The 9th annual Cocoon featured many of the constants that have marked its past decade. A faded paisley rug. A single microphone. A winged logo. And, once again, the gentle hum of a packed crowd. Compared to last year’s heavily-modified Cocoon event, the energy in the lobby before Friday night’s show was electric. Students, professors, parents and community members were clearly overjoyed to be gathering in Mahaney Arts Center’s Robison Hall after so many months away from campus. For students who have been inside the Middlebury bubble over the past year, the sight of so many silvery heads in the audience was bizarre, given how accustomed they are to seeing only young adults. Despite the weight of this anticipation, Cocoon exceeded expectations. The event was organized by the student organization known as Moth Up, led by co-presidents Alex Burns ’21.5 and Kristen Morgenstern ’24, who doubled as emcees. Inspired by the Moth Radio Hour, the evening features true stories told without notes in fewer than ten minutes. This year’s theme, “Rebuilding,” stands in contrast to the 2020 theme of “Downpour,” and inspired stories that generally ended on a hopeful note. The evening opened with a lively story from journalist and community member Christopher Ross. His impeccable comedic timing drew lots of laughs from the audience, even if their smiles were hidden behind their masks. He told the story of his original move to Middlebury in the early 2000s, fraught with snow storms, locked doors and his least favorite song — “Hotel California.” The ten-minute tale had all the makings of a classic road trip comedy, and ended with a heartwarming speech about how, despite initial misgivings, he and his family grew to love the community they found in Vermont. The second storyteller was Luna Simone-Gonzalez ’24. She shared how her relationship with music shifted from being taught to love music as a lifestyle at the performing arts schools she attended in New York City to loving it in her own right and on her own terms at camp and at Middlebury, her first non-music school. Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Steve Zatarain ’15 closed out the act with an emotional story about his evolving relationship with his younger brother, Bobby — whom he named after his favorite TV show, “Bobby’s World.” The two were close as children, but their parents’ difficult divorce pushed a wedge between them. The story ended on a sad note, as Zatarain explained how his brother had been a victim of gun violence twice. While Zatarain used humor throughout, this was definitely one of the night’s more somber stories, and gave audience members a lot to mull over during the intermission. After the show’s intermission, Assistant Director of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center Janae Due welcomed the audience back with her moving tale about the links between her health and her hair. With intense honesty, Due recounted her experiences with precocious puberty as a child, undergoing surgeries as a teenager and suffering from premature menopause as a young adult. This story wasn’t always easy-listening, but Due’s powerful narrative left audience members with a compelling story of will and resistance. Student Life Dean Scott Barnicle offered a good-natured, self-deprecating account of the ups and downs in his life over the past year and a half. He shared how the March 2020 lockdown left him sharing a home with his then-wife, with whom he was already in the process of getting a divorce after 29 years. When he eventually moved out, he overcame the relatable technological hurdles of Match.com and was lucky enough to meet a new partner. They celebrated their one-year anniversary last Saturday. The final speaker was Keziah Wilde ’24, who shared how she has been running at least one continuous mile every day since before her 10th birthday. Whether limping along on a strained hamstring or disguising her mile as a game of tag while at summer camp, she seems to view this challenge as an equalizer in her life, connecting who she is on a given day with who she has been on all the other days for the past decade. While she may not inspire every audience member to pick up the habit, she certainly left us thinking about what it means to be committed. Missed the event? Catch a recording of the livestream from now until October 17 here.
