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Shaw ’99 Featured in Book on Black Theater and Dance in Chicago

Rashida Shaw '99

Rashida Shaw ’99

Assistant Professor of Theater Rashida Shaw ‘99 shared her observations as a researcher, ethnographer and audience member who has attended urban theater productions in Chicago for a chapter in a book called Black Theater Is Black Life: An Oral History of Chicago Theater and Dance, 1970-2010, written by Harvey Young and Queen Meccasia Zabriskie, and published in November 2013 by Northwestern University Press.

It features interviews with producers, directors, choreographers, designers, dancers, and actors, and serves to frame the colorful four-decade period for the African American artistic community in the Windy City.

Jenkins Article on African-American, Balinese Chants in Jakarta Post

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, is the author of an article titled, “African-American Step Dancing meets Balinese “kecak'” published in the March 6 edition of The Jakarta Post. The article highlights a cross-cultural theater collaboration that brought together African-American step-dancers and Balinese “kecak” performers who create interlocking rhythms with choral chants. Jenkins wrote the article while in Pengosekan Village, Indonesia doing sabbatical research. Read the article here.
Jenkins also wrote a book review titled, “Illuminating: The Enigma of Time,” which appeared in the Feb. 24 edition of The Jakarta Post. The book, Time, Rites and Festivals in Bali, is written by Gusti Nyoman Darta, Jean Couteau and Georges Breguet and published by BAB Publishing Indonesia in 2014.

“The reader can get lost for several pages in the flow of its prose recounting a mythical fable, or stop to savor an enigmatic reference to a ‘web of meaning according to which the distinction between people and rice is blurred,'” Jenkins wrote. Read the article here.

 

Richards ’69 Co-Produces Bridges of Madison County Musical and More

Jeffrey Richards '69

Jeffrey Richards ’69

The ever-busy Jeffrey Richards ’69 is the co-producer of a new musical The Bridges of Madison County, based on the hugely popular novel by Robert James Waller, which opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway on February 20. The musical stars acclaimed actors Kelli O’Hara (Nice Work If You Can Get It, South Pacific) and Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me) with a score by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Parade), a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman (The Secret Garden, ‘Night, Mother), and direction by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza).

Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in The Bridges of Madison Country musical on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale in The Bridges of Madison Country musical on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The musical focuses on a four-day love affair between an itinerant National Geographic photographer and an Italian-American housewife, whose husband and children are away at a state fair, in 1965 Iowa. The highly romantic and often transcendent score allows the O’Hara and Pasquale to shine, particularly in two of their memorable duets, “Falling Into You” and “One Second and a Million Miles.” Sher’s deft direction avoids sentimentality but touches on the expression of loneliness and need for deeper connection by the characters.

The Bridges of Madison Country opened to generally positive reviews with praise for the leading actors’ performances and the songs.

Jesse Green in his New York Magazine review wrote that the show is “a very serious musical indeed, both rapturous and moral, with a gorgeous score by Jason Robert Brown. It is also one of the few recent Broadway shows to take up the challenge laid down by the great midcentury works of Rodgers and Hammerstein and their cohort: to tell stories that weld important sociological upheavals to personal conflicts and somehow make them sing.”

In Time Out New York, Adam Feldman wrote: “The musical’s emotion is unapologetically grand, and its love duets have a wide, old-fashioned scope. Directed with spare precision by Bartlett Sher—reunited with his most of his South Pacific design team—it’s a new work that plays like a classic. … The night, however, belongs to its stars. Singing mostly in her luxurious upper register, O’Hara sounds ravishing, and she and Pasquale—in the performance of his career—generate that rarest of Broadway commodities: a genuine spark of erotic heat.”

For tickets, go to Telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.

