This past Spring, six students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course THEA 115 “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars,” collaborated with incarcerated men at the Cheshire Correctional Institution on monologues created in response to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. These six short monologues are written by those men, and are introduced and performed on video by Jenkins’ students (pictured above). For the first half of the semester, students met weekly with their incarcerated partners to discuss Dante’s journey from hell to heaven and its relevance to the prison experience. When the pandemic made personal visits to the prison impossible, the students kept in touch with their partners remotely. Through support from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative, the students were also able to consult remotely with two formerly incarcerated men, Dario Peña and Dennis Woodbine, who had previously taken Dante workshops with Jenkins in Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Professor Jenkins writes:
“Ten years after reading Dante in prison, these two men spoke with the students about the poem’s continuing relevance to their lives. Woodbine and his lawyer had included a line from Dante in the opening paragraph of his application for clemency, which resulted his early release. Peña spoke about reading the poem as a turning point in his life behind bars. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy after having been exiled from his home and family in Florence, knowing that his conviction would lead to his being burned at the stake if he ever returned. Having facilitated Dante workshops in prisons in Italy, Indonesia and the U.S., I am always impressed by the degree to which men and women behind bars identify with Dante’s journey. Yale Divinity School Professor Peter S. Hawkins attended a Dante performance we staged in a Connecticut prison several years ago. His analysis of the theme of transformation in the Divine Comedy helps explain the poem’s appeal to incarcerated individuals: ‘… it is not the penitents’ suffering that the poem dwells on,’ Hawkins writes, ‘it is the degree to which art, music, language—beauty of all kinds—assist in personal transformation.’”
ICPP students and alumni offer extraordinary examples of how their curatorial work designs ways of sustaining individual and collective practices in this time of uncertainty.
ICPP Leadership Fellowship
Deborah Goffe (MA ’19) has been working for over a year onThe Nest, a retreat for movement artists and cultural workers of color in the southern New England and New York areas to gather and share processes around performance making and commoning as survival strategies. The gathering was scheduled to take place this month. In the face of the global health crisis, Goffe redistributed the funds to the participants to offset their personal financial losses and is considering how to re-imagine the gathering at a later date. Deborah’s leadership and care for others illustrates the intentions of theICPP Leadership Fellowship, which is awarded to graduating students to foster professional and networking opportunities while nurturing underrepresented perspectives in the field of art and performance curation.
ICPP Students Community Spotlights
MA candidate Candace Thompson-Zachery, Manager of Justice, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives atDance/NYC, co-organized their 2020Symposiumon March 21. As New York City implemented social distancing guidelines, the all-day event was moved online and content shifted accordingly. The panels touched on indigeneity in performance, development of a disability politics toward dismantling racism, the current state of the dance field, and direct emergency response for the dance community during COVID-19. Since the symposium, Dance/NYC launched the COVID-19 Dance Relief Fund, awarding 180 grants to dance makers in the New York metropolitan area, and continues to aggregate NYC area classes and workshops on theircommunity calendar, as well as host digital town halls.
Graduate student Jamie Gahlon continues her exemplary work throughHowlRound Theatre Commons. As co-founder and director Jamie and her team have been turning out pandemic-related content consistently and frequently over the past weeks, including livestreamed talks and panel discussions around artist resources, the state of affairs in the arts today, sustaining creative practices, and much more. The organization, already functioning as a digital commons, has taken the opportunity to host conversations around pragmatic strategies for freelance artists during the crisis, offering information on livestream technology, financial planning, and sustaining creative practices, in addition to regular content. Take a look at their ongoing onlineprogramming.
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies
As part of ourDoris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies, an examination into art practices, economical resources, and modes of sustainability amidst changing cultural economies, ICPP is excited to be working with Detroit-based movement artistJennifer Harge. For the ICPP online summer intensive, Harge will be reimagining a live-streamed version of Fly | Drown (2019) in her home—the very site that inspired the original installation for the performance.
Class of 2020
We are so proud of our four anticipated MA graduates from ICPP this month:
Beatrice Basso, independent curator and theater maker (Thesis: Curating in Translation: Oblique Gestures of Repair); Victoria Carrasco-Dominguez, Gallery Management and Adjunct Curator, Public Programs at Phi Foundation(Thesis: Public Art as Performance: Curating the Utopian Sculpture in and out of the Museum); Raechel Hofsteadter, Associate Director of Development Operations,Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (Thesis: Mobilizing Dance Legacies: Curating Embodied Archives Through the Praxes of Jennifer Harge and Anna Martine Whitehead); and Candace Thompson-Zachery, Manager of Justice, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives atDance/NYC (Thesis: Encounters in Caribbean Dance: Curating Beyond Display).
