BETSY! Scholars' Circle - May Web Conference (2015)

The Scholars' Circle met in May to discuss all BETSY!-related events that occured in April and plan future collaborations. 

Transcript

Jamie Haft:  Now that we've all caught our breath from the whirlwind of April activity, and it was so great to see all of you being in different parts of what was happening with Betsy! to hear a round of stories about how you moved through the April activity. I think we've just got someone joining us by phone?

Stephani Woodson: This is Stephanie, sorry. I had trouble with my zoom.

Jamie Haft:  Sorry for the trouble. Hi, Steph. So, we're on the line with – this is Jamie, obviously – and we've got Dudley, and Zhivko and Jonathan Bradshaw, Lindsay Cummings, Ben Fink and Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla from Hostos, and we are just about to jump into the first part of the agenda, which is a round of stories, brief ones, about how you experienced Betsy! last month.

Stephani Woodson: Thank you.

Jamie Haft:  So, please, jump in whoever is so moved.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  I think I shared a little bit at the meeting we had at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, but not everybody was there, so I'll say something very similar. [laughs] For my students and myself, the opportunity to be in contact with the creators and show the creative experience, to be able to discuss the process and be able to read the script and then finally see the play, it was a very full and very lively, very engaging process.

For my students, it was the highlight of the semester. Nothing can [laughs] really live up to that standard, that was really what I was looking forward to infuse into the classroom, that sort of engagement and bringing literature to life for those who are not necessarily literature students or who may have reservations about what the point of literature is. So, it's a very, very introductory course, and it's a very engaging experience for that kind of student.

I'm sure it's a very different experience for those who are theater students already to just [Unintelligible 0:02:36.1], but for my students, it was also a very eye-opening experience to see that there are people who devote their lives to theater and to writing and acting just down the street from us. That's not something that they were aware of and not something that they could imagine being in conversation with before. So, it was very, very rewarding.

Lindsay Cummings:  I guess I can jump in actually because part of what I wanted to say is response to both the benefits and the challenges of using this material with theater students. So, for those of you who don't know or maybe don't remember, I had a class in Latino theater going on this semester, and we were able to read the play, and we also read a short excerpt on community-based theater from Jan Cohen-Cruz, because most of the work that we're doing in the semester is not that kind of work, and I wanted them to have some background on it. And we looked at a lot of the videos, Jonathan, that you put up specifically of Ron and … I'm blanking on his name, but talking about the musical elements, and those were all very, very helpful.

Then, I had a small group, just two students, who were able to come with me to New York because, as it happened, being late in the semester, students had final performances and projects happening, and the timing was hard to get people down.

So, the students who saw it absolutely loved it. They were thrilled, and I think it wasn't just that the performance quality was so great, but it was also that the audience experience was really wonderful. They loved being in that different kind of theater where people were willing to sing and to participate, and I'd explained that to them, but it's totally different from experiencing it.

But, actually, that kind of connects to what makes it difficult for theater students. What's tricking about teaching this kind of work to theater students, I think, is that it doesn't look like most of the theater they've seen and experienced, so the classroom conversation tends to be very much about explaining the philosophy of community-based theater, the process of creating the work. And they loved it. They're engaged. They have tons of questions, but, because they have tons of questions and they have a really hard time imagining what the work looks like, they spend most of the class asking me to explain it, and it turned into the kind of classroom experience that I hate the most where they ask me questions, and I answer that. [laughs]

Lindsay Cummings:  So, it's either me explaining how a production that I've seen looks or how I think it might be staged or giving them examples, because their theater experience is so conventional. So, in a way, it's actually easier sometimes when I teach this kind of work to non-theater students because they have no expectations whatsoever for what theater should look like.

We had a great conversation, but it was hard for me to keep it from slipping into that realm of 'let me, as the professor, now explain community-based theater to you,' which is where all of the things like the videos helped enormously, and I see from the list of the materials that we have some full production videos that I'm excited exist and I hope we can think of some way that they remain accessible to those of us who want to teach it. I know you just don't want to put the production out there for everyone, but that's my experience.

