BETSY! Educator's Cohort - Introductory Meeting


Jamie Haft: Why don't we go around and do some introductions? Thank you all for making the time to be here. To keep it brief, how about your name and affiliation, institutionally and for those of us on the artistic team affiliation with the project. To minimize awkwardness, I'll just call us out, and I'll start.

I'm Jamie Haft, and I'm with Imagining America and also a long-time collaborator with Roadside Theater. Arnaldo?

Arnaldo Lopez: Arnaldo Lopez. I'm a long-time development officer. I wear multiple hats with Pregones Theater and Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, and I'm excited.

Jamie Haft:  Excellent. Dudley and Z?

Dudley Cocke: I'm Dudley Cocke, and I'm working with Rosalba to develop the book play, and Rosalba and I will be co-directing starting rehearsals in March.

Zhivko Illeieff: Hello, my name is Zhivko, and I'm Roadside's web community coordinator.

Jamie Haft:  Great, and how about Jonathan?

Jonathan Bradshaw: I'm Jonathan Bradshaw. I'm a PhD candidate in composition and rhetoric at Miami University of Ohio. I've talked to several of you already. But I'm working on currently on my dissertation, which is based on work with Appalshop and another civic group, the former Urban Appalachian Council around Cincinnati.

Jamie Haft:  Lindsay?

Lindsay Cummings:  Hi, I'm Lindsay Cummings. I'm an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut. I teach mostly script analysis, dramaturgy and dramatic literature, but my research is more on community-based theater and specifically how affect and emotion work in that.

Jamie Haft:  Ben?


Ben Fink:  Hi, I'm Ben Fink. I work at Appal Farm Arts and Music Center in south Jersey, although actually right now I'm in central Connecticut, so hi Lindsay. We are a rural arts and arts education organization that does a lot of classes and institutes and community-based initiatives and are building a connection with Appalshop and Imagining America.

Jamie Haft:  Excellent. Xanthia?

Xanthia Walker:  I'm Xanthia. I'm in Phoenix, Arizona, where I am the chair of the theater program at Arizona School for the Arts and also the co-artistic director of a small theater company called Rising Youth Theater.

Jamie Haft:  Great. And welcome, Alex. You just joined us. Can you hear us?

Alex Trillo: Yes, I can. Good morning.

Jamie Haft:  Excellent. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourself?

Alex Trillo: Sure. My name is Alex Trillo, and I work in the sociology and urban studies department at St. Peter University in Jersey City, and I guess I'm coming to this working as part of a – not a class so much – but a grant that we have, a title V grant working with campus programming for Latino students. I'm working with a collection of students who are interested in engaging in art as activism. I'm bringing them to this project.

Jamie Haft:  Thank you. Immaculada?

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla: Hello, I'm Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla. I'm an assistant professor at Hostos Community College CUNY. I've done a lot of work with Latina communities up in Syracuse. I co-founded a Latinas cultural center. It was a campus community venture and, right now, I'm the coordinator of the Latin American Caribbean studies unit at Hostos and developing courses in Latino literature.

Jamie Haft:  Thanks so much. Arnaldo and I thought it would be helpful to –

Jan Cohen-Cruz: May I introduce myself?

Jamie Haft:  I'm so sorry, Jan. The person I know the most.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  That's right, but they don't so …

Jamie Haft:  I forgot.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  No problem. I edit Public: A Journal of Imagining America, which has led to a very strong interest in a kind of blending of digital and live in communication platforms. I believe there has to be a blending of what's the live component and what's the digital.

I was a long-time professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where I'm now currently teaching a class, which I'm so delighted I can bring to Betsy!.

Jamie Haft:  Excellent. Thank you so much.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  Thank you.

Jamie Haft:  Arnaldo and thought that the bulk of the call would be for open discussion but that it would be helpful to give some framing for the first 10 minutes to share some of the thinking that got us to designing this scholars cohort and to lay out some of the past exchanges.

[background noise]

Immaculada, if it's possible to your phone, we hear some background noise of the [name of station] Street Station where you're taking the call.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  Yes, sorry about that.


Jamie Haft:  No problem. Thank you. We conceived of the scholars cohort as an opportunity both in the short-term knowing that we were going to have this run of an off-Broadway premier of Betsy!, which comes out of a 21-year artistic collaboration between Pregones Theater and Roadside Theater in the Bronx and Appalachia, respectively.

