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!

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

Kristina Wong at Wesleyan

Kristina Wong
Kristina Wong performs “Kristina Wong for Public Office.” Photo by Annie Lesser.

We are excited to open the 2020-2021 Performing Arts Series this fall with the extraordinary theater-maker, performance artist, writer, cultural commentator, and satirist Kristina Wong

Wong is an activist artist dedicated to forging meaningful social change, interrogating heteronormative standards, subverting racial and gender stereotypes, challenging complacency, and empowering audiences—a model for the values that we hold here at the Center for the Arts. 

Wong began her career as an activist and performance artist in 2000 as a senior at U.C.L.A. with her fake mail-order bride site This internet performance installation was Wong’s first experiment to see if “the act of protest [can] actually be funny and enjoyable.” This philosophy, and her approach of using humor, parody, and satire to expose painful truths about race, class, gender, and the fallacy of the American dream is central to Wong’s work. She followed this inaugural work with projects such as Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (2011–2013), which explored the stigma surrounding depression and rates of suicide in Asian-American women, and The Wong Street Journal (2015–2017), which broke down the complexities of global poverty, privilege, and America’s influence in the world while charting Wong’s own brief role as a hip hop star in Northern Uganda. Her YouTube channel, Radical Cram School, encourages Asian American children to explore revolution, social justice, the power of their identities through puppets, community storytelling, and comedy. 

During a time when civil liberties are being eroded on a daily basis, our nation is convulsing with protests over police brutality and systemic racism, and our healthcare system and federal response to the pandemic is in tatters, Wong’s voice is needed more than ever. She is a remarkable example of an artist who is responding in real time to the current moment and who is also translating her community activism into art and performance. What an extraordinary model for Wesleyan students and our audiences to have.

At Wesleyan, she will present two shows for us this fall. On Thursday, September 10, 2020 at 7pm, Wong will perform Kristina Wong for Public Office which details her real-life experience running for office in Koreatown, Los Angeles. Blurring the lines between performance and politics in a way that has become all too familiar, Wong re-enacts her campaign for elected representative of Wilshire Center Koreatown Sub-district 5 Neighborhood Council. A mash-up between a campaign rally, church revivals, and a solo theater show, the piece explores the anxiety leading up to the 2020 presidential election, questions the differences between performance art and politics, and challenges audiences to get civically engaged. Public Office will be co-presented with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center.

Wong joins us again on Monday, October 5, 2020 at 7pm for a performance borne from the COVID-19 pandemic: Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord. Wong charts the experience of creating a “homemade face mask empire in just ten days,” gathering together a sewing squad of volunteer “Aunties” making free masks for people “the government didn’t care about.” The Auntie Sewing Squad has been featured on NBC News, Good Morning America, and USA Today, and has made and distributed over 50,000 masks. This performance looks at the significance of Asian American women and women of color performing this historically gendered and racialized, invisible labor.

Wong will also join Wesleyan students for a virtual residency that includes class visits, career talks, open rehearsal/directing sessions, and one-on-one conversations with students doing senior theater capstone projects. Finally, on Tuesday, October 27, 2020 at 6pm, Wong will give a speech about the intersections between her political activism and her art for Wesleyan’s Engage 2020 initiative with the Allbritton Center for Community Partnership

Our Performing Arts Series this fall will be virtual, and all events will be free. We hope you join us for an inspiring series of events and performances with this extraordinary activist and artist Kristina Wong. 

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

Kristina Wong Residency Events at Wesleyan


Prison Voices: Reimagining Dante’s “Divine Comedy” Behind Bars

Students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course "America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars."
Students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars.” First row (from left): Kayla Cabán ’22, Veronica Cañas ’23, Milton Espinoza, Jr ’22; second row (from left): Monique Gautreaux ’23, Mosab Hamid ’23, Avanti Sheth ’23.

