This semester, the arts will return to the University in full force. From a film series that will once again take place in the Goldsmith Family Cinema to a complete calendar of student and professional art installations in The Zilkha Gallery, the community should have no shortage of creativity this year. To help guide you through this time of renewed artistry, the Arts & Culture team has put together a sneak peek into what you can expect from some of our community’s arts programs.
Fear not, fellow thespians: the Theater Department has a full slate of live, in-person productions planned for this semester. Many of the events deal directly with themes of mass incarceration, beginning with this Sunday’s show “Echoes of Attica.” Performed by formerly incarcerated actors and musicians, the play commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Attica Prison revolt while also connecting past events to current racial injustice. Carlos Roche, a survivor of the riot, will introduce the play and lead a discussion afterward.
“The script of the play consists of verbatim excerpts from court transcripts, interviews with Attica survivors and unclassified FBI files about Attica,” Ronald Jenkins, chair of the department, wrote in an email to The Argus.
The Attica Prison uprising was the most violent prison riot in the history of the United States. Prisoners seeking more humane conditions and civil rights took control of the facility on Sept. 9, 1971. Forty-two staff members were taken hostage, and four days of negotiations began to take place to work towards the prisoners’ demands. But those negotiations soured due to authorities’ refusal to grant the prisoners complete amnesty. Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who refused to meet with the prisoners, sent in the state police as negotiations failed. In the end, 43 people were dead. Although the Attica uprising did lead to changes in the prison system of New York state (out of fear of more riots), it was a bloody massacre that resulted in mass death. New York State Police used weapons banned by the Geneva Convention and subjected prisoners to violent acts of retaliation.
“Four of the five cast members are formerly incarcerated individuals of color who have experienced first-hand the systemic racism that fuels the cycle of mass incarceration in the United States today,” Jenkins wrote. “These performers include rap singer BL Shirelle and gospel singer Simply Naomi, who have written new songs inspired by their research into the legacy of the Attica Rebellion.”
Jenkins shared information about the other performers as well.
“Also performing will be Crystal Walker and Dario Pena, who performed the title role in Macbeth while he was serving time in Sing Sing,” he wrote. “Also featured in the play will be [Assistant Professor of Theater] Eddie Torres, who will bring to the role his experience working for over a decade in Chicago with men sentenced to death row.”
Torres will also be directing Assistant Professor of Theater Edwin Sanchez’s play “Jose,” which will be the second department show of the year, this Spring. For the first department show, in November, Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl will be directing “Oedipus El Rey,” set in a women’s prison. Additionally, Milton Espinoza Jr. ’22 will direct a student rap group called “Welcome to Chattel County” in late October. Other department events connected to incarceration will include a series of lectures and films commemorating the anniversary of the Attica uprising as well as an exhibit (in the Zilkha Gallery) of artist Ojore Lutalo’s work, which he created while in solitary confinement.
Most theater department productions will be performed indoors with masks. However, “Echoes of Attica” will be presented outdoors. Jenkins expressed his excitement to be putting on work live and in person and described his goals for the upcoming semester.
“[We want] to reach out to a more inclusive audience throughout the Wesleyan Community with provocative performances that stimulate thought about issues of immediate concern to all of us,” he wrote.
Crucial to the campus’s moviegoing culture, the Wesleyan Film Series will return this semester with weekly 8:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday film screenings in the Goldsmith Family Cinema. This fall, the program will begin with the Jeanine Basinger Legacy Series, which will run from September to early October and honor the contributions of Jeanine Basinger, who began the student-run film series in 1969 with Larry Mark ’71. The semester of film screenings began this Thursday with a showing of 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain.”
The return of the film series comes after a difficult year and a half for film on campus. Without the physical forum of a theater and in-person film classes, the medium had to adapt to various settings throughout the pandemic.
“Along with the rest of the University we found ways to adapt to remote learning and to preserve a sense of community despite not being able to watch and discuss movies in the ways that we used to,” Assistant Professor of Film Studies Marc Longenecker wrote in an email to The Argus.
“Last year we relied on distancing and capacity limits in the classrooms, a readiness to involve students remotely, specific guidelines for student-run shoots, and the suspension of (non-curricular) in-person events,” Longnecker wrote. “Overall it was important to be flexible so as to be the most inclusive, and each of us has sought to be attentive to our own mental health and that of our students.”
Having made it through this difficult time, though, the future for film at the University is hopeful. Remote viewings and limited-capacity events have nurtured a more intimate appreciation for film on campus as restrictions begin to lift.
“I’m in a cautiously celebratory mood at the moment,” Longnecker wrote. “I enjoy being able to watch movies on a big screen with other people, and I find my students characteristically curious, responsive, and eager to talk and learn.”
The University’s visual arts community is similarly excited about a more complete in-person schedule than has occurred in recent memory. Having ended last semester with a successful series of in-person arts theses, the Zilkha Gallery will return this fall with a more traditional host of in-person installations and events. Moving into the gallery on Tuesday, Sept. 14, “The Language in Common” is a highly multidisciplinary installation featuring the works of five artists working in mediums from sculpture to video to poetry. The five artists, who span both cultural and generational boundaries, were nevertheless chosen by curator and Associate Director of Visual Arts Ben Chaffee for their existence on the periphery of political culture, culminating in a visual conversation that is sure to bring about nuanced ideas and inspiration for viewers. The exhibition will commence on Tuesday, Sept. 14 with a free opening reception at 4:30 p.m. at the Zilkha Gallery.
The CFA will continue in-person offerings with the opening of the exhibition “Behind Enemy Lines: The Prison Art of Ojore Lutalo” on Tuesday, Sept. 21. Presenting collage work that Lutalo produced during the two decades he spent in solitary confinement, the exhibition is part of a series on the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Attica Prison Revolt. The series will kick off this Sunday, Sept. 12 at the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall with a performance of the aforementioned play, “Echoes of Attica.” Combined with the play, Lutalo’s exhibition will bring a critical visual arts perspective to the bloodiest and most consequential prison revolts in the history of the United States. The show will also begin with an opening reception at 4:30 on Sept. 21.
Dance is back, baby! The dance department will be hosting a varied program of events this semester, from senior thesis concerts to a world of dance showcases. First up, on Sept. 24, there’s “Dance Alumni Chat Series: Anyone Can Dance!” where four Wesleyan alumni will discuss their dance education at the University and their careers since. In October and December, senior majors will be presenting their theses. Also in December, the faculty dance concert “FULL SPEED AHEAD!” will be taking place with Artist-in-Residence in Dance Patricia Beaman, Associate Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio, and Visiting Instructor in Dance Nik Owens.
Events besides the first chat series will be held live and in person at various locations around campus: the Patricelli ’92 Theater, Crowell Concert Hall, and more. Performances will be open only to the Wesleyan community.
“It’s amazing to be back in-person,” Michele Olerud, Administrative Assistant in the dance department, wrote in an email to the Argus. “As I am typing this I hear live piano accompanist, Carolyn Halsted upstairs in Patricia Beaman’s ballet I class. Yesterday, I heard live drumming with Jocelyn Pleasant from Nik Owen’s Contemporary class – I have really missed the beat being remote!”
Additionally, the myriad of student-run dance groups on campus will be having their own slate of performances this semester in many different styles of dance. Stay tuned on WesAdmits (if it hasn’t been deleted yet) to see everything they have to offer.
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