We thought that there was an opportunity within the immediate six-month span to engage scholars to see how you might integrate the performance into your courses, to see how it integrates and aligns with your scholarly writing agenda, to see if you would be interested in bringing students and colleagues to events that we're having in the lead-up to Betsy! and in the actual performance.

Rosalba Rolon, the artistic director of Pregones is always saying it's so important to see and experience the artistic work, and we knew we had a great opportunity with April having a run of a performance.

But then we also saw that as part of the company's long-term goals that it would be smart to really focus more energy on developing relationships with scholars, and since I'm affiliated with Imagining America, which is 100 colleges and universities and has a peer-reviewed online journal, which Jan spoke about, it seemed also a great opportunity to leverage that network. That's how we connected with some of you here.


Jamie Haft:  As you know, we are regularly adding content online, and we hope you will engage in it, and there have been several emails with content developing. We thank Jonathan Bradshaw for getting our cohort started by interviewing many of you and helping us sharpen our thinking about how we can develop materials with scholars that become an educational resource.

So, in terms of the timeline, we have some very specific opportunities. Obviously, many of you have courses that have already begun, and we'd like to figure out how we can collaborate to integrate that into your courses and, in the discussion, I hope that some of you who have taught Betsy! before or have already been in touch with us about integrating the content into the course will share your plans.

On Feb. 12, we're going to have an event called "Let's Talk about Betsy!" with the artistic team, and it will take place at Pregones, but it will likely also be live-streamed. We thought this would be a great opportunity to crowd source some of the questions that you have about Betsy!.

For example, Lindsay encouraged us to develop more content about the music, but to really hear very specific questions. What's the difference between mountain and coastal music, and how is that being integrated into Betsy!? Or the difference between the banjo and the quatro. To crowd source questions from you will help us to generate more content that can be a resource for your teaching.

Then, in terms of our documentation and communication strategy, we're really betting on a March blog series on HowlRound, and the proposal for the theme we've pitched is called "Beyond Cliché: Dramatizing our American Identity."


Jamie Haft:  Folklorist Maribel Alvarez at the University of Arizona has been, for the last year, developing a piece about the content of Betsy! and the inter-cultural artistic collaboration that it represents, and a draft will be ready in the next week that we could share with you. We're imagining the series would kick off with hers, and we'd like to spend some time in the discussion hearing from you about your interests in contributing or collaborating with each other.

Thanks to Stephanie Woodson, we've been able to identify a former student, Jose Zarate, who is serving as our guest editor. So, we have some extra support on the team in terms of if you'd like to contribute a piece but it would easiest to get on a 30-minute call and have an interview, Jose is on our team who could help transcribe it and craft a blog piece.

Then, in April, we're proposing a face-to-face meeting, and we were thinking perhaps Sunday, April 19, as an opportunity for all of us to come together and really evaluate what this experiment of having a scholars' cohort in conjunction with a performance, to evaluate its successes and challenges. We were thinking opportunistically because Jan Cohen-Cruz is convening a dialogue on Saturday in New York City on documentation and communications, and we thought we could couple it together and make an interesting for those who would be traveling from out of town.

And, finally, there will be the run of the performance, and Pregones and Roadside can offer discounted student tickets and would love to figure out how we can bring groups to experience the play.

Arnaldo, would you like to add anything?


Arnaldo Lopez: Thank you, Jaime. I think you covered really the heart of it, and what I want to do is just to underline that this is really about perusing this intersection of archive documentation, communications and social media. It's a rich and growing aspect of the work that we do as a community-based organization, as an arts organization, as a cultural organization, and it's an organic bridge that we're looking to build stronger, and the relationship between us and folks who are working in university, the relationship between our artists and students, those relationships.

We're as much learning something that's going to help us over time as [much as being] opportunistic, the chance to really connect with this specific run and to really do polemic in the best sense.

Jamie Haft: Thank you. With that, we invite ideas and questions and discussion.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I'll jump in with something. One part of the story – I loved hearing the ideas about getting really specific with music. I think that's great. I think it's very interesting for people to know the large collaboration, the 21-year collaboration, that framework for this particular piece. So, I would just encourage you to integrate that wonderful story.

