Theatre exposure in rural areas

by Hannah Williams-

The theatre arts can be crucial to a beneficial education in and out of school. However, many do not see the subject as having as much merit as STEM-driven fields. Many politicians have even pushed and financially incentivized STEM-driven fields over those that are art-driven in the past. As a result, theatre has become largely underdeveloped in more rural areas as less funding is distributed to those regions. This includes the New River Valley and much of the Appalachia. 

Located in downtown Blacksburg, Theatre 101 serves as a place for residents to immerse themselves in the arts. (The News Feed/Hannah Williams)

Rhea Perdue is a fan of and participant in the theatre arts. She was born and raised in Richcreek, Virginia, a small town in Giles County. According to the U.S. Census, the town had a population of only 755 in 2020. Perdue recalls how makeshift her experience with theatre was throughout her K-12 education.

“It was all very D-I-Y. We didn’t have a theatre at my high school, it was an auditorium for meetings,” Perdue says. “We had to daisy-chain little things, and we didn’t have mics, lighting or sound for a couple years.”

Perdue discusses how having proper experiences would have prepared her better for her theatre career in college.

“Had we had those things already, I think I would have had a better knowledge of them when I got to college and how to use them and not how to makeshift little things,” she says. “I think the root of the problem is not that I wasn’t exposed to it. The root of the problem is that we did not have money to facilitate the exposure.”

When it comes to K-12 funding, Virginia is still dealing with the effects of the 2008 recession and disproportionately relies on local governments to fund its public education. In order to meet the state’s Standards of Quality, local governments are having to spend twice as much in recent years, which many rural areas struggle to afford. These rural schools end up prioritizing STEM subjects while cutting back on arts to facilitate better test scores and receive grant funding.

A theatre space in Blacksburg, Va. sits empty on March 24, 2023. (The News Feed/Hannah Williams)

Despite arguments vouching for STEM subjects over the arts, there are a number of benefits that attending or performing theatre can have for residents and students of rural communities. A study by the George Mason University Arts Research Center shows the more art classes students take the more they can excel academically in other fields, leading to higher test scores many schools strive for. 

Susan Bland, Associate Director of Communication at Moss Arts Center, grew up in Giles County. She says the arts have benefits other subjects might not be able to provide.

“It opens up worldviews and gives [people] perspectives they would never have if they didn’t have access to the arts,” Bland says. “That’s something that math can’t give you. That’s something that science can’t give you.”

There are many reasons why a lack of theatre persists in the New River Valley. However, its benefits often outweigh the costs and could be key to helping underprivileged communities in the area.

Nepotism’s impact on the entertainment industry

by Hannah Williams-

Photo by Ebuka Onyewuchi from Pexels

Society throughout the years has had an obsession with celebrity culture, as evidenced by magazines such as People or Us Weekly. Even the possibility of a celebrity being pregnant can spark headlines. When that celebrity’s child is born, the idea of nepotism is questioned, which has become a cause for concern within the entertainment industry. 

Frequently used on social media nowadays, the term ‘nepo baby’ refers to any person with a famous parent. Current celebrities that fit into this category include Zoë Kravitz, Maya Hawke or Lily-Rose Depp. While nepotism is not a new concept, its resurgence within pop culture is. Vulture, the pop culture section of New York Magazine, published an article in December about ‘nepo babies’ with what many considered a shocking cover. The article, written by Nate Jones, states the entertainment industry is now built on reboots which can make a famous last name “valuable intellectual property.”

The article became the talk of social media for many weeks following its publication. Several people began looking into their favorite celebrities and whether or not they gained access to the industry based on merit alone. Despite any talent ‘nepo babies’ possess, many argue they would not have found success without the help of their parents and any affiliated connections. It also begs the question of whether or not connections and money are truly the only way to make it in the industry. Gwyneth Paltrow, however, says that ‘nepo babies’ have to work twice as hard to prove that they are deserving of their place despite their backgrounds.

Zooming in, nepotism has become a prominent issue within theatre where ticket sales have often become prioritized over production quality. A lot of uproar was caused when Maude Apatow, the daughter of Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, was cast as the female lead in the Broadway production, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. When Playbill announced the casting choice, one user commented that it was “nice to see nepo babies thriving when so many can’t get a job.” Former Broadway actress, Anissa Felix, came to her defense saying having a famous name on the bill helps with ticket sales and attendance rates.

