Bridging the Gap between a Summer Internship and the Wesleyan Experience

Shira Engel ’14 interviews Allison Hurd ’11 about how a summer internship was connected to an on-campus production.

Allison Hurd '11
Allison Hurd '11

During the summer of 2009, Allison interned for the Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group while the company was collaborating with Andréya Ouamba’s Compagnie 1er Temps of Dakar, Senegal. They created The Good Dance – dakar/brooklyn, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She spent every day with the artists and attended every rehearsal, discussion, and event. After the festival, she began working in Brooklyn and then, in the spring of 2010, she acted as the student liaison for the company’s performance of The Good Dance at Wesleyan.

Curious as to how to bridge the gap between summer activities and being a Wesleyan student, I asked Allison how her experience as a dance major informed her internship. She said:

“I think that because the Dance major fosters an approach to the art form not only from a physical, but also from a creative and an intellectual perspective, I was able to more fully apprehend how my experience as an intern touched upon all of these areas.  Because The Good Dance is about the metaphoric, historical, and real world parallels of the Mississippi and Congo Rivers and their cultures, the anthropological nature of the work resonated very strongly with me, and was augmented by the artistic partnership of Reggie and Andréya.  I was also able to engage with the piece’s structural and compositional elements, recognizing the choreographic tools used by Reggie and Andréya and implementing aspects of their artistry into my own.  The Dance major (and, really, in its own way, each academic department at Wesleyan) encourages creative curiosity, collaboration, and the acquisition of knowledge through experience.  I feel very strongly that my internship’s alignment with these aspects of my Wesleyan education powerfully contributed to its success.”

Allison provides an excellent example of how to connect the education she received on campus on a practical level off campus. She exemplifies the creative pursuits of Wesleyan students. The key lies in the ability to translate the experiences from a campus community to a larger audience and then back again.

Summer in the City

Shira Engel ‘14 checks in from New York City.

So where do Wesleyan students go once school lets out? To Kenya to work at Shining Hope for Communities? To New Orleans to research the Gulf Coast oil spill? To work at their summer camps? To Russia/the South of France/Sweden? Yes, Wesleyan students will go to all of those places this summer, but first, they go to New York City, the home of a plethora of students and the future home of many more.

This summer, as I return home to the city, I find myself reuniting with friends from school. Last week, Emily Klein ’14 and I went to explore the latest installment of the High Line, which goes from West 20th to West 30th Streets. Originally constructed in the 1930’s for the elevation of freight trains, it was resurrected in 2009 with the opening of Section 1, which goes from Gansevoort to West 20th Street. It is an elevated park that features public art and an aerial view of the city.

The High Line is known as one of the rare places where New Yorkers go to do nothing. For two Wesleyan students, it is the equivalent of Foss Hill during finals week, an oasis in the midst of chaos. And it even looks like a campus in the sky, green and fresh plants balancing out the concrete we walk on. As we crossed the newest section of the High Line, we talked about the year to come and how we didn’t know why, but the experience of how being in the relaxation epicenter of New York reminded us of being at Wesleyan, surrounded by interesting people who spend their time in some of the most creative ways possible. What a great segue from a first year on campus to a summer in the city!

Don’t Hide the Madness: An Antithology

An interview with Morgan Hill ’14 by Shira Engel ‘14.

On May 3, the day after Mike Rosen’s senior project was performed in Memorial Chapel, I just knew that I had to interview a member of this group he put together. Morgan Hill, a willing member of the Om Collective, sat down to talk to me about the process of putting together this synchronous, multifaceted, and interdisciplinary project.

The Om Collective, Morgan says, is “an excuse to hang out and do pretty things. It’s an integration of artists from [creative campus icons like] Mad Wow, Wordsmith, weSLAM, which means dancers, poets, emcees, drummers, singers, horn players, guitarists, DJs, and sound engineers. I am honored to be included as a freshman in this group of people who decided to do performance art in a way we hadn’t seen done.”

Don’t Hide the Madness followed the framework of a spoken word performance, but strayed suitably. It was appropriately done in Memorial Chapel, where the Night Kite Revival performed earlier this year.

It all started with a vague idea. Mike contacted a group of artists on campus that he felt were right for the mission of the project. They met at his house one late night at the beginning of the semester to discuss how their diverse talents and styles might come together. Of the collaborative process, Morgan says, “There are a lot of different interests among the members and with those different interests, we can say something new about pop culture, poetry, and art. We can perform spoken word for what it is, showing it is just as legitimate an expression as anything else. The point was to experience the Self on entirely its own terms. We got to make art in the way we really wanted to make it.”

The intention of the performance, which combined spoken word, dance, singing, bass, and audience participation, had to do with Wesleyan as a creative campus, how it fosters art in a variety of forms and is part of a collective of universities pioneering a new one: poetry as performance art. Morgan explains that “slam is hyper-condensed into the past ten years.” It is fairly magical that Wesleyan can play such a huge role in cultivating an art, a means of self-expression and communal appreciation, that is still legitimizing itself.

