Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge discusses the development of the work “SPILL” by Leigh Fondakowski. Ms. Fondakowski will give a free talk about the future of “SPILL” on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall.
As the third Outside the Box Theater Series event of the year, playwright Leigh Fondakowski will give a talk on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall.
As part of the course, Ms. Fondakowski and Mr. Chernoff accompanied the students on a ten-day trip to the Gulf Coast region visiting laboratories and research institutions, touring wetlands, and meeting the people who live in the affected communities. Upon their return, the students created performances that combined science and art to tell the story of the effects of the spill.
This course inspired Ms. Fondakowski to write a new theatrical piece, commissioned by the Center for the Arts and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, which she entitled SPILL.
Ms. Fondakowski went back to Louisiana and collected over 200 hours of stories in the following months from people who lived in the parishes hardest hit by the disaster. In collaboration with visual artist Reeva Wortel (American Portrait Project), Ms. Fondakowski created SPILL, which had its first staged reading at Wesleyan in February 2012.
Since then, Ms. Fondakowski has continued to work on the piece, including a presentation at the Culture Project‘s Women Center Stage Festival in New York in July 2013, followed by the premiere in March 2014 at the Reilly Theatre at Louisiana State University, performed by Baton Rouge’s Swine Palace.
In her talk this Thursday, Ms. Fondakowski will share the journey that her play has taken since she first showed it at Wesleyan, and will discuss its path for the future.
Center for the Arts Engagment Intern Sharifa Lookman ’17 talks to Leila Buck ’99 about “Hkeelee (Talk to Me),” a solo performance which will have its Wesleyan debut on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall as part of “Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.”
Written and performed by Lebanese American writer, performer, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99, Hkeelee (Talk to Me) is a dynamic one-woman show that seeks to reconcile the personal and political contentions related to her heritage, familial memories, and the meaning of being American through an explorative and interactive performance.
In the performance, Ms. Buck attempts to move her Lebanese grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease into assisted living. The performance’s narrative is rather straightforward: Ms. Buck unpacks a suitcase of belongings. This action proves dualistic—in addition to setting up a simple narrative, it sets the foundation for a performance dialogue of stories related to Ms. Buck’s heritage, exploring both the beauties and the trials.
“It’s very rooted in the oral storytelling tradition—so actually, very simple—me, a few objects, a music stand, a chair, and a microphone mainly for recording purposes,” Ms. Buck said in an interview when describing the piece. “I may use a bit of music here and there, played from my own iPod on stage. But other than that it’s a back to basics piece about a woman trying to figure out how to hold on to the stories of her family, which to pass on and which to let go. So it’s very raw in places as I piece together fragments of stories/memories/objects, asking the audience to participate and along the way attempting to put together the fragments of a life formed in, and by, transition.”
This performance addresses issues that are specific to Ms. Buck’s personal journey, but that are also universal. “We all feel unsure of ourselves, confused, and lost sometimes,” Ms. Buck said.
Ms. Buck hopes that “those who come will leave with a more personal lens into Lebanon, dementia, and what it means to be(come) American; that they will recognize their own families, struggles, and stories in mine; that they will engage with people and places they may never otherwise have encountered, and in doing so, realize the connections between them.”
Ms. Buck has also been commissioned to create a new theatrical work as part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan. This new piece will have two work-in-progress showings on Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8pm in World Music Hall. Ms. Buck invites members of the Wesleyan and Connecticut community to share in her workshops that seek to challenge our understanding of stories in their power, interactivity, and universality.
Earlier this month, Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan was featured on WNPR’s Where We Live with Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge joining Dr. Feryal Salem, Assistant Professor of Islamic Scriptures and Law, Co-Director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program, and Director of the Imam and Muslim Community Leadership Certificate Program at the Hartford Seminary, and Sufi fusion singer Riffat Sultana (who will perform at Wesleyan on Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8pm). Click here to listen to the broadcast.
