Scholars' Circle Virtual Meeting (April 2015)

TRANSCRIPT

Jamie Haft:  In terms of the agenda, I proposed three parts in email. The first would be to do a round of reflections about the blog series that we co-created. The second is to hear updates about different engagements you have planned linking your students and your community partnership with Betsy! and to use the collective wisdom of the group to troubleshoot any questions you have or things you're excited about, and just to think together about those different events.

Then, lastly, to think about our face-to-face April 19, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Betsy! Scholars Circle meeting and think about goals that we have for that.

How does that agenda sound? Good. I see thumbs-up, and we have Stephani Woodson joining us, too. Great.

We're just about to jump into item one of the agenda and, perhaps, when you speak, for those who can't see each other, if you could introduce yourself again.

The blog series was our effort to create real-time documentation and scholarship during the play creation process before the run of Betsy! launched and to have artists and scholars collaborate on that generation of content. I'd love to hear any reflections about the content, the effectiveness. Arnaldo, would you like to say anything as framing about the blog series before we do a round?

[0:01:51.3]

Arnaldo Lopez:  Thank you. Most of all, I want to – this is Arnaldo from Pregones Theater and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and the first thing that I've been thinking and mulling over is the range of content. This is multi-media. It wasn't just writing. It wasn't just reflecting about theater. It was really opening a window to the way that artists are going about their business and, in some cases, asking folks to riff and to even think what is it that scholars and students really need and do on the other side?

Because we've talking about the need for the scholar to think of the artists, and there is a priority there. But, oftentimes, artists need that reminder, and I think that the series did that rather beautifully, so I was very pleased.

I am eager to see what other ways that content can continue to be rebroadcast, what other ways responses could really proliferate. I had expressed this to my peers here, and I think that it's part of … I think Jamie has heard me think about that repeatedly.

Alex Trillo, who has not really been active in the cohort but I'm still hoping that he will be here on Sunday when we meet, he initially thought that there was great promise in asking students to go enter the world of the journal series, and then come see the play. But at any point during or before or after, generate their own output, their own reflections.

I had suggested the possibility that, if there was a series of micro-blogs, whether they are a Twitter length or whether they are longer, we are in a position where we can really rebroadcast that and also try to generate responses from the circle that participated. That's my entry. Thank you so much.

[0:04:10.3]

Lindsay Cummings:  This is Lindsay Cummings speaking for those of you who can't see me. I, too, appreciated the range. Not just the range of media, writing, images, videos, all of which was very helpful, but the range of perspectives. Different kinds of scholars, artists. I loved hearing from the actresses. That was wonderful.

And I'm interested in what you're saying about students. I'm going to be, when we read the play, which I think is next week on our syllabus, going to have my students … I don't think I'll have them read the whole blog series because we're at the point in the semester where that won't happen, but I think I'm going to ask them to … assign different pieces to different students so that they become more engaged in reporting back.

Then, after we see the show, or the small group of us who's going to see the show, I'm hoping that they can write some sort of response. Maybe I can use that response to move into what you're talking about, so I'm glad to hear that you're thinking along those lines.

[0:05:13.8]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I enjoyed the blog. I enjoyed the rhythm of the blog, the different perspectives. Lindsay, I really enjoyed your reflecting on the idea of empathy.  For me, that's every bit as interesting as an artist's perspective on playing the part, and the artist's perspective is every [laughs] bit as interesting as the empathy.

For me, a little unlike you, Arnaldo, I don't put the artist first. I put anybody who's investing in a project horizontally and, to me, scholars are right – scholars who invest – are right there with the artists. Of course, I understand the difference of people who are spending all this time actually making the piece, but my sense is that Maribel has had that relationship as a scholar to the work. She's made a multi-year investment. I really love breakind those down, and I think the project is really doing that, and I just want to affirm that.

Stephanie, I loved you writing about those under-utilized resources, the companies. And, Ben, I'm actually going to borrow your framing of the – you were quoting Dudley, the positive and negative collaboration, which I hadn't … I've heard a lot of Dudley's work, and I've spoken to him a lot over the years. I never heard him use those terms.

