Sam Morreale ‘19 talks to Visiting Instructor of Theater Miranda Haymon ‘16 about Pedro Pietri’s “The Masses are Asses” (May 13 and 20)

Miranda Haymon
Visiting Instructor of Theater Miranda Haymon ’16 directs a radio play version of Pedro Pietri’s “The Masses are Asses” (1974), which will be aired on WESU Middletown 88.1FM on both Thursday, May 13 and Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 10pm. Haymon is the inaugural Breaking New Ground Theater Artist in Residence during the 2020–2021 academic year, a new residency co-hosted by the Theater Department and the Center for the Arts which brings early career BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) theater artists to campus. Photo by Naomi Saito.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Sam Morreale ’19 (they/them) talks to Visiting Instructor of Theater Miranda Haymon ’16 (she/they) about directing the radio play “The Masses are Asses” (1974) by Pedro Pietri, which airs on Thursday, May 13 and Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 10pm on WESU Middletown 88.1FM. Each program will be available to stream from WESU’s show archives for two weeks following the broadcast. Morreale is currently helping to produce and curate the Theatre Communications Group 2021 virtual conference, “Our Theatre Ecology.”

All right, I truly have three questions and we can see if we need more as we go. They should be fairly easy; it’s all about The Masses are Asses. My first thought for you in this moment…[gets lost on their screen] oh my Goad, where are my notes. NOTES! The first is, is plain and simple. Can you describe the show? what is it, what is The Masses are Asses?
“The Masses are Asses” is paradoxical, satirical, poetic text that displays in plain sight the power of…the power of a…I don’t know just…I think what it does is that it gives us the satire of wealth and class and poverty in a way that really illuminates not just how much we value class when we’re thinking about the worth of a human in society, but also how much class predicates elements of ourselves that we do not yet know.
Um, I think that we see two characters in a world that is not so different from our own, but what develops over the course of about an hour or 70 minutes is frightening and disturbing and becomes – as the piece becomes more and more ridiculous – it becomes actually closer to our lived reality. And I just feel really excited to have worked on and to have found a play that so adequately and succinctly and brilliantly talks about the intersection between class and race and violence in America, and how they all intersect. So that’s The Masses are Asses. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil it but I think that’s what it is, in a nutshell.

No, we have to leave them wanting more for sure! I think that’s a great, great job.
I, personally, when I read the script I found it so timely, and particularly resonant with – it does a really beautiful thing with the absurdism. It is just so absurd, the whole – all of what the characters are experiencing and the world that they’ve created for themselves, and I think it does a great job of, you know, just showing the absurdity of our lived experiences to us.

I know you’re in residency at Wesleyan and this is a part of your greater artistic journey at the Center for the Arts, but what brought you to this specific script and project?
Actually it feels pretty full circle because this is a script that I discovered in my time at Wesleyan and as an undergrad. My friends and Daniel Maseda ’16 and Anthony Dean ’16 – [Assistant Professor of Theater, African American Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies] Katherine Brewer-Ball asked us if we’d be willing to just do a recording of it, you know, just to see what it was made out of and just for the opportunity for play. And I really latched on to not only the script, but also the audio version that we created. I actually performed in it as the Lady and Daniel was the Gentleman and Anthony did live sound cues of, you know, everything that happens in the world. So it was really fun and felt really active and I just have never gotten over this play. It always comes up! I always think about it. So when Wesleyan asked if there’s something that I wanted to do, especially given, you know what, piece – what kind of artistic process could we have that would exist virtually and still be significant, immediately I went to this play. In terms of thinking about my time at Wesleyan and projects that were still floating around. And also, I was a DJ for WESU at Wesleyan, so it was really exciting to work in the radio format and to revisit something that was so dear to me my junior and senior year, on campus. So that’s how I came to it. I have lots of dreams for it. I think that it’s the sort of text that doesn’t leave you. Um, and while I feel really proud and excited of the radio version we’ve made, I also feel excited about what else the play might have to teach us in other forms too so it feels like a really active play space from like a, an academic or a craft based place as well. Because it’s such a successful two hander! You really don’t get those; there’s not really a lot of successful two hands out there, so I’m glad to have had one and it really has served a lot of my thought processes about how to tell an impactful story, using satire and farce and ridiculousness and absurdity.

Yeah, that’s a perfect segue for my last question for you, which is about form. How has it been creating performance in a time of limited/no gathering, and what are the disadvantages and advantages that you found through the medium of the radio play? Like, what is serving you?
The disadvantages are that we’re not quite sure…because we do want it to exist on the radio, but not everyone has access to like a radio proper, especially not living in Connecticut. So we do have questions about, okay, what if folks are listening at their computer at home? What if folks are listening on the actual radio? What if folks are listening in headphones? Right? There’s not as much control of the audience experience, which I’m not used to because in theater and live performance you really do have that. Even when you’re working on commercials too, right? Like, you have a lot of agency over the user experience, over how the audience will receive the information, but with this we don’t have as much. You know, we don’t know if someone’s going to be driving, we don’t know if someone’s going to actually sit down and listen to it, we don’t know if someone’s just going to tune into it, you know, with 20 minutes left. Like, no clue how the work will be received. So that’s a disadvantage because it does feel…I want to create a piece that is accessible, which leads into one of the advantages, but sometimes when you don’t know how the audience is going to find the work that makes accessibility a lot more challenging. But that being said, part of one of the advantages to doing something like this is that anyone can listen from anywhere, at the given time. Right? So, we’re creating an audience that goes beyond just like, how many folks can we gather in this room? How many folks can travel to us? How many folks can pay for this? It really is, you know, if you log in, if you go to WESU 88.1FM at this time, like, you will have a piece to listen to. So that feels really exciting and I think that that also feels part of one of the advantages too. The fact that we’ve recorded this completely remotely. We had our sound team, Uptown Works – got to give them a shout out they are incredible. Excellent human beings, collaborators, technicians, designers – I mean, we really were able to activate these actors to create their own at home studio and learn how to you know change the gate and set up their mics and how far to be and how to set up sound blankets. And also you know giving them the opportunity to be able to just do it from their homes, and be wherever they were and I was doing it from my home and we had a technology that exists to be able to record remotely is…amazing. So I was really grateful to learn about that and now I want to do even more radio plays because it really is [amazing] – from like, in terms of costs and accessibility and how I feel like it activates the performers to be in control of their own performance, right? Being like yeah if you want to be close [to the mic] let’s try that! They really become engaged and enraptured in the process. So that was really bonding for us as an ensemble, and also was just really exciting for the future of audio and radio plays.

