Tag Archive for theater

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.

Jenkins’ Outreach Theater Course in The Boston Globe

Ron Jenkins rehearses a play with actresses. (Photo by Steve Miller, for the Boston Globe)

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, is featured in the Feb. 24 issue of The Boston Globe for teaching a class at York Correctional Facility. Jenkins and his Wesleyan students teach the “Activism and Outreach Through Theater” course to inmates.

While behind bars at York, students take workshops with Jenkins, learning plays by Shakespeare and Dante.

According to the article, Jenkins has focused his career on theater as a catalyst for social change. That has meant working in Italy with Nobel laureate Dario Fo (whose play “Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas’’ Jenkins directed at the American Repertory Theater in 2001) and running drama workshops in New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility and Indonesia’s Kerobokan prison. About five years ago, he started working with inmates in Connecticut.

“People in prison feel like they get erased from society, like they’re forgotten, and they’re in an environment that’s very dehumanizing,’’ Jenkins says in the article. “Theater can be a great way to help humanize that environment and help people who are in the process of rehabilitating themselves and trying to transform themselves.’’

The full Boston Globe article is online here.

Borenstein ’97 Named Managing Director of Long Wharf Theatre

Joshua Borenstein '97 (Hartford Courant photo)

The Hartford Courant reports that Joshua Borenstein ’97  has been the named the Long Wharf Theatre’s managing director after a national search. He will oversee a $5 million budget and a staff of 64 full-time employees.

Borenstein held the job of interim managing director for the past six months and previously worked at the theater from 2003 to 2007 in several positions, most recently as associate managing director. For the last two years, he was project manager with the arts research firm, AMS in Fairfield.

Before joining Long Wharf, he worked at Boston’s Huntington Theatre Company through Theatre Communications Group’s’ New Generations: Mentoring the Leaders of Tomorrow program.

Borenstein has a master’s of fine arts in theater management from the Yale School of Drama and a bachelor of arts with honors in classical civilization from Wesleyan. He is married to Katherine Hsu Hagmann ’98, an attorney with Bershstein Volfe and McKeon.

Shalwitz ’74 Directs Record-Breaking D.C. Production of Clybourne Park

Howard Shalwitz '74 - Photo by Colin Hovde

Howard Shalwitz ’74, artistic director of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., recently directed an acclaimed, re-mounted production of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris at the theater this summer. The play was first staged at Woolly Mammoth in 2010. In April, Shalwitz received two Helen Hayes Awards—Outstanding Director and Outstanding Resident Play—for the production.

Norris’s two-act play, a provocative look at race, gentrification and real estate, takes place in a Chicago house, with Act 1 set in the 1950s and Act 2 in the 1990s. The work looks back to Lorraine Hansberry’s theater classic, A Raisin in the Sun.

The remount of Clybourne Park was officially the highest grossing production in Woolly’s history, playing to 105 percent audience capacity. The theater hosted 26 live discussions: six forums and 20 audience exchanges featuring 44 different speakers, including such notable guests as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Andy Shallal of Busboys and Poets, and Danny Harris of People’s District. Audience members for the show came from 32 different states, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico, Tokyo, London, and South Africa.

“The remount of Clybourne Park was satisfying on so many levels,” Shalwitz says. “The actors’ performances grew by leaps and bounds, bringing new emotional resonance to the play. The shifting political climate provided a sharp new lens through which to view the play, and even more than the first production, the remount of Clybourne Park was not just entertainment, but a platform for civic discourse.”

In a recent interview with PBS Newshour, Shalwitz says that Clybourne Park “is a play about language. It’s not just about what’s right and what’s wrong with respect to race and gentrification. It’s as much about the words we use, the games we play, especially now, to try to be politically correct about it and how those mask maybe some deeper underlying attitudes. I think that’s the genius of the play, and that’s a lot of the comedy. It’s like the audience can see the characters tripping over themselves to try to put the best face on their own personal interests.”

Now in its 32nd Season, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has been acknowledged as “the hottest theatre company in town” (The Washington Post), “known for its productions of innovative new plays” (The New York Times). Woolly Mammoth is a national leader in the development of new plays, and one of the best-known and most influential mid-sized theaters in the United States.

Kimberly Gilbert, Cody Nickell, Dawn Ursula, Jefferson A. Russell, Michael Glenn, and Mitchell Hébert in Woolly Mammoth’s production of Clybourne Park, directed by Howard Shalwitz '74