As students come out of their quarantines on campus or get used to clicking from one Zoom meeting to the next, it is already clear that this semester will be like none other. Fortunately, the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic won’t stop the creativity of the campus community, and there will be plenty to keep artists and appreciators of the arts occupied. While many of the details around arts events on and off campus are still being ironed out and are subject to change as the semester (and the pandemic) progresses, The Argus Arts & Culture editors compiled some information about opportunities and plans for people who want to get involved with the arts scene this fall.
By Will Lee, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
This semester, the Film Department is continuing to offer an incredibly diverse selection of courses, each with their own instructional mode. For those studying remotely,“The Language of Popular Cinema” (formerly known as The Language of Hollywood), as well as an Introduction to Indian Cinema: ‘Bollywood’ and Beyond, are available through an online teaching model. On campus — and in a remote capacity — it is also possible to study under University President Michael Roth ’78, who is teaching his lecture course about trauma and history in film, titled “Philosophy and the Movies: The Past on Film.” In-person only film courses include “Postwar American Independent Cinema,” “Advanced Global Film Auteurs,” “History of Film Sound,” and more.
Film itself is an art form that often places great emphasis on the interpersonal relationships between the cast, crew, and production. Therefore, it is safe to say that filmmakers on Wesleyan have been forced to drastically adapt to the new social-distancing guidelines and other safety measures implemented in the wake of the pandemic. Film major Kathryn (Katie) Lopez ’21 is among the many filmmakers who are finding new and intuitive ways to pursue their filmmaking, whilst also following the guidelines.
Currently in the midst of producing her production thesis, a digital 12 minute short film, Lopez has taken various appropriate measures to reduce the possibility of health risks within her production, which she views as a top priority. Among the measures, as she details, was changing the ages of the characters in her film to make sure that the actors were not within the COVID-19 high risk age group of over 65-years-old, as she had previously written an elderly character into her screenplay. Furthermore, she has also changed her film’s setting to reflect the current moment, with one of the protagonists wearing a mask. While most filmmakers might find these changes to be limiting, especially as it directly changes several aspects of the film, Lopez sees it another way, stating that the circumstances have given her a new perspective on the story.
“I want to reflect on the current times indirectly in the narrative,” she said.
In addition to theses and courses within the department, the Wesleyan Film Series will be continuing online, allowing both remote and in-person viewers to enjoy the selected films.
By Sara McCrea, Arts & Culture Editor
Public health guidelines mandate that our bodies shouldn’t be close, but that doesn’t mean they can’t move! While the dance department’s priority is the health and safety of its students, Chair of Dance Studies Hari Krishnan emphasized the importance of physical movement and expression during the pandemic.
“When the context changes radically (as it has with the pandemic) we orient ourselves— and literally ‘make sense’ of the situation—through our physical selves,” he wrote in an email to the Argus. “Dance is a critical component of our education, through (and NOT despite) the pandemic.”
This semester, the dance department is offering both in-person and remote courses, including two sections of the Introduction to Dance course — one offered in person, the other offered online. Other hybrid in-person courses include Afro-Brazilian dance, Bharatanatyam or South Indian Classical dance, Hip hop, Jazz and West African dance. The Ballet course, the first-year seminar “Dances from Indonesia” and the Dance Tech Lab will all accommodate remote students, and the department is offering a course called “Delicious Movement,” which will be completely online. Also online will be a course in “Gaga Technique,” which was developed by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin of Batsheva Dance Company and is, according to Krishnan, the most successful online dance pedagogy. To further explore the relationship between bodily movement and the pandemic, the dance department is offering an in-person outdoor course called “Dancing During the Pandemic.”
As far as performances for the courses are concerned, Krishnan explained that the department is committed to providing opportunities for students to demonstrate what they learned. However, some of the logistical details are still up in the air.
“We can’t necessarily predict exactly what they will look like,” he wrote. “For example, we might create site specific solos in which the audience walks around the performers at safe distances, or outdoor performances, or interactive screen dance events, but, regardless of what form these take, we will invent them together with the students!”
So far, the department has confirmed three dance performances for this semester: a Faculty Dance performance on October 31, a Worlds of Dance performance on November 22, and a West African Drumming and Dance performance on December 4.
Due to COVID-19 space protocols, Krishnan wrote that the University will not be able to accommodate events with student dance clubs. However, a number of dance groups on campus are still hoping to find ways to engage with one another this semester. Fusion Hip-Hop, for example, is planning on holding auditions next week and is going to discuss the best meeting mode on September 5 at 1:30-3:30 when many clubs are meeting for the Club Fair, which will be done over Zoom. Wesleyan Swing Dance will be meeting virtually, and as of now, Collective Motion (CoMo) will be having socially-distanced practices outdoors. More information on the long list of dance troupes can be found at their meetings during the Virtual Club Fair.