Ben Fink:  I think my families, similar to your non-theater students, didn't go in with a lot of expectations. I think it was successful because we built that trust. These are people we've been working with all year, some even for several years, so when we said, "We're all going to get on busses, go to New York and see this weird show," they were just like, "OK."

There's not a lot of resistance. A lot of trust. It helps it's all free and foundation comes with [Unintelligible 0:07:10.1], but I think, I've said before, it was a tremendous experience for them. There were definitely a couple of the more broken families in this program that spoke a lot during the talkback, and it was probably a different experience for a whole lot of them. I've gotten a lot of great feedback on …

I think the challenges have been, first of all – and Jamie and I have talked about this – all of the challenges are in the way the program's structured, so there has not been a good way to do a story circle. But I've had informal conversations with a lot of them, and I hoping in a couple weeks there will be. It's so event based, we're making so many asks of them that it's just felt so awkward to have them do something else.

And then the other thing is they're right because of the built-in capriciousness of the foundations, they say, "Now they've gotten into local county economic development, so next year everything has to be within Salem County, so we can never do a trip like this again because that's putting money out of Salem County, which is obviously not worth doing."

Which isn't to say we couldn't ever do something like this, but it is … it's just raises a lot of questions about how to make the work sustainable. But I think as an experience of theater, especially the talk back afterwards, which I think Rosalba and I were sharing our mutual dislike of talkbacks, but this thing that we did was so unlike a talkback and so much like a collective discussion – Ron Short showed up and was hanging out on the back wall.

Ben Fink:  It was, I think as a first experience of Broadway serious theater for a lot of them – I'm just thinking, again, Lindsay, it's the opposite of your students – I think it was an experience of what theater could be and what we want theater to be, and honestly if they see more theater and they're always measuring it up against what they saw at Betsy!, I think that's fabulous. I think that is a win for theater and the world.

Lindsay Cummings:  Yeah, I just want to add that it's not that my students are opposed to it. Once they experience it, they love it. But, because of how they're being taught in so many of their other classes and because they don't have very much access to it, it's the initial presentation of the material. If I could have only brought the students to see the show, there would have been no issues. It would have been fabulous.

Trying to talk – and I face it every time I do community-based theater in a classroom – trying to talk about the work, because it's generally available to you only as maybe an outline of a script, or you have a little bit of a script, or it's really hard to tell because it's so devised what that script would look like onstage, that they just spend most of the class asking me what it looks like.

Ben Fink:  Yep. No, and I said this to Jamie and Dudley that I generally find reading scripts hard, but with a show like this, there was much more room than usual between what was on the page and what was on the stage. And I agree, Lindsay, I think it's inherent to the genre and fabulous, and one of the reasons why I think all of this documentation is so important. Because, right, you can't just give a bunch of students a script and expect them to have the experience we want them to have.

Jonathan Bradshaw:  I got to see Betsy! twice, which I was really excited about, and it was just as moving the second time as it was the first. It was an amazing show and just personally it set me thinking a lot about the potential for inter-generational forgetting how quickly that kind of thing can happen.

I also got to attend a workshop that Saturday of the weekend I went. I forget what it was called now; I had it written down somewhere. But it was about digital documentation and circulation, and then a smaller conversation. Because I'm not in theater, I was really kind of … I don't know how to say it. Surprised, I guess, because I think part of what is so interesting about what's happening around Betsy! is the documentation of your knowledge of making a play in the kind of collaborative way and community-based way that I know Roadside's work originates from and Pregones. That seems to me like a really productive knowledge that other people could use in doing their own kind of work.

Jonathan Bradshaw:  I was really surprised by, especially, the theater students that showed up, how resistant they felt to learning from someone else's process, and I didn't realize. It seemed like there was this value on the individual creativity of an individual artist, and they seemed really confused or resistant about learning from someone else's process, which has been kind of a challenge that's been rolling around in mind, because that's the kind of stuff that ya'll have been documenting and creating, and I'm trying to think about the best way you could put that out.

