Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge talks to Josh Cohen ’14 and Matthew Krakauer ’14 about what they learned from writer Leigh Fondakowski and scientist Barry Chernoff. “SPILL”, Ms. Fondakowski‘s collaboration with visual artist Reeva Wortel, will be performed in Beckham Hall this weekend (Feb. 25 & 26).
I went to Beckham Hall on Tuesday as Leigh Fondakowski and Reeva Wortel were loading in elements for SPILL, a new work that Wesleyan and others have commissioned about the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill. We’ve seen images of Reeva’s portraits, but finally we were able to see the eight foot tall canvasses unpacked. They are life-sized representations of the people whom Fondakowski and Wortel interviewed, people whose lives were changed forever.
This weekend, the stories of oyster fishermen, Tea Party Republicans, families of oil riggers and others will be told in a choral reading format by Fondakowski’s New York-based cast. Wesleyan students also had the chance to meet and interview some of these people when they took a course that Fondakowski and Barry Chernoff, Director of the College of the Environment, co-taught last summer in and around New Orleans.
They learned about the aftermath of the spill through the lens of a scientist and an artist. They toured the beaches and the bayou, understanding the science of what occurred and meeting with scientists about the condition of coastal wildlife. They also learned Fondakowski’s interviewing techniques and how she uses a technique entitled Moment Work to create a piece of theater. When I saw Josh Cohen ’14, a student in the course at Young Jean Lee’s talk this week, he said: “I have to go back to Louisiana. [Fondakowski and Chernoff] introduced me to a world I’d never experienced before. I learned about making theater from the ground up. As a result, it completely changed the way I look at everything. I can’t wait to see Leigh’s play.” He was with Matthew Krakauer ’14, another student in the course: “I learned a completely new way to think about theater. I had one mindset about how theater is made, but this class changed everything. In fact, Moment Work informed how I experienced my entire time there. I can’t wait to go back.”
Tickets for SPILL are extremely limited: only 50 per performance, so if you are interested in attending, do buy your tickets early.
“SPILL” Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 7pm & 10pm
Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 2pm & 7pm
Fayerweather Beckham Hall , Wyllys Avenue
$12 general public; $10 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $5 Wesleyan students
As a member of the Outside the Box Theater Series planning committee, Assistant Professor of Theater Rashida Z. Shaw ’99 said this campus needs to see Javon Johnson. She and Dr. Johnson were Ph.D. students together at Northwestern University, he in Performance Studies and she in Theater and Drama. Because these are sister programs, they had a number of classes together and became friends.
Javon, a spoken word artist and scholar, is now based in Los Angeles, where he has a huge following. He has performed at major venues around the country and has been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, among other television programs. Next week, he’ll be in residence visiting classes and meeting with members of WeSLAM and other poets and theater students on campus. And on Thursday evening, February 23, he performs in Crowell Concert Hall , as a part of this year’s Theater Department/Center for the Arts “Outside the Box Theater Series”.
“I used to have Javon come and perform in all of my political theater courses and in classes that dealt with solo performance. He has the ability to integrate popular culture with scholarship and political critique – all in a humorous package. Spoken word artists straddle the line between poetry and theater. What I remember most about Javon is his captivating energy – he has a vocal dexterity and a physical range that make his performances interesting not only on a textual level, but you also get caught up in how he is delivering his poems, and that makes you want to know more about who he is,” said Dr. Shaw. “Not all spoken word artists can hit all of these levels.” Dr. Shaw and Dr. Johnson were reunited at Northwestern when they both graduated last June, and Dr. Shaw looks forward to welcoming him to Wesleyan and to Middletown next week.
An Evening of Spoken Word with Javon Johnson Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$15 general public; $12 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students
Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge discusses “RISK!” (Feb. 10) and “SPILL” (Feb. 25 & 26).
Carolyn Cohen ’12 came to the CFA with an idea. She and members or her comedy improv troupe said they wanted to bring Kevin Allison (of MTV’s The State) to Wesleyan to do a story slam with a twist. Mr. Allison has created RISK! – a program that he has taken to college campuses around the country where he pairs luminaries in the comedy scene with students and other members of the community (check out what they did at Brown University here). They all tell stories that show sides of themselves that they never thought they’d dare to share in public (that’s where the “risk” comes in). Tonight, Wesleyan will welcome Mr. Allison and San Francisco-based comic W. Kamau Bell to tell stories alongside Wesleyan students. The 7pm performance will include stories told by Jana Heaton ’14 and graduate student Jakob Schaeffer. The 10pm performance will include stories told by Carolyn Cohen ’12 and Virgil Taylor ’15. Both performances will feature music by Samuel Friedman ’13.