According to Krishnan, the dance department hopes to continue to affirm the power of movement in social justice and civic protest.
“It is significant that many of our courses focus on students’ personal creativity and the process of self-expression through dance-making,” he wrote. “We encourage students to be acutely aware of their social and political contexts and braid these thoughts into everything they do.”
By Aiden Malanaphy, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Wesleyan’s sole operational art gallery, the Zilkha gallery, has made clear plans for exhibiting as much in-person visual art as possible amid COVID-19 restrictions. In the fall, Zilkha will be going forward with an in-person multimedia show titled “A Sculpture, A Film & 6 Videos.” Set to open September 8 and run through November 22, the show will feature a single physical artwork—a sculpture—“Son et Lumiere (le rayon vert)” by artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. This work will be counterbalanced by a video displayed on the gallery’s large projector screen that will change every two weeks.
“This show has been in the planning stages almost two years, and has been in development for a long time” Benjamin Chaffee, Associate Director of Visual Arts, said in an interview with The Argus. “That this was kind of a perfect Covid show in many regards, the gallery space is wide open, there aren’t a lot of small objects to crowd around in the space, there’s a big screen showing the video and [then the] sculpture.”
The show’s content can also be said to fit neatly into the current zeitgeist. Comprising six videos spanning several artists, subject matter, and genres, the videos deal with ideas of time, as well as social justice.
“This show is really about our experience of time, our conception of the future, how we relate our present to the past and showing, exploding the sense of the present tense into multiple subjectivities, infinite subjectivities,” Chaffee continued. “Within that, a few of the works also take on issues of protest and uprisings and what it means to exist in a critical position. Societally it’s certainly taken on a conversation and presence that maybe it warranted a long time ago.”
Some of these videos will also be put on a site which is set to be completed around the time of the show’s opening and evolve throughout the show’s duration.
“Part of developing the website is hedging on that possibility [of early closure of in-person activities],” Chaffe explains. “The works chosen for the show are really meant to be installed in space, [though], and so most of them won’t be screened online. There’ll be enough stuff online if we have to close but it won’t be a one to one of what’s happening in the gallery.”
Exhibitions of student-based art have also experienced dramatic changes in plans. Alongside Zilkha’s fall show is an upcoming site that will present and catalogue all of the senior thesis projects in art from the class of 2020, the public exhibition of which was cancelled this past spring. An exhibition of student video art is also in the works, set to be installed in Zilkha’s South Gallery and curated by two senior art history majors. All studio art courses except for those related to digital design are currently being taught in a hybrid, in-person model.
By Tiah Shepherd, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Wesleyan is a campus stimulated and characterized by the musical endeavors of its students and artists. Professor Jay Hoggard ’76, Chair of Wesleyan’s music department, is acutely aware of this and committed to enabling students to express their creativity under these new circumstances.
“Music — the academic discipline or the creative, cultural and mystical discipline—has always been taught at Wesleyan in a personally interactive manner,” Hoggard said.
The pandemic has ultimately challenged this way of teaching and learning, but in true Wesleyan spirit, faculty are striving to offer the same opportunities in line with the safety measures and precautions this virus has necessitated.
“Each ensemble is offering some combination of in person and online learning,” Hoggard said. These include the Chinese music ensemble, Korean drumming and Taiko drumming ensemble.
Classes and groups of vocal performance will have to adapt to a world of face masks, transmission concerns and social distancing guidelines.
“Some of the vocal classes are not meeting this semester,” Hoggard said. “For example, Ebony Singers is meeting as a history and culture class. The vocal instrument has the most complexity and has been put on the most restrictions.”
Nevertheless, incoming and returning students still have the opportunity to build on existing skills or explore new ones.
“The teachers will do their best to accommodate [if it is a private lesson], and most are being taught virtually,” Hoggard said.
Currently, the University has 12 distinct a cappella groups that rehearse weekly, perform throughout the year and even compete on a national stage. These range from age-old single sex identifying groups, people of color identifying groups and even Jewish and Eastern European, Georgian and Balkan groups. Slender James, one of two all male-identifying groups, is hoping to continue its rehearsal this fall.
“For Slender James, we’re trying to do digital auditions and then some sort of outdoor, socially distant rehearsal,” Sam Fuer ’23 explained. “Everything is still very much up in the air and we’re going to adapt throughout the semester. Even if it ends up not working, we want to use this semester to really bond as a group.”
