Arts & Culture

Poet Reece ‘85 and Honduran Orphans Are Subject of James Franco Documentary

Episcopalian priest and poet Spencer Reece ’85 taught poetry to the children of Little Roses, an orphanage in Guatelmala, the "murder capital of the world."

Episcopalian priest Spencer Reece ’85 and his poetry students, the children of an orphanage in Honduras, were the subject of a documentary executive produced by actor James Franco.

The film, Voices Beyond the Wall: Twelve Love Poems from the Murder Capital of the World, documents the experiences of poet, priest, and teacher Spencer Reece ’85 in the year he spent teaching poetry at Our Little Roses, a home for abused and abandoned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

Executive produced by Hollywood actor James Franco and directed by Brad Coley, the film had its world premier at the Miami Film Festival in March. Sherri Linden, in the Hollywood Reportercalled it “eloquent,” adding that “[i]t captures an inspiring connection between Reece and his students, whether they’re discussing love and loss or exploring meter through Auden and salsa dancing. It’s the connection between language and life.”

Reese, whose debut collection, The Clerk’s Tale, (Houghton Mifflin, 2004) was chosen for the Bakeless Poetry Prize, had been ordained as an Episcopal priest in 2011, and first visited Our Little Roses as a three-month-long Spanish language immersion program to help him serve his community. He told Joan Crissos of the Washington Post (The Priest Who Healed Orphans with Poetry) that over the course of these months he was struggling to learn Spanish and did not spend much time with the girls. But the night before he returned to America, he noticed one of the girls outside his room. Speaking in a language he was just beginning to understand, she told him, “Don’t forget us.”

And he didn’t. Back in the States, he applied for a Fulbright to return to teach poetry to the girls, “using the lines of meters and verse to help them excavate the layers of emotional scars left behind after their parents abandoned them.” The Fulbright, he admitted to Crissos, might have seemed an unlikely stretch: “’The whole thing didn’t look very good on paper…. I hadn’t taught before, I wasn’t a priest that long, and I hardly spoke Spanish.’

“‘But poetry was what I knew…. It gave me a place where I could find solace, feel that I was loved.'”

With the grant—and a film crew to help tell his story—Reece returned in 2013. His curriculum included a variety of English language poets such as Shakespeare, W.H. Auden, and Langston Hughes, and he encouraged the girls to write their own poetry, which they would translate from Spanish into English. He had planned to publish these poems, and the book, Counting Time Like People Count Stars (Tia Chucha Press), will be published in time for Christmas, he notes on the Little Roses Facebook page.

 

Wildman ’96 Speaks on ‘Paper Love’ for Annual Frankel Lecture

Emil Frankel ’61 congratulates Sarah Wildman ’88, who presented the 36th annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture, which honors his parents.

Emil Frankel ’61 thanks and congratulates Sarah Wildman ’96, who presented the 36th annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture, which honors his parents.

Sarah Wildman ’96, an award-winning writer and regular contributor to the New York Times, presented the 36th Annual Samuel and Dorothy Frankel Memorial Lecture on April 5, in the Daniel Family Common at Usdan University Center. The event was sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies and organized by Dalit Katz, director of the center.

Wildman spoke on what she’d learned about the Holocaust in writing Paper Love: Searching for the Girl my Grandfather Left Behind (Riverhead Penguin, 2014).

The story began for her, she recalled, when, after her grandfather’s death, she came across a box that had been his, containing dozens of letters from a woman named Valy—or Valerie Scheftel—addressed to her grandfather. It was clear that the two, who had been medical school students together at the University of Prague before World War II, were sweethearts. When Wildman’s grandfather and family fled Europe, Valy had remained behind.

“Oh, that was your grandfather’s true love,” her grandmother told Wildman when she’d asked.

Wildman realized then that the comforting story she’d heard as a child—that their family had all escaped together—was not entirely true, and she began searching for this woman whose story remained only in a box of letters.

Wildman detailed the search with her Wesleyan audience—the libraries visited, the letters read and researched, and the visit to the International Tracing Service in the far western point of Germany. At this repository of everything the Allies had gathered when they liberated Nazi territory, Wildman found that someone else had been looking for Valy, as well. She finally meets the youngest daughter of this searcher in England, and learns much more of the context.

“As naive as it was to think my grandfather had escaped with everyone, it was also naive to think I could tell a story about a single person without trying to understand the community she was living in,” Wildman said.

When asked about Valerie’s fate, Wildman demurred. “I don’t like to talk about her fate when I talk about the book. I find that we flatten the experience of the war into the final outcome,” she said.