There are many debates on whether or not nepotism can be viewed as detrimental or beneficial to performers. In some cases, it could be both. There is no doubt that the concept will remain in conversation for a long time and some celebrities will have to cope with extensive backlash based on their connections.

Artists’ impact when music labels merge

by Brooke Landers-

Hybe, a South Korean music management company, buys hip-hop label Quality Control for $300 million. Hybe is home to artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, and a roster of K-pop stars. These names will now be joined by the artists of Quality Control, which include Migos and Lil Baby. 

Erik Cumpston leads Paperplant for their show in the Bandslam concert at Virginia Tech. Photographed by Brooke Landers on Feb. 16, 2023.

According to the online blog, Complete Music Update, this deal now puts Hybe at the forefront of the hip-hop genre in the U.S. This major merger will no doubt cause ripples across the international music industry. The business move is a reflection of how important the managerial side of the professional music industry is. 

To better understand the music industry, Professor Artem Bank from the Music Department of Virginia Tech offers some insight on the subject. 

“Management that has connections within the areas the artist wants to pursue is paramount, whether this is someone who understands and frequently sets up sync licenses, has ties to marketing agencies that can push a new artist, or has access to exclusive and lucrative promoters and booking agents,” says Bank.

He emphasizes that it is also easy to face potential downfalls, like getting mismanaged and signing to a label that might take advantage of an artist. Thus, when larger labels start to shift and merge, it might not always be in their artists’ favor. 

“It’s not enough to just be good at making music. A lot of people are. How that talent is applied is much more important than just having the talent,” explains Bank.

As talent is not hard to find in the music industry, smaller labels do their best to sign upcoming and emerging artists. Yet, these smaller labels also have to compete with the ever-growing giant that is Hybe.

Milk Parlor, a local Blacksburg music venue frequented by small artists. Photographed by Brooke Landers on Feb. 16, 2023.

Indie artists and those lesser known in the industry are making their success through grassroots marketing. Erik Cumpston, lead singer and guitarist of Paperplant, a local Blacksburg, VA band, exhibits how artists can take the business management into their own hands with some extra work.

“It is also hard to be seen as ‘credible’ when you have not played with any bands in the scene yet, and no one really knows who you are. It is really tough to gain traction, but consistency is key,” says Cumpston.

Being a consistent artist that seeks out opportunities will likely generate some sort of success, but artists will make it to the next level by signing to a label. A label would help with alleviating the responsibilities of generating opportunities in terms of shows and appearances. 

“When it comes to booking a show, you typically have to spam call or email the venue to get their attention,” says Cumpston.

With a label, these hoops would be much easier to jump through. Yet, it is clear that the music industry is becoming more and more concentrated into a few massive labels, like Hybe. Signing to a smaller label might not do much for up-and-coming artists these days.

SW Va. musicians defining their success

By: Brooke Landers

Local musicians in Blacksburg, Virginia are young, ambitious, and talented. Yet, pursuing a lifelong career in music is not always the goal for every musician. This small local circle of bands and solo acts is maintaining a pace that balances their appetite for success and their contentment with their current stage.

Photo taken by Brooke Landers on Feb. 18, 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. Local music fans cheer for a band playing at the Milk Parlor, a popular venue for small local artists.

Shak Kataev, the financial manager for a local band called Parotia, is leery of Parotia developing as a band outside of the local Southwest Virginia area. 

“In our past, band leaders were more in an expansionist mindset and fostered connections outside of Blacksburg. As of late, this is not true”, said Kataev. 

Though Parotia has seen great success in the Blacksburg area, Kataev explains that maintaining a steady roster of band members and trying to keep up publishing new music has made it hard to picture the band growing out of its local area. 

“Our bassist left and graduated. No tentative plans have been made to find a suitable replacement,” said Kataev.

Even if replacements can be found, his outlook on Parotia’s streaming success is pretty pessimistic. According to the global music distributor, Ditto, each stream on Spotify only makes the artist $0.003-$0.005. Thus, Kataev feels content with the lineup of shows Parotia maintains locally and isn’t too keen on pursuing Spotify success or expanding Parotia’s domain.