I asked Morgan what it was like to integrate all these art forms. She responded, “We wanted to provide an explanation for what has been happening on this campus. We’re saying that this is something new that can be seen differently. This is where poetry can be right now; performance art as a denial of a formal structure is dangerous, but so cool, so cathartic.”

She continues with what I believe to be the perfect note to end this post on: “[At Wesleyan] you have so many people that are so talented in many different ways. Why wouldn’t you want to bring them together, all the time?”

WesWinds: Rides, Dances and Chaos!

An interview with Ariel Lesnick ’14 by Shira Engel ’14.

Ariel Lesnick is an enthusiastic student in the class of 2014 in the Wesleyan Wind Ensemble, WesWinds. She has been playing the clarinet since third grade and did not want to stop once she came to college. Lucky for her and for WesWinds, she got to continue playing and performing music as a part of this fun group. I interviewed her about her experience with WesWinds and how the ensemble prepared for their spring concert which took place on May 3, Rides, Dances and Chaos!

WesWinds is not simply a group for Wesleyan students; it is an integrative force that bridges the gap between the Wesleyan campus and the surrounding Middletown community. Ariel says of this coming together, “I sit next to a middle-aged man, a boy in high school, and another Wesleyan student. It reminds me that the real world exists and that music can bring people together.”

Peter Hadley, the conductor, has been at Wesleyan for seventeen years. His familiarity with the group is apparent in how he gently leads them and the audience through the music with his wonderful British accent. WesWinds is a full music credit for Wesleyan students. Rehearsal is once a week on Tuesdays from 7pm to 10pm. Ariel says that in the rehearsals, it is apparent what WesWinds is all about. “What’s unique to the group is that there are professional musicians and they really know what they’re talking about. Then there are kids who are fourteen and their moms sit and read while we practice.”

Of the concert, Ariel revealed, “We have an electric guitar soloist and he just shreds it. It’s the kind of music that is fun. I hope the audience had as much fun listening as we had playing. It’s hard in a concert because we know everything that went into it. We know all these components so I just hope the audience got what they wanted out of the concert. There are so many crucial factors that it is hard to take them all in. They are fun funk pieces.”

And I, as an audience member, noticed that they all “shredded it.” Ariel, front and center, played the clarinet with passion and talent, as did everyone else with their wide variety of instruments. It flowed seamlessly because they were having fun with the music and had an apparent desire for the audience to have fun as well. It was eclectic in a very Wesleyan way – with instruments from Home Depot (pails as drums) played next to more professional-looking electric guitars. The experimentalism entrenched in the performance was contagious and evidence of what Wesleyan students and the Middletown community are capable of as collaborators and music-makers.

Ebony Singers Spring Concert and Reunion

An interview with Maggie Cohen ’12 by Shira Engel ‘14.

In anticipation of the Ebony Singers 25th Spring Reunion Concert on April 24, I had spoken with Maggie Cohen, member and student of the Ebony Singers gospel choir. Cohen has been singing since middle school and when she got to Wesleyan, she missed having that in her life, but did not want to join a cappella or another formal singing group. She joined Ebony because of the powerful spirituality the choir sings about. Right before their concert, she provided me with some background about Ebony Singers.

Ebony Singers is a gospel choir composed of 150 students. It is also a class, which counts for half a credit and is cross-listed under the African American Studies and Music departments. It is a class because of the time commitment and the energy the students put into it and the end concert. Students come together to sing every Monday night. You don’t have to be Christian to be in it, but they sing Christian music.

Of her experience with Ebony, Maggie says,

“The whole point of Ebony Singers is not necessarily about being fantastic singers. It’s more about interacting with people and getting people to be excited and inspired and to have them be involved so that people who come to the concert feel a part of it. It’s not about being perfect or having the notes exactly right. It’s more about having the energy and heart in what we do.”

Leading up to the concert, the band would come in and the soloists started to practice within the group. Eventually, they practiced in their fancy dress and on the day of, they practiced in the Crowell Concert Hall, the site of the performance.

The concert was my first live gospel performance and Pastor Monts immediately made me feel included, even as an audience member in the back row of a packed concert hall. He went to Wesleyan as an undergrad and this is his twenty-fifth year directing Ebony. Maggie says that he ends every rehearsal by instructing the students to hug their neighbors as he shares a prayer or piece of spiritual guidance. He believes it is a joy to work with college students and to remind them that spiritual grounding can exist through their voices. Judging by the enthusiastic and interactive responses from the audience, that was certainly the case.

Wesleyan Writing Certificate and English Major

An article by Shira Engel ’14.

Upon first coming to Wesleyan, I had no idea what I wanted to major in. All I knew was that I wanted to continue writing. My first semester, I took three writing and reading intensive classes, but none of them under the English department or creative writing-based. I missed fiction. A lot.

