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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  Fair
Arts

ARTS

Broadway, the Negro Problem and SpongeBob
Multitalented Stew settles in for a UW residency

Stew: 'It's a learning process for me, as much as I'm teaching.'
Stew: 'It's a learning process for me, as much as I'm teaching.'
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A Tony and Obie award winner is artist in residence at the UW-Madison's Arts Institute. But your kids might know him best for his work on SpongeBob SquarePants.

Mark Stewart, known as Stew, is a singer, songwriter and playwright who lives in Berlin and Brooklyn. He is teaching, broadcasting and hosting performances all semester. Many events are open to the public.

"I'm enjoying it quite a lot," Stew says of the class he is teaching, "Stew's Song Factory." "To have something like close to 40 people all writing and working on songs, and talk to them about it and advise them about it, is really a privilege for me. It's a learning process for me, as much as I'm teaching."

In the early 1990s, Stew formed a band called the Negro Problem. Entertainment Weekly named his releases Guest Host and The Naked Dutch Painter Albums of the Year for 2000 and 2002, respectively.

In 2008, he garnered four Tony nominations for Passing Strange, winning Best Book of a Musical. The New Yorker called it "a brilliant work about migration - a geographical migration but also its hero's migration beyond the tenets of 'blackness' and toward selfhood." Spike Lee's film of the show received critical acclaim when it screened at the 2009 Sundance Festival. It subsequently aired on PBS's Great Performances.

Still, Stew is best known to some for his composition "Gary Come Home," written for SpongeBob SquarePants. So popular is the song that it even has its own Facebook page.

"The best audiences, ultimately, that you can have are those who are too young to be hip," he says. "To tell me that an 8-year-old has been listening to my song 50 times a day is actually a better compliment than if some guy in The New York Times says it's cool."

Among his UW duties, Stew broadcasts a radio program from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays on campus station WSUM, 91.7 FM. The show is billed as "a hyper-electric blend of his favorite sounds," plus guest interviews and work from Stew's students.

He also hosts a free weekly performance series, "Stew and Friends," at 7 p.m. Mondays. Upcoming guests include Richard Davis, Taylor Mac, Vernon Reid and, on Oct. 10, Toshi Reagon at the Red Gym. For more information and the "Stew and Friends" performance schedule and locations, visit go.wisc.edu/iz5094.

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