Love's Infrastructure (photo by Izzy Burger)
Torry Bend is an Assistant Professor of the Practice in Duke’s Theater Studies Department, where she teaches the design classes and designs the sets for the department’s main productions. Her set designs have appeared at major venues around the country: Are They Edible, presented at La Mama, Incubator Arts Project and Dixon’s Place, a Southwest Shakespeare Company production of Pygmalion, and Stephen Wadsworth's Agamemnon at the Getty Villa, among others. She’s a 2007 graduate of the MFA program in Scene Design at California Institute of the Arts.
Bend also creates strikingly original multimedia puppet shows, which she then builds and directs. Her first major show in Durham was Paper Hat Game. IndyWeek reviewer Byron Woods described it as a “sparkling yet pensive fusion of video, experimental set design and live performance [that] borrows a number of film techniques as it unfolds the true story of Scott Iseri, a Chicago sound designer whose deceptively whimsical acts of performance art—and community building—began on that city's subways in 2001.” The video design for the show was by Raquel Salvatella de Prada, a Duke colleague from Visual and Media Arts.
"I think that our music is a little silly at times and also very sad and Torry's art combines those elements as well, so, kind of seeing the full spectrum of emotion in life of both happiness and sadness, and laughter and tears."
-James Phillips of Bombadil
Bend’s latest show, Love’s Infrastructure, owes its existence to Aaron Greenwald, executive director of Duke Performances. After seeing Paper Hat Game at Manbites Dog Theater, Greenwald was inspired to introduce the imaginative director to the members of Bombadil, a playfully compelling local band that he’d presented in Duke Gardens the previous summer. They hit it off, and a commission from Duke Performances launched a collaboration. The result is a surreal puppet pop opera that centers on daydreaming Angeline, a character from Bombadil’s song by the same name, and the man who falls in love with her. Love's Infrastructure played four shows to packed houses this past January.
Bend’s next production, If My Feet Have Lost the Ground, is the story of a woman who finds a beating heart on an airplane and goes in search of its owner. It’s slated for production in the fall.
I got a taste of Bend's hands-on production style when I visited the set of Love's Infrastructure on the afternoon of its premier. It was calm when I arrived—a few people were putting final touches on the set while Bombadil ran through their numbers and checked their timing. An hour or so later things were busier, and I watched Bend sit on the floor to paint the base of a little house on a pole. Every few strokes of the brush, it seemed, she was pulled away to discuss logistics or check some camera work or adjust some other part of her elaborate toy cityscape. When I left she was back on the floor, painting and joking with a few bystanders. I had the feeling that the last-minute project was more a refuge than a duty. After all, constructing sets is what got her hooked on the theater, and I think that even her most conceptual work springs from the same basic fascination with model building.
It was an all-consuming show with a compressed production schedule, and Bend was still catching her breath when I interviewed with her about a week and a half after it closed. Naturally we talked about the show, but we also talked about her evolution as an artist, about her dual roles as scene designer and puppet artist, and about her teaching and her background. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Kevin Poole in "Big Love" by Charles L. Mee
Kevin Poole. (T’98) (directed Phil Watson in his Senior Distinction project, "An Iliad.")
Studying and practicing theater at Duke enriched my college experience immensely. A thread within the fabric of my overall liberal arts education, theater provided a means to actively explore social issues by more deeply comprehending the complex relationships between individuals and systems within which those individuals operate; sometimes knowingly, often times not. Balancing practice with theory is a challenge within the field of theater in higher education and that tension played out well for me at Duke and also in graduate school.
Phil Watson in "An Iliad"
Struggle and Understanding
By Phil Watson
Watson is a senior in Theater Studies at Duke who recently presented his senior distinction project, An Iliad, in Shaeffer Theater.
The experience of preparing and performing a distinction project in physical acting (An Iliad), with an emphasis on movement and voice, was taxing. Projects like mine are explorations; they are adventures. I set out to understand more about my art and myself, and I blinked and found myself shuffling home after midnight day after day, exhausted both physically and emotionally, only to do it all over again the next day, but even more.