This Broadway season, Jeffrey Richards also is the co-producer of recent revival The Glass Menagerie, which just finished its successful Broadway run, recouping its investment; and the upcoming Broadway productions of two new plays, All the Way, starring Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as President Lyndon B. Johnson (currently in previews, opens  March 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre), and The Realistic Joneses by Will Eno, an insightful comedy-drama about friends and neighbors, with Emmy Award winner Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under), Tony Award winner Tracy Letts, and Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei (previews begin March 13, opens April 6 at the Lyceum Theatre), as well as Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, a play with music by Lanie Robertson, starring five-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday (previews begin March 25, opening April 13 at Circle in the Square Theatre). Richards also co-produced the Tony Award-winning revival of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which is currently on a national tour.

Newell ’81 Receives Theater Award

Charles Newell '81

Charles Newell ’81

Charles Newell ’81 was recently awarded the prestigious Zelda Fichandler Award, which recognizes an outstanding director who is transforming the regional arts landscape through singular creativity and artistry in theater. He received the prize, an unrestricted grant of $5,000, from the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF).

Over the years, Newell has become one of the nation’s foremost theater directors. He is currently in his 19th year as artistic director of the Court Theatre, the renowned professional theater in residence at University of Chicago, where he had directed more than 40 productions.

Newell comments: “To receive The Zelda Fichandler Award from SDCF means the world to me. My very first theatre-going memories are of my mother taking me to Zelda’s Arena Stage. The daring theatre she created and produced, the singular artists she championed, the impact her art made on her community: these all have been a beacon of inspiration to me.  For twenty years, I have been fortunate to build a life in the theatre here in Chicago, seeking to follow Zelda’s example. I am very proud to be a member of this most vibrant theatre community, and am constantly inspired by our artists and patrons.”

Newell has been critically acclaimed for his intimate stagings of great American musicals, and his visionary work as a director has led to a notable professional relationship with playwright Tony Kushner (with whom Newell is currently working on an undisclosed commission for a new play). Under his artistic leadership, the Court Theatre has become the national “Center for Classic Theater,” and as such has produced several world premiere adaptations of classic novels, including The Invisible Man and the upcoming, highly-anticipated stage adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son in collaboration with American Blues Theater.

In May through June for the Court, Newell will be directing David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly. He made his Chicago directorial debut in 1993 with The Triumph of Love, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Production. His productions of Man of La Mancha and Caroline, Or Change have also won Best Production Jeffs. His other directorial highlights at the Court include Angels In America, An Iliad, Porgy and Bess, Three Tall Woman, The Year of Magical Thinking, The Wild Duck, Arcadia, Uncle Vanya, Raisin, The Glass Menagerie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Invention of Love, and Hamlet. He has also directed at Goodman Theatre (Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘N Roll), Guthrie Theater (resident director: The History Cycle, Cymbeline), Arena Stage, John Houseman’s The Acting Company (staff repertory director), the California and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals, Juilliard, and New York University.

Newell is married to actress Kate Collins (All My Children) and they live in Chicago with their two sons. While at Wesleyan, he was roommates with classmate Bradley Whitford ’81 (The West Wing; Trophy Wife) and the two are still good friends. He was also classmates with Pamela Tatge ‘84, director of of Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts.

Wasson ’03 Writes Biography of Entertainment Icon Bob Fosse

Sam Wasson '03

Sam Wasson ’03

Best-selling author Sam Wasson ’03 has published Fosse (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), an authoritative and fascinating biography of the renowned dancer, choreographer, screenwriter, and director Bob Fosse. The only person ever to win Oscar, Emmy, and Tony awards in the same year, Fosse was a masterful artist in every entertainment medium he touched, and forever marked Broadway and Hollywood with his iconic style that would influence generations of performing artists.

Biography by Sam Wasson '03

Biography by Sam Wasson ’03

Wasson reveals the man behind the swaggering sex appeal by exploring Fosse’s reinventions of himself over a career that would result in his work on The Pajama Game, Pippin, Sweet Charity, the film Cabaret, All That Jazz, and the original Broadway production of Chicago. The author researched a wealth of unpublished material and hundreds of sources including friends, enemies, lovers, and collaborators, many of whom have never spoken publicly about Fosse before. He touches on Fosse’s prodigious professional life and also on his close and conflicted relationships with everyone from Liza Minnelli to Ann Reinking to Jessica Lange and Dustin Hoffman.