Yeah, there’s a kind of nostalgia I have for the radio play, and I think most people do. I have such fond memories of Sunday morning, sitting around in my living room with my siblings and my aunties and uncles and just like listening to a radio story…which is so weird, but I’m excited for that experience again when I listen to this.
No exactly! I mean, maybe off the record but you can use this if you want, like I’ve actually been thinking about…especially now that folks are getting vaccinated and it’s looking like you know gathering in groups of ten or fifteen, you know gathering in small groups will be a thing by the time the show comes out. So, Sam, I’ve been thinking about like, oh my gosh, how are we going to listen to this? Are people going to sit and listen to this thing for 80 minutes? But it’s actually kind of exciting! Because when I used to get an album, a new album, I would sit and listen to it as a kid, right? Like I would pick it up from Best Buy, I’d go home, I pop it in and I listen to it from beginning to end, no interruption. Or when I picked up, you know, a new book, right? I would go home and I’d sit and read it from front to back, and that was the experience. So I feel excited about introducing – reintroducing this kind of listening experience especially because it will just be occurring on these two times. And the ephemerality – the different kind of ephemerality that exists in that kind of accessibility.

Yeah that’s exactly what I was going to offer. Like, what you’re saying is that- it feels to me that that’s how you still find the liveness in this mode of performance and performance making, right? I keep considering like the difference between like theater, and like, how, how radio plays are still a type of theater. And it is the fact that like, you still set up a container for yourself to experience it where the event starts and the event ends and you have your own experience that will never be able to be created again in that moment. Which is pretty hot! I like that.
I think that’s totally true about the container and it just means that that container goes beyond Middletown, Connecticut, New York, the globe, everywhere! It goes far beyond that, but it is still a set time, and something that you know is an event taking place, which is how the theatricality remains.

I realized I lied when I said that was my last question for you, so I’m going to ask one more and then I promise I’ll respect this container.

What lessons do you think you’ll be taking from this experience, and this mode into your future theater making practices?
I feel really excited about the opportunity to…I’m curious about how to integrate the notion of like takes? Because what’s so fun about having different takes is that you just play around a lot, and you make the choice later, you know? Like, the actors were like, “Can I try it like this and I just go completely insane?” and I was like, “Yes!” And then they’d be like, “Okay…can I just go super quiet?” and I was like, “Yes!” We already have two versions of it as we rehearsed, but why not just throw something else in there! And you know some of those takes we have, we ended up using or pulling from, or you know, learning about the overall narrative trajectory and tone and pacing from those more polar opposite takes. So, I think I want to take with me the opportunity to be able to really play and experiment and go to those extremes. I think sometimes in theater we become very precious and we become very focused on like, well, is this the best choice, as opposed to well let’s just open ourselves up to as many choices as possible. Maybe the choice that makes the most sense, we will find when we need to, as opposed to let it cement in now and all else comes from that. That feels exciting. I also feel excited about, and something that I learned is, maybe I will create audio experiences that run tangential to the plays that I create. Maybe not necessarily when I’m working with a playwright – maybe that’s something I would want to discuss – but I’m curious about…It was really exciting to adapt in a different form, especially since I do identify as an adapter, it was really awesome to talk about what was successful about the performance, the version of it that shouldn’t be performed in addition to the version of it that is purely an audio experience. Um, so I feel excited about having not said, “Okay it’s either the performance version, or it’s the radio version,” like having them go alongside each other. I mean frankly like the work that Audible Theater is doing, where they have plays that folks can come and enjoy in person and are fully staged, and then they release an audio version of it. Like, that’s awesome. I’m really thinking about that kind of collaboration, especially as we’re thinking about what does it mean to program a live season in addition to a digital season. I think that choosing plays that are active in both spheres could be really exciting to incorporate into my practice as a writer and a director and a producer in the future.

I love that. I’m always, I’m – it’s so exciting to hear you articulate those dreams, and I am overjoyed, as always, to be reminded of your very…you have a very abundant, generous, and magnanimous approach to the work that you do and like your generative and creative process, and I live for it. It makes me very excited to listen to The Masses are Asses on whatever day it is that I’m going to plug in this moment [Thursday, May 13 and Thursday, May 20, 2021 at 10pm on WESU Middletown 88.1FM. Each program will be available to stream from WESU’s show archives for two weeks following the broadcast.]

Thank you so much for being in conversation with me and sharing your thoughts. I think we’ve done it!

Wesleyan’s Rani Arbo talks to Julie Shvetz about the 40th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition

40th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition
Artwork (clockwise from left): Maria Enrika Laredo, Gazelle Molina, Audrey Antczak.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

The virtual opening reception for the 40th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition will take place online on Saturday, March 13, 2021 from 5pm to 7pm. This event is sponsored by the Middletown Board of Education, Middletown Public Schools Cultural Council, and Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts.

Every spring for the past 40 years, the Middletown Public Schools K-12 Art Show has transformed Wesleyan’s Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery into a joyous, wall-to-wall riot of color. From ceramics to collage, the annual exhibition is a multimedia celebration of the creativity of Middletown students, the vision and dedication of their art teachers, and the community that supports both. It is a beloved event: last year, more than 2,000 people attended the exhibition opening on Saturday, March 7, 2020—just days before it closed early in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Middletown Public Schools K-12 Art Show turns 40, goes virtual, and is a testament to an unprecedented year of teaching, learning, and art-making.