Lindsay Cummings:  Just to follow up on what Jan's saying, I think in terms of if there's a way, through the website or the blog, to talk about how that long-term collaboration impacts the narrative itself and the story that's being told I think would be really productive for students.

Just to give some context, I'll be teaching the play in the context this semester of a Latino/Latina theater course. Last time I taught it, I taught it in a context of a southern theater course. But, in both cases, serving the same purpose of looking at how we expand the boundaries of all of these ways of identifying.

Just to give you a notion of where I think students today might be coming into this, I just taught in this course Los [Unintelligible 0:15:02.8], which I find is still ridiculously current for students. They still respond to it really strongly, and we immediately launched into a discussion over who get to claim Latino identity and who's Latino enough and what in the class spoke Spanish well. And, of course, this is really interesting for me teaching it as an Anglo.


Lindsay Cummings:  I think this play, which I actually teach later in the semester where I'm starting to talk about trans-national and beyond borders and that sort of thing, this play is asking us about the policing of boundaries in a way that's still really current.

I think helping to talk about how the collaboration between the companies informs the narrative would be really productive for students – my students, anyway. Connecticut is not a particularly diverse place, and my students are still grappling with these issues in a very visceral way.

Dudley Cocke:  I really like that phrase "policing the boundaries" because it so connects to this whole issue of dissolving the silos that restrict us. But that whole theme of policing the boundaries, that's definitely in Maribel's essay. It's a big theme in her essay and, of course, that reflects us trying to grapple some with that in the play, so it's an apt phrase, Lindsay.

Lindsay Cummings:   I don't want to take over the conversation but I know I'm one of the few people who has taught this play. So, I will also say that I don't know what's going to happen in the process of revisions, but if you're in a situation where you're teaching the script prior to seeing a performance or in lieu of seeing a performance, I found that non-theater students in particular had a hard time following the story because it's not a super straight-forward, plot-driven, causal, linear narrative.

This is where I think what you can do with the website is so crucial because, for me, I'd seen it. It was an experience and, as soon as I started filling in the gaps and talking about the moments and the relationships and the music, they began to understand it, and it really came alive for them.

But on the page, it was a more difficult encounter, so any way that the website can use moments from rehearsal and talk about the staging itself, which I think is really crucial – at least in the version I saw – to how the story is told.


Arnaldo Lopez: I want to say something in relation to that. Jamie mentions how Rosalba always insists – and she's not the only one; we all always insist all of us – that there's no real substitute for the experience of seeing the performance.

And, in many ways, I can also say that the work that Pregones does is somehow positioned to dialogue with theater that is not like it. So, in a sense, one way to think about it is to think of realist representation and how is our culture represented on stage when you have something that's recognizable? And how much of a political baggage that carries?

The kind of theater –

Zhivko Illeieff:  Did Arnaldo's web cam freeze for everyone?

Jamie Haft:  I'm afraid he did.

Dudley Cocke:  Anybody take up his point? [laughs]

Lindsay Cummings:  I will just say I talk about structure a lot in my classes, of course, but I find it really helpful to know or to be able to communicate to students that this is something that the artists are thinking about deliberately, so I appreciate that background.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  Yeah, I'll tell a funny story that's relevant, which is I was walking into a classroom at Syracuse University. The class before me had just finished, and the teacher, who was just packing up his materials, said, "You're the one who's made people like me irrelevant?" [laughs]


Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I said, "No, I'm not that person. You have me mistaken for someone else."

I knew he knew who I was. He was assuming that the kind of work that cares as much about its relationship to how people live, that there's a discourse, that the artist might be also activist, that I somehow thought that was meant to replace the kind of theater that focuses on scripts and texts and music and character development.

So, I couldn't agree more that there needs to be the dual focus on … if what you've chosen to do is to make a work of art, then, of course, you have to look at the work of art. But we're not one-dimensional. You've also chosen to live in the Bronx or to live in Appalachia, and you've chosen to be engaged with collaborators, some of whom are artists and some of whom work in prisons or have family in prisons.

In other words, it's very holistic this work, and I really do believe it's really establishing itself as another paradigm, and they're overlapping paradigms. But to leave out the play is just wacky and, yet, it needs to be said, just like people need to know that feminists aren't man-haters. [laughs] It's just so crazy to me you should have to say such a thing, but you do, more than ever.