But the series of breakthroughs I made in those explorations made all that work worth it. Suddenly, my body and mind connected in a new way, and I began seeing things in a different light. I understood.
That's what Duke is to me. Studying classics, or mechanical engineering, or anything, is a process of struggle and understanding, repeated over and over again. You work hard in the library or in the studio, and you learn. You grasp a little more, and then a little more, and then even more. You learn something about yourself and your abilities and about the world at large.
"An Iliad" Production Poster
This past February, Theater Studies and Classical Studies major Phil Watson presented his Senior Distinction project, An Iliad, in Sheafer Theater. The one-man show, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O'Hare, is a modern day retelling of Homer’s classic. The show was directed by Theater Studies alum Kevin Poole.
In the interview that follows, Lauren Feilich talks with Watson about the show and about the path through Duke that led to it. It's a window into one Duke student's transformative encounters with the arts. The interview was published in the Duke Chronicle on January 14 of this year, about a month before An Iliad opened.
In a separate post, Watson and Poole look back on their experience preparing and presenting the show. To round out things out, several other alums of Duke's Theater Studies program who have gone on to careers in the theater or elsewhere have contributed their own reflections.
Senior Phil Watson Reflects On Involvement In Theater Department
By Lauren Feilich, The Chronicle Recess, January 14, 2014
Phil Watson is a Trinity senior majoring in theater studies and classical studies. For his heavy involvement in theater both at Duke and in Durham, Recess spoke with Watson about his years at Duke and his exciting final project for the spring.
The Chronicle: Tell me a little bit about your experience with art at Duke.
Phil Watson: Art at Duke… That’s a lot. I started as an art history major, and I spent a fair amount of time at the Nasher. I was amazed at how much it’s got. You know, Durham, North Carolina, you don’t think of as a hub for culture, but it is. We’ve got that, and I’m a musician so I played with Hoof 'n’ Horn for a little bit, and I slowly became aware of all these different people doing all these different things. I was playing in the pit and looked up one day, during a rehearsal, and I was like, huh, I think I could do that. And here we are.
The thing about Duke is you get the kind of people where everybody is a Renaissance man or woman; you’ve got engineers who also sing and play violin and do all these different things, and they do them all really well. I just did a workshop with a playwright named Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and he referred to theater artists as ragamuffin autodidacts, which just cracked me up. I think that’s how the arts here work, all these people who are not being forced at all. Everybody doing arts here is self-motivated, and as a result, everything they do has this crazy fire to it.
And so the idea of all these people doing all these different things—it’s very punk rock, all these underfunded hanging-on-by-a-thread people fighting tooth and nail to get something out there. That’s what I like about this. And so for my show, “The Iliad,” my distinction project, I have a table... and a bottle. And I have never seen a bottle turn into so many different things.
This spring Duke's Visiting Artist Program includes a dance troupe from Brooklyn, a theater director from Duke (class of '98), music residencies featuring the premier of a new setting of St. Luke's Passion and three exceptional ensembles who will work with Duke composition students.
The goal of the Visiting Artist Program is to support projects that will enrich the life of the university and broader community, augment the curricular efforts of a range of departments and programs, facilitate the interaction of artists and scholars, foster the reputation of Duke University as a place where the arts are vital and diverse, and contribute to the arts as a whole.
The New York based new-music sextet yMusic will make its final visit to Duke this spring to conclude its work with students in Duke's graduate composition program, rehearsing and recording their works in the newly renovated Baldwin Auditorium.
Imani Winds & The Hilliard Ensemble
Two other top-flight ensembles will also work with Duke's student composers this year — Imani Winds, an energetic American woodwind quintet and The Hilliard Ensemble, a vocal quartet renowned for bringing the pristine blend of Renaissance polyphony to music both new and old. Both groups will prepare and record new pieces composed by Duke Music Department graduate composition students, and Imani Winds will participate in a rehearsal with the Duke Wind Symphony, providing feedback to the student musicians.
