Monica M. Tinyo ’13 on “Peony Pavilion” (Apr. 25-27)

CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talked with Director Jeffrey Sichel, S. Dylan Zwickel ’14, Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14, and graduate students Gabriel Kastelle and Huan Li about this weekend’s Theater Department production of “Peony Pavilion.”

Peony Pavilion

I found out very quickly that Director Jeffrey Sichel is true to his word. Mr. Sichel is a specialist in Intercultural and Interdisciplinary Performance Practice and Theory who holds an M.F.A. in Directing from Columbia University and is working toward his Doctorate in Performance Studies from The Shanghai Theatre Academy. Within a couple minutes of talking with him about his collaborative, process-driven ideology, he extended our interview to include the entire ensemble, or what he calls the “brain trust,” insisting I stay for part of the rehearsal and talk with each and every ensemble member.

Two hours later, I emerged from the intimate setting of the theater and realized that I had experienced something unique, something I wouldn’t have grasped from interviewing just one member of the ensemble. The specialty of the ensemble’s work lies in the safe but energized space that it produces; the play is a product of close-knit collaboration and a genuine eagerness for new modes of acting and thinking.

Peony Pavilion is a 400 year old Chinese opera that has been transformed, seemingly by magic, into a story of love, death, and empowerment that is as simple in essence as it is aesthetically beautiful. “Part Romeo and Juliet, part Orpheus, and part Edgar Allen Poe,” the narrative is “weirdly relatable, in the way that musical theater is relatable. There are these people that are doing these things that they wouldn’t do in real life, but it makes sense why they are doing them in the context of their world,” explains S. Dylan Zwickel ’14, one of the three student dramaturges.

Mr. Sichel goes on to explain the work is “not experimental, or even particularly strange, its just the other.” The work is intercultural in theme and style, but it is not what we think of as experimental from a Western perspective; it is more formal in narrative and structure than most plays performed at Wesleyan and in contemporary professional theater, but unlike anything most people have seen before.

As part of their intercultural learning process, the ensemble learned Chinese acting methods that forced them to learn characters “from the outside in, rather than the Western method of learning characters from the inside out.” The actors learned traditional choreography as well as masculine and feminine physicalities before they learned about and developed the characters, which made them see the characters in a different light. The students were surprised that they “noticed specific physicalities in the characters, but not gender.”

The actors in the all-women ensemble explain that although it is an “all female cast, it is not a specifically feminist play; Chinese traditional culture is heteronormative and we did choose to have an all-woman cast, but gender is not important in the play. The all-woman cast allowed characters emerge in which gender doesn’t matter.” Alma Sanchez-Eppler ’14, the student dramaturge who took on the daunting task of adapting an almost 400 page manuscript, explains that the play is a story of self actualization and empowerment of a female protagonist, but is more about a character’s journey than dichotomies of gender.

With the support of her ensemble and incredible stamina, Alma narrowed the script to 40 pages, extracting the love story that follows the protagonist. Although she was not initially expecting a job of this magnitude, part of Jeffrey’s talent “is forcing a project to be everyone’s project and pushing [ensemble members] into roles that [they] would have never imagined they could do.”

The play is accompanied by a live music ensemble with original music by Gabriel Kastelle, a Wesleyan graduate student of experimental music and composition. The music was able to incorporate melodies from the score of the opera. The journey of the score is as epic as the protagonist’s journey in the play. After finding the score and receiving Wesleyan Library funding, another graduate student, Huan Li, was tasked with picking up a version of the score from China that had been poured over by scholars and meticulously translated from the ancient notation to the more legible, modern Chinese notation. He almost giddily explains, “I have fallen in love with lyrics; they are so urgent and earnest to communicate. Lyrics want to share, want to communicate and get out—I love handling that.”

His original compositions mirror the passion he and the rest of the ensemble have exhibited throughout this process. This fervor will surely be translated into the performances that run from Thursday through Saturday.

Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu
Directed by Jeffrey Sichel
Thursday, April 25 & Friday, April 26, 2013 at 8pm
Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 2pm & 8pm
CFA Theater
$8 general public; $5 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/students, non-Wesleyan students; $4 Wesleyan students

Integrating the Local, the Continental and the International: Celebrating World-Renowned Artists at the 12th annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend

This weekend Wesleyan hosts performances by the Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra, directed by Adjunct Professor of Music Jay Hoggard; the Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble, directed by Jazz Ensemble Coach Noah Baerman, and a much-awaited, sold-out performance by the legendary South African trumpeter, composer, producer, and activist Hugh Masekela. The weekend also features a free performance by Connecticut’s own Lee Mixashawn Rozie and his “Ghostly Trio” on Saturday night, as the final event of the 12th annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend. CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talked to Mixashawn about his upcoming performance, and his personal philosophy of music and life.