So, anyway, that's an interesting difference in the kind of process that ya'll are doing and I think advocating for and that maybe other people who maybe come from conventional play-making backgrounds … I don't know. I'd be interested, especially Lindsay, your students are asking, "What's it look like?" and there's all this media now [to show], "This is what it looks like."

How could that be framed in a way that would be useful. I may be jumping ahead on the agenda, though, when I should be telling a story. I don't know. But, anyway, those are just some thoughts that initially jumped in my head.

Stephani Woodson:  I don't have a story to tell. I just want to say how much I enjoyed coming out to see Betsy!. It's not something I get to do a lot of, go out in the middle of the semester in a really busy time of year and fly to New York for a weekend, but it was really lovely, and it was lovely to be there for the last weekend, and it was really nice to see everybody.

Jamie Haft:  I agree. It was great. I'll jump in with my two images, less than a story.

One is that we brought the faculty and students from University of Wisconsin, Oregon State, Ohio State and Cornell for this two-day workshop, and one of the students, a couple years younger than me and fancies himself a pretty hardcore activist, came back and really railed against the play because he thought it was too soft on the issues, and it wasn't taking on why these women were in such hard circumstances.

And I thought to myself, "Well, that would be a pretty tough play to see on Broadway if it went anymore to that kind of meta-analysis that he felt like it was missing."

I'm excited to think more about then the conversations that we had on that Sunday with the Scholar's Circle with many of you there. It was really about how do we understand change and what kind of change the play was trying to make.

Then my second image, ah ha moment, was really distinguishing how change the canon. It's not just the actual plays of American theater, but it's inserting a different kind of process and how hearing students from Virginia Tech who were part of that circle saying how hungry they were to understand a different ways of making theater.

So, that's it from me. How about over to you, Z, and Dudley?

Zhivko Illeieff:  For me, it was just a privilege to be able to record all of these talented musicians and actors and just work with you all. I realized that this is something that you don't see a lot of. The opening of the process and being able to record all the people that were involved in it was just an amazing experience for me, and I watched it four times. Each time was very impactful to me personally, and it made me think about my own ancestors coming from Bulgaria from far away, so it definitely affected me on a very personal level.

So, yeah, that's my story. I enjoyed being part of the process, and I'm really excited to think about how we can use all this footage, all these interviews. There's so much – text, audio, video, all kinds of materials – how can we use those materials to spread this magic around, spread the magic of Betsy! around.

Ben Fink:  And I'd just like to add, Zhivko, I'm really happy to see you in front of the camera today in this conversation [laughs] because it was great to meet you in New York, and so often you're behind the camera, so thanks for doing this.

Zhivko Illeieff:  Yeah, me too. I prefer to be behind the camera, but once in a while [laughs] I stand in front of it.

Dudley Cocke:  Just hearing ya'll's comments, there's a lot to just think on from these comments this morning, informative comments, I think. One of the things I'm thinking is just one of the highlights of the experience for me and, I think, Pregones, as well, was the audience. So, who's in the house who's really, really, key, and who attended Betsy! was not the typical theater audience for an off-Broadway production or regional theater production.

The audience really enriched in so many ways, whether it was … we just the other day, Ben, we were talking about the audience from Salem County. It came up as a real highlight for Rosalba because that is an audience she didn't know.  But that's true with each of the audiences you brought.

It's interesting, this term 'community-based theater' to me, and it's a term we've, of course, been wrestling with for decades, both the positive aspects of the term and the negative. But one thing that we kind of know connecting with this audience issue, if you look at the Pregones creation methodology around a kind of image theater that was the focus of the institute that Imagining America put on at Losida, that day-long institute, and if you look at Roadside's story circle, story-to-performance methodology, Rosalba was observing how well they fit together and wondering what was the common denominator.

In fact, the common denominator in one way is that both come out of a tradition of popular theater, and so it's this tradition … and we were doing a class at NYU Tisch, Jan Cohen-Cruz's class, and she said, "My students don't know anything about the history of popular theater. Could you, Rosalba, say a little bit?"