Dudley Cocke:  Arnaldo is back!

Jamie Haft:  I think he may be having some trouble. I've suggested he call in. Might we hear from someone who hasn't spoken yet?

Jonathan Bradshaw:  I have kind of a practical question. For those of you who are planning on teaching Betsy! in your classes this semester, where does it fall in the scope of the next couple months? When do you plan to do that on your schedule?


Lindsay Cummings:  If you guys are willing to share a version of the script, I'd like to have them read it prior to the run, and I'm hoping to have them come see it. But as I communicated in the survey, my hurdle is not distance and it's not money; it's liability and how I physically get my students to the city. I'm discovering that it may be easiest for my – and those of you who do field trips at your universities, please tell me how you handle it.

I might suggest that they go and suggest that they carpool to New Haven where we will all catch the train together because getting a van literally to drive an hour is the big hurdle. It's ridiculous.

Ben Fink:  The hurdle is that the university will be liable?

Lindsay Cummings:  Right, if they are sponsoring the field trip and it's part of the course then, A, we have to find the money to rent the van, which is not much, but that's insurmountable for some reason, and they're liable for the safety of the students over the course of the field trip.

Ben Fink:  I taught at Minnesota for many years and I guess when we did trips, it was within the city, so it was just, "Get there yourself, but it's still a requirement to the course."

It seems to me if you've got enough students with cars … of course, there's the issue of them paying for parking and paying for the tickets. But you could also argue, as I have before, students pay for textbooks. All of this stuff is going to be a whole lot less than a $200 chemistry book, and it's just as legitimately a part of your course.

Lindsay Cummings:  [laughs] Yeah, so my goal is to try to get students there, but I haven't figured out yet whether that will happen or not or whether we'll be there on the same night or not, but we're going to try to discuss the play a week to two before the run.

Dudley Cocke:  [xx] [laughs]

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  This is Inmaculada. Just very quickly; I know there's a lot of background noise. Regarding timeline, my course is an introduction to Latinas literature, Latino and Latina literature in the U.S., so it's a broad scope. We're going to start reading plays, a couple of plays by Chicano authors and Puerto Rican authors in March, and then we'll get to the Betsy! script before the end of the month.

Then my students are lucky to be in New York in the Bronx, and we'll just take the subway to Manhattan. I cannot recommend that everybody move here [laughs] to avoid the hurdles. Obviously, that's not possible, but that's as far as our timeline.


Xanthia Walker:  For me in Phoenix, since it's not possible to get my students across the country, I'm planning on teaching it close to the production time so that hopefully there's a lot of content for them to engage with as we're dialoguing about it in Phoenix on the Internet.

Jonathan Bradshaw:  Thank you. It sounds like everybody is planning to do it close to the production time. Where I was leading, I was just curious how the blog specifically that's going to come out in March, who you think you might use that in your instruction. Do you think you'll read those alongside the play after? I just was curious how you're planning on maybe incorporating that material.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I can say I'm working with two different groups of students in relationship to Betsy!, but I kind of jumped on the train a little late in terms of when I planned my classes and when I need to coordinate with the institutions in question.

So, as I mentioned, I am teaching a class at NYU. I'm delighted to integrate it. That will be soon, but I ended up … the only place I could fit that would be during the run is there's an actual class session April 23 at NYU where it's within the section of the course on evaluation. So, I'll have the students thinking about the relationship between mission and evaluation. I had already planned for them to go to Pregones and Roadside's websites both to get a sense of the two companies and then together.

But as that material comes up in March, I'll be able to read it. Since there's already a lot of reading for the class, I'll selectively choose what most informs the way we're looking at the play with that group. We're not reading the script. We're going to do a performance analysis, which, from my point of view, is equally valuable to a script analysis and, again, I know how much I can assign and at what point I'll lose these students, so I'm not assigning the script.


Jan Cohen-Cruz:  The other group is a very large group from Syracuse University doing a "professional semester" in New York City. They need to start with performance. That's the hook, so happily they can get the really wonderfully-priced student tickets early in the run, and then Dudley and Rosalba have kindly agreed to come in and talk to the students about collaboration.