Mixashawn is “more powerful each time I hear him…” (Stanley Crouch). Internationally-acclaimed composer, performer, educator, and maritime artist Lee Mixashawn Rozie has captivated and enlightened audiences in the United States and Europe for more than three decades. His incarnation as The Wave Artist draws upon a heritage of multicultural innovation that spans four centuries, and both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In applying to his arts an ancient understanding of waves in their multiple manifestations—sonic, aquatic, percussive, and harmonic—Mixashawn expresses a reverence for the unique and universal qualities that all waves possess, and celebrates the unity of existence. Mixashawn comes to Wesleyan at the invitation of Jay Hoggard, and I had the pleasure of talking with him.

Monica Tinyo: You praise music with “hemispheric principles.” What does hemispheric principles mean exactly?

Lee Mixashawn Rozie: [American music is] music of the hemisphere. So often, when you say “music of the Americas,” people assume Latin, but I always thought [of American music as] an embodiment of the whole continent. I like Latin [music], but I also like swing, rock, funk, and country, and I don’t like to be limited by those categories. The fact that we don’t think of American music as “hemispheric music,” or music of the Americas, is one of the reasons why this hemisphere is in turmoil. We don’t look at ourselves as Americans. We are the only continental people that don’t look at ourselves as such; Europeans are Europeans, Africans are Africans, but in the Americas, American means originating from the United States, not the continent. All this does is weaken us as a people.

Do you think that hemispheric music can bring us together?

What binds us all together is the indigenous aspect of spontaneity. The Objiwae’s traditional name for themselves translates to “spontaneous beings.” Spontaneity is what all music has in common, especially all jazz music. Think about American music: all the greatest musicians come from the people. What binds all this music beyond spontaneity is another definition of spontaneity, swing. “You ain’t got a thing when you ain’t got that swing.” It’s a cliche, but it holds some truth. When you swing, it’s a high state of creativity—you are not thinking, just acting. You don’t think with your right side of your brain [and allow creativity to flow]; hemispheric music is [about] not being caught up in the right side of your brain.

What will the music this weekend be like?

I consider my music omnipop, or pop from the last 500 years. For this weekend’s concert, we will be going from “Purple Haze” [Jimi Hendrix] to southern-style indigenous music to original music.

How long have you had a relationship with Wesleyan? I assume this isn’t the first time you are playing here.

Even though I never attended here, it was very prominent in shaping me musically. I used to come down here [when at Trinity College] and hang out. I would play with a lot of the students and got to know some of the professors. [Wesleyan] always affected me.

12th annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend
Thursday, April 18 through Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra
Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall

The Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra and the Wesleyan Jazz Ensemble perform classic jazz compositions, including tunes by Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, Ted Dunbar, Kenny Barron, Duke Ellington, and Charles Lloyd.

Hugh Masekela
Friday, April 19, 2013 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
Pre-concert talk at 7:15pm by Professor of Music Eric Charry

The concert will open with a performance by students of West African Drumming at Wesleyan, directed by Master Drummer and Adjunct Professor of Music Abraham Adzenyah.

A Conversation with Hugh Masekela
Music and Public Life: The Role of the Artist as Activist

Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 11am
Crowell Concert Hall

A conversation with Hugh Masekela, moderated by Professor of Music Eric Charry.

Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra and Mixashawn’s “Ghostly Trio”
Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall

The Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra performs classic jazz compositions by Thelonious Monk, Tadd Dameron & Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Charles Mingus, and Oliver Nelson. Special guest flutist, saxophonist, percussionist, vocalist and mandolin player Mixashawn brings his “Ghostly Trio,” featuring Wesleyan Private Lessons Teacher Pheeroan akLaff on drums and Bill Arnold on percussion, plus special guest Jay Hoggard on vibraphone.

Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talks to playwright Christina Anderson (Apr. 12)

CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 talks to playwright Christina Anderson, who will be giving the free talk “The Theater as Apparatus: Why This Play? Why Now?” on Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:15pm in CFA Hall.


Christina Anderson

When asked in an interview “why theater?”, Christina Anderson answered “I love the fact that adults are willing to pretend for 90 minutes.” Christina fell in love with the play and power of theater as a child and hasn’t stopped writing since. Lucky for me, she did put down her keyboard for a few minutes to chat with me about her work, process and upcoming talk.

Monica Tinyo: What will you be talking about this Friday?

