Cole Abod
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you became involved in the performing arts? Also how the performing arts may have shaped the way that you engage with the world around you?

I started by playing piano. When I turned eight my birthday present was a piano lesson. I started classical study, then I did that all the way through until I finished high school. Really the bulk of my classical music study was from age eight to eighteen. I started playing jazz and in my middle school jazz band sixth grade and then I very quickly started falling into areas of improvisation. So that became a big part of my world right around middle school, all the way up through and obviously including college. Then in high school was when I started, what I would consider forging the career path that I'm currently on, which is musical theater work. I started playing in just high school orchestras. When I was in high school I did like seven shows at my high school. I didn't do anything locally or professionally at that point. But I did play in a pit orchestra that's kind of like the Tony Awards of the Washington DC High School area. I played at Kennedy Center every year, which was a blast. But that was kind of all I did in terms of outside musical theater work.  Going into college, I really wanted to be doing jazz piano full time, and I wanted musical theater to be kind of a side hobby passion, something I enjoyed.

I applied to schools and found a teacher at Michigan who was really a jazz heavy guy. Then I got to Michigan and I fell into doing a lot of musical theater work.  The musical theater department at Michigan encourages a lot of that and it's just a great breeding ground for obviously young actors, but also there have been a lot of great young music directors that have been trained by those faculty.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about things that influence and inspire your artistry and maybe a little bit about how your two majors combined for you?

The two majors do not really intersect that much. I think what it is that the two majors does is allow me to have different outlets for different sides of myself.  I think the part of me that just enjoys problem solving, and is interested in how the world around me functions and what influences things that are bigger than the arts such as what influences the economy. Why does poverty occur? How do we help people who are in unfortunate situations? That's the economics side so I guess that's if there's any intersection between the two it’s the human empathy element. As artists we ask ourselves, how can we express our empathy in an artistic way and maybe change some hearts and minds. The economic side is more pragmatic.

Q: What inspires you artistically?

A lot of things, I tend to get inspired by other people's art. I do a lot of orchestration for musical theater and a lot of arranging. I do a lot of work that's based on other people's art, so I'll do an arrangement of a song that already exists or help someone bring their score from a piano score into an orchestral score, so I'm trying to start working on expressing my own personal compositional creativity. That's sort of a new thing for me in the past year or so. But what inspires me artistically is bouncing off of other people's ideas and that sort of collaboration aspect.  Even if it's someone that's not a direct collaborator, even if it's a songwriter who died 100 years ago.

Q: How do you think the performing arts can be a platform for social justice issues?

I think theater and things that are visual tend to be more impactful. In terms of community, that sort of idea I think you and I worked together on “And We Look On” and I think, you can really see the art happening in front of you and while it was abstract I think there were some very concrete ideas in that. So I think theater and visual things tend to just be more concrete and more impactful. The people who can get that sort of impact on just music alone, more power to them.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the project And We Look On?

Isabel Olson (who also just graduated from the University of Michigan), conceived the whole thing and put it together. It was a  devised theater piece about the environment and the impacts of climate change and the impact of human waste. It's funny, I think in January and February, those things were much more present in our minds than they are now, I think climate change has kind of fallen to the backburner as we try to keep our entire species alive, which makes sense but also something that I don't want to forget about. And so hopefully there is a life to that show after we are back and able to interact in person again.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as an artist and recent graduate in the performing arts?

I am home, I am not at music school anymore. I think something so immediate, in terms of impact that someone could see from the outside is that I lost my job over the summer. I was supposed to be Music directing two shows at Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and that unfortunately had to be put aside because of COVID-19 related reasons. I have personally found it difficult to continue creating in the way I think I was back in Ann Arbor just the lack of collaboration, the lack of people is part of it. I was supposed to be premiering an original play of mine, which is exploring original creativity, was kind of my new thing for this year and so I was supposed to be premiering that in April. That did not happen. But we're figuring out ways to circumvent it. We're going to be doing some zoom play reading cold reads over the next month or so. But I'd say that's the bulk of the impact.

Q: Can you talk a little bit as a recently graduated senior how you feel about going into such a currently unstable performing arts world?

I already talked to a reporter from the Michigan Daily about this a little bit.  Yeah, it's just added instability into something that's already not stable. Very few people in our field get a job and then just stay there for five years. The fact that we're already job hopping means that not only is it people who are just graduating who are about to try to find work. And I was probably going to move to New York in September. That is now basically not going to happen now. I'm sure that stands for many other graduating seniors. But yes, it's not only like the people who have just finished college that are now going to be entering a field that just has no jobs because none of us are “essential workers.” It's also the people who were on a one or two year contract that ended in February or March, or the handful of people I know were on a national tour that was supposed to end in June, July, August. Not only do they have six months of work canceled, but they don't have a job to go back to when this is over, either. So, I think that's what's different from a lot of people right like there are plenty of people who work in crowded offices that are stuck at home and working from home, or even people that may have even been furloughed for four or five months, that all of a sudden, that you know they'll have jobs to go back to at the end of this whole thing. Artists won't.  I've been hearing about fellowships that are being cancelled because nonprofit organizations can't afford it. Like all of those opportunities get lost for artists first.  Which, you know, I get because there's a lot of us artists and only so much art that can be made and consumed. But, that's just kind of the reality of it.

I feel for the people that were trying to establish themselves that graduated last year, who maybe just landed a big gig for the first time. My friend was literally supposed to be on Broadway right now, and I really feel for those people too. I think artists in particular suffer because there isn't necessarily a job waiting for them on the other end.

Q: What things and aspects of the performing arts world would you like to see change after the pandemic ends? Especially in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

You've probably talked to a lot of other people about this too which is just the pure diversity aspect of it and the representation aspect which needs to be better and obviously will be present after the pandemic. Coronavirus will probably make things worse for minorities because that's how the world seems to work. I think that time will tell what happens next. We'll probably enter a world where a lot more art is done. Not in person. I think that's part of it too, there's this field of elite art that you can only go to in person and that the tickets are very expensive. People who are in more privileged situations are the ones who have access to that art, I'm thinking, particularly stuff that is “highbrow”. Certain symphony orchestras, certain theater. I think and hope that there is a transition of those sorts of things to an online medium that people can experience because of coronavirus. That way you know someone who typically couldn't afford to go see a concert at Detroit Symphony Orchestra can have access to that, where I think that access was much more limited before.

I think such outdated theater accessibility is obviously a huge problem, which is why organizations like the Public Theater are doing such good work. But the more digital things get as a result of this pandemic, I think the more accessible things will tend to be at least in some regard. Tickets to Broadway shows are still going to be expensive at the end of the day because obviously all these producers are going to need to recuperate these investments that got lost. But if there is now suddenly a plethora of online artistic content that everyone can listen to, I think that's probably for the best.

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