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.

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

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.


The Era Footwork Crew at Wesleyan

The Era Footwork Crew
Photo by Wills Glasspiegel courtesy of The Era Footwork Crew.


Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week we focus on a virtual residency at Wesleyan featuring The Era Footwork Crew from Chicago.

I first saw The Era Footwork Crew perform in November 2019 at Links Hall in Chicago. The show, In the Wurkz, was an extraordinary combination of Chicago footwork, live DJs, spoken word, documentary film, and community spirit. I was struck by how The Era had been able to integrate every aspect of its ambitious artistic mission into one inspiring and beautifully crafted performance. The energy emanating from the audience, comprised of family, friends, neighbors, and children from The Era’s youth footwork summer camps, was palpable. The show was a love letter to the local neighborhoods which have supported The Era and a message of hope to the youth. This was a remarkable model of how the arts can truly strengthen and uplift a local community, and it felt urgent that Wesleyan students and the Center for the Arts audience be able to learn from this group of dedicated artists and community activists.

Footwork is an improvisational, competition-style form that encompasses music, dance, and a distinct Chicago culture. It is an inter-generational, community-based artform that is taught and passed down through dance battles, clubs, house parties, dance downs, and recently formalized through youth summer camps on the south side of Chicago. The Era is known not only for their incredible mastery and elevation of Chicago footwork but also for their social justice initiatives. The Era proclaims to anyone who will listen that “footwork saves lives.” They mean this in the most literal and non-hyperbolic sense possible. This saying is what drives an extraordinary partnership between The Era Footwork Crew and their non-profit, Open the Circle (OTC). OTC takes its name from crowded Chicago dance floors. When the floor gets overly packed, two people will lock hands and spin through the crowd–“opening the circle”–to make space for dancing. In this spirit, OTC is committed to opening tightly-knit circles of power and resources in society, re-centering them to benefit artists and youth in divested communities. The Era and OTC work hand-in-hand to promote dance education, document the development of footwork, recover and highlight women’s contributions to the artform, and elevate the visibility of footwork through performance. At Wesleyan, The Era and OTC will talk to students and our audience about how footwork has the ability to truly transform and, indeed, save lives.

The Era will join us this fall for a series of virtual engagements. On Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 7pm, there will be a documentary film screening, “Footwork on Film.” Dance filmmakers Brandon Calhoun and Wills Glasspiegel have been documenting the art and history of Chicago footwork for the last decade. They will share a series of short film clips from their archive, introducing the audience to The Era Footwork Crew, the cultural history of footwork in Chicago, and the rise of the dance form.

This event will be followed by a footwork technique workshop on Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 7pm. The Era Footwork Crew will give an introductory dance workshop, open and accessible to everyone regardless of dance background or experience, followed by a community conversation with the Hartford-based street dance collective 860MVMNT. The Era and 860MVMNT will explore differences in regional dance styles and how community culture can give rise to dance forms. They will also talk about their respective youth education initiatives and the impact they have had in the Chicago and Hartford communities.

Finally, on Thursday, October 15, 2020 at 7pm, Open the Circle will join members of the Wesleyan Dance Department for a panel discussion on OTC’s community engagement work and racial justice initiatives in the south side of Chicago.

Please join us for a dynamic series of virtual engagements that immerses our audiences in Chicago footwork and The Era’s racial justice work. We hope this introduction to The Era inspires you to join us again in fall 2021, when The Era will be in residence on the Wesleyan campus to perform In the Wurkz and engage with Wesleyan students and our regional community.

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

The Era Footwork Crew Residency Events at Wesleyan

An Update from Interim Director Jennifer Calienes

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

May this provide an update and entry into our present work at the Center for the Arts should this be of interest or helpful to you in this time. Although there is a lot to absorb online right now, we wanted to share with you some of our current projects.

In the coming months, you will ‘see’ us online more intentionally through a series of experiments with our creative community of students, faculty, alumni, and guest artists as outlined below. We welcome your feedback and participation.

Virtual Artists in Residence and Commissions: Eiko Otake has been engaged as our first CFA Virtual Artist in Residence, and we will begin circulating video journals of her work in development for those interested. We are also engaging in a select number of virtual commissions with guest artists who know our community well and will be announcing these projects shortly.