Thank you for your inspiring work, which opens rich and urgent avenues for performance curation across contemporary cultures.
Though making and convening performance in times of social distancing brings great challenges, we will take our cue from ICPP co-founderSam Miller’75 and continue to imagine infrastructures of care to accompany artists in these shifting conditions and economies.
This week we write to share news from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative (CCI). When Wesleyan moved to virtual learning in mid-March, we knew that professors across campus would be reimagining their syllabi—and that artists everywhere would be reimagining the purpose and possibility of their work in this unprecedented time. CCI’s mission since 2006 has been to connect Wesleyan faculty with artists—and to catalyze cross-disciplinary collaborations that elevate the arts as a way of teaching, learning, and knowing. What better time than now, we thought, to bring those collaborations online?
Historically, CCI has focused on pairing artists with non-arts faculty primarily for cross-disciplinary work. But in this unusual time, we chose to extend an invitation for artistic collaborations to all departments. Faculty response was swift, and in just a week we had awarded modest grants to resource faculty connections with sixteen artists—choreographers, poets, actors, musicians, video, and multimedia artists—who will lecture, offer workshops, and share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students during this difficult time.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Helen Poulos and choreographer Jill Sigman will work together withENVS201: Sophomore Seminar in Environmental Studies on a movement practice that supports new assignments: a personal journal and a final project that investigates shifting ecological networks during a pandemic.
Assistant Professor of Theater, African American Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Katie Brewer-Ball shifted her syllabus forTHEA364: Friendship and Collaboration to address how we may find new ways to be together in this moment, assigning her students to begin a letter-writing practice. She invited poet Kay Gabriel to lecture on the history of the epistolary form in poetry and to guide the class in a writing workshop.
Makaela Kingsely ’98, Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Adjunct Instructor in Public Policy, invited five fellow Wesleyan alumni toCSPL262: Introduction to Social Entrepreneurshipto discuss how they have used artistic practice as a vehicle for social change. First up were Laura Stein ’03, founder of Dancing Grounds, a multigenerational arts space that brings inclusive and accessible dance programs to New Orleans residents; and Chris Kaminstein ’04, founder of Goat in the Road Productions, a New Orleans-based performance ensemble.
Heather Vermuelen, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities (CHUM), invited artists micha cárdenas and Jen Liu, to SOC300: Queer and Trans Aesthetics, where students are considering how their own research, curatorial, and creative projects (proposed prior to the pandemic) will change in light of the shapeshifting geographic coordinates and digital realms in which they now exist. Cardenas will lecture on Thursday, April 16 at 4:30pm and Liu will lecture on Thursday, April 23 at 4:30pm. Both lectures are open to anyone with a Wesleyan email address—see both posters and learn more here.
To these teachers, artists, and students, and to the broader Wesleyan community and all of the artists we know and have yet to meet: we are incredibly inspired by the ways you are finding to practice, teach, learn, create, and share your work as we pivot into this new world.
Rani Arbo Campus and Community Engagement Manager Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University
Report from the Virtual Classroom
Catherine Damman writes, “We had an incredible virtual class visit with artist Carolyn Lazard in CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics. Students had read their 2013 essay “How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity,” and Lazard began by taking us through many of their recent works. We had a complex and rewarding conversation on many of the topics that Lazard’s work addresses, including: the history of television closed captioning, the testing of psychotropic drugs on incarcerated populations, and the relationship between privacy and convalescence. Lazard spoke insightfully about how, rather than bring art to the hospital as a therapeutic tool, their work brings the hospital to the art world. Students are interested in the temporality of disability, as it is fundamentally at odds with capitalism (related to an assigned reading by Alison Kafer on “crip time,” which is also the title of one of Lazard’s video works), and we talked about the potential intersections between queer temporalities and disability temporalities. As the students are beginning their final projects for the class, Lazard shared many insights about their experience making art and scholarship that begins from illness as a site of value, rather than lack; the ways that dependency can be configured differently, as either “scarcity” or “abundance;” and making art about trauma without fetishizing its representation. The group had particularly incisive questions and reflections about how a disability studies perspective recasts such concepts as mutuality, reciprocity, and consent outside their normative definitions. Together, we have been studying theories of reproductive labor, and my brilliant students are very interested in how the work of care can be reconfigured such that it does not merely reproduce a labor force in service of capital, but rather can reimagine and enact forms of community and collectivity deserving of those names.”
