Web Exclusive: AACC professors perform off-campus


Photo courtesy of Anna Binneweg

AACC performing arts professors work off-campus in theater, music and dance. Shown, music professor Anna Binneweg conducting an orchestra.

Tomi Brunton and Éva Parry

Some of AACC’s performing arts professors work off campus on professional theater productions or as part of dance companies, jazz groups and symphonies.

Sean Urbantke

Theater professor Sean Urbantke works in scenic design, creating and decorating sets for productions of off-campus plays.

Urbantke said he usually limits his outside work to summers when he doesn’t teach classes.

For example, Urbantke said he has designed sets for plays like Putnam County Spelling Bee for both professional theater companies and schools in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Urbantke, who has worked at AACC since 2011, teaches theater classes, designs sets for on-campus productions and serves as co-faculty adviser of the student theater club, Moonlight Troupers.

“I got bit by the theater bug when I was in high school and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Urbantke said.

Still, he said, “I’m not satisfied by doing the same thing over and over again. … What I like about designing for the theater is there are specific steps in the process that you have to go through, but what you’re working on constantly changes. … Every show is different.”

Urbantke graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater and from the University of Maryland, College Park with a Master of Fine Arts in scenic design.

Urbantke taught theater as part of an assistantship while studying at the University of Maryland. After graduate school, he was a freelance scenic designer for two years.

“I got to a point where … I had three openings a month, but I missed the teaching,” Urbankte said. “That was the piece of the puzzle that was missing for me.”

So he returned to teaching and still takes freelance design jobs.

“It’s extremely useful … that I continue to … try to fit in at least one show [every summer]. … What I tell my students is drawing from personal experience on top of book learning, right, so if it’s kind of the difference.”

Urbantke said his favorite part of teaching is seeing students’ progress in the classroom.

“I love seeing the spark,” Urbantke added. “When someone … wraps their brain around something, maybe for the first time, and they start diving in, and that you can see that it has clicked … somewhere, and that’s my favorite part, is seeing that being able to enable folks to try something new or to further their skill set.”

First-year theater student Robin Whewell said Urbantke has a “broader range of knowledge” about theater because of his experience.

Anna Binneweg

Music professor Anna Binneweg said conducting an orchestra is similar to being a teacher.

“[With] conducting, you are a teacher just by nature,” Binneweg, who directs AACC’s Symphony Orchestra, said. “You’re in front of an orchestra and leading them through a piece of music [and] providing them with that knowledge and interpretation.”

Aside from working as a full-time music professor since 2006, Binneweg serves as the music director and conductor of the Londontowne Symphony Orchestra in Anne Arundel County. She also guest conducts for the local school system and led both student and professional orchestras in Ukraine and Belarus from 2012-14.

Binneweg originally planned to earn a bachelor’s degree in clarinet but changed her major to conducting. She went on to earn her master’s degree in music from Southern Methodist University and her doctorate of music in orchestra conducting from Northwestern University.

Binneweg added the history of orchestra inspires both her teaching and conducting.

“I’m covering centuries worth of repertoire,” Binneweg said. “Anything from, kind of, coming out of the Baroque era through classical, romantic, 20th century and now modern times. So it’s a really vast amount of repertoire. And of course, you learn things through those composers that you know how to … draw upon in the classroom for students.”

Binneweg will conduct the Londontowne Symphony Orchestra in a performance called “Rising Start!” on April 23. She will also conduct the AACC Symphony Orchestra in its spring performance on May 7.

Adjetey Klufio

Dance professor Adjetey Klufio wasn’t always interested in dance.

He had hoped to become a professional soccer player, but started to dance professionally when the National Dance Company of Ghana recruited him.

Klufio performed with the Company for 10 years before moving to Maryland.

Klufio said education is an important part of art and performance.

“I didn’t want to become just an entertainer. I want to become an educator through my dances,” Klufio said.

Klufio teaches dance part-time at the college, and serves as the artistic director of the AACC Dance Company.

Klufio also co-founded the Osagyefo Dance Company in Baltimore, which will perform at AACC on April 8 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Humanities 112. Klufio will choreograph and direct the performance.

Klufio said he founded the dance company to “correct the narrative” about African dance.

“I had an epiphany when I went to Dance Africa in New York 2012,” Klufio said. “And I wanted to do something that represents who I am and who represents me and I spoke to a couple of friends. And then we got together and put up this company. … Then it … just built into something else.”

Klufio performed the thesis project for his Master of Fine Arts in dance at Wilson College in Philadelphia last weekend. He said the project “has been on his mind for years.”

“Also, the Embassy of Ghana came to my show this past weekend,” Klufio added. “So that’s … a big honor.”

Klufio said he hoped to develop his thesis project further at AACC by developing it into a musical.

He added he wants the performance to be “involved in all the aspects of theater and dance, like bringing every department together to culminate a show. … And I think that if the school is able, we can collaborate and do this.”

Ian Wardenski

Professor Ian Wardenski, chair of the Performing Arts Department, said it’s important for artists to give back to the creative arts.

“I think it’s important to, kind of, give back and contribute,” Wardenski said. “And so, you know, a great way to give back or contribute to it is to teach.”

Wardenski said he got interested in music after taking guitar lessons as a teen.

“I was very fortunate …  to study with a guitar teacher who was not only an incredible guitarist, but he was a remarkable composer as well,” Wardenski said. “In addition to my guitar lessons … [I took] music theory and composition lessons.”

He has since worked with his off-campus quintet, a group of five musicians, to come out with two albums, “Collective Thoughts” and “Trust.” He added he is working on a third album, which he hopes to record in August.

Wardenski will also be performing on April 1 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Humanities 112 with the AACC Faculty Jazz Ensemble alongside professors Mercedes Beckman, Anthony Pocetti and Frank Russo.

Wardenski, who has taught music classes full-time at AACC since 2004, is the music director for the AACC Small Jazz Combo and the AACC World Class Jazz Series.

Wardenski said performing off-campus “really helps with professional development and growth. It allows us to explore new content, allows us to explore new opportunities, new collaborations. It just allows us to grow as musicians, as artists.”

Doug Byerly

Music professor Doug Byerly said the best performance he will ever do is always “the next one.”

Byerly said his occasional professional, off-campus performances are important for teaching classes.

“I learn from every project that I do,” Byerly said. “It enhances the teaching component when I’m playing. … It keeps us active in our industry and sets a great model for students as well, because our students want to perform.”

Byerly has taught for more than 30 years. He has also conducted children’s choirs, sung professionally in musical theater and opera and has played with performers and bands such as Barry Manilow or The Barenaked Ladies.

As well as teaching music classes full-time, Byerly founded Opera AACC in 2001 and still serves as its artistic director. He also directs the AACC Concert Choir and Chamber Singers.

Byerly began singing in the choir at his church from a young age, and has continued performing in churches his whole career.

As well as singing and conducting, Byerly plays keyboards, guitar and saxophone.

Byerly said he doesn’t just perform for fun, but as a “professional.”

It’s “part of what I do, … to put food on the table, to pay rent,” Byerly said. “Because I love to, … I love collaborating and working with a wide variety of people, but they are professional gigs.”

Byerly said he was “always looking for opportunities to challenge our students here at AACC to do something different.”

Eighth-year music student Will Kuethe said he “learned a lot” from Byerly.

“When I started going here in 2015, I started helping him out in the theater, and I’ve learned, like, all about the theater jobs like … lighting,” Kuethe said. “I’ve gotten a lot of jobs through Doug.”

This article has been updated.