On Feb. 25-27 in the Hepburn Zoo, The Vagina Monologues returned in its third consecutive year at the College, but the fresh form and delivery of the play, renamed Beyond the Vagina (Monologues), explored changing definitions of femininity and womanhood in an inclusive and ambitious showcase of thought-provoking narratives. In an effort to start a conversation about previously taboo subjects like female genitalia, sexual stigmas and violence against women, writer Eve Ensler ’75 compiled a theatrical celebration of vaginas and femininity based on two decades of interviews with over 200 women spanning age, ethnicity, nationality and sexual experience. Premiering in 1996 in New York City — and shown in a limited run in the same year at the Mahaney Center for the Arts — the resulting piece, The Vagina Monologues, featured a candid exploration of anatomical and sexual awakenings, feminine shame and historical and societal gender oppression through one common subject: the vagina. After a five-year off-Broadway run and a subsequent national tour, the worldwide popularity of The Vagina Monologues continued to grow after the exposure of a Madison Square Garden engagement and an HBO television adaptation. In 1998, Ensler established V-Day, an organization originally staffed by volunteers whose mission demands that violence against women and girls must end. Since the organization’s inception, the number of annual February V-Day productions has grown to 5,800 worldwide, the proceeds of which benefit shelters and rape crisis centers to further V-Day’s mission. All of the proceeds from the College’s production were donated to WomenSafe, an Addison County organization working toward the elimination of physical, sexual and emotional violence against women. Though The Vagina Monologues remains a global phenomenon 20 years after its debut, the play has garnered significant criticism for representing a largely white, cisgendered, heterosexual perspective that portrays a dated view of femininity and womanhood. Director, producer, script adapter and lighting designer Rebecca Coates-Finke ’16.5, who has worked on three consecutive productions of The Vagina Monologues, wanted to create a performance experience that addressed these criticisms and expanded the play’s reach and relevance. After launching the 2014 show with a student monologue and introducing an accompanying booklet of student voices in 2015 to make the production more Middlebury specific, Coates-Finke embarked on her most ambitious interpretation of the show’s potential with this year’s Beyond the Vagina (Monologues). “I wasn’t satisfied with just doing the play as it was anymore and I was curious as to whether or not it was possible to use the script to undermine some of the central issues with it in a new play,” Coates-Finke said. “I believe that a show can’t be feminist if it can’t reflect the context that it’s in, and in that way it [The Vagina Monologues] does allow itself to become irrelevant over time because it keeps repeating the same story even when culture has shifted.” Featuring an all-student ensemble of 16 cast members and six American sign language interpreters dressed in black and shades of red, Beyond the Vagina (Monologues) was presented in the round in the Hepburn Zoo, encouraging an interactive and physical performance style that — like the content of the text — did not allow for audience complacency. In addition to familiar aspects like a compilation book of eight monologues written, edited and illustrated by students and performances of nine monologues from the original piece — including Anna Hoge ’19’s confident and unapologetic rendition of “Hair,” an exploration of the societal pressures placed on women to modify their body hair for ‘beauty’ and Jenne Meneses Montiel ’19’s Spanish-infused interpretation of “My Angry Vagina,” a condemnation of female medical treatment and the proliferation of consumer products implicitly shaming female bodies — Coates-Finke incorporated outside speeches and materials to shatter the limitations of the original text. Early in the show, an audio-recording of transgender writer, speaker and activist Julia Serano’s piece “Cocky” played over the loudspeaker as American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter Julia Desmarais ’18 offered an emotive translation on a darkened stage. As a transwoman who did not have genital reassignment surgery grappling with her position outside of traditional gender definitions and the constant threat of physical violence, the juxtaposition of Serano’s candid voice to the quietly gripping visual translation left the audience momentarily stunned by the interplay of raw emotion and articulate narrative in the piece. “One of the main criticisms of The Vagina Monologues is that it’s biologically essentialist, so what it does is it uses the vagina to talk about the experience of being a woman, which ends up leaving a lot of people out in terms of conversations about sexism and devaluing the feminine,” Coates-Finke said. “I wanted to complicate that because there are many trans women who have not undergone surgery. I wanted to use the audio of Serano’s piece to recognize the fact that there was nobody in my cast who identified as a trans woman and to acknowledge that there are some people not in the room whose voices still need to be heard.” The inclusion of ASL interpretations of each piece, as well as an increased commitment to physical performance and a greater incorporation of multimedia, augmented the thematic changes to contribute to an overall tonal shift toward inclusivity, innovation and open discussion. Each audience member was asked to write their own definition of femininity on a piece of paper upon entering the theater, and the responses encapsulated a shifting view of femininity as a measure of power, self-esteem or choice rather than a static biological assignment or reinforced social construct. Coates-Finke discussed the reflection that three years of engagement with The Vagina Monologues has prompted. “I have learned so much more about femininity and what my gender means from people who are a-gender or gender queer or trans women because there is something very powerful about acknowledging in some ways that there is a little bit of choice involved in how you get to identify your gender and how you can change and enact that every day,” Coates-Finke said. Another striking addition to the show was Stella Boye-Doe ’19’s nuanced rendition of “Respect,” written by critical race theorist and founder of intersectionality Kimberlé Crenshaw for the V-Day production A Memory, A Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer. The piece confronts the history of America’s simultaneous capitalization and oppression of the black vagina. Asserting that the United States was built on the backs — and through the wombs — of slave women, the piece offers startling statistics about a continued lack of progress and respect, including the fact that rapists of black victims receive, on average, one-fifth of the sentence of the rapists of white victims. Though only a week has passed since this reinvention of The Vagina Monologues premiered, Coates-Finke and the cast have received some positive feedback. “I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked so much for doing a show before, and other members of the cast have had similar experiences,” Coates-Finke said. “It has been really powerful to hear about people who were skeptical of the show because of previous criticisms and decided to see it for themselves. I think I was worried about not having gained the trust of the people I really wanted to be in the room, so I was glad to see that people were trying it out even if in the past it hadn’t been what they wanted it to be.” In its ambition to expand its scope and explore shifting conversations on femininity and gender, Beyond the Vagina (Monologues) undermined many of the contradictions inherent in its original form, incorporating deft artistic decisions to present a piece unique to its time and place. Coates-Finke’s presentation is a vision of what The Vagina Monologues could be, and it is my hope that the play can continue to push its own boundaries in years to come. On Friday, March 4, Coates-Finke will be discussing her process in writing, producing, and directing Beyond the Vagina (Monologues) at 12:15 p.m. in the Abernathy Room.
Use the fields below to perform an advanced search of The Middlebury Campus's archives. This will return articles, images, and multimedia relevant to your query.
51 items found for your search. If no results were found please broaden your search.
For 19 years, the International Students’ Organization (ISO) has organized their seminal yearly event, a wildly popular celebration of global cultures through music, dance and poetry. This year’s Saturday, Nov. 21 show, “Spectrum: A Celebration of Diversity,” features over 100 student performers in 20 acts spanning the globe. The ISO has been active since it was founded in 1996, planning events ranging from international trivia nights to food workshops to academic panels on globalization. About 12 percent of the student body are international students from over 75 countries. In addition to the ISO’s 30 active planning members, over 300 students – international and domestic – are registered for the organization’s mailing list. There is an inclusive duality to the ISO’s missions and goals. “I think we can view the ISO mission in two ways,” co-president Maya Woser ’18 said. “We are trying to engage international students and provide them with support once they get here while also engaging the larger community by sharing some of our different cultural backgrounds.” This year’s presentation includes a breadth and variety of acts never attempted before by the ISO. In addition to crowd favorites like Midd Masti, the South Asian dance group, and the African Dance Medley, new additions like a Fijian Meke Dance and a folk reinterpretation of the Korean traditional song “Arirang” are expanding the range of cultures and performances featured in the show. Large group dances will alternate with more intimate songs, poems or partner dances to highlight the variety of forms cultural expression can take. “An interesting aspect of this year’s show is that we have groups coming with performances that are very typical, traditional manifestations of their culture, but we also have students adapting and giving new meaning to these traditions,” co-president Danilo Herrera said. “It will be interesting to see how these students who study in America away from home interpret these traditions and give them a new philosophy.” Performances will represent cultures from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania and South America. Each act is chosen, coordinated and choreographed by students, and participants from any background are welcome to join. Third-year participant Vera Chan ’16 will be performing in the Midd Masti Bollywood show finale as well as the showcase of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian form of martial arts that combines dance, music and acrobatics. “As a first-year, I had a lot of international friends, and many of them were also in the ISO show,” Chan said. “I think since coming to Middlebury I’ve had an interest in the performing arts, and this event was my first time performing. I found it to be really fun. I loved learning and sharing the dances and wearing the costumes.” Each performance also features dress typical to the respective culture, fostering an immersive visual and audial global experience. The show, much like the organization itself, is designed to champion widespread community engagement with the diverse range of cultures present in the student body. “Middlebury College does a very good job in raising awareness about diversity through talks, lectures and special projects, but I think the ISO show will be a new way to experience diversity,” Herrera said. “We also believe in art as a way to bring awareness. We strongly believe that having these student go up on stage and show part of their traditions and cultures is a way of bringing to campus a little bit of their cultures and raising greater awareness of diversity.” Faculty, staff, students and community members are encouraged to attend. “It’s not every day that you get to see a bunch of cultural art forms in one night,” Chan said. “This is a great opportunity to come and enjoy the variety of beats and colors and languages and support friends who are participating.” On Saturday, Nov. 21, an amended 5:30 p.m. performance intended for families and children will precede the full 8 p.m. presentation in Wilson Hall. Tickets are available through the Box Office. Prices are $3 for children under 12, $6 for students and $8 for the general public.
On Thursday, Oct. 15, the Town Hall Theater was one of 1,500 venues around the world that participated in the National Theatre Live broadcast of the Barbican of London’s much-anticipated production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. For four hundred years, new generations have plumbed not only the intricacies of Shakespeare’s text, but also the depths of the spaces between the words for contemporary interpretations that speak to modern audiences. In trying to appeal to a younger generation, this production needed to craft a show tailored to shorter attention spans, greater aesthetic expectations and more cultural awareness than ever before. In all three of these areas, the show succeeded with stunning clarity. Cumberbatch is an unlikely superstar whose pale complexion, narrow eyes and self-conscious propensity for clever babble did not gain international recognition until his appearance as the title character in the BBC’s 2010 television production of Sherlock, a role which came 15 years into his career. The Barbican production came under significant scrutiny for casting the current “hot star” as a ploy to sell tickets to female and younger viewers. Regardless of if it was a ploy or not, the three-month live run at the Barbican Theatre was quickly labeled “the most in-demand theatre show of all time,” nearly breaking online ticket vendors with queues of over 30,000 interested fans after the sale opened. Over 225,000 international viewers watched the live broadcast or encore presentation on Oct. 15, more than the show’s live audience, and more than have ever seen a single National Theatre Live broadcast in the program’s history. It’s difficult to remain cynical about the casting of Cumberbatch if his immense talents introduce thousands of viewers to a Hamlet who glitters in his whimsical grace, charismatically bounding across the stage in fluid fits of carefully coordinated choreography as he descends into a madness marked by the tragic loss of youthful hope and wonder. This is a translation of Hamlet for today, led by Cumberbatch’s invigorating stage presence and a spectacular supporting cast, including acting legend Ciaran Hinds as Claudius and a moving Sian Brooke as Ophelia. Students in many Department of Theatre classes attended the screening, opening the opportunity for a shared, external theatrical experience. “Seeing outside work is great because it gives us all a common reference point, so we’re talking about the same production instead of relying on the abstract or trying to tell people about things we’ve seen that we think are important or impactful,” Associate Professor of Theatre Alex Draper said. The production announces its modernity immediately, opening not with the traditional interaction with the ghost of King Hamlet, but instead with a solitary Hamlet as if he is a beat poet, Cumberbatch relaxing on the ground in an autumn sweater as Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’ spins on a record player. Cumberbatch’s Hamlet is constantly in identity crisis, exhibiting layers of adolescent playfulness, sharp intelligence and overwhelming narcissism as his fairytale castle falls to pieces. This, of course, is what makes Hamlet so real, especially for a generation paralyzed by an array of unparalleled opportunities, responsibilities and commitments (or lack thereof). There is no longer a monarchy or a pervading propensity for sword fights, but there is something about Hamlet’s flailing attempts to discover his moral center which resonates today. Students in the Literary Studies Department also attended the screening, allowing the three-dimensionality of the written word to supplement their usual academic pursuits. “Seeing a performance makes you have a different perception of the work and inherently changes how you will approach it in the future,” Abla Lamrani-Karim ‘16 said. “By making this show modern, you forget that you’re listening to a very hard language that you’re not used to, and that makes you realize just how much Shakespeare is still today’s topic. That’s the beauty that this production was able to portray.” The Barbican’s Hamlet is easily swallowed, with careful reductions and alterations of the original text – near the play’s middle, Hamlet’s inner conflict is mirrored by his amalgam of clothing, complete with a David Bowie graphic t-shirt, military pants, Converse sneakers and a tailcoat crudely painted with the word ‘King’ on its back - that pare Shakespeare’s longest play from four to three hours long. Certainly, removing segments of Shakespeare’s original – coupled with the appearance of a tattooed Horatio in double-cuffed pants - has irked purists to no end. Regardless of its finer details, the production captures the core beauty of Hamlet in a manner which is engaging and provocative whilst maintaining the integrity of the text. “This production managed to make Hamlet relevant and exciting and palatable for our generation,” Acting II student Nolan Ellsworth ‘17 said. “There was kind of a rock star vibe to the show at times which worked well with Cumberbatch’s personality and the tone of his performance.” In a humor-infused take on a monologue exploring Hamlet’s possible decline into madness, Cumberbatch marches onto a table in his uncle’s study dressed as a toy soldier with a snare drum strapped to his chest, the rhythm of his movements fluidly matching his nonsensical language. The scene is delightfully playful, but undermines a suggestion of the turmoil in Hamlet’s head. At the same time, it’s plausible that emphasizing Hamlet’s joyful behavioral overcompensations capture an increasingly popular culture of pretending to be okay. As is true with any theatre that explores rather than explains, either interpretation could be true. Forgetting outside criticisms of performance or textual interpretation, the play offered a production backdrop so bold, so visually and atmospherically stunning in the unabashed, epic grandeur of its ambition, that it was nearly impossible to tear one’s eyes away from the constant crystallization of light enveloping its sumptuous visual articulation of innovative design. Part of what makes live theatre unique is that each viewer is able to direct their own experience, freely changing focus from individual performances to the broader scene. In their revolutionary endeavor, National Theatre Live makes executive decisions for the audience, choosing when to establish a wide shot, zoom to an actor’s face or pan to follow a character’s movement from one side of the stage to the next. This leads to the notion that certain nuances outside a chosen camera frame are lost to the film audience, but in the hands of the National Theatre Live crew, viewers from afar are gifted a version of the production seen from the balcony and the front row all at once. “I was very suspicious of the live taping at first, but when it’s done well – and I think this was done incredibly well – it’s incredibly effective,” Draper said. “I don’t think it should happen all the time, but this was a really great example of why to do it because the size of the production, the technical feats of the set and his [Cumberbatch’s] sheer talent are the kind of forces that gather together so rarely on this scale.” The Barbican production’s accessibility – both thematically and technologically – firmly foreshadows a new era of high-quality theatre that allows a much broader audience entrance into its formerly exclusive sphere. Through the unique initiative of National Theatre Live alone, more than 3.5 million people have viewed over 20 productions in 1,500 venues around the world, numbers far exceeding the reach of the theaters themselves. In 2016, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. is marking the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death by sending one of 233 known copies of his 1623 First Folio to every state. The College has been chosen as the Vermont host site, and there will be festivals, lectures and performances throughout February 2016 to celebrate the first collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays. The next Town Hall Theater broadcast of National Theatre Live will be an international encore presentation of David Hare’s Skylight with Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.
