Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity      April 2001 • Volume XXIV, Number 1

Serendipity leads to symposia where multiple disciplines meet.

No Art Is an Island
By Nick Riddle

Through any performance piece, sources, influences, and contexts entwine. Where better to examine them than at a university, where scholarship runs deep?

“What I want to do,” explains Mark Ross Clark, professor of music and director of opera production at IU Bloomington, “is to draw together university specialists from different departments.” Clark has instigated several interdisciplinary symposia at IUB, after being inspired by a serendipitous gathering at IU to examine Alban Berg’s Wozzeck.

It started with a coincidence in the fall of 1999. Henry Remak, professor emeritus of Germanic studies, comparative literature, and West European studies, was using Georg Buchner’s 1837 drama Woyzeck as a text in a class. The IU Theatre was mounting a production of the play, and Remak wanted to use the performance to bring Woyzeck to life for his students.

“We hardly ever have time to read plays aloud,” he explains. Then Remak realized that the IU Opera Theater was running a season of twentieth-century opera—a season that included Wozzeck, Berg’s 1925 adaptation of Buchner’s unfinished play. Both productions were opening almost simultaneously, which was too good a chance to pass up. Remak helped organize a symposium for students and faculty—a joint presentation by the Department of Theatre and Drama and the School of Music—that would compare the play and the opera and examine the relationship between them.

“Comparing the different media is a very worthy pursuit,” says Remak. “It’s important for our students to understand that things are linked, not stuck in categories the whole time.”

The Woyzeck/Wozzeck symposium featured contributions from Remak on Woyzeck as literature; from Dennis Reardon, IUB associate professor of theater and drama, on Woyzeck as theater; and from Clark and David Hertz, IUB professor of music, who discussed Wozzeck as opera and as music respectively. The event, held in Sweeney Hall in the Simon Music Center, included scenes from both works performed live. Clark was impressed with the results.

A scene from the IU Opera Theater's 1999 production of Alan Berg's Wozzeck.
Photo, Mindy Schreiner, IU Photo Services © Indiana Universit

“It was outstanding,” he says. “We watched scenes from the play and then the same scenes from the opera, and the contrasts were very illuminating.”

Some were more subtle than others; Clark remembers that for the shaving scene, “You couldn’t help noticing that the opera props were much bigger than the drama props.”

After tremendous positive feedback from the well-attended Woyzeck/Wozzeck session, Clark organized a smaller event to tie in with the IU Opera Theater’s production of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in February 2000. With Gounod’s Faust scheduled for the 2000–2001 season, the potential for another meeting of disciplines became apparent.

“More than any other art form, opera is dependent on appreciating the ingredients and investigating them,” says Clark. “All these strands of literature, drama, art, philosophy, and music are mixed together in athree-hour experience. Gounod’s Faust is an especially good example of that.”

Clark invited faculty from several departments to participate in a late January symposium called “Dancing with the Devil: The Legend of Faust Through Time.” He believes faculty contributions from various disciplines can weave into “a thread that leads people to the opera. If you can see where a piece of work stands in history and its place in the arts,” he says, “it becomes less of a museum piece.”

Remak is a big advocate of this approach to teaching, which he believes draws students to an educational experience they might not otherwise have.“The percentage of our undergraduates who voluntarily attend performances and exhibits is shockingly small,” he observes. Students’ first steps towards greater engagement with the arts are the hardest, so, Remak says, “we have an obligation, as college teachers, to initiate these first steps and make them as meaningful as possible.”

In Remak’s view, the Woyzeck/Wozzeck symposium went a long way toward this meaningfulness. “What really matters,” he says, “is not what the students say in class, but what they say outside. And I think they really did discuss these things outside. That’s what it means to be educated".

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