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In the 1920s On a sunny Saturday morning in the spring of 1921, you wake up in your room in Battell Cottage. This women’s dorm is located on the Battell Campus, rather than across the road on the men’s “old campus.” Classes meet six days a week, so after a quick breakfast at Battell Dining Hall, you drag yourself to 8 a.m. Latin, which fulfills your classical requirement. At 9:00 a.m., you are off to a course in home economics. Before registration, you considered classes devoted to specific subjects like food preparation or hat-making, but settled on the more general “Household Administration.” The class focuses on a “woman’s place in the home and the community; buying, arrangement, and storing of general household supplies; care of the house; domestic service; labor saving devices; division of income and accounting.” From 10–10:30 a.m., students have a break built into their schedule so they can attend chapel service. While Middlebury is nonsectarian, it emphasizes religious devotion of some kind. “A chapel service is held each week-day at 10 a.m. and a vesper service on Sunday at 5 p.m. All students are required to attend unless excused for urgent cause,” the college writes in its catalogue. One of your friends doesn’t much appreciate this mandatory attendance, although she protests in her scrapbook that “I do go to church sometimes.” After chapel, you have your last class of the day: physical education. Men and women have separate offerings for P.E. Men can choose from Gymnastics or Athletic Coaching, while women select from a Playground Course or Methods of Teaching Physical Education. You’ve opted for the former, and you and your classmates spend the period learning folk dances from your instructor, Miss Young. Once classes have finished for the day, you are eager to meet up with friends. In the afternoon, you decide to attend a baseball game against St. Michael’s College. While you watch, your friend reports that she called home. Her parents were relieved to hear that tuition would only come to $150, plus $300 for room and board. The Panthers’ victory leaves you both in high spirits. A busy evening lies ahead. Tonight is the annual banquet for the Theta Chi Epsilon sorority at Betsy Buttles Tea House. Greek life plays a large role on campus, although strict rules from the college limit its activities, and social gatherings occur almost exclusively on Fridays and Saturdays. The rulebook states, “any group of students in the men’s college desiring to have a party of any sort to which women are invited...is required to secure permission from the Chairman of the Student Life Committee.” These co-ed events are, of course, chaperoned. Consumption of alcohol is grounds for expulsion from the college given that the country is in the midst of Prohibition. As one of your classmates puts it, “Rules are the bane of our young lives.” Following the banquet, you are torn between all the different options that weekends provide. Some of your friends opt to go into town (in reality, “a village of about 2000”) to see a movie. There is also a New York Philharmonic Concert at Mead Chapel, and Richard Burton is giving a lecture. In the end, you decide to attend the college dance. The sponsoring group took such time to craft delicate paper invitations, and you are eager to fill in the spots on your dance card. The event concludes at 11:30pm, and you return to Battell Cottage with a smile on your face, happy to have spent another day at Middlebury College. Over the next three years, you hope to meet Robert Frost at the Bread Loaf School of English and to attend the Middlebury Summer Language School to sharpen your French. While you are certain to complain about the cold, you will also be delighted to try your hand at skiing. By the time commencement rolls around in 1924, your scrapbook is full and you are ready for anything the Roaring Twenties have left to throw at you. Editor’s Note: This article is based off of beautiful scrapbooks created by female Middlebury students in the early 1920s. These women preserved their college experiences on pages filled with detailed notes about their day-to-day schedules, ticket stubs from events they attended and elaborate party invitations and dance cards. This resource was supplemented with research in the college’s archives, and with information from the 1920 Middlebury College Catalogue. In the 2020s Beep. Beep. At 8:30 a.m., your phone alarm wakes you from a deep sleep. Reluctantly, you pull open the blinds to reveal a cloudy Friday morning in the spring of 2021. Outside the window of Hepburn Hall, you see students carrying backpacks already making their way across campus. After a quick breakfast in your room, at 9:10 you log onto your first class of the day: Intro to Computing. These days, most of your classes take place on Zoom. After two semesters of virtual courses, you’ve gotten used to interacting remotely with classmates and professors. Ensuring that your microphone is muted, you force yourself to stay engaged by taking notes. After class, you drop in to your Arabic professor’s Zoom office hours to ask a question about your upcoming presentation. At 12:40, you have your only in-person class of the day: Feminist Foundations. Every time the class meets, you are amazed to learn more about how far the women’s rights movement has progressed in the last century. Although everyone is wearing a mask and desks are spaced six feet apart, it is still refreshing to spend time in a shared classroom environment after a long morning looking at a screen. That afternoon, you decide to exercise with MiddRuns. In addition to meeting students with a common interest, the club fulfills one of your P.E. credits. You decide to grab dinner afterward, and you are unsurprised to see that Proctor is serving its frequent Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. After dinner, you hesitate choosing an evening event. The Middlebury College Activity Board is sponsoring a number of online events, including a concert by Hippo Campus. Plus, a few of your friends are gathering in Axinn to watch a movie. Room capacity restrictions limit the number of people who can be in a shared space, making weekend socializing more difficult than in previous years, but parties still occur. You settle for streaming the concert with a couple of friends in one of their dingles. Over the next three years, you look forward to campus reopening and the opportunities post-pandemic life will provide, from attending classes in person to watching live events. You plan on studying abroad your junior year and want to complete a summer internship related to your major. Due to your canceled high school graduation, you are already eager to hear your name announced and walk across the stage to receive your Middlebury diploma in 2024.
