Photo of Mady CantorBryn Mawr's arts faculty
treasure working with students.
At left, Madeline R. Cantor,
associate director of dance
and associate lecturer
in the Arts Program,
in a studio exercise.


THE ARTS, LIBERALLY

To find the office of The Arts Program in Goodhart Hall, you take a short flight of steps down into a small garden. There, tucked into the flank of this immense building with its soaring spires and buttresses is a wooden door, very much like the one in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. You open it and enter the spaces of the imagination.

The Arts Program is a family of working artists. Each has a different voice, but in each voice is reflected the same respect for and delight in the students. Each has professional commitments outside of Bryn Mawr, but it's clear Bryn Mawr means the most to them -- each embraces the liberal arts environment as the liveliest arena for his or her work.

Dance Director and Senior Lecturer Linda Caruso-Haviland holds the memory of what the arts were like at Bryn Mawr before the program was created in 1984. "The difference between 1979 and now is the difference between night and day," she says appreciatively. "After several faculty reviews, the administration made a wholehearted commitment and hired Jane Wilkinson to direct an integrated program. Until she arrived, we were all separate satellites, respected but not part of the larger liberal arts curriculum."

Michael Isador, concert pianist and child prodigy, succeeded Wilkinson as director of the Arts Program in 1992 when she moved from the area. "Running this program has been a challenge with many exciting moments," Michael says. "There's a high degree of cooperation from the College." He pauses for an instant, smiles and continues, "within the limits the College has put on creative disciplines."

Photo of Michael IsadorMichael's is the daily task of keeping the disciplines in balance, being an advocate for the Program with the College administration, being a facilitator. "I'm a practical person," he says. "I base my visions in the reality of what is possible." Within that reality, Michael has expanded the Performing Arts Series, which now makes money for the College and he has established the Creative Writing Program. "The Arts at Bryn Mawr are not in a state of siege," he says, "but occasionally people here are careless with the Arts, and I hasten to correct them."

Michael "shepherds" the arts at Bryn Mawr, and he loves doing so. There is no question in his mind of the value of the liberal arts experience for the creative personality. He was a concert pianist from the age of 11, when he debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra. When it was time for college, he chose to go not to a conservatory, but to Brandeis, which had a long tradition of combining the arts and academia. After two years he thought, " 'I really must go to a serious place,' so I went to Juilliard and loathed it. I think conservatories are death."

He is equally sure of the value of the arts for young scholars. "The arts teach students to take and trust their own paths, to develop their own personalities, to listen to their own voices. I think stressing the creative spirit is a very important aspect of learning, and within the liberal arts it could be developed a whole lot more."

While Michael's immediate goals are to build a "real" performing arts center, and to have curricular requirements freed up enough to permit more students to participate in the arts courses, he envisions a commitment of the heart, not just to buildings. He wants Bryn Mawr to "cherish the arts as something without which it cannot live." Then he smiles again. "This concept is not fundamental to American culture."

"I love this place," Michael says. And that is significant, for he has called many places home. He has performed and recorded in England and in France, toured Europe, Asia, North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. He's been an accompanist for the BBC, director of the McGill Conservatory of Music in Montreal. He became familiar with the business side of the arts as co-founder and artistic director of Masterpieces, an international recital series for the City of Santa Barbara, and as managing director for the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. His passion as a musician and his pragmatism as an administrator thrive at Bryn Mawr. "Everything I've ever done in my life, whether it's been technical or artistic, administrative or financial, I get to use in this job."

The knowing body

It's not that the fortunes of the Arts Program describe a continuously upward curve. Linda Caruso-Haviland agrees it's necessary to engage faculty, administration, and students in discussions about the value and location of the arts in the curriculum.

Photo of Linda Caruso-HavilandBut the shift is happening, and Linda is part of it. This year, in the newly created structure of "College Seminars" that replaces Freshman Composition, she is team teaching with English and chemistry faculty. "It's a terrific challenge," she says laughing with delight. "I haven't been to bed before midnight any day this week." "It's another way in which people can begin to understand how dance functions as a liberal art as well as a performing art -- you not only do it, but you can observe it and analyze it."

