Center for the Arts Stories: Alexandra Provo ’10

Alexandra Provo '10
Alexandra Provo ’10

Center for the Arts Story: I found the Center for the Arts through an unexpected route: my extracurricular activities in the Environmental Organizers Network (EON). As an Art History person, I’d always been involved in what was happening on the other side of the CFA green, but it wasn’t until I by chance attended a meeting about the first Feet to the Fire Festival that I really got to know the CFA. I kept going to planning meetings, and before long I found myself co-leading a student forum on environmental art and helping with logistics for the festival. As part of the student forum, I co-created an animation about the carbon cycle, but the best part about the actual day of the festival definitely wasn’t seeing my own work: it was getting to see the work of so many artists and thinkers (dancers, musicians, biologists, sculptors, and more) and the Middletown community (professors, students, and citizens) come together. That was really when the value of interdisciplinary work became clear to me.

The Feet to the Fire Festival in May 2008 allowed me to deepen interests I already had, while simultaneously discovering things totally new to me. At the same time that my two major passions serendipitously came together, I was introduced to the related (but new for me) field of performing arts. That became another passion, and as a senior I returned to the CFA as the Arts Administration Intern.

Interdisciplinary work and cultural planning became dominant threads in the rest of my Wesleyan experience. Even though I spent most of my time in the same corner of campus (between the CFA and the Davison Art Center), I found a lot of boundary-breaking activity there, and that broadness defined my time at Wesleyan. Actually, it’s still defining me: I found my current path (library and information science) through a studio art class about information theory I took with Jeffrey Schiff.

Favorite Course: Topics in Studio Art

Favorite Professor: impossible to choose just one!

Thesis Title: “Notions of Method: Text and Photograph in Methods of Connoisseurship” (Art History)

Center for the Arts Stories: Grace Overbeke ’08

Grace Overbeke '08
Grace Overbeke ’08

Center for the Arts Story: Most productions of The Tempest do not feature a death scene in which the clown Trinculo delivers a dying soliloquy composed entirely of duck-quacks, as he is devoured by a Balinese dragon puppet. And I humbly believe that they are the poorer for it. In Wesleyan University’s 2005 production Caliban Remembers: A Balinese Tempest, Ron Jenkins and Nyoman Catra transformed the massive Center for the Arts Theater into a small, intimate venue, blocking off the regular seating section and bringing the audience onstage so that they could get a closer view of the masked actors and intricate shadow puppets used in this unique adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I was lucky enough to play Trinculo in this ensemble, whose rehearsal process  involved everything from master classes with Bill Irwin (who played Trinculo in the New York Theatre Festival production) to traditional Balinese dance training from Nyoman Catra, one of Bali’s most renowned performers. We worked intensely with masks, with musical instruments, with shadow puppets and with one another to create a piece that drew from myriad cultural traditions and theatrical movements. Not only did that production introduce me to a diverse array of theatrical techniques, it also showed me how an author like Shakespeare—who epitomizes the Western canon—can find new expression and vitality when combined with Eastern influences.

Favorite Course: Solo Performance

Favorite Professor: Ron Jenkins

Thesis Title: “America’s Madwomen: Jewish Female Comedians in the 20th Century”

Center for the Arts Stories: Mike James ’07

Mike James '07
Mike James ’07. Photo by Kristin Hoebermann.

Center for the Arts Story: Someone had to leave Yuri Kordonsky’s production of Peer Gynt my senior year, and I got the part. We had just a couple weeks left until opening. One of Yuri’s directorial choices was to have the actors visible on the edges of the stage at all times, watching. I remember sitting off to the side one day during rehearsal in the main theater at the CFA. I didn’t have any lines in the scene, so I sat on the floor, finishing my thesis or some other homework. Yuri came over to me and said something about trying to be present for everyone else. I pretended to understand. Mostly out of guilt, I put my notebook away. I watched for a little bit, and remembered getting in trouble with Cláudia Nascimento the previous year. She had given me a similar scolding. I spent the ends of rehearsals for her production of The Deceased Woman staring at my watch, and Cláudia suggested I might learn to be grateful for every second of rehearsal. I guess I had to learn it twice. I’m still learning it. But when I put my notebook away in Yuri’s rehearsal, I was bored, at first. But then I started to notice my castmates were coming up with brilliant storytelling ideas. My castmates were arguing about different translations of the play. My castmates were acting really, really well. Suddenly I saw why I was earning university credit hours. And, I got a taste of what presence and generosity felt like. (Just tastes. I’m sure I’m still a monster to some degree.) The classes and programs at Wesleyan’s CFA aren’t for hobbyists. They aren’t supplemental. The seriousness, rigor, and passion for education found in this mini-campus match or beat any other department.

Favorite Course: Modern Dance III

Thesis Title: “Over Lunch: Lord Halifax, Anthony Eden, and the Fictions of Appeasement”

Center for the Arts Stories: Amy Crawford ’05

Amy Crawford '05. Photo by Julia Stotz.
Amy Crawford ’05. Photo by Julia Stotz.