“What I really wanted to do with this book is actually look at the day-to-day and really dig in to what it would mean to be a woman, a professional, someone who doesn’t necessarily want to get married, who sounds completely modern, who just wants to be recognized as a doctor….

“There are a lot of letters out there that are not considered ‘interesting to history’ and I wanted to reconsider what we think is important and why. What did it mean to be a regular person, upon whom this happened? These are voices we don’t hear. Letters tell us a huge amount; they are an important source to learn about women and about daily life.”

As for whether Valerie had been her grandfather’s true love, Wildman said the question might not be the right one:

“I believe he loved my grandmother,” she said. “I came to believe that the idea of ‘true love’ in this sense was not just Valy, but also stood for the life he had lived until age 26, which literally ceased to exist after that point. His ‘true love,’ then, was really everything of his past; it was that whole world. And Valy, in some ways, represented that world.”

Horwitz ’02 Scores Peabody Nomination for Hamilton’s America

Hamilton’s America, the PBS documentary by Alex Horwitz ’02 that explores the history behind Hamilton: An American Musical, created and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15 and directed by Thomas Kail ’99, was honored as a finalist in the documentary category for the 76th annual Peabody Awards. The awards honor storytelling done well in film, television, radio, and on the internet.

The acclaimed documentary was several years in the making. Horwitz first approached Miranda and Kail with the idea in 2012—and cameras were rolling by 2013. “All I needed to hear was a demo of that first song, ‘Alexander Hamilton,’ and my interest was piqued,” said Horwitz in our exclusive interview from October 2016, when the documentary premiered on PBS. “I’m a history nerd and a musical theater nerd, so Lin was scratching a lot of itches for me. I told him that it didn’t matter to me if he was making an album or a show; I just wanted to make a movie about him dramatizing history. That was the angle from the beginning.”

Click here to read the entire interview with Alex Horwitz.

Horwitz and his crew pared down almost 100 hours of footage for the 1.5-hour documentary, using Alexander Hamilton’s life as one the film’s three threads. “Whittling down is just a matter of time and repeated viewings. But that wasn’t quite as hard as the interweaving. We had these three threads—the life of Hamilton, the creation of the show, and excerpts from the show itself—which we had to braid into one cohesive film. So it was a question of finding a lot of internal logic and segues in the footage,” said Horwitz.

The Peabody Award winners in the documentary category were announced on April 18. All of this year’s winners will be feted during an awards ceremony on May 20th that will air on June 2 on PBS.

Rosenman ’17, Feldman ’17 Receive Friends of the Wesleyan Library Undergraduate Research Prizes

Jane Alden, Rachel, Dan Cherubin, Michael Meere.

At left, Jane Alden, associate professor of music, associate professor of medieval studies; Rachel Rosenman ’17; Dan Cherubin, the Caleb T. Winchester University Librarian; and Michael Meere, assistant professor of French studies, gathered to honor Rosenman for her prize-winning essay during a ceremony in the Smith Reading Room on April 11. Meere also is chair of the Friends of the Wesleyan Library. (Photo by Leith Johnson)

Music and French studies double major Rachel Rosenman ’17 is the recipient of the inaugural Friends of the Wesleyan Library Undergraduate Research Prize. During a ceremony on April 11, Rosenman was honored for her essay titled, “‘Mais la musique demeurera toujours’: Repurposing the French Baroque.”

Rosenman’s essay describes the work she undertook in order to generate user-friendly editions of French Baroque music, adapting solo bass viol repertoire to make it playable on the treble viol, in modern notation. She includes discussion of editorial methodologies, and situates the music historically and theoretically. In addition to background information on the viol instrument family in the Baroque era, Rosenman describes the mid-20th century revival,

Saaka Premieres Duet Choreography Work at Spring Faculty Dance Concert

shake-event

Artist in Residence Iddi Saaka will perform a dance duet featuring Rachel Boggia, associate professor of dance at Bates College for the Spring Faculty Dance Concert on May 5-6.

Over two nights in May, Wesleyan Dance Department Artist in Residence Iddi Saaka will premiere Shake, a dance duet featuring Rachel Boggia, associate professor of dance at Bates College.

According to Saaka, Shake is a rambunctious and tender duet born out of a nine-year friendship between himself and Boggia. Their first choreographed work features their shared love of vibratory movement, smooth breath, and cheesy humor. Influences include Ghanaian dance forms, American postmodern dance, fake tap dance, bad jokes, and life experiences.

This unique performance combines the elements of two distinct dance styles. Saaka, who teaches West African dance and directs the West African drumming and dance concert that is held in the fall and spring semesters at Wesleyan, explained, “The audience can expect to see two people from two different dance backgrounds—Ghanaian and American postmodern— express their friendship through movement and humor.”

