Notes from Wesleyan University’s Center for the Arts, Physical Plant, and College of the Environment.

Center for the Arts

Fiona Coffey, Associate Director for Programming and Performing Arts, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theater 

Rani Arbo, Campus and Community Engagement Manager
Center for the Arts  

WesWorks is the first in-person performance that the Center for the Arts has offered to the general public since March 2020, and we cannot imagine a better show to re-open with! This performance celebrates the movements of labor and the people who make those movements: our own Facilities staff, whose daily work keeps this campus open, clean, safe, and running smoothly. We are so glad you can join us tonight to celebrate their invaluable contributions to this community.  

WesWorks is the culmination of an expansive, cross-campus collaboration that has been years in the making. Forklift Danceworks’ Artistic Director Allison Orr first came to Wesleyan in 2014 to share her unique, community dance-making practice. Since then, Forklift’s projects, classes, performances, workshops, and internships have continued to change the lives and perspectives of our students, faculty, staff, and community members.  We have discovered new ways of seeing and knowing each other, and of understanding the physical and human ecosystems we inhabit. Forklift and WesWorks have energized conversations about how we value community — conversations we hope you will join, to help us ride the momentum of this dance-making process into sustainable change. 

WesWorks is the third and final iteration of Forklift Danceworks’ touring project, On Campus, which brings the company’s creative process to university campuses, beginning with Williams College’s Served in 2018, and followed by Wake Forest University’s From the Ground Up in 2019. When we first talked with Allison Orr in January 2019 about producing a show at Wesleyan, we had no idea that COVID-19 would shut down our campus just over a year later.  For a multi-year, complex project built on relationship-building, in-person job shadowing, and campus artist residencies, COVID-19 posed major challenges — and it also highlighted the pandemic’s impact upon our Facilities staff, and the immeasurable value of their work and presence in our community.  We could not be more grateful for their accomplishments in the past eighteen months, and for their willingness to share their work with you tonight. 

Physical Plant

Joyce Topshe, Associate Vice President for Facilities

Mike Conte, Director of Physical Plant Operations


The Physical Plant team is responsible for operations and maintenance of Wesleyan buildings and grounds. We have a full staff of skilled tradespeople who maintain, repair, and clean campus buildings and associated equipment. The Physical Plant team also operates the Central Power Plant, which supplies and distributes steam for heating and chilled water for air conditioning purposes. Our facility managers ensure that campus buildings are kept clean and in good repair.

While we service campus infrastructure, our staff also has a strong history of being part of the educational experience for Wesleyan students. Through job shadowing and teaching courses, our staff share a deep knowledge and expertise that only comes with practical, hands-on learning. Andrew Plotkin (Project Engineer) and Jeff Murphy (Facilities Business Manager) have taught classes about energy conservation projects on campus, while Alan Rubacha (Director of Construction and Infrastructure) and Plotkin have led courses on campus infrastructure. Bill Nelligan (Director, Environmental Services) has advised on chemical and lab safety, and Steve Formica (Senior Project Coordinator) and Erica Wright (Project Assistant) have taught students how to build a house. In addition, many employees have mentored students, including Dean Canalia (Plumbing Foreperson), Kris Patterson (Material Handler), Mario Torres (Material Handler), Tom Macri (HVAC Shop Foreperson), Mike Conte (Director of Physical Plant Operations), Pete McGurgan (HVAC/Utility Mechanic), Nick David (Working Foreperson, Material Handling), Damien Thomas (Journeyman Plumber), Mike Berzenski (Boiler Tender), and Nick Zinn (HVAC Mechanic). These are only a few examples of the ways that Physical Plant staff proudly contribute to the educational mission of the University, demonstrating that knowledge and expertise are found on all parts of our campus.


Jeffrey Sweet, Associate Director, Facilities Management, on behalf of Custodial Operations

I experienced a presentation by Clara Pinsky ‘16 and Forklift Danceworks with our Physical Plant team a few years ago in Usdan and I saw how our Trades staff were able to interact with the community in a way that exposed their contribution to the University as well as their value. The Custodial staff provides safe and sanitary spaces for everyone on the Wesleyan campus in a way that is very transparent. Their participation in the job shadowing with Forklift and now in the WesWorks production is a step in making their contributions more visible. My hope is that their participation in all the opportunities that Forklift offers adds value to their work experience and raises awareness across campus that they are valuable members of our Wesleyan community.

College of the Environment

Barry Chernoff, Director, College of the Environment, Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Professor of Biology 

A decade ago, I had the remarkable experience of meeting Allison Orr after the screening of the documentary about her work, Trash Dance. I was moved beyond belief. It was the first time that I witnessed the engagement of communities of people in which barriers and otherness evaporated. Allison and her fellow choreographers at Forklift are artists who see the beauty in movements of people as they do their work. They have a kindred vision to that painted by Diego Rivera: workers at work are beautiful and are the foundation of all that we stand on and stand for. I knew then that the College of the Environment (COE) and Wesleyan had to partner with Forklift Danceworks. We had to incorporate their magic, passion, and method of cohering communities and ameliorating environmental injustices through the artistic process. If we are going to solve the great environmental issues that the world is facing, we need communities, and cultures, and individuals to recognize that we are one larger community that must embrace our differences, our needs, and our histories. Creating an environmentally just world requires that we take the first step of mutual understanding. Forklift’s process provides an artistic method that opens the door to new possibilities.

Allison joined the COE as the Menakka and Essel Bailey Junior Distinguished Fellow of the COE Think Tank in 2015. In 2017, Allison Orr was appointed as Distinguished Fellow of the COE. Every year the COE funds two or three students to work with Forklift Danceworks on programs to advocate for community pools, to increase awareness of parks and trees, and to celebrate Austin’s historic baseball fields. These students are transformed, as are the students who learn from Allison and her team in our introductory courses. WesWorks will expand our appreciation of those who work behind the scenes to create the environment that is Wesleyan.








Free spring event reservations are available now online. The Wesleyan University Box Office opens for walk-up sales on Thursday, January 27, 2022 at 11am.

The general public is welcome to view exhibitions in both the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery and the College of East Asian Studies Gallery at Mansfield Freeman Center. All patrons must adhere to and follow the University COVID-19 safety guidelines. Wesleyan requires all visitors to be fully vaccinated including booster shots. All visitors will need to provide proof of having been fully vaccinated. Masks are required in all University buildings regardless of vaccination status. Indoor performances as well as special events, including opening receptions in the galleries, will be open to Wesleyan students, faculty, and staff. Vaccinated visitors may attend outdoor events and outdoor activities unmasked. Patrons under the age of five are required to wear a mask at outdoor events. Due to current CDC age limits on vaccinations, individuals under the age of five will not be permitted at indoor exhibitions.
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