Weis Center presents: Sessions, Snaps & Streams

Nicole Yeager, Special Features Editor

The Purpose of Art

Art is one of the few things that is continuously evolving and enduring, even in times of unprecedented hardship. Owing to feelings of isolation, uncertainty and restriction arising from the pandemic, it can be difficult to find the beauty in things; nevertheless, the University’s Weis Center for the Performing Arts has found new and innovative ways of meeting their goal of inspiring the community and upholding their promise to deliver shared experiences through artful performances.

Through their “sessions,” “snaps” and “streams,” the Weis Center brings these performances right into the homes of all University community members. This at-home approach gives people the sense of connection they are missing while also sparking important thinking and conversations through music, dance, poetry and other forms of artistic expression.

“Since we are no longer able to gather together to experience live performing arts this year, we seized the opportunity to showcase the talents of members of the Bucknell community through these series,” Executive Director of the Weis Center Kathryn Maguet said. “It’s been a great opportunity for performers and speakers to share their work through a virtual platform.”

Sessions

The Weis Center Sessions, according to their website, are “a performance series capturing the talent of the Bucknell community.” They are recorded and produced by the Weis Center; and they feature a wide variety of musical, vocal, dance, poetry and spoken word readings or performances and much more. Recorded sessions are released on a weekly basis through a YouTube playlist that can be found on their website.

“Having not been able to host performances since the pandemic hit, the Weis Center Sessions have enabled us to continue to showcase the Center’s beauty and technical capabilities all while highlighting the incredible talent we have on campus,” Technical Director at the Weis Center Kalen Sowul said.

Each individual or group gets to perform on the Weis Center stage underneath professional lightwork and cameras. The artist is allowed to perform as many times as possible; they even get a say in the look and feel of their recorded session. Therefore, these sessions feature a very comfortable and personal – yet professional – style.

Sowul further explained that they “have an array of lighting fixtures and microphones in the building that would typically be used for our many live performing arts events. Using the equipment already in place and switching gears into a more ‘studio’ feel has been an exciting change of pace.”

A handful of these sessions feature established artists and musicians: the band Nine Degrees of Syncopation; Ryan Flannery and Taylor Fleming from the Ryan Flannery group; and Flora and the Gleaners.

The most notable part of the Weis Center Sessions, however, is the featured students, professors and faculty who share their artistic talents with the rest of the community. For these, the Weis Center directors and other staff often reach out to dance, theatre, music and creative writing professors to find talented community members throughout campus. Students, professors and faculty are then contacted through these connections and asked if they would be interested in recording a “session” with their form of art.

Some notable sessions by professors include: Qing Jiang, Assistant Professor of Music, playing the piano; Joe Scapellato and Dustyn Martincich performing together with a joint poetry reading and interpretive dance; and Carl Kirby, Professor of Geology, playing guitar with Steve Catania.

I’ve so missed attending events at the Weis Center, and I think the sessions are a fantastic way to showcase the talents of the Bucknell community and to offer cultural opportunities for folks here and all over. It was a great experience to get to be on the stage there and to share my novel ‘The Rosemary Spell,’” Professor of English Virginia Zimmerman said.

Writing Center Director Deirdre O’Connor also read her original poem, “The Obstacles.” Reflecting on her experience, she said, “I’ve really enjoyed reading for the Weis Center Sessions, especially getting to read some new pandemic-related poems. I love this method of sharing poetry with our community,” she added.

Director of the Stadler Center Chet’la Sebree echoed these sentiments and noted, “I recorded my session when things were still largely shut down last year in May; it was one of the first times I’d left my house for anything other than groceries or a walk. It was a sort of surreal experience reading to an empty auditorium, but I loved knowing it was an opportunity for me to connect with the larger Bucknell community. The Weis Center was really at the forefront of showing us all what we can do programming-wise to connect in the midst of the pandemic.”

Notable student sessions include: Quentin Andrews ’24 reciting “I’ll Be Your Mechanic;” Nora Kamerow ’21 reading her original poem “Defining Beauty;” Chiara Evans ’21 and Clare Merante ’21 performing a dance number; Sami Wurm ’22 singing “10 Minutes ‘Till Sunrise;” and Jaden Lee ’22 and Ryan Bailis ’21 playing “The Manger” on the piano and the cello.

Andrews said of his experience, “It was a special experience where I could express myself and have a professional tech team behind me to help bring my imagination to light. Something I look forward to doing again!”

Kamerow also expressed that she enjoyed her experience. “Everyone I worked with was very pleasant and supportive—especially since I had never read my poetry allowed for the public before (unless it was in class, of course). I appreciated the opportunity to share some pieces I’d been working hard on for a class and found it gratifying to culminate the semester with the Weis Center,” Kamerow said.