I like the ideas. My only problem with it is there is a pejorative connotation to the word "negative," and there, obviously … I've been very influenced by Boal and, as much as I appreciate the approach of affirming all the positive assets of a group, I don't think there's anything wrong with affirming where we're struggling together, although we struggle around different issues. So, I don't really like the notion of positive – I like the idea, but I don't like the language of positive and negative. But I do like the idea, and I think that's a very interesting thing for students to hear before they'd see the piece.

[0:07:14.9]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  Because I joined the Scholars Cohort kind of late, my syllabus was already done, so I'm not assigning any blog. I'm not assigning the reading of the play. They all have to see the play, and $15 tickets make that possible, so thank you. I've got 50 SU students who I'm not closely aligned with, but they're all going to see the show, and it was exciting to me that this conservatory group that they were doing a show and they could see it.  Then, if they want follow-up, I'll send them to the blog.

So, to me, the online component – the last thing I'll say – is it continues the problem that I see with digital documentation and communication, which is there's so much of it and, yet, this conversation I signed up for right away because I'd get to at least see you guys' little photos. I'd get to hear your voices. that feeds me. It's a conversation. I don't get that digitally. I get information; that's good.

But I think there continues to be a real problem in … I don't think people always recognize the limits of the digital. It's great what it does, but it doesn't replace [laughs] things like this, so I love when there are combinations of things like this. Let me put it that way. Thanks.

[0:08:32.2]

Ben Fink:  I can respond a little bit, if that's all right. Before I do – and I appreciate the provocation, as always, Jan, and I have some thoughts on it that I hope will be useful and not just defensive and argumentative.

But I also learned a ton. I read the script, and then I read all the blog entries, and I just realized obviously this is a show that is about so much more than the words on the paper, and I'm really excited to see it. But just I know for me, the amount the blog entry brought out in the script, it wasn't obvious to me when I was looking at it. It just made my experience of it a whole lot more full, so, yeah, I imagine for people – I think this is what you said, Lindsay – assigning the script before seeing the show, having the blog entries to contextualize is so useful.

And the range of perspectives is really interesting, and the other sources is interesting, both scholarly sources and the sources on the history of the production. It gives you a world around it.

I will, just briefly about negative solidarity because, frankly, there is a little bit of a negative connotation or pejorative connotation, but it's what I meant by it – and I also spend a lot of time with Boal, both literally and metaphorically – it's not an either/or; it's a both/and.

What I was arguing is that in a lot of activist cultures, including a lot of theater of the oppressed workshops, frankly, there is this emphasis on the shared oppression, as if that's the more real thing and the more true thing. What I see in stuff like in the process that created Betsy!, which echoes, like I was saying, people like Angela Davis talking about producing a community is that you can't ... obviously, discussing the shared oppression is important and necessary, but you can't build a culture just on that.

[0:10:50.2]

Ben Fink:  We can have a logn debate about this – probably not now. I think it's a big failure of certain organizing models, especially around the third-world organizing that, frankly, keeps turnout low and power build minimal. But it's so much about fighting "the man" and not about building a culture at the same time.

Terry Boyd talks about to what extent is the operative question "how can we fight oppression?" and to what extent is the operative question "how can we build a Democratic society?" and those aren't mutually exclusive, but they are different frames, and it's useful to think about it.

[0:11:29.4]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  Just to throw in for a second. I may have expressed myself badly. I agree, Ben, and I really like your piece. It's only the word "negative" that I didn't like. I agree with the concepts, and I totally agree with you that there's a place for both, and it's important to re-think what the balance is.

Ben Fink:  Maybe a better term – and I think "negative" was my term, not Dudley's. I don't want to lay that at his feet. Maybe it's about assets versus deficit. We can talk about it that way. "Deficit" also has a negative connotation.

[0:12:04.6]

Stephani Woodson:  I want to thank you, Jan, for the feedback that you offered. You were extremely generous with everybody who asked for feedback, and I know that the time to do that was … your time is precious, and the amount of time you had to respond was not large. So, I appreciate your willingness to jump in and provide constructive criticism. That is, feedback equals love, so I acknowledge that.

In the future, thinking about platforms, I found the 1,000 words to be quite limiting and, in the final edit, some of what I felt were primary ideas had to be edited away. That was, to some degree, frustrating, albeit an interesting exercising in public scholarship.