Linda speaks of her "baby ballet" classes. "Many of the people in this class have never had ballet, or had it once as small children. None are going to go on to become ballerinas -- not when they are starting at the age of 19. So why am I teaching them ballet? I want to reawaken them to the joy of having a body and moving, to remind them there are ways of taking in information which can be non-discursive and that this way of knowing is valid."

Linda and Mady, along with several adjunct faculty from the professional and scholarly worlds of dance, teach choreography, performance, a range of dance techniques, and courses which take a more traditional academic approach to dance. With obvious pleasure, Linda describes her introductory level composition classes where "a dancer who has trained for 10 years might work with a Haverford student from the track team who had never danced before in his life; they each bring different kinds of freedoms and restraints."

"It's often a difficult class to teach," adds Mady, "but we press them and stretch them, and I've received evaluations which say, 'I've never worked so hard for any class.' "

Linda encourages Mady to describe the Outreach Project she created. "The Dance Outreach Project grows from my long-term interest in performing for audiences that don't ordinarily see dance," says Mady. "It's very rewarding for the mixed group of student performers that I must weld into an ensemble. For some it's their first performance experience. And we get love letters from third and fourth graders who write about what they 'learned' from the choreography. Some of the kids have never seen dance before. They come up and touch the costumes afterwards like sacred objects."

"It's a three-tiered approach," Mady says of the dance program, "We do it, we create it, we set it in context." This phrase could well stand as the mission statement of The Arts Program.

'Gold, not frill'

English House is being repainted, the driveway repaved. Faculty offices are identified with small slips of paper on the floor by the still-wet doors. Rachel Simon's office is at the end of one of the halls that twist this way and that on the second floor.

Photo of Rachel SimonRachel Simon is at Bryn Mawr only on Mondays. Her full-time job is running events at the Barnes & Noble superstore in Princeton, N.J. "Basically I do whatever I can to promote literature," she says. "That's my religion, my mission. I added the work at Bryn Mawr to my schedule a year ago, and it's part of the same package."

Rachel approaches her mission with the high energy that has her teaching private classes in her home in the evenings and on weekends, writing op-eds for The Philadelphia Inquirer, proofing the manuscript of an about-to-be published book on the technical aspects of writing (a companion piece to her book on its emotional and psychological aspects), and completing her second novel.

This is only her second year teaching fiction in the Arts Program. But Rachel knows Bryn Mawr. She graduated from the College in 1981 with "a degree in anthro and a writer's block, which I finally got out of in my mid-20s." Bryn Mawr's philosophy informs her teaching. "All subjects at Bryn Mawr are taught as if you were majoring in them. That's how I was taught here and that's how I teach."

She teaches primarily through student-teacher conferences rather than the standard workshop format. Her Monday seminar runs from 7-10 in the evening. Throughout the day she schedules one-on-one consultations. "I want to work as closely as I can with each student. They can talk to me about what they are afraid of, what they're happy about, we can brainstorm if necessary, and I can give them all the direct encouragement they need. Students here treat one-on-one conferences as gold, not frill.

"In class we train their eye and ear and their ability to use language. Look, I don't show my writing to other people until I'm ready to show it, so why should my students do otherwise? It's too ... they're too ... vulnerable. I want my classes to be mirthful. I want people to be relaxed and work with what they have. I want to foster an atmosphere of trust."

Rachel bemoans the difficulty of cutting her class size down to the requisite number of 15 (52 pre-registered for the class this fall) and how hard it is to grade students when she believes more in the passion that will make a writer persevere than in the talent with which they come into class. "Quality must be the first thing you look at, but if the same person who writes beautifully on day one, has a bad attitude, doesn't participate, and never moves further, then I won't reward that. Part of being a writer is cooperating with the editor, and in this instance I am almost in that role. I'll teach my students everything I know."

