Chrysalis Theatre, a Cross Cultural, Multidisciplinary Performance Ensemble

Introduction:

Chrysalis Theatre, a cross cultural, multidisciplinary performance ensemble, has presented innovative and progressive cultural work in Western Massachusetts since 1978.  Our multidisciplinary group of artists draws on a range of cultural backgrounds to develop new music-theatre productions and to engage in community education and training.  In the last 26 years, we have created over 50 original productions, frequently using the medium of performance to explore social issues.  Drawing on the company's multiple talents, we create music/theatre productions, and offer readings, workshops, and concerts in community & professional theatres, community centers, schools, museums, colleges, churches, and also now for Public Radio International.  Our productions tour New England and New York.  Our audiences averaging 9000-10,000 are rural, suburban, and innercity youth and adults.  Despite Chrysalis' small size and minimal staff, in the last season we supported sixty-two local, national, and international artists.  We have developed collaborations between seasoned artists and community members, emerging artists, college students, and pregnant and parenting teens.  We've also convened forums for artistic and intellectual exchange.  To maximize our impact and to nurture the cultural environment, Chrysalis has collaborated with Smith College, the Fund For Women Artists, World Rhythms, Enchanted Circle Theatre, Jelupa Productions, Western Wind, WatermoonMusicWorks, and the YWCA.

We are theatre artists interested in the multiple manifestations of story and the vital exchange between all artists and between community/audience and artists.  Our philosophy is similar to that of the Yoruba (a West African ethnic group) who believe that all human beings have the potential of 'she: the-power-to-make-things-be.  Master Artists are singled out for their inspired usage of the creative, divine spark but we are all, according to the Yoruba, infused with 'she in the form of imagination.  We are all artists.  The creative level a Master Artist attains depends on the artistry of the community/audience that supports and interacts with her.  This interweave of artists and audience, of creativity and imagination is a dynamic, social process.  Artists are called upon to enhance the 'she of their communities by making art as well as teaching.  This view informs all of Chrysalis' programming.  We work to cultivate imagination and 'she across disciplines in our local, national, and international community.  Theatre, as a collaborative, multidisciplinary community art form is our natural home.

 

Quality:

Chrysalis' main focus is the creation of music/theatre performances using 'the community' as a creative source. We workshop one to two new music/theatre pieces a year.  In conjunction with our productions, we also offer concerts, community music/theatre workshops, readings of new work, and artist exchanges. 

 

For example an original Chrysalis production, LONELY STARDUST, follows the adventures of an extra-terrestrial who has been exiled from its home world until it discovers sentient life forms willing to travel back to the stars with it.  The alien lands in Springfield, MA hoping to find a good catch.  This Sci-fi comedy celebrates the funky & passionate possibilities of a post-industrial American small city supposedly in decline.  Among the ordinary citizens who struggle with love, drugs, family, crime, and hope, the alien discovers all manner of dream technicians and impossibility specialists.  LONELY STARDUST grew out of community workshops.  Since 1994 as a regular exercise during Chrysalis workshops with pregnant & parenting teens, low-income women, and recovering drug users in Springfield, Northampton, and Holyoke, we have asked participants how they would respond to a friendly alien who was curious about their home town and Earth.  The responses were both funny and poignant, ranging from sexual advice to directions for the fastest route out of town.  Despite the incredible energy, joy, and creative potential these participants evidenced in the workshops, they often could not think of experiences to recommend to the alien beyond TV, sex with a human male, and sleep.  We were struck by this and the recurring response that no self-respecting alien would land in Springfield and stay longer than a nanosecond.  Determined to celebrate Springfield, Holyoke, and surrounding communities, we interviewed other Springfield and Northampton residents and created LONELY STARDUST.  The cast and crew included Chrysalis performers, Equity Actors, Jr. High School students, professional musicians, Smith College Professors and interns, and Northampton, Springfield, and Holyoke residents. In conjunction with performances of the play, we brought acclaimed novelist and playwright Pearl Cleage to Smith College and StageWest for free readings of her NY Times best selling novel, WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY ON AN ORDINARY DAY.  Her novel celebrates community creativity as it focuses on pregnant and parenting teens struggling to express themselves and on ordinary people who transform their social reality.   Cleage's visit was an inspiration to our cast, workshop participants, and general audiences.  Our relationship with Cleage is on-going.  When Chrysalis produced SOUL REPAIRS, Pearl came up again to discuss her plays and essays, and dialogue about the writer's mind with students, artists, and community members.  She also read from her novel, IF I HAD A RED DRESS, which continues the story about pregnant and parenting teens from WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY.  Cleage will return in Fall of 2004 as we workshop/present ARCHANGELS OF FUNK, STAGE FRIGHT, and THE HOODOO WAY.

