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.
Pamela Tatge, Director of the Center for the Arts, discusses the Planet Hip Hop Festival, curated by Nomadic Wax, taking place on Saturday, September 20, 2014 as part of “Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan.”
This Saturday, audiences have a rare opportunity to witness performances by three international Muslim women in hip hop, including Montreal-based Algerian singer-songwriter and rapper Meryem Saci, the Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, poet, and emcee Maimouna Youssef a.k.a. Mumu Fresh, and Tavasha Shannon a.k.a. Miss Undastood of Queens, New York.
The Planet Hip Hop Festival is an anchor event of Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan, a year-long exploration of Muslim women in performance. Each of the performers to be featured is Muslim or of Muslim heritage, has a distinct set of personal experiences, and is embedded in a particular place, society, and cultural tradition. This yearlong program is our way of inviting audiences to celebrate the complexity of Muslim women today, while at the same time exploring the historical and cultural context from which these women have emerged.
Anyone who writes poetry, raps, or sings is invited to attend three workshops this Saturday from 11am to 5pm in World Music Hall, before the evening concert in Fayerweather Beckham Hall at 9pm, where the women will be joined on stage by the Nomadic Wax Collective, a live backing band that will include bass, drums, keys, guitar, and a DJ. The evening concert will be hosted by Boston’s Mr. Lif.
Ms. Saci will lead the first of Saturday’s workshops, Music is Medicine: Hip Hop Therapy for the Bifurcated Soul, which will unpack the therapeutic and spiritual benefits that music can provide. A refugee herself, Ms. Saci moved from Algeria to Canada at the age of thirteen where she quite literally found her voice. Drawing from her own history and life story, she will explore what it means to be a refugee, an artist, and a Muslim woman.
I wish I had been at the R.A.W. (Rap Assembly at Wesleyan) weekly freestyle rap cipher on Wednesday night where Ms. Saci joined a circle of students rapping and singing together. Believe me when I say that she, like the other performers in this Saturday night’s Planet Hip Hop Festival concert, will strike a chord deep within you.
Planet Hip Hop Festival Curated by Nomadic Wax
Afternoon workshops and evening performances by international Muslim women in hip hop, including the U.S. debut of Montreal-based Algerian singer-songwriter and rapper Meryem Saci as a solo artist, the New England debut of Washington, D.C.-based and Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter, poet, and emcee Maimouna Youssef a.k.a. Mumu Fresh as a solo artist, and Tavasha Shannon a.k.a. Miss Undastood of Queens, New York. The evening concert will be hosted by Boston’s Mr. Lif, and will also feature the Nomadic Wax Collective, a live backing band that will include bass, drums, keys, guitar, and a DJ.
This year, we invite you to join us as we welcome the world to Wesleyan. Artists working in contemporary or traditional forms from 18 different countries will be performing or exhibiting at the CFA over the next nine months.
A centerpiece of this year’s program is Muslim Women’s Voices at Wesleyan, which begins in September. Each of the performers to be featured is Muslim or of Muslim heritage, has a distinct set of personal experiences, and is embedded in a particular place, society, and cultural tradition. It is our way of inviting audiences to celebrate the complexity of Muslim women today, while at the same time exploring the historical and cultural context from which these women have emerged. We are also inviting audiences to participate in the creative process as we give birth to a new play by Leila Buck ’99, based on stories of Muslim and Muslim-American women in our region.
We are also bringing one of the United States’ most innovative theater companies working at the intersection of text and technology, The Builders Association, for two performances in October. Their amazing production Sontag: Reborn is a portrait of the younger years of one of America’s most iconic intellectuals, Susan Sontag. In November, the Theater and Music Departments join forces to mount the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, directed by Theater’s Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento with music direction by Nadya Potemkina, director of the Wesleyan University Orchestra. The musical was the thesis production of Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Theater major who graduated in ’02, who went on to win the Tony for “Best Original Score.” The book was written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who will be a visiting faculty member at Wesleyan this year. It is sure to be an extraordinary production. And throughout the fall, the epic-scale, haunting landscape paintings of Professor of Art Tula Telfair will be on view in Zilkha Gallery. We invite you to enter into the imaginary worlds that Telfair creates in twelve large-scale paintings that are simultaneously awe-inspiring and intimate.