Spring Awakening is a difficult play: difficult in its dark subject matter and complex textual foundation, difficult in the inherent interplay between reality and expressionism and difficult to review in the context of multiple losses of community members and ensuing discussions of high levels of student stress. Written in 1891 by German playwright Frank Wedekind to contribute to nationwide discussions and criticisms of the repression of German society and schools, the play is long, cynically dark and often impossible to understand. It should be noted, though, that under the confident direction of Associate Professor of Theatre Claudio Medeiros ’90, the large cast and creative team presented the tale of repression, suicide, rape and adolescent sexuality with insight, sensitivity and an impressive excess of theatrical talent. The opening scene began with a spotlight on Artist-in-Residence Scotty Hardwig’s shirtless back, slick green hair and painted shoulders. Writhing as he wrote with a quill – Medeiros showed him videos of snakes hatching out of their eggs as inspiration – his erratic, devilish movements were at once captivating and disorienting as the audience tried to identify the mysterious figure presented from behind at the beginning of the play. Feverish, desperate scratches of the quill intensified the masked man’s urgent need to empty the contents of his mind onto the page, introducing the idea that this figure was also the creator of the events about to unfold. “I think that what this interpretation of the masked man became is a highly expressionist image of carnal and expressive emotions in a way that’s life-affirming through a celebration of flesh, which is very unsentimental but also powerful and primal,” Hardwig said in the Friday post-show talkback. At its core, Spring Awakening is about the repressed physical and sexual curiosities of school-aged teenager Melchior Gabor, played by Adam Milano ’15, and 14-year-old Wendla Bergmann, acted by Chelsea Melone ’15. This is both Milano and Melone’s last production at the College, and their interactions on stage crackled with unbelievable intensity as the two exceptional talents tackled their demanding scenes – including a beating and a rape – with characteristic prowess. A simple set design comprised of blackboards filled with German text constantly reminded viewers of the omnipresent school system and the stifling traditions of generations past while allowing enough flexibility for the lighting design to signal scene changes from a forest to a reformatory to a barn to the warmth of a home. In the final scene, actors appeared under sheets to transform the sparse set to a cemetery full of gravestones, and throughout the production, sound, lighting and carefully chosen props created an immersive world that allowed for audience engagement and personal interpretation. The break-out student performance of the evening came from Jackson Prince ’17 in his portrayal of Moritz Stiefel, Melchior’s best friend whose good-humored attitude toward his failing grades ultimately proves insufficient when he dramatically shoots himself at the end of the first act. Carefully revealing the character of a boy whose deep-rooted insecurities and depression cannot be overcome by his often delightful sense of humor and curiosity, Prince presented a character whose three-dimensionality and emotional struggle rings painfully true in an environment which is currently filled with dialogues about student stress and well-being. Joelle Mendoza Etchart ’15 was a clear stand-out in her portrayal of the humorous prostitute Ilse. Though her time on stage was not long, she dominated with each line and natural physical comedy, eliciting easy laughs as she elevated her supporting role to one of the most memorable appearances. Wendla’s innocent curiousity, spurred by her lack of experience, leads her to ask Melchior to beat her. Melone’s chilling screams and Milano’s passionate fervor were presented in an impressively tactful manner considering the dark subject matter. Though Melchior initially hesitates, he takes to the task with an animalistic desire that is repeated in a later scene when Melchior rapes Wendla in his first manifestation of sexual instinct, which is based purely off of an unsentimental education from books. Spring Awakening was incredibly risque at the time of its release in 1891 and was only performed uncensored in England in 1974, with scenes involving solo and group masturbation still causing some uneasiness among today’s audience. Credit must be paid to Michael Brady ’17.5, whose character, Hanschen Rilow, loved and ‘killed’ nude women in famous paintings in a playful and angst-ridden unrequited tete-a-tete including unrestrained and ultimately unfulfilled masturbatory attempts ending in the destruction of the images portraying his two-dimensional idols. The play places culpability for Moritz’s suicide and the rape of the innocent but curious Wendla on the caricatured school faculty and well-meaning but ultimately fatal decisions of the parents, not on the adolescents. Wendla’s mother, Frau Bergmann, played with believable uncertainty and affection by Liana Barron ’18, still tells her daughter that babies are delivered by the stork, and when she finally agrees to explain to Wendla how babies are really created, she crafts a humorous lie about needing to feel a profound level of love impossible before marriage. The humor of this mistruth is shattered, of course, when Wendla’s ignorance of sex leads to a pregnancy which ultimately kills her because of its attempted termination. Similarly, when explicit diagrams and explanations of sex and sexuality in Melchior’s hand are found in Moritz’s book after his death, Melchior is brought before a board of laughably incompetent faculty members, notably including Zac Lounsbury ’16 as the unbending Headmaster Sunstroke. The advanced age of the academics was further emphasized by chalk-white wigs, hearing problems and the painfully slow movements of a man named “Fastcrawler,” portraying a system more interested in protecting itself than in considering the needs of its students. “The very heightened treatment of the professor scene, with the makeup and the wigs, that’s all for this production, but I feel that it honors the text, which moves from more realistic to heightened expressionist scenes,” Meideros said. “The idea of expressionism here is the same as in painting – instead of representing the reality as you see it in life, you represent the essence, the core of reality, therefore giving it expression.” Indeed, the play offers an interpretation of Wendla’s rape that may prove perplexing to a modern audience. Melchior is thrown out of school for his writing and drawings about human sexuality, not his sexual domination over a 14-year-old girl, and in the final scene, the all-knowing masked man reassuringly informs Melchior that Wendla would have delivered a healthy baby had not her abortion failed. Adding more complexity to the issue, though Wendla clearly struggles to grapple with the ramifications and implications of her first sexual experience, she also experiences a profound spiritual and physical liberation from the encounter that questions the assumed wrong of Melchior’s rape. Caitlin Duffy ’15.5’s superb portrayal of Moritz’s mother undergoing a nervous breakdown was further heightened by her crisp, captivating stage presence, proving a highlight of the production. Additionally, the raw emotions of Emma Eastwood-Paticchio ’15’s screams of agony after Moritz’s funeral stayed with the audience long after her confident and chilling performance as Martha Bessel, a victim of parental abuse. In the final scene, when Moritz confronts Melchior in a graveyard – either as a real character or an expression of Mechior’s psyche – the use of an oversized suit to convey the idea of a decapitated head offered a biting glimmer of dark humor as Prince held his hand under his chin, alternating between left and right to give the idea that he was forced to exist in the afterlife carrying his head in his hands. This visual comedy – characteristic of the tragicomedy pervading the work – played in contrast to Moritz’s dark and disturbing pitch to Melchior to join him in the afterlife, a parallel universe of no pain which breeds pity for the living. In this climactic monologue two-and-a-half hours into the play, all signs pointed to an ultimate message that death is indeed a preferable choice to life, and the audience seemed to uncomfortably hold their breath as Melchior considered offering his hand to his dead friend. Both Medeiros and Hardwig wanted to provide the audience with a visual link between the beginning and the end, and the surprising reintroduction of the masked man in the final scene proved to be one of the most successful theatrical choices in the play. “One of my earliest ideas was to introduce the masked man at the beginning,” Medeiros said. “It was also my idea to have a dancer. In working with Scotty the idea was to open it up to multiple interpretations of who he might be. That the masked man is sinister is definitely true, and intentional.” Hardwig’s reappearance reaffirmed the serpentine eroticism of the character implied to be the show’s creator. All-knowing and alive, his gracefully ominous movements supplemented a mysterious revelation that Moritz did not, in fact, have the power to take Melchior to the afterlife. In this viewer’s opinion, the finest moment of the play occurred moments before its end when the masked man turns to the two young boys – one alive, one dead – and says “In the end, everyone has his part,” telling Moritz that “you have the comforting knowledge of nothing” and offering Melchior “the tormenting doubt of everything.” It may have been a two-hour journey, but the play’s final message is ultimately one of hope in life, though it acknowledges the challenges inherent in being alive. And in the end, Melchior chooses life. In the incredibly talented hands of the student cast, Spring Awakening was transformed from a dark, tragicomic commentary on repression in late 19th century German society into a relevant discussion of struggles facing adolescents regardless of time or place. It is not an easy play, but when facing issues as complex and relevant as mental illness, anxiety and adolescent sexuality, the brash, expositive lens of Spring Awakening is a welcome voice in what is hopefully only the beginning of an ongoing conversation.
