Layna Davis had reached a turning point when she came to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a transfer student in the Peck School of the Arts theater program. She arrived from New York, discouraged and depressed about her dream of building a career in the theater, she says. Her experiences at UWM have changed all that.
“Now that I’m here I can see it all happening. I’ve had a lot of doors opening up that were never there before.”
“I really love the arts,” says Isiah Davis (no relation to Layna), who plays the bass and majoring in music education, but is planning a career in higher-education counseling. Isiah, who started learning piano and guitar when he was 7 or 8 years old, came to UWM for its strong music program, but discovered a new career direction while working as a resident assistant with University Housing. But even after he completes graduate work and moves into working with college students, he says, “I’ll be playing music all my life.”
Layna and Isiah are examples of the different directions UWM’s arts programs can take students. This year, the university’s Peck School of the Arts is celebrating its 50th anniversary with the Year of the Arts. The celebration features hundreds of extra dance, music and theater performances, art and design exhibitions, film screenings and other arts events – most free and open to the public – in addition to numerous regularly scheduled performances. More than 50 campus and community partners are involved in the arts programming. (See www.yoa.uwm.edu for a complete schedule of events and more information).
Layna Davis is directing a play, “Some Girl(s),” by one of her favorite playwrights, Neil LaBute. “Some Girl(s),” which runs Nov. 8-11 at Kenilworth Studio 508, 1925 E. Kenilworth Pl., focuses on a commitment-phobic writer who’s visiting a string of ex-girlfriends. The play’s style – done in a series of vignettes – and its focus on relationships make it a good fit for university students as well as the general community, says Davis.
And Isiah Davis and his bass are prominently featured in some of the posters and promoting the Year of the Arts.
Finding unexpected opportunities
Both agree that they found opportunities at UWM that they never expected.
UWM’s many community connections have enriched her experiences here, says Layna Davis, who grew up in Door County. “There are a lot of really creative people here,” she says. In particular, the partnerships and outreach with communities of color have helped her tap into her own Latina roots.
“I used to think of my ethnicity as something that might bring me down,” she says, but she’s now getting to know the active local Milwaukee Latino community through theater. “Michelle Lopez-Rios (associate professor of voice and speech) has been a really great source of information and support.”
Isiah Davis, who grew up in Milwaukee, says he was excited by the opportunity to learn from Laura Snyder, who played bass with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and being able to play at Carnegie Hall with the UWM Orchestra last year. “Every teacher is different, but they all make it interesting,” says Davis of his UWM classes.
He likes UWM’s diversity and the chances he’s had through his work, extracurricular activities and classes to meet people all over campus. And his job in University Housing inspired him to change career directions from a full-time profession in music to working with young people starting college. “I’ve had a lot of good experiences here.”
Layna Davis’ goal after she earns her bachelor’s degree in fine arts (BFA) is to head for graduate school to earn her master’s degree, eventually hoping to work as an actor and acting teacher.
“I’ve had some really great teachers at UWM and I’ve learned a lot from them. They’ve really helped me learn to not get discouraged and work toward a career in the arts.”