Quiara Alegría Hudes is the Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater at Wesleyan University. Her play Water by the Spoonful received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her other works include the book for the 2008 Tony Award-winning “Best Musical” In the Heights, and the plays Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue (2006) and The Happiest Song Plays Last (2013). Her younger cousin grew up in “the barrio,” graduated public school, enlisted at the age of seventeen, sustained a leg injury in Iraq, and became a veteran, all by the ripe age of eighteen. This talk on April 27, 2015 in Memorial Chapel told the true backstage story of what happened after Ms. Hudes turned her cousin’s life into a trilogy of plays. For him, opening night was only the beginning.
Click here to view the full album on flickr. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to stage manager Julia Tyminski ’17, and Albert Tholen ’15 and Grace Nix ’15, who are performing as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in the Wesleyan University Theater Department production of Eugène Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” which runs through Saturday, April 25, 2015 in the CFA Theater.
In 1950, Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco wrote The Bald Soprano, one of the seminal plays of Theater of the Absurd. He was inspired by the cliché dialogues between the imaginary Mr. and Mrs. Smith in an English phrasebook for beginners. Albert Tholen ’15 and Grace Nix ’15 play Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the production by the Wesleyan University Theater Department, directed by Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky.
“We are a proper British couple with a twist,” says Ms. Nix with a sly smile.
The entire play takes place in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, in their home on the outskirts of London. “It’s a drawing room drama,” says Mr. Tholen. “One that goes horribly awry.”
With The Bald Soprano, Mr. Ionesco rejected coherent plot, character development, and the concept of realistic drama. Through dark and daring humor, the play discusses the futility of meaningful communication in contemporary society, and the tragedy of language in a universe driven by chance.
“It’s a very different logic of causality in this world,” says Ms. Nix. “An illogical logic.”
Ms. Nix and Mr. Tholen, along with the other four actors in the cast (Edward Archibald ’17, Sara Fayngolz ’17, Natalie May ’18, and Peter McCook ’16), have been working with Professor Kordonsky since the beginning of the semester. Together with dramaturge Rachel Sobelsohn ’17, assistant director May Treuhaft-Ali ’17, and stage manager Julia Tyminski ’17, they spent the first two weeks of rehearsal analyzing different translations of the play, originally written in French, to draft their own composite script.
“We spent hours talking about single words,” says Ms. Nix. “Until we arrived at a script, which we felt was the best expression of what this play is trying to say.”
“It’s nice to have ownership over the language in that way,” says Mr. Tholen. “It’s become our script.”
Professor Kordonsky gave the actors a great deal of creative responsibility throughout the process. They would divide into subsets and work on specific moments in the script, then come back together as a cast and share. They created scene after scene, gradually bringing both clarity and complexity to Mr. Ionesco’s absurdity.
“I think more than anything else, Mr. Smith is like a coat that I wear,” says Mr. Tholen. “I don’t get on stage and become him. It’s more of an attitude.”
“It’s the total acceptance of a different world,” says Ms. Nix. “Even though it doesn’t make any sense, it feels right.”
The Bald Soprano invites its audience to view the play from the actual stage of the CFA Theater, rather than from the house seats where one faces a proscenium.
“For this play you want an intimate connection with the audience,” says Ms. Nix. “If the audience were farther away, I think we would lose that connection and some of the urgency of the play.”
Sitting on the stage of the CFA Theater, the audience finds itself right there in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Smith — in close proximity to the play’s simple set: a couch, some chairs, a clock.
“The set looks relatively realistic,” says stage manager Julia Tyminski ’17. “But the minute the show starts you realize it’s an absurd production, yet the actors are playing it as if it’s realism, and that’s where the comedy comes in.”
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to writer, director, and performer Thaddeus Phillips of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental about the Connecticut premiere of his solo theater work “17 Border Crossings,” taking place this Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 8pm in the CFA Theater.
What was the initial inspiration for “17 Border Crossings”?
Most of the shows I’ve made with Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental involved traveling somewhere to make the show. The travel is done as research for the performance. For example, we did a road trip from Denver to L.A., and we dropped down into New Mexico where we tried to find all the old parts or Route 66, and we filmed stuff and took notes and developed this piece called Flamingo/Winnebago based off that trip. We’ve done that in Bosnia, Cuba, the Amazon. But what would happen is I would come back and tell people stories of things that happened that weren’t directly related to the project we were doing, and I realized I wanted to do something with all this “outtake” material that was simply about travel. It didn’t have a storyline or a plot. It was just about traveling, and then I realized all of the stories that I was remembering or finding were about border crossings.
