OFFICE HOURS | 10 Questions with PMA Professor Bruce Levitt

For our second installment of “Office Hours,” a series of interviews with prominent personalities on Cornell’s campus, Sunspots writer Andrew Shi talked with with Performing and Media Arts Professor Bruce Levitt, who has taught at Cornell since 1986 and is involved with Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG), a prison theatre group at Auburn Correctional Facility.  

You’ve worked with PPTG since 2010. How has the group evolved over time? Since the group is inmate-led, that dynamic shifts and we shift with it. The makeup of the group changes over time as some men get transferred out and new men come into the group.

BETWEEN BARS | Prisoners and Playwrights

I’ve had two thoughts about theatre. The first is that it is a high art form. It is difficult to understand, like the complex symphony or the abstract painting—a sensory experience for refined tastes. The second impression I’ve had of theatre is that it is meant to entertain. People attend theatre performances because they want to have a good time.

BETWEEN BARS | Learning Chinese

This week at Auburn I taught Chinese. It came as a surprise, really: when we checked our belongings in at the front desk I noticed a fellow tutor holding what looked like worksheets that were written in Chinese. She explained to me that she taught a small Chinese class and invited me to join her in administering a quiz for her class. It turns out the entire Chinese class that night consisted of three people. The five of us sat around a single table in a classroom filled with other students who were there for study hall.

BETWEEN BARS | When I’m 36

I’ll be 36 years old when he gets out of prison in 2030. It occurred to me that scientists have been saying that by that year all the polar ice caps will have melted. Across the street from Auburn, there’s a small gas station with a convenience store that sells Marlboros and sodas and lottery tickets and bite-sized snacks. Upon my first visit, I found it odd that a string of local businesses would situate themselves so near to a maximum-security facility. I guess Auburn prison has been around for so long that it’s merged into the landscape like a wall in the city.