Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins was a guest on the BBC program “Sunday” to discuss his new play, “Islands: The Lost History of the Treaty That Changed the World.” The play, commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch ceded Manhattan in exchange for the tiny spice island of Rhun, premiered April 21 and 22 at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.
Jenkins’ interview begins about four-and-a-half minutes in. Or, on the BBC page, scroll down and select the “Islands” chapter.
“We’re performing the actual text of the 1667 Treaty of Breda. In this treaty, if you look closely at the words, you’ll see that the English and the Dutch were ending their war,” said Jenkins told the BBC.
“As part of the agreement, they were also trying to erase from history all the awful things that they had done during the war. And among those awful things were the massacre of the indigenous Muslim population of the island of Rhun. And we have the Dutch character singing the words of the treaty, and then the indigenous characters question that. […] Those murders did occur and we can’t forget that. There’s a back and forth dialogue between the colonial masters and the indigenous victims of colonialism.”
Jenkins describes visiting Rhun. In the 17th century, Rhun was as valuable as Manhattan because it was the world’s primary source of nutmeg which, at the time, was worth its weight in gold. They met nutmeg farmers and were shown the nutmeg trees, which are still there.
The radio feature includes Wesleyan students singing songs written for the play by John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce and Artist-in-Residence in Music I. Harjito.
Ron Jenkins, professor of theater and scholar on the life and work of the late Italian artist, Dario Fo, has the pleasure of honoring the legacy of Dario Fo and his wife, Franca Rame.
On Oct. 13 Italian actor/playwright/director/painter/designer/activist/Nobel Laureate Dario Fo died at the age of 90. His wife, Franca Rame a actress/playwright/activist passed away in 2013. Together, they were symbols of hope, as their work, based in satirical theater, served as an inspiration for activist and theater makers around the world. “… Fo’s plays gave voice to his times and continue to live most fully in the moment of performance,” Jenkins states.
Serving as the chief American translator for the written and on-stage performances of Fo and Rame, Jenkins has worked with the couple since the 1980’s and has now become one of the pre-eminent scholars on their work. In an article Jenkins wrote on the life of Dario Fo and his wife, published in the American Theatre, Jenkins highlights Fo’s creative process and the significance it had on the times. He remembers watching Fo create new work by “first making drawings, then putting the drawings into motion, recreating them through gesture while improvising a text for an audience. Only then would he put the script on paper making his words born out of vibrant images and physical actions.” Jenkins job was to capture that raw kinetic energy in his on-stage translations, and he recalls that every time, he was “possessed by his (Fo’s) language, allowing himself to be taken over entirely by the rhythmic drive of his sentences.”
This also was a topic of conversation in Middletown’s effort to commemorate Fo’s legacy. Jenkins was a guest speaker at “The Politics of Laughter: A Tribute to Dario Fo and Franca Rame,” held at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown on Dec. 8.
Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, recently completed a collaboration with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Florence, Italy. The center asked Jenkins to stage a play in a Florentine prison on the theme of human rights.
The play, which was based on Dante Aligheri’s 14,000 line epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” was performed on July 14 and featured Coro Galilei, a choir that specializes in Gregorian chants, and actors from a local prison. The script consisted of texts written by the prisoners on the theme of justice intertwined with fragments from the “Divine Comedy” and interviews with human rights activists from around the world.
“Dante’s Inferno” is the most famous section of “The Divine Comedy” and is based on Dante’s real life in 14th century Italy, where he was a city official, diplomatic negotiator, and a man who dared to cross the Pope. Dante also was a convict and convicted of crimes, and Jenkins uses Dante to connect with incarcerated men and women.
“Dante was condemned to death, but we do not remember him as a convict,” Jenkins told the audience at Sollicciano prison in his prologue to the play. “We remember him as writer and philosopher who denounced the lack of justice in his society. After having seen our play, we hope you will remember the performers, not as convicts, but as writers whose words are born from the wisdom of experience, as Dante said, ‘Men of great value…. Suspended in this limbo.'”