'Writers write!'

Quinn Eli came to Bryn Mawr in 1993, right after completing his master's in Creative Writing at Temple and just as he began the work for a Ph.D. in English. Bryn Mawr hired him to teach Freshman English.

Photo of Quinn Eli"I tried to channel my section towards my interests at that time which pretty exclusively concerned African-American literature." When his Ph.D. drew him more and more into studying the African-American presence in film, he included more of that in his course and this year, he will teach a course in film studies for the English department. He has published a book of quotations, African-American Wisdom, and a companion book, Many Strong and Beautiful Voices, is about to appear.

Quinn was trained as a fiction writer but says he now believes "that writers write. When we were putting together a Creative Writing Program, we wanted one which encouraged students to think of themselves as writers first, rather than as poets, journalists, fiction writers, to be well trained to handle any challenge that might come their way. There's really no contemporary branch of writing that's not covered in this program -- fiction, creative non-fiction, feature journalism, screenwriting, experimental writing, poetry, and, with Mark Lord, playwriting. This year, in our campus-wide workshops we'll be doing children's literature and genre fiction."

All the Arts Program courses are over-subscribed, but none more so than Creative Writing. "Forty-five people showed up last Monday for the 15-person Creative Nonfiction Class," Quinn says, "and that's not unusual."

This year, Quinn teaches Creative Nonfiction and Feature Journalism. He has been especially moved by the writing in Creative Nonfiction. "Perhaps because it's a newer field, students don't feel the great presence of the masters hovering over them. They feel instead a sense of empowerment. There's less of an impulse to show off.

"Feature Journalism," he says, "is the unholy twin of Creative Nonfiction. In that course you might say I'm almost aggressively vocational in sensibility. The purpose is to write something that could be published in a magazine or a newspaper. Students have to put together a list of publications appropriate to the pieces they are working on, and then they have to pitch their ideas to the editors. The skills have been developed, its time to learn how to get the work out, to get beyond the paralysis of making submissions."

"Writers write," he says again. "If I'm concerned with anything, I'm concerned about demystifying a lot of the debilitating myths folks have about writers."

Falling in love with poems

Maggie Holley, Ph.D. '83, is gentle in voice and demeanor. She has been director of the Creative Writing Program since its inception last year. For 10 years before that she was an assistant to President of the College, Mary Patterson McPherson, and for 15 years before that she taught English and comparative literature.

Photo of Maggie HolleyWhile in the President's Office Maggie could feel herself reclaiming her identity as a poet. By the time she left that office, she had published two books of poetry and a critical study of Marianne Moore, so it was natural that she was invited by Haverford and Bryn Mawr to teach two leave replacement semesters in creative writing and poetry. "Those two semesters helped me to relocate myself professionally in a way that matched how I had already relocated myself personally."

As a poet, Maggie is a passionate reader, and her students read great numbers of poems in class. "The way you learn about the possibilities of poetry, the breadth and depth of it, is by studying the poems you fall in love with. I encourage the students to read out of hunger, appetite and love and to find what really moves them. The poems become their teachers, and I become the facilitator."

Maggie, too, speaks of the oversubscribed courses. "While this is wonderful in a way, since it demonstrates the degree of interest on campus, we are not planning to expand the size of the classes."

Small classes, intense and frequent conference time with each student, the necessity of teaching revision -- this note is struck again and again.

"Eight poems a semester represent an enormous amount of writing. And the students write extemporaneously in every class as well. It's not what they produce in class that counts here, but what they learn about the kinds of trials, attempts and exercises writers do to learn their craft. It's like practicing scales for a musician, or mixing colors for a painter. I don't teach my own poems, but once a year I'll bring one of mine in along with all the working drafts that preceded it and talk about the decisions, problems, challenges, uncertainties and changes that accompanied each step. The most important thing I do as a teacher may be to teach students how to revise."