Nine Middlebury students created Eat Local VT, an app that connects users to local food sources, in partnership with Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN), a local nonprofit that works to strengthen the local food and farm network around the Champlain region. “The app was something that I wanted to make for years, but we’d just never had the time or the money,” ACORN Director Lindsay Berk said. She noted that with the added impetus of the pandemic, “the timing was right.” ACORN releases an annual guide that provides information about products and services offered by over 200 farms and food producers in the region. Published in collaboration with The Addison Independent, the directory typically appears in print. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, forced ACORN to cancel its scheduled print publication of its 2020 guide. Instead, ACORN put out the call for volunteers interested in helping to create an online version of their print guide. “Covid really helped people appreciate local food,” Berk said. ACORN was determined to meet this surge in interest and find a way to help the community continue to access its resources. After a 10-month-long effort, the free app was released to the public in early February and has already been downloaded over 550 times. Users can search for specific products like “maple” or “dairy” and filter the map by options like “organic,” “order ahead” or “pick your own.” Results include a link to the food producer’s website as well as contact information and more details about their offerings. “Everybody should be able to use the app,” app developer Manuel Morillo ’23 said. “We made it for everyone.” ACORN reached out to the Innovation Hub and the Computer Science Department back in the spring. Ben Yamron ’21 and Zack Einhorn ’21 seized the opportunity and formed a core group of four students to work on the app. In addition to coding and more technical work, the group of students collected data from farmers, presented the app to their eventual sponsor, Co-operative Insurance, and completed beta testing to compile feedback from potential users. The app’s target customers include local residents, tourists, college students and “anybody who’s curious about local food,” Berk said. With over 250 food producers in the region, the app provides an easy way to navigate the variety of available options. “It’s a great resource for community members who want to buy their food from someone that they know or someone that lives near them so they know where the food is coming from,” Einhorn said. The public response in the few short weeks since release has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s helping bring ACORN into the 21st century,” Berk said. The group of students who worked on the app together have since decided to continue their work through MiddDev, a prospective club where students can hone their programming skills through hands-on experiences. The club will be formed through a partnership with the Innovation Hub. “We built the club with the intention of continuing with this project and making more projects so that even more students can learn from helping others,” Einhorn said. “Because this is a volunteer project, it’s mostly going to be run off of self-motivation,” Aska Matsuda ’22 said. In the coming months, MiddDev is hoping to expand its membership. As Matsuda explained, apps require more than just STEM expertise — such as art and design skills to create icons. “If you’re interested, we encourage you to get involved,” Morillo said. Eat Local VT’s next goal is to create a desktop version of the app. The mobile app will also continue to be updated to be as current and user-friendly as possible.
During a year like no other, community organizations like the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP) and Neighbors Together have been vital in helping businesses in the town of Middlebury overcome financial challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing Bridge and Rail Project. “The role of the BMP has been to offer programming based on the needs of the town,” said Karen Duguay, executive director of the BMP. Those needs changed last spring when the unprecedented lockdown period began. The BMP has been operating for 40 years, working to build community and attract visitors to downtown Middlebury through events like the annual summer block party and festive Christmastime “Midd Night Strolls.” But in 2020 much of its traditional programming was no longer possible under social distancing guidelines, and most events on the calendar were either canceled or drastically modified, according to Duguay. Created to mitigate the negative effects of the Bridge and Rail Project, Neighbors Together was instituted more recently in 2015. The group receives federal funding, which restricts its spending strictly to construction-related initiatives. However, in pursuing its mission to drive local business revenue by investing in the downtown district and fostering community partnerships, Neighbors Together’s work was often similar to the pandemic aid offered by the BMP. As economic strains intensified, the two organizations redoubled their efforts to bolster the vitality of downtown Middlebury. At the same time, they faced the new challenge of adjusting their work to comply with safety restrictions. One of their solutions was to move Bundle, a storefront venue for pop-up events started in 2019, into outdoor tents where local businesses and artisans could continue to sell new wares while respecting health guidelines. The groups also collaborated to sponsor The Great Middlebury Pig Out, during which townspeople were encouraged to patronize local restaurants and use their receipts as entries to win a range of prizes. Some of the BMP’s initiatives have gained support from the college community. In October, the Student Government Association passed a bill that will allow students to opt to receive $25 in Middlebury Money rather than the usual declining balance. “The college has been extremely supportive, getting students to embrace the community,” said Nancy Malcolm, a member of Neighbors Together. Middlebury Money is a currency available at the National Bank of Middlebury that can only be used at Middlebury establishments and is meant to encourage participants to keep their purchases local, whether that purchase be goods from a shop or paying a water bill. Moving forward, the BMP has big plans to redevelop Middlebury’s downtown, which currently contains several empty storefronts. Last Tuesday, Duguay made a request to the Middlebury Town Select Board for $50,000 from the Middlebury Business Development Fund to launch a new program called Kickstart Middlebury. The BMP will work with the Small Business Development Center and the Addison County Economic Development Corporation to form a panel that will solicit applications, including financial and marketing plans, from potential new businesses. Selected applicants will then benefit from facilitated communication with landlords and financial support from the program. Through Kickstart Middlebury, the BMP hopes to help multiple new businesses open downtown by the beginning of the summer. As life in the pandemic nears its one-year mark, Duguay and Malcolm maintain a positive outlook, and there is a lot for local residents to look forward to from these groups in 2021. Neighbors Together is set to dissolve in August, as the construction project is wrapping up, and the group plans to use the remainder of its funding in the coming months for a few final projects to support the town of Middlebury. The organization collaborated with the BMP to sponsor an upcoming public art project called Find Your Wings, an initiative meant to support local artists as well as “enhance the beauty and appeal of the downtown district.” Three to five sets of wings are set to be installed around downtown Middlebury in early summer. Duguay is hopeful that normal programming, including the August block party, Spooktacular Middlebury and Very Merry Middlebury, can take place as usual this year. Despite all the challenges, the BMP and Neighbors Together remain optimistic about Middlebury’s resilience. “One thing that this year certainly taught us all is how to adapt,” Duguay said. “I really feel confident Middlebury is going to come back strong.”