 

In 1996 Chrysalis received an Inroads/ Arts International/Ford Foundation grant to bring Senegalese master Tama player, Massamba Diop (member of  Baaba Maal's afro-pop group), to Northampton for a six-week residency.  Massamba met with playwright/director Andrea Hairston, composer Tony Vacca, and mask maker/visual artist Pan Morigan to discuss our 1996-1997 production series.  He performed concerts with the members of Tony Vacca's World Rhythms Ensemble in Northampton and Pennsylvania and worked on compositional material with Vacca and Morigan for STRANGE ATTRACTORS, a Chrysalis production.  In addition, Massamba offered lecture/ demonstrations in Hairston's African and Caribbean Theatre class at Smith College and Vacca's Percussion class at Holyoke Community College.  Massamba gave community workshops for musicians in Northampton and West Chester, Pennsylvania.  He observed and participated in school projects of World Rhythms and Chrysalis youth projects in Springfield.  Massamba also participated in workshops and rehearsals for STRANGE ATTRACTORS.  With this range of activities Chrysalis, World Rhythms, and Massamba were able to observe and experience each other's creative processes and engage in a preliminary cultural exchange.  We also exposed Massamba to a range of audiences and artists from Pennsylvania to Vermont.  We laid solid ground for future collaborations.  Massamba has returned to Massachusetts every year to perform with members of Chrysalis and offer workshops with us in schools and colleges.  In December of 1998, Chrysalis received a grant from the National Philanthropic Trust to send Chrysalis artists and educators to Senegal to work with Massamba and other Senegalese master musicians.  As part of this project school children in Senegal were connected to children in America via the Internet and a lively cultural exchange developed.  Massamba was in Northampton in 1999 for concerts & workshops and to collaborate with research on Chrysalis' 2000-2001 project: HUMMINGBIRD FLYING BACKWARD, a play based on the legend of Sundiata, a 13th century King of Mali. 

In 2000 as Chrysalis prepared HUMMINGBIRD for production, we raised enough funds to bring Massamba Diop and also the Gokh-bi System from Senegal for school and community workshops and concerts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  The Gokh-bi System (which means 'Neighborhood System') is a group of young performers from Dakar, Senegal.  Their music is a combination of ancient and contemporary African and American traditions coupled with their unique, multi-language rhythm poetry.  For HUMMINGBIRD, Chrysalis used masks by Chrysalis visual artist, Pan Morigan, costumes by local felt artist Beth Beede, and Senegalese costumes by Tony Vacca & the Gokh-bi System.  It was an exciting musical and visual exchange.  For HUMMINGBIRD, writer/director and Chrysalis Artistic Director, Andrea Hairston was awarded a Clauder Playwriting Competition Honorable Mention and a Massachusetts Cultural Council Finalist award in playwriting.  Massamba Diop will return in 2004 to work with Tony Vacca and Andrea Hairston, performing and doing workshops in schools, community centers and concert venues.

 

While rehearsing/producing HUMMINGBIRD, COMMUNICATING DOORS, and SOUL REPAIRS, Andrea Hairston, Pan Morigan, Tony Vacca & and other members of Chrysalis offered free music/theatre workshops to pregnant and parenting teens in association with the Springfield YWCA.  In addition to workshops helping the young women explore their voice and vision while exposing them to acting, drumming, playwriting, and singing techniques, we took the young women and sometimes their children to performances in Springfield, Amherst, and Northampton.  For a final project, we create a musical play with the young women and perform it for family and friends.