So, it was real interesting that this whole piece of theater-making in the world was unknown at NYU Tisch, and you would have found a similar popular tradition of rural – the little theater movement and so forth – that had its genesis at Cornell, and the North Dakota, UNC  Chapel Hill, so forth, that tradition is not taught.

Dudley Cocke:  So, it's this unifying idea of popular theater, theaters for the populace, then was so well reflected by who was in the audience. [laughs] It would have been a real problem if we'd have been a popular theater, but it hadn't been popular with a range of people. [laughs] So, that was a big highlight for me.

I can't remember where the agenda's going next, but I know that we are very interested in trying to shape from all of this rich collection of material and your all's contribution to this material to collectively and mutually down the way shape a curriculum based on this idea of a popular theater, perhaps, or community … I don't know how we'll frame it.

And all of this material would be the example, the demonstration, but this notion of putting together almost like a multi-media curriculum package that, then, we could beta test with a couple of people in their courses and then refine is an idea that's very compelling to us.

Jamie Haft:  That's exactly where we're going in the agenda, to think about what knowledge we created and how to repackage it, so please let's go there.

Ben Fink:  The question I'll start with terminology but then go to some of the bigger places, Dudley, is something I've thought about a lot and Sonia [last name] writes in the beginning of her book on cornerstone that 'community-based', almost the 'hyphen-based' is apology because community theater is just a bunch of white people putting on a show together, and it's not serious, and it's kind of classed in a way that suggests unserious leisure.

Then there's all the various applied theater terms, applied theater in the British sense, and there's theater for social change, theater for social justice, which always I have an issue with as a practitioner because it falls into what I call the Dr. Evil problem where Scott Evil tells his father he wants to be a vet, and he says, "An evil vet? Or a petting zoo? An evil petting zoo?"

It's like, "No, we just want to make theater."

"An evil theater?"

It's making theater for this other purpose. This is the whole thing about art for art's sake. Honestly, popular theater is not a term that was anywhere in my doctoral education, and I like it a lot because it's neither exclusionary, nor is it making an apology for yourself.

Now, the obvious counter-argument: Wasn't Wicked popular theater? How much do you kind of need a kind of mass culture versus folk culture analysis in this? Because I think the one thing, Dudley, that you didn't say but implied was it's not just theater for a lot of people; it's theater of a whole lot of people.

But I think I would be excited about building a curriculum that uses popular as a lens with its obvious links to populism as opposed to some of the more apologetic and/or Dr. Evilish trends.

Lindsay Cummings:  I would like to … I'm not so concerned about terms. I appreciate what Ben's saying and I appreciate the good conversations on this that have been offered by scholars. I tend to give them to students, and then say, "Here are the notions. Decide what you want to use."

But I do think it's important to add another term to this genealogy because I think it's how get students at least in training programs in theater today, which is devised theater, that a lot of the popular theater traditions that you're talking about are being reinvented today under the guise of devised or physical theater, so this is how I create that bridge for my students.

But I still would be really happy to have more teaching materials looking at examples of different popular theater traditions, because I can usually say something like Vaudeville, or a Pirot show, or maybe they'll know that, but I can't talk about the carpas, the traveling tent shows, and have them know anything about that.

So, I think, in general as theater scholars, we need better resources for people who aren't specialists in one tiny, little window of this culturally so that we can bring all of these traditions into the classroom to talk intelligently about plays like Betsy! that are contemporary and devised and inter-cultural and drawing out of various popular traditions.

I inevitably end up simplifying this to degrees that are, to me, too much just to kind of get the material into the syllabus. You're giving great ideas for designing a whole new class that I probably don't have time to teach but yay for more materials to help me do it.

Stephani Woodson: I want add – this is Stephanie – I want to add a caveat about context really matters because community-based, devised theater and community cultural development is a hallmark of what we do at ASU, and so the context of how … the questions ya'll are talking about your students asking, mine don't ask because this is something we study and it is deeply embedded, socially-engaged practice, is deeply embedded in the Herbeger Institute.