Election Day dawned bright and cold last Tuesday as voters made their way through the snow to the polls at the Town of Middlebury Parks and Recreation Department. Although there was a record increase in mail-in ballots in Vermont this year due to the pandemic, many voters still cast their vote in person. In Middlebury, total voter turnout hit an all-time high of 4,368 votes, surpassing the previous record set in 2016 by more than 600 ballots. “We were going to vote by mail or use the drop box, but when President Trump’s tactic appeared to be one of voter suppression rather than reaching out to all Americans, we were adamant that we would come today,” freelance writer Gaen Murphee said. Beyond these concerns, some voters chose to brave the cold for other reasons. Nicky Johnson ’22 said that she wanted to have the experience of voting in person. Similarly, Emily Vivanco ’23 expressed that voting in person brings greater satisfaction. Although many voters said that they considered voting absentee, they were confident in the safety precautions at the polls on Tuesday. “People are a lot more fired up [compared to the 2016 elections],” Sophie Clark ’21 said. “This year, people are taking [the election] really seriously and are excited to get out and vote — and get their friends to vote.” Despite the enthusiasm about being able to vote, several individuals expressed some disappointment about the limited options on the ballot. “I just don’t like the two-party system,” first-time voter Aidan Mattingly ’22 said. Mattingly mentioned that he originally considered voting third party. Expressing a similar sentiment, Roodharvens Joseph ’22 said that he wished that there was someone else on the ballot to support. “But, it’s about unity now,” Joseph said. Voters described a wide range of issues that impacted the choices that they made this year. Murphee cited justice, the rule of law and the continuation of U.S. democracy. Middlebury resident Chelsey Lattrell said that change was necessary, mentioning human rights as her main concern. “I don’t want to vote for anybody that’s not denouncing racism,” Joseph said. Several voters mentioned the response to the pandemic, including Clark, who also enumerated issues including women’s rights and racial inequality. “It’s just so embarrassing the way that America has handled [the pandemic],” she said. Vivanco echoed Clark’s sentiments. “The pandemic really drives home the urgency of a new government,” she said. That urgency was palpable on Tuesday morning as bundled-up voters exited the polls with “I Voted” stickers and the knowledge that they were a part of democracy in action.