Southwest Virginia not only has a thriving local band scene but also has some blossoming solo acts, like Amelia Empson. As the embodiment of Appalachia, Empson is a local farmer and true native of this area, who pours authenticity into her music. 

“I’m using my music as an outlet to process my emotions and feelings, it’s kind of like journaling for me, it’s where a lot of my lyrics come from. I really love pen and paper, that’s what music feels like to me,” said Empson.

Though her passion for sharing her music is undeniable, her outlook on making a break for an arena bigger than the local Southwest Virginia music scene is not on the immediate radar.

“Right now where I am, I really enjoy the pace I’m at and I’m not tired of it,” said Empson. 

Networking as a solo artist proves to be different and potentially more challenging than networking the local music scene with a band. Still, Empson has friends she can jam with and a local support system of other artists. She is content with her place in local music for now but still leaves the door open for her aspirations of having music as a full-time career.

“It is something I’d like to turn into a career if I can support myself and keep up with my relationships,” said Empson.

Photo by Brooke Landers taken Feb. 28, 2022, in Blacksburg, Va. A crowd enjoys a concert performed by Parotia.

Both Parotia and Empson share the local stage of the Southwest Virginia music scene and continue to add their own unique contributions to the ever-growing sounds of Appalachia. The balance and consistency from both acts show that their passion for what they do bears no mind to the size of the stage they play on.

Finding live music in a small town and beyond

by Brooke Landers-

In Blacksburg, Virginia, live music permeates every nook and cranny of the small college town atmosphere. It’s not hard to find a band playing in a small apartment or a downtown bar on the weekends; there is always an opportunity to find live music.

In the heart of downtown, the Milk Parlor offers food and drink with a stage that is occupied nightly by local or small touring musicians. These acts include student-led bands or larger touring bands like Short and Company. Tickets can be acquired in advance or at the door if there is still availability. Milk Parlor never fails to attract a diverse crowd of music lovers, no matter what level of experience the performer offers.

Photo by Brooke Landers taken on Feb. 1, 2022. Short and Co. perform to a crowd at the Milk Parlor.

On a smaller scale, younger bands will play in local apartments or houses with just a cover fee for entrance. These shows often include multiple bands that are student-led and perform at an amateur level. Finding out about these house shows happens through word of mouth or flyers posted around town and on social media. 

If one is looking to watch their favorite artist perform or view a popular international touring act, it will take a short road trip, as Blacksburg is out of the way from any city listed on a tour schedule of a big musician. For sought-after artists like Paramore, the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina is about the closest they will get to Blacksburg. For even bigger artists like Taylor Swift, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will be the next closest place to witness her performance. Blacksburg is in a hole when it comes to being within reach of seeing artists of a high caliber, as these artists need populous cities with venues big enough for them to perform in. Southwest Virginia as a whole remains far away from such cities. 

Yet, for a Blacksburg resident, good music is never that far. There is always a chance of stumbling upon an open mic on Henderson Lawn or a guitarist playing at the local Rising Silos Brewery. These acts are free and open to the public. 

When it comes to finding live music, one just has to keep an open mind and open ear. Find a show to attend at the Milk Parlor and learn more about local acts or just look out for flyers advertising smaller local shows. Though Blacksburg may not host Taylor Swift, it still has a lot to offer in terms of good live music.

“Streaming” causing shifts in entertainment industry

by Hannah Williams-

The B&B Theatres parking lot in Blacksburg sits half full on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo: Hannah Williams)

The ways the entertainment industry consumes and disperses art is quickly changing as technology develops more each year.  With a rapid rise in streaming services, like Netflix, theaters and performing arts centers are having to adapt to survive. As a result of such services, these establishments are dealing with issues like reduced attendance and low ticket sales.

Streaming services began growing in 2005 with YouTube, a video-sharing website, and its success in the entertainment markets has skyrocketed since then. The biggest catalyst that drew people towards streaming services over theaters and performing arts centers came during the COVID-19 pandemic. AMC Entertainment reported a loss of $4.5 billion in 2020 after having to close all of its theaters for public safety. Cinemark and Regal Cinemas also closed their theaters that year.