But as far as how these materials become useful across institutional context and can also address some of the larger questions, I was pondering, Jamie, when you sent your email out that it seems a useful idea would be to take some of these tensions we talked about – the story of the student who said, "I don't want to read about it before I go to see it because that'll ruin it," and the kind of mythos of artistry as divine lightning bolts from the heaven that are de-contextualized and universal – those kind of what I would consider to be just naïve, young artists, so a case study sort of issue or around questions.

So, what happens when you tell a story through multi-cultural music in the way that ya'll did? What happens when you don't solve the problem at the end of the play? There could be a question around history and material built up around the history. I think the resource of having all the iterations of the play available is immense. That is an immense resource for playwrights, for dramaturges, for new play dramaturges. So, kind of case studies built around questions.

Even the question about canon: What plays do we study and why would be super interesting. My two cents.

Jamie Haft:  We're all thinking on the lines, Steph. You can see the wheels turning.

Arnaldo Lopez:  Jamie, can you repeat the question once again just so we know it?

Jamie Haft:  I think we're trying to surface different topics. I like how Steph said "tensions." Also thinking about different audiences and goals and trying to get to a place toward the end of the call where we might really think tangibly about what material we all want to work on further developing and what annual conferences and publications we want to insert ourselves into.

Since I went that far, I'll also just say, for me, the wheels have been turning wearing my Imagining America hat in just thinking about how many students said, "It wasn't enough just to come and see the performance of Betsy!, but I really needed some engagement with the artists to understand the history of popular theater and what it means to have a 21-year artistic collaboration and how to create a performance like this."

So, I'm fantasizing about some kind of tour that could happen with Roadside and Pregones going to colleges and, perhaps, performing a concert version of Betsy! and doing some kind of workshop around this curriculum that we're developing, so that's my next fantasy.

Ben Fink:  Jamie, you said there was some traction on that, on bringing this traveling show together? I'm sorry for my video going in and out?

Dudley Cocke:  Yeah, it's something we're definitely thinking about. But, Stephanie, I wanted to ask you: Since it is sort of part of the context for your course for your department and sort of in the DNA, if you will, is community cultural development, devised theater, community-based, so it's a context for all your work there.

Does that lead the students and your department to collaborate outside the borders of the department? I'm just curious does it then link you to anthropologists or the folklore people or even the archeologists? [laughs]

Stephani Woodson: I think it depends on where people's connections, if that makes sense. For example, one of my colleagues just got a big [type of grant] grant, and she is working [group] predominately the Navajo Dine on land-based storytelling, so I have an undergraduate who's been working doing devised work with mental health populations who's working with a community organization that provides mental health services. [Unintelligible 0:33:17.6] The connections are deep, but also tend to be project-oriented unless they are specifically grant funded.

So, the answer is: Yes, but it's all over the board.

Dudley Cocke:  Ben, it's interesting. When you raised the question of is Wicked populist theater, and the sort of paradox is what we think of as populist theater or even popular theater, like Wicked, isn't. It has a very narrow demographic attendant. In fact, it's the same demographic that attends regional theater, which is essentially about 80-some% – last I looked, about 81% – from the 15% of the wealthiest people in the U.S.

Part of it, I think, is because – I don't know; it'd be interesting to test. Of course, a show like Wicked is driven by mass marketing, as you know as well as I, so it's a mass marketing phenomenon. But I know that, of course, a lot of people can't afford, and then I'm sure that there's some amount of people who can't afford the message of it, as well.

In other words, I'd say a lot of the people probably – or some of the people – from Salem County who came in your group, if they're like people here, they're just a little more serious about their circumstances, or their circumstances make them be a little more serious about what they do with the little extra money they have, to be more intentional.

Dudley Cocke:  I just know a lot of people here are looking for answers to things. They're not really looking for escape. They're looking for parts of their identity to be affirmed. They're looking for opportunities to participate, to have a voice in a cultural event, but not kind of escapist. It's just something I've observed, and I've never tested it. [laughs]

I guess PT Barnum said you can convince anybody, right, if you pitch it the correct way. [laughs]

Ben Fink:  Right. It's interesting. A few things.