On Saturday, April 25, the fifth annual Bach Festival Concert presented a thrilling combination of students, community members and professionals in an enthusiastic display of musical colors to a packed audience in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts Concert Hall. Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, the Bach Festival has established a loyal following and level of musical ambition and professionalism which sets it apart from any other musical event at the College. When looking for a guest conductor who possessed a combination of exceptional professional skills and a geographic reach beyond the New England region, the festival organizers, Music Together and voice teacher Jessica Allen and Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Jeffrey Buettner enthusiastically selected Jeffrey Thomas, Artistic and Music Director of the American Bach Soloists, a baroque orchestra and early music chorus based in San Francisco. A Professor of Music and Director of Choral Ensembles at the University of California, Davis, Thomas also hosts two internationally syndicated classical music radio shows and has performed with symphony orchestras in Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, Austria, England, Germany, Italy, Japan and Mexico, among others. Arriving on Monday, April 20, Thomas spent the majority of the week in classes and coaching individual students before rehearsals on Friday, which gathered all of the involved parties together for the first time. “What’s really nice about this particular performance environment is that Jeff [Buettner] has mixed up Middlebury students and some faculty, community members and professionals sitting side by side, and that’s a great experience for all of those entities,” Thomas said. Though the Festival Concert is the pinnacle event of the Festival, the opening Thursday evening Performing Arts Series performance by Axiom Brass, carillon recital, two interest sessions on Bach and a chamber music showcase on Sunday contributed to a weekend of Festival events offering members of the College and larger communities a range of contextual and musical choices centered on Bach. “Bach appeals to a huge number of people,” Thomas said. “There is some bit of magic to a Bach festival – they exist all around the world and they tend to engender audiences that return year after year, because they see this as a pilgrimage to hear those performances.” In previous years, the Festival Concert has taken place in Mead Chapel, and the move to the Concert Hall, which is at once spacious and intimate, allowed for a distribution of sound that enveloped the audience with the rich, colorful mixture of music from soloists and ensembles, instruments and voices. The first half of the concert, consisting of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 and Bach’s early “Cantata for Jubilate,” was performed as a chamber ensemble without conductor. With the palpable prowess of Affiliate Artist Cynthia Huard on harpsichord centering the piece, the concert began on a lively, incredibly professional note, augmented by the texturally ambitious Collegium and professional vocal soloists throughout. In addition to bass Buettner, tenor Adam Hall and mezzo Lindsey Warren, soprano Lisa Wooldridge ’16, soprano/mezzo Annie Beliveau ’18 and baritone Tevan Goldberg ’18 sang in the Collegium during both halves of the concert, proving their ability to tackle incredibly challenging music with nuanced confidence. Soprano Erica Furgiuele ’15 joined this group during the “Cantata for Palm Sunday,” the last piece of the evening. Special attention must be paid to soprano Lisa Wooldridge ’16, a singer whose effortless, pure and tonally rich soprano voice soared as a part of the Collegium during the majority of the concert, placing her easily on the level of the professional vocalists around her. Her high standard of performance is particularly impressive in light of her recent achievement as Diana, one of the leads in the Middlebury College Musical Player (MCMP)’s spring showing of Next to Normal. Additionally, Emily Luan ’15 lent her talents as a violinist to the chamber-style performance of the Brandenburg Concerto, and Rita Pfieffer ’15 and Gloria Breck ’18 played violin in the Festival Orchestra, while Tevan Goldberg ’18 played the harpsichord. After intermission, Thomas conducted the Festival Orchestra, College Choir and Collegium in the performance of two of Bach’s early cantatas, ‘Actus tragicus” and “Cantata for Palm Sunday.” “The early cantatas used fairly different types of instruments, so there is a tonal variety along with the interesting range of colors for the audience to listen to,” Thomas said. “There’s a kind of drama in these works that I think the later cantatas don’t have because they are much more smoothly engineered. They are absolutely knockout pieces.” In the two and a half hours of music, the rich, precise tone and collective power of the College Choir filled the space of the Concert Hall particularly well, adding jolts of energy after the intense focus of arias and recitatives. In fact, I so enjoyed the Choir that I would have liked to hear more, but the addition of the Collegium and the impressively ambitious range of pieces dictated that a wider variety of instruments and ensembles competed for performance time. Year after year, the Bach Festival proves that in an era of autotune, synthesizers and bass beats, Bach is still alive and well – and if the trend continues, this will be true for decades to come.
The Middlebury Bach Festival celebrates its fifth anniversary April 24-26 with an original and exciting presentation of musical ensembles and styles celebrating the life and work of legendary organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Founded and organized by singer and Director of Music at The Congregational Church of Middlebury Jessica Allen and Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Jeff Buettner, the Festival has proven itself a smash success and treasured staple of the College musical calendar since its inception in 2011. This year’s array of events, featuring celebrated guest conductor and Artistic and Music Director of the American Bach Soloists Jeffrey Thomas, are marked by increased student participation in featured roles as well as an ambitious spectrum of musical colors showcasing the versatility of Bach’s work across instruments and ensembles. The Festival kicks off on Friday, April 24 in Mead Chapel with the award-winning Axiom Brass Quintet, a group representing the second year of collaboration between the Bach Festival and the Performing Arts Series. Their program, ‘Sacred Brass,’ features works inspired by or written for the church by Bach, as well as Palestrina, Albinoni, Stephenson, Byrd, Tchaikovsky and Gabrieli. Not since 1999 has a group of brass instruments taken the spotlight in the Performing Arts Series, and the exuberant sounds of Axiom Brass also represent the first large brass feature in the Festival’s history. Composed of two trumpets, a trombone, a French horn and a tuba, the group recently performed in the Dominican Republic, Germany, Portugal, Spain, South Korea and Japan, released three albums and consistently receives praise for their musicality and technical ability. Tickets are $25 for the public, $20 for College ID holders and $6 for students through the Box Office. “Friday night there’s this huge Brass sound in Mead Chapel and on Saturday night there’s a much more detail-oriented intricate and delicate sound that we’ll hear in the Concert Hall,” Buettner said. “Both concerts feature the perfect repertoires, ensembles and acoustic spaces for those ensembles.” Two information sessions providing context for the Festival Concert will be offered on Saturday, April 25 in MCA 125, including “Chant in the Organ Works of J.S. Bach” at 10 a.m. by guest lecturer and Professor Emeritus of Music and Fine Arts at Saint Michael’s College Dr. William Tortolano and “Rhetoric of Early Cantatas of J.S. Bach” at 11 a.m. by guest conductor Jeffrey Thomas. Both are free and open to the public. Additionally, a carillon recital by carillonneur George Matthew, Jr. will be audible on the Mead Chapel lawn at 3 p.m., and classical guitarist and Affiliate Artist Eric Despard will perform at 51 Main at 6 p.m., further transporting Bach’s music into the larger community. Saturday night’s Festival Concert heavily features Thomas, who chose two of the three early Bach cantatas to comprise the second half of the evening. The concert will open with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto, No. 5, selected by Buettner for its celebration of instrumental soloists, including violinist Emily Luan ’15. The remainder of the concert, conducted by Thomas, includes three of Bach’s early cantatas performed in an engaging combination of solo instruments, vocal quartet and full chorus with ensemble accompaniment. After opening with Funeral Cantata BWV 106, which includes the recorder, an instrument common in Bach’s music but appearing for the first time in the Festival’s history, the following Cantata for Jubilate BWV 12 will offer a thematic and stylistic shift that fits tightly in the middle of the presentation before making way for Cantata for Palm Sunday BWV 182, an enchanting meditation on the entrance of the King of Heaven including a choreographed dance scene. For the first time, these cantatas will feature student soloists in a vocal quartet. “It’s a mission of the Bach Festival to include students as much as possible,” Buettner said. “The College Choir has always been a part of that, as well as a group of student instrumentalists. It’s a specialized repertoire and it’s very challenging, and the big difference this year is that we have five student singers in featured solo positions, as well as four violinists.” The Collegium, which started during the 2013-2014 academic year, began as an outlet for College Choir members desiring an immersive, intimate and independent opportunity to pursue intricate renaissance music and operate as a small ensemble. Most recently, the Collegium – consisting of Buettner as well as Lisa Wooldridge ’16, Annie Beliveau ’18, Zac Lounsbury ’16 and Tevan Goldberg ’18, has performed a mixture of sacred and secular renaissance music, both on the College Choir tour to Washington D.C. over spring break and as an opening act for the keynote address of the spring student symposium. For the first time in the Festival’s history, each of the students in the Collegium will be featured as part of a solo vocal quartet during the Saturday night Festival Concert, particularly during the Funeral Cantata 106. Additionally, Concert Choir member Erica Furgiuele ’15 will join Wooldridge and Beliveau as featured soloists on the concert closer, Cantata for Palm Sunday 182. “We wanted to include this small group of vocalists because it matches the size of an ensemble Bach might have used for some of his music,” Buettner said. “These singers are interested in devoting their efforts to this music and they’re capable of performing it.” Third-time Bach Festival participant Wooldridge is excited to embrace a more active role in the Festival. “I’ve been more involved and confident with the music,” she said. “Bach is predictable once you’ve done it enough times, which makes it fun as you keep practicing his works,. I think that’s helping with being a soloist in this concert.” Student musicians featured on the cantatas include violinists Bree Baccaglini ’15, Rita Pfeiffer ’15 and Gloria Breck ’18, cellist Davis Woolworth ’15 and organist Goldberg. “The contrasts between the Friday and Saturday events are an exciting commentary on the versatility of instruments within Bach’s work,” Buettner said. “The trumpet appears as a solo instrument with a very specific function in our Saturday night concert, but the ensemble and the orchestra is relatively small and more similar to what Bach would have used in performances of his early cantatas, so it’s a completely different color.” On Sunday, April 26 at 3 p.m. in the MCA Concert Hall, a chamber music concert featuring Buettner and four colleagues singing the motet “Jesu, meine Freude” will be joined by two keyboard works played by Breck and Goldberg on piano in a combination of ancient and modern approaches. Though the motet is usually sung by choir with chamber orchestra, the performance of the piece as a cantata in itself with one voice per part adds yet another color to the Festival to close the program. The establishment of the Bach Festival as a musical institution at the College is a testament to the truly timeless nature of Bach, and its increasing ambition and opportunities for solo participation allow a focused musical immersion usually missing from a liberal arts college experience. “Bach is not something you hear very often on this campus, because most of our vocal music is either pop, modern or classical, and Baroque is something you just don’t get,” Wooldridge said. This is a significant piece of music and it’s impressive that we’re able to pull this off every year, It’s something that you don’t see that often at a school like Middlebury. It’s a really unique opportunity.”
On Thursday, April 2, the Nile Project’s four-day residency at the College culminated in an engaging, energetic and participatory concert extravaganza that combined education and performance to increase interest in the issues facing the Nile River Basin. Conceived in 2011 by Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero, the Nile Project blends sounds from the 11 countries in the Nile Basin – Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo – to produce music showcasing the diverse range of instruments, languages and traditions in the region while educating an international network of university students about the unique challenges facing the Nile ecosystem. Rwandan musician Sophie Nzayisenga began the show alone with the inganga, a traditional instrument carved from a single piece of wood featuring six to eight strings. From the moment she began playing, her confident stage presence, brilliant yellow dress and clear, powerful voice captivated the audience, creating a silent, buzzing energy that soon spilled onto the dance floor when the other musicians joined her on stage one by one, each wearing clothing or carrying an instrument representing his or her cultural background. As instruments, voices and cultures collided, the energy of the first song quickly escalated with the deft layering of percussion, vocals and encouragement of audience participation. I will admit, before the show I had glanced at the cheerful “Come ready to dance!” printed on my ticket with a fair amount of skepticism and exhaustion from the week, thinking defiantly – and stubbornly – that I would not be moved from my seat no matter how exciting the events of the evening proved to be. Almost immediately after all of the musicians gathered on stage during the first song, students began filling the section cordoned off for dancing, bodies quickly twirling and intertwining in the vibrant glow emanating from the bright colors and sounds on the Wilson Hall stage. As the steady migration from seats to the dance floor increased with each song, it was impossible not to view the growing mass of individuals from all walks of student and community life as an intended, remarkable component of the performance. I do not know if it was the throbbing bass beat of the drums, the engaging musicianship and interactive performance of the individuals on stage or the carefree joy splashed across the faces of the dancers in the crowd, but something – especially in the aftermath of the traumatic news communicated in an all campus email only hours before – moved me to grab a friend, join the throng and participate in the exuberant celebration. This continual engagement with the audience was executed with particular ease by Burundi’s leading bassist Steven Sogo, whose instrumental prowess, natural performance energy and invitations to sing and dance with him frequently propelled the buzz in the room to another level. Sudanese singer Alsarah and Egyptian vocalist Dina El Wididi’s duet, which poked fun at the differences in Arabic pronunciation in Sudan and Egypt, perfectly encapsulated the energy of the night – cultures collided in a song providing both education and entertainment as two extremely talented vocalists crafted their gifts to communicate a larger message. “We are looking for musicians who are traditionally rooted and play instruments that represent and are relevant to their respective cultures,” Nile Project co-founder Mina Girgis said. “We are also looking for the flexibility to listen and learn, and to adapt their instruments and their musical performance to the traditions that they’re in dialogue with. Equally important is finding artists that are interested in this conversation that we’re sparking – this idea of how music can facilitate a dialogue around water.” The 437 million inhabitants along the basin of the 4,145-mile long Nile River are projected to double in population over the next forty years, increasing an already strained demand for water that is essential to food production, electricity and proper medical care. Today, seven of the 11 Nile countries suffer from undernourishment rates over 30 percent, and less than ten percent of basin residents have access to electricity, sparking a geopolitical conflict over allocation of the precious resource to countries with varying priorities and basic needs. At its core, the Nile Project aims to empower and mobilize the Nile’s citizens to engage in cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration to address political, environmental, economic and social challenges faced by all 11 nations. “It was primarily because of the water conflicts that we wanted to engage Nile citizens living in these countries in the watershed,” co-founder Mina Girgis said. “That’s really where the bulk of our work is. We act as a bridge across different countries in the Nile Basin.” Following an inaugural Nile Gathering in Aswan, Egpyt, which encouraged participant experimentation to innovate constructive solutions to the vast array of challenges facing the area, 18 musicians from the Nile Basin translated this multifaceted dialogue into a body of songs representing the range of traditions and instruments in the region. The performance of these songs in their first-ever live concert in January 2013 was recorded and produced as their first album, Aswan. Two more Nile Gatherings have followed, one in Kampala, Uganda in early 2014, and the other in Minya, Egypt in November 2014, and the songs from these collaborative sessions featured prominently in the collective’s 2014 Africa tour and in their current United States tour, which started in New York City in January and will end in May at Princeton University. “This tour was a question of also engaging university students in the United States to contribute to the discussion about the Nile even though they don’t live in the Nile Basin,” Girgis said. “College students are the future. They are the ones that are going to live to see the fruit of current labors and they are also going to pay the price of the way we’re working with our environment right now. In a way they are and should be the most invested in the sustainability of the Nile Basin, whether that is environmental or cultural sustainability among the relationships of these different countries.” Using music to raise awareness for the Nile’s sustainability challenges, the collective offered four days of residency activities in musical collaboration as well as in dialogue and education programs, including workshops, a keynote talk and class visits to offer context for the high-energy concert on Thursday night. Dartmouth College first notified New England universities and colleges about the opportunity to collaborate to obtain a New England Foundation of the Arts grant to bring the Nile Project to the region, and it is through this grant that the College joined to help produce the month-long New England segment of the tour. In a short break between songs at the beginning of the second half of the concert, co-founder of the Nile Project Meklit Hadero spoke to her realization that the water forming melting patches of snow on the College’s campus could very well have evaporated from the Nile and fallen as precipitation in the mountains of Vermont. Indeed, the incredible power of the music and message to attract and unite those from a wide range of ages, cultural backgrounds and levels of knowledge about the struggles facing the millions depending on Nile River water for survival, speaks to this undeniable ecological and human interconnectivity between continents and cultures which may at first appear to have little in common. The Nile Project recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for their second album, Jinja, which will be a culmination of the music composed and performed on their United States tour. After their current tour ends in May, the Nile Project looks forward to launching a fellowship program for students from five different universities in the Nile Basin to mobilize student leaders who, through non-profit chapters established on their campuses, will build a transnational network of youths focusing on the cultural, social and environmental challenges facing the Nile. “This year into the next we will be launching our first Nile Prize in sustainability, and the following year we will hopefully be launching our Nile Tour, which is a traveling semester where both students from the Nile Basin and the U.S. will sail up the Nile and perform along the way and engage with local communities,” Girgis said. Over the two and a half hours of high-energy performance and consummate musicianship showcasing the linguistic and stylistic diversity of the Nile Basin, the 13 musicians in the Nile Project provided an evening of entertainment and education that engaged members of every section of the student and larger campus community, proving the unique power of music to unite, inspire and spark inner reflection that can lead to innovation and creativity.