A number of exciting Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan events are on the horizon. On Friday, October 24, 2014 at 8pm in the Memorial Chapel, Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio presents the premiere performance of the multimedia work To Not Forget Crimea: Uncertain Quiet of Indigenous Crimean Tatars, a response to recent political changes in Crimea. Featuring live music and dance in collaboration with New York Crimean Tatar Ensemble Musical Director Nariman Asanov and Yevshan Ukrainian Vocal Ensemble Conductor Alexander Kuzma, the work explores issues of historical memory, cultural narrative, and the quest for human rights, as they relate to the history of Tatars, native inhabitants of Crimea, and their complex relationships with Ukraine and Russia. A free panel discussion, “Indigenous Ukrainian Perspectives of Crimea Post Russian-Invasion, will take place before the performance, on Friday, October 24, 2014 from 6pm to 7:30pm in Fayerweather Beckham Hall.
Next week, on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall, Lebanese American writer, actress, and teaching artist Leila Buck ’99 explores family, memory, and politics in her free solo performance Hkeelee (Talk to Me).
Ms. Buck will also give a free workshop performance (Friday, April 17 and Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8pm), where she will present a work-in-progress showing of a collaborative theatrical work commissioned by the Center for the Arts as part of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.
In the meantime, we hope you will join us for all of these upcoming talks and performances.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Benjamin Zucker ’15about the Vijay Iyer Trio, who perform on Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
This Saturday, Grammy Award-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer takes the stage in Crowell Concert Hall, along with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Tyshawn Sorey MA ’11, for what promises to be a landmark performance in the history of jazz at Wesleyan.
A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, Mr. Iyer has been named “one of the world’s most inventive new-generation jazz pianists” (Guardian), “an American treasure” (Minnesota Public Radio), and “one of the best in the world at what he does” (Pitchfork).
What Mr. Iyer does is complex and multifaceted, innovative and cutting edge. “He’s doing a lot,” comments Wesleyan Music major Benjamin Zucker ’15. “He is literally and figuratively all over the world.”
Mr. Zucker describes Mr. Iyer’s music as “intricate, rhythms against rhythms, and repeating figures that layer over each other.”
A polymath with a background in math and science, as well as the humanities and the arts, Mr. Iyer received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music from University of California, Berkeley.
“He was studying the cognitive perception of music at U.C. Berkeley at the same time that he was playing in an active jazz scene in San Francisco and Oakland,” says Mr. Zucker. “He is someone who has thought a lot about what music can do and how we can get it to do what it does.”
In addition to his background in math and science, Mr. Iyer’s identity as a South Asian American informs his music. “There is a tradition of Asian American jazz, especially in the Bay Area,” explains Mr. Zucker. “But Vijay is at the forefront of a new wave of multicultural jazz and improvisation.”
A prolific composer, Mr. Iyer has released an astonishing eighteen albums over the years. His first album with the Vijay Iyer Trio, Historicity, came out in 2009 and quickly became one of the most influential and acclaimed albums in contemporary jazz.
“The trio is a very cohesive whole,” comments Mr. Zucker. “It really is a full give-and-take with everyone providing their own contribution to the overall rhythm.”
Mr. Iyer and the Vijay Iyer Trio speak to the ever-changing and dynamic nature of jazz music. According to Jazzwise Magazine, “The Vijay Iyer Trio has the potential to alter the scope, ambition and language of jazz piano forever.”
Mr. Zucker will give a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm this Saturday, October 11, 2014, prior to the performance at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Emma Sherr-Ziarko ’11 (Theater), Stage Manager/Video Operator for The Builders Association, who present the Connecticut premiere of “Sontag: Reborn” on Thursday, October 2 and Friday, October 3, 2014 at 8pm in the CFA Theater.
Through Wesleyan actually. I met them my senior year when they came and did a workshop. [Actor Moe Angelos and Video Designer Austin Switser presented the talk “Inside The Builders Association: Integrating Media and Performance” in February 2011 in CFA Hall.] Austin Switser came to my Media for Performance class. I never anticipated that I would work with them because at the time I wasn’t particularly interested in multimedia theater or multimedia performance. That has since changed.
[After graduating] I decided that I wanted to move to New York and pursue theater. Acting is actually my passion and what I’m most interested in, but when I got to New York—and this is where Wesleyan comes in again—my friend Rachel Silverman ’09 (Theater and Sociology) who had graduated [from Wesleyan] two years before me and who was working for New York Theatre Workshop emailed me and said that they were bringing this show with The Builders Association called Sontag: Reborn to New York Theatre Workshop and needed a Production Assistant.