Lindsay Cummings:  Yeah, I want to pick up on that – this is Lindsay speaking – to agree, but also to offer the double-edged sword response, which is, as we think about how these might move or circulate in other ways, my students love bite-sized information. It's certainly not what I always want to give them, but there is a benefit to saying, "I'm going to send you to this place and you can get something provocative to think about really, really quickly."

I don't know if I'm going to be able to successfully convert a culture around them using HowlAround or on this blog for the play, but, as we think about how to use scholarship around theater more broadly and how students today like to get and access information when it's sort of like something that appears in one of their many social media feeds and they click on it and they get an idea and they forward it, there is something about that really, really short format that may be useful and powerful. I have mixed feelings, but I'll just put that out that.

[0:14:09.4]

Ben Fink:  Yeah, I want to echo that, Lindsay, and I also felt frustrated with the length. But, for me, I was glad of it. I think maybe it would be a thing to think about having different pieces of different lengths. Obviously, the introductory post was much longer and some of what I had to say, honestly, I don't think I need any more than 1,000 words. But I think what other people had to say maybe you did.

I'm very interested to echo Arnaldo in thinking about how these can be distributed in and shared in more forms. I'm also curious, with my fragile ego, I see no comments on mine, and I was like, "No one read it.  No one cares," which is, of course, I see no comments on pretty much anyone's, and I don't believe that no one read these things.

But I'm just curious what kind of other opportunities there are for getting feedback, other than this circle right now, which I think is great, given that the comments on the blog seemed like they're not the forum that people are using.

[0:15:17.7]

Jamie Haft:  This is Jamie. I'll jump in, and then I want to make room for Inmaculada by phone. But I was pleased to try this experiment on HowlAround because I think it represents a platform that is broader than specific platforms around community-based arts or any one organization's platform. They're really about performance broadly.

But I would like to, thinking like Ben and a community organizer and to put that hat on and to say if our goal is to change the conversation around American theater, what are the most important platforms that we need to insert this into, and who are the most important power players that are setting the conversation? And to pick a few targets.

For example, we've talked about the impact it would have to have an excerpt of Maribel's piece in American Theater as a kind of mainstream publication. Inmaculada, do you want to jump in here since you can't see us all smiling at you and encouraging you?

[0:16:23.1]

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:   I thought Arnaldo was about to say something, so I muted my phone again. Sorry.

Just to give a little bit of an overview of what we've doing, and we have not yet utilized the blog in my classroom. I have read the script and the blog entries; the students have read the script and a chapter of [name of author]'s book on Pregones. They're also working on writing their own one-act plays, which is a creative activity that I came up with in the middle of the semester, and they're inspired by the play and the analysis that they're doing on Betsy! and other plays.

We will be visiting Pregones Theater next week where they will be able to share their thoughts and their questions with the creators of the play. So, I think that's substituting a little bit the – not necessarily substituting – but we're focusing on that and preparing that conversation, the face-to-face conversations, because we're so lucky to be so close to the theater and the rehearsal space that …

Now, we haven't really utilized the blog so much as another form of conversation. The blog entries will be available and they will be materials that my students will be using as they write their final comparative papers, but they haven't utilized them yet. That's why I was listening to how everybody's thoughts on the blog entries are.

I think I agree that they're an incredibly rich and diverse and I'm very happy to read the combination of critical brief essays and the reflections of the actors and creators, so thank you everybody who has posted. We will be certainly using this material as the student do more critical thinking on the play as the semester moves on.

[0:18:56.7]

Arnaldo Lopez:  I want to jump in. Everything that I'm hearing is going right to the heart of what I think makes this such a worthwhile undertaking. It seems to me that the multi-voiced element – and, Lindsay, I very … it wasn't just the genre, it wasn't just the media. It's really about the perspectives and the identities if we look at it from the language of the framing of the journal series that are looking at this work, looking at the different things that connect into the work.

Also each of you and your students and the artists and the students as a representative also of a kind of audience, I think all of those positions also speak in ways that are not always interlaced or not always necessarily in contact, so this work is an opportunity to make those circles overlap. That's where it becomes so interesting that the disciplines and the way of thinking are – not at odds, but are not familiar to each other. So, what happens is a little bit of a rub and a lot of recognition.

