With the end of arrival quarantine in sight, the arts at Wesleyan are set to return this spring and are more prepared than ever to bring their vibrant cultural offerings to students near and far. From theater performances that utilize Zoom to film screenings projected on Foss Hill, the University community has planned arts programs of all kinds to make the best of Wesleyan’s first (full) spring semester during the pandemic. Despite inevitable uncertainty, the Argus Arts & Culture team are here to share some insight into the student and University events that can help bring us closer in a time of separation.
By Aiden Malanaphy, Arts & Culture Editor
Wesleyan’s visual arts continue to evolve within the bounds of COVID-19 precautions this spring, pushing forward with a new show in the Zilkha Gallery and student programs that have been adapted to meet our moment.
After a fall of multimedia installations and online offerings, the Zilkha Gallery will return in person next Tuesday, Feb. 23, with the exhibition “Flames of My Homeland: The Cultural Revolution and Modern Tibet.” Chronicling the lasting effects of the Cultural Revolution on Tibetan society, the show presents gripping photographs by father and daughter Tsering Dorje (1937-1991) and Tsering Woeser. This is the first time Dorje and Woeser have had their works presented together, and the result spans a crucial generational perspective on modern Tibetan culture through the eyes of two of its most important intellectuals. Alongside the photographs will be a series of new collaborative multimedia installations featuring Woeser’s voice and works by co-curator, translator, and artist Ian Boyden ’95.
With the limited capacity of the gallery itself, Zilkha will be offering a series of online events to complement the show, including a talk with curators Boyden and William Frucht on opening day, Feb. 23rd, a conversation with Tibet scholar Robert Barnett on March 30, and a lecture on the history of the photography of Tibet by University of Oxford Professor Clare Harris on April 20.
The studio arts program will continue to prevail this spring as well, offering nearly 20 sections of studio courses, with everything from drawing to sculpture returning to the workshop. While the impact of virus restrictions has varied greatly between formats, Associate Professor of Art Julia Randall, who teaches two sections of a drawing course this semester, has found some advantages in limited physical instruction.
“It is essential that I be able to see from the same perspective as my students, in real space, in real time,” Randall explained in an email to the Argus. “Thus both of my drawing classes this semester are fully in-person. A positive outcome of the redesign of Drawing I for the COVID-era is that I can spend substantially more time working individually with my students. The class is much more intimate in that regard. I really get to know each of my student’s work, what their strengths are, and how to improve their drawings.”
Exhibitions of student art will also persist despite the altered format, with the Center for the Arts (CFA) planning to hang pieces in the Art Workshop Lobby as well as in display cases in Usdan. And, while plans remain tentative, this spring could mark the return of senior thesis exhibitions, which were unfortunately cancelled for 2020 graduates of the major.
“The Art Studio thesis exhibitions in the spring are the much-anticipated main event for the display of our major’s artwork,” Randall wrote. “This spring we are proceeding as if we will mount in-person exhibitions with a major, clear caveat that nothing is certain, and that we need to see what is happening with virus transmission rates on campus as we get closer to April.”
While the traditional spaces of visual art shift unpredictably and plans remain tentative, Randall’s students are still characteristically passionate about creating artwork on campus.
“I am actually surprised by how normal things feel in my classes,” Randall wrote. “My students are still keen to do their work, and are overall hungry for instruction. I really love that.… I have been really touched by how well Wesleyan students did last semester…. My aim is to keep class time rigorous and engaging (with humor), to keep us all invested in being safe and on campus together.”
By Will Lee, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Despite COVID-19 restrictions continuing on campus this semester, the music scene at Wesleyan is alive and well. Both the Music Department and the CFA will be hosting various musical events, including remote performances from the Wesleyan University Jazz Ensemble (Feb 25) and the Wesleyan Gamelan Ensemble (April 8). Numerous student-led events are in the works on campus as well, with Tiny Shed planning performances throughout the spring semester.
