not fame that drives him. Teachers and performers “don’t do it for money; we don’t do it for recognition,” shares this rising bright star. “We do it because it brings us the most joy. I’m blessed.” Dreamgirls, April 8-May 15, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago –JC

Itamar Amrany, Omri Amrany and Julie Rotblatt-Amrany
Meet the family of artists who coax motion and emotion out of stone.

“Artists will always be the catalyst for the future,” says Omri Amrany. “We must dream and expand to enrich global culture.” It’s a lofty mission, but when you walk through the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany, which is located in Highwood’s Fort Sheridan, you’re surrounded by art that celebrates the human form in all its emotion and passion. Julie Rotblatt-Amrany and Omri first shot to fame when they sculpted Michael Jordan frozen in bronze midjump and enshrined in front of the United Center. From that one work came commissions for, of course, more sports figures, but also memorials, parks and multimedia installations across the globe. “My parents aren’t sports fans, but they are students of movement and the human spirit,” says Itamar Amrany, a fellow artist who began co-managing the business four years ago. It’s that ability to capture emotion and passion that continues their success in traditional sculpture and also in explorations of new media. “It’s important to reflect the time you live in,” says Julie. “Even though we’re using a skill set that’s centuries old, we’re inspired by the merger of technology and ancient materials.” Upcoming projects include a large-scale installation with LED lights, water and glass, but in the end, Julie notes that their mission as artists hasn’t changed. “Art needs new discoveries as inspiration, but what we’re really illuminating is the potential of the human spirit.” –LH

Stephanie Rogers
This musician brings the racy and refined to one night of tunes and tales.

Stephanie Rogers, host and originator of the performance series Story Jam, has given life to an original art form that taps into her many talents. Rogers, a singer-songwriter, band leader and actor, is a longtime admirer of live literature and created Story Jam to combine storytelling with music. Each Story Jam features five diverse storytellers who reveal true tales of frankly incredible life experiences. After each story, Rogers and her eight-piece pop-rock band perform an original song inspired by the narrative. “It’s like an edgier, more rocking [A] Prairie Home Companion,” says Rogers, who writes all the songs. “To bring together a lineup of culturally diverse talent and then write a song for each of the stories they bring is a terrific challenge and provides a very entertaining platform.”Each show runs for a single night and is completely unique. The stories range from racy to poignant, and the evening is intended to be a rollicking ride. “I curate the night so it has highs and lows–it’s a journey,” says Rogers. “But we always end up having fun.” Rogers’ aim is to put on an entertaining show, but in addition, she says, “I hope the audience is moved, has a lot of laughs and feels a sense of elation walking out of the theater.” Story Jam, Jan. 23, 8pm, Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave., Wilmette, 847.251.7424 –MK