Jan, I wanted to point out the case of both Caridad and Elise when Jamie had the overture. "We want you to contribute to our blog because we know that you write," and they were like, "Oh, sure. Let me take a look."

Then they were on their phone, and they come up to me, and they're like, "This blog, this HowlAround thing, they want us to write for those things?" and there was a sense of misrecognition, like, "I don't belong there. This is not what I do, but I'm so excited," and I jumped into it because that's the idea: Make room for that. See how that adds something.

I was excited that it was an education for them, too. It’s a little bit like, "Wow, I can't believe people sit and write these essays about the work that my peers do or that I do."

[0:21:14.4]

Arnaldo Lopez:  I think that speaks also very much to the issue of volume or length as much as context. So, being able to excerpt, that's the one strategy that we have used. From Roadside's team and Pregones' team, we've been lifting pull quotes and trying to share those and trying to add a modest provocation of some sort. Certainly that's an experiment that's open and unfinished. I hope, again, to push it further, but nothing, nothing, is better than seeing real faces and hearing real voices. It's really about building those human connections.

Jamie Haft:  As we transition to the next topic, I'll say the icing on the cake for me is that Pregones had the great wisdom to really feature the blog series in the program, so I love that each of the audience members will see info about all the articles and see excerpts from the series.

We thought that the next part of the agenda could be an open forum to hear from all of you. Many of you have already mentioned some of the things you're doing with your students and the field trips you're planning, and not just students but whole communities you're bringing. To hear from you more about those events and engagements, and if you have any questions or if there are any issues you're working through or anything that we can use our group to think about. The floor is yours.

[0:22:57.8]

Ben Fink:  We got 76 people coming to Betsy! from South Jersey on Sunday, which is really, really exciting, and I think, as I said in the HowlArouND blog, I don't even know how they're going to respond. But I think for many of them, it will be their first time in New York, especially the kids. We'll be driving through Times Square and past The Book of Mormon to get there.  It's fascinating geography. We'll spend a little time in Central Park and the Met beforehand, so it's also a little bit about New York.

I think the only question I have, and I think I'm still trying to figure out, is opportunities to really process afterwards and tell stories, etc. because the way this program is set up, and this is basically been handed to us from the foundation, it's very event-based. We do a thing, we do a thing, we do a thing, and we do a thing.

It's not like there's a lot of time built in to do the kind of process and the kind of reflections and the kind of storytelling that I would love to be able to do, nor or all the people in this program people who really have had a lot of experience doing that kind of work. It's a process to teach that also.

My only real operative thought right now would be developing some kind of list of questions and process that could be done on the different buses on the way home. Because we have this two and a half hour bus ride after the show, and they'll have just seen it and met the artists afterwards. So, some kind of guided reflection. But I'll only be on one of three buses, so it would be something that maybe a leader in the group could lead, which is kind of what I'm thinking right now. But if other people have got thoughts and ideas and suggestions for that either to share with me now or share with me offline, I'd be really grateful for that.

[0:25:11.9]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I love that. I know there's a whole tradition with Roadside – and, Arnaldo, you'll have to tell me if that's true with Pregones, as well – of doing story circles after shows before audiences  leave. Making circles and, in their case, the different actors sitting amidst the different circles and letting people just tell a story evoked by the play.

One of the many things I loved about that was we all get stories evoked when we see things and experience things, and you don't have to feel like, "How can I respond to theater? What do I know about theater?"

You don't have to know anything about theater. You just have to be able to catch a story. [laughs] I feel it's very accessible to ask that, and the bus ride is fantastic. I hadn't even thought of that fact. I knew you were bringing this busload, which is so cool, but I hadn't even thought of that opportunity for processing.

I know that Roadside used to use those stories as a kind of research for place and development, and I can't help but think it could be a kind of research for you, too, in terms of what are some of the modes that invite processing. That's just a little thought.

[0:26:23.0]

Stephani Woodson:  There is a tradition in theater with young people to do what's called performance guides or for the car ride home kinds of handouts that have question prompts for people to contemplate as they are leaving and have a discussion in the car ride or in the bus ride away from the theater space, and that might be a useful way of framing it.  You could use quotes or pull outs from the blog series to frame those ideas.