I feel that because those students … they weren't expecting to do something with me. [laughs] They don't know me. They don't know what kind of culture I'll bring into a conversation, so I thought it was very important to begin with something very familiar. So, on the one hand, there's the actual experience of going to a theater and seeing a play. On the other hand, we're going to focus the conversation around collaboration because they understand collaboration, but they certainly don't have any idea of the extent of collaboration that these two individuals and these two companies represent.

So, again, if there's been something on the blog, I more think it will be at that point in April that I'll say, "If you found this interesting, please pursue some great writing about it, and here's where it is."

Jamie Haft:  Ben and Alex, would you be willing to share what you're thinking about how this might align with your work?

Ben Fink:  Sure. Hi, everyone. I guess I'm a newcomer to this, and those of you who know me know that my relative silence is somewhat anomalous, but I'm really just trying to listen and learn because I guess I'm a little bit of an odd man out in this group in that I am currently not in an institution of higher education or teaching course nor am I on the Betsy! production team.

I was in higher ed for a long time and, as I was saying to Lindsay before, I am connected with a lot of folks here but, right now, like I said, I'm working at a rural arts and arts education institution in southern New Jersey that's really looking to redefine the way it does community engagement.


Ben Fink:  One thing that that's meant in talking with Jamie and Dudley is thinking about what kind of populations and groups that we work with can we bring up to the Bronx or to Manhattan for the run, and what possibilities might there be for bringing the project to a place like super rural south Jersey, which, despite being in the midst of one of the biggest urban areas of the world smack between New York, D.C., Philadelphia, Wilmington, the whole corridor, is remarkably remote. There are a lot of people down there who do not have access to much at all, so it's, in a weird way, akin to a place like Appalshop.

So, yes, actually, Dudley I just started you a private email asking if I can get a copy of the script, too, and Dudley and I have been talking about working together to find funding to extend that work. And Jamie and I have talked briefly about possibilities with tours. That's really what I'm thinking about right now, is both who could we get to bring there and how could we bring the production here, and how could we use some of these resources as we start.

I don't have students but I have, for instance, a group of 20 local families that I'm working with that are interested in exposing themselves and their kids to more aspects of the arts. So, I was thinking, akin to you, Lindsay, is there a way to get everybody to New York?

I don't know, but if there is media content to examined, if there's stuff that's exportable, and to the extent that some of this material that we're producing is usable, we could definitely integrate that into some of our arts exploratory days, activities, etc. That's just where I'm coming from. I'm really, right now, just trying to listen and learn.


Dudley Cocke:  One thing, Ben, that comes to mind just with a general audience from a greater community, just to bring a diverse group to the play. Then it could easily be followed by story circles in which the people who used the play as a kind of prompt could talk about dissolving the borders and what are the borders in your community and so forth.

I think the play would be a good occasion to really set up that conversation because we find a lot of times with story circles, if you can get some of the initial ideas, feelings, emotions out through the play, then the story circles, when they take it back into their own experience and into their own place, are very, very rich.

Even in those situations sometimes, the people doing those circles say one of the outcomes is, "We want to do a little performance about our own diversity and these borders and how they cross and our own complex DNA," if you will.

Ben Fink:  I would love that. In fact, maybe lets you and I talk real soon about logistically how that could work. Because one thing that you and I have talked about before and you, too, Jamie, is we're still developing what needs to have our people because historically we've been pretty fee-for-service. You come and you take a class.

But we do have this group of quite diverse – socio-economically, racially, ethnically, age – group of families that we're working with, and I would wager to bet that most of them have never been to New York despite being two hours away and have never seen theater.

Honestly, the draw will immediately be, "Oh, my God, we're going to New York and seeing an off-Broadway show," and all the culturally-relevant stuff will come in after that. Frankly, I think it could be a tremendous hook.

Dudley Cocke:  We hope the moment of discovery is, "We're so excited to go see an off-Broadway show in New York," and then they see the show and they say, "My goodness, the show as about us."

Ben Fink:  Yes, that exactly. Cool. I'm going to email you and see if we can find a time to talk.

Jamie Haft:  Alex, would you like to share what you're thinking about?


