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The Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA)
By Anna Evtushenko
Directed by Ross Haarstad
Video Design & Editing by Noah Elman
Assistant Video Editor: Jules Holynski
Music Composed by Keir Neuringer
Stage Manager: Jackie Scheiner
Costume Coordinator: Kristin Sad
Head Camera Operators:
Ithaca: Saif Quraishi, McKee Bond
Connecticut: Clare Burhenne
Additional Cameras: Cast
March 26, 7:30 p.m. EDT
March 27, 2:00 p.m. EDT
Reserve your free ticket at schwartztickets.com. A link will be emailed to you prior to showtime.
This project is funded in part by the Cornell Council for the Arts.
Setting. Pittsburgh, the 2010s.
Illustrations are drawings, mixed media and prints by Ithaca-based artist Minna Resnick, used by permission of the artist (www.minnaresnick.com). Copyright Minna Resnick.
Ashley Clare Burhenne ’20
Jason Trence Wilson-Gillem ’21
Dr. Rodriguez Saif Quraishi ’22
Mark McKee Bond ’23
Woman Adara Alston
Nurse Jasmine Scott ’21
Letter from the Chair
Dear community members,
In a more typical year, you would be reading this note in a physical program while gathering in a public space. As you well know, there is nothing typical about this year, and so this note must also depart from the conventions that have tended to govern it in the past.
Indeed, what we were intending as a year’s worth of programming at this time last spring has been radically reimagined. I am proud of students, staff, and faculty who have responded with inventiveness and imagination to making virtual work in socially distanced ways. I am proud that the majority of this work is centering perspectives on systemic racism and white supremacist ideology, of which the Department of Performing and Media Arts must take urgent stock, for which we must be accountable, and whose dismantling we must actively undertake. I am proud that numerous BIPOC guest artists and scholars are visiting classes and making public presentations via Zoom. And I am proud that all of this activity is free to our publics, who now more than ever need access to art and intellection that we hope will sustain us through the anxieties and exhaustions of our current political and historical circumstances.
I look forward to a time when we may all convene again in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts and communally enjoy film, dance, theater, performance art, installation, public lectures, and more. In the meantime, I wish everyone reading this note physical health and emotional and spiritual well-being.
This strange past year has brought overwhelming tragedy, much of it needless. As it was with the inferno of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, the ultimate plague has been an uncaring, narcissistic regime in our nation’s capital.
The pandemic has struck hard at the live, communal arts, such as theater. Anna’s play, conceived before COVID, strikes so many resonant notes with this time. Isolation, virtual connections, inventing new, possibly even imaginary relationships. It’s about survival, the mysteries of the human mind, about the difficulties of documenting our existence, the slippage between fiction and history, about navigating an uncertain future.
In practical terms, our production had to be able to connect remote bodies (even the student actors filming in the Film Forum could only be unmasked one at a time) and have the non-literalness that abounds much more in theater than in film. Yet much of the process of capturing our work belonged to the much newer craft (just over a century old!) of film.
In visualizing just what this hybrid is, I am grateful to my collaborator Noah Elman, video designer and editor extraordinaire. We aimed for an in-between space, which we named “virtual theater.” Green screens abounded, but virtually no CGI. So much of what you’ll experience is due to Noah’s skill and vision.
I count myself blessed to the sky’s limit for this cast: Clare, McKee, Trence, Saif, Jasmine, and Adara, who not only crafted compelling characters, but worked generously as a team, taking on the challenge of serving as both actors and production team. A shout-out to Jackie for herding cats over Zoom from Philly. Thanks to Keir for our third collaboration, even when I asked at the last minute. Thanks to Kristin for always lending a hand. Thanks to PMA staff and faculty for their support and belief in their students. And thanks to Anna, and all writers who keep re-inventing the world.
Originally from Russia, Anna Evtushenko (Playwright) is a graduate student at Cornell. She studies how large numbers of people behave online, a nice counterpart to exploring the lives of just a few characters in her plays.