Then, given that a bus is long and thin, you might want to think about "think, pair, share" as a strategy for how you engage people, since you can't be in a circle, obviously, in a bus.

Jamie Haft:  Since Jan called it research, I'm wondering if there's enough smartphones and audio recorders that the storis on the busses could be recorded and then –

Ben Fink:  I was just thinking that.

Jamie Haft:  … form some collective body of new material that then you can job peoples' memory back again the next time they come together face to face and start building on those stories.

Ben Fink:  That's a good idea. I think also is there a structure set for the meeting, the actors' talk back, whatever, is going to look like after the show? I'm just thinking about maybe it is possible, as Jan was saying, to get into small circles and just share a story or two, and then have some kind of larger sharing.

[0:28:11.7]

Arnaldo Lopez:  Certainly one component that I'm hoping that the students will have a chance to enjoy is the photograph exhibit. These images have been generated in reflection of the general themes of the play, not necessarily about the play, and I think especially, whether it's a pre-performance or a post-performance tour of the gallery space, it could really lend itself to … it could really add to the palate there for the folks writing home afterwards.

Of course, they have a full day already, so …

Ben Fink:  I think it's a great idea, though.

Arnaldo Lopez:  Then I wanted to mention that, at Pregones, we occasionally use a story circle format, but, more frequently, we do dialogues and activities around image theater. One of our artistic directors, Jorge, is refashioning some of his tools, some of his handouts, into something to be included in a study learning guide that Jamie can tell you more about, but that will certainly be ready this week.

Ben Fink:  Great, thank you.

[0:29:29.7]

Lindsay Cummings:  This is a question for the group, I guess. I feel like in my class already, my students have gotten really comfortable with sharing personal stories and those moments in plays that connect to them. "That's so familiar. That's just like a family member," that sort of thing.

With this play, I'm interested actually in pushing them beyond that and thinking about the things that aren't the immediately familiar, the, "I feel comfort and recognition, and that's what's exciting."

I'm interested in hearing ideas or thoughts for how to particularly prompt that part of the discussion or response, whether it's verbal or some other way.

[0:30:09.1]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  One thing you might do is ask them where were their moments of discomfort.

Stephani Woodson: I always go to structure. Yeah, that's a hard question to think about because what I'm fascinated with are – like your essay, Lindsay – those moments where there is a breakdown, the spaces in between where they rub up in rough ways with one another and how that leads to structural inequities or can be the culmination of a history of inequity.

Those spaces where … those are fascinating to me as someone who thinks about what causes change. What does change mean, particularly with performance? It seems to me that finding spaces of recognition is important on an emotional journey, but it doesn't lead to change. So, that is more interesting to follow that rabbit down the hole, but that is a big hole. [laughs]

Lindsay Cummings:  It's also particularly odd for me in this instance because I'm the only Appalachian in the group, so in terms of relating, I'm actually pm the one side, where all of my students are pretty much all on the other. I'm actually looking forward to that experience and to maybe how that informs a discussion.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I also think the whole question of audience comes up, and I don't know – I throw this back as a question to Jamie and Arnaldo – both the audience and actors, who's allowed to ask what questions? Who's got to bring up a difficult subject? When are there moments when it's got to be someone … there's a feeling it's got to be someone who's been through something who, even theatrically, opens it up to an audience. Certainly, there's been lots of debate about those questions over the last, I don't know, especially the 30 years, I'd say.

[0:32:21.2]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I know that the price of the tickets, the way Pregones and Roadside reach out to a range of people will probably make this not a typical midtown Manhattan [laughs] audience, but I think it would be interesting to know that because the context of live theater and what is possible and what isn't around uncomfortable questions bsed on who's on stage and who's in the audience, I think this is going to be – certainly in terms of who's on stage, but quite possibility in terms of who's in the audience – this might be an occasion for that conversation, too.

That's partly a question to Jamie and Arnaldo in terms of –

Arnaldo Lopez:  Fair enough. I think that, for the most part, our artists, the ensemble, is pretty much open to any question. It doesn't have to come from a place where you earn asking the questions. Questions usually come, in one way or another, from the heart or from the head, and both places are genuine.

There is, I have observed, a kind of process about how to respond to a question. So, there is a general desire to often bring the question back to the audience member to an awareness of the position from which the question is asked that tends to be, I would say, 80% of the time very satisfying to the audience member and satisfying in the sense that it leaves it open and invites more thinking.