This past Spring, six students in Chair and Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ course THEA 115 “America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars,” collaborated with incarcerated men at the Cheshire Correctional Institution on monologues created in response to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. These six short monologues are written by those men, and are introduced and performed on video by Jenkins’ students (pictured above). For the first half of the semester, students met weekly with their incarcerated partners to discuss Dante’s journey from hell to heaven and its relevance to the prison experience. When the pandemic made personal visits to the prison impossible, the students kept in touch with their partners remotely. Through support from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative, the students were also able to consult remotely with two formerly incarcerated men, Dario Peña and Dennis Woodbine, who had previously taken Dante workshops with Jenkins in Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Professor Jenkins writes:

“Ten years after reading Dante in prison, these two men spoke with the students about the poem’s continuing relevance to their lives. Woodbine and his lawyer had included a line from Dante in the opening paragraph of his application for clemency, which resulted his early release. Peña spoke about reading the poem as a turning point in his life behind bars. Dante wrote the Divine Comedy after having been exiled from his home and family in Florence, knowing that his conviction would lead to his being burned at the stake if he ever returned. Having facilitated Dante workshops in prisons in Italy, Indonesia and the U.S., I am always impressed by the degree to which men and women behind bars identify with Dante’s journey. Yale Divinity School Professor Peter S. Hawkins attended a Dante performance we staged in a Connecticut prison several years ago. His analysis of the theme of transformation in the Divine Comedy helps explain the poem’s appeal to incarcerated individuals: ‘… it is not the penitents’ suffering that the poem dwells on,’ Hawkins writes, ‘it is the degree to which art, music, language—beauty of all kinds—assist in personal transformation.’”

News from Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance at Wesleyan University

Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge
Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge in “Fly | Drown” (2019). For the ICPP online summer intensive, Harge will be reimagining a live-streamed version of this work in her home—the very site that inspired the original installation for the performance.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week, we write from the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP), a low-residency Master’s degree in Performance Curation housed in the Center for the Arts.

ICPP students and alumni offer extraordinary examples of how their curatorial work designs ways of sustaining individual and collective practices in this time of uncertainty.

ICPP Leadership Fellowship 

Deborah Goffe (MA ’19) has been working for over a year on The Nest, a retreat for movement artists and cultural workers of color in the southern New England and New York areas to gather and share processes around performance making and commoning as survival strategies. The gathering was scheduled to take place this month. In the face of the global health crisis, Goffe redistributed the funds to the participants to offset their personal financial losses and is considering how to re-imagine the gathering at a later date. Deborah’s leadership and care for others illustrates the intentions of the ICPP Leadership Fellowship, which is awarded to graduating students to foster professional and networking opportunities while nurturing underrepresented perspectives in the field of art and performance curation.

ICPP Students Community Spotlights

MA candidate Candace Thompson-Zachery, Manager of Justice, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives at Dance/NYC, co-organized their 2020 Symposium on March 21. As New York City implemented social distancing guidelines, the all-day event was moved online and content shifted accordingly. The panels touched on indigeneity in performance, development of a disability politics toward dismantling racism, the current state of the dance field, and direct emergency response for the dance community during COVID-19. Since the symposium, Dance/NYC launched the COVID-19 Dance Relief Fund, awarding 180 grants to dance makers in the New York metropolitan area, and continues to aggregate NYC area classes and workshops on their community calendar, as well as host digital town halls. 

Graduate student Jamie Gahlon continues her exemplary work through HowlRound Theatre Commons. As co-founder and director Jamie and her team have been turning out pandemic-related content consistently and frequently over the past weeks, including livestreamed talks and panel discussions around artist resources, the state of affairs in the arts today, sustaining creative practices, and much more. The organization, already functioning as a digital commons, has taken the opportunity to host conversations around pragmatic strategies for freelance artists during the crisis, offering information on livestream technology, financial planning, and sustaining creative practices, in addition to regular content. Take a look at their ongoing online programming.