Though the announcement did not come as a surprise to many, the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) sent out an all-student email on Tuesday, Feb. 24 confirming that rapper and auto-tune extraordinaire T-Pain will headline this year’s spring concert on Saturday, April 18 in the Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena. Known for his mastery of auto-tune as a musical instrument, T-Pain has won two Grammy Awards for collaborations with Jamie Foxx and Kanye West in addition to enjoying multiple top-ten hits like “I’m in Love (With a Stripper),” Chris Brown’s “Kiss Kiss” and Flo Rida’s “Low,” which often competed for the top spot on the charts at the same time. Tickets for the event are on sale to students starting Monday, March 30 at 6 p.m. for $15 through the online box office. MCAB’s 13-member Concert Committee, which is comprised of students from all grade levels under the leadership of co-chairs Matt Butler ’15 and Katherine Kucharczyk ’16, begins each large concert selection process with a brainstorm to generate about 30 possible artists - some clearly within reach and others less so - to bring to their concert agent, who returns with information about date and price availability for the requested performers and suggests names that fit the College’s specifications. It usually takes three to four meetings for the Committee to come to a consensus about venue, genre and artist. “We generally try to include diversity in the type of genre to keep the concerts fresh, and we try to get some name recognition to appeal to as many students as possible, but our full mission is to bring high-quality musical acts,” Kucharczyk said. Despite the Committee’s initial division between a short list of contenders, T-Pain quickly emerged as the best fit. The singer’s tracks, most popular in the late 2000’s, are filled with his now trademark use of auto-tune and references to the club, women and, most prominently, drinking. Though his first album was just released in 2007, the artist’s latest 2014 album is the aptly titled T-Pain Presents Happy Hour: The Greatest Hits, featuring hits like “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” and “Blame It (On the Alcohol).” “Our selection committee is an extremely diverse group of students from all facets of campus who represent a variety of ages, religions, races and sexual orientations, so I feel like we have a good group who is picking the concerts,” Butler said. T-Pain’s late 2014 appearance on NPR’s popular online feature “Tiny Desk Concerts” exposed an entirely different demographic to the artist, not only without his trademark sunglasses, top hat, or dreadlocks, but, perhaps most significantly, without the help of any vocal modulation device. He has always maintained that his use of auto-tune as an instrument – which, though often attributed to him, can be traced to earlier dance club remixes – stems more from a desire to sound different than from an effort to mask mediocre vocals. Indeed, the artist’s stripped performance in the carefully constructed, now recognizable corner of NPR’s offices proves that underneath many of the bass and auto-tune laden hits permeating middle school dances of a decade ago existed a competent, even soulful R&B voice. “He was just one of those names that we threw into the list and when we learned that he was available and the pricing was appropriate, we looked at his videos and he’s really high energy,” Kucharczyk said. “He almost has a new sound where he isn’t using auto-tune as much and he’s actually a really talented singer, so we decided that he was the one we wanted.” Though T-Pain’s recognizable look and musical style quickly garnered him popular success and influenced other rap artists like Snoop Dogg, Lil’ Wayne and Kanye West, in recent years, the self-proclaimed “Hard & B” singer has taken strides to evolve in a new direction. In 2013, he cut his iconic dreadlocks and began working on the yet to be released record Stoicville: The Phoenix, representing a rising from the ashes and new musical chapter. The first single, “Coming Home,” contains just enough auto-tune to identify the voice as that of T-Pain, but the track maintains the integrity of his natural vocals to a much higher degree than any previous release, producing a smoother, less rap-influenced sound still committed to the catchy hooks that propelled T-Pain to fame. After the Concert Committee reaches a consensus, the chosen artist must garner a 2/3 approval rating from the MCAB Executive Board, which includes the president, vice president, treasurer and the co-chairs of each of the five committees. The concert budget is allocated from the student activities fee, which is divided between each committee within MCAB at the start of the year. The majority of the Concert Committee’s budget is used for the large concerts, with the rest helping to fund the new Small Concert Initiative, a program granting students the resources necessary to bring small concerts of their choosing to campus. In the past, MCAB has sent email surveys to the student body hoping to gain useful feedback for their concert selection process. This year, the Concert Committee considered crafting a different kind of survey that allowed students to directly vote for one of the artists on the shortlist instead of responding to more general questions about their favorite kinds of music and preferred venue. Ultimately, worries that students might be divided in their choice, making the Concert Committee’s job even harder, contributed to the decision not to send a survey. “We decided against it for logistical reasons,” Kucharczyk said. “We try to book our spring artist before December break, and this year we booked T-Pain in very early December. In the time it takes to send a survey, collect data and analyze results, prices are going up with every week, so it’s beneficial to book as early as possible.” Since MCAB opted for a nontraditional, two-day Start of School (S.O.S.) Festival during the first weekend of the fall semester, and last spring’s Matt & Kim concert took place outside, the T-Pain performance is the organization’s first large indoor concert since the Chance the Rapper debacle of fall 2013. The event raised major concerns about the limited capacity of the concert due to a poorly chosen venue, as well as questions about MCAB’s lack of marketing, which contributed to many students claiming after tickets had sold out that they had never known they were on sale. In addition to backlash from students who wanted to attend the concert, the potentially offensive nature of some of Chance the Rapper’s homophobic and violent lyrics caused many to question the message sent by choosing such an artist to visit the College. The use of an all-student email to relay ticket information is just one indication that the fallout from the Chance concert proved a valuable learning experience for MCAB. Butler’s first major event as co-chair of the Concert Committee was the Chance concert. “[Chance the Rapper] definitely changed the way we both announce and address issues surrounding events,” Butler said. “We’ve had a much stronger vetting process this time looking at individual lyrics and thinking about who we want to bring. To address the whole lack of marketing when tickets went on sale, it was as simple as adding when tickets are going on sale in the all school email, which is just an easy fix second time around.” With his short hair, clear plastic glasses and heavier reliance on natural vocals, T-Pain is taking a bold leap by evolving away from the styles that landed him at the top of the charts. His most recent Instagram photos reveal T-Pain performing for troops on a Navy entertainment tour, and in early 2014 the artist spoke out against homophobia in the rap and R&B industries, citing his frustration that producers refuse to work with the openly gay R&B singer Frank Ocean. “We are also trying to take a more proactive standpoint in anticipating controversy, so instead of being blindsided by any complaints in terms of content we try to anticipate what may arise, and if we believe it will be an issue we can set up a forum beforehand,” Kucharczyk said. “WRMC did a great job of setting up a forum for Big Freedia when she came,” Butler said. “We are open to hearing all student opinions and will discuss if there is a sense that the campus community desires a forum before the event. I’ve definitely learned a lot since the Chance the Rapper concert. There’s a lot that went wrong but it was also a fantastic learning experience for me, and I think we are doing a much better job this year.” T-Pain’s performance at the College should give students the opportunity to enjoy the high-energy, auto-tune rich hits synonymous with the artist’s name while also allowing a live glimpse into T-Pain’s musical and stylistic evolution. T-Pain will perform in the Chip Kenyon ’85 Arena on Saturday, April 18. Doors will open at 9 p.m. Tickets go on sale for $15 at go/obo on March 30 at 6 p.m.
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.
In addition to the ice show, ski races and fireworks that have become synonymous with Winter Carnival, the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) always presents unique entertainment that elevates the weekend from just a winter celebration to a campus-wide excuse to relax and mingle at the beginning of the spring semester. To commemorate the 92nd annual Winter Carnival, MCAB’s Traditions Committee, which plans the weekend, organized unique entertainment in the form of comedian Jay Larson, who performs tonight, Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. in Wilson Hall, and DJ Clinton Sparks, who will be presiding over the Winter Ball festivities in the Nelson Recreation Center on Saturday, Jan. 14. The twelve-person Traditions Committee participates in a similar selection process each year, but occasionally certain performers stand out as especially suitable for Winter Carnival. “Every year we talk to our agent, James Anderson, who works for the College, and he gives us a list of names within our budget for the DJ and for the comedian,” Traditions Committee Co-Chair Caroline Brown ’15 said. “We receive that list and then we share and discuss it with our committee before either voting on it or going with the general consensus that is forming. Usually there are one or two names that really stand out as more popular than others so it’s really easy to choose.” Though the Winter Carnival comedian almost always sells out the over 400-seat venue in Wilson Hall, this year’s performer, Jay Larson, carries even more name recognition than usual. Originally from Stoneham, Mass., Larson draws from his childhood experiences, time spent living in a condemned house in Venice, California and his outlandish imagination to provide a fresh exploration of the metaphysical and surreal worlds. After starting his standup career only about a decade ago – after flunking out of college in Los Angeles – Larson has achieved success through appearances on Tosh.0, The Late Late Show, The Smoking Gun Presents, Conan and his own half hour special on Comedy Central. “I’m excited because our comedian this year is really famous,” Brown said. “We listened to a lot of his YouTube videos before choosing him, and he is really funny.” The budget for the Winter Carnival is granted through the Student Government Association (SGA) Finance Committee, which distributes funding to each committee within MCAB based on statistics from previous years. Though ticket sales do contribute to each committee’s budget, it is a small percentage relative to the amount derived from the SGA. The Winter Ball, which falls on Valentine’s Day this year, is featuring DJ Clinton Sparks, who has produced chart toppers with artists like Lady Gaga, Akon, T-Pain and Pitbull in addition to his personal work as host of the worldwide syndicated radio show ‘Get Familiar with Clinton Sparks,’ which first premiered in 2005. Nominated for a 2012 Album of the Year Grammy Award for Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this Way,’ Sparks began interviewing a wide range of artists as a correspondent for E! News in 2008 and was one of the first producers to show interest in Eminem before the rapper gained fame. In addition to boasting an internationally known DJ, the Winter Ball also features an impressive spread of food — last year the event included sushi, limitless appetizers and a dessert bar — in addition to a beer garden for 21 and over. “It’s fun to see everyone dressed up,” Traditions Committee Co-Chair Mary Richards ’15 said. “It’s probably one of the only times that is really more formal than the other events on campus. It’s really great to celebrate and have a day off.” Sandwiched between the comedian and Winter Ball is the Friday, Feb. 13 concert by Cloud Nothings and Vacationer at 8 p.m. in Wilson Hall. “We had open space within the Carnival schedule, so we asked the Concert Committee and they agreed to fill the spot,” Richards said. Though planned by a different MCAB committee, this event goes through much the same vetting process as the entertainment chosen by the Traditions Committee, with a list of names presented by agent James Anderson. The Concert Committee’s decision is presented to the MCAB executive board, where the vote for this year’s bands was fairly unanimous. The indie-punk rock sounds of Cloud Nothings began as a solo project by singer and guitarist Dylan Baldi in 2009 in his parents Cleveland, Ohio basement, but he soon added drummer Jayson Gerycz and bassist TJ Duke, and to date the band has released three albums and completed extensive American and European tours. Vacationer, originally based out of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, only started performing their eclectic mix of Hawaiian Na-Hula and world music four years ago, but the band has gained a strong following. Tickets to the performance are only $5 through the Box Office, or $8 at the door on show night. Tickets to Jay Larson’s Thursday, Feb. 12 performance at Wilson Hall are $10 through the Box Office, and Winter Ball tickets are available now for $15 or at the door of Nelson Recreation Center for $20 on Saturday, Feb. 14. Winter Carnival packages are also available with or without a 2015 t-shirt through the Box Office.
