When Daniil Krimer graduated with his M.F.A. in acting in 2019, he had no way of knowing the kinds of changes that were on the horizon.
When he founded the Kane Repertory Theatre in St. Charles, Illinois, in 2019 and became its artistic director, he had no idea that the world—and particularly the theater arts world—would grind to a halt in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic soon after. But through creative adaptation, Krimer and his partner, Managing Director Avery Bowne, M.F.A. ’19, have found new and impressive ways to deliver fine theater to audiences during this unprecedented time.
“My job as artistic director is one that is often sporadic and doesn’t have a set schedule,” Krimer said. “It usually involves Avery and I, starting the day with a phone call, talking through everything that has to be done for the day. Some days that includes being on the phone with agents, sometimes that’s reading a bunch of new plays, and sometimes that is putting together marketing and press release materials.”
But in a new virtual world, the work of an artistic director has had to be even more reactive and flexible than ever.
“There is such a long way to go, but I do think Avery and I did something which was deemed impossible by most performing arts organizations—we grew during COVID,” he said. “We were able to innovate ways to grow the size of our network, audience reach, and donors, all during this awful period of COVID-19. I think that is definitely an accomplishment.”
Attracting up-and-coming playwrights and Oscar-nominated stars has been one way Krimer and his company have maintained success during a challenging time.
Running from April 10-May 2, the Kane Repertory Theatre hosted the world premiere online production of Hammaad Chaudry’s “Security.”The cast included Academy Award and three-time Golden Globe nominee Eric Roberts, as Homeland Security agent Brian, playing opposite Harsh J. Gagoomal’s Riaz. When 17-year-old Riaz arrives from Britain to the United States for the first time and is stopped at the airport by a Homeland Security officer named Brian, the experience changes his life forever. Thirteen years later, a grown up Riaz returns to the United States, hunts down Brian at his home, and now interrogates him, returning the favor.
The online production was a blend of film and theatre. Green screens and professional film set-ups will be sent to the cast in their individual locations, and with the work of a top-notch video editor, the final production will look and feel as if both actors are sharing the same space.
Krimer credits NIU with helping him build his acting skills as well as his ability to ignite passion for the arts in others, even in the face of adversity.
“One of my favorite memories from my time at NIU is teaching the THEA 110 Acting Fundamentals for the non-major students,” he said. “I got to teach acting to a lot of non-majors, and it was always so exciting to inspire passion for the art form to someone who registered for the class just to get a general education credit out of the way.”
Krimer went to graduate school because he wanted to be in control of his craft as an actor.
“I wanted my craft to be tangible, offering strong performances with consistency,” he said. “NIU provided me with the classes and learning opportunities to develop that skill. It really was in some ways the perfect place for me to grow. I don’t know that there is another M.F.A. acting program in the country that would have resonated with me the way NIU did.”
Krimer is clear that he chose to attend NIU because of Patricia Skarbinski, the head of the University’s M.F.A. acting program.
“After I interviewed with her and took a workshop with her in New York City back in 2016, I knew NIU was the school for me,” he said. ”Patricia Skarbinski is more than a teacher. She is a guru. I learned so much from her I don’t know where to start. She and a handful of other professors taught me the craft of acting, and I left school being confident that you could give me any play, TV or film script or commercial copy, and I would be bring that text to life. What those professors did for me is no small feat.”
Krimer also said his graduate school allowed him to form deep bonds with his classmates, which proved to be a great beginning for the theater.
“Considering I spent all three years of graduate school with the same 15 people, a majority of the classmates I graduated with are my dear friends,” Krimer said. “Starting a theater company with my classmate, Avery, grew from this foundation. The reason we are compatible professionally is because our time in graduate school together has instilled a deep understanding of one another’s artistic, entrepreneurial and societal sensibilities.”
So, after such surprise success, what is Krimer’s advice to other actors who may be discouraged in their careers by this difficult moment in history?
