Volume 16 • Issue 2

Fine Arts Performance Profiles: Four Alumni Discuss Life and Art

— Kristen Card
Southwestern @ Georgetown
Southwestern @ Georgetown

The art of family

Heather Carter, Class of 1994

For sculptor Heather Carter, a connection between family and art has been a lifelong recurring theme, and a legacy she hopes to continue. Carter, who grew up in Austin, comes from a long line of musicians and designers. An only child raised by her mother—a teacher-turned-principal whom she calls “one of the most inspiring people I know”—her lineage includes a welder grandfather, a painter grandmother and an architect father. All provided Carter with a strong sense of design.

Her interest in sculpture began with architecture classes at Southwestern University, where she found she excelled at model building. She decided to take a sculpture class, and discovered an unexpected natural gift.

“My first sculpture was a self-portrait bust from clay,” says Carter. “My parents still fight over who gets to put it in their living room.”

Carter actually entered Southwestern on a music scholarship in clarinet, and while she eventually changed her major to art, she “fell in love with the school. SU empowered me,” she says. “My education there was in growing up, and coming into my own as a woman and as an artist. The real enlightening experiences I had came from being surrounded by some of the most brilliant people—fellow students and professors alike.”

One of her professors, Mary Visser—who now chairs Southwestern’s art department—became a key influence for Carter’s life and work. “[Mary]’s not only an incredible artist and professor, but a wonderful mother, too,” says Carter. “I actually believe she has the cape on under her shirt with the big ‘S’ on it. She’s the reason I’m a sculptor, and why I’m so empowered to further my career and be a mom.”

Today, Carter has a family of her own—she and her husband, Marc, have a toddler son, Aidan—and a successful career as an artist. Her main body of work consists of bent wood pieces resembling ribcages, boat ribs and building frameworks. Carter steams the wood to bend it into beautiful curves, but finds the wood often seems to have a mind of its own, bending the way it wants to, rather than the way she originally envisioned it. “But that can be a good thing,” she confirms.

Not surprisingly, Carter’s latest sculpture series, Nurture, explores the awesome joys and hardships of motherhood.

Her last word to Southwestern University students pursuing a life in the arts comes from her dad, who gave her some commonsense smarts along with his design talents. “Study a little business,” Carter advises. “It doesn’t come naturally for many artists.”

Southwestern @ Georgetown
Southwestern @ Georgetown

Doubling up on passion

Virginia Dupuy, Class of 1971

Mezzo-soprano Virginia Dupuy has meshed her lifelong loves of singing and learning so completely, it’s difficult to determine whether she’s a singing scholar or a scholarly singer. Known for her vocal versatility, it’s likely Dupuy is a little of both, depending upon the moment—is she performing Beethoven’s 9th with the Austin Symphony, or teaching young musicians at Southern Methodist University’s School of the Arts?

Dupuy’s dual career as one of our country’s finest concert and recital singers and as one of SMU’s finest professors of music fulfills both of her professional passions. “I love to sing, and I love the power of text when it is sung,” Dupuy says. “I began my career seeking ways to develop as a musician and scholar of music and poetry. Then, as I gained courage, I sought opportunities to perform the magnificent pieces I had discovered.”

A native of Marshall, Texas, Dupuy’s family is rife with musicians, poets and educators, including a great-aunt who was Chair of Music at Smith College in the early 20th century, and a grandmother who studied and eventually taught piano at Southwestern University, where Dupuy was named Distinguished Alumna in 2001.

“Frankly, I chose to attend Southwestern because my boyfriend [now her husband, Robert Dupuy ’69] was a pre-ministerial student there,” confesses Dupuy. “To be perfectly honest, I was interested in music, but really interested in being at the same school with him.”

Whatever her original reasons, Dupuy soon found in Southwestern a wonderful environment for learning—both about music and about life. “My time at SU triggered some lifelong curiosities for me,” she says. “The love of music history, literature, philosophy, poetry and the science of singing and performing. Above all, it was an incredible community in which to risk some ‘outside-the-box’ thinking, arguing, growing and living.”

Today, Dupuy performs with symphonies and operas of distinction throughout the country, including companies in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Pittsburgh. Her work was included on the 1999 Grammy-nominated Voces Americanas with Voices of Change, and on Disney’s soundtrack for Dick Tracy. Last year, her 10-year project of gathering and performing a recital of American composers’ settings of Emily Dickinson poems and letters came to fruition with the release of the CD Dwell in Possibility: Emily Dickinson in Song—an experience Dupuy calls one of the most satisfying of her life.

But what Dupuy loves most about the life she has created is its inherent ‘edginess.’ “I’m never quite settled, every day is a new world of possibility—especially when working with young singers. I’m privileged to be connected to them as they walk this walk, all over the world.”