One particularly notable event in the Wesleyan music scene is an upcoming weekly radio show on WESU Middletown called “Party in the Bardo: Conversations with Laurie Anderson.” Hosted every Thursday by Laurie Anderson, a musician, artist, composer and director specializing in avant-garde performances, the radio show is set to feature a diverse range of guests, such as sound artist Bruce Odland, English singer-songwriter ANOHNI, bassist Christian McBride, and platinum-selling artist Kevin Hearn of Barenaked Ladies.
In spite of the ongoing pandemic, students are also taking initiative within Wesleyan. Jacob Zilversmit ’22 is hosting a student forum alongside Professor of Music Eric Charry this semester. Being an English and music double major, Jacob said he was dissatisfied with the lack of exploration and involvement in contemporary music culture that was offered by the Wesleyan Music Department.
“You take a class on composition in the Music Department, and most of the time it is gonna be on Western classical music or one of the world music traditions, but there is not all that much curriculum geared towards providing an academic space for the kinds of music that kids in Wesleyan and its music scene are making.” Zilversmit said.
Thus, he decided to take matters into his own hands and create MUSC420, a student forum that aims to provide a space for students to work collaboratively on composition projects. Primarily taught as a songwriting workshop, the forum will allow students not only to create their own projects together, but also to be able to give and receive feedback among each other, offering a unique opportunity for direct peer-to-peer interaction in an academic environment.
However, despite the promising start, various challenges lie ahead for the forum due to COVID-19 restrictions and regulations on campus. Although Zilversmit initially planned to hold the forum in the lounge of Music House, where he is the house manager, the size of the class has exceeded the COVID capacity of the lounge, rendering it an unsuitable meeting space. Further difficulties, such as creating spaces for student collaborations that involve singing or playing wind instruments, have also created challenges.
“Although collaboration between kids in the class is obviously possible, it’s going to be a lot more logistically difficult,” Zilversmit said.
Ultimately, however, undeterred by the upcoming challenges of running a workshop in the midst of a pandemic, Zilversmit remains optimistic about his student forum.
“I’m definitely looking forward to cementing a more concrete space in the [Wesleyan] music scene for the Music House, and I think this forum will hopefully be a space and opportunity for the fragmented parts of the Wesleyan music scene to come together on campus,” Zilversmit said.
By Abby Glassman, Staff Writer
Theater may look different at Wesleyan this year, but it is by no means less meaningful or thought-provoking than in the past. The inability to pack audience members into an auditorium has forced artists to hit the restart button, creating impactful material from the ground up. But maybe we needed to start from square one to find new dimensions in the Theater Department, which is precisely what theater makers have begun to explore on campus this semester.
Assistant Professor of the Practice in Theater Edward Torres, who is directing the spring Theater Department show, the dark comedy “She Kills Monsters,” explains his plans for a virtual performance, which will be shot April 23, 24, 25 and streamed at a later date.
“It’s a photo-studio concept, but everything is in the studio including the Zoom rooms, so we’re trying to create a connection between the real world and the fantasy world,” Torres said.
“She Kills Monsters,” written by Qui Nguyen, tells a story of love and loss. As a girl grieves the death of her sister and parents, she finds herself eager to discover more about her loved ones and completes an investigation through Dungeons & Dragons. This plot brings to the surface the inescapable guilt that comes with losing a family member whom you thought you knew but never really did. This theme feels particularly weighty at a time when many are suffering from loss or from loneliness in the midst of the pandemic.
Inaugural recipient of the Theater Department’s Breaking New Grounds Development Residency, Miranda Haymon ’16 is passionate about expanding theater past the perimeters of Zoom boxes. They are directing a radio play version of Pedro Pietri’s “The Masses Are Asses,” which eliminates audience members’ need for visuals, relying solely on sound. There is a certain complexity that comes with creating a dynamic between characters using only their voices, and sound design poses a thrilling challenge in this project.
“The plot revolves around two characters who are involved in a wonderful dance through language, as they vamp, mimic, and taunt each other, as well as [taunt] the values associated with different classes,” Stage Manager Thea LaCrosse ’21 explained.
While there might be a listening party as a “premiere,” there will not be performance dates; instead, the show will be aired on WESU Middletown this spring.
