Performance by Scapegoat Garden at Center for the Arts Influences Student Capstone Project

Andrew ChatfieldJuly 10, 20246min
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During its 50th anniversary season, the Center for the Arts (CFA) brought to campus visiting artists who encouraged audience interaction in their live performances. The dance company Scapegoat Garden, directed by Deborah Goffe MA ’19, was among them.

The company presented the latest iteration of Goffe’s work “Liturgy|Order|Bridge” last February in three, sold-out CFA Theater performances. “The very first seeds of the project, the first ideas I had, were really about the relationship with an audience — how one cares for an audience,” Goffe said. “Wesleyan is pretty well-practiced at holding things that are not easily categorizable.”

In October 2022, Goffe started a conversation about the project with Director of the Center for the Arts Joshua Lubin-Levy ‘06, Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts Fiona Coffey, and Campus and Community Engagement Manager Rani Arbo. The CFA nurtured the growth of the work and helped build relationships in the community. “They were just so generous and trusting,” Goffe said of the staff being open to her experimenting and giving her room to figure out her process. “That’s a big investment of energy and consideration.”

Calling on Black church traditions, Goffe’s performers invited the audience to participate in building new rituals for themselves, including practices such as moving, clapping, and singing gospel “call and response” phrases. The audience received cards with sayings to meditate on, then shared the feelings those phrases invoked on a passed microphone. “I feel really grateful that my piece actually functioned as I hope — as a container for the intersection of groups of people to find each other and to find a common moment together,” Goffe said

Alisha Simmons ’24 and Assistant Professor of the Practice in Dance and African American Studies Joya Powell were part of the “Threshold Chorus” that performed with Scapegoat Garden. “’Liturgy|Order|Bridge’ was such a delightful conjuring to be a part of and to witness,” Powell said of being inspired by Goffe’s process. “It was spectacular.”

Powell began speaking with Goffe about participating in the work in August 2023. “I have been so inspired by the work that she’s been doing,” Powell said of Goffe. “It was immediate synergy.”

Influencing the creation of new works by students

Simmons initially met Goffe during the Center for the Arts 50th Birthday Party in September 2023, when Goffe led a workshop to create human-sized paper flowers for her set. “I wanted to work with this cool Jamaican artist,” said Simmons, whose family is also Jamaican. Simmons joined rehearsals in December.

Simmons said they were fascinated by the power of movement and dance as a community ritual. “I was really drawn to this idea of being in a dance show, but not needing to be a dancer,” Simmons said. A double major in Theater and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, they presented the immersive, interactive work “imagin/ing” as their capstone in devised ensemble collaboration in The Russell House in April.

Simmons explored how experimental performance art can serve as a transformative tool on the journey towards QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) liberation. “I think performance gives people a way to become more of yourself,”  they said.

Working with Goffe on “Liturgy|Order|Bridge” showed Simmons how to create the framework for a piece that includes a lot of improvisation, but maintains a core essence that can travel and be performed and repeated by other people. Their ensemble started rehearsing “imagin/ing” in February, the same week Simmons performed with Scapegoat Garden. “It was such incredible experience,” Simmons said of working with Goffe. “It really affirmed for me the importance of making art in a loving, supportive community.”

Simmons recreated their scene from “imagin/ing” during Reunion + Commencement weekend as part of the WESeminar “Theater as Gathering: Excerpts from Senior Projects.”

Bringing artists into the classroom space

Powell’s “Dance as Activism” students attended a technical rehearsal for Scapegoat Garden’s “Liturgy|Order|Bridge,” and saw her in a public performance. Goffe also visited Powell’s class several times this semester. “Her generosity is just so profound,” Powell said of Goffe.

Powell’s course focused on joy as a mode of resistance.. “How do we get to a place of hope?”  she asked students. “How do we do that through our bodies? How do we find release to continue motivating towards a more just future?”

The majority of the student works included audience interaction, including moving, clapping, singing, deep breathing, and expressing gratitude. “The students really dug in deep,” Powell said of her class absorbing what they had observed in Goffe’s performance. “We were able to take a couple of classes to really break down the techniques and choreographic tools that Deb used,” Powell said.

Goffe’s multiple classroom visits, having the class see a performance of Scapegoat Garden, and incorporate what they learned into their own original work, exemplify the way CFA’s on-campus partnerships with visiting artists enhance student learning.