Wasson captures a man who was never satisfied with his achievements and lived an offstage life full of turmoil. He uncovers the deep wounds that encouraged Fosse’s insatiable appetites for spotlights, women, and life itself.

In her review of Fosse in The New York Times, Janet Maslin writes: “Mr. Wasson is a smart and savvy reporter, and his book abounds with colorful firsthand tales. … Whoever Fosse was and whatever his work meant, Mr. Wasson’s book is required reading for anyone eager to understand his brand of — to use a term that appears here constantly, and can’t be outdone — razzle-dazzle. And to see through his darkness.”

Wasson is also the author of The New York Times best seller Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman and two books published by Wesleyan University Press, A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies of Blake Edwards and Paul on Mazursky.

Dance Department Moving to Cross Street in January

The former AME Zion Church on Cross Street is being remodeled this summer. Next January, it will house the Dance Department.

The former AME Zion Church on Cross Street is being remodeled this summer. The Dance Department will occupy the space in January 2014.

In January 2014, the Dance Department will move from its space in the Center for the Arts to a new studio and office space on Cross Street. This will allow Dance Department faculty and students to be closer to the Bessie Schönberg dance studio on Pine Street.

Construction at 160 Cross Street commenced July 9 with asbestos abatement and demolition of the interior finishes and walls. Interior framing begins Aug. 5. According to Alan Rubacha, director of Physical Plant, construction will be completed this fall.

Dance Department faculty and students are currently using two studios and other shared spaces. Some dance faculty are sharing offices due to the lack of space.

The new venue will house offices for all dance faculty. It will also create an opportunity for more dance performances since the studio will be equipped for lighting instruments, making it a suitable production space. With this multipurpose new space, the dance department will be more able to accommodate present and future student enrollment in dance classes, teaching and research of new dance technologies, and performances of student work, faculty directed concerts, and visiting artists and scholars.

The building, which neighbors Neon Deli and the Freeman Athletic Center, was constructed in 1978 by the AME Zion Church. The congregation has since moved to a new location on West Street. Wesleyan’s Cross Street Archeology Laboratory occupied the building’s basement for several years. On July 8, the lab relocated to a space inside the Physical Plant building on Long Lane.

The Theater Department will occupy the former CFA Dance Department space.

Jenkins Speaks about Indonesian Island, Oral History Research in Jakarta Post

Ron Jenkins

Ron Jenkins

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.

 

Kalb ’81 Receives 2 Awards for Book on Marathon Theater Works

Jonathan Kalb ’81

Jonathan Kalb ’81 is the recipient of two national awards for his recent book, Great Lengths: Seven Works of Marathon Theater, published by The University of Michigan Press. Kalb, professor of theater at Hunter College and doctoral faculty member at The City University of New York, won the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism and the Theatre Library Association’s George Freedley Memorial Award.

Great Lengths takes a close look at large-scale theater productions, often running more than five hours in length, which present special challenges to the artists and audiences. Recreating the experience of seeing the works, which include Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Nicholas Nickleby, the book is aimed at general readers as well as theater specialists.

Book by Jonathan Kalb ’81

The Nathan Award is awarded annually by a jury of the English Department heads of Cornell, Princeton and Yale Universities, given for an outstanding work of criticism dealing with current or past dramatic productions. Kalb shares the 2011–12 award with Puppy: An Essay on Uncanny Life by Kenneth Gross. Kalb previously won the Nathan Award in 1990–91 for his first book, Beckett in Performance, as well as articles and reviews he published in The Village Voice.

The Freedley Award was established in 1968 to honor a book of exceptional scholarship that examines some aspect of live theatre or performance.

Jenkins’ Op-Ed Published in Jakarta Post

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.