And there are instance where there is a rejection of that. Then it's about making sure that the dialogue … allowing other people to come in and out of the conversation.

[0:34:13.8]

Arnaldo Lopez:  But I think that that dynamic can be reproduced in any number of settings, including, as I was thinking, the opportunity with the photos. We can talk more about the logistics of what that would look like in Ben's case because of the number of students present. But we will have an opportunity to interact and dialogue a little bit with members of the cast after the performance.

Jamie Haft:  Yeah, what this raises for me is I'm thinking specifically one of the learning engagements we've planend is this day-long institute for teams [V1] from Imagining America member schools and their extension program.

We've got a big group from Cornell, University of Wisconsin, Oregon State and Ohio State. They're less familiar with, unlike Lindsay's students, with the experience of taking their own stories and making theater, so that is a big part of the agenda. But we also have put in some time, I'm thinking it would be great to structure it around these tensions and controversial questions that the play brings up.

For example, authenticity. What does it mean that we have a Puerto Rican actress playing an Appalachian ancestor and other questions. To be able to surface those, I think, will be really rich as we just go toward embracing the tension.

[0:35:55.8]

Ben Fink:  A few logistical questions. One a little bigger than the other.  First, I was curious about the photo exhibit: Where it is, why it's open. Hopefully, we're going to get to the theater by 2:30, so if it's possible to go see it before, great.

If not, otherwise, the bigger question, Jamie, is for those of us like me who will be at the institute this weekend on Saturday but don't have specific students there, I'm always happy to just be there, observe, take in whatever. But do you see any other roles for us or ways that we can contribute in particular matters?

Jamie Haft:  Thanks. I think the easy question is – and Arnaldo can correct me if I'm wrong – but just before the house of the theater opens, select groups can go up the stairs. PRPP is an amazing renovated firehouse, so you get to go up the staircase and see the exhibit.

We were also thinking, since we're going to invite … for groups like Ben's group, as well as Jan's group, who they know that they can stay in the house and there's going to be some engagement with the artists after the show, we thought we could encourage them to go up the stairs and see the exhibit.

The only thing that we're just managing is the capacity of 60 allowed upstairs in a house of 200.

Ben Fink:  We'll go in shifts.

[0:37.30.4]

Jamie Haft:  Exactly. Then, I think, certainly in alignment with Roadside's methodology that there are no observers and all participants in a story circle, everyone who's with us in that day-long experience will be part of a group that's either going through story circles or going through Pregones' approach to image theater and making theater. But it will great to have you helping us really have a bird's eye view, as well, and to pull out the tensions and the principles that we're dealing with and hopefully to help the teams have some kind of action.

Because a goal for this engagement, as I imagine for your other engagements, is to really leave teens with some tangibles that they can then take forward into their practice, whether they're students looking to make this work or faculty looking to integrate it into their courses.

Are there any last comments on engagements before we move onto the last top of our face to face on Sunday, April 19?

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  Actually, I do have a question. These SU students are coming on Thursday, so does that mean if they come early they can see the photo exhibit? And, do they know that? Did the person from SU who arranged the tickets, was that discussed, or was that something I should let people know? Because they're not actually my students.

[0:39:13.1]

Jamie Haft:  Yes, am I right, Arnaldo, that they are able prior to the performance to visit?

Arnaldo Lopez:  Yes. It's just a matter of taking the stairs and making sure they're back on time for curtain. There will probably be a house monitor of some sort. It's pretty easy-going. I don't know that there was a reminder issued with the tickets confirmation, so that may be worthwhile to circulate.

Jamie Haft:  Inmaculada, I just want to make a space for you since you can't see us smiling.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  [laughs] Yes, hi. I just wanted to add that I know that I jumped into the activities I will be doing a little bit earlier in the conversation, but I wanted to add that my students are absolutely fascinated by the fact that these people are down the road who devoted their lives to theater and that they're in their neighborhood.

They are really excited about meeting them, and they have questions that are really geared toward the biographical. They really want to know how they got there, what inspired Betsy! and what inspired them to be theater creators, including the collective creation that they've engaged in throughout the years. Really, we've dicussed that process of collective creation, and they are kind of replicating it through the experience of writing a brief, one-act play together in small groups.

