“Usually, when I tell people that I make music, I don’t reference Primary Colors,” says the polite, affable sophomore. “Instead I say, ‘Check me out on Soundcloud.’” Sitting in front of me with his work neatly put aside to accommodate this impromptu interview is Paul Russell, who is an opinion columnist for The Sun and is otherwise known by the name ‘Paulitics’ under which he raps, sings and writes music. We’re sitting at a table in Temple of Zeus on Friday afternoon, the last day of class before Spring Break. Over the course of this winter break, I grew familiar with Paul’s work, after he granted me permission to use some of his songs in a feature-length film I was co-directing. Naturally, this level of familiarity with his work made me want to learn more about the artist behind the music I was so generously given access to; Hence this interview.
Race has long been a salient topic in the United States, but the production of Baltimore by the Department of Performing and Media Arts and the Ithaca Civic Ensemble demonstrates why it is so important to talk about right now. The play touches on crucial concepts such as police brutality, the black-white binary, intersectionality and jokes that go too far, all on a college campus. An African-American student and RA named Shelby (Edem Dzodzomenyo ’20) goes to interview her university’s new dean, Dean Hernandez (Irving Torres ’18) for the newspaper, and they argue about his convocation speech and the issue of race on campus, which Shelby prefers to ignore. She leaves frustrated about his views on race and goes to vent about the encounter with her best friend, Grace (Sabrina Liu ’20). During their conversation, Grace receives a message and informs Shelby that someone has drawn a caricature of a black woman on the door of Shelby’s resident, Alyssa, who is black.
The entire cast and directing team is black, a deliberate shock to the conventional theatre world. Or, should I say Cornell’s theatre world? The first full-length play to stage exclusively people of color in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, Life Sentence was written by the trailblazing playwright Gloria Majule ’17. “Coming here my freshmen year I felt a need for more roles for people of color. At first it was more out of anger for the lack of people of color and then it became something more.” Majule began the writing process over two years ago as her thesis, and will finally witness her goals embodied on stage Thursday in the Blackbox Theatre of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
In turbulent times, art and its artists find themselves thrown into a space of ambiguity and with it comes a host of questions regarding their purpose. Artistic and political space inevitably intersect. Is this by accident or by unbending intent? More broadly, what is the role of the artist? For Kadie Salfi, a local Ithaca artist and an active member of the Alice Cook House community, these questions are addressed through an invitation for dialogue. Located in the Willard Straight Hall Art Gallery, Salfi’s exhibit Red Guns is part of a poignant and enduring conversation about gun violence in America.
I can tell you that Alicia Hall Moran is a singer with countless biographies woven into her lungs; that Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon are poets of vast interpersonal awareness; that LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs is a sensitive purveyor of visual and sonic incisions. But this conveys only who they are on paper and not what they became in person when their forces cross-pollinated in Cornell’s Kiplinger Theater last Tuesday night. The title of their performance, THROUGHLINE, felt like both descriptor and mission statement as they drew lines through the curio cabinets of our minds even while rearranging them, jumping from soul to soul until only a singularity of verbal perfume was left. Amid top notes of citrus and spice, girlhood’s questioning turned into womanhood’s indestructibility and floral mids scented the skin of forgotten children, while a base of grasslands and burnt umber evoked the muck of conflicting narratives from which these four singular artists excavated common themes. Moran’s voice carried ahistorical futures written in historical registers.
Rather than inventing something never seen before, sometimes the most novel idea is a reiteration on the familiar. Cog Dog Theatre Troupe took this route with their production of Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. Performed at Risley Theatre and directed by Sydney Wolfe ‘19 and Amber Pasha ‘20 this play imagines the characters from Charles Schultz’ Peanuts as teenagers in the throes of adolescence. With Charlie Brown having outgrown his name in favor of “CB”, it quickly becomes obvious that many of the characters are almost unrecognizable from their comic book days, but nevertheless they capture many issues familiar to us. In a moving reading of his letter to his unresponsive pen-pal, CB, played by Tyler Lloyd ‘19, commences the play by lamenting the recent and the horrifying death of his dog.
Barnes Hall was packed for “Song of the Land: Poems of Ishion Hutchinson,” a performance presented by the Music Department that put Hutchinson’s poetry to compositions by graduate student composers. The performance presented a fusion of the old and the new, incorporating multiple forms of art to deliver a powerful concert. Guest artist Rachel Calloway, a mezzo soprano, sang a dramatic reading that conveyed the emotion communicated in the performance, and did so in a way that drew the audience in to share in the experience with her. This innovative project brought the respective virtues of literature and music into a symbiotic relationship that managed to showcase both the artistry of the music and the postmodern themes of Hutchinson’s poetry. The English department’s Ishion Hutchinson writes narrative poetry that investigates colonialism through his depictions of landscape and the emotional weight of colonial history.
It is only appropriate that playwright Laura Eason chooses to reflect on the millennial obsession and consumption of authentic selfhood through psychological realism, a form that exposes private and supposedly authentic humanness. Literally walled off in a remote house and then, during act two, in an apartment, actors Leeanne Hutchison and Darian Dauchan strive to imitate authentic privacy through theatre. Their characters, Olivia and Ethan, aspire to achieve this by writing fiction, and, both character and actor, inevitably by social media. So the play dialogues inwards, towards a generation where pressure to authentically be (and perform) one’s self is supreme, monetized and burns through relationships. Sex With Strangers’ political effect is potent but undecided, and ultimately, like its form, a dialogue in itself.
Located in the Gold and Picket Family Video Galleries, Empathy Academy succeeds in synthesizing art and the human experience via an organic transmission of the unspoken immensity of the exhibition to the viewer. While the works embody the material forms conventionally tied to them (sculpture, film, etc.) the medium takes a platform that is undeniably human in nature. In “Colors, Cultures, Knots, and Time,” Ernesto Neto invites the viewer into a space of wordless dialogue. Neto’s installation consists of plastic rings serving as loci from which vividly colored cotton strings connect. The threads are not, however, limited to single hoop; many are seen taking a journey across rings and sharing their own space with that of others.