Tag Archive for theater

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

Jenkins Interviewed on Radio Australia Program

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, was interviewed about his prison theater project for a Radio Australia program on June 24. The broadcast was aired on their pacific network in Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia and East Timor. A transcript of the interview is below:

Theatre program with a difference in Bali, Indonesia

The Kerobokanprison has become synonymous with the trials and convictions of Australian drug traffickers Schapelle Corby, and members of the Bali 9. But now a professor of theatre from the United States is running a theater program as part of efforts to change the atmosphere of the jail.

Presenter Nasya Bahfen interviewed Jenkins, professor of theatre at Wesleyan University in Connecticut; Made Mantle Hood, honorary research fellow, University of Melbourne’s Conservatorium of Music:

JENKINS: Well I’ve always enjoyed staging theatre in venues that are outside of traditional theatres
and over the last five or six years I’ve been working in theatres in the United States in prisons.

BAHFEN: Ron Jenkins, mild mannered professor of theatre at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, USA. He regularly meets with a theatre group in one of Indonesia’s most notorious prisons, Kerobokan jail in Kuta, Bali. He gets inmates who reportedly include three members of the Bali 9 to perform pieces such as Dante’s Inferno.

JENKINS: Although I’ve been going to Bali and Indonesia

Jenkins Teaches Theater to Balinese Inmates

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, was featured in the June 9 edition of The Jakarta Post in an article titled “From Hell to Heaven at Kerobokan Prison.” In January, Jenkins started running a theater project at the Kerobokan Correctional Institution in Bali, where he taught 20 men and women inmates about acting. After six months of practice, the group performed Dante’s Divine Comedy,” a story about taking a personal journey through hell and purgatory to heaven.

“It is a story that anyone who has experienced hard times can understand,” Jenkins explains in the article. “But people in prison unfortunately have a deeper understanding of hell than most of us, and they can identify even more strongly with a character like Dante who is trying to learn something as he travels through hell, which will help him get to heaven.”

Jenkins spent part of his sabbatical in Indonesia working with I-Nyoman Catra, Ph.D. ’05 now a professor in Indonesia. View the Jakarta Post article here.

On the Stages of Bucharest, Kordonskiy is a Familiar Name

Yuriy Kordonskiy, associate professof of theater, directs “Bury Me Under the Baseboard" in Bucharest, Romania. Actress Andreea Bibiri is pictured at left.

Even when he’s in Connecticut, Associate Professor of Theater Yuriy Kordonskiy never really leaves Romania – his work is almost always on display there.

During a fall sabbatical from Wesleyan, Kordonskiy returned to Bucharest to find that “Uncle Vanya” – the Anton Chekhov classic he directed there in 2001 – was not only in performance, but still had its original cast.

“They didn’t replace a single actor,” he says, 10 years later. “And the shows are still sold-out.”

Today, no fewer than five Kordonskiy productions are in rotating performance at the Bulandra, Bucharest’s top repertory theater, including his latest, “Bury Me Under the Baseboard.” It opened in January with one of Romania’s best-known actresses, Mariana Mihut, in the lead role.

Kordonskiy adapted “Bury Me” from a best-selling contemporary Russian

Jenkins Brings “Inferno” Behind Prison Walls in NYT Article

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, created a program in which inmates study and perform parts of Dante’s "Inferno." (Photo by Andrew Sullivan for the New York Times)

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, was featured in the Dec. 24 edition of the New York Times for his efforts teaching incarcerated men Dante’s “Inferno.”

In the Dante Project, Jenkins leads a series of workshops that, through reading, analyzing, adapting and performing, explores the connections between Dante’s 14th-century epic poem and the lives of incarcerated men and women.

Jenkins, who has taught in Wesleyan’s theater department for 11 years, introduced prison outreach into the curriculum in 2007, bringing Wesleyan students to the York Correctional Institution, a women’s prison in Niantic, to work with inmates on literary classics. In 2009 and 2010, they began concentrating on “Inferno”; this year, because of construction at York, the class took place at the men’s facility in Niantic, the J.B. Gates Correctional Institution.

“Everyone who reads [“Inferno”] can identify with it, but the inmates can identify in a more powerful way, because they’ve gone through hell more than the rest of us,” Jenkins says in the article. “In our classes, they aren’t identifying with the sinners; they identify with Dante. They’re taking Dante’s journey, learning how to get out of a difficult place into someplace better.”

Shaw Expert on Contemporary ‘Chitlin Circuit’ Theater

Rashida Shaw '99, instructor of theater, recently completed a four-year ethnographic study of black audiences attending contemporary Urban Circuit productions in Chicago.

Wesleyan alumna Rashida Shaw ’99 returned to her alma mater this fall as an instructor of theater.

Shaw, who graduated with a bachelor of arts in sociology and theater from Wesleyan, also has a master of arts in theater from Northwestern University. She will receive an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in theater and drama from Northwestern’s Theater and Drama Program in Spring 2011.

Upon completion of her dissertation, titled “Theatrical Events and African American Audiences: A Study of Contemporary ‘Chitlin Circuit’ Theatre,” Shaw will become a tenure-track assistant professor of theater at Wesleyan (view video below).

5 Questions With . . . Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins

At left, Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, focuses his new book on the acclaimed Balinese painter Nyoman Gunarsa (pictured at right).

This issue, we ask “5 Questions” to Ron Jenkins, professor of theater. Jenkins is an expert in Balinese theater, international traditions of comic performance, and directing and translating the plays of Italian Nobel Laureate Dario Fo. He was awarded a residency at the Bellagio Center by the Rockefeller Foundation next spring. He is a former Guggenheim fellow whose research in Bali over the past 30 years has been supported by fellowships from the Watson Foundation, the Asian Cultural Council of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Fulbright Fund.

Q: Professor Jenkins, you’ve been teaching theater at Wesleyan for 11 years, specializing in international theater translation and prison arts programs. You directed the student/inmate play, “Unexpected: Voices of Incarcerated Woman” last spring. How, and when, did you acquire these interests?

A: I began my professional theater career as a clown and juggler in the circus, where I enjoyed having direct contact with large and diverse audiences, but I had to spend time in other cultures to discover clown and theater traditions with a deeper sense of social responsibility. I lived for a year in a Balinese village where I apprenticed with a troupe of temple performers who combined slapstick,