Alex Trillo: Sure. I guess I'm also a little bit of an oddball in this, but that's OK. I am not in a space where I generally teach things like theater and performance or even literature. I'm a sociologist.

But, as I said, I'm working as part of a large grant, a title V grant, which is for Latinos learning institutions, and we're actually just in a place where I'm trying to introduce students who live five minutes away from New York City and might not have been there about art and community collaboration and really trying to disrupt this pattern of folks who want to do great things, but they're all so tied into a very traditional social work path.

With this campus programming and introducing them to arts, I developed this program called Creative Activism, and so our visit to Betsy! will be sort of situated in this program where over the years we've been inviting in folks, like novelists or film makers and actually have had some plays on campus that are trying to do this very thing: introduce them to the idea of how the art can be a form of the activism that they're interested in, but also about.

So, it'll be neat because we're working together, as I said, not as a class but just sort of these side-groups that are – I don't know, for whatever reason – they're nice enough to play along even though they don't get credit for it. [laughs]


Alex Trillo: But they're really great, so we're doing things like introducing them to blogging as activism, engaging in other forms of social media as activism. As I said, we've invited in different kinds of arts-related activists over the years that they maintain relationships with that they continue to work with. We have occasional writing workshops and such. So, we're going to look at Betsy! in that context.

We're going to say, "Here's another way to do this."

And, again, strangely enough, like I said, we're five minutes away. This will be a big barrier crossing for a lot of the students just to jump on the train and go into the city and to see a show. On that note, though, I would say the folks coming from Connecticut, I would suggest doing the train because then you give them an avenue to do it again. That is to go ahead and get everybody to meet at the Metro North and take the train in.

I find them once you show them that path the first time, then they become a lot more comfortable with the potential of doing it again by themselves. I've done that a lot with students from Long Island into the city, from different parts of New Jersey into the city, where we [would] meet at the train station, jump on the train and go. Or meet at campus and all migrate over. That in itself because this very interesting, great, powerful moment for those [who do it], I think.

Jamie Haft:  Thank you. And we've had a new arrival. Welcome, Laura. Would you like to introduce yourself?


Laura: Hi, everyone. It's so great to participate. I'm sorry I'm arriving a little late. It's good to meet everyone.

Jamie Haft:  Remind us where you're affiliated?

Laura: Actually, Arnaldo and I were students together when I was at Columbia a long time ago, and now I am teaching on the faculty of English and American studies at Rutgers Newark, the most diverse campus in the United States.

Jamie Haft:  Excellent.

Lindsay Cummings:  I wanted to build on something that both Ben and Alex were talking about here a moment ago, which is the diversity of the audiences represented just via our cohort, and I don't mean that in terms of ethnic diversity. I mean that in terms of student diversity or community diversity, experience, and how they're going to encounter the piece.

Because in my class alone, for example, It's sort of divided into thirds. I have one-third dramatic art students who are, basically, at a conservatory and who are preparing for a regional theater career and who I cannot get to read anything but a play that they think they will be cast in. And they understand theater in a very narrow way.

Then, one-third of the class is composed of puppetry students who are technical within the same department but who understand theater and performance in a completely different way and who come to my classes because they know I teach a slightly more expansive notion of theater. So, they're encountering it with a different vocabulary and a different set of aesthetics and expectations.

Then, I have a third of my class is a population of Latino and Latino students who are there because of their identity.

So, even within this small microcosm of one class, there are a lot of different ways of encountering this work and a lot of different expectations and notions about what theater is and what structure is and why we do art.

Ben Fink:  How do you think those different groups would respond to Betsy!, especially the puppetry and the conservatory ones?

Lindsay Cummings:  The conservatory students, I have to prep them for it by talking about the different goals of community-based theater. At that point in the semester, I will have already given them enough plays that don’t look like what they expect plays to look like that it won't be a total shock. I do that on purpose.  I'm always structuring a syllabus to push their boundaries. That's part of what I do here. [laughs]

The puppetry students are interesting because their response to everything is to think about how it would be better with puppets. [laughs] I love them. They're wonderful, but their first thought is, "If you put a puppet in here …"

Ben Fink:  Right. I'm just thinking about the conservatory students. I read an essay recently, a really great essay about other options for conservatory students that may not make it written by someone named [author's name].

Lindsay Cummings:  They're so not ready to think about that yet, right?