Center for the Arts Story: Meeting Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge, interning at the CFA and learning the ropes of arts administration under her incredible leadership. I responded to an ad in the Argus for the CFA arts administration intern opportunity. Prior to that I didn’t know much about Pam and what the rest of the CFA staff were accomplishing. The internship gave me a different perspective on what happens at the CFA and also set me up with the skills to work in arts administration and produce concerts and projects in NYC after I graduated. Pam provided me with invaluable guidance and advice during my first year in the professional world – she is a gem and I will always consider her a mentor!

Favorite Course: Not a course, per se, but the independent study opportunities that Jay Hoggard offered me (I would receive early wake-up calls from Jay on lesson mornings to make sure I was on my way to the CFA!), and playing jazz standards with Anthony Braxton outside of class were some of my favorite and most formative musical experiences at Wesleyan.

Favorite Professor: James McGuire.

Thesis Title:
My major was Government, and the title of my thesis was “Cold War, Hot Jazz: American, German and Soviet Policy Responses to Jazz Music Pre- and Post-World War II.”  But I completed a senior music recital under the supervision of Jay Hoggard, “just for fun,” as well.

Center for the Arts Stories: Kelly Quinn ’93

Within the open and accepting microcosm of the CFA, I had the tremendous privilege of studying under Ron Kuivila in the electroacoustic music studio.  In that studio, I found the voice that was deep within me but unable to speak using conventional ‘language.’ Ron and the CFA—and Wesleyan as a whole—enabled me to finally find *my* language—not one of words, but one of sound: The one language that makes sense to me.

Center for the Arts Stories: Christopher Andrews ’97

Christopher Andrews '97
Christopher Andrews ’97. Photo by John McCormick.

In my years at Wesleyan, the majority of my life was spent lurking behind the scenes around the CFA. I played a role in virtually every theater and dance production and good number of the music performances as well. While I had good relationships with my professors, and I was part of a number of interesting performances, what remains with me is the time I spent working and, well, not working, with Nelson Maurice and Charlie Carroll and their occasional co-conspirator Mark Gawlak. They were, if you can pardon a Star Trek reference, my Boothby. I considered them to be both mentors and friends.  I think working with Nelson during a summer program on campus is what convinced me to come to Wesleyan in the first place. They provided the connections that got me first an internship at the Goodspeed Opera House and then later my job with fellow alum John Cini at High Output in Boston. It is even my connection with Charlie that led to my wife and I getting together.  I certainly learned a lot about technical theater and practical problem solving working with them—skills that continue to serve me well long after I left the theater. Of course, Nelson would be the first to admit that he didn’t keep up with the technology, and in the end I think I was teaching him things, but the great thing about him was that the reversal never seemed to bother him. He was more like a proud grandfather than a teacher trying to maintain intellectual dominance, and I really respect him for that, especially now that I am a teacher myself.

But for all that, what I remember most is the quiet times, just hanging around the shop listening to them gossip and tell jokes of variable quality, or sitting up in the booth teaching Nelson how to navigate the nascent Internet so he could look up web pages about Panama, Maine, peddle cars and Moxie. I gained from them a certain pragmatism that is lacking in many theatrical environments (and elsewhere). They worked hard, but they never took anything too seriously – nothing is really an emergency, and there is a fix for everything. Of course, this led to one of my fondest memories, watching Nelson emerge onstage and start sweeping the stage in the middle of a curtain call because it had been a long day and he was ready to go home. For all their pragmatism, and the admittedly hard time they gave anyone who came in range, they are some of the Good Guys, dedicated to what they do, and above all dedicated to their students.

This was my Wesleyan.

Center for the Arts Stories: Jonathan Kalb ’81

Jonathan Kalb '81 at Machu Picchu. Photo by his wife Julie Heffernan.
Jonathan Kalb ’81 at Machu Picchu. Photo by his wife Julie Heffernan.

My story is about an annual ritual of storing a god-awfully heavy upright piano that I stubbornly insisted on keeping with me all four years at Wesleyan. I’m sure a psychiatrist, if I ever asked one, would have a lot to say about why I lugged this absurd, quarter-ton, beaten-up, wooden instrument around during the most unsettled and itinerant time of life, hauling it from The Gingerbread House, to In-Town, to off-campus rentals on Washington and Pine Streets. More than three decades on, I can barely remember a time so innocent that moving seemed novel and fun. In any case, because Wesleyan housing had to be vacated over the summers, I had to find a place for my behemoth to stay every year from May until September. Full of freshman chutzpah in the spring in 1978, I walked into the Music Department, where I’d never taken a class, and asked a professor I didn’t know (I think it was Jon Barlow) if by chance I might leave my piano in a CFA practice room. He graciously answered: “Sure, if you can get it here.”

Thus began my yearly rite of bribing four or five friends with a case of beer to help push the damn thing across multiple streets and up and down long paths and sidewalks, on its rickety castors, to and from its summer sanctuary in the CFA. The asphalt pathways by the Music Department never looked the same after these operations and neither did my friends. The piano, however, was in great shape every fall (except for the castors) and I could play it in my room any time of the day or night, which is what mattered to me. Graduation inevitably forced me to focus on the merits of lightening up, and when a friend who had helped push (Joel Kreisberg) offered to buy the beast for fifty bucks, I reluctantly agreed. I saw it a few years later at his country house, nicked, faded, hulking, defiant—a proud old rusty ship just daring us to take it out on one more voyage.