Can you talk a little about the work itself?
There are seventeen different scenes or sequences. I had done solo work before but very involved, complicated stuff with video or crazy sets, and [for 17 Border Crossings] I wanted to try doing the classic Spalding Gray monologue at a desk with a microphone and a glass of water. Because I’ve used video in other work recently, I’ve been trying to do works that are much more cinematic in their theatricality but with no video—the simplest scenes possible: the movement of a chair or lights or sound. The idea is to create a very modern/contemporary style of theater but without any media that actively engages the audience’s imagination, individualizing the experience more. If you use a bunch of media, everyone’s seeing the same thing, but if you simply suggest something and fill it in with text and sound, then the way you’re seeing it is a little bit different than the way the person next to you is seeing it because it’s not fully there yet.
Other than the overarching theme of border crossing, what elements of traveling does the work address?
There’s a few: one is that modes of transportation are weird, like a plane is a very weird thing if you really think about it, so there’s a little sequence about being in a plane that tries to expose all that—what you’re not supposed to think about. Then there’s always being taken to a little square room by immigration authorities. Technically when you land, before you leave Customs, you’re not anywhere. [It’s] this weird space where you go through the passport control. You’re in an architectural space that’s been defined as nowhere in the world. Then the whole absurdity of borders themselves, like the border between Israel and Jordan was made up by Winston Churchill, and he made jokes about it, saying “I just invented a country!”
What do you see as the significance of performing this work in such a globalized world, where travel is so much more accessible than it once was and so many more people are traveling?
When you start talking about these little stories or human stories, what you have is a huge global theme but [told] through specific details about a very specific person. What the show tries to do is make very human what it is to cross a border, from being on a plane and being completely unconscious of what’s going on underneath you to people trying to get across for a better life.
Write a story (500 words max) about when you crossed a geographic border, or a border of any kind. Where did it lead you? What insights did you have?
Then, post your story on the Center for the Arts Facebook event page for 17 Border Crossings, and you will receive a free ticket to the performance. The story with the most “Likes” by midnight on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 will win a $200 travel gift certificate courtesy of Sanditz Travel Management in Middletown!
How to post your story:
1. Go to the Facebook event page here.
2. “Join” the event.
3. Under “POSTS,” where it says “Write something…” cut and paste your story.
4. Hit the “Post” button.
If you don’t have Facebook, but would like to participate, please e-mail your entry by midnight on Wednesday, February 18, 2015 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Connecticut premiere of 17 Border Crossings, a solo work written and directed by Thaddeus Phillips based on his travel experiences. The audience is taken to the frontiers of countries around the world in a humorous and poignant examination of imaginary lines, arbitrary passports, and curious customs.
Wesleyan University is a center for creativity and innovation, and one of the best places for our community to come together to participate in that energy is at the Center for the Arts. Our year-long exploration of Muslim Women’s Voices in performance continues on February 27 with a rare opportunity to see a dance company coming to Middletown from the northernmost tip of Sumatra, Indonesia. The dances of Tari Aceh! feature quick, highly-coordinated movements of hands, heads, and torsos, punctuated by lively body percussion. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And on April 17 and 18, you can get a first look at a theatrical work-in-progress by playwright and actress Leila Buck ’99 that was commissioned for Muslim Women’s Voices.
In April and May, we present “The Connecticut Meets the Nile,” a two-part happening that will highlight two great rivers. On April 10, Crowell Concert Hall hosts The Nile Project, an all-star gathering of musicians who live in the countries that border the Nile River and have come together to create music that draws attention to the environmental issues of a historic river that sustains millions of people. Then on May 9, at Middletown’s Harbor Park, Wesleyan and regional partner organizations present Feet to the Fire: Riverfront Encounter, an afternoon of music performances, visual art, and kid’s activities that will engage our community with our own beautiful river.
And throughout the winter and spring, you can put your finger on the pulse of what’s inspiring our newest artists by visiting the Senior Thesis Exhibitions in Zilkha Gallery, or by attending thesis performances by music, dance, and theater students performed throughout the CFA.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Theater major Sivan Battat ’15 about her Senior Capstone Project, “The Serpent,” created in collaboration with her seven person ensemble, design team, and faculty advisor, Professor of Theater Yuri Kordonsky.
Can you talk a little about the history of “The Serpent” and the play itself?