Ben Fink:  Yeah, not just a river in Egypt?

Lindsay Cummings:  [laughs] But there is this moment when some of them do get it that the kind of art that they're training for isn't the only kind of art that's of value in the world. They're not ready to think about that –

Ben Fink:  And the only kind of art that they'll be making just for sheer monetary reasons, if nothing else.


Lindsay Cummings:  It's not even for pure monetary reasons. They're more likely to have work if they learn how to devise their own work, and they can't even get their minds wrapped around that yet.

Ben Fink:  Right.

Jan Cohen-Cruz:  I think we really have to change that language about not making it. I go with Lindsay who's talking about more expanding what "making it" is. Making what? Making where?

I taught for many years in a department that had 1,400 conservatory students, and many of them very quickly were delighted to find out that they didn't have to stay so siloed. The part of them that had the most meaningful relationship of their life with their grandmother and the part of them that loved theater could actually combine, and that might be doing workshops in a senior center or that might be who knows what?

Especially when you get them to stage, we're talking about undergraduates, and most of them – many of them – are leaving home for the first time or at least are more thinking on their own for the first time and just what's possible at that age. And I think there's actually much to be said for introducing this kind of work within a conservatory program because it says it's part of the spectrum.

Jamie Haft:  That's great. This has been so rich, and I'm tasked with keeping us to time, so I'd like to pivot in our last 15 minutes to think about next steps and perhaps invite Arnaldo, who's now with us by phone, to say anything that you haven't had a chance to say.


Arnaldo Lopez: I'm struck by the many entry points that are identified to the work, specifically to Betsy! but also more broadly to the kinds of work that, in some ways, is built, generated, a little bit in a rub and against the grain. I can hear each of you taking that in different directions and opening up, and that's exactly where I am looking for this grow as a dialogue to be able to capture the entries that you identify and to be able to build on that and be able to respond to that.

Again, there's a number of actionable items that were circulated, and, Jamie, maybe if you want to go down the list?

Jamie Haft:  I'd be happy to. February 12, Thursday, 7 p.m. at Pregones, "Let's Talk about Betsy!" is the name of the event, and it will likely be live streamed on HowlRound, and we'd like to crowd source questions from you prior to the event. So, if you have burning questions about the collaboration and the play, we can have the team of collaborators respond them. We invite you to bring colleagues and students and host viewing parties.

Then, in March, we'll be preparing our blog series on HowlRound, and I've shared a draft description, and I'd like to invite you to contact Arnaldo and me if you'd be interested in contributing. Actually, we're just now joined by our guest editor. Hey!

Jose Zarate: I'm sorry about that.

Jamie Haft:  No problem, Jose. He'll play a leadership role making this blog series come into shape.

Then, there's the potential of a face-to-face meeting in April. We've put out the date of April 19, although it's not firm, but there's a shared draft description of what we might do together prior to a matinee on a Sunday.

Finally, there's the run of the performance. It would be so helpful if you haven't responded to the survey yet to respond to let Arnaldo know which of these opportunities you're in. Arnaldo and I are available to meet with you one-to-one.

Lastly, I'll say a question I have is: Would you like to meet again as a group and take another topic – Perhaps some content that's been developed, like a draft of Maribel's essay – and think together and be convened as a group again?


Xanthia Walker:  I would love that. I feel like my brain is still really early in my involvement in the process, so once I've had time to marinate a little bit more, I'd be really excited to get together and talk again.

Ben Fink:  Ditto to what Xanthia said. It's hard for me to imagine right now, but that's also because we're building this thing together that hasn't necessarily existed before, so I'm open to possibilities and opportunities, including that one.

[background noise]

Lindsay Cummings:  I would agree, especially after we have some content to look at together, whether that's just the essay, [xx], a video, something that we can discuss that's concrete. That'd be great.

Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla:  I tried to join again, this time without background noise.

Jamie Haft:  Glad to have you.

Laura: I second that. I'm interested in just learning more. I'm wondering have you all seen the play or a version of the play? What's the state of that? I'd like to get closer to the work.

Jamie Haft:  I think a third of us have seen previous versions. The play has been in development for about 10 years. Then, two-thirds of us have not yet, and, as part of the cohort, we can provide some material prior to the run of the play to get you more acclimated to the themes.