“The art teachers are unsung heroes,” says Julie Shvetz, K-12 Visual Department Head for Middletown Public Schools. “They are doing amazing things in their classrooms, making it work simultaneously for kids in the room, kids who are hybrid and will be in the room tomorrow, and kids who are fully remote.” Since last spring, teachers have been packing up supply kits full of pencils, markers, watercolors, air-drying clay, and sculpting tools to ensure that kids at home can fully participate and have a supported creative outlet.

“Students need a way to express themselves and how they’re feeling, with everything going on in the world right now,” says Shvetz. During January’s Presidential inauguration week, she challenged her high school students to create an expressive collage on a topic that concerned them, from COVID-19 and the election to Black Lives Matter and their own futures. They drew a range of emotions, and then incorporated those into a collage of images, text, and 3-D elements that summed up how they felt and what they had to say (some of these will be on view in the virtual show). Says Shvetz, “This show is a perfect means for bringing the community together, from Pre-K to kids who are about to graduate. We celebrate all our students, all our schools, and all our teachers—and this virtual year, we are so glad we still have that opportunity.”

The 40th anniversary Middletown Public Schools K-12 Art Show will be hosted on a Middletown Public Schools website and will open with Zoom reception on Saturday, March 13, 2021 from 5pm to 7pm. We hope you join us for this annual Wesleyan Center for the Arts and Middletown Public Schools tradition!

Rani Arbo
Campus and Community Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts

Artwork (clockwise from left): Maria Enrika Laredo, Gazelle Molina, Audrey Antczak.

Wesleyan’s Hari Krishnan talks with choreographer Ananya Chatterjea about her Movement Workshop

Ananya Chatterjea
Choreographer Ananya Chatterjea, Artistic Director of the contemporary Indian dance company Ananya Dance Theatre in Minneapolis.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

Professor and Chair of the Dance Department Hari Krishnan talks with his longtime colleague and friend choreographer Ananya Chatterjea to discuss her upcoming “Feminist Rage and Healing” Movement Workshop on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 8pm.

Ananya Chatterjea অনন্যা চট্টোপাধ্যায় is a 2011 Guggenheim Choreography Fellow, a 2012 McKnight Choreography Fellow, a 2016 Joyce Award recipient, a 2018 Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Fellow, and a 2019 Dance/USA Artist Fellow. She is a Professor of Dance at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches courses in Dance Studies and technique.

Hari Krishnan is Chair and Professor of Dance at Wesleyan University. A 2013 Bessie Award nominee in the Outstanding Performance category, he is a dancer, choreographer, scholar, and educator, and is the artistic director of Toronto-based dance company inDANCE. His monograph Celluloid Classicism (2019) recently won a special citation from the 2020 de la Torre Bueno© First Book Award Committee of the Dance Studies Association. The book has been hailed as “an invaluable addition to scholarship on Bharatanatyam.”

Warrior-feminist-dance artist Ananya Chatterjea will lead a seminal and urgent workshop on feminist rage and healing at Wesleyan on March 10, 2021. Why is this workshop important in terms of the complex world we all inhabit today?
While some of the issues we are facing today are old, we are experiencing them in new formations. There is urgency as the ecosystemic balance—both in terms of the extractive economy of capitalism that is destroying our habitat, and in terms of violently stifling emergent voices for justice from long and historically marginalized communities—tips over. Sometimes I think all we have is ourselves, in the manner of brilliant Black queer feminist writer June Jordan’s words: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Yet, we have to practice being there for ourselves—in embodied terms. So we practice the regulation of our over-activated nerves, and we care for ourselves and each other, even as we push back consistently and repeatedly against the violences directed at us. This is a practice, this articulation of rage at what is being done to us and in our name, and the ability not to be burned by its power.

What would you like the participants to take away from this experience?
An embodied knowledge of articulating rage.

Could you discuss the syncretic ways you integrate performance, scholarship and social justice issues?
The injustices that are in front of us are multi-pronged, Hydra-like, constantly reincarnating themselves. Some of these we are sharply opposed to, and some, because they are systemic, we are implicated in, albeit unwittingly. It takes all of the skills I have learned and continue to chisel, to identify them through the culture of shiny consumerist capitalism and convenience, and to invite others to do the same. And to imagine a world without these violences—it takes every cell of my body to practice moving as if these violences were not poisoning our world. It takes deep study, critical analysis, intellectual and practice-based rigor, creative ferment, undoing of old learnings, imaginative flights, it takes everything informing each other.

We hope you join us for this movement workshop experience on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 8pm. Reservations are limited to 40 people and are free through the Center for the Arts box office.

Fiona Coffey
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts

Elevator Repair Service at Wesleyan

Elevator Repair Service's "Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge"
Actors Greig Sargeant and Ben Williams (pictured) and director and Elevator Repair Service founder John Collins will discuss the development and process of creating the new theater work in progress “Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge,” created and performed by Elevator Repair Service, on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 8pm. FREE! RSVP required for access to virtual event. Photo by John Collins.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week we focus on Elevator Repair Service’s new theater work in progress “Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge.” Actors Greig Sargeant and Ben Williams and director and founder John Collins will discuss the development and process of creating the work on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 8pm.

In January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters around the world, I saw an early open rehearsal of a new work by renowned theater company Elevator Repair Service. The company presented an excerpt of a new show they were developing, Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge. Actors Greig Sargeant and Ben Williams performed an extraordinarily moving verbatim excerpt from the original debate between civil rights activist James Baldwin and the father of modern American conservatism William F. Buckley, Jr. In 1965, Baldwin and Buckley had been invited by Cambridge University Union to debate the proposition “The American Dream is at the expense of the American Negro.” Baldwin offered a riveting speech stating that the legacy of slavery and white supremacy had destroyed his sense of reality.