Jenkins has already taught “Dante’s Inferno” and acting to inmates in Connecticut and Indonesia. Jenkins encourages incarcerated men and women to make connections between their own life stories and the experiences of the characters in classics like “Dante’s Inferno.” Their thoughts are used to create play scripts that are performed inside a prison. Wesleyan students also perform the scripts at other colleges and in the community, and engage in discussions about issues related to reforming the country’s criminal justice system.
Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, will participate in an international simulcast on Nov. 27 to celebrate Balinese language and Indonesia’s cultural and linguistic diversity.
The simulcast will take place at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington where Jenkins will be helping to celebrate Saraswati Day by reading from his new book, Saraswati in Bali. Saraswati Day is the Balinese day set aside for honoring wisdom, knowledge and culture.
The celebration will be streamed simultaneously to Indonesian diplomatic missions in New York, Tokyo, Sweden, The Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Australia.
The program also will include live simulcasts of a reading of a Balinese poem; greetings from Indonesian Ambassadors to the participating countries; introductory remarks from Professor Gabriela Perez Baez, director of Recovering Voices, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; a presentation of new books in Balinese; and dance, music and singing performances.
Jenkins will also be speaking about his book at the Indonesian Consulate in New York on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at an event featuring an exhibition of the Balinese paintings related to Saraswati analyzed in his text. To register for the free event, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins participated in a discussion on WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show about Dante Aligheri’s 14,000 line epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” of which “Dante’s Inferno” is the most famous section. This adventure story is based on Dante’s real life in 14th century Italy, where he was a city official, diplomatic negotiator, and a man who dared to cross the Pope. Jenkins has taught Dante at Wesleyan and in prison courses.
“I discovered that I could learn a lot about Dante by teaching it in prison. I brought my Wesleyan students and my Yale students into prison to work with him,” said Jenkins. “I discovered that a lot of stereotypes are shattered by going into a prison with a text like that because although the commonplace understanding of Dante is a writer who writes about hell and awful, horrible things, the men in prison immediately understood that this was a poem about hope. They immediately identified with Dante. One of the reasons they identified with Dante is he was not only in exile, but he was a convict. He was convicted of crimes, that’s why he was put in exile. As soon as men in prison hear that, they pay attention more closely. […] They identify with Dante’s journey through hell, through purgatory, to a better place, and they can connect to that. They latch onto the hope that’s in Dante’s poem. […] They want to think about where they can go when they leave prison, if they can leave prison, or where they can go spiritually even if they can never leave prison.”
Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins writes in The Jakarta Post about Wayan Nardayana, a popular and provocative puppet master in Bali who “combines the political insight of a social activist with the spiritual wisdom of a priest and the comic instincts of a master entertainer.”
Jenkins describes the artist’s recent performance at a celebration of the birthday of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. “The dalang’s ability to make connections between sacred texts, Indonesian history and contemporary reality is at the core of his art,” Jenkins writes.
Nardayana tells the audience, “Indonesians today can also harness the power of their ancestors to inspire them to take the actions to make their country as strong as the other great nations of the world. Sukarno is one of those ancestors and remembering him is one way our generation can preserve our cultural identity and use it to take the actions necessary to create freedom today.”
Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins wrote in The Jakarta Post about recent performances of Rateb Meuseukat, a form of Acehnese dance from Indonesia, at Wesleyan and a few other New England colleges, which gave American audiences “an eye-opening introduction to an aspect of the Muslim world that is rarely seen in the West.”
The group “Tari Aceh” performed at Wesleyan’s Crowell Concert Hall on Feb. 27. The day after the performance, some audience members returned for a workshop in which they learned how to do the movements they had seen onstage.
Images of Muslim women in Western media often focus on the restrictive nature of head scarves and other customary clothing, but the dancers of Aceh shattered these naïve stereotypes through the liberating power of their performances.
The women’s colorful woven headscarves accentuated the sassy energy of their movements. Their modest costumes used traditional textiles to heighten the dynamic quality of their choreography.
The hooting, stomping, finger snapping and body slapping that punctuated their dances gave the performance an unstoppable sense of momentum that erased all notions of female passivity.