Another course, Experimental Writing, grew out of Maggie's interest in very short contemporary forms - "flash fiction," the prose poem, the found poem, monologues and dialogues as performance pieces. Maggie adds to the list: "Some of the new novel forms such as discontinuous narrative, the interrelation between text and graphics, interpenetration of fiction and fact, text and dance, text and music."

Because Maggie, like Linda Haviland, remembers a time when the arts were somewhat orphaned on campus, she too speaks of the increasing intermarriage of the disciplines that has come about since 1984.

"Playwriting with Mark Lord is already offered every other year at the beginning and advanced levels in the Creative Writing program. Last year, a guest artist from Philadelphia, dancer Karen Bamonte, performed a dance based upon a sentence by Gertrude Stein at the same time that Mark Lord was putting on a Stein play and my Experimental Writing class was studying Stein's poetry. The writers had a workshop with Bamonte on the mixed medium of dance and text."

'I am the glue!'

Fine Arts Lecturer Emma Varley steps out from the printmaking studio in Arnecliffe, where 15 students are working at woodcuts. "Michael says I'm the glue in the Haverford-Bryn Mawr relationship," she states. Big smile. Emma is the only fine arts faculty member on the Bryn Mawr campus and consequently spends a lot of time at Haverford with its panoply of painting, sculpture and photography. Her majors are encouraged to be at Haverford as much as possible. She makes it mandatory for her students to go to the openings of art shows at the Haverford Galleries.

Photo of Emma VarleyEmma is in her second year at Bryn Mawr, but still amazed to be here and gloriously happy. "I didn't believe it when Michael Isador called me after my M.F.A. show at the Tyler School of Art. He told me about a possible opening in printmaking at Bryn Mawr. It's rare to get a job in one's field after graduation."

She may be a bit amazed to be in the United States at all. When she graduated from Leeds University in West Yorkshire, England in 1990, with first class honors in printmaking, she didn't expect she'd be making her living as an artist in America six years later. "When I decided to go to graduate school, I applied to the Royal College in London but decided I should also look elsewhere. So I took out a map of America, whirled my finger around and stopped at a few places. Philadelphia was one, Tyler School of Art at Temple. I was accepted into the program on full scholarship. I came to visit, liked it, went back to England, found I'd been accepted into the Royal College. At the last minute I jumped onto a plane with my tea bags and came to Philadelphia."

Emma's not used to a college where everyone lives on campus, and she doesn't want her students to be too insular. "We take field trips to First Friday in downtown Philly. We get in the mini-van, and I drag them around to the shows in New York City. I want them to see how printmaking is important in the field of contemporary art."

"I was so new last year," she says, "I wondered what the students would be like, what they would want from me. I felt that one of the most important things was to immerse them immediately into the creative process of hands-on experience - the physical immediacy of using the tools to cut into the wood."

In her three-hour classes, she gives short lectures and many demonstrations, but the bulk of the time is hands on. She is happy that many of the students she had last year have returned to take her class again and that two of them have become printmaking majors. She finds her students open and willing and full of energy, diverse not only culturally but in their outlook. She loves the fact that her printmakers are biologists, language majors, actors and writers.

She has moved from her apartment in Philadelphia to one close by. She wants to get to know the faculty better, to be a more visible presence on campus. She organizes the campus art shows. The first one featured the works of Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani '98, who combines photography, sculpture and the texts of her poems to produce a single art piece. The second will be ofEmma's own work, the third of women who have been visiting artists at Bryn Mawr. Emma will also be included in a group print show at American University, Washington, D.C. She cocks her head toward the door of the studio. "I'd better be getting back to the students," she says. "It's the beginning of the semester, and I'm nervous they'll be cutting their fingers off."

The set of spaces

Mark Lord is the playwright and director, Hiroshi Iwasaki the technical director and set designer. As with Mady and Linda, whose offices are next door in Goodhart, to be with Mark and Hiroshi is to be in the presence of twin minds. "We're trying to make an experience which is full and rich and compelling," Mark says." We've been working together for a while. I can think of how Hiroshi would approach a problem, and he's perfectly capable of getting into my head and anticipating where my thoughts might go."