“It comes as a great shock around the age of five, or six, or seven, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you. The disaffection, the demoralization, and the gap between one person and another only on the basis of the color of their skin, begins there and accelerates – accelerates throughout a whole lifetime.”

Buckley acknowledged discrimination but said that America was a “mobile society” and Black people had every opportunity to improve their condition. This historic debate became a touchstone in both men’s lives and a marker of the Civil Rights Movement. The initial performance by Elevator Repair Service in 2020 created an incredible echo between the language and rhetoric being used in 1965 and much of the contemporary national conversations around race and equality in America. It was a performance filled with emotion, expression, desire, and an impassioned assertion of civil rights that I felt was important for our Wesleyan students and community to experience.

Elevator Repair Service is an acclaimed New York-based theater ensemble founded by director John Collins and a group of actors in 1991. Traditionally, the company has worked with found or literary texts. In 2006, the company changed the landscape of American theater with their eight-hour production of Gatz, which reenacted the novel The Great Gatsby on the stage. Gatz initiated a trilogy of American literature: Gatz, The Sound and the Fury, and The Select (The Sun Also Rises). This lengthy process of devising work from non-theatrical texts became the company’s signature. They are also known for innovative use of technology, imaginative choreography, and dense soundscapes in their productions. Elevator Repair Service creates its performances through extended periods of collaboration; a typical development cycle includes four to six intensive work periods within a two-year window followed by work-in-progress showings before touring.

Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge was originally set to premiere at The Public Theater in the spring of 2020. After the pandemic shut down theaters, Elevator Repair Service was forced to delay its opening. During the past year, the world has undergone major seismic shifts with the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, the insurrection at the Capitol, the end of the Trump presidency, and more. Although the company started working on the production in 2019, by the time the show will premiere in late 2021 or early 2022, the lens through which audiences will see this important show has shifted.

The Center for the Arts plans to bring Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge to Wesleyan in February 2022. In the meantime, we are thrilled to host a conversation with Greig Sargeant, Ben Williams, and John Collins to discuss the show’s origins, how COVID-19 disrupted its development process, and how Black Lives Matter has heightened the lens through which audiences will now experience the production. The discussion will be moderated by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl and Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21.

We hope you join us on Thursday, March 4, 2021 at 8pm for this dynamic conversation moderated by Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl and Fitzroy “Pablo” Wickham ’21. Reservations are free through the Center for the Arts Box Office.

Fiona Coffey
Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts
Center for the Arts

Fall Faculty Dance Concert: “The Perseverance Project”

Choreographers in Fall Faculty Dance Concert
From left: Visiting Instructor in Dance Shamel Pitts, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Milka Djordjevich, Visiting Associate Professor of Dance Doug Elkins, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Maho Ishiguro MA ’12 Ph.D. ’18.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Chair of the Dance Department and Professor of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Hari Krishnan introduces the four choreographers that will be featured in the Fall Faculty Dance Concert “The Perseverance Project” on Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 8pm as they share more about their work. 

The Dance Department’s fall faculty dance concert The Perseverance Project features our new extraordinary dance faculty. Milka Djordjevich, Doug Elkins, Maho Ishiguro, and Shamel Pitts will share their vibrant choreography along with fascinating insights into their creative processes and collaborative adventures. The Perseverance Project promises to be a spectacular virtual evening of dynamic dance, urgent political concerns, thoughtful representations of dance history, and much more. We invite you to engage with these brilliant artists.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Milka Djordjevich
“I create choreography that operates inside and outside dance traditions in order to blur the distinction between ‘dance’ and ‘non-dance.’ In particular, I am interested in subverting Western dance’s history, tradition, codification, and embedded patriarchy, without creating transgressions. I participate in a long and layered process of inquiry, which continually questions the mode of production from which I work in order to examine how it is embedded in a cultural hierarchy. In the form of a self-narrated pseudo video essay, in collaboration with filmmaker Justin Streichman, we visit my garage/studio in Los Angeles, where I currently reside. There I unpack performance remnants as a lamentation of past work and reflect on the impossible return to live performance as we knew it. My last completed work, Kinetic Augmentations (2019)—a solo made in correspondence with Fluxus Artist Alison Knowles’s House of Dust at the MAK Center/Schindler House in Los Angeles—reflects my practice, a going-between of a domestic/private environment to a performative/public reality. I reflect on what was, what is, and what can be.”

Visiting Associate Professor of Dance Doug Elkins
“I began my dance career as a b-boy, house head, capoeirista, and voguing. By the time I came into New York’s contemporary dance scene, I had thoroughly absorbed the hip hop ethos of bricolage, appropriation, sampling, and remixing. I revel in the way that the resonance of dance forms changes as they are put into new contexts and layered alongside and through one another. My dances have been called ‘supercolliders where dissonant cultural referents create a cultural Big Bang.’ I am interested in multiplicity. I make dances that hopefully attempt to represent the world as a tangle or jumble or ball of yarn, to represent the world without in any way diminishing the essential complexity of it or, to put it better, the simultaneous presence in it of very disparate elements that converge to determine each event.”

Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Maho Ishiguro MA ’12 Ph.D. ’18 
“I am performing a piece called Gambyong Retnokusumo, a court style Javanese dance piece from the royal court of Mangkunegaran, Solo, Indonesia. The dance was choreographed during the reign of Mangkunegaran VIII (1944–1987), and depicts a young woman of coming of age, adoring herself, and glowing in her beauty. I am also sharing some aspects of my current research on dances from Indonesia. Audiences should definitely attend this concert to witness the strength, wonder, and hope the diversity of our dance styles bring to Wesleyan, to our students, and the world beyond.”

Visiting Instructor in Dance Shamel Pitts
“My choreographic aesthetic is fundamentally connected to Gaga, the movement language created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. As an artist and citizen, I have a large curiosity towards deviation. This inspires me to make movement-based art that reflects its time. The work that I will share for The Perseverance Project exclusively is a behind the scenes intimate viewing of the creation process for my most recent work in progress duet Touch Of RED, which was filmed by art cinematographer Taylor Antisdel with performers Tushrik Fredericks and myself. All filming was within the most updated COVID-19 safety protocols at New Live Arts.”