So I became the Production Assistant, and I got to know Moe Angelos who is the performer and adapter for Sontag: Reborn. I spent a lot of time with her backstage running lines. I also took control of the set, which is not big but is very complex because there are hundreds of books and notebooks and everything has to be in a very precise order.
And then at the end of our run at New York Theatre Workshop, the Managing Director for The Builders Association, Erica Laird, came up to me and said that they had been invited [to bring Sontag: Reborn] to a festival in Seoul, Korea in October 2013, and would I be interested in joining them for that. I said, “Yes!”
It’s been very humbling and incredibly inspiring to see these artists work. They are totally brilliant, and I do believe they are changing the way that people think about theater.
Where did the idea for Sontag: Reborn come from?
Artistic Director Marianne Weems knew Susan Sontag, and Susan had been on the board of The Builders Association. [Then] Moe started reading Susan’s journals—her son [David Rieff] had published them after her death—and thought, you know, this could be a really cool thing and not your average one-woman show.
So Moe brought the idea for Sontag: Reborn to The Builders Association?
Yes. This show was Moe’s brainchild, [but] the way The Builders Association works is incredibly collaborative. I’ll give you an example of that: This show has a script, but they don’t always have set scripts, so then what happens is Austin Switser, the Video Designer, starts playing with stuff, and [Lighting Designer] Laura Mroczkowski starts playing with lights, and [Sound Designer] Dan Dobson is like a magician creating music—it’s unbelievable. They literally jam together to create the world of the work. It’s unique. It’s exciting. And it’s exciting to be a part of.
Does any of that collaborative, and at times spontaneous, process of making the work carry over into the final performance?
Absolutely. For example, this show is actually a dialogue. It’s a one-woman show, but it’s really a dialogue between Moe and a video. As you will see, if you come to the performance, there is a piece of recorded video footage that is Moe as older Susan Sontag in dialogue with live Moe [playing a younger version of Susan Sontag]. I run the video footage of old Sontag. Basically there’s a mini keyboard that controls the video footage, and I essentially speed it up and slow it down according to Moe’s performance, so it’s a live performance.
What is it like to be an actor in The Builders Association?
I’ve spoken with Moe a lot about that and it’s very different because you are constantly interacting with the multimedia aspects, especially in this show where there are no other actors. All she has to respond to is the video, the lights, the sound, and the other aspects of the video design.
Can you describe the sound score for Sontag: Reborn?
It’s music and sound effects composed by Dan Dobson with other pieces that are referenced by Susan Sontag. Dan’s a genius. He is one of the original members of the Blue Man Group. If you sit around during lunch breaks in the theater, that’s when he jams and creates this music. It’s unbelievable.
Is this a typical show for The Builders Association?
I would say that this is actually an unusual subject matter for The Builders Association. It’s basically a portrait. In many of the other Builders Association shows there’s more of a commentary, or at least some political aspect. For example, House / Divided blends the story of The Grapes of Wrath with the housing crisis. There’s a lot of intermingling of classic texts and contemporary socio-economic political issues, which there isn’t in Sontag: Reborn.
It’s a portrait of a life, or a part of a life, and the goal with it was to examine how this amazing intellectual mind became herself. You don’t get a lot of her philosophy in this show, and we don’t use much of her fiction or essays. There’s a little bit of it, but it’s mostly from her journals [and] examining how she became who she was as a person.
What was your reaction the first time you saw Sontag: Reborn?
I thought it was totally beautiful. It is totally beautiful and incredibly compelling. It’s a fascinating show because it examines how Susan Sontag’s mind evolved from age fifteen when she was reading more books than I will likely ever read in my entire life, discovering her sexuality and what it meant to be a woman in the time that she was growing up, and battling with her intense intellect.
How do you expect Wesleyan students will respond to the show?
I really feel like this piece is going to appeal to Wesleyan students because Susan Sontag is fiercely intellectual in a way that I think Wesleyan students—at least from my experience—are encouraged and challenged to be. I think most students here can relate to her struggle against her intellect, as a driving force in her life, and how she didn’t want to let that consume her.