 

In SOUL REPAIRS, playwright Andrea Hairston investigated repair as biological, physical, social activity.  To create the text, Hairston drew on community workshops and combined elements of science fiction/fantasy, festival drama, and choreopoem theatre.  To create the score, musical director, Pan Morigan drew on her research into Irish, Sephardic, and Turkish music.  The cast and crew included Chrysalis professionals, student interns and community members. Chrysalis was invited to present a reading of SOUL REPAIRS at Dixon Place, a progressive theatre venue in NYC in May of 2002.  The Kahn Institute of Smith College hosted performances of SOUL REPIARS during a year-long interdisciplinary investigation of Reparations.  Chrysalis was also awarded funds from the Springfield Arts Council to produce the play in September, 2002 in conjunction with workshops and public forums on reparations.

 

CASTLES OF GOLD: Songs and stories of Irish immigration--a one-hour radio show for Public Radio International produced by Pan Morigan, music director of Chrysalis.  The music for CASTLES includes original compositions by Pan Morigan, as well as songs collected from the traditional Irish repertoire of 1840-1880'a period of intense Irish immigration to the USA as result of famine and political upheaval.  The stories are told by Frank McCourt, Pulitzer Prize winning author of ANGELA's ASHES, and Roma Downey, a primary actress in the television show TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.  The text of the radio show by playwright Kara Morin was developed from oral histories of her family's emigration from Ireland in the 1920s.  Morin started as a Chrysalis student intern, acted in several productions, and in 1997 Chrysalis presented a staged reading of her magical realistic play based on a true story, SPIRITS FROM THE COMMON BOOK, about an African-American woman struggling with the impact of crack on her family and community.  The woman is haunted by a Native American ancestor who sold his bones to research doctors in order to buy the alcohol that eventually kills him.  SPIRITS went on to garner Kara an MCC playwriting fellowship in 1999.  Andrea Hairston helped to develop the script and dramaturged the radio program.  Pan Morigan performed the vocals and arranged and produced all the music. CASTLES was heard across the country and in New Zealand on Public Radio International. It won an INDIE award from the Association for Independent Music and was released on Green Linnet Records in 2002.  Ms. Morigan received a Meet The Composer Gant (2003-2004) from the New England Foundation For the Arts to compose for ARCHANGELS and STAGE FRIGHT.

 

ARCHANGELS OF FUNK Chrysalis current production garnered playwright Andrea Hairston an invitation from b current Canadian Theatre Festival, an MCC Playwriting Fellowship in 2003, and a section of the play was a finalist for the 2003 Heideman Award (Actor's Theatre of Louisville).

 

Artistic Director, Project Administrator, and Grant Writer Andrea Hairston has worked on over 50 productions as playwright, director, actor, musician, and producer.  She is the recipient of many prestigious awards including playwriting grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation.  Her plays have been produced at Yale Rep, Rites and Reason, the Kennedy Center, StageWest, and on Public Radio & Public Television.  The flash of spirit in West African and Caribbean performance traditions has offered her much wisdom and inspiration.  She has also translated plays by Michael Ende and Kaca Celan from German to English and lead theatre workshops in the US and Germany. A Professor of Theatre at Smith College, she is one of the founders of Chrysalis and has written and directed many of the company's productions. 

Musical Director, Composer, and Visual Artist Pan Morigan has composed scores for over 20 theatre productions.  She has produced albums for Green Linnet and Blue Wolf Music and produced a radio show for Public Radio International.  Morigan has studied the vocal traditions of India, Ireland, Eastern Europe, and North Africa.  The wealth of folk music she has collected from all over the world has inspired her compositional and performance styles.  She performs regularly as a vocalist in New York and New England.  Morigan is also an award winning visual artist and teaches voice in Northampton.  In addition to composing and performing, she creates paintings, masks, and sculptures for Chrysalis productions.  She has shown her work at Exit Art in NYC and in galleries in Western MA, Illinois and Ohio.  She teaches theatre and visual art in schools across the state.  Morigan and Hairston work together to design community workshops. 