Fall Faculty Dance Concert: The Perseverance Project
Saturday, October 31, 2020 at 8pm
FREE! RSVP required for access to virtual event.

An Interview with the Curators of “Reiterate, Resound—Visualizing Time: A Student Video Exhibition”

Reiterate Resound—Visualizing Time: A Student Video Exhibition


In dialogue with the exhibition
A SCULPTURE, A FILM & SIX VIDEOS, currently on view in the Main Gallery of the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, the videos in Reiterate, Resound capture a variety of perspectives on the nature of time. Each of the video submissions for the show responded to the prompt circulated in the spring of 2020: “in this moment, what does time mean to you?” Staged by two student curators, Maya Hayda ’21 and Nia Felton ’21, Reiterate, Resound emerged as a response to this prompt as well as a curatorial interlocutor with Six Videos. The exhibition features recent video works by six student artists and is on view in the Zilkha South Gallery until Friday, October 23, 2020. Zilkha Gallery Exhibitions Intern, Paul McLaren ’21, engaged the curators in a conversation about the exhibitions thematic content, and the process of organizing a group show featuring student work.

Paul McLaren: Can you share a little bit about the process of organizing the exhibition? How did you select, organize and curate the videos?

Maya Hayda: In August, we were approached by Ben and Rosemary and asked to curate this show from a group of about 30 videos, submissions from current Wesleyan students and recent alumni. The prompt had already been circulated in the spring, and so we were presented with all of the submissions and really an open ended task of pulling together what the exhibit would become. We were given access to view the Six Videos content, and additionally we each did some readings on video art, just to get our bearings on the medium, its history and its potential to address this larger theme of time. Nia and I then both watched the videos separately, and came together a few times to discuss our initial reactions and then to piece together a cohesive, formally interesting and thematically relevant show. For me at least, it was really important to include works that were making formal investigations into this idea of time, its cyclicality, and its effect on our lives, along with more narrative or thematic explorations of the prompt. 

After organizing the initial exhibit, we also wanted to give an opportunity for the artists to speak about their work to a wider public, since there was no opening reception due to COVID regulations. We hosted a Facebook livestream with four of the six artists, and it was a great chance to hear more about the pieces in addition to the current and future projects the artists are working on. Overall, I think it was pretty successful and I hope that everyone can check out the videos streaming on Vimeo this month! 

PM: How do the videos you selected relate to and build off one another? 

MH: I think there’s a strong connection in all of the videos which connects this idea of time to identity, and the ways in which the past may inform the present and future. There’s this consistent theme of cyclicality which occurs both symbolically and formally in repeating images and sounds. Videos like Ayat’s Dawra (which translates to cycle) show this cyclicality quite beautifully through repeated sounds, including lyrics like the song “going to the chapel and we’re going to get married” paired with repeated visuals like the hot wax brings about this idea of how our existence and self-hood is shaped by patterns and ingrained cycles in many ways. Then there’s also Alessandra’s video, On Conversations with our Fathers, which shows cyclicality in reckoning with trauma (either from events like 9/11 or the emergence of the pandemic or the trauma of dealing with racism) through symbolic and literal layering of family photos within the frame in addition to audio clips recollecting stories. I think each of the videos present a different voice in relation to time, but each remains bound up in this duality of repetition and evolution as the artists speak to their own lives and in their own practice mark themselves as active participants within this current moment. Although each of the videos shows how time passes, I think the very act of creation allows for this intervention which insists on the importance of hearing and seeing each of these voices in the present, and hopes to resonate into the future. 

NF: I don’t want to talk too much about what I think each video means because that right should be given to the artists first and foremost but I think the videos we chose all deal with time in a very intimate and interpersonal way even if the thesis of the videos vary. That intimacy I think is the greatest way the videos build off of each other. Just as an example, the conversations the artists, Alessandra Rizzo and Yichen Zhang, have with their parents is so incredibly poignant.

PM: In the description for Six Videos, curator Ben Chaffee writes, the videos “connect a deep mystical time to the present tense, visualize cycles, and reach into the future for the potential it may hold for transformation.” What’s the relationship, both thematically and materially, between Reiterate, Resound and Six Videos?

MH: One important, albeit somewhat obvious connection, between the two exhibits is their use of video to address this idea of time. Unlike photographs, sculpture, or painting, I think that video is perhaps one of the best formats to think about time and our relation to it. There’s something about how video allows for movement, which is not present in a photograph, which I think speaks to how video is able to connect the past to the present and “reach into the future.” Moments are not presented as fact, or as “document,” but as fluid and inherently connected to other moments, images or frames of reference. In terms of theme, I think that the videos in Six Videos are also in dialogue with this idea of cycles within our lives and social contexts and allow for deeper consideration of these repetitions. Videos like Prodger’s Birdgit and Kahn’s Stand in the Stream offer a look into the intimate connections between an individual lives and their presence in time, in a similar way to Alexa’s Eileen speaks to the the life of the named “Eileen” as someone who is negotiating an identity that is being constantly shaped by those around her and the landscape she inhabits. Another connection between the two exhibits is this idea of hope and faith in futurity, and its ability to learn from the past and present moment in order to evolve into something better. In Six Videos, this motif is exemplified by the “Green Ray,” which has this generational allure of mysticism and largely relies on the belief of the viewer to become actualized. Although Reiterate, Resound does not have a literal “green ray,” I think that the videos touch on similar notes of generational legacies and stories and how they inform the present. By recording instances from the past and the present and showing them in video there’s a kind of agency in both exhibits which allows for an understanding of where we are coming from and t simultaneously a place for the artists and viewers alike to move forward into the future. 

NF: During the curating process, we spent most of our time with the submitted videos and the prompt and not so much with Six Videos although we were told what Six Videos was about and what artists were featured. However, I do think authenticity is a shared theme between the art featured Reiterate, Resound, and Six Videos.  