Photo of Mark LordMark talks about their company in Philadelphia. "The last large thing we did was an installation of Samuel Beckett texts in the Eastern State Penitentiary. Eastern State is empty now. It's an historic site, built in the early 19th century. Its ruling idea was a spoke and hub design which meant that each prisoner had an individual cell and never saw another prisoner. This conformed to the Quaker idea that by reflecting on his inner light in solitude, a man would be more likely to come back into the fold. Hiroshi and I find that sort of isolation and its consequences reflected in Beckett's writing. So we set about using the 10-acre site as a way of staging five scenes that move an audience through what they think about isolation, about Beckett, about the prison itself which is crumbling, desolate, decrepit. We used 17 performers for that project, some of whom were Haverford and Bryn Mawr alumnae/i and the rest professional actors from Philadelphia."

Both Hiroshi and Mark move easily in the realm of the abstract. "What often happens," Hiroshi says, "is that in response to layers of history, to the debris of culture, we live, not on a bland, bare, stage, but in the long tedious waves of things that have passed and yet are still lingering on. So we tend to be responsive, reflective upon the things that come our way."

Photo of Hiroshi Iwasaki"If Mark likes to be site-specific," Hiroshi continues, "it is because at Bryn Mawr, because of the lack of resources and facilities, we are forced to deal with site. In any difficult situation, one is forced to become creative and out of this surprising things happen. It's the exhilaration of the surprise that keeps us going."

The site Mark and Hiroshi are referring to is Goodhart Hall. "Goodhart has probably never been much in the way of a theatre," Mark says. "There are things here that Hiroshi considers just sort of loopy, sort of mistakes as far as the design of a theatre is concerned. But it happens to be a beautiful building in which to work. And to some extent, this whole way of working site specifically came out of trying to work around and take advantage of the problems of this space as a theatre. It's a glorious set of spaces."

Their productions usually move through any number of separate spaces in Goodhart -- the audience may be sitting on the stage itself, under the stage, in the balcony, at various spots outside the building, in the Common Room.

"One of the advantages of our kind of work is that we give people the chance to be active observers," Mark says. "We're so trained to be television watchers, to be passive observers. Often in class, students can become the passive recipients of knowledge. If the theatre is going to last as an art form through the next century, it needs to find a way of involving people that is special, that involves only the possibilities of theatre. The spectacle is something you are there for. If you aren't there, you didn't see it, and there is no way of recapturing it."

Mark is now auditioning students for the fall production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. "I'm most interested right now in working with really dense, very thematically involved texts. For me the three writers that loom over all the rest as far as that's concerned are Shakespeare, Beckett and Gertrude Stein. They have a similar richness, brilliance and deftness with language and ambiguity."

"They let us imagine, instead of handing us finished images," Hiroshi says. "It's very difficult to design for that. We need to be clear, but to be clearly ambiguous. The most thrilling part is to discover how what happens in your head happens in actuality. Sometimes it's a shock, and sometimes you say, 'Oh, that's exactly as we imagined it.' "

Mark chuckles. "Now, Hiroshi, when did that ever happen?"

"We get to share our work with an audience between the ages of 17 and 21 and that makes us the luckiest theatre artists we know," Mark says. "Theatre work requires a terrifically active audience that doesn't hesitate to challenge anything at any time. And those students who go on and make careers in theatre, because they come from this environment, stand a good chance of doing really original and startling work."

In Mark's voice, as in all the others, there is this note of love for what takes place here. "What we try to do is kind of caress and hold the work the students are doing, which may be imperfect, but which in its thoughtfulness and its intent and its commitment is as pure as theater can be. It's that completeness and purity of intent that make a theatrical experience soar."

cover icon Return to Winter 1997 highlights

MHK