These three residencies will provide Duke's up-and-coming composers with an exceptional opportunity for professional and musical development. Produced by Duke Performances in cooperation with Duke Music Department.
Urban Bush Women
The two-week residency by the world-renowned, Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company Urban Bush Women will culminate in the world premiere of Walking With 'Trane, a piece created by the company's artistic director, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and inspired by John Coltrane's magnificent jazz suite, A Love Supreme.
The company will also be on hand to participate in "Dancing the African Diaspora — Theories of Black Performance," a symposium organized by SLIPPAGE: Performance|Culture|Technology, the research group founded by Dance Program faculty member Thomas DeFrantz. The three-day event starts on February 7.
Other residency events will include master classes, a workshop for dance composition students, open rehearsals, and visits to dance courses. Outreach visits to local Durham public schools, Hillside and Riverside high schools, are planned as well, with Duke dance students shadowing company members in order to learn their community engagement techniques. The residency by Urban Bush Women is produced by Duke Performances in cooperation with Duke's Dance Program.
The three-week residency of the OBIE-winning theater company Hoi Polloi will be a homecoming for its founder and artistic director, Alec Duffy, who is a 1998 Duke graduate. The residency centers on the premiere of Republic, a work that has emerged from Plato's famous treatise over the course of a two-year collaboration between Duffy and Duke's Department of Theater Studies.
The residency will feature class visits and masterclasses in acting and devised theater with Duffy and members of the company, joined at times by the playwright Noah Mease, who is adapting the piece into contemporary language. The company's public events will include open rehearsals and a public conversation exploring the themes of the play. The residency by Hoi Polloi is produced by Duke Performances in cooperation with Duke’s Department of Theater Studies.
April 2014 • Event Site
Performance on April 13
The spring residency by Scottish composer and conductor James MacMillan builds on his two-year collaboration with members of Duke's Divinity School and the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. The residency here is organized under the auspices of DITA (Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts), a Divinity School initiative that promotes the mutual enrichment of theology and the arts.
The highlight of the residency will be the April 13 premier in Duke Chapel of MacMillan's setting of the St. Luke Passion, performed by the combined forces of the Duke Chapel Choir, Durham Children's Choir, and Orchestra Pro Cantores, conducted by Rodney Wynkoop. The composer will participate in the final rehearsals, where he will discuss the work and its creation with the performers.
In addition to the main event, there will be a performance of MacMillan's Kiss on Wood, for cello and piano, as well as public lectures, panel discussions, and a composition masterclass.
Don’t miss the final weekend of fiercely talented contemporary New York playwright Young Jean Lee’s freaky, postmodern take on Shakespeare’s greatest play, King Lear. Directed by Jody McAuliffe, Theater Studies faculty. As Lee describes her highly original version: “the kids are in the palace, they’ve just kicked the fathers out into the storm; they pretend they’re fine, then realize they’re not.”
What: Lear by Young Jean Lee
When: April 11-13 at 8pm and April 14 at 2pm
Where: Sheafer Theater, Bryan Center, West Campus
How much: $10 general admission; $5 students and sr. citizens
Follow the development of the play on tumblr at: http://leardramaturgy.tumblr.com/
What does the ancient Greece of Plato’s The Republic have in common with the world today?
Read the story in the Chronicle Recess and see how the two connect and attend the performance on Saturday, February 23.
Hoi Polloi Theater Company will perform a work-in-progress based on Plato's Republic on Saturday evening, February 23 in Sheafer Theater, (Bryan Center, Duke West Campus) at 8 pm. Free.
We are excited to announce that Duke University Office of the Vice Provost and the Duke Music Department are collaborating with KidZNotes, the successful Durham-based music education program based on El Sistema, to host “Take A Stand” in the Nelson Music Room on Friday, February 15 and at the Holton Community Center on Saturday, February 16.
