Students welcome Folt, display talent during arts showcase

USC seniors Mariana Carrillo and Adam Vesperman perform “Embraceable You” by George Balanchine from the ballet “Who Cares?” (Lauren Kashani | Daily Trojan)

The disco medley had been going for nearly 10 minutes, and there was no end in sight. Dozens of dancers sporting sparkly bell-bottoms danced tirelessly as musicians covered ‘70s classics like Chic’s “Le Freak” and the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” and the audience was on its feet before the number was halfway over.  

Although it very well could have been, the performance was neither a televised tribute nor an intergalactic aerobics class. It was the finale to a two-hour arts showcase celebrating the inauguration of Carol Folt, USC’s 12th president, and all the performers were students. 

The event, held at Bovard Auditorium and Alumni Memorial Park Wednesday evening, featured a lineup of student artists from a variety of schools and disciplines. In between musical numbers and group dance routines, students performed stand-up comedy acts, and audience members watched animated short films from the School of Cinematic Arts. 

Before and after the live event, attendees walked through an outdoor gallery of work from the Roski School of Art and Design and observed a colorful projections display on the front of Doheny Memorial Library. 

“The arts not only are building creativity, they can also speak to things that can’t be said any other way,” Folt said in her opening remarks. “If there was ever a time that we want to double down on the arts, it is right now.” 

Audience members responded enthusiastically to the show’s diverse lineup. Judith Shelton, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Dramatic Arts whose students performed stand-up comedy in the showcase, said her favorite part — after her students — was the final disco medley, arranged by award-winning musician Patrice Rushen, an  assistant professor of practice and chair of the Popular Music Program at the Thornton School of Music.

“It was perfect — there’s so much talent here,” Shelton said. “At the end, where we were all standing and dancing, it just filled the whole room with joy and hope for the future.” 

In her opening speech, Folt spoke about the importance of the arts at USC as she begins her tenure as president. Some audience members said they would like to see increased resources and performance opportunities for USC’s various artistic programs under her leadership. 

“I hope to see, in terms of USC’s future, more interdepartmental collaboration among animation students, music students [and] dance students, which is currently going on, but the more the better in my opinion,” said Eva Hill, a graduate student in the animation and digital arts program.  

The showcase also featured performances by Musical Theatre Repertory, a student theatre organization, and the SoCal VoCals, an undergraduate a cappella group. In an introductory speech, SDA Dean David Bridel described MTR as one of USC’s most vibrant student groups.

“They are entirely self-produced and self-funded, [and] everything they do is under their own initiative,” Bridel said in his speech. “They, like so many of the other artists … carry within them that mysterious flame of creativity … It’s something that is very hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.”

MTR President Tyler Ellis, a senior majoring in theatre, said the group began rehearsing at the beginning of the semester after Bridel chose two musical theatre songs for them from a list of options. They ended up settling on “The New World” from Jason Robert Brown’s “Songs for a New World” and “Run, Freedom, Run!” from the 2001 musical “Urinetown.” 

Ellis said the showcase made MTR group members feel “seen” by Folt and the University as a whole, something he said is rare for artists on campus. 

“We don’t often get nights like this; we don’t have the budget necessary,” Ellis said. “Just feeling … like we belong at this university and that we actually enrich the school — we don’t always feel that way as arts students, so it was a refreshing evening of celebration. I was lucky and honored to be a part of it.”

Natalie Bettendorf contributed to this report.