RISK! Friday, February 10, 2012 at 7pm & 10pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$12 general public; $10 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $5 Wesleyan students* *Wesleyan Students may purchase advance tickets to both performances for $8. Students that have already purchased tickets to one of the performances, may add the other performance at the discounted rate. This discounted rate is available through the Wesleyan University Box Office in the Usdan University Center.
I also want to encourage all of our CFA friends to save the date to see the first-ever public showing of a play commissioned by the CFA through the Creative Campus Initiative. SPILL is a stunning new work co-created by Leigh Fondakowski (Head Writer, The Laramie Project), and visual artist Reeva Wortel, and is based in part on interviews with people from the Gulf Coast of southern Louisiana in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of April 2010, the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. The performances at Wesleyan are the first public showing of the performance/installation and will feature life-sized painted portraits of the interviewees, along with a choral reading of the play.
We met Leigh for the first time in 2008 when the Theater Department and CFA brought her to campus to lead a workshop on the Tectonic Theater’s “moment work” in conjunction with a residency by Moises Kaufman (founder of Tectonic). In 2010, the CFA invited her to co-teach an environmental studies course with Wesleyan scientist Barry Chernoff. Together the pair developed the Deepwater Horizon Tragedy: A Scientific and Artistic Inquiry course. By exploring the oil spill from both an artistic and scientific standpoint, students learned the science of the Gulf Coast region and the ecological impact of the oil spill as well as artistic tools and methods that enabled them to understand the science at a deeper level, and make the research and the meaning of that research visible to an audience through their art.
Leigh was so taken by what she saw and heard, she decided to create her own piece in a first-time collaboration with visual artist Reeva Wortel. The text for the work is created from transcripts of interviews with people across the political spectrum – from Tea Party Republicans to life-long environmental conservationists, families who lost loved ones in the explosion on the oil rig, as well as oil-rig workers, clean-up workers, scientists, politicians, priests, and members of the diverse fishing communities along the coast. What emerges is a story as complex as this region’s historic relationship to oil and the oil industry.
There are only fifty seats for each performance so we encourage you to reserve your tickets early. Every performance will be followed by a talk-back with the creators. They are anxious for your feedback as they prepare to take the work to New Orleans for the second anniversary of the spill in April, as well as an anticipated national tour in 2013. We hope you will be a part of the birthing of this new work, and will be able to join us on February 25 or 26.
SPILL Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 7pm & 10pm Sunday, February 26, 2012 at 2pm & 7pm Fayerweather Beckham Hall , Wyllys Avenue $12 general public; $10 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students, $5 Wesleyan students
Tonight and Saturday night, the Theater Department and the Center for the Arts present Great Small Works, a New York-based theater collective that creates work about contemporary issues. CFA Intern in Arts Administration JoAnna Bourain ’12 interviewed co-founder Mark Sussman ’85 about his time at Wesleyan and about the production you’ll see this weekend.
JoAnna Bourain ’12: Great Small Works’ website lists the company’s major influences, many of whom I’ve encountered in my coursework at Wesleyan, namely Walter Benjamin, Bertold Brecht and Erik Satie. Tell me about some of your Wesleyan classes that influenced your creative process.
Mark Sussman ’85: At Wesleyan I was a double major in Theater and Religion. The theater side of my education was mostly in directing and design and I knew that after Wesleyan I didn’t want to join the workforce of the American Theater. After working in a collaborative setting at Wesleyan with groups like Second Stage I knew I wanted to have a company and to work collectively in a series.
I bring from my own years at Wesleyan an interest in working in a more collective situation- this comes from the late Fritz DeBoer (Theater Department) who really inspired me. Certain experiences that I had in the Music Department along with the atmosphere within that department were really important to my creative development – both experimental music and world music. Susan Foster and Alvin Lucier co-taught a class that was essentially about site specific performance art, as well as a class by Jon Barlow who taught the work of John Cage and Erik Satie that brought together a really interdisciplinary vision of art. These classes helped me to make connections to my experience in theater. All of those experiences have stuck with me and help me to inform my every day creative processes.