“Take A Stand” is the national El Sistema initiative of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Longy School of Music at Bard College that cultivates leadership and education in the El Sistema movement in the United States. The conference will bring together representatives from the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Longy School of Music to meet with Duke faculty and students, Triangle music educators and local entrepreneurs who have worked with KidZNotes over the three years of its existence.
As one of the most successful expressions of the ideals of El Sistema in the United States, KidZNotes is a perfect example of the effectiveness of social entrepreneurship through the arts. KidZNotes has established partnerships with the Durham Public Schools, Duke University, and the East Durham Children’s Initiative to provide free music lessons, instruments, and orchestral training to over 100 elementary school students, most of whom could not afford music lessons without KidZNotes.
If you are interested in social entrepreneurship through the arts, arts advocacy, and innovation through arts education, you should attend “Take A Stand.” Duke is committed to deepening its collaboration with KidZNotes, which means developing exciting ways to engage students in its programs.
Register now for Take A Stand at: http://www.kidznotes.org/take-a-stand/
Read more about Take A Stand on Duke Today.
Read more in The Chronicle Recess.
Stranger: A Festival in Search of Hospitable Acts
Photo by Elysia Su
The Duke University Department of Theater Studies and Sojourn Theatre of Portland (OR) present The Stranger Festival all day Friday, February 24, 2012 in locations throughout Durham.
The Festival is the culmination of a year of conversations and meditations about the dynamics of hospitality in Durham, from tiny daily acts of civility to the impacts of rapidly changing public policy. Duke students, faculty, Durham citizens, and guest artists from Sojourn Theatre will host a series of micro-events throughout Durham that intersect with and explore the daily patterns of the city.
According to Sojourn Theatre artistic director Michael Rohd, “We’ve taken on lots of projects that have some kind of bridge impulse in them. We want to bring people into contact who aren’t generally connected with each other.”
“Duke and Durham are geographically linked, but we felt there were plenty of bridges to be built between the two,” says Torry Bend, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theater Studies at Duke and chief collaborator with Sojourn.
"This Sojourn residency created a forum in which Duke students and the Durham community could engage in the act of creation under the advisement of Sojourn Theatre – a nationally-known company noted for its ability to pair civic engagement with performance.
“In the act of producing The Stranger Festival, the collaborating students, faculty and Durham residents have defined the important subjects that affect their shared community and have created specially for that community.”
Events will take place on Friday, February 24 around Durham and are free and open to the public.
For more information go the The Stranger Festival website.
Read about it in today's Chronicle.
Chinese theater artist Yu Rongjun (Nick Yu) visits Duke University beginning Wednesday, March 16 for a residency working with the students in theater studies professor Claire Conceison's course “The China Experiment.” The students will welcome Yu to campus with a reading of excerpts of several of his plays in Sheafer Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 19, with a reception following in the Multicultural Center on the lower level of the Bryan Center. The class will culminate with a workshop production of his new play, "Das Kapital," on Tuesday, April 26, also in Sheafer Theater. Both performances are in English and free and open to the public.
According to Conceison, Yu's residency will expose students, faculty and community members to a dynamic and significant artist in China who is literally changing the course of theater there and who is deeply involved in international artistic exchange.
"He will relate wonderfully to Duke undergraduates and has an exuberant personality and contagious enthusiasm for life and for theater," says Conceison.
Yu is the most produced living playwright in mainland China and also the deputy general manager and longtime director of marketing and programming for Shanghai’s only state-run theater company, the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. He is the author of more than 30 plays and the recipient of many awards. He is also the founder and director of a college theater festival in Shanghai.
While in Durham, Yu will meet with several other classes both at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill in addition to"The Chinese Experiment" class. He will also meet with Chinese students and will introduce a film screening on Thursday, April 7 as part of the Cine East series. He will visit some local schools in the community as well. Requests for meetings with Yu can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.