Ross Haarstad (Director) is an alum of the department—back before the Schwartz Center—when we shared Lincoln Hall with the Music Department for classes and rehearsals, and the main stage was Willard Straight Theatre. He is proud to have been a student of Marvin Carlson, and to have Paula Vogel as his faculty advisor.
Like many Cornellians, Ithaca caught his heart. When he was just about to break his relationship with I-town, Larry Roberts, his partner of over 34 years and husband of nearly five, caught his heart. Ross is a theater maker, writer, graphic designer, and social activist. For the Schwartz, he assistant directed John O’Neal’s staging of In White America, and Bruce Levitt’s staging of The Grapes of Wrath. He has been a dramaturg for the Hangar Theatre and the Kitchen Theatre. His most recent acting forays were as part of the ensemble of The Loneliness Project (PMA & Civic Ensemble) and Bottom for the Ithaca Shakespeare Company.
He has directed for many local companies: Homecoming Players, Kitchen Theatre, Wolfs Mouth, Icarus Theatre Ensemble, the Firehouse. In 2009 he founded Theatre Incognita. This “theater without walls” specializes in community-based work in a variety of venues and styles. Following a four-and-a-half-year hiatus, Incognita returns this May with a program of local playwrights for Spring Writes. Some of his favorite directorial projects: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Our Town, James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, Angels in America, Caridad Svich’s Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (A Rave Fable) with Carolina Osorio Gil and Asia Kate Dillon (music by Keir Neuringer), Kit Wainer’s queermonsterfreaks, Natalie deCombray’s The Dodgson Girls, Romeo & Juliet, Bent, and A Balm in Gilead.
Noah Elman (Video/OBS Editing/Consulting) is a director, video designer, and theatre artist who was born and raised right here in Ithaca. He has collaborated with many local theatres, including the Kitchen Theatre, the Cherry, the Hangar Theatre, and House of Ithaqua. He has also gotten the opportunity to teach multiple acting and filmmaking classes with the Hangar Theatre and Playground Drama Camp. Stage directing credits include: Two Gentlemen of Verona (Shakespeare on the Lake), The Pillowman (SUNY Fredonia’s PAC); live video design credits include: Felt Sad, Posted a Frog; A Day; Hotel Good Luck (The Cherry); assistant directing credits include: A Christmas Carol (Hangar Theatre), The Skriker (House of Ithaqua). BFA Acting, SUNY Fredonia.
Kristin Sad (Costumes) has been acting and costume coordinating since arriving in Ithaca in 2007. Having been directed by Ross in the role of Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, she knows how exceptional his work is and Benchmark, with such a talented cast & crew, will be no exception.
Keir Neuringer (Composer/Musician) is a saxophonist, composer, and writer whose work is underpinned by interdisciplinary approaches and socio-political contextualizations. He is best known for a personal and intensely physical saxophone technique, revealed through long-form solo improvisations, and is a founding member of the critically acclaimed group Irreversible Entanglements. He co-leads the improvisation trio Dromedaries, has a decades-spanning duo with bassist Rafal Mazur, and collaborations with turntablist Matt Wright and pianist Simone Weissenfels, among others. He has traveled extensively to present his work, appeared on numerous festival stages, and given workshops throughout Europe and North America. In addition to the saxophone, he performs on electric and electronic keyboard instruments, narrates text (most notably with Dutch new music group Ensemble Klang), and composes largely outside of conventional new music scenes. He trained as a composer and saxophonist in the US, spent two years on a Fulbright research grant in Krakow, and then moved to The Hague, where he lived for eight years, curating performative audiovisual art and earning a master's degree from the experimental ArtScience Institute. He lived and worked in Philadelphia for a decade before his recent return to the Ithaca area.
Jackie Scheiner (Stage Manager) is from Philadelphia, PA, and received her Bachelor’s of Music and Theatre from Ithaca College. She has studied voice under Rachel Schutz, Caitlin Mathes, and Paul Spencer Adkins. Jackie is passionate about all aspects of performing arts, as well as social justice, law, zoology, and education. Other Stage Management credits: Streets Like This 2020 (Civic Ensemble); A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Pericles: Prince of Tyre, The Taming of the Shrew, As You Like It (Ithaca Shakespeare Company); The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Ithaca College); The Laramie Project (IC Second Stage).
Adara Alston(WOMAN) is delighted to be back working with Cornell PMA after appearances in The Loneliness Project and Jamal From Empire. Other recent local credits include The Inferior Sex (Shirley Chisholm) and The Skin of Our Teeth (Joy) with Hangar Theatre, The Fan (Coronato) with The Cherry, Emmett and Ella: A Doggone Mystery (Louella) with Rachel Lampert's Fitz&Startz Productions, The One-Minute Play Festival (Various) with Kitchen Theatre, Katrina: A New Musical (Larinda) with Walking on Water Productions, Curved (Chloe) with Homecoming Players, and Pericle: Prince of Tyre (Goddess Diane) with Ithaca Shakespeare Company. Some of her other credits include Doubt: A Parable (Mrs. Muller) with Franklin Stage Company, Twelve Angry Jurors (Juror Eight) with Elmira Little Theatre, Shrek the Musical (Donkey) with Afton Community Theatre, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hippolyta) with Cider Mill Playhouse. She performs as a drummer and drum major in Broome County Celtic Pipes & Drums. When not drumming or on stage, her BS from Cornell University allows her the opportunity to design online courses... for Cornell.
McKee Bond(MARK) is a 20-year-old actor studying at Cornell University. Bond is originally from the island of Bermuda but currently lives in Philadelphia. McKee has a substantial high school theater background and professionally played a supporting role in the 2018 feature film The Middle of X. Bond is enthusiastic to be a part of such an imaginative and challenging project like Benchmark. Some memorable theater credits include: Inherit the Wind (Matthew Harrison Brady); Les Misérables (Thénardier); and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Demetrius).
Clare Burhenne(ASHLEY) is making her theatre and film debut in Benchmark. A year ago, when rehearsals for the reading of Benchmark began and were subsequently canceled due to COVID-19, she could not have imagined that she would have the opportunity to portray Ashley again. She is grateful to the playwright, Anna Evushenko, and director, Ross Haarstad, for believing in her and allowing her to take on this role remotely. Currently, Clare is pursuing her PhD in astrophysics at Rutgers University, after obtaining a BA in physics and philosophy from Cornell in May of 2020. Although she has no previous theatre credits, she is a long-time performer. She was a singer for Cornell's big band, touring with them in the Fall of 2019 and cut three albums over her three years with the Original Cornell Syncopators as a vocalist and saxophonist.
Saif Quraishi(DR. RODRIGUEZ) is a Junior majoring in Physics and PMA, and is excited to be working with the wonderful cast and crew that Ross, the director, has put together. He is also the head camera person for the filming of the project, and cannot wait to share this unique hybrid form of theatre with everyone.
Jasmine Scott(NURSE) is super grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a lovely piece. She feels lucky to work with this cast and wants to thank Ross for all of the encouragement! Outside of this play, Jasmine is a sociology major who will be graduating in May. She also performed in The Next Storm in Fall 2019.
Trence Wilson-Gillem(JASON) is a senior in Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts. Trence is from San Diego, California, and Benchmark is the first play he’s been involved in. Acting has always been a dream of his, so he hopes he is able to bring his best to this performance!
PMA staff Steven Blasberg, Tim Ostrander, Youngsun Palmer, Lisa Boquist, Lindsey White, Howard Klein, Warren Cross, and most especially Pam Lillard.
Thanks also to Jayme Kilburn, Aoise Stratford, and Margaret Wakeley.
Partner Support: Kitchen Theatre Company
Kitchen Theatre Company
The Journey to 30