So, second semester, I decide to be ambitious in employing my creativity in an academic setting. I signed up for an English class (Zora Neale Hurston and the Rise of Feminist Fiction) and a creative writing class (Amy Bloom’s Reading and Writing Fiction). Why two English classes? Actually, I soon discovered that I was not taking two English classes. I was taking one English class, which was cross-listed with a plethora of other departments, and one class that falls under what I have come to know as the Writing Certificate.

The Writing Certificate, while not a major itself, offers classes in creative writing or what I fondly refer to as the profession of writing. Under its title are classes in fiction, journalism, and even more esoteric subjects like television writing and science fiction. Some are taught by visiting writers/authors-in-residence. While the English major contains courses that are cross-listed with other departments, the Writing Certificate offers courses independent of other majors.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of overlap. On the contrary, students who pursue the Writing Certificate are required to take at least one course listed under the English department and the College of Letters that is an entry-level techniques course. In addition to that, three electives are required. There is such a wide range of these that students have the opportunity to use writing as a lens through which they can pursue their personal interests.

But there is still some confusion: Why are the Writing Certificate and the English major separate?

I asked Katherine Ann Eyster, Ford Writing Fellow, about the certificate. Here’s what she had to say:

I think that students pursue it partly as a sign of their skill and success in writing, and partly to gain access to writing courses and the senior capstone Certificate writing course, which is only for people pursuing the Writing Certificate. I don’t think that all of the classes under the Certificate umbrella should count towards English– the English department has its own rubric, and if writing classes fall outside of that it is understandable. The purpose of the Certificate is to help untangle “writing” from “English writing,” aka the false idea that writing only happens in the English major, so making all of the writing courses count towards English might be counter-intuitive.

Makes sense to me. This goes back to my initial discovery concerning writing within a liberal arts curriculum. No matter what field you are studying – be it Biology, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, or Economics, knowledge of writing – and more importantly, writing well – is absolutely necessary. The Writing Certificate blends those interests with courses that complement the ones required for a major. But, because it is not a major, students are given more freedom with which writing-related courses they pursue.

Review of Yusef Komunyakaa

A review of Yusef Komunyakaa’s reading by Shira Engel ’14.

You know you’re on a creative campus when you go from yoga to a club meeting to hearing a Pullitzer Prize-winning poet to meeting with your writing partner. Oh, wait – what did I just say? Pulitzer Prize-winning poet? A five minute walk away from my dorm? Yes.

On Wednesday, April 13, Yusef Komunyakaa read his poetry for a chapel filled with English majors and people who simply wanted to listen to beautiful words. He visited us from NYU where he is the Senior Distinguished Poet in the Graduate Writing Program. He was invited by the English Department as part of the Distinguished Writers series.

In this post, I could list the plethora of books he has written. I could knock off titles of his poems. I could name the impressive universities he has read and taught at. But when Komunyakaa came to Wesleyan, he shared individual poems to a mixed audience. Some – many of the English majors or students working towards the Writing Certificate – had read his poetry before while others were hearing his words for the first time.

He is what many poets aspire to be – a professional. On his way to work, he thinks of poems. He does not write them down until he gets to the office. It is a game he plays with himself. When he gets to work, he writes the poem he created mentally during his walk. Sharing this tidbit of his poetic process is just as valuable as sharing his actual poetry with Wesleyan students. When distinguished writers come to speak here, they share practical aspects of their creative processes. This takes creativity from the abstract to the intimate and paves the way for students to create the type of art they admire.

Komunyakaa’s visit to Wesleyan was part of the Russell House Series for Prose, Poetry, and Center for the Arts Music Series. The next event lined up is a reading for the Student Prize Winners on Wednesday, May 4.

Review of Westories

A review of Westories by Shira Engel ’14.


On Wednesday March 31, Wesleyan hosted a Story Slam at the student-run café, Espwesso. Unlike the café, this slam was not student-run. It was hosted by Wesleyan, but put on and administrated by the Connecticut Storytelling Center. When I first heard about the Story Slam, I assumed it was going to be similar to the many awesome poetry slams put on by the student group WeSLAM, but this was altogether different.

The mission of the “Campus Slammers” is to develop both storytellers and listeners in campus communities. It is based on a poetry slam format except each participant gets 5 minutes to tell their story and they are not allowed to read anything – it is free form, free verse, and freely spoken.

The theme for the Story Slam at Wesleyan was “winners and losers.” The turnout was fairly minimal, but hopefully these kinds of events, where individuals can share stories of the times that have cultivated their identities, will grow in attendance. The stories told were organic and, although initially about winning and losing, grew to tell stories of identity and coming of age, subjects that are on most college students’ minds.

The winners of the Wesleyan Campus Slammer, Taylor Goodstein and Paul Pianta, will go on to the final round at Connecticut College. The top three winners of the final round will go on to perform at the noncompetitive Connecticut Storytelling Festival.

While it would be awesome for these campus slammers to have more student involvement, I think we could all get behind their overall objective: “to promote the living art and use of storytelling in the many environments of our diverse society.”

Check out what the Connecticut Storytelling Center has to say about their time at Wesleyan here!