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies

As part of our Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Performing Artist Case Studies, an examination into art practices, economical resources, and modes of sustainability amidst changing cultural economies, ICPP is excited to be working with Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge. For the ICPP online summer intensive, Harge will be reimagining a live-streamed version of Fly | Drown (2019) in her home—the very site that inspired the original installation for the performance. 

Class of 2020

We are so proud of our four anticipated MA graduates from ICPP this month:

Beatrice Basso, independent curator and theater maker (Thesis: Curating in Translation: Oblique Gestures of Repair); Victoria Carrasco-Dominguez, Gallery Management and Adjunct Curator, Public Programs at Phi Foundation (Thesis: Public Art as Performance: Curating the Utopian Sculpture in and out of the Museum); Raechel Hofsteadter, Associate Director of Development Operations, Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (Thesis: Mobilizing Dance Legacies: Curating Embodied Archives Through the Praxes of Jennifer Harge and Anna Martine Whitehead); and Candace Thompson-Zachery, Manager of Justice, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives at Dance/NYC (Thesis: Encounters in Caribbean Dance: Curating Beyond Display).

Thank you for your inspiring work, which opens rich and urgent avenues for performance curation across contemporary cultures.

Though making and convening performance in times of social distancing brings great challenges, we will take our cue from ICPP co-founder Sam Miller ’75 and continue to imagine infrastructures of care to accompany artists in these shifting conditions and economies. 

To receive ICPP’s newsletter, please email


Noémie Solomon, ICPP Acting Director; Rosemary Lennox, ICPP Program Manager; and Constanza Armes Cruz (MA ’21)

News from the Creative Campus Initiative

A screen shot of artist Carolyn Lazard and students
A screen shot of artist Carolyn Lazard (lower left) and students in Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Catherine Damman’s class “CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics.” Lazard is sharing their computer screen, and the work shown is Lazard’s “Support System (for Park, Tina, and Bob),” 2016. This durational piece addresses the performance of convalescence, disabled sociality, collaborative art practice, and the transactional nature of emotional labor. “Support System (for Park, Tina, and Bob)” is performed over the course of a day, from 9 am to 9 pm. Visitors are invited to sign up for a 30-minute slot for a one-on-one performance with the artist, who spends the day in bed. The cost of admission is one bouquet of flowers.

Dear Friends of the Center for the Arts,

This week we write to share news from the CFA’s Creative Campus Initiative (CCI). When Wesleyan moved to virtual learning in mid-March, we knew that professors across campus would be reimagining their syllabi—and that artists everywhere would be reimagining the purpose and possibility of their work in this unprecedented time. CCI’s mission since 2006 has been to connect Wesleyan faculty with artists—and to catalyze cross-disciplinary collaborations that elevate the arts as a way of teaching, learning, and knowing. What better time than now, we thought,  to bring those collaborations online?

Historically, CCI has focused on pairing artists with non-arts faculty primarily for cross-disciplinary work. But in this unusual time, we chose to extend an invitation for artistic collaborations to all departments. Faculty response was swift, and in just a week we had awarded modest grants to resource faculty connections with sixteen artists—choreographers, poets, actors, musicians, video, and multimedia artists—who will lecture, offer workshops, and share the labor of mentoring and inspiring students during this difficult time.

A sampling of this spring’s collaborations:

Professor of Theater and Chair of the Theater Department Ron Jenkins invited formerly incarcerated actors Dennis Woodbine and Dario Pena to critique final student work in his course, THEA115: America in Prison: Theater Behind Bars.

Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Helen Poulos and choreographer Jill Sigman will work together with ENVS201: Sophomore Seminar in Environmental Studies on a movement practice that supports new assignments: a personal journal and a final project that investigates shifting ecological networks during a pandemic.

Catherine Damman, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities, welcomed writer, speaker, and artist Carolyn Lazard to speak on their community and activist work in a class on disability, rest, and care; and to mentor student work in  CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics. Read more about this virtual class here.