Few Winter Term traditions enjoy as much student and community popularity as the J-term musical, started a decade ago by Town Hall Theatre (THT) Executive Director Doug Anderson and Department of Music faculty Carol Christensen. In celebration of its tenth anniversary season, Director Anderson and Music Director Christensen chose Ragtime, a sweeping portrait of early 20th century American life from three vastly different perspectives. Last year’s ambitious production of Les Miserables involved over 60 students and sold out in three hours, and this year’s selection, Ragtime, sold out in about a week. Involving about 35 actors who mount a complete show in only three weeks, as well as 20 musicians under the direction of Opera Company of Middlebury Musical Director Emmanuel Plasson, Ragtime continues a tradition of excellence that has gained the J-term musical a reputation as one of the most popular events of the entire year, largely due to the unique resources available to the College through its partnership with THT. “Middlebury is really very lucky to have two such amazing talents and teachers as Carol and Doug,” two-time J-term musical veteran Jack DesBois ’15 said. “It’s something that I doubt many small liberal arts colleges have as a resource. It’s the type of attention that you might get at a conservatory.” This year’s production includes three visiting professional actors, a feature common to Theatre Department shows but brand new to the J-term musical. This addition to the cast brings a level of experience to the production that parallels and enhances the students’ own intensive efforts. “It’s been really great working with these professionals,” DesBois said. “We can talk with them in our free time about what the performing life is like for those of us who are potentially considering it.” Originally a novel of historical fiction written by American author E.L. Doctorow in 1975, Ragtime premiered on the Broadway stage in 1998 with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. Featuring huge names of musical theatre like Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell, the original production garnered four Tony nominations for leading actors and an astonishing thirteen nominations overall. Though a critical smash, the show closed after only two years due to financial troubles largely attributed to the lavish $11 million budget, which included features such as a working Model T automobile and fireworks in each performance. “Ragtime includes a lot of historical figures and historical events in the storyline which makes it really interesting as an American. I’m learning about our own history in a sort of modified way because Doctorow, Ahrens and Flaherty take great liberties with chronologies,” DesBois said. Despite its short run, nearly two decades later Ragtime’s timeless story and gorgeous, expansive score ensure that the production is a staple of the American musical theatre canon. Alternately following Jewish immigrants fighting the misery of tenement slums on the Lower East Side, a ragtime piano player in Harlem and upper-class residents of New Rochelle, Ragtime grapples with a distinctly American clash of cultures at the height of an era of national transformation. “The interesting thing about this show is a lot of the characters are historical figures, like Booker T. Washington, and a lot of characters have names, and some of them don’t,”four-time J-term musical veteran Mike McCann ’15 said. “You can interpret that as the writer basically using these characters as archetypes to represent the different viewpoints.” Musical styles within Ragtime, which includes a large number of solo and ensemble pieces, range from ragtime rhythms to klezmer styles of the Lower East Side to bold brass marches to period parlor songs, offering a taste of the multitude of prominent musical styles in the country at the beginning of the 20th century. With only three intensive weeks to stage the show, students participating in the J-term musical undertake a grueling schedule of rehearsal five days a week in addition to building the set on the two Saturdays preceding the performance weekend. DesBois, who directed the Spring 2014 Middlebury College Musical Players production of RENT and played the wolf in the 2013 J-term staging of Into the Woods, is taking on another leading role in Ragtime as Tateh, a Latvian Jewish immigrant to the Lower East Side in the early 1900’s. As the focus of one of the three main story arcs, Tateh transitions from the struggle of developing a livelihood from his artistry to eventual success in his chosen field, providing ample acting challenges for DesBois as he worked to craft the nuances of his role in under three weeks. “He’s kind of two characters in act one and act two,” he said. “After he’s made it big he takes on a whole different persona, so there’s a lot of drama with Tateh but also the opportunity to play the comedy when he’s burlesquing and being over the top. This is challenging because one actor has to be able to get both of those aspects which are usually very separate types of theater, but it’s been real fun for me.” McCann has held leading roles in Hairspray, Into the Woods, Les Miserables, and now Ragtime, in which he portrays a character simply known as father, the patriarch of the white, well-educated, upper-class storyline in the suburb of New Rochelle. Father, who sells fireworks and other, as he describes them, ‘accoutrements of patriotism’ to immigrants eager to show their national pride, leaves the comfort of his family for extended periods of time to venture on quests of exploration. After returning from a real-life journey to the North Pole with Admiral Robert Peary, father finds his family dynamic turned upside down in ways he had never imagined. “At first glance he is the one static character in the show, as his one defining characteristic is that he doesn’t want anything to change,” McCann said. “The most challenging thing about playing him is deciding if I’m supposed to be portraying him as unchanging or if I can somehow show that inner confusion and turmoil within him as he tries to keep his perfect life together. He’s not one of the heroes of the story, but at the end he is definitely changed.” Ragtime is perhaps such an apt show for this year because its timeless themes of race relations and acceptance are particularly topical in the wake of the recent events in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, N.Y., which have again thrust racial issues under the microscope of national attention. “It’s interesting how it deals with issues that are almost perpetually in the forefront of the American mind,” DesBois said. “The book was written in the 70’s in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, and it’s still completely relevant today.” “I think a really cool, kind of interesting connection is one of the biggest numbers in the show after all of this violence and a great tragedy has occurred and the entire cast sings ‘Till We Reach That Day’ and it’s about this great day in the future where there will be no more violence and there will be equality and justice for everyone,” McCann added. “The thing is, we’re still not there. It’s over 100 years from when this play was set, and we’ve come a long way, but we’re still not there. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and that’s something that strikes home with the entire cast when we sing that song. It’s a beautiful number.” Both DesBois and McCann have aspirations to enter the performing arts in some capacity when they graduate this spring, and their experiences working on the J-term musical have proved useful in shaping their future plans. “It’s definitely been a great experience to work on a professional schedule, which is what we’re doing,” DesBois said. “It’s very helpful for gauging whether or not this lifestyle is for me, and I’m finding that I can handle this kind of grueling schedule, which is great.” Musical theatre is often only popular with a niche audience, but each J-term production has drawn students from all over campus as well as the larger community, and the quality of the musicals continue to amaze. “We work really hard and we put on great shows,” McCann said. “The reason the Town Hall Theater is able to do so many events is because people in this community love the arts so much. I think it’s popular amongst students because it creates this intense, close community. You spend three weeks, six hours a day with the same people. You build closer friendships in those three weeks than you do in your entire college experience, and I will continue to tell people that it is great and that they should do it because it’s terrific.” Ragtime opens tonight, Jan. 22 in the Town Hall Theatre at 8 p.m., and will have subsequent shows at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 23 and Monday, Jan 26, with a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 24. Tickets are sold out for each performance.
J-term is generally recognized as a time for intensive academic exploration of typically non-traditional subjects, and the unique format of the four-week semester allows for a variety of options not present during a full semester. This year, Isaac Baker ’14.5 is spending his last J-term leading a student-taught course, ‘Microgrid Feasibility Study,’ with a small group of 13 students. A microgrid is a smaller, more localized version of the larger power grid that brings distributed energy resources like wind, solar and natural gas closer to where energy is being used. In this case, the larger power grid in the area is operated by Green Mountain Power (GMP), which currently supplies approximately 80 percent of the College’s electrical demand. The creation of a microgrid would allow the College’s electrical system to better withstand extreme climate events because the microgrid can operate as an island, called ‘islanding,’ allowing the community to operate independently without the larger grid in emergency situations. Energy for this kind of scenario could be generated by the biomass plant, which accounts for the other 20 percent of the College’s electrical needs, and a large part of the course is based on research of other sustainable energy methods to meet needs in the case of a major disaster like an ice storm. Since microgrids encourage efficiency – production and transportation of energy from hundreds miles away allows for 30 percent of energy burned to reach the College, while microgrids would allow a 70 to 80 percent return – they create financial incentive to build solar panels or invest in other areas of renewable resources. The utility company provides a more marginal service in with this infrastructure. The idea, which is steeped in academic grounding, first struck Baker while attending the Middlebury College School of the Environment in the summer of 2014, and it developed during a follow-up independent study this fall as he simultaneously crafted an application to teach the J-term course. “I came out of the summer really jazzed about this idea and the resilience of the college energy system,” Baker said. “I know that there was a student-led course last winter, ‘A People’s History of Middlebury,’ but this was the only other student-led course I had ever heard of at the College. I was really inspired by this kind of alternative, activist-y history that people were really into. So I thought, let’s take that and do something else with it.” The process of submitting an application is relatively simple, with interested students treated much like visiting professors with the exception of a twelve-student enrollment cap and the involvement of a faculty advisor. Interested students, who are usually upperclassmen, speak with the registrar in the fall to express interest in the option. Baker tried to be realistic in his academic goals, especially knowing that his topic relied heavily on a lot of information not yet obtained. “I spent the fall interviewing consultants and experts who have been involved in this sort of thing for years. The end goal is a conceptual design, where we spend four weeks and hopefully by the end we get to what I call the 10 percent plan. We can’t build a micro-grid with only the information we have because there’s knowledge that we lack and a lot of work that hasn’t been done. The goal is to reach the next step and hand it off to a consulting firm who would look at it and say ‘Let’s see how the rubber hits the road and get you to 80 percent.’” As the idea percolated in Baker’s mind, he was concurrently reading about the history of carbon neutrality on campus through the efforts of many of the founders of 350.org, a group committed to cutting carbon and CO2 emissions founded by Bill McKibben and students in 2007. This group created a ‘Midd Shift Report,’ which went to the Board of Trustees and led to the adoption of carbon-neutrality goals completely driven as a result of student efforts. In his desire to envision the future of carbon neutrality once it has been achieved, Baker eagerly took the opportunity to teach a course less about grades and more about ideas. Instead of opting for a more traditional lecture-discussion format like that used in last year’s student-led course, Baker wanted to draw on his experience with horizontal leadership and project-oriented campaign planning with Sunday Night Group (SNG), creating a forum where all participants were viewed as equals. “The actual amount of me just writing information on the board is a very small percentage of class,” Baker said. “Most of it is facilitating discussion or calling on and helping other people share research they’ve done with the rest of the group. Really they’re the ones doing the work, they’re the ones creating this.” Zach Berzolla ’18 decided to take the course because he wanted to explore innovative, alternative energy options for the College. “We’ve been looking at some of the stuff going on at other campuses, and most schools are doing it because it makes pure financial sense,” Berzolla said. “We’re hoping to approach it with a little bit more of an environmental twist. If we go ahead and find some sort of renewable resource, ours will, to my knowledge, be pretty unprecedented, because very few are set up where the entire microgrid is renewable. Most have mixes and are based on fossil fuels.” Baker has been pleasantly surprised by the initiative taken by the students. About half of the students in the course worked with Baker independently in the fall in the national *SparkCleanEnergy innovation competition to design a grid resilience API, winning third place, a $1,000 prize and a trip for two students to the ARPA-E Innovation Summit in Washington D.C. Through this team-based project on grid resilience, these students became more energized and confident about furthering their research on the topic. “They are pulling from many disciplines and previous experiences. For example, some students have brought in some research on distributive generation that I hadn’t even thought of,” he said. Berzolla explained that the class dynamic in the course extends beyond the usual class meetings. “Our class ends at 4 but we always stay longer,” Berzolla said. “Conversations always continue. Class ends but things don’t really end.” Though Baker has spent the better part of half a year carefully planning the course, he has adapted to unplanned challenges as they arise. Baker had assumed that implementing community guidelines would be an easy, intuitive process, but navigating group dynamics is always tricky, and Baker has adapted the curriculum to facilitate a comfortable environment for all class members. “It’s so easy to just drift through a class and not really see the people you’re there with,” Baker said. “Forming an academic and intellectual community is really hard to do, so I think on a broad level what I’m most happy about is that people are really connecting. We’re spending time with each other inside of and outside of class in these formal and informal settings that are allowing people to get to know each other really well. It’s really special knowing that after I’ve graduated I’ll have people I have shared a really important part of my college experience with.” Instead of instilling passion in students for only four or twelve weeks, the unique design of Baker’s course is inspiring long-term involvement among younger participants. Berzolla is passionate about the opportunity to stay with this project throughout his time at the College. “For me, and I think a lot of the other freshman, this will be our baby going forward,” he said. “This is something we worked on and proposed and it’s something we want to see get done.” “I think it’s something we will all be passionate about. It will take time, but my hope is that we will see it happen while we’re here,” Berzolla said. During the final week of the course, on Wednesday, Jan. 28, students in the course will present their original research on college infrastructure, information on the 10 percent conceptual plan, how other students can get involved and how the project will manifest in the future. Taking place at 4 p.m. in the Orchard Room of Hillcrest, the final presentation will be open to the community, with snacks provided by the Campus Sustainability Coordinators (CSCs). In the coming weeks, Baker will be meeting with a variety of professors to discuss how smaller pieces of the puzzle he has been exploring can be integrated in the curriculum of other classes in the spring. His next meeting is with Professor of Psychology Michelle McCauley to discuss her spring 2015 Environmental Psychology course. Luke Linden contributed reporting.