We launched our new website over the summer, and we hope you’ll visit and return often to find out about all of the faculty, student, and visiting artist events and exhibitions this year. We hope you will look to us as a place of enlightenment and enjoyment in the coming months.
Center for the Arts Story: When I arrived on campus in 1971, the Center for the Arts was still an architect’s concept, and arts/music/theater/film/dance people made do with classrooms, studios, and performance spaces, scattered all over campus. So what a miracle when the CFA doors opened, giving us access to magnificent galleries, theaters, the auditorium, studio and practice spaces. As a music major (piano), it was a thrill to practice on grand pianos in the soundproofed practice rooms. Though I never became a professional musician, Wesleyan and the CFA planted the seeds for a lifelong passion for the arts. In February, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and saw the work of Piero de la Francesca, Fra Angelico, and other Renaissance masters, remembering how John Paoletti’s brilliant teaching awakened my love of art of that period. Attending Wes concerts, from early music to gamelan, gave me a taste for musical adventures, and I continue to explore and relish an eclectic range of performances in New York City. A couple of years ago, I was lucky to catch Ralph Samuelson MA ’71 (Ethnomusicology), performing with Japanese shakuhachi master Kinya Sogawa at Roulette in Brooklyn.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 writes about the Toneburst Laptop and Electronic Arts Ensemble and its upcoming performance on Friday, May 9, 2014.
Last spring Assistant Professor of Music Paula Matthusen founded Wesleyan’s Toneburst Laptop and Electronic Arts Ensemble. This Friday, May 9 at 8pm in World Music Hall the group will have their final performance of the year. They’re calling it an “electroextravaganza.”
Most of us don’t think of our laptop computers as instruments, so what then is a Laptop Ensemble?
Each member in the ensemble performs with a laptop that’s connected to a hemispherical speaker. Fourteen members strong, Toneburst projects sound out of an equal number of hemispherical speakers. Members draw from pre-existing programs and ones that they create themselves in order to generate remarkably inventive musical scores, each one a unique interaction between laptop and musician.
Highly interactive, it’s as much about the ensemble as it is about the technology. Just like any instrumental ensemble, the members assume different roles depending on the score and constantly engage with one another.
“This is a different way of recognizing the laptop as instrument but also as social interaction,” says Ms. Matthusen. “It takes its inputs in a way that we have to interact with each other.”
One work in this Friday’s concert has ensemble members connected to their computers and clapping hands, so that each time two members clap a musical note sounds. The original score, composed by graduate student Christopher Ramos Flores, transforms the ensemble into a circuit system.
“They are essentially acting like a large keyboard,” explains Ms. Matthusen.
Another piece derives its material from OKCupid, an online dating site. Composed by graduate student Daniel Fishkin, the score utilizes text-to-speech software to transform the OKCupid profiles into sound.
“Daniel’s piece recognizes the laptop as an interface to this entire other world,” comments Ms. Matthusen—the world of online dating and social networks.
This Friday’s concert is particularly momentous for Toneburst because it is comprised primarily of new works written by the ensemble members.
The scores are imaginative and engaging, technical and compelling. Each one is carefully crafted and then rehearsed again and again. Yet the laptop ensemble leaves a lot of room for improvisation and play.
“Learning the program is the first part of it and then you can figure out how to actually express yourself using the restrictions of the score,” explains Toneburst member Mark Frick ’14. “You’re taking a technology that hasn’t been exploited for something particularly expressive before and using it for an expressive means.”
“There’s a shared spirit of exploration that has evolved through the group as part of this way of making music,” reflects Ms. Matthusen. “They are working together to realize these scores, and there’s a power about that.”
The Toneburst Electroextravaganza concert is Friday, May 9, 2014 at 8pm in the CFA’s World Music Hall. Admission is free.