Current undergraduates are also not letting the pandemic stop them from producing theater. Julia Chung ’21 is hard at work on her acting capstone, “Against Being Captured,” which focuses on the experience of living in the United States or other predominantly white places as someone with various minoritarian identities. She plans for a live, socially distanced performance either in the Theater Studios or outside in the CFA throughout the weekend of April 24 and 25.
“This piece is very much about me, because I don’t want to speak for what anyone else’s experience of living in the U.S. has been,” Chung explained.
In Chung’s current creative phase, she is wondering how much human beings are affected by specific choices, or, perhaps, by missed opportunities.
“The first act is me introducing myself multiple times, and each time is an alternate universe version,” Chung said. “Or, they are lies about who I could be or could’ve been if my parents hadn’t moved to this state. Or, for example, I was religious when I was little and I wonder what my life would be like if I was still religious.”
While Chung recognizes how difficult it is to imagine the future, she explores how this uncertainty shouldn’t necessarily carry a negative connotation.
“I think I wanted to create space for that kind of dreaming,” Chung said.
Whether aired on the radio, streamed on Zoom, or live in a socially distanced space, theater makers continue to prove that there is no such thing as a conventional or ideal mode for performance.
“There is no reason we have to go back to ‘normal theater’ after the pandemic ends, and we hope to help show people that,” said LaCrosse.
By Emma Smith, Arts & Culture Editor
Like many other arts scenes at Wesleyan this semester, film on campus continues to forge ahead, despite various challenging adaptations to programming due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Gone are the days of packing into the Goldsmith Family Cinema for a Friday night Film Series screening, and senior theses are no longer able to shoot off-campus. However, while film is no longer necessarily a social experience during the pandemic, in times of isolation and distance, film has remained essential as an art form for people to enjoy on their own, from the relative comfort and safety of their own televisions or laptop screens.
One beloved staple of film on campus is the Wesleyan Film Series, which usually screens movies at Goldsmith Family Cinema. In the fall, student organizers of the Film Series were able to host several movie screenings outside on Foss Hill. Concetta Froio ’22, who works on the Film Series, said that student organizers hope to continue projecting movies in this manner when warmer weather arrives this spring while also offering virtual alternatives.
“Last semester we were able to plan a number of screenings on Foss, and we hope to organize them again once the weather allows,” Froio said. “We also plan on bringing back the regular online calendars with recommendations of movies that you can find on major streaming services.”
While the frigid winter days continue to persist, the Film Series also has virtual plans: Next Friday, February 26 at 8 p.m., the Film Series will host a screening of “A Muse,” followed by a question and answer section with Wesleyan alumni who worked on the film. The screening will be moderated by Associate Professor of Film Studies Lisa Dombrowski.
Another staple of film on campus in the spring is senior film theses, which are usually screened in May as a culmination of students’ work. Like any other semester, student filmmakers have been hard at work; unlike any other semester, they now find themselves bound by some restrictions.
“The biggest changes we made were to limit all production to campus so that we were insulated inside this population that was being tested twice a week,” Associate Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins wrote in an email to The Argus. “This meant that all casting and location work had to be done on campus. Students were told this over the summer, so they could craft stories that work in this environment. In addition, because of issues with ventilation, we restricted interior shooting to a few well ventilated spaces on campus. Fortunately, we had just completed construction of our new sound stage and students were able to build their own interiors in there, which they took to with great gusto.”
Collins added that film students are encouraged to view COVID-19 restrictions not as limitations, but rather as opportunities.
“All of the filmmakers on staff here believe strongly that restrictions can breed great creativity, so we encouraged everyone to adopt that ethos to get us through these strange days,” Collins wrote.
As for whether or not film theses will be screened in the Goldsmith, on Foss Hill, or virtually this spring, it depends on the national and local COVID-19 situations come May. However, Collins said he feels confident that student film theses will be accessible to an audience in some form regardless of public health conditions.
“Last spring we had online screenings and hosted a Zoom Q and A of the directors,” wrote Collins. “It is not the same as a live in person screening, but it does provide some connection to the audience for the filmmakers. The nightmare for every filmmaker is to make a film and have it shelved away unseen, and we were glad to avoid that!”
Aiden Malanaphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will Lee can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @will_elee.
Abby Glassman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emma Smith can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @elsmith_8.