From there, they will have the option of writing alternative plays to Betsy!, since we're ultimately looking at the structure of the play and how the meaning would change. They will be able to explore how the meaning will change if they change a part of it, such as the ending.

And then they are also reflecting on the relevance of the issues raised by the play to contemporary audiences, and the audience, my students, will be … most of them are south Bronx neighbors or the larger Bronx neighbors, and just to reflect on their own response and the relevance of the issues to them. And also they will be thinking about what the relevance might be to the communities that they know.

I believe this is really valuable material to share with the creators, to share with the cohort, and I'm really open. I'm wondering what the best way to do this would be. I'm really open to any suggestions you might have as to how we can share some of that information.

[0:42:18.3]

Jamie Haft:  Maybe we'll come back to that specific question, but I think I can second what Arnaldo said earlier, which is that we have, through our websites … we think of our websites as workshops, not necessarily as a showcase of polished material. I think we're prepared to make room for any and all kinds of responses, whether it's publishing written one-acts or critical reflections, and we're also keeping the virtual exhibit of the photo series open, as well.

So, we're encouraging all audience members and students to also send photography and their digital media stories to build out our online community. So, it will be fun to see through April what we've created, and I think our intention is to continue these Scholars Circle conversations through April and May and to have a proper post-play reflection.

With that, to transition to our last topic and our last 10 minutes, we really put this April 19 conversation as just one marker on a milestone of longer conversations, so I know some of you from out of town aren't going to be able to make it there in person, but there will be some of you on this call who will be there. Then, we'll also be joined by Bob Leonard and two factuly and six students that he's bringing from Virginia Tech, and there are some out-of-town guests that are coming for Jan's event on Saturday that we're hoping to continue engage, like Liz Lurman.

Then, there are other interesting collaborators that we might engage, as well. For example, the program officer at the Joy of Giving Something Foundation, who's sponsoring our photo contest will be there. And I was thinking someone from the USDAC in New York City would be great to involve, and someone from NAYLAC.

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts about goals and questions that we can take up in this small gathering Sunday, April 19, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the PRPP space above the theater.

[0:44:52.3]

Arnaldo Lopez:  There's one thing that I have in mind that is a recurring interest, and it is to highlight both the kind of work that we're doing here as a group in the cohort, as well as the kind of work that we're putting up on stage in the Roadside-Pregones collaboration. These are really longitudinal investments. None of this can happen in a real short turn.

As it is, this has been exciting, pretty active, and Jamie will give you the back story and I'll give you the back story, and our friends here will give you their back stories. And, at the end of the day, we could have done a lot more. We could have started earlier and, as she said, we want to keep going just to do justice to the material.

But there's something also about intent, and I think there's also something there about change, to go back to Stephanie's remark. I think that these kinds of investments are relationship-building, and they carry all of the dynamics that relationships carry. And there's something about a learning that sort of sinks over time.

Thank you.

[0:46:26.4]

Ben Fink:  I guess I'll pretty much echo what you said, Arnaldo. What I'm most interested in is basically using it as an evaluation. What have we done and then, even more importantly, what can we do next? What is the next step of this? What does this look like now that the show has closed, or is soon to be closed? And what do we all want out of it?

The other thing that I'm just really interested in is strenghting relationships. Like most of you, with the exception of Jamie and Jan, I know entirely as digital images and would love for there to be some time either during the meeting or before or afterwards just to be able to get fuller understandings of who we are and what our work is, again toward the aim of what are the potentials for collaboration, both as a big group and as smaller groups of people within this network.

I think the point is to further not only this project, but also the wider project of publically-engaged scholarship and intellectually-engaged theater making. At least the various groups of people engaged in the same project, what could this look like in terms of other projects coming up?

[0:47:52.1]

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I would love if it were a utopian gathering. I sat here thinking about  Alternate Roots' 40th anniversary is coming up in a year and a few months, and I was just thinking about Dudley is one of the founders of Alternate Roots.

Alternate Roots, alternatives, that they were these if you don't like what's happening in the mainstream, one of the many strategies – or, at least one of the strategies [laughs] – is you create an alternate. You create and alternate universe and, in fact, this is one of the things that this kind of theater and Boal's theater also have in common.