Christina Anderson: The goal of the speech is to talk about my background and relationship with theater and [how to have it] be a part of my life, rather than it be my life. I want to look at different ways that social responsibility can play a part in the stories we tell and the importance of using theater as an apparatus because, in all honesty, we can’t compete with television or film, but on the flip side, they can’t compete with us, either. Its really about finding these ways that theater is unique and necessary, and using the apparatus of theater in celebrating live performance.

I love theater. There are things that frustrate me about the business, but there are things about it that I love. I just hope that my day [at Wesleyan] will offer some insight into the early stages of making a career out of [playwriting and a love of theater].

Can you talk a little about your recent projects? Maybe Hollow Roots (performed in January as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in New York City) and this idea of the neutral narrative?

Hollow Roots is about a female protagonist who goes on a quest to find a person of color with a neutral narrative—neutral narrative being a narrative by someone who is not affected by their race or gender; she is in this fictitious New York-like city on a quest to find this person and it ends up being her.

I was just really interested in this [solo performance] structure, and as I was starting to do research, I noticed that a lot of solo shows featured people of color who embodied various characters—the theatricality being that all these different people live in this one body. On the other hand, solo performances by white men were usually solo narratives—sitting for an hour and telling a story. I was really fascinated by that. I wanted to challenge myself to create a lone [“neutral”] narrator, who we would visually identify as a black person.

Is this indicative of how you normally create a work? What is your process as a playwright?

With all my plays, it starts from a series of questions. The purpose of writing isn’t about finding a single solution or answer. It’s about exploration and discovering possibilities. For Hollow Roots, it was “what is it like to live as a person of color in a society that considers itself post-racial?”

I do a ton of research before I start any play; I usually come in to it with a theme and read a ton of books, essays, analytical writing, music, art, blogs, plays by playwrights I admire. I just get a big pot of information, stir it up, and start thinking about the theatrical world that I am trying to create. I always try to challenge myself when I write—a two character play, or a solo play, and then I develop a character or a few characters and figure out what the relationships between them are. I make an outline of all this and then I just write.

Christina is a rare talent who is equally a teacher and a story-teller, making us question all the certainties we take for granted. Her openness and curiosity are infectious. I will leave you today with a few wise words from Christina:

Be present. Don’t bother posting a picture of the meal you cooked. Don’t post the song you just danced to. Don’t tag the friend you just hung out with. Just do it. Be present. Let the experience, the memory live in your muscles, your limbs—not on Facebook. Nourish is a verb. Give yourself the things you need to grow, to be healthy, to be your ideal self.

For more, visit this post and come hear her speak this Friday at 4:15pm in the Center for the Arts Hall. An Outside the Box Theater Series event presented by the Theater Department and the Center for the Arts, co-sponsored by the Center for African American Studies and the Wesleyan Writing Programs.

This Weekend: Puppetry, Funk, Grateful Dead music, and more!

CFA Arts Administration Intern Monica M. Tinyo ’13 surveys this week’s offerings at the Center for the Arts.

What are you doing this weekend? Are you rocking out to the music of the Grateful Dead? Watching an outdoor puppet show? Maybe you are listening to an orchestra of laptops, or expanding your idea of art. If you aren’t, you should be. This weekend holds a ton of exciting performances, exhibitions, and lectures that are as diverse in subject as they are in medium.

On Friday at 1:30pm, get your dance fix with a free studio showing by the Philadelphia-based choreographer Moncell Durden, President and Founder of Dance Educators of Funk and Hip Hop.

Time Stands Still: Notation in Musical Practice Festival-Conference, April 5 & 6

If music is more your thing, there are a number of senior and graduate recitals, like Henry Robertson’s tribute to the Grateful Dead, “Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds” (Thursday at 9pm). You could also explore musical notation with international experts at the Time Stands Still festival-conference this weekend (starting Friday at 1:30pm). Along with symposium sessions and roundtables, there will be two concerts (Friday and Saturday at 8pm), including the U.S. premiere of London’s Vocal Constructivists, alongside Wesleyan students in the Toneburst Laptop & Electronic Arts Ensemble.

A little overwhelmed? Take a break and have some quiet contemplation with artwork at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. There you can see the brilliant art studio thesis work (Noon to 5pm). The students featured are so talented, you won’t believe that not one of them has yet lived a quarter of a century. You can also see artists taking action in a collection of protest posters at the Davison Art Center (Noon to 4pm).

Last but definitely not least is the outdoor puppet show (Thursday through Saturday at 9pm), with handmade puppets and complimentary tea. You really don’t want to miss Frog’s journey to prevent Tokyo’s destruction by enlisting the help of a lowly collections officer, Katagiri!

Instead of your normal weekend routine, come to an event at the Center for the Arts. I promise it will be more fun, valuable and out of the ordinary than anything you were planning!