PM: Is there a particular urgency that you feel the exhibition has given the current climate? What about video?

MH: When the prompt went around, I think there was an urgency to negotiate our relation to time, particularly for students. It’s like we’ve been on this trajectory our whole lives, through childhood, moving through college, and then all of a sudden in the middle of the semester time stops, we’re all sent home and the threat of mortality looms in our face as this strange virus takes hold of the nation. I think the urgency of the videos points to a need to respond, and take initiative to define a voice in this particular time in order to not feel hopeless or completely without agency given the context of pandemia, violence, the effects of climate change, etc. This takes forms in a few different ways in the exhibit—for example you have Yao’s video (Along the River) which is a direct response to being quarantined in a hotel room and negotiating that “captive” space by looking and filming out the window as a point of connection. Alexa’s Eileen also addresses the pandemic more directly. In addition, there’s Ben’s Video,  Imagine transcend love, which I think very powerfully affirms that despite our current situation and our organic, mortal, decaying bodies, everyone has the potential to transcend with acts of love and care. 

NF: I’m a bit unsure what you mean in this question. We did feel pressure to watch all the videos, take notes, and make decisions about the exhibition because we were called on during the late summer and the show was scheduled to go up in September. However, I think the art in the exhibition is not temporal. The horror of the pandemic may only be experienced by a few in terms of human history but the art created during this time is an important part of the preservation of human experience.    

PM: How do the videos you included resists, singular definition of time? I’m thinking about the Elizabeth Grosz quote you included in the exhibitions description: “Time has a quality of intangibility, a fleeting half-life, emitting its duration-particles only in the passing or transformation of objects and events, thus erasing itself as such while it opens itself to movement and change. It has an evanescence, a fleeting or shimmering, highly precarious ‘identity’ that resists concretization, indication or direct representation.”

MH: I think we often perceive time as moving perpetually forward. It’s something that “passes” and as people we are simply flowing in the stream. These videos challenge that idea through their emphasis on cyclicality, bringing us back to repeating moments that are fleeting and changing but very much inform the present. One video I’m thinking about in particular is Kyron’s Gentrify Express, which addresses a changing landscape of home through this formally rigorous format. We see the repetition of the subway doors opening and closing and the flow of commuters inside the frame of a compact mirror. The video starts close to the mirror and slowly zooms out, and as viewers we watch these scenes of transit and movement occurring over and over again. You can’t “capture” any of the moments in the video, which I think reflects how a process like gentrification has this kind of “evanescent” quality in public memory, as a process which happens, passes many of us by and that we don’t necessarily register until it is “past,” or “completed.” Kyron’s video brings attention to this transience and highlights through repetition that maybe we need to pay more attention and not just be passive actors in time. In another example, Alessandra’s video is also highlighting this “shimmering” or “evanescent” quality of time by using ephemeral objects (family photographs) in addition to recordings of family stories (which is in itself a time-dependent act). These objects and recordings/stories  have a “lifespan” as material objects but their placement in the video resonates with how their effects extend past this determined lifespan and continually inform our present and future. 

NF: I think that each video has distinct theses about time and that inherently makes them resistant to a singular definition of time. However, to illustrate that more clearly and using examples from artists we spoke to during our Zoom talkback: when a viewer watches Alessandra Rizzo’s video I hope that they feel the genuine and justified fear of Spring 2020 when the future was made entirely obscured in a way that it never would have been without a pandemic. In contrast, Ben Schneier’s video is a hopeful take on time, the future, and human advancement.



Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, Associate Director of Visual Arts Benjamin Chaffee writes about the exhibition “A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS,” which is on display now through Sunday, November 22, 2020.

A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS is an exhibition of a sculpture, a film, and a survey of six recent video works presented in a nontraditional, temporal framework in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. Rather than present all of the included artworks every day the exhibition is open, the sculpture is up for the run of the exhibition, the film is being projected three times, and the videos are projected one at a time for two weeks each. Instead of an eight-person exhibition there are in effect six different two-person presentations. As the videos will not be seen in the same place at the same time, they will exist in relation to each other only through memory, engaging one of the fundamental properties of the moving image in the structure of the exhibition itself.

Upon entering the front doors of the gallery you see the smallest work, the sculpture. Nestled into a custom-built atrium in a corner of the gallery, Peter Fischli & David Weiss’ Son et lumière (1990) acts as the pivot or fulcrum for the entire exhibition, the kinetic center around which everything else revolves.

Installation image of "A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS," 2020.
Installation image of “A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS,” 2020. Photo by Benjamin Vuchetich ’22.

Acting as a counterweight, a proto-cinematic object, and a foil, the sculpture is the smallest work included in the exhibition and is given the most time in the gallery. Like most works by Fischli & Weiss the materials list is simple: “Projection with kinetic objects including an army torch (fitted with red and green gels), turntable, corrugated plastic beaker and adhesive tape.” While the materials are self-evident, the effect they create is magical. The turntable is propped up on an angle by a few coins placed under one end and as it rotates the plastic cup rolls around the turntable surface guarded by a masking tape fence. The light from the flashlight refracts through the cup creating a projection on the wall behind making a gentle rhythmic sound as it moves.

Installation image of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, "Son et lumière" (1990).
Installation image of Peter Fischli & David Weiss, “Son et lumière” (1990). Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

Turning the corner into the main space of the gallery there is carpeting over the cork tile floor and a large-scale projection wall dividing the vaulted space. The videos are projected here in a darkened space. Works are included by Renée Green ’81, Karrabing Film Collective, Trisha Baga, Stanya Kahn, Arthur Jafa, and Charlotte Prodger. More information about each of the works can be found on the exhibition website. Individually these works address continuities, discontinuities, place, and displacement in time. They connect a deep mystical time to the present tense, visualize cycles, and reach into the future for the potential it may hold for transformation.