I think my point about Wicked was more thinking about by sheer number of people that go to see it, it's very popular, but what you're saying is right: You need to think about class and the kind of people.

Then, I was about to interject with some kind of cultural cynicism about people don't necessarily know they can't afford the message. But then I was thinking about we saw – admittedly a high school production – but a pretty good high school production  of Legally Blonde a couple months before we came to see Betsy!, and people did not have the same reaction to it. That's for sure.

[Unintelligible 0:27:02.0] I had no conversations with people about that show, with the possible exception of songs that were stuck in their heads. But the experience of coming to see Betsy! really did affect them in a whole different way.

I think the other thing I want to add, another variable I'd want to add, is that access. It's not hard to find out about Wicked. It's on TV. It's on the radio. It's on ads. Betsy!, you had to be in certain places at certain times to find out about it, so certainly the tickets were less expensive and I agree with you: I think the message, once you're in the theater, it's a far more profound and necessary experience for a lot of people. But how to get that word out given that we don't have a Disney-sized marketing budget.

Lindsay Cummings:  I'm going to have to disagree with this conversation. [laughs] I think that the slide between populist and popular is tricky, and we don't want to under-theorize it. "The people" as a term has been used both to describe all the people of nations historically, and also the poor and underprivileged, and the slippage between those two is enormous, and I do think we have to be really careful about it.

I also think we have to be careful about assuming that something like Betsy! embraces more people. I think it embraces different people. Wicked would never have lasted if it hadn't been for the lesbian fan girls who said, "This represents my experience," who gave it the boost to then become mass marketed popularly.

I have students who respond much more to Legally Blonde, which we did here last year, but I also have students who have to go to Legally Blonde because it's part of our theater curriculum, who are miserable every minute of it who came to Betsy! and were thrilled. I have students who would have come to Betsy! and felt like an uncomfortable outsider.

I like one kind of theater much more than the other, but I don't want to paint in really broad strokes about who is hailed or addressed or made welcome by … to say that one of those productions is going to address way more people. It just addresses different people in different ways, to me. That's personal.

Ben Fink:  I'm sorry. I lost my connection and had to move, so I missed most of that, but I think I get the gist of it. I'll wait to catch up in the conversation.

Lindsay Cummings:  It's fine. I was just on a little bit of a rant about being very, very careful about how we use terms like "populist," "popular" and who are "the people" when we use that term because they've been used very differently for different political ends in history.

Ben Fink:  Right. What I heard Dudley saying is that there are demographically … there's a certain homogeneity of people that go see the most popular Broadway shows. But, no, I agree with your point.

Jamie Haft:  Since we're at the 15-minute mark, I wonder if we might pivot to think about, first, the immediate opportunity of the Imagining America conference issue that is inviting proposals for multi-media submissions, and the October conference. Inmaculada, would you be up for sharing what you're thinking about in terms of the opportunities, since you know the audience so well?

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  In light of this conversation, I really would love to think through … two different things come to mind.

One of them is the close cooperation that is possible between us at Hostos and Pregones, since it's so close, and that can be developed a lot more, and it can be developed in a very sustainable way because of physical proximity and common interest in building this grassroots audience and a permanent audience, and also developing a curriculum around it.

All the points that are being touched upon in this conversation, except for the more specific issue of genre, because I'm not a theater scholar, are very, very pertinent to what I hope to be doing in the future. So, the possible, potential presentation could go along those lines.

But I can hear in this conversation something else. I can hear something that connects curriculum to theory, to theory in the field of theater studies, which I'm not … I don't feel part of it and I'm delighted to be learning more about, but it's not something that I would feel so comfortable participating in.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  I think as a group, it would make sense to make a decision as far as what a possible presentation or a possible article or a possible curriculum would look like. Since we don't have unlimited time, it would be awesome to be able to feel something concrete can be delineated a little bit in terms of what we would expect out of this collaboration, out of these conversations.