“Do not put yourself in a box. Do not live your life thinking there is a ceiling for your future,” he said. “So many people create boundaries for themselves without letting themselves actually take risks. Challenge yourself to apply for that scholarship or fellowship that you think you might not be worthy of. Challenge yourself to reach out to one of your industry idols and try to set up a meeting. We only have one shot at this thing called life, and every opportunity you don’t take a chance on is an opportunity wasted.”
For the past 28 years, Paula Frasz has been designing dances that mirror her students, their experiences and the world we all live in.
“All artists reflect wherever they are,” she said. “I don’t just see our students in the classroom. This is my community. This is their community and their surroundings.”
As the makeup of the students in the dance program has become more diverse, Frasz has challenged herself to create works that reflect her students and their world.
For all of her efforts over nearly three decades, Frasz has been named a 2021 Presidential Engagement and Partnerships Professor.
In 2018, students from the NIU Danceprogram earned an invitation to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. to perform, “ENUF” a dance choregraphed by Frasz. The dance had been judged to be the best performance at the Central Conference of the American College Dance Association (ACDA).
“In the summer of 2016 I was sitting in my car waiting for the endless train to pass by in downtown DeKalb,” Frasz said. “The news was all about another young black man shot by police, and the Colin Kapernick kneeling situation during the national anthem. One of the train cars that went by had a graffiti tag on it that said ENUF in capital letters.
“I sat there and thought to myself, ‘Yes, I agree. ENUF already.’ I decided at that moment, because we have a wonderful group of minority dancers, that my next piece of choreography would be a dance addressing the history of oppression, suppression and violence against minority groups. I am an old hippie and protest is in my blood. It was time to speak out and my forum is movement.
“The dance, “ENUF,” was born.”
For Frasz, ENUF’s recognition and selection for the Kennedy Center performance was especially meaningful.
“I made it my mission to attract and train minority students as professional dancers, and to include dances in our concerts that were specifically choreographed for Black, Hispanic and other minority casts. To see seven Black, three Hispanic and one white dancer perform it with such heart, helped me realize the meaningful message of that dance.”
One of those who performed “ENUF” at the Kennedy Center was Amber Echols, a 2018 graduate of the dance program.
“I didn’t meet Paula until I transferred to NIU in the fall of 2016, but I had already heard of her and how amazing she is,” Echols said. “When she sees something in a dancer she pushes them to become better than they can ever imagine. I have studied so many types of dance styles, but once I was under her wing, I started to learn so much about the history of different minority dances. She took the time to learn for herself so she could help us understand it.”
In 2019, Frasz wrote the dance, “Your Excellency” inspired by black Union soldier James Henry Gooding’s letter to President Abraham Lincoln. Gooding had been born a slave in 1838 but as a child his freedom was purchased, perhaps by his father, and he was sent to school in New York City. In 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army and wrote letters that were published in his local paper. But it was a letter he wrote to President Lincoln that is most famous. Gooding wrote to Lincoln about the disparity of pay in the army, with Black soldiers earning three dollars less per pay period than white soldiers did. “We have done a Soldiers Duty,” Gooding wrote, “Why can’t we have a Soldiers pay?”
Frasz wrote “Your Excellency” with a specific cast in mind.
“We had these three fantastic male dancers and a wonderful actor,” she said. “I wanted to give them something, I wanted to give them a voice. I wanted to present it in a way where these four talented Black men could express anger and frustration, not in a rage. The way the letter was written, because it was the 1860s, the language is very proper, very respectful to President Lincoln. I could use that to make the movement contrast and really dynamic to show the anger and frustration.”
“Your Excellency” was performed at the American College Dance Festival at Western Michigan University at the beginning of March 2020, one of the last live dance performances before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dance was first performed in November 2019 in conjunction with the NIU Art Museum exhibition, Exploring Aspects of War In and Through the Visual Arts.