Arts Departments: Each spring, the CFA supports an abundance of faculty and student concerts, performances, and exhibitions. We are working in partnership with Art and Art History, Dance, Music, and Theater to explore how best to showcase their endeavors through alternative formats.

Creative Campus Initiative: Since 2006, we have been providing support for guest artists working in Wesleyan classrooms in partnership with non-arts faculty. In the past week, we awarded modest grants to Wesleyan faculty members (both arts and non-arts) to resource online collaborations with thirteen artists to support and complement coursework and/or to share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students at this difficult time.

Middletown Public Schools: Closing our 39th annual Middletown Public Schools Art Exhibition early was tough for all of us, and while we recognize nothing can replace moving through the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery with the works of our local public school students, we will be sharing images of their work in the hope that the circulation of our future artists might be wider than previously imagined.

#WesCreative: We will be collecting and putting a spotlight on the remarkable skills and imagination of the Wesleyan community.

You will hear more about each of the extraordinary initiatives from various Center for the Arts staff members over the course of the spring.

The CFA has always served as a platform for our creative community on campus, in Middletown, and beyond, and we intend for that to continue through this complicated and difficult time.

Please be well. You are loved and appreciated and we will get through this together.

Jennifer Calienes
Interim Director
Center for the Arts

All Spring Events Are Canceled

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

With the CDC reporting cases of COVID-19 nationwide doubling since Monday, and Governor Ned Lamont declaring a public health emergency in Connecticut, it has become clear just how rapidly this virus is spreading. After Wesleyan University consulted with a variety of public health experts and other higher education institutions around the country, we wanted to let you know that all on-campus events and exhibitions have been canceled until further notice as a preventive measure. The University will continue to update the website with the latest available information.

Anyone who purchased tickets in advance will be issued a refund from the box office starting the week of Monday, March 16, 2020 and artists who were scheduled to perform this spring will be compensated. We encourage you to utilize your refund to re-invest in the arts through a donation, album, artwork, or ticket to a future performance. If you have any questions or concerns, or would like to donate your tickets to the Center for the Arts, please email or call 860-685-3355 Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm.

Thank you for your continued support of the arts, and for your understanding about this decision.

Stay well and we will be in touch again soon.

Jennifer Calienes
Interim Director
Center for the Arts

Letter from the Director

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

Pamela Tatge, Director, Center for the Arts. Image by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
Pamela Tatge, Director, Center for the Arts. Image by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.

It is astonishing to me that Friday April 1 is my last day at Wesleyan University, after nearly seventeen years. I wanted to send you a note to thank you for being patrons of the Center for the Arts. There is simply no way we can ever welcome artists to Wesleyan without the presence of an engaged and committed audience. You have no idea how wonderful it was for me to look out at you from the Crowell Concert Hall or CFA Theater stage, or to see you at an opening in the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery. I knew that you were there to join me in celebrating what the arts can tell us about other cultures and other worlds; how they can help us to make sense of the world in which we live; and how they can make us feel both the exhilaration and the sadness of what it means to be alive. I want to thank you, in particular, for the times you bought a ticket to a performance by an artist whom you didn’t know but, because we at the CFA felt it was an important artist or group, you took the risk.

In these last days at my desk overlooking the CFA Courtyard, I am reflecting on so many great moments when we shared such joy and excitement not only for visiting and faculty artists, but also when we marveled together at the virtuosity and creative power of Wesleyan students and all that they have to offer us.

I will miss my Wesleyan and Middletown families greatly, but as an alum and parent of a member of the class of 2016, I know that I will return often and continue to experience the arts as only Wesleyan can present them. I also want to take the opportunity to introduce Laura Paul, Interim Director of the Center for the Arts, who will lead the CFA in its next chapter. Together we have been planning a 2016–17 season of performances and exhibitions that I know you will enjoy.

If, by any chance, you are free this Friday, April 1, I will be in Crowell Concert Hall at 8pm to introduce the great Wu Man and the Shanghai Quartet. I would love the chance to say goodbye and thank you in person; if not, I hope you will come to visit me this summer at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts (if you missed the announcement in January, I’m going there to be their new Executive Director)!

Thank you again for your generous support of the Center for the Arts.


Pamela Tatge
Director, Center for the Arts