Southwestern @ Georgetown
Southwestern @ Georgetown

Up for the challenge

Weston Hurt, Class of 1999

For baritone Weston Hurt, singing is more than a career; it’s a calling. “I feel that my talent is God-given,” Hurt says. “It’s my duty to sing at the highest artistic level possible, and to communicate music to as many people as I can as a means of sharing my gift with them.”

Yet, when he was in high school in the northern suburbs of Houston, Hurt’s reasoning for performing with the choir wasn’t quite as lofty. It wasn’t even the fact that his stepfather and mother were the school’s choir director and assistant respectively. “In high school,” confesses Hurt, “it was pretty much the cute girls that persuaded me to stay in choir.”

Regardless of his motive, it is Hurt’s exceptional talent as a full lyric baritone that has sent his singing career soaring. A recent graduate of The Juilliard Opera Center, Hurt has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Italy’s Spoleto Festival, as well as with several major opera companies nationwide. According to Hurt, it was his undergraduate time at Southwestern University that took him from ‘cute girls’ to taking singing seriously.

“I knew I wanted to study voice with teacher and opera theatre director Gerald Dolter,” Hurt remembers. “He had visited my high school during my senior year and made a huge impression on me. During my first year at Southwestern, he cast me in the title role of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. That’s what led me to want a career in singing.”

Dolter’s mastery and motivation, paired with Professor of Music Kenneth Sheppard’s influence as a mentor of the oratorio repertoire, inspired Hurt to take on new and greater challenges vocally and in his performance. Hurt quickly discovered that he thrived on pushing himself as a singer and as an actor, and that connecting with an audience through music fueled his passion like nothing else.

“It’s our job as singing actors to take what a composer thought a poet meant, add our individual stamp to it and present it to the audience so that they can be swept away to a different world,” says Hurt. “And, hopefully, they leave feeling touched or moved. I think this is the greatest challenge of my work, as well as the greatest joy.”

While the rewards are great, the rejection and other difficulties of being a self-employed singer—like contract negotiations and tax navigation—are enough for Hurt to warn off all but the most dedicated aspirants.

“If you can see yourself doing something other than singing, go do it,” Hurt counsels. “But if you can’t see yourself doing anything but performing and you can’t even think of what else you might do if you couldn’t sing, then that’s the first step.”

Southwestern @ Georgetown
Southwestern @ Georgetown

Loving the artful life

Ana Perea, Class of 1995

“I found acting a little the way we find the person we fall in love with,” says New York actress Ana Perea. “In the moment of first meeting, there is no way to identify the connection between the two. Only looking back is it obvious and inevitable, so full of harmony and necessity that the initial attraction is somehow unnamable—it just is.”

Perea, about to complete her master’s of fine arts at Columbia University, is a woman smitten and besotted with her craft. Her passion for acting is almost tangible, and it’s no wonder—a mixture of Mexican and Cajun heritage, Perea comes by passion the old-fashioned way: she inherited it.

Born in Mexico City, Perea grew up in San Marcos, a childhood she describes as involving “a lot of very good food and a lot of loud, passionate family.” Though no other relatives have pursued acting, Perea’s father and grandmother were writers, her uncle is a painter and art collector, and her mother, Perea considers a genuine artist in the kitchen.

It was Perea’s mother who first urged her to attend Southwestern University. “My mother liked it,” Perea states. “I wish I could tell you more, but that’s essentially the truth. Looking back, it’s clear that it was an ideal place for me in many ways. I didn’t know it consciously when I chose SU, but it was.

“Southwestern encouraged me to explore my potential without fear or apology,” she continues. “Of course, I had good actor training and a solid theatre education, but more important than the nuts and bolts of what I learned was the stimulating intellectual palette, and the time and space to make the most of it. Like all good undergrads, I was both arrogant and terrified, and I needed to form myself intellectually. At SU, there was always room for that to happen. I could fall flat on my face—and I did—and get up and go back to class—and I did. A career in the arts demands this kind of rigor, playfulness, stamina and curiosity.”

Today, Perea is flourishing, both personally and professionally. Last December, New York theatre critic John Heilpern noted, “My Best Actress of the Year is Ana Perea of The House of Bernarda Alba for her brilliant, unshowy, riveting performance as Lorca’s prowling tyrant, Bernarda. The immensely gifted Ms. Perea of the Columbia Class of 2005 has it all. Here’s to her God-given talent! Here’s to the future.”

Though she concedes it’s “very, very difficult to devote your life to acting when it comes to the reality of financial survival,” Perea also notes that aside from the material challenges, “I find the life of acting to be full of joy. I experience deep happiness sharing what I would call the sacred moment of live performance with other human beings.”