Assistant Professor of Theater, African American Studies, and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Katie Brewer-Ball shifted her syllabus for THEA364: Friendship and Collaboration to address how we may find new ways to be together in this moment, assigning her students to begin a letter-writing practice. She invited poet Kay Gabriel to lecture on the history of the epistolary form in poetry and to guide the class in a writing workshop.

Makaela Kingsely ’98, Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship and Adjunct Instructor in Public Policy, invited five fellow Wesleyan alumni to CSPL262: Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship to discuss how they have used artistic practice as a vehicle for social change. First up were Laura Stein ’03, founder of Dancing Grounds, a multigenerational arts space that brings inclusive and accessible dance programs to New Orleans residents; and Chris Kaminstein ’04, founder of Goat in the Road Productions, a New Orleans-based performance ensemble. 

Heather Vermuelen, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Humanities (CHUM), invited artists micha cárdenas and Jen Liu, to SOC300: Queer and Trans Aesthetics, where students are considering how their own research, curatorial, and creative projects (proposed prior to the pandemic) will change in light of the shapeshifting geographic coordinates and digital realms in which they now exist. Cardenas will lecture on Thursday, April 16 at 4:30pm and Liu will lecture on Thursday, April 23 at 4:30pm. Both lectures are open to anyone with a Wesleyan email address—see both posters and learn more here.  

To these teachers, artists, and students, and to the broader Wesleyan community and all of the artists we know and have yet to meet: we are incredibly inspired by the ways you are finding to practice, teach, learn, create, and share your work as we pivot into this new world.


Rani Arbo
Campus and Community Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts, Wesleyan University




Report from the Virtual Classroom

Catherine Damman writes, “We had an incredible virtual class visit with artist Carolyn Lazard in CHUM325: The Work of Art Against Work: Art, Labor, Politics. Students had read their 2013 essay “How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity,” and Lazard began by taking us through many of their recent works. We had a complex and rewarding conversation on many of the topics that Lazard’s work addresses, including: the history of television closed captioning, the testing of psychotropic drugs on incarcerated populations, and the relationship between privacy and convalescence. Lazard spoke insightfully about how, rather than bring art to the hospital as a therapeutic tool, their work brings the hospital to the art world. Students are interested in the temporality of disability, as it is fundamentally at odds with capitalism (related to an assigned reading by Alison Kafer on “crip time,” which is also the title of one of Lazard’s video works), and we talked about the potential intersections between queer temporalities and disability temporalities. As the students are beginning their final projects for the class, Lazard shared many insights about their experience making art and scholarship that begins from illness as a site of value, rather than lack; the ways that dependency can be configured differently, as either “scarcity” or “abundance;” and making art about trauma without fetishizing its representation. The group had particularly incisive questions and reflections about how a disability studies perspective recasts such concepts as mutuality, reciprocity, and consent outside their normative definitions. Together, we have been studying theories of reproductive labor, and my brilliant students are very interested in how the work of care can be reconfigured such that it does not merely reproduce a labor force in service of capital, but rather can reimagine and enact forms of community and collectivity deserving of those names.

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

The Size of the Con: A Public Talk by Laurie Anderson

Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 8pm
Smith Reading Room, Olin Library, 252 Church Street, Middletown
Writer, director, visual artist, and vocalist Laurie Anderson addressed how to prepare for the 2020 election cycle and the tumultuous year ahead in the United States in this free talk.
Photography by Richard Marinelli.


For more photos of this event, click here.


Laurie Anderson 2

Laurie Anderson 5

Laurie Anderson 8

Fall Photos: Taylor Mac – CFA Theater (9/21/19)

Taylor Mac performs the Connecticut premiere of the highly immersive and outrageously entertaining two-hour abridged version of A 24-Decade History of Popular Music highlighting various musical styles and artistic voices.

Photography by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography

To view more photos from this event, visit: