Lining Up for 'Served'

Isabel Andrade ’18 celebrates the production of ‘Served’ with her Dining Services team.

The Gaudino Fund partnered with Forklift Danceworks to mount a production centered on campus dining facilities—and starring Dining Services staff. Isabel Andrade ’18 was among the many participants who seized the opportunity to embrace connections in new spaces.

Essential to the Gaudino legacy is the idea of putting learners into situations and cultural spaces with which they are not familiar—and one of Gaudino’s critical insights was that such spaces often exist much closer to home than we realize. A February 2018 dance performance led by award-winning, Texas-based Forklift Danceworks, built on that vision by creating a kind of reciprocal dislocation: embedding students in spaces with people they see every day but whose daily work is often unfamiliar, and by putting those people—Dining Services staff—into the kinds of performative spaces to which students are often more acclimated.

For philosophy major Isabel Andrade ’18, dislocation is synonymous with education. She grew up in Quito, Ecuador, and her first experience of living in the U.S. was when she came to Williams. Forming connections in new spaces is something she has learned to embrace.

“I’m someone that really seeks community and a sense of stability,” she says. “In my time at Williams, I’ve spent three summers on campus, I haven’t studied abroad, and I have tried to really get to know as many people in this space as possible. It’s a hard place to try to build a community, because we’re under so much academic and external pressure. Being part of Served was one concrete way that I could help connect people to each other.”

Andrade is part of the leadership team (known as the “Storyboard”) of Storytime, the Williams club dedicated to “sharing stories and cookies from the Williams College community” every Sunday evening in Paresky’s Henze Lounge. She learned of the Served project when the choreographers came to a Storytime meeting. Their ideas resonated with her own goals of building community on campus—and also of acknowledging the value of the varieties of work that keep Williams running. When they told her they wanted to do something related to storytelling with dining services staff, she jumped at the opportunity.

The cover of the ‘Served’ program booklet.

“I have a distinct memory of freshman year, I was one of the few students who stayed on campus for spring break,” she says. “As an international student, going home isn’t super easy. And I was eating a lot of my meals alone. In a lot of the dining halls there are a lot of immigrants from central America. They knew me, and we spoke in Spanish together, and then they started joining my table when they saw I was alone. I was able to connect with them in a way because we shared a similar background culturally. I feel like sometimes Williams students are so pressed in time that they feel like they don’t have the time to give staff members anything but small talk. And culturally in Ecuador, small talk is not even small. It’s long. You get to know the person you’re talking to. And you talk about a lot more than just the weather.”

Andrade’s connections with dining services staff served her well in her work for the production, both as an embedded student worker learning the dining-services ropes and as stage manager for Served, a dance for and by dining services staff, co-authored with participating staff and students and intended to illuminate “the nearly non-stop movement of campus dining halls.”

According to leaders and facilitators Allison Orr and Krissie Marty, a central goal of Served was “to address equity and build connection through a community-based dance-making process.” The Gaudino Fund was a partner, with other campus groups, in the production. In her Scholar Notes in the Served program, outgoing Gaudino Scholar Lois Banta described the performance’s alignment with Gaudino’s legacy:

“Like Williams-at-Home, Served immerses the audience member in a work setting that for many is unfamiliar,” she wrote. “How do we approach this experience not as a tourist who passes through and marvels at the novel sights, sounds, and smells, but rather as a student seeking that embodied learning? The biographies of the Dining Service performers remind us just how long many of these staff members have been working together—in some cases decades. For Gaudino, it was critical that the Williams-at-Home students be treated not as guests, but as family members, sharing in the discomforts, and reflecting on the innate, unspoken dynamics that characterize any family and one’s position in that family.”

Andrade’s experience certainly spoke to those goals. The first time she walked into the kitchen to join a shift, she said, she felt self-conscious and out of place. Her presence, she felt, was more a nuisance than anything else, interfering with work that needed to be done quickly and precisely. She even considered quitting. Then, she said, a dining hall worker named Ava, an immigrant from Honduras, took Andrade under her wing, showing her how to help make soup and to contribute in other ways.

“I talked with the choreographer about these feelings,” Andrade says. “What she said was that sometimes just listening is giving something. And I realized that it is. Just being there and genuinely caring about how these people feel about their work is a form of giving. And now I don’t think I was a nuisance. Or maybe I was a nuisance. But eventually I learned, and now I can operate the dishwashing machine!”

That experience, and her experience as stage manager—making recordings of staff stories that were later used in the production, assisting the choreographers, cuing music and helped direct traffic during the actual production, when audience members moved among several stations to watch different performances—was eye-opening for Andrade. And she believes the performance had the same effect on the audience and the participants.  A conversation she had after a show with one of the performers, a Facilities staff member, helped her distill some of her feelings.

“He was a mopper,” she says. “And he said, ‘nobody had ever clapped and cheered for me as I mopped.’ And I think that statement—he said it while laughing and being very proud that he had just finished this whole thing—and I think it captured what it means to change who is seen as an artist and who is seen as someone who deserves attention. And I think this project was very successful at doing that. There were certain scenes in Served that gave me chills. It made me confront some of my own biases and assumptions about what is skilled work versus unskilled work and to appreciate a little bit more what goes into the chaos that is running a dining hall that serves so many people every day.”