The women dancers of the “Tari Aceh” tour were clearly the masters of the remarkable universe they created onstage.
Ron Jenkins ’64, professor of theater, published a review of Lempad of Bali: The Illuminating Line in the Jan. 19 edition of the Jakarta Post. Jenkins had high praise for the book, which contains pictures of the works of Balinese architect and artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad.
Jenkins wrote, “the aptly titled volume illuminates not only the exquisite lines of Lempad’s artwork, but also the intangible elements of Balinese identity that those lines represent.”
In addition to describing some of the noted works, Jenkins also commended the depth and insightfulness of the essays that accompanied each work. The essays were written by a team of scholars lead by the acclaimed Indonesian cultural researcher and author Bruce Carpenter.
Read the full review here.
New book by Ron Jenkins.
Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, is the author of a new book titled Saraswati in Bali: a Temple, a Museum and a Mask, published by the Agung Rai Museum of Art, Peliatan, Ubud, Bali, in July 2014.
Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, through whom the Balinese symbolically link their tangible (sekala) and intangible (niskala) worlds. The Balinese celebrate Saraswati at an annual festival.
In a July 7 Jakarta Post article, contributing writer Jean Couteau explains that instead of trying to “understand” Bali like anthropologists would, “often reifying it or losing themselves in abstruse concepts of dubious ‘universalist’ value, Jenkins presents it ‘in action.’
In Saraswati in Bali, Jenkins explores the festival as a “performance” or ritual in motion. Jenkins explains how local Balinese express their collective wisdom through ceremonies, and their understanding through active participation in communal song, prayers and ritual preparations.
He also explains the relation of several paintings to the story of Saraswati and the esoteric Balinese knowledge associated with it.
“Jenkins’ purpose is not to conceptualize, but to ‘bring to life,’ which is obviously to him a more efficient way to cross the cultural barrier that separates modern people from traditional Balinese,” Couteau writes.
View a PDF of The Jakara Post story here.
Ron Jenkins ’64, professor of theater, recently wrote an op-ed for The Jakarta Post about Run, a small Indonesian island. Run was “involved in a war between maritime empires” due to the presence of nutmeg on the island. While “the historic memory of Run’s inhabitants is vague, their pride… in the importance of their island’s past is vivid.” The residents of the small island no longer make a living with the spice trade and must have other jobs to provide for their families, but nutmeg is still a large part of the culture. “The small pale yellow nutmeg fruit still hangs from the boughs of the trees that surround the rumah besi” and “the sweet smell of the spice still permeates the island’s air.” Several locals wish for a way to preserve the history of their island so that the story is not lost for the younger generations. Read the article online here.
Jenkins also is featured in the July 15 edition of The Jakarta Post speaking about his oral history research and collaboration with artist Made Wianta. Jenkin’s and Wianta’s project commemorates the historic connections between Run and Manhattan, of which most residents of both islands are unaware. When asked about the history of Run before the 20th century, most locals will respond similarly to Kajiri, a 75-year-old farmer: “That was before I was born and no one is left alive who remembers those things.” Jenkins and Wianta see the deep impact and contributions that the Spice Islands and Run have had and made on global culture and the pride that Indonesians deserve to have about their history. The goal of the collaborative project that will include a book, an art installation, and theatrical performances that all incorporate the perspectives of Run’s farmers, is to focus on the island’s history from an artistic angle. “…if we look at the past only through the lens of politics we can get stuck in arguments that will never be resolved. Maybe by looking at the past through the prism of art, we can understand history in a new way and create a future we will also be able to feel proud of.” Read the article online here.
In an op-ed published Oct. 18 in The Jakarta Post, Ronald Jenkins, professor of theater, writes about a disturbing new documentary in which “gangsters” responsible for mass murders in Indonesia from 1965-66 reenact their crimes as they remember them. “This enables audiences to witness the deaths, not as they happened, but as they are remembered by the killers,” he writes.
The documentary, “The Act of Killing” by Joshua Oppenheimer, “reveals the links between the human capacity for self-delusion and cinema’s ability to reedit the past into comforting fantasy,” writes Jenkins.