Company Manager and Treasurer, James Emery, also a founding member of Chrysalis, is a highly trained actor with an enormous range.  He is a dancer, an expert in Kristen Linklater voice work, and a certified bodywork therapist - all of which enables him to provide top-notch performances and training for our actors.  In addition to Chrysalis, he performs with Enchanted Circle and New Century Theater. 

Tony Vacca is a musician, composer, educator who has recorded and/or performed with Sting, Senegalese Afro-Pop master Baaba Maal, Yusef Lateef, Don Cherry, Gambian 20th century griot Foday Musa Suso, and Senegalese master drummer Massamba Diop.  Tony is a virtuoso performer of West African percussion instruments, including the balaphon (traditional West African xylophone), talking drum, bells, shakers, gongs, and mbira.  Vacca has created music for films, dances, videos and performance pieces.  He is a frequent workshop presenter on West African music in grade schools, high schools and colleges.  Chrysalis has collaborated with Vacca's World Rhythms Projects to bring together musicians, performers, and visual artists from around the world for productions, concerts, and workshops in Massachusetts. 

Olivia Illano-Davis is founder and principle choreographer for Spectrum in Motion, a community arts organization that provides dance opportunities for people of diverse ages (6-65), backgrounds and physical abilities.  She has taught dance at many area colleges, dance studios, and community centers and is currently Director of Community Programs, Director of Youth Dance at the Hartford Ballet.

Diane Beckett, (AEA/AFTRA) is an actress, singer, and director.  She has a BFA from Brandeis University and has trained at Shakespeare and Company, New Federal Theatre, the National Center for Afro American Artists, and HB Studio.  Her acting credits include supporting and principle roles on National Public Radio, Fox Network, WGBH and WCVB Television.  She was also a member of the Company of Woman, directors Kristen Linklater and Carol Gilligan, and performed in their all-female productions of Henry V and King Lear.  She played Della/Girl/Missie May in the Huntington Theatre's production of George Wolfe's Spunk, and May Dee in Woodie King Jr.'s production of Jar The Floor at the New Rep Theatre.  She created the role of July in Chrysalis Theatre's Lonely Stardust.  She performed in a Chrysalis reading of Pearl Cleage's Chain at Long Wharf.  Most recently she got a group OBIE for her acting work in the Talking Band's ensemble production of Painted Snake In A Painted Chair.  She will work on Archangels of Funk.

 

Community

For 26 years Chrysalis has provided artistic opportunities to people of color and others often denied access to expression because of ethnicity, gender, or disability.  Our performances have been interpreted for the deaf by sign language artists (GALLERY OF WOMEN, POLYWISE); we have provided scripts for the hearing impaired (POLYWISE; IF YOU DON'T LIKE THIS DREAM, WAKE UP; DANCING WITH CHAOS, LONELY STARDUST, HUMMINGBIRD, SOUL REPAIRS); we have given specific theatre/music workshops for people with differing abilities.  For VISION OF FIRE, POLYWISE, DANCING WITH CHAOS, STRANGE ATTRACTORS, LONELY STARDUST, SOUL REPAIRS we worked with performers who had learning disabilities.  All of our performances and workshops have been wheel chair accessible; most of our plays have been written and directed by women (of color); we have drawn heavily from our African-American and African cultural resources but have also investigated other American and world cultures.  VISION OF FIRE, POLYWISE, DANCING WITH CHAOS, STRANGE ATTRACTORS, EXILES: A COLOR SCHEME, LONELY STARDUST, HUMMINGBIRD and SOUL REPAIRS, reflect our continued interest in finding ways to overcome the violence of racial, cultural, and political differences.