In an era when artists – especially young artists – are increasingly dependent on the success of formulaic three-and-a-half minute singles to spark their careers, and the tops of the popular music charts are filled with musicians like Taylor Swift who make carefully crafted business choices that tap into the desires of radio stations, executives and lucrative demographics in order to prolong their longevity, bold and ambitious choices are harder and harder to find in commercially successful music. There is, of course, something to be said for having enough music industry savvy to repeatedly produce albums that adapt to the ever-changing landscape of popular music – Swift’s eight-year, comfortably marketable career represents a certain brand of longevity only possible through a careful calculation of skillful business decisions – but adaptation in the name of conformity with expectations is a weak and, worst of all, safe, kind of evolution. Scottish crooner Paolo Nutini released his first album when he was only 18 years old, gaining instant success with his decadently raspy voice that frequently draws comparison to the much more experienced Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker. If his first two albums definitively identified as safe adult contemporary and relaxed folk fare, Nutini’s most recent release, 2014’s Caustic Love, is an R&B album that draws on Nutini’s passion and intuitive talent for a decidedly American genre. Nutini says that he has smoked marijuana every day since he turned sixteen, and indeed, the seductive growl of his vocals and subject matter often suggest the veracity of his claim. After ten years of experience in the industry, with Caustic Love Nutini has emerged with confident control of his unique instrument and more bold musical risks comprising an artistic journey that begs to be listened to from beginning to end in one sitting, and then, if time allows, over and over again. Nutini’s rare vocal talent displays a bristling, three-dimensional vivacity bursting – no, crackling – with urgent emotional authenticity, demanding the listener’s sustained attention as he transitions between smooth, psychedelic crooning, notes that are both raspy and full of clarity and subtle details of enunciation throughout the album. In one of the best songs on the record, “Iron Sky,” Nutini sings that “We find God and religions to,/To paint us with salvation./But no one, no nobody,/Can give you the power,/To rise over love, and over hate,/Through this iron sky that’s fast becoming our minds./Over fear and into freedom,” carefully enunciating “religions” with four syllables instead of three is just one of many stylistic decisions that reject listener complacency. A clip from Charlie Chaplin’s famous “Great Dictator” speech makes an appearance in the middle of the track, spoken by the comic actor himself at the end of his 1940 portrayal of Hitler in The Great Dictator. Caustic Love is full of samples, like the inclusion of Betty LaVette’s original recording in Nutini’s cover of the 1965 R&B track “Let Me Down Easy” and an excerpt from “Giving Up” by Gladys Knight & The Pips in one of two interludes that mark transition points within the album. Nutini’s record self-consciously draws on other art, pointing to and crediting his sources of inspiration as it confidently moves between tones as varied as Irishman Shane McGowan’s drunken, toothless lead of The Pogues to Rastafarian melodies and vocal stylings to the heavy use of female backup singers so essential to bands like The Rolling Stones at the height of their popularity. What is most impressive about Caustic Love is that Nutini boldly and successfully experiments with so many styles while still crafting a coherent and engaging album that logically flows from one track to the other as it remains, above all, authentically Nutini. From funky to falsetto, psychedelic to smooth, rock and roll to R&B, Nutini transitions effortlessly between genres in the space of just over an hour. Nutini never panders – he knows better – yet both of his previous albums have been certified quintuple platinum. Caustic Love, though it features songs varying in length from two to seven minutes, achieved platinum status just two months after it was released and remained at the top spot on the UK charts for three weeks. In fact, Nutini is one of only nine artists who has topped the UK albums charts for more than three weeks since 2010 due to the successes of Caustic Love and his sophomore release Sunny Side Up, proving that the album as a form is not dead and that even in, and perhaps especially in, today’s digital marketplace, musicians do not need to conform to industry formulas to achieve longevity in a music career. Nutini leaves the listener with the short, peaceful “Someone Like You,” which crystallizes the crooning capabilities of his vocals while cleansing the palate of the emotional ride of the previous 12 tracks. Though the song only has two stanzas, it is a perfect representation of everything that Nutini does best: skillfully communicating meaning in a concise time-frame, correctly choosing which vocal quality to distill for maximum emotional effect and surprising the listener with an unexpected musical addition, which, in the case of “Someone Like You,” is one excellently placed barbershop quartet-esque harmony in the second stanza. Above all, Nutini is subtle and bold, controlled and reckless. “Someone like you isn’t easily defined/Or confined or even met eye to eye,/Just dare to be explored and then all the while adored/Someone like you/Someone like you…”
Visual art does not produce the kind of recognizable, household names typical of the performing arts - unless, of course, one is referring to Andy Warhol, the late 20th century icon whose often emotionless depictions of popular culture quickly gained him a definitive place among his subjects. This month, the Middlebury College Museum of Art debuted a new collection of ten color Warhol screen prints gifted to the College though a massive, nationwide distribution of the infamous artist’s work in an exhibition called Mao, Sitting Bull, and Others. Bright colors and bold shapes rejected the more serious art practices of previous generations, and Warhol often used the consumeristic and impersonal process of screen printing to elevate simple objects to a new, accessible art form that resonated strongly with the masses. His studio, self-consciously called “The Factory,” housed prolific production in a variety of mediums, including the creation of over 700 films and the exploration of photography, which the artist often used to take hundreds of still Polaroids of the same object. As Warhol’s obsession with portraying fame garnered the artist his own unique brand of celebrity, his New York studio became a popular meeting ground for avant-garde artists and curious youth in the 60’s and 70’s. About 40 Warhol exhibitions are appearing in art institutions and university museums this year as the third and final phase in a massive donation and grant-making effort by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts takes effect. Since 1999, the Foundation has distributed almost 50,000 photographs and prints around the world. “In the last year, the Warhol Foundation has tried to unload some 14,000 works of art by Warhol that it owns,” Museum of Art Curator Emmie Donadio said. “The Foundation is aiming to use all of its resources to support artists now. Prior to this, they spent a lot of time trying to authenticate Warhol’s art and doing a lot of work for his name, even though he is already one of the best known and selling artists.” The Foundation, which has a cash endowment of $280 million and assets over $350 million, only gave each receiving institution the stipulation that donated works be exhibited within five years. Additionally, the Foundation will distribute $14 million in cash grants to institutions in the United States in an effort to fulfill Warhol’s desire to support the visual arts. While Stanford University received the largest donation from the Foundation, including 4,115 sheets of negatives comprising Warhol’s entire collection of black-and-white photography, the College received ten color screen prints, arguably the artist’s most recognizable medium, dating from 1962 to 1986. In addition to the widely reproduced pink and green rendition of Mao Zedong crafted in 1972, the year of previously staunch anti-communist Nixon’s highly publicized visit to the People’s Republic of China, the collection includes Warhol’s Tomato-Beef Noodle O’s from his second Campbell’s soup collection, showcasing the artist’s ability to entrench both international figures of infamy and seemingly mundane everyday objects into popular culture. As a curatorial intern on the exhibit, Danny Zhang ’15 discovered firsthand the difficulty of presenting an artist as infamous as Warhol. “One challenge I faced while putting together the exhibition was synthesizing all the rich information I found about Warhol’s life and the prints we have into concise and easily accessible introductions and wall labels for each work,” Zhang said. “Hopefully, you will find the descriptions in the exhibition straightforward and insightful.” Though Mao is probably the most famous of the pieces in the exhibition, Ingrid Bergman (The Nun), which portrays the legendary actress in 1945’s The Bell’s of St. Mary, was a Swedish commission and continues to prove Warhol’s international reach. The exhibit includes an impressive range of works that chart Warhol’s career and interests, from a print based on a photograph depicting his pet pig in a field of colorful Fiesta tableware, to a selection of a Native mother and child from his Cowboys and Indians collection, to a depiction of Queen Ntombi of Swaziland from his collection of the four ruling female monarchs in the world in 1985, Reigning Queens. “My favorite part of helping to put together the exhibition was learning more about the life and work of an artist whose name everyone recognizes and the subjects that he portrays,” Zhang said. “You can find a lot about Warhol’s life just by doing a quick Google search, but I really enjoyed digging deeper into what his sources of inspiration were, what his personality was like, and what he was trying to tell us through his art.” Since the prints were gifts to the College, the pieces will remain in the museum’s permanent collection in the storage space used for holdings not on display. Donadio emphasized the unique opportunity for students to see Warhol’s work for free. “Students are well advised to come to the museum - they’ve heard of Warhol and I’m sure they’ve read about him, but have they ever seen anything firsthand that the artist did? It’s a fantastic opportunity.” Mao, Sitting Bull, and Others will be on display in the Museum of Art until April 19.
On Nov. 20 to 22, the Theatre Department presented its second faculty production of the semester, Englishman Snoo Wilson’s 1973 play, Vampire, in the Seeler Studio Theater. Vampire is a play about ... well, no one really knows. And indeed, after an hour and a half of brash sexual exploration, one very unexpected satanic baby birthed by Mary (yes, that Mary), a terribly profane talking ox, fights between Karl Jung and Sigmund Freud, a maniacally laughing Charles Dickens and two biker boys in underwear, the majority of the audience walked away from the play with at least one brow raised – or, more likely, furrowed. Forget linear plotting and traditional character development – Vampire spans three time periods and locations, moving from 19th century Wales to World War I era England to a rebellious biker group in 1960’s London. Over his prolific forty-year career, Wilson wrote plays, screenplays and novels of political farce, the arcane, the occult and the irrational. Vampire is certainly a Gothic example of the last three. Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone has enjoyed a more than 30-year friendship and professional partnership with Wilson, undertaking 10 productions of his plays in that time, many in collaboration with Professor of Theatre Richard Romagnoli. “The world according to Snoo Wilson is wild, bawdy, fantastical, smart and utterly resilient – this writer does not trade in despair or cynicism,” Faraone said in her Director’s Note. “We need him now.” It is important to understand that though the term “vampire” may today immediately conjure images of glittering Robert Pattinsons, hunks with fangs or even more traditional visions of Dracula, “vampire” takes on a much deeper and more widely applicable meaning in the context of the play. “Vampire ... peers at the ways in which various social constructs (religion, psychology, propaganda, fanatic subcultures) indoctrinate, oppress, and turn us into the living dead: ‘vampirization,’” Evann Normandin ’14.5 wrote in her Dramaturge’s Note. Normandin, who acted in the play as a part of her senior theatre work, also took on the role of a dramaturge, a professional who deals with the research and development of a play for a company. “I started out in the first weeks doing a lot of research for each period,” she said, “As we went on, I explored a lot of the really smart references that Snoo included in the play. I think we’ve come to as full an understanding as we could have hoped at this point, and if we had kept working on it, we would probably keep finding things out and the exploration could go on forever, which is what’s so cool about it.” Chelsea Melone ’15 also acted in Vampire as her senior work. In addition to exploring her three main characters, Melone worked with Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre and Guest Artist Bill Army ’07 to develop the four accents needed for her roles, learning the international phonetic alphabet and participating in private sessions with the theatre alumnus as well as larger sessions designed to help the entire cast develop their many accents. Melone’s characters, all part of a strong female lineage separated by time and place, offered cohesion to the otherwise erratic development of the play’s three acts. The first character came in the form of Joy, the sexually curious daughter of a staunch evangelical preacher who was played with wit, humor and gravity by Nicholas Hemerling ’14.5. Joy’s desire for independence and her promiscuous behavior lead her to a séance parlor and brothel, where she is a highly sexualized spiritual medium who ultimately services – horror of horrors – her father, who is shot to death in the very coffin in which he is having sex with his daughter. In the most impressively staged scene of the production, Fight Director Adam Milano ’15 organizes a suspenseful gun battle in which every eclectic character in the brothel scene – the proprietress of the séance room, the Chinese photographer, the innocent soldier - meets their maker, except for Joy, who brushes off the disturbing encounter with her father with little more than a sigh. In the end, she wields the offending pistol in self-defense and casually struts out of the darkened room in the soldier’s uniform and a pair of sunglasses. The scene is carefully staged to maximize tension and visual drama, which heightens as Joy’s father is killed mid-thrust and does not disappear until Joy is the only person still living in the scene. Though Joy’s granddaughter, Sarah, is alive half a century after her oppressed ancestor, she too faces the restrictions of proper World War I era British society, forced to watch a cricket match in the confines of a tight corset while participating in the proper speech expected of a lady in upper-crust British life. Disturbed by her status as an object better seen then heard, Sarah, too, searches for freedom from her role as a woman through the Suffragette movement. Faraone asked Resident Scenic and Lighting Designer Hallie Zieselman to include photographs pertaining to each scene flashed on the wall to add extra context to the play. The images provided reference points and additional information about each period, especially to aid comprehension of some of the longer, more complex speeches within the piece. This effect was especially helpful when British propagandist posters appeared above each side of the audience, with phrases like “Your Chums are Fighting - Why Aren’t You?” and “Women of Britain Say Go,” offering a real-world visual reference during Normandin’s impassioned speech as Anthea, a young Englishwoman calling for young men to enlist. In the final act, Melone portrays the most contemporary descendent of Joy and Sarah, Dwight, who thrives in the anti-establishment of the punk subculture filled with gender subversion, punk-rock music and an emotional and theatrical brand of religion. Dwight’s fearless speech includes snappy one-liners like “Heaven is where the homosexual fascists go for a bit on the side.” “In theory that should have been the freest period of all, but in fact it’s just as trapping, and in a sense, the entrapment is the supposed freedom,” Faraone said. “We expect the oppression in the beginning, but we don’t necessarily expect it now.” Melone’s acting soared in this production as she tackled the challenge of portraying three distinct characters in one show. Each was distinctive, engaging and original. “I think Joy, the first character I play, is the most free,” Melone said. “Dwight definitely uses sex as power, especially with the bikers, but I find that I think she’s more plagued by sex and religion than the other two. It’s more of a burden to her then anything else, so it’s not as freeing as it is with Joy.” Also tying together the acts of the play were coffins, crafted of different sizes and colors for each scene to further evoke the themes of death and vampirization, especially when famed psychologist Sigmund Freud, played by Hemerling, climbed into his own coffin, closed the lid while still talking, and was only silenced by the stake driven into his death box. “The fact that Freud’s teachings and words literally get in the coffin and die, sort of leaving Jung to be the new Freud, suggest that this process will happen again,” Thomas Scott ’14.5 said. “It’s a cycle of structures and philosophies rising and then dying. There will always be vampires to take those things away but something else will always replace them, which is the way of life. I think for me that sums up the theme of the show.” Hemerling deftly tackled his roles, which ranged from a passionate religious man who has sex with his daughter in a brothel to a slightly deranged Sigmund Freud, proving himself as a standout in every scene. Odd scenes appeared intermittently throughout the play, including a Nativity scene of such vivid imagery that it will be difficult to view the Biblical tale in quite the same way ever again. Switching the donkey with a profane ox, the three Kings with Sigmund Freud and Karl Jung squabbling over psychology and the baby Jesus with a bright red Satan baby, delivered by Jung, I am afraid I cannot try to offer an explanation for this interlude in the middle of the play. Entertaining, yes. Explicable, no. But to try to explain a play like Vampire does not do it justice, because it is not about extracting a plot or “meaning.” “I don’t think that religion is the butt of any joke, but perhaps ascribing too much meaning to anything is,” Leah Sarbib ’15.5 said. “In the Nativity scene with Freud and Jung you have religion, you have high intellectualism and then you have the ox, who basically thinks that everyone else is super dumb for trying to say that anything really means anything more profound than it is. I don’t think that Snoo would say that religion is meaningless, but that everything is kind of meaningless if you try to ascribe too much meaning to anything. That’s dangerous, and that might be the biggest vampire of all.” Faraone agreed that Vampire is critical of institutional and societal restraints that stifle originality, expression and personal fulfillment. “Making anything your God is dangerous,” she said. “Defining yourself by the tenants of any ideology and using that as a straightjacket rather than finding your way through something without losing yourself in the process is sometimes the easier choice. Wilson slashes away the things that we have made vampirize us, because things only have power if you allow them to have power over you.” As is perhaps now apparent, Vampire is not an easy play to produce. Under the capable direction of Faraone, the phenomenal acting, enticing costumes and thrilling visual drama stood as a testament to the hard work of every member of the cast and crew. Though I may not fully understand the play, I can certainly say that I am still thinking about it days later. “It’s evocative theatre, it’s not necessarily the kind of theatre where you walk out with answers,” Scott said. “About halfway through I started to embrace that, and even though I didn’t know what it was about, that’s exactly the point.”