Boal did a beautiful thing with parallel government when Lula lost the first time he ran for president when Boal worked for him. So just saying, "We can't make it be everywhere, but let's make it be here."

What do we really want it to be? Of course, that's very much the spirit of USDAC. I love the idea of some of the USDAC folks being involved.

I was thinking of it earlier in the conversation when, I think, Jamie, you said that one of the goals of maybe the blog series was to change the conversation around American theater, and I wrote a little note to myself that, for me, one of the goals is to change culture, which is one of the lessons of Imagining America for me. How do you do that?

Because, to me, it's as much as about changing culture of higher ed as it is about changing culture of American theater. I want to be in a higher ed that artists are more integrated in. I would like us to be able to really articulate in our fantasy what would we like a scholar's cohort with Pregones and Roadside to be, and to what extent we got there this first time around, and how far could we go?

[0:49:40.7]

Lindsay Cummings:  I don't know. Maybe this is a response to that. This is Lindsay.  The thing that what Arnaldo said at the very beginning about those sort of longitudinal investment is really powerful to me because I think one of the things that we're constantly confronting, both in terms of scholarship and in terms of teaching theater, for those of who are in theater organizations, is the focus on production and how writing about process and long-term investments and creating those opportunities actually for that kind of work for under-graduate students is really, really hard.

As a discipline, we focus on product very much, so I'd be interested in more conversation about how we adjust the scholarly discussion to invest in a different way in these long-term collaborative relationships and what it means to talk about that.

As I say this, I also have to share the irony that I will not be able to participate in the dialogue in part because, as a scholar, I am desperately trying this month to finish my book on empathy as a dialogue, and it has got to get out the door. [laughs] So, I can't be with you, and it's killing me because I want to build these relationships. I want to know more about everybody's work so that we can work together in the future, because that's exactly what it's all about. So, there's that.

I hope there will be some sort of record of the formal conversations. I know there's no way to record all the wonderful informal conversations.

[0:51:14.0]

Ben Fink:  Just very quickly to jump on that Lindsay, I think one thing, one of the reasons why we do focus on the product so much is because, as we've all been saying, they're documented. Being able to document process in this way may be [ambi sound: ringing] part of changing the –

Jamie Haft:  Any last closing comments?

Arnaldo Lopez:  I want to say that I'm so grateful for your company. I really am. I've had the pleasure to know Jan for some time, but not really have had the joy to have real quality time, not often enough.

And I've had the pleasure to work with Jamie for the past few months, and it's still so much more that I know will come of it.

But two things that I often do in my personal practice, or two phrases that I repeat very often is that the work that I do is about making creative practice viable. That has a lot to do with the communities with which I work, in which a lot of people literally give up their creative practice. I know all too many people of all ages, people who give up very young, people who give up in the middle and people who give up when they shouldn't have to give up.  So, there's that.

And then there is something that somehow – it may not be evident but is truly informative to that process, which is I want to prove there's intellectual live outside of the university. I love the university. It's my other home, but I want to prove there's intellectual life outside, and I want my artists, peers, friends, producers, collaborators to want that.

I think that this conversation gets me much closer to both of those things, and I appreciate it.

[0:53:09.3]

Jamie Haft:  This conversation felt like a breath of fresh air, and it's all the things I know you're doing, so thank you so much for making the time.

Xanthia Walker:  I will not be able to join ya'll, but I am coming to see the play the last weekend, so I will do a quick trip into New York and then a quick trip back to Arizona. [laughs] It's pretty far.

Lindsay Cummings:  I just wanted to second how much I've enjoyed all of the conversations that we've had thus far. It's been really wonderful.

Ben Fink:  And thank you, Jamie, for working to set this up and to Arnaldo for hosting. It's been really great. I look forward to meeting you all.

Jamie Haft:  Thank you. We'll be in touch by email. We'll see some of us April 19. It will be recorded. We'll share the recording, and we'll have another one of these virtual conversations early May.

[###     End – 0:54:22.4     ###]


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“BETSY! Scholars' Circle - April Web Conference (2015).” https://roadside.org. April 29, 2015. https://roadside.org/asset/betsy-scholars-circle-april-web-conference-2015.

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