This play emerged from the Open Theater and was created through a long process of exploring themes of the Bible. Playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie did extensive interviews with each of his actors, and all their text ended up in the script. It’s like a mash-up of biblical narrative and contemporary experience. The play was traditionally done as a kind of a Eucharist, a communion between actors and audience. It’s labeled The Serpent: A Ceremony. Mr. van Itallie wanted it to be a ceremony that reflected the lives and the minds and the experiences of the people performing it. That was the intention of The Serpent from day one. So our production does that. A lot of the text is the actors’ and was generated through a series of devising exercises throughout the first half of the semester. It’s a combination of Mr. van Itallie’s text, text from the Bible that he put in the script, and then our own words to replace some of the experiences in it that were maybe outdated for us or not as accessible.
Why did you choose “The Serpent” for your Senior Capstone Project?
I chose this for my capstone because I was interested in devised theater processes. Devised theater is ensemble-generated material that you then use to create a piece. A playwright or director doesn’t come in with the material, and often it will happen without a director. I was interested in the role of director in devised theater, and I was interested in the elements that make a strong ensemble. What are the things that I, as a director, have to do to make this feel like a safe space, to make this feel like an ensemble, to make this group of people function as one unit that can create? So I was curious about those things, but most devised processes are so long-term. You have to explore for so long and generate for so long, and I was worried that, realistically, with college actors and everyone doing a million other things, to do a legitimate devising process in one semester wouldn’t be possible. So I decided to find a text that I could begin with, as the foundation, and then riff and devise off of the text, and The Serpent was the perfect tool for that. It’s a very flexible text that allowed us to riff in different directions and explore and really dive into the themes of it and generate and then plug back into the text.
How did you cast the ensemble?
I cast it saying I was looking for writers, dancers, actors, musicians, anyone. More than anything I wanted people who I really wanted to work with, people who I wanted in the room every day and who would bring themselves to the process and fearlessly try.
What was your process like?
The whole process was very collaborative. The first half of the semester was really about playing, and while we maybe didn’t have as much time to put the thing together as we would have loved, having the first half of the semester to just play was awesome—to be able to say, for example, let’s all bring in ten images of what comes to mind when you hear “The Garden of Eden,” and then pick one image and make a movement score that represents that image to you in some way, and then someone else make sound for that movement score. It was a process of picking apart our stereotypes of God and challenging our stereotypes of what Eve looked like or what she felt. I remember one of my favorite rehearsals—I brought in an apple and told the actors to respond as Eve might have responded and that we were going to go until they couldn’t think of any other ways to respond. So one by one they took the apple—like a Whose Line Is It Anyway? type of improv game—and they each took a bite and responded a different way. We went for an hour and a half doing this.
What have you learned from the process?
I’m a little concerned that this piece is not very accessible, and I think one of the big things that I’m taking away from this is that I want to make work that is accessible. It bothers me if things are inaccessible, and that’s an important thing to have learned about my own work. I’ve also learned a lot about ensemble building and the tools that are most helpful in making an ensemble. Something I’m always working on is how to negotiate the relationship between actor and director. I’m always learning more about that. With every rehearsal I learn something new. And I’ve learned so much from them—each of the actors and designers has brought so much of themselves to the process.
At the end of the day, what is this play about for you?
I think it’s about being in the middle. I think it’s about transitional moments in our lives—the moment when we bite, the moment when we kill, the moment when we grow up. It’s about being between the beginning and the end, and always this experience of middle-ness because that’s what life is—there are transitional moments, but there are never stops.
The Serpent: Senior Capstone Project by Sivan Battat
Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 8pm
Patricelli ’92 Theater FREE! Tickets required. Tickets will be made available on the day of each performance at the Wesleyan University Box Office. Off-campus guests may call the box office at 860-685-3355 after 10am to reserve tickets to be held in their names until fifteen minutes prior to curtain. On-campus guests must pick up their tickets at the box office. There is a two-ticket limit per person for free ticketed events.
“A spellbinding x-ray of a writer’s psyche” (The New York Times), Sontag: Reborn explores the private life, loves, and idiosyncrasies of Susan Sontag. The Connecticut premiere of the solo show, directed by Marianne Weems and adapted by solo performer Moe Angelos based on Ms. Sontag’s early journals, was performed at the CFA Theater on Thursday, October 2 and Friday, October 3, 2014, at the CFA Theater. Photos from the October 2, 2014, dress rehearsal at the CFA Theater. Images by Sandy Aldieri of Perceptions Photography. Click here to view the full album on flickr.
CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to Sara Guernsey ’15, Wesley Martinez-Close ’15, Jillian Roberts ’15, Eury German ’16, Ari Markowitz ’17, and José Louis Sanchez ’18 about their involvement with “In the Heights,” which is being presented by the Theater Department tonight through Sunday, November 16, 2014 in the CFA Theater.
With book by Wesleyan’s Shapiro Distinguished Professor of Writing and Theater Quiara Alegría Hudes, In the Heights is the winner of the 2008 Tony Awards for “Best Musical,” “Best Original Score” (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Theater ’02), “Best Choreography,” and “Best Orchestrations” (Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, Music ’02).
Mr. Miranda wrote the first draft of In the Heights in 1999 as a sophomore at Wesleyan. Wesleyan’s student theater company Second Stage presented the play in April of that year. Four Wesleyan students—seniors at the time—then approached Mr. Miranda and proposed the play be expanded to a Broadway production.
Nine years later, in March 2008, In the Heights premiered on Broadway at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
In the Heights tells the story of a close-knit community on the brink of change in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. “I think it was mainly the story that made me want to audition,” said Eury German ’16, who plays the male lead Usnavi, and an ensemble member named Ángel.
Wesleyan’s production brings together students with diverse performance backgrounds.
“We have dancers, we have singers, we have actors, and not all of us were good at everything,” said Sara Guernsey ’15, who plays Camila Rosario. “But we were able to teach each other.”
“I learned a lot of choreography skills that I didn’t know before,” says José Louis Sanchez ’18, who plays Piragua Guy. “I think that’s the beauty of this process—all of us were strong in one suit and through this process we were able to grow in others.”
“Our director, Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, often told us that [this is not the Broadway production], that this is going to be our own different version,” says Ari Markowitz ’17, who plays Sonny. “I’m glad that I hadn’t seen the Broadway production before because I got to come at it with a blank slate, and everything I saw forming was purely ours without any preconceived notions about what the show should be.”
“I went into it with a very open attitude,” said Wesley Martinez-Close ’15, who also plays Usnavi and a member of the ensemble named Jesús. “It was all new to me.”
“Two weeks before school started I was listening to the soundtrack nonstop,” said Mr. German. “The music is unlike any other musical.”
Jillian Roberts ’15 and Naomi Wright ’17 co-choreographed all of the dancing in the production.
“The movement in the show is a fusion of hip-hop, Latin, and Caribbean dance,” said Ms. Roberts. “Naomi and I combined our dance histories, knowledge, and vocabulary to assemble a body of choreography that both represents the fusion of cultures in the show and also the styles of music that are represented in the show.”
Wesleyan’s production of In the Heights has been months in the making.
“I’m really excited for everyone to have their hard work displayed for the larger community,” said Ms. Roberts. “A show that is this multicultural and diverse doesn’t often show up on a main stage university theater, and it’s exciting for us to be a part of this kind of unique theater production.”
“This is by far the most exciting thing that any of us are going to do this semester,” says Mr. German. “I am, deep down, so excited for this to come together.”
Center for the Arts Director Pamela Tatge discusses the development of the work “SPILL” by Leigh Fondakowski. Ms. Fondakowski will give a free talk about the future of “SPILL” on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall.
As the third Outside the Box Theater Series event of the year, playwright Leigh Fondakowski will give a talk on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 7pm in CFA Hall.
As part of the course, Ms. Fondakowski and Mr. Chernoff accompanied the students on a ten-day trip to the Gulf Coast region visiting laboratories and research institutions, touring wetlands, and meeting the people who live in the affected communities. Upon their return, the students created performances that combined science and art to tell the story of the effects of the spill.
This course inspired Ms. Fondakowski to write a new theatrical piece, commissioned by the Center for the Arts and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Wesleyan’s Creative Campus Initiative, which she entitled SPILL.
Ms. Fondakowski went back to Louisiana and collected over 200 hours of stories in the following months from people who lived in the parishes hardest hit by the disaster. In collaboration with visual artist Reeva Wortel (American Portrait Project), Ms. Fondakowski created SPILL, which had its first staged reading at Wesleyan in February 2012.
Since then, Ms. Fondakowski has continued to work on the piece, including a presentation at the Culture Project‘s Women Center Stage Festival in New York in July 2013, followed by the premiere in March 2014 at the Reilly Theatre at Louisiana State University, performed by Baton Rouge’s Swine Palace.
In her talk this Thursday, Ms. Fondakowski will share the journey that her play has taken since she first showed it at Wesleyan, and will discuss its path for the future.