One week ago, I saw the Tony-nominated Broadway production of John Steinbeck’s American classic Of Mice and Men - in Middlebury. Due to technological advancements and a recent partnership between major performance companies and theaters around the world, the financial and geographic barriers to experiencing professional, top-market productions are rapidly vanishing. Following the lead of programs like the Public Broadcasting Series’ Lincoln Center Live, which has brought acclaimed New York theatre, concerts and special events into the homes of millions of Americans for free since 1976, New York City’s Metropolitan Opera began streaming live productions to small theaters and over public radio in 2006, and the National Theatre in London followed suit in 2009, now broadcasting to over 1,400 theaters worldwide. With production costs for a Met Opera running upwards of $500,000, and tickets for popular Broadway productions selling anywhere from $100 to $400, it is no wonder that live broadcasts, with more reasonable ticket costs of $10 to $30 per person, have been gaining in popularity. The Town Hall Theater started broadcasting the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series soon after they opened in 2008, purchasing and installing the initial necessary satellite technology that allowed any of the world-renowned opera’s broadcasts to appear before a small-town Vermont audience. When the National Theatre in London started their own HD broadcasting service, the Town Hall Theater already had the correct technology to bring some of the most acclaimed productions in the world to its repertoire. The latest broadcast, the 2014 Broadway production of Of Mice and Men, was shown at the Town Hall Theater twice on Tuesday, Nov. 11. In an afternoon matinee, a full house of high school students watched the broadcast in conjunction with their study of the play. “We especially like to carry the plays that we know are on school reading lists, and of course Of Mice and Men is something that every high school kid reads, so we booked it specifically for that reason,” said Town Hall Theater Executive Director Doug Anderson. Attendance levels have varied widely for the screenings, and the evening showing of Of Mice and Men featured more seats that were empty than filled. The Town Hall Theater does not carry all of the broadcasts offered by National Theatre Live simply because some may be too obscure to market to a local audience. “It really depends,” Anderson said. “The National does terrific work, but a lot of it is plays that don’t necessarily sell in this country. If they don’t have a major star or title or it’s a brand new play that people don’t know, we tend to sell less. We had Helen Mirren in Phedra in 2009 and it was absolutely packed, because she’s Helen Mirren. There was a National Theatre broadcast of a play called The Audience, which is about Queen Elizabeth meeting every week with the prime minister. [Mirren] played Queen Elizabeth over forty years meeting with 8 different prime ministers, and it was a real tour de force that sold out so much that we showed it again, so you really never know who is going to come to what.” Of Mice and Men is so definitively an American play, a masterpiece exploration of the struggle to reach the American dream as viewed through the inseparable friendship of two working class men, that it may be surprising that London’s National Theatre picked up the show. Though National Theatre Live had made many attempts to expand its marquee British theatre events to include international offerings, Of Mice and Men was the first Broadway production to be accepted for full production and broadcast by the program. When the production, which is the first Broadway version of the play in over forty years, began its 19-week New York City run at the Longacre Theatre, a filmed broadcast was not even considered, but after the show’s two 2014 Tony Award nominations and the complete recuperation of the show’s $3.8 million capital investment, the National Theatre Live team saw the potential in broadcasting the limited-engagement, star-filled play, even offering to cover the $1 million production and distribution cost to create a broadcast. Touting the Broadway debuts of Oscar award nominated actor-director-author-poet-artist-professor (yes, really) James Franco, Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd and Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester, as well as the directorial talents of Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critic Circles award winner Anna D. Shapiro, the production possessed the unique combination of star power and mainstream appeal ideal for a Broadway broadcast test case. As for the production itself, filmed live on its closing night, July 27, 2014, reviewing is almost pointless. A richly imagined yet subtle set design, superb acting - especially by O’Dowd, who was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his role as strong simpleton Lennie - and smart directorial choices speak to the production’s multi-million dollar budget and performance in the most prestigious theatre system in America. These literally are the big leagues, and the production did not disappoint. After investing in the initial satellite technology, projector and screen, The Town Hall Theater does not have to incur any cost per show, allowing an unlimited choice of broadcasts that brings in extra income for the local theater and benefits the original productions. “We split the ticket costs with the National Theatre or the Metropolitan Opera, so even if its something that I think may only draw 50 or 60 people, I’m still making money on a night I would normally be dark, so I feel I can go ahead and do that obscure 19th century English comedy because it’s just a matter of turning on the equipment,” Anderson said. Though I was experiencing the theatre through a new fifth wall which takes away the spontaneity and audience-actor participation of the live theatrical experience, the multiple camera angles and beautiful HD rendition of the play allowed me the unique opportunity to process the big picture of the sumptuous set design only seconds before viewing the pained emotions, lines and tears on Franco’s face, which would never be possible from the balcony of a Broadway theater. “The National Theatre is the greatest theater in the world and the caliber of the work they do is astonishing,” Anderson said. “I used to make special trips to England just to go to the National Theatre and see their work, and the fact that we can get it live, here in the comfort of our little theater in Middlebury, Vermont, is miraculous and not to be missed.” On the Tuesday of the broadcast, I had a healthy number of papers to write, novels to read and responses to draft, and it was difficult for me to justify making the trip into town for a two and a half hour mid-week play. In reality, I could have chosen no better distraction. Watching this professional execution of Steinbeck’s tale moved me, broke my heart and reignited my love for the theatre, and I only needed to walk down the road. Tickets to National Theatre Live productions are available through the Town Hall Theater Box Office for $10 for students, and information about upcoming broadcasts will be available at go/tht as productions are chosen and announced.
The first Theatre Department faculty show of the semester ran with huge success Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in the Wright Memorial Theater to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Hillel, an official College organization that provides an outlet for those interested in Judaism and Jewish issues. Mendel, Inc., a play by prolific Vaudeville and Broadway writer David Freedman that explores the early Jewish immigrant experience in New York City, was fully staged by Professor of Theatre Richard Romagnoli after the script spent many years in an uncatalogued Wyoming archive. “When Rabbi Ira Schiffer approached me two years ago about producing a play in honor of Hillel’s 60th anniversary, I immediately agreed, but I didn’t want to do a serious play,” Romagnoli said. “I wanted to do something that was comedic and that I thought not only reflected specifically Jewish culture in New York City, but also the talent of Jewish writers and performers. I didn’t quite know where that was going to go.” By chance, Romagnoli happened upon a 1932 film about a struggling Jewish family on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, The Heart of New York, and he was immediately drawn to the film’s comedy, heart and depiction of Jewish-American immigrant culture. Upon discovering that the film was based on a stage play, Mendel, Inc. by David Freedman, and that the play was adapted from the author’s novel Mendel Marantz, Romagnoli read the novel, written when Freedman was only 21 years-old, and embarked on a nationwide search to obtain the more elusive play script. The journey to find the script put Romagnoli in contact first with the artistic director of a San Diego theatre that had hosted a reading of the play five years ago, who then suggested he contact the reading’s dramaturge, a University of California San Diego Professor of Theatre who connected Romagnoli with playwright David Freedman’s grandson. He informed Romagnoli that his grandfather’s papers were housed in the David Freedman Collection, uncatalogued, at the American Heritage Collection at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Fortunately, the collection’s archivist was able to unearth the play, Freedman’s only formal drama piece, and scan and email Romagnoli a copy of the original 1929 typewritten Broadway manuscript. It is the details of Mendel, Inc., the character eccentricities, meticulously planned production design and subtly poignant family interactions that make the play about a struggling Lower East Side Jewish family in the early 20th century so readily accessible to all. From the first image on stage, a film clip of street signs with names like “Levy, Levi & Levee,” “Katz & sons” and “Goldfaub and Goldfaub,” to the richly imagined mise en scene of the “Shtrudel, Schnaps & Props Plumbing” street floor apartment that houses Jewish patriarch Mendel Marantz and his family, the audience is at once immersed in the Marantz’s culture. The Marantz family dynamics immediately appear as younger daughter Mimi, played with appropriate pizzazz by Akhila Khanna ’17, dances to popular music by the street window, firmly transported to the adolescent dream world that transcends the struggle of her family’s existence, and young son Jakie retrieves his wrinkled pants from their position as a makeshift tie around the family radio. Nolan Ellsworth ’17 delighted in his comic portrayal of Jakie, whose lack of front teeth and severe stutter did not hinder his professed desire to be an actor and orator. The Marantz family is full of dreams, especially Mendel Marantz, an aging inventor who believes so strongly in the eventual success of one of his creations that he lazily naps – multiple times a day – and refuses to relinquish his mind to the tedium of the working world. Robert Zuckerman, the 40-year veteran actor Romagnoli chose to play the title character, had previously collaborated with the director on four productions through the Potomic Theatre Project (PTP/NYC). The men worked closely throughout the summer from New York City and Middlebury to explore the depths of the play and trim the running time to two hours with intermission. “You will hear the language as written in this play, which calls for accents that in some ways sound a bit foreign to us,” Zuckerman said. “Richard and I had knock down, drag out battles over the internet for months about it because I didn’t want the characters to sound so Jewish, but at the same time, if you look at the script, one has to read the text out loud to get a sense of how the language is written, and the way you deal with it as an actor depends on your interpretation working with the director and with your fellow actors.” Mendel’s lighthearted charm – “What is a wife? A grapefruit – naturally sour” – and optimism in the success of his machines is contrasted against the dilapidated state of his apartment, with its streaked windows, dirty tablecloth and non-reflective mirror. Mendel’s irresponsibility with the family funds and refusal to work adds to the stress of his wife, Zelde, who disapproves of her husband’s unfulfilled inventions as she slaves over the family’s washing, cooking and cleaning and imagines a better life for her eldest daughter, Lillian, played with enchanting sweetness and emotional fragility by Caitlin Rose Duffy ’15.5. Joelle Mendoza-Etchart ’15 carried the weight of the leading female role, Zelde, with impressive skill, playing against on-stage husband Zuckerman with confidence, nuanced emotional displays and just enough hysteria to make her character both believable and comedic. Though each member of the Marantz family has their own comedic eccentricities, it is Zelde’s slick brother, Bernard Shnaps, played by August Rosenthal ’17 in the stand-out performance of the night, and his hard of hearing business partner, Sam Shtrudel, portrayed with masterful comic timing by Alexander Burnett ’16, who are the real comedic foils of the play. The roles of Bernard and Sam were specfically written for the famous Vaudeville team of Smith and Dale, born Joseph Sultzer and Charles Marks. Propelled by their many business ventures in all fields, the two try to implicate themselves in scenarios ranging from Lillian’s love life to the patent on Mendel’s machine. Rosenthal’s booming voice and commanding stage presence helped him to deliver lines like “I don’t know what I said, but I meant it!” and “I like it straight up and down, and sideways, too” with seeming ease, embodying the physically and textually demanding role in virtually every scene in the play. “One of the reasons that I’m here is because of my relationship with Middlebury students and how much I have enjoyed working with them in the past and indeed on this show, also,” Zuckerman said. “They are smart, they are talented, they are focused, and they really work hard, and I think it’s impressive. I don’t know how in God’s name they do what they do, but they do it.” Through the help of the building’s janitor, Bessie, enthusiastically played with excellent accent and delightfully subtle facial and physical expression by Emma Eastwood-Paticchio ’15, Mendel develops his masterpiece cleaning machine, a human sized laundering-scrubbing-dishwashing-in one contraption on wheels crafted from a garbage bin, pail and broom brushes that allows Mendel to embrace his domestic role with vigor and efficiency. “The combination housecleaner” is the fulfillment of Mendel’s dream of a better life for his family, and when it is optioned for production, it is the Marantzs’ ticket to the upper classes formerly only accessible