 

In order to provide affordable, accessible, community based cultural programming with a global perspective, Chrysalis has collaborated in Springfield with Jelupa productions, the YWCA, Northern Educational Services (NES) and StageWest; in Northampton with World Rhythms ' an international World Music Ensemble, Spectrum in Motion, a multicultural, multigenerational dance ensemble, The Northampton Center For The Arts, Northampton Committee '93, The Northampton Black History Month Committee, and Smith College; in Holyoke with the Holyoke Children's Museum, Holyoke Community College, and the Holyoke School System; and in the Greenfield area with Greenfield Community College and the Shea Theatre.  In developing VISION OF FIRE, POLYWISE, DANCING WITH CHAOS, STRANGE ATTRACTORS, EXILES, LONELY STARDUST, HUMMINGBIRD, and SOUL REPAIRS, Chrysalis Theatre assembled Gospel Singers, Martial Artists, Actors, Dancers, Instrumentalists, Poets, and Visual Artists from diverse cultural backgrounds to contribute their special expertise to our projects.  The designers, writers, performers, composers, cast, staff, board, and volunteers are African-American, White, Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Filipino, African, Caribbean, and Indian.  They are seasoned professionals, community members new to performance and the arts, people with learning disabilities, women from The Valley Women's Martial Artists, professors at Smith College, world-class musicians, and children.  Chrysalis offers paid internships to students, young theatre artists, and those who are new to theatre.  Interns participate in all Chrysalis activities.  To get broader audience exposure, Chrysalis toured VISION OF FIRE to Greenfield Community College and StageWest, Springfield's resident professional theatre in May, 1993.  In conjunction with Vision of Fire Chrysalis held a community forum at StageWest that brought together members of Springfield's African American Communities, Bosnian Refugees, Smith College Students, Professional Theatre Artists, and a group of African American men from a drug rehabilitation and job training corps to discuss creative solutions to the 'violence of difference.'  All participants were encouraged to see themselves as agents, as actors in this local/global world drama.  POLYWISE toured to Holyoke, Springfield, and Greenfield.  The Springfield performance of POLYWISE was the first collaboration between Chrysalis and Northern Educational Services, a social service agency dedicated to serving the Springfield community through tutoring, counseling, and cultural enrichment.  In March, '94 Andrea Hairston and Pan Morigan worked with teenagers from the Northern Educational Service peer leadership program to develop a script on 'Women and A.I.D.S.' based on their life experiences.  They also offered the students drumming, acting and voice workshops.  After intense rehearsals with Morigan and Hairston, the students performed their script, It's Not Too Late, at the Rebecca Johnson School in Springfield to an enthusiastic audience.  Chrysalis continues to collaborate with Northern Educational Services and other Springfield youth groups on cultural and educational programming.  From 1995-2003 in conjunction with our performances Chrysalis has offered free music/theatre workshops to high school and college students in Northampton and Springfield and 'Women and Power' music/theatre workshops to middle-aged social servants working on the frontlines in Springfield, and to pregnant and parenting teens and recovering addicts.  We have offered free performances at Holyoke Community College, Greenfield Community College, and we give free tickets to low income and underserved groups in Greenfield and Springfield.  Chrysalis purchased 25 copies of Pearl Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day for a GED Class of pregnant and parenting teens at SAFE (Supporting Adolescent Family Enhancement) in Springfield.  We invited the class to Pearl's reading and gave them free tickets to LONEY STARDUST in February of 1998.  From 1999-2003 we have offered free music/theatre workshops to pregnant and parenting teens in Springfield through the Springfield YWCA.  In 2003, JAR THE FLOOR was presented at Smith College in Northampton and also at Springfield College as a co-production with Jelupa Theatre.