May this provide an update and entry into our present work at the Center for the Arts should this be of interest or helpful to you in this time. Although there is a lot to absorb online right now, we wanted to share with you some of our current projects.
In the coming months, you will ‘see’ us online more intentionally through a series of experiments with our creative community of students, faculty, alumni, and guest artists as outlined below. We welcome your feedback and participation.
Virtual Artists in Residence and Commissions: Eiko Otake has been engaged as our first CFA Virtual Artist in Residence, and we will begin circulating video journals of her work in development for those interested. We are also engaging in a select number of virtual commissions with guest artists who know our community well and will be announcing these projects shortly.
Arts Departments: Each spring, the CFA supports an abundance of faculty and student concerts, performances, and exhibitions. We are working in partnership with Art and Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater to explore how best to showcase their endeavors through alternative formats.
Creative Campus Initiative: Since 2006, we have been providing support for guest artists working in Wesleyan classrooms in partnership with non-arts faculty. In the past week, we awarded modest grants to Wesleyan faculty members (both arts and non-arts) to resource online collaborations with thirteen artists to support and complement coursework and/or to share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students at this difficult time.
Middletown Public Schools: Closing our 39th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition early was tough for all of us, and while we recognize nothing can replace moving through the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery with the works of our local public school students, we will be sharing images of their work in the hope that the circulation of our future artists might be wider than previously imagined.
#WesCreative: We will be collecting and putting a spotlight on the remarkable skills and imagination of the Wesleyan community.
You will hear more about each of the extraordinary initiatives from various Center for the Arts staff members over the course of the spring.
The CFA has always served as a platform for our creative community on campus, in Middletown, and beyond, and we intend for that to continue through this complicated and difficult time.
Please be well. You are loved and appreciated and we will get through this together.
Center for the Arts
With the CDC reporting cases of COVID-19 nationwide doubling since Monday, and Governor Ned Lamont declaring a public health emergency in Connecticut, it has become clear just how rapidly this virus is spreading. After Wesleyan University consulted with a variety of public health experts and other higher education institutions around the country, we wanted to let you know that all on-campus events and exhibitions have been canceled until further notice as a preventive measure. The University will continue to update the website with the latest available information.
Anyone who purchased tickets in advance will be issued a refund from the box office starting the week of Monday, March 16, 2020 and artists who were scheduled to perform this spring will be compensated. We encourage you to utilize your refund to re-invest in the arts through a donation, album, artwork, or ticket to a future performance. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to donate your tickets to the Center for the Arts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-685-3355 Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm.
Thank you for your continued support of the arts, and for your understanding about this decision.
Stay well and we will be in touch again soon.
Center for the Arts
Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 8pm
Smith Reading Room, Olin Library, 252 Church Street, Middletown
Writer, director, visual artist, and vocalist Laurie Anderson addressed how to prepare for the 2020 election cycle and the tumultuous year ahead in the United States in this free talk.
Photography by Richard Marinelli.
Taylor Mac performs the Connecticut premiere of the highly immersive and outrageously entertaining two-hour abridged version of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music highlighting various musical styles and artistic voices.
Photography by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography
On Thursday, April 18, 2019 artist, Rajiv Joseph, gave a lecture at Memorial Chapel. Rajiv Joseph’s play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama, and also awarded a grant for “Outstanding New American Play” by the National Endowment for the Arts. He has twice won the Obie Award for “Best New American Play,” first in 2016 with Guards at the Taj (also a 2016 Lortel Winner for “Best Play”), and then in 2018 for Describe the Night.
Other plays include Archduke, Gruesome Playground Injuries, Animals Out of Paper, The Lake Effect, The North Pool, and Mr. Wolf. He has been awarded artistic grants from the Whiting Foundation, United States Artists, and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust. He is a board member of the Lark Play Development Center in New York City, where he develops all his plays.
He is the book-writer and co-lyricist for the musical Fly. He also wrote for the Showtime series Nurse Jackie for seasons three and four. Additionally, he was the co-screenwriter of the film Draft Day starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing from Miami University, and his M.F.A. in Playwriting from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on Flickr.
On Tuesday, March 5, 2019 a dress rehearsal was held for Ray Achan’s senior thesis theater production, Action by Sam Shepard.
The Obie-Award winning play Action (1974) takes the audience inside the living room of Liza, Lupe, Jeep, and Shooter in the midst of a mysterious crisis. Limited food and overwhelming boredom begin to take their toll with disturbing and absurd results. Sam Shepard’s imaginative voice and deeply rooted characters have transformed American theater and force us to confront the strange and unknown. This production is in partial fulfillment for Honors in Theater.
Photos by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on Flickr.