Again, as far as I'm concerned, anything along the lines of pedagogy, of community engagement in community college, of course, would be of great interest. And anything that reflects on the engagement of students with the creative process would be very interesting, as well. And, again, I'm very happy to be learning more about theater and about popular theater. I would be very interested in helping and also, of course, benefitting from a curriculum on popular or populist theater as it applies to Latino studies.

Those are my two cents.

Jonathan Bradshaw:  Lindsay, I had a question, because it seemed like you had used at least some of the materials in your classroom. You had mentioned the blog and students had used the videos. I think it would be good to talk about just a sense of how those were used and what your students' interactions were with those because there's a lot more video than just this one blog, and I think that's one of the questions going forward is how do you not just park all this content online, but frame it in a way that creates an interaction that Roadside and Pregones is looking for.

I was just wondering if you had any insights about how useful it was, or how students interacted with it.

Lindsay Cummings:  Yes and no. I'm just worried that my experience is so specific and in one class, and I think we're looking here at a wider question of what are the possible pedagogical uses of all of this material.

A, there's a lot of material and, B, how do we want to frame it? Do we want to frame it towards theater students? Do we want to frame it towards community action in general? Do we want to frame it towards popular theater history? There are even options beyond that.  They're all exciting to me, but I think I'm a little overwhelmed by the choices before us.

Jonathan Bradshaw:  It seems to me, yeah, that's a good point because audience is really important here. Audience for the play as well as this material is really important.

I had something to say, and I just forgot what it was. I'll mute until I remember what that was. Sorry. [laughs] Sorry to waste your time.

Dudley Cocke:  One of the things that interests me – I think you can really hear it in this conversation – is the common denominator for the conversation is this Betsy! experience, but each of you come at it from a very specific set of orientation and circumstances. I don't know. Maybe as just a first step to articulate those various perspectives I think might be really interesting because it is a lot to … it's varied, as you say, Lindsay. It's very different, but I think maybe that difference would be interesting to people.

I don't know. That just seems compelling to me … and not in some necessarily exhaustive way, but more in the way we've been talking about it here on this call, sort of the highlights and the issues and what person when you are teaching a course that is, as you said, Lindsay, for generalists who have no way to imagine what the play would look like since they haven't ever seen anything like that. How could they?

Anyway, I just think just the different perspective is pretty fascinating, and then, Jonathan, you're really coming from a very different place altogether. I don't know. I find that interesting as an article.

Jamie Haft:  Yeah, I think that would actually be really attractive to Public, say, if there were three or four or five of you that wanted to take the same content and show how you can reframe it for different audiences within higher education, Public would publish the curriculum and the media side by side, and it would be so interesting to see the different frames.

Dudley Cocke:  Frames is the experience you had with it. What I found compelling in your stories, of course, is just you're reporting the different ways it affected your students or your community members, in Ben's case.

I think as just a beginning step – I think the curriculum will be some time in development – but I think as an earlier step just to capture these different perspectives and different ways you shaped the materials and what issues it called out. I really liked this 'what issues it calls up for you,' what opportunities and issues it called up.

Ben Fink:  I'm just immediately thinking, Dudley, how cool it would be if I could get some of the people from the families I took to the show to talk about it themselves, or even write about it themselves and get their voice in the piece.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  Yeah, along those lines, I really like what you all are saying, especially the idea of capturing the different experiences and the different previous experiences that students and us, as scholars, have had with the material such as what we were presented with with Betsy!.

Perhaps a way to begin focusing the conversation would be to prepare something for the conference that will allow us to have a public roundtable or conversation. I forget what the specific format for the conferences are, but I think there's usually a roundtable format. I think that would be really interesting to see what feedback we get from others that might participate in that conversation, and then take it to the next level to refine and think more in terms of an article.