While the majority of a cappella clubs have collectively decided to take a break from making sweet music this semester, their voices need not cease to be heard. During their time at the University, Clara Babbott-Ward ’20 established Acoustic Bedroom, an open mic night which they staged on a Saturday night within their college bedroom. The event was open to anyone and everyone, regardless of the art form being shared. Following the closure of campus in late March this year, the monthly collaborative and creative outlet became available through Zoom. Now a graduate, Babbott-Ward hopes to continue the much-loved event and hand over responsibilities to multiple students across different class years.
“My hope is to find a leadership core to be guiders this year,” Babbott-Ward said.
A survey has been published across Facebook pages such as WesAdmits 2024 for incoming freshmen to gage the level of interest and ascertain how it might come into being over the course of the semester.
“If safe, I’d love for Acoustic Foss to happen, Babbott-Ward said.“For now though there will probably be a few more acoustic zooms before then!”
By Nathan Pugh, Arts & Culture Editor
The past few months have included lots of transition for both the University theater department and student theater groups, as both adjust to creating performances and theatrical experiences from remote setups. This has been a concern for the American theater industry writ large, though many technological innovations have stepped up to the plate.
The Wesleyan University theater department’s rehearsals for “The Method Gun” were halted over spring break, later resuming by creating a virtual Zoom production with actors performing in their homes across different time zones all over the world. The theater department is taking a similar approach to the fall semester show “Slabber,” directed by Prof. Katie Pearl, whose auditions conclude Friday, September 4. The enigmatic name is both the name of the machine in a soap-making factory and a mysterious condition that may inhabit the body and/or psyche.
“This performance invites us to consider notions of social and physical contamination, and asks whether it’s possible to come close to someone else across great distance,” the description of the show reads. “Originally created by the interdisciplinary theater company PearlDamour, the show will be re-devised by the Wesleyan ensemble for our campus and within current socio-political realities.”
In addition to the show itself, discussions will be led by Luna Mac-Williams ‘22 and Georgia Garrison ‘22 that will frame conversations in relationship to both the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Wesleyan theater department is additionally producing two senior theses productions this year: “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Simon Stephens (directed by Lauren Stock ’21) and “The Braided Project” (an “Othello” adaptation written and directed by Isabel Algrant ’21).
“This project focuses on physical touch in public spaces and the ways in which it does or does not allow those with physical and/or neurological divergences to thrive in contemporary societies,” Stock said. “This work will also center on which bodies are included in urban and artistic spaces and how we can make theater and performance art that supports and includes people of all abilities on our stage, in our designs, and in our audience.”
“The Braided Project,” going up this upcoming spring semester, has virtual information and Q&A sessions throughout the semester, with auditions running from October 12-25.
“[The show] is an in-depth study into ‘Othello’ through the lens of inter-racial relationships and what it means to live in a multicultural society,”Algrant said.
Algrant chose to focus on the play Othello intentionally.
“My goal with this project is to create an inclusive theatrical environment for people from underrepresented groups in the theater community to work with complex texts,” Algrant said. “I have chosen to start with ‘Othello’ because it blatantly and necessarily addresses race and racism. Through a series of workshops, master classes, and open rehearsals and production meetings, ‘The Braided Project’ allows people to engage in the process, whether or not they are directly involved in the production.”
Additional theater department productions and Center for the Arts performances will be featured on the Center for the Arts website.
By Nathan Pugh, Arts & Culture Editor
Over the summer, the primary producer of University student productions, Second Stage, decided to suspend their upcoming fall season of shows.
“We know for many students this is hard to hear, but we feel as though suspending our season is the only way we can adequately work to address both our negligence, specifically towards BIPOC theater-makers, and the structures that give and maintain our power within the community,” staff members wrote in a letter on June 25. “This decision was further affirmed by all the potential risks we anticipate on campus in the Fall due to the global pandemic.”
This followed up an announcement on June 13, in which Second Stage staff members stated: “We pledge to uplift the voice and art of BIPOC Wesleyan students, to educate ourselves on the work that needs to be done to better this student-run organization, and how to learn and truly listen to how every single person, especially BIPOC, engages with us and why.”
A diversity committee was also created with four staff members. When reached out to for comment, Second Stage Managing Liaison Abigail Crystal ’21 stated that Second Stage would participate in virtual club fairs this semester.
The Shades Theater Collective, a student organization that seeks to provide platforms, discussions, and productions specifically by and for students of color, is running this semester. They will be leading a virtual “Speed Dating” event to meet Shades board members on Friday, September 4, at 8 p.m., as well as an “Interest Meeting” on Thursday, September 10, at 4:30p.m.
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