 

Organizational

We are an artist-run organization.  The Chrysalis Board is an active group of Western Massachusetts residents who are committed to supporting and developing the arts.  Since we wish to offer our work to a broad audience, Board Members have been very successful in securing free or inexpensive performance and workshop spaces in Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield so that admission can be free or affordable.  Board members help us with research and development, and community workshops.  They also set up connections for us to other artists and humanists.  In 1994 Chrysalis was one of four arts' groups to be selected by The Fund For Women Artists to receive free grant-writing and administrative assistance.  Since then we have received administrative assistance from The Fund For Women Artists' executive Director, Martha Richards.  With Richards' assistance Chrysalis increased its income and audience base, and has been able to provide cultural services to communities in Springfield and Holyoke as well as Northampton.  Chrysalis is committed to paying artists as much as we can afford for their work and 74-82% of our budgets has gone towards artists stipends, fees, travel, and housing.  Since our work with Richards, we have identified donors who are interested in specific projects and have been able to continue cultural programming despite the difficult funding climate.

 

Several long-term goals have come to fruition.  Chrysalis wanted to build stronger ties with African American and low-income communities in Springfield and Holyoke.  In the 11 years since VISION OF FIRE toured to StageWest, we have developed an audience for our productions and gathered participants for workshops from Springfield, Greenfield, and Holyoke.  We have created on-going relationships with social & cultural organizations such as the Springfield YWCA.  Chrysalis' desire for national and international artistic exchange has also been realized, for example: Andrea Hairston and Pan Morigan taught a music/theatre acting workshop at the Prinz Regenten Theater in Munich Germany (summer 1999), and the Massamba Diop and Gokh-bi System have returned for residencies from 1996 to 2004, and Tony Vacca and members of Chrysalis made a Senegal Tour in December 1998.

 

Chrysalis is in constant dialogue with our audiences, workshop participants, fellow artists, and Board members about the content and quality of our projects.  Audiences for Chrysalis concerts, plays, and workshops are diverse.  Many of the viewers/participants have been chronically deprived of educational and cultural opportunities.  We give workshops and free performances to people who have never seen a play or played an instrument, made a mask, or written their own story.  We provide them with the skills to engage in artistic expression and reflection and also provide them with an opportunity or inspiration to create their own performances, paintings, texts, musical extravaganzas.  Participants in our community workshops have been inspired to make profound life changes; many continue to work in their communities to produce art, and some have joined Chrysalis.  Because we are able to keep alive the idea and practice of live, locally produced performance (and artistic expression in general) we feel very successful. 

 

We have talk back sessions with our audiences following our preview cabaret performances, readings & workshops, and following our 'finished' performances.  Frequently audience members inform us that in our work they have seen their story, their concerns, their joys, and fears reflected for the first time.  They demand more such experiences and begin to network with one another to ensure the future of artistic expression in their neighborhood, school, or community center.  Chrysalis also participates in a thoughtful and challenging community of artists who are dedicated to critiquing and supporting our music/theatre projects from its inception in workshops, cabaret performances, and readings to final productions.  Critical evaluation and analysis is an on-going process.  For example, Chrysalis developed a preliminary work-in-progress version of the text of ARCHANGELS OF FUNK and presented it to the public in April of 2003.  In addition to the reading, Chrysalis presented a musical cabaret in March, 2003 in collaboration with WaterMoonMusic to preview some of the musical ideas.  After dialoging with our audiences and conducting further community workshops, we reworked the text, music and visual imagery and a presentation of a revised version of ARCHANGELS in June of 2004.  Following these performances and concurrent community workshops we will dialogue with audiences, participants, Board Members, and fellow artists about the strengths and weaknesses of the project and rework the production for Fall of 2004.  We have followed a similar process with LONELY STARDUST and SOUL REPAIRS.

 

In 26 years of programming, Chrysalis has never been over budget.  Although we are determined to stay in the black, we are artistically ambitious and committed to paying artists for their services.  We do not pay 'salaries' but typically offer stipends of $3500 to professional performers for participation in a show'a seven-week rehearsal and performance schedule calling for 3-4 hours of rehearsal four to five times a week.  Since our priority has been to pay artists we have never spent as much money on administration.  We rely on the in-kind, volunteer work of Board Members to administer our programs.  Board members have gotten us free rehearsal space, inexpensive performance venues, childcare services, copying and office supplies, musical instruments, and sound equipment.



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