Andrei Bucaloiu ’22 also shared his thoughts following his session: “Reading my poetry up on the Weis Center stage was such a cool and unique experience. I know how special it feels to sit in the audience and watch my talented peers perform on the same stage as famous artists, so getting to go up there myself to read one of my poems was an honor and a valuable opportunity.” In his session, Bucaloiu read his original poem “With Age.”

Dancer Evans expressed similar sentiments and gratitude, “I was lucky enough to get to participate in two different Weis Center Sessions, and it was truly a privilege. It was such an innovative way to showcase some of the amazing artists in the Bucknell community in a COVID-safe manner, and I loved getting to add what I’m passionate about. Watching and participating in the Weis Center Sessions was a definite highlight to the semester for me.”

“For me, music is one of the most important parts of life on campus, and being able to record a Weis Center Session was a wonderful opportunity to finally play music at Bucknell again,” Ian Herdt ’22, who played guitar in his session, said. “Even if it was to an empty music hall, I very much enjoyed being able to perform again and stay musically involved on campus!”

“To be able to perform music for an audience, even if asynchronously, is a huge privilege for musicians. As a non-music major, I feel even more blessed for these opportunities,” Lee said.

“The Weis Center’s highly talented production staff produces these professional recordings which have received tremendous response from the Bucknell community and beyond. Creating these programs has been highly satisfying. Every week it’s something different – everything from uilleann pipes, tap dance, poetry, jazz guitar to inspirational talks about miracles,” Maguet said. 

Snaps

Similar to the sessions, the Weis Center Snaps is a series of performances that feature faculty and staff “displaying a passion for their craft with 3-5 minute snap talks.” They are also professionally produced on the Weis Center stage. 

There are currently four “snaps” on the YouTube playlist: “What is a Miracle?” by Professor of Physics and Astronomy Tom Solomon; “Preserving Digital Media” by Samek Art Museum Director Richard Rinehart; “Seeing is Believing” by Professor of Chemistry Pat Martino and Chemistry Laboratory Director David Rovnyak; and “Transferable Skills” by alumnus Patrick Flannery.

Each snap utilizes a different approach, with some even featuring various props such as lab coats and goggles. Yet all of them showcase the broad range of skills and knowledge of our faculty and staff here on campus. 

Streams

Different from the sessions and snaps, the Weis Center Streams take the place of some of the larger performances and events that they would typically present in a normal semester. Each stream is either pre-recorded or live streamed, resulting in either one day viewing availability or up to a week of streaming access. They are typically sponsored or organized by outside organizations and groups. 

For the 2021 season, there are two streams that have already passed. The first one, featured in the World Music and Dance category, was titled “Stono Rebellion” and performed by Step Afrika! a dance company dedicated to the African-American tradition of “stepping” fused with South African Gumboot Dancing. This performance took place from Feb. 8-21, during which free streaming access was available to all students and faculty through a ticket registration. The stream also included a pre-performance talk with the Artistic Director and a post-show talk with members of the University and Lewisburg communities.

The second stream was a performance titled “The Snail and the Whale” categorized as Family Discovery and suggested for younger children within the community. As an educational resource, it came with a study guide and activities link; this performance streamed from Jan. 22-24 also along with a ticket.

The stream that is currently being featured from Feb. 24 to March 2 is “This is Me: Letters from the Front Lines,” a Contemporary Dance Film created by DIAVOLO. They are “a creative movement production company that pushes the envelope of innovation by creating unique live & cinematic experiences. Using custom-made architectural structures, DIAVOLO intersects storytelling, movement and architecture with an inventive and visceral approach.”

This performance revolves around the Covid-19 pandemic in a very unique, interesting and inspiring way. The film focuses on the stories of healthcare workers as well as other frontline workers in order to present a poignant, significant conversation from their perspectives; the film is shown through a Weis Center Stream through sponsorship by Geisinger and Evangelical Community Hospital. 

A 25 minute pre-performance panel discussion opens up the stream, featuring professors and faculty from the University, medical staff from Geisinger and Evangelical and staff from DIAVOLO. They discuss a wide range of hot topics and articulate many quote-worthy sentiments on the difficult topic: the challenges of healthcare workers, the countless issues all individuals are facing as a result of the pandemic, the relationship between individual and community that is being highlighted and much more. As Professor of Chemistry David Rovnyak, articulates, “This is Me: Letters from the Front Lines” showcases the roles of “art and performance as a medium for healing, as a medium for helping us have conversations, as a medium for giving people voices.”

The film opens up with the following quote: “We brought together respected members of the medical field. Here are their stories.” 

Through a mixture of movement and dance, the seven individuals – ranging in occupation. from nursing student to US Navy and Air Force officers to vascular surgeon – and their stories and perspectives are highlighted. An overarching theme of this performance is: we all have roles to play in this pandemic — healthcare providers and essential workers are serving at the frontlines, while the rest of us must stay “behind the scenes” and do our part. 

“This is Me: Letters from the Front Lines” is just one instance of how an art in the form of performance can educate, enlighten and spark conversation.

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