Installation image of Karrabing Film Collective, "The Mermaids or Aiden in Wonderland" (2018)
Installation image of Karrabing Film Collective, “The Mermaids or Aiden in Wonderland” (2018) in “A SCULPTURE, A FILM, & SIX VIDEOS,” Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery, 2020. Photo by Benjamin Vuchetich ’22.

Tacita Dean’s 16mm film The Green Ray (2001), also included in the exhibition, refers to a naturally-occurring phenomenon, a flash of green light crossing the sky after the sun has set. In the 19th century it was a widely-held Romantic belief in Europe that observing the green ray gave the viewer a heightened perception of the world and viewing the ray was indicative of a coming transformation. In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), the green flash is seen as a sign that a soul has returned to the living. Jules Verne encapsulated that ideal in his 1882 novel The Green Ray referring to the color as “the true green of Hope”. In her collected writings, Dean explains that “looking for the green ray became about the act of looking itself, about faith and belief in what you see.” The green ray grounds the temporal framework of the exhibition itself and the specificity of media’s relation to time, delineating difference of time in sculpture, in video, in film, in performance, in event, in exhibition. The Green Ray will be projected two more times over the exhibition run, on Wednesday, October 28 and Friday, November 13, 2020. Both screenings are at 12:10pm.

Tacita Dean, "The Green Ray," 2001, 16mm color film
Tacita Dean, “The Green Ray,” 2001, 16mm color film, mute, 2 1/2 minutes. Courtesy of the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris. Copyright Tacita Dean.

On the podcast What’s Love Got To Do With It?, Alice Notley asks Precious Okoyomon, “How do you think about the future? And do you think about the future with love? Now we’re at the hazy place where we have to think about the future out of this present and how do we think about it?” These questions have been haunting me lately. How do we imagine a future out of an unsustainable present? Amidst the grief and loss of the global pandemic, systemic racialized violence, a divisive political sphere, the economic crisis, and the larger backdrop of our climate emergency? When Okoyomon returns the question, Notley shares that she doesn’t believe in future, only in an expansive present. Perhaps the way forward is not out but in. As our experiences of our present time are increasingly measured by their proximities to ending(s) this exhibition looks for continuities in time. While we reimagine a way forward to what degree can we look to the form of time itself to hold the power for transformation?

All of the exhibition programming is online at the exhibition website, designed by Everything Studio. More information is available about each of the artworks included in the exhibition and some of the videos are available for limited online screening.

Here’s a list of the upcoming online programming:

Artist Talk: Stanya Kahn
Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 8pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Performance by Tosh Basco (aka boychild): “Untitled: darkness” (2020) 
Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 2pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Conversation: Collective for Radical Death Studies and devynn emory with Anthony Ryan Hatch, Associate Professor of Science in Society at Wesleyan
Monday, November 9, 2020 at 7:30pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Artist Talk: Karrabing Film Collective
Wednesday, November 11, 2020 at 6pm

Talk and Reading: Victoria Pitts-Taylor
Tuesday, November 17, 2020 at 6pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

Artist Talk: Renée Green ’81
Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 6pm
RSVP required for access to virtual event.

A tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam

S.P. Balasubrahmanyam
S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (left) with Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan in 2019. Photo: Krishnaprakash

Adjunct Associate Professor of Music B. Balasubrahmaniyan shares a tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, “a rare combination of humanitarian and legendary singer,” to whom the Navaratri Festival Committee has dedicated Wesleyan’s 44th annual Navaratri Festival.

The iconic singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (1946-2020) was one of India’s most celebrated artists. Shattering world records for singing more than 40,000 songs in sixteen different languages, SPB or Balu Sir (as he’s fondly referred to), was unmatched in his vocal range for Indian cinema, throughout South Asia, spanning multiple popular and classical genres of music.

For me, he was not just a musical legend, he was also one of the most compassionate humanists that I have met and interacted with. He held many unbreakable records in his music career for the past five decades starting from the mid 1960s as well as holding equally unbreakable records in generosity, compassion, and humility!

I have experienced his love and affection from my recent meeting in 2019 (pictured above).

His recent demise on September 25, 2020 has left millions of his ardent fans feeling devastated and empty.

Wesleyan dedicates its 2020 Navaratri Festival to S. P. Balasubrahmanyam as a testimony to his unique musical ability to unite South Asia and South Asians in truly interconnected ways, transcending language, ethnicity, caste, class, and more.

For a detailed insight into this genius singer’s life, see this recent BBC profile:

SP Balasubrahmanyam: Legendary Indian singer dies


Graduate music student Suhail Yusuf reflects on Navaratri Festival and shares YouTube playlist

“A Handful of Beauty” is the second studio album released by the world fusion band Shakti in 1976.

Wesleyan graduate music student Suhail Yusuf, a sarangi player, vocalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, reflects on the Navaratri Festival and shares a YouTube playlist.

The playlist below consists of ten recordings by some of the greatest legendary musicians of North India and Pakistan and a few contemporary ones. The performing artists through these recordings were carefully selected on the basis of––keeping in mind––their connection to Wesleyan, especially with the Navaratri Festival, or the artists’ creative ideas aligned with the vision of our world-famous ethnomusicology program, offered in the Music Department.

From the impeccable upbeat rhythmic structures to utterly complex melodic runs, the opening track in the list is a power packed instrumental called “Kriti.” With its roots fixed in the Carnatic (South Indian classical) music tradition, this particular recording was made by the internationally acclaimed group known as Shakti. The members of this super group consisted of L. Shankar (who earned a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University in 1974), John McLaughlin (Carnatic music student at Wesleyan in the 1970s), Zakir Hussain, and Vikku Vinayakram. Apparently, McLaughlin met Shankar at Wesleyan around the mid ’70s and went on to form this super group.

