It’s been 2 weeks since five amazing Wesleyan Physical Plant employees took the stage in the middle of the student center to perform BUILD, a dance performance that they and I worked all semester to create. The performers, plumbing foreman Dean Canalia, HVAC foreman Tom Macri, carpenters Paul Martin and Tim Rogers, and painter Joe Marino blew me away with their presence, skill, and sense of humor on stage. In just under thirty minutes, the choreography of their everyday work transformed the frame of a “room” (the set) into a nearly finished space, complete with painted walls, a heater, a sink, a window, a door, and a sink–with running water!
It is incredible to reflect on all the things I learned in the past year of working for Forklift that made it possible for me to develop the wonderful relationships that I now have with the guys at Physical Plant and to produce a piece like BUILD with them. Here are just a few:
- Listen. In every sense of the word. If I have learned anything from Allison and Krissie, its how to really listen–with my eyes, my ears, and my choreographic mind.
- Hang out and bring food. (The tried and true method for getting people to like you)
- Live in the “not knowing.” I was determined to figure out what the piece was going to look like at the outset, but luckily I had Krissie to remind me to just keep listening and let the piece come into focus later. By staying present in the “not knowing,” I was able to devote more time and energy to building relationships–the real foundation that made the end product possible. It turns out if you’re working hard to find answers, you’re probably just not asking the right questions.
- Always ask for help. I received so much support from people in the community, just because I wasn’t afraid to ask for their help. It’s easy to assume people are too busy and that it’s not worth even approaching them, but it’s incredible how willing people are to get involved when approached with an open, straightforward request. (Shoutout to Frank Marsilli and John Elmore!)
- I’m not in it alone. Part of the joy of making community-based performances is that it is a collaboration. Art making can feel so isolating. But luckily making a dance of plumbing and heating systems, sheet rock, drills, and painting when you know only the basics is nearly impossible. The very frame of the work requires you to work as a team. My collaborators and performers were in it with me the whole–helping me to envision the piece, solve problems, and continually improve it. And when in doubt, Allison and Krissie were there, reminding me to have faith in the collaborative process–to dive in and rely on the group mind when problems arose, rather than trying to solve them in isolation.
When I first met Allison almost two years ago to the day from the premiere of BUILD, I never could have imagined pulling off my own community-based performance at Wesleyan. My work with Forklift helped me grow in so many ways and equipped me with the skills to use a collaborative, creative process to really make something happen at Wesleyan (did I mention that these guys are also teaching a Maintenance 101 class to students for the first time ever this semester?!). Just this morning at the campus cafe a peer of mine told me that for her, the work felt so important because there’s normally such a big divide between students and all the staff members on campus. I feel fortunate to have been able to use what I’ve learned over the past 2 years to lessen that divide in the community (if only for 25 minutes), and I feel even luckier that after I graduate in May I will still have a family to come back and visit here at Wes.
Read a review of BUILD in Wesleyan’s Art and Culture Magazine here.