Our BIPOC dancers are extremely talented and my work is enhanced by their skill,” Frasz said. “As our dance program attracts more highly skilled BIPOC dancers, my research also has become more focused. What better opportunity to give voice to an underserved population than to place their issues and concerns on stage? My personal growth has been profound, as the students generously share their cultural experiences and viewpoints, which helps me develop choreographic material to best suit them.”
The Presidential Commission on Race and Ethnicity (PCORE), formerly the Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities (PSCM), has reimagined the annual Diversity and Inclusion luncheon as a virtual summit. The event will take place on Wednesday, April 14 beginning at noon.
The summit offers three programs including an afternoon awards ceremony, and afternoon program for students, and an evening town hall titled Policing on Campus in America. The town hall will feature Professor Rashawn Ray from the University of Maryland, Deputy Chief Darren Mitchell, and City of DeKalb Chief David Byrd. Dr. Simón E. Weffer-Elizondo, associate professor from the Department of Sociology will facilitate the discussion.
The afternoon awards ceremony will honor six McKinley “Deacon” Davis Award recipients and acknowledge their contributions towards building and sustaining an inclusive campus. The recipients are Jasmine Ivy, an NIU graduate student; Jessica Labatte, associate professor in the School of Art and Design; Paula Frasz, professor in the School of Dance; Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center; Jocelyn Santana, director of Social Justice Education; and President Lisa Freeman. Students, staff, faculty, and members of the community are welcome to attend the event and can register at http://go.niu.edu/1nlfbm.
Jessica Labatte, an associate professor in the School of Art and Design, and two student photographers created an extraordinarily moving project, Faces of Belonging, which can be viewed on Huskie Line buses within the DeKalb community and online at www.belongingdekalb.com.
Additionally, her nominator added, “Her work in the classroom focuses on access and empathy. She makes sure all her students have the best equipment possible, regardless of economic status. Jessica encourages, in fact requires, an inclusive approach to the art of photography, in which students are challenged to question not only what is photographed, but by whom and how. She was interrogating the dominant practices well before the current attention on such things.”
Professor Paula Frasz from the School of Dance is a legendary dance performance educator in the City of Chicago and at NIU.
Her nominator states, “her philosophy is to unite her community by bringing the art of dance performance to a myriad of audience members, illustrating that dance can universally convey ideas with compelling, creative and lasting images. In her research, she has voiced issues of BIPOC populations and those who have been silenced for so long. She has implemented her philosophy as founder and artistic director of DanszLoop Chicago, a not-for-profit dance company. For 14 years, DanszLoop showcased her choreography locally and nationally. DanszLoop audiences represent all strata of society, from a gymnasium full of African-American third-graders, to 250 artistic elites at the Manhattan Center for Movement and Music in New York City.”
Jasmine Ivy is engaged student leader who recently moderated a virtual Diversity Dialogue Series program on race-related trauma and was selected as the 2021 Phyllis Cunningham Social Justice Award winner for her efforts to pursue and support social justice initiatives.
Her nominator wrote: “Jasmine Ivy has been an exceptional student leader for her entire tenure at NIU, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. As an undergraduate student she was very engaged in service and promoted programs that uplift and empower students. She is a very talented, well-rounded young lady with a strong work ethic and is forthright in her pursuit of solutions. Jasmine is a leader that is committed to public service.”
Michelle Bringas has served as the director of the Asian American Resource Center for the past 19 years. She has built sustainable programs that uplift, support and empower students of Asian descent while engaging and educating our campus about Asian American heritage and culture.
Her nominator states, “Michelle has been an exceptional alumna and leader on our campus for years. She has been engaged in advocacy for many groups which is demonstrated by her standing with Black students and advocating for the original erection of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bust in the MLK Commons; walking in protest alongside students; and without recognition speaking up for those who have been silenced, especially in difficult moments. Michelle plays a major role in developing and sustaining an inclusive campus.”