Another factor in this shift is ticket costs. The Statista Research Department reports the average price of a movie ticket in the US in 2021 was $9.57. Twenty years ago, it was $5.66. Locally, B&B Theatres in Blacksburg currently prices 1 adult ticket for around $11, while the monthly cost for a Netflix subscription starts at $6.99 and features a wide range of movies and TV shows.

Due to rising costs, some stay home to watch movies, even if it means waiting longer for them to release on streaming platforms. Although, some films, like “Dune”, are released on streaming services the same day as in theaters. 

“More movies are being promoted alongside streaming services,“ says Nicholas Powell, a concessions worker at B&B Theatres. “Just about everyone has, or knows someone who has, access to every streaming service. So when those movies come out, I see significantly low amounts of attendance.”

Ticket prices vary for live performances. At Moss Arts Center, prices tend to steer on the higher end. Depending on the seat location, student status and demand, tickets cost anywhere from $10 to upwards of $100.

Box office attendants at Moss Arts Center in Blacksburg wait for customers on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. (Photo: Hannah Williams)

Kristen Kim, a box office attendant at Moss Arts Center, says finances greatly impact attendance, particularly for students.

“College is hard. There are times when performances don’t cost $10,” Kim says. “You actually have to save up to buy [tickets]. Going to performances is a luxury from a student perspective.”

When the Moss Arts Center sees a high amount of sales, it suffers with follow-through and ticket buyers showing up. Margaret Lawrence, the Director of Programming at Moss Arts Center, says this is the center’s current concern.

“We’re hearing that students are attending fewer events, much less than before the pandemic,” says Lawrence. “We are concerned about students who have gone through the pandemic having to stream everything and have hit this different stride where going to a big thing in person with all these people doesn’t feel as comfortable anymore.”

The growth of streaming services continues, with 83% of consumers having a subscription to video-on-demand platforms. As the effects of the pandemic still loom, there is much uncertainty about where the entertainment industry is headed.

Japanese manga dominating American comics

By: Ryan Schork

Christiansburg, Va., Jan. 25, 2023 – Inside Barnes & Noble where Japanese Manga books are proudly on display. Photo: Ryan Schork

The comic book industry has surged in sales and widespread popularity in recent years. When thinking about comic books, many people think of Marvel and DC heroes like Spider-man, Batman, and Superman. However, the increased sales volume and popularity of comic books can mainly be attributed to manga.

Manga are Japanese comic books that serve as the source material for animated cartoon shows and movies, called anime. Manga reached record sales numbers in 2020, earning an estimated $5.6 billion in Japan alone, according to Megan Peters. Meanwhile, that same year American comics earned $1.28 billion in North America, according to a joint survey by ICv2 and Comichron.

Just one year later in 2021, comic books generated a total of $2.075 billion in America, with manga making up $1.47 billion of that total. This means that Japanese manga is not only more profitable in Japan, but even in America they are selling better than American comics.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the actual animated cartoons [anime] and then people want to come in and actually read the source material,” said Adam Sutphin, manager of Big Lick Comics in Roanoke.

Sutphin also attributed popular streaming services like Netflix and HBO to the rise of manga. This is due to anime getting much more exposure in America, leading consumers to want to delve deeper into the stories by purchasing manga.

“It’s not really just hitting the scene, it’s kind of becoming more mainstream,” said Sutphin in regard to manga. “I think with a lot more access to the animated movies [anime], it’s getting a lot more eyes looking at it.”

Christiansburg, Va., Jan. 25, 2023 – The expanding shelving space of solely Japanese comic books in Barnes & Noble, pushing out American comics. Photo: Ryan Schork

Major book-selling retailers like Barnes & Noble, have started to phase out shelving space for American comics, opting to give manga more space. While this is certainly due to better sales, Robert Jones sales representative at B&D Comics, believes there are other factors.

Jones claims that manga books are much easier to store, stock and re-shelf than American comic books. This is because manga books are printed in a similar fashion to paperback novels. Whereas comics are flimsier and more prone to damage.