The performance will take place in the CFA Theater on Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. Tickets, which are $6 for Wesleyan students and youth under 18, and $8 for all others, are available at the Wesleyan Box Office.

Slobin Elected Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Mark Slobin

Mark Slobin

On April 12, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music, Emeritus, was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of 228 national and international scholars, artists and philanthropic leaders who joined the 237th class.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, convening leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to respond to the challenges facing—and opportunities available to—the nation and the world. Members contribute to Academy publications and studies in science, engineering, and technology policy; global security and international affairs; the humanities, arts, and education; and American institutions and the public good.

Slobin, who retired from Wesleyan in June 2016, is an expert on East European Jewish music and klezmer music, as well as the music of Afghanistan. Slobin’s career started at Wesleyan in July 1971. He has been president of the Society for Ethnomusicology, president of the Society for Asian Music, and editor of Asian Music. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Seeger Prize of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award, the Jewish Cultural Achievement Award (for lifetime achievement) from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and the Curt Leviant Award In Yiddish Studies from the Modern Languages Association (honorable mention). He was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Chosen Voices (1989).

Slobin joins philanthropist and singer-songwriter John Legend; award-winning actress Carol Burnett; chairman of the board of Xerox Corporation Ursula Burns; mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani; immunologist James Allison; and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the 2017 American Academy of Arts and Sciences class. Other recipients are Pulitzer Prize winners; MacArthur Fellows; Fields Medalists; Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts recipients; and Academy Award, Grammy Award, Emmy Award, and Tony Award winners.

“In a tradition reaching back to the earliest days of our nation, the honor of election to the American Academy is also a call to service,” said Academy President Jonathan F. Fanton. “Through our projects, publications, and events, the Academy provides members with opportunities to make common cause and produce the useful knowledge for which the Academy’s 1780 charter calls.”

Slobin will be inducted at a ceremony on Oct. 7 in Cambridge, Mass.

Music by Myhre ’05 To Be Broadcast on NPR’s Mountain Stage in May

Jess Myhre '05

Jess Myhre ’05

Jess Eliot Myhre ’05 is a professional touring musician with the band Bumper Jacksons. Their newest album, “I’ve Never Met a Stranger,” will be broadcast nationally on NPR’s Mountain Stage on May 5. The live performance will air on more than 200 NPR stations around the country, and the band will perform five original songs from the record.

The group originally began as a duo—Jess Myhre (clarinet, vocals, washboard) and Chris Ousley (acoustic and electric guitar, vocals, banjo)—crafting a sound inspired by the jazz clubs of New Orleans and southern Appalachian folk music festivals.

16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend to Feature a “Day of Percussion”

The 16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Weekend is on April 28-29, 2017.

The 16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend is on April 28-29.

At the end of April, Wesleyan University’s concert halls will be filled with the sound of rhythm during the 16th Annual Wesleyan Jazz Orchestra Weekend, on Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29. The weekend will kick off with the traditional performance by the Wesleyan University Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Ensembles on Friday evening. New this year, on Saturday, there will be percussion clinics hosted by the Connecticut Percussive Arts Society, followed by an evening concert by Eli Fountain’s Percussion Discussion.

Jay Hoggard, professor of music and African American studies, explained the idea behind this ambitious project. “For the first time ever, we’re combining the Wesleyan student ensembles and the Connecticut Percussive Arts Society program,” he said. “We thought that would be an interesting combination, but instead of doing it over a series of multiple weekends, as we have done in the past, it’s going to be one day with multiple performances, about 20 minutes each.”

Draper ’12, Celestin ’13, Khandros ’13 Create Film Festival on Greek Island

The Syros International Film Festival was founded in 2013 by a team of four—including Nathaniel Draper ’12, Casandra Celestin ’13, and Aaron Kahndros ’13—and will run this year for five days in July.

The Syros International Film Festival was founded in 2013 by a team of four—including Nathaniel Draper ’12, Casandra Celestin ’13 and Aaron Kahndros ’13—and will run this year for five days in July.

How does one convert a shipyard into a cinema? “With a lot of gumption and very little sleep,” reports Nathaniel Draper ’12, the technical director of the Syros International Film Festival (SIFF).

For five days in July, Draper and his colleagues Cassandra Celestin ’13, Aaron Khandros ’13 and Jacob Moe will transform the small Greek island of Syros into a multifaceted cinema space.