Jocelyn Santana serves as director of NIU’s Social Justice Education program. Her work extends across and beyond our campus and has helped develop programs, education and discussions that are transforming the climate at NIU.
Her nominator says, “Jocelyn is considered the staff expert on our campus because of her knowledge, willingness to engage in education and healing, and her enthusiasm and personality. Jocelyn works literally day, night and weekends to help provide the support, expertise, engagement and education for our campus and community to ensure we can enhance participants’ cultural competence, understanding and ultimately create environments that encourage conversations and cultural change.”
President Lisa Freeman
President Lisa Freeman
As our thirteenth President and first woman in the role, President Lisa Freeman truly leads our campus and community by example. She continues to lead our university with her consistent engagement, vision and efforts to create a community of inclusivity where all are welcomed and valued.
Her nominator shares, “Dr. Freeman is dedicated to ensuring our students, staff and faculty have the support they need to succeed on all levels. I have observed Dr. Freeman attend difficult meetings and conversations and address students with an empathetic and listening ear and then energize senior leadership to make immediate and lasting changes to meet the needs of students. Her personal engagement with students, her vision even through a pandemic and her relentless efforts to develop a campus that is a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, technology and beyond is commendable.”
For more information, contact PCORE Chair Felicia R. Bohanon at: (815) 753-1868 or email@example.com. To attend for the Annual Summit, registration is required at http://go.niu.edu/1nlfbm.
Those looking to make a difference at NIU have a new tool to help raise much-needed financial support. NIU Impact, the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program at http://crowdfund.niu.edu and features ten campaigns.
One of those campaigns is “Curtain Call! – Support Graduating Senior Arts Projects” to assist with the funding of capstone projects and industry standard portfolio and audition materials for students in the College of Visual Performing Arts as they prepare to start their exciting careers in the arts.
Here’s an example of just one of the senior arts projects funding could benefit.
The crowdfunding campaign for supporting arts students will run through May 10, with a goal of raising $2,000 for students in each of three schools that makes up the College of Visual and Performing Arts (College of Art and Design, College of Music, College of Theatre and Dance.)
The NIU Foundation has experienced significant growth in its digital giving program, seeing an increase of over 100% from fiscal year 2018 to fiscal year 2020 in dollars raised. “In 2018, we raised nearly $290,000 through digital giving ,” shares Michael Adzovic, Director of the Northern Fund. “Last year, in 2020, we raised $580,000. Already, in fiscal year 2021, we’ve raised $683,000.”
Much of this growth can be attributed to the NIU Foundation’s Day of Giving program implemented in 2019, but other factors have fueled growth as well.
“The pandemic has been a factor,” shares Adzovic. “We’ve relied more on digital giving opportunities during this season and have found that many people are comfortable and prefer giving online. This is the future of our direct response program.”
That growth has inspired the NIU Foundation’s new crowdfunding program.
How Crowdfunding Works
Crowdfunding is not new, of course. This method of raising funds has been common for years, popularized through sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe. However, it has just recently become popular in higher education fundraising.
“We see great potential in crowdfunding at NIU,” shares Adzovic. “The platform allows us to work with campus partners to conduct targeted, goal-oriented and time-sensitive campaigns that harness the power of volunteers and their individual networks.”
A key difference between crowdfunding and the NIU Foundation’s traditional methods of fundraising is that crowdfunding is driven primarily by volunteers reaching out and amplifying a cause to their individual networks, as opposed to communications being institutionally driven. The dollar goal for crowdfunding campaigns tends to be smaller—commonly between $3,000-$5,000. These funds usually support very specific initiatives, such as student travel to conferences, research projects, and scholarships. The duration of a typical campaign is four weeks.
“We see crowdfunding being a great fit for many of our campus partners to fund needs for which we wouldn’t normally fundraise through traditional methods,” shares Adzovic. “We also view it as an excellent way to attract new donors to NIU.”