Jones also believes that people are more inclined to buy manga over American comics because of the amount of content held in each book. “Instead of just a small comic book, you get an entire volume [with manga],” said Jones. Rather than just a singular issue of a few pages, customers prefer to buy a book of manga that contain hundreds of pages and multiple chapters.

If one thing is clear, it is that manga is here to stay. “I think it’s always going to be around, and I think it’s going to keep increasing,” said Sutphin. It will be the American comic book industry that must yield to manga or adapt to maintain relevance.

Rise of Immersive Art Museums

By Kate Haas

In an increasingly digital world, all kinds of industries must adapt to changes in technology and innovation, including the world of art. Immersive art museums reimagine the traditional museum experience through interactive and immersive exhibits.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum industry suffered heavily. Museums were forced to close during 2020 and most of 2021. When social distancing guidelines were lifted in late 2021, artists and curators needed to find a golden ticket to spark interest in the art world again. 

The golden ticket: immersive art.

Around the world, immersive art museums gained extreme popularity after the COVID-19 lockdown and transformed the museum experience for both visitors and artists. By stepping foot inside the exhibition, visitors become art.

Immersive art museums reimagine the traditional museum experience through interactive exhibits. Museums like the Artechhouse and WNDR Museum, all provide a multi-sensory showcase of art and technology. Their goal is to make 2-dimensional static art interactive. 

With locations in Washington D.C., New York City and Miami Beach, the Artechouse is a pioneer in the field of digital and experiential art. Their current exhibit, “Intangible Forms” by Shohei Fujimoto, combines choreographed kinetic lasers, moving lights, strobe lights and haze lights to blur the lines between what is imaginary and what is not. 

The 2021 exhibit that took Artechouse’s claim to fame was at their Washington D.C. location. In a city famous for its spring cherry blossoms, the Artechouse used cutting-edge interactive technology to bring “Hanami: Beyond the Blooms” by Yuko Shimizu to life. 

Photo: Yuko Shimizu

The exhibit teleported visitors into a flourishing world of cherry blossoms. There were several rooms with digital walls of flowers created by Shimizu that moved with every hand wave or movement. Parts of the museum that were not digitized were immersed with thousands of dangling pink and purple blossoms. This exhibit transformed the art museum scene in Washington, D.C. and proved the breadth of immersive art. 

The WNDR Museum is a popular interactive art museum with exhibits in Chicago, Boston, San Diego and Seattle. Unlike the Artechouse, WNDR includes exhibits with artificial intelligence programs that will fill the room with digital art based on prompts visitors submit. 

The WNDR Museum combines avant-garde technology with art. The experience of each immersive exhibit would be incomplete without visitors to the museum. 

Art museums around the world are constantly rethinking and rejuvenating their spaces to keep up with ever-changing industry trends. With immersive art becoming more mainstream, more and more traditional art museums might find their experience to be more self-directed and immersive.

ARTS/CULTURE: U.S. ban on Afghanistan art import

by Makayla Shelton, Gavin Linden –

The United States placed a ban on art imported from Afghanistan on February 18. The ban is set to last until April of 2026 and covers any ancient material found in Afghanistan from 50,000 B.C. to 1747 A.D.

The ban was enforced in an attempt to prevent the Taliban from gaining revenue from the United States for the artifacts. Stone, metal, human remains, glass, and paintings are just some of the archaeological materials that are included in the ban.

Museums and galleries in the U.S. may suffer as a result of the ban especially during Asia Week New York, as many of them were expecting some of those artifacts in preparation for the event. The U.S. government gave no warning for the ban, so any artifacts from Afghanistan in the U.S. will need proof that they were acquired prior to the ban.

In our podcast, we share our opinion on the ban and shed more light on the topic.

ARTS/CULTURE: Looking into Choi’s ‘The Shape of Distance’

by Sean Lyons, Jett Willingham–

Photo: Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

An art exhibition at the Moss Arts Center: “The Shape of Distance” features multiple paintings and sculptures by Namwon Choi. It features vivid blue colors, interesting shapes and abstract takes on real-life images.

In this podcast we discuss the content of the exhibit, Choi’s background in art, the colors featured in the exhibition and favorite pieces in the exhibition.

“The Shape of Distance” by Namwon Choi is available for viewing at the Moss Arts Center until March 26, 2022.