JB: Your website cites that Benjamin’s theory of the ‘state of emergency’ was an early catalyst for the first miniature theater piece. Considering the group’s beginnings in Bread and Puppet (a Vermont-based political theater company directed by Peter Schumann, who is speaking in CFA Hall on April 9) how do politics figure in Great Small Works?
MS: I think we imagine everything that we do as having a political aspect. I think the reason that we are really drawn to Benjamin (who I first read in a tutorial in the Religion Department) was due to the fact that he looked at both aesthetics and politics and their inseparable relationship. If you look at something like the Republican Primary, we see that images play such an important role in how people are politically perceived. In Benjamin’s essay, The Thesis on the Philosophy of History, he talks about the notion of a Marxist view of history in which a state of emergency is used to encourage and create the rhetoric of a crisis where, actually, that state of emergency is a constant in capitalism. It’s a falsification to even think of it as a momentary state of emergency rather than a constant. That idea was we eventually applied to the toy theater.
Jenny Romaine, during the first Gulf War in the late 90s, remembers how the war was portrayed as a catastrophe day after day, and was filtered through us in the everyday banal act of openingTheNew York Times. The idea was to communicate this sense of every day terror as it is read in banal everyday actions.
The toy theater is an outmoded form that is low tech, handmade and has associations with folk theater. It was a form we rediscovered from 19th century Europe that was a popular amateur form you would perform in the home. It was something kids and adults would do together. Very often the scripts were melodramas from London’s West End. The popularity of the form coincided with colored lithography and with mass communication and mass culture; it’s a form that existed between printing, book making and puppetry.
JB: Can you talk a little bit more about translating this particular process, a form that has more associations with the home than with the high-theater, into an actual show? I have read that you use a camera to project the miniature theater onto a screen in order to show the piece larger. This process creates an interesting tension between what the form stands for historically and what it becomes on the stage.
MS: We started these [miniature theater] shows before we were even a company. We found that using the toy theater was a quick and easy way to talk about big ideas- there is a weird inverse relationship between the scale of the show and the ideas. In [Toy Theater of] Terror as Usual, one of the shows we will be performing, we see the performers operating the puppets. In a lot of puppet shows you never get to see the puppeteers. You see us operating the puppets, singing and talking and making sounds. That Brechtian act of revealing the performers is a big part of the show. I think that still works when we use the video camera and the projection when we are creating it before you. The image is taken apart and constructed in front of you. For an audience, this shows how history is created and constructed.
JB: Why do you think that it is important that people see Great Small works?
MS: It’s interesting and fun and unexpected. It is interesting how you see an idea and stories. Much of traditional theater expresses characters differently than we do – we present a story within a larger set of ideas with an analysis. We provide a visually appealing message and a way to comprehend and digest complicated ideas in an accessible form.
Great Small Works Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 8pm
CFA Hall, 287 Washington Terrace
Tickets: $15 general public; $12 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students Each performance will be followed by a post-show discussion.
Cassandra Burrows, John Bell, Trudi Cohen, Jenny Romaine and Xavier will perform the works “Short, Entertaining History of Toy Theater”; “Toy Theater of Terror As Usual, Episode 12: Desert and Ocean”, a surreal serial drama using excerpted texts and images quickly cut from The New York Times, Hans Christian Anderson, Grace Lee Boggs, and Democracy Now!; and “Three Graces”, a “cantastoria” (picture-based storytelling work) in which three mythical graces – Harmony, Strategy and Splendor – float down to earth for an op-art romp inspired by Grace Paley, Grace Kelly, Grace Jones and Grace Lee Boggs.
This Sunday, the Karas String Quartet will premiere a new work by composer/arranger William Zinn, entitled Wesleyan Concertante. Mr. Zinn is the grandfather of Noah Heau ’12, a cellist in the Wesleyan University Orchestra, and a Center for the Arts Events Staff Member. Mr. Zinn approached Music Director Angel Gil-Ordóñez about the work, and Wesleyan’s Concert Committee then extended an invitation for the quartet to play it as part of the Music at The Russell House series. The quartet includes violinist Cyrus Stevens, pianist Ruriko Kagiyama, violist Michael Wheeler and guest cellist Julie Ribchinsky, Wesleyan Private Lessons Teacher. In addition to the world premiere by Mr. Zinn, the quartet will perform Mozart’s Piano Quartet in g minor and other works. Admission is free.
Karas String Quartet: Afternoon with Chamber Music Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 3pm The Russell House, 350 High Street FREE!