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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

Students to Bring Literature to Life

There are few disciplines which naturally complement each other as well as theatre and English, and an exciting inaugural event aims to bridge the literary and performing arts worlds while creating deeper connections between the student body and the larger Middlebury community.

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, New England Review editor-in-chief Carolyn Kuebler, Professor of Theatre Dana Yeaton and Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts (MCA) Director Liza Sacheli will present a collaborative, multi-faceted evening, combining recent works from the internationally renowned, Middlebury-based literary magazine with the talents of student orators and writers. The event, “NER Out Loud,” will feature seven dramatic student readings of New England Review material in the Concert Hall of the MCA at 7:30 p.m., followed by ‘S’more Readings,’ a unique showcase of work from three student-run literary magazines, Sweatervest, Blackbird and Room 404, accompanied by a s’mores-themed treat reception in the lobby of the MCA.

The event takes inspiration from the ‘Selected Shorts’ program, a weekly radio podcast broadcast on Public Radio International to over 300,000 listeners that enlists the talents of prominent actors to read both established and emerging fiction, usually centered on a theme, author or special collaboration. Kuebler, who took the reins of the New England Review from 20-year editor-in-chief and Director of Literary Studies Stephen Donadio in Jan. 2014, saw a diversity of artistry present in the College and town communities that presented a rare opportunity to establish a distinctly Middlebury version of the show. The idea began percolating in her mind in the spring of 2014, and with the help of Sacheli and Yeaton, an event quickly formed.

“I’ve been to a lot of theatre productions at the College, and I have always been impressed by the acting and how sophisticated and poised the students are, so the idea of putting on an event with some students was always interesting to me,” Kuebler said. “I approached Liza because she was interested in doing some more literary programming, and when I talked to her, she said that Dana would be a good candidate. It turns out that Dana wears a number of different hats, and in addition to teaching and playwriting and the other involvements in the Theatre Department, he also heads this new group called the Oratory Society.”

The Oratory Society began with a group of students taking Yeaton’s J-term 2014 Speechmaking course who wanted more opportunities to practice public speaking and the increasingly rare art of oration. Students from the Theatre Department and many other disciplines soon expressed interest in joining, and the group has quickly grown, performing officially for the first time at the 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorio before offering workshops in spring 2014 and making strides to be recognized as an official organization last fall. As of this spring, the group has almost 20 members under the leadership of Oratory Society President Liam Knox ’17.

“It’s been fun to do a little matchmaking and discuss which of the pieces we’ve published over the past year would make for good live reading,” Kuebler said. “We were more concerned about readability, range and immediacy of the text. We wanted to have a variety and a way to showcase the New England Review and the different kinds of writing that we publish. Some works have a storytelling feel that grab the listener, but some are more abstract and poetic or philosophical.”

After selecting appropriate pieces from the New England Review to send to Yeaton, he in turn sent out the possibilities for further review by student actors and members of the Oratory Society. Caitlin Duffy ’15.5 is one of the seven students reading at “NER Out Loud.”

“Dana sent students four documents that each had a collection of short stories and poems, and we suggested which ones we’d like to read,” Duffy said. “I’m reading a short story, so we will pare it down for oration. The idea is getting a literary text into a performance realm. I think approaching literature from this perspective is really special, and it helps me understand it more.”

Melissa MacDonald ’15 will also be reading a literary selection at the event.

“Sometimes you read in your head in a way that maybe misses all the connotations and rhythms that a word can carry if you say it out loud,” she said. “The idea is that we can bring clarity to texts that sometimes you don’t quite understand fully when you read them to yourself. Hopefully when we read out a story we place enough emphasis and character within it that the insight that the piece is trying to provide shines.”

Following the main portion of the evening will be ‘S’more Readings,’ a collaborative idea devised by Kuebler and Sacheli in which students will read their own work from Sweatervest, Blackbird and Room 404 student literary magazines in the lower lobby of the MCA. Mini amps will be accompanied by mini ovens for toasting marshmallows for s’mores, and attendees of the reception will be able to freely browse the magazines and talk with representatives from each.

“It is in my best interest to get more people to know about and engage with the New England Review, but I think that there are a lot of literary students on campus who wouldn’t mind coming out of the woodwork with their magazine,” Kuebler said. “They might have more of an opportunity to show what they’ve been up to under the umbrella of the New England Review. We have all of the same interests as literary magazines.”

In addition to Duffy and MacDonald, Kevin Benscheidt ’17, Brenna Christensen ’17, Cole Ellison ’17, Jabari Matthew ’17 and Sally Seitz ’17 will read selections at the event. Sweatervest and Room 404 will be represented by Nick Kaye ’17 and Dylan Redford ’15, respectively, and Blackbird will feature delegates Emily Luan ’15 and Doug LeCours ’15. The event is free and open to the public.