Although “Kriti” is more likely to raise our excitement levels with its raised tempo and breathtaking virtuosic performances, the track after is a rather peaceful rendition of the raga “Jaunpurī.” In the recording, the artist performing this raga is the late Buddhadev Dasgupta. While “Jaunpurī” is a beautiful early morning raga from the Hindustani (North Indian classical) music tradition, it has healing properties and provides a soothing effect to the soul. This particular rendition was specifically made for a series of recordings featured as part of musicologist and ethnomusicologist Joep Bor’s book The Raga Guide. The book is a historical and an ethnomusicological outlook on the raga system of North Indian music. Indic music scholars at universities across the world include chapters from this book into their syllabi.

After a glimpse of traditional sounds from both North and South Indian classical music, the playlist will now move on to discover some of the contemporary approaches used in twenty-first century Indian music. Although a lot has been explored under the banner of “contemporary Indian music” sounds, e.g. composer Philip Glass’ collaboration with Ravi Shankar, and The Beatles and the Rolling Stones incorporating Indian sounds into their albums, amongst others, for the sake of this playlist, I will focus on collaborations from the last twenty years.

Track number three, “Amirah,” is a composition by U.K.-born sarangi player Surinder Sandhu. In the track, one can hear cinematic musical influences combined with traditional Indian sounds. What I absolutely love about this piece is the almost avant-garde approach in Sandhu’s sarangi playing and the orchestral arrangement given to the Indian instruments––a practice that became popular during India’s colonial days.

While maintaining the contemporary vibe, track four moves away from highbrow orchestral sounds and transitions into an earthy combination of U.K. folk and Indian Sufi sounds. The song “Westlin Winds” by the U.K. based Indo-jazz-folk trio Yorkston/Thorne/Khan was originally written by Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). However, in this version the trio translates Burns’ song into Hindi. They do this by borrowing Hindi lyrics from Indian Sufi poet Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) and as critics have said, “gave new lungs to the song.”

Moving forward on the lines of fused sounds, the next track features critically-acclaimed Indian pop duo Hariharan and Leslie Lewis, popularly known as Colonial Cousins. In this playlist the duo’s featured song is “Krishna,” based on a composition that was popularized by T. Balasaraswati and other musicians of her family. As the story goes, Hariharan’s mother learned this song from T.Brinda (T.Vishwanathan’s cousin’s sister) and passed it on to Hariharan. Hence, a very strong connection with the Carnatic music legacy of Wesleyan University. In their version, Colonial Cousins, while giving it a western touch, maintain the prayer-like feeling of the song: requesting Kriśna (Hindu mythical God), Jesus, and Allah to come and save the world; indeed, a song we all need in these unprecedented times!

On the other hand, track six “Dubla” presents an interesting combination of the North Indian version of Solkattu (vocalized rhythmic syllables) and electro-dance beats. It is written and produced by U.K.-based tabla player and DJ Talvin Singh. The song was released as part of Singh’s highly-acclaimed album Ha in 2001. With a blend of folk, jazz, orchestral sounds, and new age electro-beats, our contemporary Indian music section in the playlist comes to an end. In contrast, the remaining four tracks will lean back towards the traditional approaches used in Indian music.

Although the playlist began with separate showcases of each of the Hindustani and Carnatic music traditions, this last leg of the playlist will explore interactions, amalgamations, and cross-cultural togetherness that has brought Hindustani and Carnatic musicians together through music-making. Track seven is a unique 1935 vintage recording featuring the doyen of Hindustani music Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. In the recording Khan sings a Carnatic raga “Karharapriya,” probably one of the earliest documented renditions of a Carnatic raga sung by a Hindustani vocalist.

The next track is a beautifully crafted instrumental duet of the late Sultan Khan (Hindustani sarangi player) and the late U.Sriniwas (Carnatic mandolin player). While revamping each other’s traditions, in the recording both Sultan Khan and U.Sriniwas masterfully performed raga “Hemavati.”

The second to last track on the list is a Thumri (semi-classical song in Hindustani music) composed in raga “Sindhi Bhairavi.” It was sung and recorded by Pakistan’s legendary vocalist Salamat Ali Khan, who visited Wesleyan in 1982 in order to participate in the Navaratri Festival. Every time I hear this recording it feels as if I am drenched in a shower of blissful melodic notes falling from the sky.

With astonishing singing from Salamat Ali Khan, we have now reached our final track in the playlist. And as per the tradition goes in Carnatic music performances and also at Wesleyan’s Navaratri Festival music performances, a concert must end with a drum solo––popularly known as taniavartanam. Therefore, this last track presents a rhythmic dialogue between master drummers Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram, performing a “taniavartanam” in a complex rhythm cycle set to 9 1⁄2 beats. I have to say, they sound like fire! Thank you for listening and I hope you have enjoyed this experience of active listening. Please stay safe.

Click here to watch the complete playlist of ten videos on YouTube.

1) “Kriti” (Shakti)
2) “Raga Jaunpurī” (Buddhadev Dasgupta)
3) “Amirah” (Surinder Sandhu)
4) “Westlin Winds” (Yorkston/Thorne/Khan)
5) “Krishna” (Colonial Cousins)
6) “Dubla” (Talvin Singh)
7) “Karharapriya” (Abdul Karim Khan)
8) “Hemavati” [(Sultan Khan and U.Srinivas) watch first three minutes]
9) “Sindhi Bhairavi” [(Salamat Ali Khan) start at 2:43 onwards]
10) “Taniavartanam” [(L.Shankar, Zakir Hussain and Vikku Vinayakram) start at 42 minutes]

Listen: “Music of India for Wesleyan Navarati” Spotify playlist by Joseph Getter MA ’99

Music of India for Wesleyan Navaratri
“Music of India for Wesleyan Navaratri” Spotify playlist.

From Joseph Getter MA ’99, director of the Youth Gamelan at Wesleyan University:

“This playlist represents some of my favorite artists from India and beyond, primarily in the South Indian Carnatic tradition as well as a few from the North Indian Hindustani style. Most performed at Wesleyan University during our Navratri Festival, and a few were faculty members.”

Listen to this playlist on Spotify.