Trish Denton (MALS) Meets Sandy Duncan '63 for 2015 GRAD Externship

The School of Graduate and Advanced Studies coordinates an Externship Program, pairing current graduate students with Dartmouth alumni. As part of the program, students spend a day shadowing their alumni host, becoming acquainted with their host’s place of employment, and discussing professional goals. For her externship, Trisha Denton, a student in the Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies Program, was hosted by Sandy Duncan '63. Mr. Duncan, the former president of the Detroit Music Hall, coordinated a series of meetings and mentoring sessions with the heads of several prominent performing arts organizations. Denton had the privilege of meeting with leadership from the Detroit Music Hall, Michigan Opera Theater, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Broadway in Detroit, as well as attending auditions for a new Broadway-bound musical and a production of 'Wicked' at the Detroit Opera House. Denton wrote about her externship experience.

When Kerry Landers, the Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs, announced the 2014 Graduate Studies Externship Program, I was eager to meet people who were living the work I was writing about in my studies.

I sifted through the list of over 200 Dartmouth alums that were willing to host a graduate student for a day-in-the-life. Although the list is extensive, my program at Dartmouth casts a smaller net than the other Arts and Sciences programs. I was unable to find alumni working in the public humanities, arts administration or specifically, the performing arts. However, not one easily discouraged, I took Ms. Landers advice and researched further listings in the Dartmouth Career Directory. After pouring over hundreds of alumni, I came across a Class of '63 undergraduate listed as 'President of Detroit Music Hall'.

Discovering Sandy Duncan's name on that list felt like a premonition of a dream realized.

I emailed Mr. Duncan directly through the Career Directory. He was open and receptive to my interests and didn't hesitate to suggest other avenues/contacts that would be helpful. He assured me he would see through the externship to the best of his connections. Connections are what keep the arts alive – and I am excited to live that connected lifestyle.

Mr Duncan did not disappoint. I told him weeks prior that I would be in town for my customary holiday visit and gave him exact dates and times. He made arrangements and helped me organize an itinerary for five days of meetings and related activities.

I met with several leaders in the Detroit Music Hall and was able to discuss my work designing integrated arts programming and education with  Laura Raisch, Director of Development, and Karen McBride, Director of Events at the Detroit Music Hall. Ms. Raisch and I sat-in on the auditions for “It’s a Man's World: The James Brown Musical.”

I also met with the Artistic Director, Mr. Vince Paul, who shared his articulation of the current mission of Music Hall, explaining that because of the changing economic and cultural climate in Detroit, it is no longer an option to have a niche audience or subscriber base. The Music Hall aims to create a cross-cultural environment for the performing arts today.

Over the weekend, I attended two informal meetings with peers that are working with Michigan Opera Theater. Community Engagement Coordinator and Youth Director, Michael Yashinsky and a young doctoral student that wrote a Teaching Guide for the educational program at Michigan Opera Theater, Alexis Zimberg.

My last two days in Detroit were a flurry of excitement. I finally got the chance to meet Mr. Duncan, as he had been out of town for the holidays. He gave me a tour of some downtown revitalization efforts and dropped me at the Fisher Building to meet with legendary producer, Al Lichtenstein.

The Fisher Building is a gorgeous survivor of art deco architecture, now listed as a National Historic Landmark. Somewhere between getting into Mr. Duncan’s car and opening the heavy golden doors of the brilliant, limestone halls, I felt like I had stepped into an old film. The feeling grew as I climbed stairs into the vaulted halls of the upper floor where the door labeled “Nederlanders” is found. Mr. Lichtenstein gave me great advice about “learning by doing” and the importance of maintaining lasting partnerships.

After a lovely evening attending Wicked, (courtesy of Mr. Duncan), I needed to get a good night's rest for my final day of meetings and flight home. In the reading room of the Detroit Athletic Club, my morning meeting was with Ann Parsons, the CEO of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Parsons reinforced Mr. Lichtenstein's advice that “learning by doing” is the best way to efficacy in the business of the performing arts. It was an honor to meet such a stalwart and gracious woman.

Toward the end of our meeting, Mr Duncan appeared and ushered us to a private dining room within the club. There, Mr. Duncan, Ms. Parsons and I met with Wayne Brown, Vince Paul and Dr. David DiChiera. Unfortunately, Mr. Lichtenstein was unable to attend. This was a special part of the whole externship experience. To be seated in a small room with those steadfast leaders was impressive and I was honored that amidst their heavy workloads they were still willing to take the time to advise a young, emerging professional such as myself.

Dr. DiChiera generously took the time to review my digital portfolio and advised me to be consistent in fostering my professional relationships in Detroit. When we were through he escorted me to the lobby of the opera house. That's when it hit me. Along the way, Dr. DiChiera acknowleged each and every person we passed. I was reminded that connections are what keep the arts alive.