Jenkins’ Dante Project Featured in Harvard Magazine

Ron Jenkins, center, rehearses with former inmates Saundra Duncan and Lynda Gardner. (Photo by Steve Miller)

Ron Jenkins, center, rehearses with former inmates Saundra Duncan and Lynda Gardner. (Photo by Steve Miller)

The Magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education featured a story this month on Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins’ Dante Project, “a program he created that attempts to use theater as a catalyst for positive change in prisons throughout the world.”

According to the article, the program, which has been facilitated in places as far flung as Italy and Indonesia, encourages incarcerated men and women to “write about points of connection between their own life stories and the experiences of the characters” in classics like Dante’s Inferno. These writings are then used to create a script that is performed inside the 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.

Jenkins, his Wesleyan students, and three women who had been incarcerated, attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Alumni of Color conference in March to perform a mash-up of Dante’s Inferno and the prisoners’ life stories, called To See the Stars.

Brand ’06 Stars in My Name Is Asher Lev at Long Wharf

Ari Brand '06 in "My Name Is Asher Lev" (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)

Ari Brand ’06 has received acclaim for playing the title role in My Name Is Asher Lev, a play produced by the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, Conn. which completed its run on May 27. The play has been adapted by Aaron Posner from the Chaim Potok novel about a troubled, successful painter whose creative work clashes with the world of his parents.

In a positive review of the production in The New York Times, Anita Gates writes: “If you are unfamiliar with the actors in the excellent new Long Wharf production of ‘My Name Is Asher Lev,’ just imagine Kevin Kline and Mary Beth Hurt as the parents and a very young Richard Thomas as their son. The cast sometimes evokes those colleagues of theirs. But do remember Ari Brand who plays the title role, a boy in 1950s Brooklyn who horrifies his Hasidic Jewish parents and community by becoming an artist. And the kind of artist he becomes. … Mr. Brand … burst onto the New York stage scene last year as the unguarded groom-to-be in A. R. Gurney’s ‘Black Tie.’ And in between, he played the title character’s teenage love interest in the Westport Country Playhouse’s production of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’

“Now, the Manhattan-born Mr. Brand appears on the Long Wharf main stage in a haunting performance as a child who grows into a man, suffering the torture of a talent that offends the world into which he was born.”

E. Kyle Minor in the New Haven Register also likes Brand’s performance: “Brand, a talented performer with intense eyes, never falters in communicating Asher’s passion, confusion and duty to his parents, whether the moment calls for him to portray a naive 6-year-old boy lost in his artwork or as a young man unable to reveal the nature of his climactic art show to his parents who simply won’t understand it.”

Hudes Receives 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Quiara Alegria Hudes, visiting writer in theater. (Photo by Joseph Moran)

A play written by Quiara Alegria Hudes, visiting writer in theater, has won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

The play, Water by the Spoonful, is about the search for meaning by a returning Iraq War veteran working in a sandwich shop in his hometown of Philadelphia. The soldier struggles to put aside the demons that haunt him while his mother, a recovering addict, battles her own demons. The drama premiered at the Hartford State Company in 2011.

Hudes, 34, wrote the book for the Broadway musical In the Heights, which was created by and stars Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, is directed by Tommy Kail ’99, and arranged and orchestrated by Bill Sherman ’02. In 2008, In the Heights received the Tony Award for Best Musical, a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist.

Hudes’ play Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007. It opened at New York’s Culture Project and transferred to a special run at El Museo del Barrio.

Hudes is the inaugural recipient of the Roe Green Award, given by the Cleveland Playhouse to a nationally-recognized playwright. Other honors include a United States Artists Fontanals Fellowship as well as a Resolution from the City of Philadelphia. She is a resident playwright at New Dramatists in New York.

At Wesleyan, Hudes teaches an advanced intensive course in playwriting called Advanced Playwright’s Workshop. Students focus on developing an artistic voice by completing playwriting exercises, listening to feedback, and reading and providing feedback to their peers in workshop sessions.

Read the April 16 Associated Press story online here.