Masks were on, but eyes and ears were open, and the audience reacted enthusiastically to the highs and lows of each story at the eighth annual Cocoon storytelling evening, which took place on Oct. 10 at Manahey Arts Center’s Robison Hall. The Middlebury Moth-Up, a small student organization inspired by The Moth phenomenon, charges itself with the mission of promoting the craft of storytelling. This year’s Cocoon was loosely centered around the theme “Downpour.” Co-President of the Middlebury Moth-Up Alexandra Burns ’21.5 said that the team sought a theme that reflected the chaos of recent months. Each of the four storytellers, including two students and two staff members, took their own approach. Middlebury horticulturalist Tim Parsons told a heartwarming story about gaining a fourth child when his three daughters convinced him to get a puppy. Regina Fontanelli ’22 spoke about the evolution of her complex relationship with her mother throughout her adolescence and her college years. Emily Ballou ’21 had the audience in stitches as she reminisced about spending the day with a cranky old woman at a Vermont fair. And finally, Knoll Food & Garden Educator Megan Brakeley ’06 told an emotional story about the interplay between her family, her identity and the life of her dog, Burt. In the minutes before the lights dimmed, the normal rumble of a chattering crowd awaiting a performance was replaced by a comparatively dull hum due to the small number of attendees, spaced out to ensure social distancing. Nonetheless, many performance art lovers were clearly thrilled to be attending their first in-person event since the outbreak of Covid-19. Liza Sacheli, Director at the Mahaney Arts Center and adviser to the Moth-Up group, described the eerie time capsule she found upon return to the arts center, including a calendar that hadn’t been flipped since the college closed. “It’s so nice to be in a space where art is happening with real live people,” events manager Shannon Bohler said in her welcome. The preparation for this year’s event looked significantly different from previous iterations. “We normally have our first meeting for the fall Cocoon in the May in advance,” Burns said as she explained how a typically five-month preparation process was compressed into just one. The organizers described a prolonged period of uncertainty in the spring and summer, as they waited to hear about the college’s plans for the fall semester. Burns had even wondered if they would plan the event only to get sent home. The group began preparing in earnest upon their return to campus, as all but two group members are currently residing at the college. Leading up to the events, the producers worked closely with speakers to establish a story arc and polish the stories in a workshopping process. This year, those workshops were conducted both in-person and remotely using Zoom. Sacheli described Cocoon as the “more formal cousin” of the monthly Moth-Up events. Traditionally, Cocoon has taken place during fall family weekend and is held in front of a sold-out crowd of 300 people or more. Faced with Covid-19 and the college’s health guidelines, the group opted for what Burns describes as a “blended event.” It was live-streamed and the majority of attendees were virtual, although the stories were still told live in front of a limited audience. “We thought it would be important for our speakers to have friends and family come watch them,” Moth-Up Co-President Zeinab Thiam ’21 said. Audience response is a key component of these events, responding to stories with both laughter and applause. “If [the speakers] feel better telling the story, it will read better to everybody,” Sacheli said. Editor’s Note: Hannah Bensen, an event producer, is a News Editor at The Campus, and Emily Ballou is an Arts & Culture Editor at The Campus. They were not involved in the editing of this article.
Despite the option to complete their senior thesis projects in the spring, several senior theatre majors have chosen to face the pandemic head-on and complete their projects this fall, embracing the challenge in the hopes of a richer end result. After three years of exploring the variety of theatrical areas required of the major (including acting, directing, stage design, literature and playwriting), each senior selects one facet to focus on. Ian Hanson ’21 and Zoe Samuels ’21 have chosen playwriting, meaning that each will write a complete play for their thesis. Hanson got his start in theatre as a kid by playing an Oompa Loompa in the musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” A world of pure imagination, as it were, is now central to his thesis — a science-fiction play. Under the working title “How to Name Your Planet,” the piece focuses on two characters trying to survive on another planet. The work was heavily influenced by playwriting courses Hanson took with Professor of Mathematics Steve Abbott and Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone. In contrast, Samuels grounds her work in reality. Inspired in part by playwright Annie Baker, Samuels’ work centers around the everyday. Like her previous play “Grocery Girl,” Samuels’ thesis offers a very detailed glimpse into people’s lives and the connections they make with others. This summer’s quarantine provided ample time for both Hanson and Samuels to begin writing and planning out the flows of their plays. At the beginning of the fall semester, they had to present their thesis adviser with a third of the play in addition to a synopsis and a full breakdown of each scene. After a semester’s worth of hard work and revision, each hopes to hold a reading of their play in December, whether in person or over Zoom. For her thesis, Katie Marshall ’21 is curating a collection of monologues and scenes from various authors and time periods. She began selecting pieces over the summer and was able to connect with the college’s alumni for suggestions. As an actress, her thesis experience has been dramatically altered by the college’s Covid-19 regulations. She and her peers have rehearsed dialogues with masks on and hope to gain access to more indoor spaces as Phase Two continues. For now, the unusual circumstances have allowed them to pursue more experimental forms of expression. “How do we create connection when we can’t touch? How do we form a relationship when we are six feet apart?” Marshall asked. Despite the obstacles, Marshall is optimistic. “It’s not like just because there’s a pandemic, there’s not going to be theatre. People crave stories and we’re going to find a way to give that to the people,” she said. Both Samuels and Marshall spent their last spring semester studying abroad at Oxford, meaning that they had not set foot on campus since last December. After such a long time away, it has been odd for them to see so many unfamiliar faces. Nonetheless, each student offers a ray of hope. “I’m seeing more people on campus than I ever have before, on every patch of green,” Samuels said. Marshall spoke about her “urge to create” and how encouraged she has been by her fellow students’ desire to collaborate. After a truncated spring semester, there is a clear sense of gratitude to be on campus and creating theatre at all.