Projectors hauled over three hours by boat from Athens will be erected on Syros’s docks, beaches and quarries to screen a variety of films, from art house to Hollywood. Musicians and filmmakers will gather for all-night multimedia performances and, with the help of participants, will construct musical instruments and perform. These are just a few of the unconventional features of the Syros International Film Festival.

Initiated in 2013 by Celestin and Khandros, the festival began as a DIY project financed out of pocket. But it has grown rapidly. Today, their sponsors—the Onassis Foundation, the US Embassy of Athens, Institut Français and Huffington Post Greece, among others—cover much of the expenses.

This year, the festival roster will explore the comedic and psychotic implications of its thematic idiom, “Cracking Up.” As such, it will feature a mix of cinema and expanded cinema that will, according to Draper, break open “the traditional confines of the projection experience.” One of the selections is a 1926 silent film by Japanese director Teinosuke Kinugasais A Page of Madness, which depicts the lives of patients in a insane asylum through an expressionistic style.

These alternative cinematic performances inspired Draper and his team to engage with the shadow puppetry of Indonesian gamelan performance, which Draper was first introduced to through Wesleyan’s world music program. They hope to feature the experimental musician Mike Cooper, performing alongside Gods of Bali, a film that documents Gamelan music and dance. With the assistance of an expert from nearby Cyprus, volunteers and participants will also learn to perform in a Gamelan ensemble built from from items gathered on Syros.

Quite literally a product of its environment, the SIFF has also had to contend with the Greek economic crisis–ironically, the opening night of the 2015 festival coincided with Greece’s vote for austerity.

The SIFF is not Draper’s first experience curating film: As an undergrad, he helped create the “Cinema Sorcery Front,” a club that ran independent film screenings for students. A film major, he fondly remembers Associate Professor of Film Studies Steve Collins ’96, who supported his work and pushed the boundaries of his classroom education.

Audio Guide by Rowland ’11 Featured In 2017 Whitney Biennial

Cameron Rowland, Public Money, 2017. Institutional investment in Social Impact Bond. Courtesy the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York (detail). Photograph Bill Orcutt

Cameron Rowland, Public Money, 2017.

Every two years, the Whitney Museum of American Art showcases some of the most talented young artists from around the country in an exhibition filled with purpose and passion. This year, the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the 78th installment of the longest-running survey of American art, features work by Wesleyan alumnus Cameron Rowland ’11. View the project online here.

“Arriving at a time rife with racial tensions, economic inequities, and polarizing politics, the exhibition allows the artists to challenge us to consider how these realities affect our senses of self and community,” according to the Whitney. “The Biennial features 63 individuals and collectives whose work takes a wide variety of forms, from painting and installation to activism and video-game design.”

In line with this year’s theme, Rowland’s work involved having the Whitney Museum agree to invest $25,000 in a Social Impact Bond, or a “Pay for Success” contract that arranges for the government to support social-service organizations. On display is the document of their compliance. A framed printout of a wire transfer functions as the physical manifestation of his work.

Rowland also was mentioned in an article published online by W Magazine, which highlighted the other 20-something artists making great strides in the art community.

The exhibit is open now and runs through June 11.

Play by Jenkins Commemorates 350th Anniversary of Treaty of Breda

Ron Jenkins, professor of theater, is collaborating with a team of Indonesian artists on the creation of a new play: “Islands: The Treaty that changed the World.” It will include original gamelan music by Wesleyan Artist-in-Residence I.M. Harjito and original choral music by John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce.

The cast will Wesleyan students from India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and China who will be joined by Indonesian guest artists Novirela Minangsari, Dinny Aletheiani and Nyoman Catra. The play commemorates the 350th anniversary of the 1667 Treaty of Breda in which the Dutch ceded control of Manhattan to the English in exchange for the Spice Island of Rhu, now part of Indonesia’s Banda Archipelago.

The play will premiere in the Center for the Arts Theater on April 21 at 8 p.m. and continue there on Saturday April 22 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. On Sunday April 23 Jenkins and the team will perform at 4 p.m. at the Indonesian Consulate in New York on 5 E. 68th Street. They’ll also perform the play with some Wesleyan students and a cast of 40 Indonesian children at the Mandara Mahalango festival in Bali. “We use music, dance, puppetry,oral history, and documentary texts to bring the treaty and its legacy to life,” Jenkins said.

The Jakarta Post quotes Jenkins as saying “that the treaty was so valuable for history as it changed the life of the people on both Run Island and New York. It is the reason the people of Manhattan speak English, not Dutch. The show’s goal is to make the people of Manhattan learn that their history is really connected with Indonesia.”

More information on the play and its creation can be found here and from an interview Jenkins did for Indonesian Television.