And, if an article moves towards a more specialized discourse and thinking about theater, then maybe some people can participate more than others. If it moves more towards the issue of participation in audience and pedagogy, then other people would be more interested. But at least having those, capturing those perspectives as Dudley's suggestion in a public conversation prior to committing to an article I think is really interesting.

Ben Fink:  Here's one thing I feel like affects: There are or are not plans to have some kind of performance of Betsy! at the conference?

Jamie Haft:  There are not.

Ben Fink:  I feel like maybe I was hearing that wrong that at some point there was. Because, if so, obviously it's very different kind of roundtable that's about "this thing that we all …"

Because, I don't know. I'm thinking about, for me, conference presentations or articles that I want to read, if it seems like, "Here's a bunch of people and what we did over here with this thing that I was not involved in," that's less compelling for me as an audience member, as a potential reader or a participant.

So, really, I'm just thinking about a frame. If we're not all at the conference going to have a collective experience seeing is, what is the larger question or concept that then our experiences at Betsy! could be a case study for exploring?

Jamie Haft:  Any feedback from your end, Steph, before we come to our time? Because you know the audience of Imagining America, as well.

Stephani Woodson: I think that the article you suggested for Public is differentiating, and I do think that might be interesting beyond … I'm just trying to theater. It seems like Theater Topics might be a good place for that article.

I'm not 100% sure how many theater people actually are familiar with Public and, while they should be, that doesn't mean they are, so Theater Topics, which is the journal that negotiates pedagogy in higher education … I think a round table at the conference is super interesting, and topic-wise I think people would be interested in just the process and the way in which the Scholar's Circle … Imagining America is about the integration of community and scholarship. Talking about that might be a framework where you could touch on all these other things. It also might give you a frame to say to that group of people, "Where should we look to with all this material that might have answers beyond more narrow understanding?"

Jamie Haft:  Thanks.

Lindsay Cummings:  I'm just going to raise a practicality issue. I'm very interested in participating in all of these things in any way. I will probably have an institutional funding issue for attending Imagining America just because of the number of other conferences I'm already committed to the year. I'm going to try, but I don't know yet that I can.

Jamie Haft:  Any last comments before we –

Dudley Cocke:  [Unintelligible 0:54:36.4] we can. [laughs]

Dudley Cocke:  Yeah, one of the things about a roundtable I like is that I think we learn in two ways. Or, I learn in two ways. One, when I hear these stories and secondly when there's debate, and the combination of the two, when there's difference, like around … and the difference just leads to a deeper discussion, like we were beginning to go towards what's popular, what's populist, what's the context for both those words, so forth and so on.

I find that very stimulating, as I do the stories. So, I think a round table can be constructed in a way that does both of those things. It brings out your specific stories, and then it brings out points of whatever you want to call it: tension, or points we're trying to understand better. I can imagine a good round table.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  Yes, and just to add a little bit to that, I think the part of the point of tension along the lines that we've been discussing here today is the fact that for a good part of the participation and the presentation of Betsy! and the interaction with audiences has made college students the populace, or the one of the primary audiences, and that's a really interesting concept for me to think about: how the popular, or primary, audience in this popular theater, or however the creators define Betsy! has been college students and what that might mean. So, just one more little element to that to the conversation and the discussion and the debate.

I think if we keep thinking about those points of connection and those lines of discussion, we can have a really engaging public conversation, not just for ourselves but also for other people attending the conference.

Jamie Haft:  Great. Well, thank you all so much for making the time. Please share anymore reflections and actions through our email, and we'll keep on.

Ben Fink:  Sounds good. Thank you, Jaime.

Lindsay Cummings:  Thank you, everyone, and thank you, Jamie, as always, for keeping us on track.

Dudley Cocke:  [laughs]

Stephani Woodson: Thank you, Jamie.

Dudley Cocke:  Bye, everybody.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  Thank you, all.

Jamie Haft:  Thank you, all.

[goodbyes and pleasantries]

Cite This

“BETSY! Scholars' Circle - May Web Conference (2015).” https://roadside.org. June 8, 2015. https://roadside.org/asset/betsy-scholars-circle-may-web-conference-2015.

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