Arnaldo Lopez: I want to add that this way of making theater that evolves over time, this is a distinguishing feature of the work that Pregones does, and it's certainly part of our collaboration in this play with Roadside Theater.

I talked to Rosalba and Dudley about the new version of the play script that they're working on, and I know that the first act is finalized, and they're working on edits for the second. We should that have this within a couple of weeks. Dudley, do you want to flesh that out or make a note?

Dudley Cocke:  Yeah, I think that's right. We'll be working on this beginning the 9th of February, again, in New York, and we should, in a week from the 9th, be able to put out a script for you all.

I don't know what the timeline on Maribel's essay is but, again, this is something that can ground a subsequent conversation. If this is an introduction, then, I think when we have some specific content, then it will take the conversation to another level.

This long-term development, it's an interesting story. The play began with Ron Short, a long-time Roadside ensemble member, researching how his own people got here from Ireland, so it began as a one-person play based on a lot of research.

We took that down to Nashville to do some of the music with very fine national musicians, jazz musicians, and one of the musicians, Beegie Adair, a very noted pianist, said, "I want to put my story in there."

Then, we took that up to Pregones to show them, and they said, "We've got a story in here."

That's the way the play has been built. People just [said], "We've got a little purchase on this," so it's a fun development for us.


Dudley Cocke:  Also the diversity that we were talking about before. I think to sort of map that and get a sense of that, of who – not just the scholars, the diversity here among you – but among, really, the people that you're interacting with, your classes and so forth. To get all those perspectives in this conversation would be really, really useful, and I think somewhat unique to be able to get all those perspectives.

Certainly one goal that Rosalba and Roadside and Pregones have talked about is this script and how it can subsequently be used by educators and by art students, how they can – so, we're not at all opposed to Betsy! the puppet version.


Dudley Cocke:  You can tell from the development process, we're very loose about this, and we just want to make it very interactive, both what we're doing here in this wonderful scholars cohort, but also what we might do together afterwards.

Jamie Haft:  Thanks, Dudley. Before we close, Jose, would you please introduce yourself and speak about your role on our team?

Jose Zarate: Yeah, sorry about being late. My name is Jose Zarate and I'll be the guest editor for Betsy!, uploading some content to Facebook, asking some questions for interviews and hopefully some short videos that we can upload to the Internet, as well. That's what I'm working on for this weekend: having  a short video with some of the interviews with Beegie Adair from this past rehearsal process.

Jamie Haft:  Jose is a graduate of Arizona State University MFA program, a playwright, and has working with Cornerstone before, and we're so glad to be experimenting with our scholars cohort and guest editor roles to do real-time documentation of the creative process in collaboration with our audiences.

Dudley Cocke:  Jose, where are you coming to us from and what time is it there?

Jose Zarate: [laughs] I'm in Jeju, South Korea, and it's 1 a.m. right now. [laughs] A little bit of time difference, but not too bad.

Jamie Haft:  Arnaldo, any last thought before we close?


Arnaldo Lopez:  I think I want to let everyone know that we will be circulating the material that Maribel … Maribel's essay, we're going to circulate it. It's not going to be her final edit. We're really looking to see how the conversations that we're generating here in the educators cohort can help her through the process of thinking and finalizing the piece, and she's open to it.

I'm very much hoping that they'll she participate in the conversation on the 12th. She would be on remote, so we would bring her in digitally. Certainly, I think that will get everybody thinking deeply about this originated, where it's at and where we're taking it.

Dudley Cocke:  The 12th, as I understand, will be at 7 p.m., and so all of your folks should be able to tune into it. It will be, I think, a digital event in which she will be, I think, introducing this essay. That's great that this conversation is going to help shape the final version.

Jamie Haft:  I thank you all for coming. I'm inspired by community organizers who start meetings on time and end meetings on time, so we will leave you to your busy schedules, but thank you for joining the scholars cohort, and we're looking forward to the journey ahead.

[group responds with their thanks]

Jamie Haft:  It was nice to virtually meet everyone.

[group bids farewell]

Cite This

“BETSY! Scholars' Circle - January Web Conference (2015).” April 29, 2015.

Interested in copying, distributing, and/or adapting this work? Please view our license information.