in their minds. Mendel’s journey to success is bittersweet, however, because his use mismanagement of money and secret partnership with Bessie alienate him from the ones he loves most. Rich and alone at the end of the first act, Mendel is still a disappointment to his family and to himself. When the second act of the play opens, Mendel has transformed his apartment into an established destination for the upper echelons of New York, and the set designers fully utilized the proscenium stage by filling it with large illuminated columns, velvet settees and a loveseat that bore no sign of wear. Though a small character, Mendel’s very posh, tuxedoed servant, Halibut, played with great reserve by Jacob Dombroski ’17, successfully poked fun at the conformity of the higher classes while eliciting many laughs from the audience. Halibut’s robotic movements and clipped British speech, coupled with his mindless acceptance of high society rules, stood in stark contrast to Mendel’s eclectic lower class mannerisms and friends who ate with napkins tucked into their shirts instead of on their laps. Dombroksi managed to maintain a facial neutrality comparable to the Queen’s Guards while delivering sufficiently pretentious and monotone lines, eliciting laughs from the audience each time he simply appeared on stage with his carefully choreographed smooth movements. A particularly enjoyable scene drawing from the physical Vaudevillian tradition occurs in the second act when Bernard nervously makes his move on Bessie, now in outrageously flamboyant attire, on a loveseat, only to have his arm fall asleep. Bessie and Bernard change places on the sofa and Shtrudel takes his place by Bernard to reawaken his arm, but the interaction only escalates when Bernard’s leg falls asleep, causing Bessie to flip over on top of Bernard, decadent robe and feathers covering the now uproarious scene as Bernard’s limp body slides from the couch. It is, of course, at this time that Zelde and Lillian enter the room, assuming the worst from the interaction. The audience loved the physical comedy of the play, which appeared enough to elicit laughs and did not overstay its welcome. “I feel that the production’s style is very consistent with the demands of the script,” Romagnoli said in the program. “Freedman was a master of the one-liner, of epigrammatic wit, absurd rhetorical non-sequiturs, of shtick and sketch comedy.” Mendel’s isolation in the splendor of his new home is broken by the poignant confrontation between Mendel and Zelde, now richly attired, when he exclaims, “All I wanted - a little something from the heart, and that I never got.” Whether he was working on an invention or trying to create a slice of the good life in the familiarity of the Lower East Side, Mendel, rich or poor, never felt the full support of his family, and his family never felt that he was working to support them. More complications ensue in the second act, but in the end, the Marantz family is reunited after all they have experienced. Though they quarrel, bicker and still chide Mendel over his wrinkled clothes, the family bond is stronger than ever, and Mendel’s incredible achievement of the traditional American Dream is realized. The play transcends the Jewish immigrant experience to touch on the very human realization that money is no replacement for family. The demands of high society, from eating fingerling sandwiches instead of pastrami to maintaining a social calendar of golf, tennis, lunches, teas and dinners, cannot replace Mendel’s pleasure in spending time with his large, definitely crazy family, and the lavish reconstruction of his apartment is only an empty shell without those he loves. “I’m very moved by this play, because I feel like these are people who are very close to my heart, and I think that the experiences of these people are generalizable to all of us, because it’s about a family, and keeping a roof over your head, raising kids, getting them married, secured and taken care of so you can go and do what you do,” Romagnoli said. “I think it’s very accessible even though it was written in 1929.”
Despite a lack of advertising, the Hepburn Zoo hosted a full audience for the Drama Lab on Friday, Oct. 24, presenting six student-written ten-minute plays. Featuring topics ranging from abortion to drug use to death to insanity, the plays demonstrated an impressive level of skill in playwriting, performance and production and delighted the audience with their unique wit, innovation, gravity and humor. Katy Svec ’15 oversaw the event’s conception and production, working in the span of only three weeks to coordinate the final performance of each play. “I wanted there to be an opportunity to get involved with theater in a smaller time commitment rather than leaping into a semester-long production, because not everybody has the time for that, and I really think that theatre should be accessible and open for people to try new things,” Svec said. The evening began with The Trunk by Win Homer ’16, a play extremely powerful in its simplicity. Sam, played by Steven Medina ’17, and Mike, acted by Steven Zatarain ’15, are faced with a trunk left to them by a man who gave them money and told them to dispose of it right away. The imaginations of the men run wild as they envision increasingly outrageous contents of the trunk like a dead body or, even worse, a live person. Medina and Zatarain engaged in tightly choreographed physical blocking under the direction of Sally Seitz ’17, participating in multiple fight scenes with skill and emotion. Though it is only an unopened trunk, its possibilities tear the men apart, culminating in Sam’s vicious shovel attack on Mike and subsequent fit of rage against the trunk as he froths at the mouth in his desire to discover the contents. Though it is somewhat of a relief to the audience that the trunk only holds women’s clothing, the final scene, in which Medina looks to the sky yelling “Leave me alone” to the unknown voice in his head, proves a chilling psychological twist to the tale. Involvement to participate was open to any students interested in the theatre community, though all of the playwrights have taken or are currently enrolled in Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Dana’s Yeaton’s Playwriting I course. In Chocolate Cake by Marium Sultan ’16, Chelsea Melone ’15’s acting was particularly strong as a Eureka, a young and perhaps overzealous missionary who uses chocolate cake as a bribe to convert an unsuspecting passerby from the darkness to the Prophet Irake. Paul, acted by Connor Pisano ’18, is one such passerby, on his way to his “well-lit frat house.” The battle of conversion that ensues brims with humor as Paul tries to convert Eureka to the ways of physical love through a kiss and Eureka worries that she will fail her first ever attempted salvation. In the end, the two realize that they are unwilling to compromise to join the other’s world, and the final scene fades on the two in an embrace and Eureka’s exclamation of her own name. It is not difficult to extrapolate the scenario of Eureka and Paul to larger conflicts of conversion, religious or otherwise, in the world, and the relatively easy realization and respect of differences shown by the youth in the play is certainly a lesson in understanding and the best example of the night of how a seemingly light-hearted subject can be crafted to represent more difficult issues. The most clever play of the night, primarily due to its subtly, was, in my opinion, Snow Day by Erica Furgiuele ’15. The emotion of the piece built on an immediately established sense of conflict when the father, played by Sebastian Zavoico ’17.5, deletes a voicemail from a girl named Lily before she is able to state her business. A scene of conversation between the father and his son, Jacob, played by Josh Goldenberg ’18, distracts from any foreboding before Jacob prompts his father to open the door upon Lily’s insistent knocking. The father’s avoidance of Lily clearly denotes an ominous event, especially when the girl, played with increasingly honest emotion by Maggie Cochrane ’16, somberly returns a box of belongings to the father. It is clear that somebody has died, but as Lily continues to ignore Jacob’s presence in the room and finally references the boy in the third person, little gasps of surprise throughout the audience indicated that the character on stage speaking to his father was deceased. The poignancy of the script lay in the shocking revelation halfway through the work, coupled with Cochrane’s depiction of the emotional anguish of living with trauma and Goldenberg’s portrayal of Jacob’s calm wisdom from the afterlife. Zavoico could, only one or two times, have benefited from clearer diction, but the emotional pull between his character’s dead son and the living girl in front of him was always apparent on his face. Svec emphasized her desire to make the production one of open access. “During the casting process we tried to give people chances who had never acted before,” she said. “We sat outside Proctor for some auditions and asked students if they wanted to read a part, and I think that allowed for a great diversity in the casting.” Seitz’s Over the Line featured some of the most natural acting of the evening with Caitlyn Meagher ’17 and Mary Baillie ’18 accurately portraying the late night party talk of girlfriends without simply acting like stereotypically overemotional and physically obsessed twenty-something females. As Katie and Rachel stumble into a bathroom at a party to discuss Katie’s decision of whether to accept a line of cocaine, their discussion escalates from girl talk to an argument over the girls’ increasingly dysfunctional friendship and the weight of each friend’s respective ‘problems.’ The simple set design, excellently chosen by director Vivian Sabla ’17 and stage manager Avery Travis ’18, allowed Katie and Rachel to be visible on one side of a closed door while Katie’s on-again, off-again flame, Matt, played by Austin Stevens ’18, made a drunken appearance on the other side, granting a comedy that nicely balanced the increasing severity of Rachel’s apparent cocaine and emotional issues. Entering in a lacrosse pinny, sideways baseball cap and continual smirk, he played the role of intoxicated ‘bro’ to the audience’s delight, delivering minimal dialogue with excellent timing and tone. In addition, his performance was primarily physical, consisting of just the right amount of stumbling, fumbling and eventual dejection as he slid to a sitting position that turned to a full body crawl away from the scene. The smart visualization allowed by the door in the middle of the stage added to the juxtaposition of humor and depth, yet the ending of the work felt a little abrupt and may have benefited from additional drama besides the apparent shattering of the girls’ friendship. The variety of roles available allowed students a unique exploratory experience. “For actors, playwrights, stage managers and directors to get involved and figure out what theater is and what they want to do with it is a just a great chance to play,” Svec said. Emma Eastwood-Paticchio ’15's Sleep Talk engaged the audience with serious intensity from the beginning, despite some comedic elements. Katie Mayopoulos ’18 played Lyd, a woman whose midnight sleeptalking alerts her husband, Tim, played by August Rosenthal ’17, to her emotional fragility as she prepares for an important meeting the next day. The couple’s confrontational conversation leads to the climax of the play, in which Lyd admits that she got an abortion without telling her husband. The play’s strength is the nuanced layering of Lyd’s dissatisfaction with the expectations on her sex, as she guiltily reflects on life decisions and countless examples of female coworkers she has watched fall down the corporate ladder after having children. Lyd’s guilt for making a personal decision is pervasive and avoids falling into clichés about women choosing between a family and a career, and Mayopoulos and Rosenthal maintained a high level of performance throughout the piece, never wavering in their emotional charged performances as each of their characters experienced their own disappointments and frustrations. The last play of the evening, Dead Dennis by Nicholas Hemerling ’14.5, showcased the most effective combination of humor and gravity as well as the best acting partnership in Lee Garcia Jimenez ’18 and Spencer Watson ’18. Playing Phil and Bernie, respectively, the two men quarreled over whether to bury or cremate the dead man on the side of the highway, whom Bernie has named Dennis in honor of the pair’s deceased cat. In the course of their argument, they grapple with larger questions of their own desires after death and who is granted the choice of making after-death decisions for a man who can no longer express his own wishes. Confusion and hilarity ensued when Dennis slowly awakened and fled from the scene while Bernie slept and Phil gathered cremation materials from the nearby materials. The strength in Jimenez and Watson’s performances stemmed from their collaborative ease, switching smoothly between natural comedic banter and more serious, but still humorously tinged, musings on the journey of a body after death. Svec emphasized the benefits of having a variety of theatre events throughout the year to showcase a wide spectrum of student work. “I think a free theatre event is unique, as the process of obtaining a ticket often discourages people from coming out,” she said. “This format openly invites people to drop by and see really exciting work that’s happening at the student level.” All six plays possessed their own strengths that made for a fresh and exciting presentation enjoyed equally by students and families in the audience. In all, 35 students showcased their budding skills in writing, producing or acting, and the polished pieces of work that made it to the performance felt more professional than student-driven, displaying the great potential and artistry of students in all stages of their student careers. Upcoming productions at the Hepburn Zoo include a show by Iron Eyes Cody on Oct. 30 and Getting Out, a play directed by Rebecca Coates-Finke ’16.5 from Nov. 6 to 8.
On the first Thursday of every month, students fill The Gamut Room in Gifford Hall to hear their peers tell a story as a part of The Middlebury MothUP. The live storytelling events are, indeed, as simple as they sound – each student storyteller takes the microphone, without notes, for about ten minutes to tell a true story that relates to a monthly one-word theme. The organic format prompts uniting stories of heartbreak and hilarity which have made the event popular not just at the College, but around the nation. Founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1997, The Moth is the creation of poet and novelist George Dawes Green, a Georgia native who wanted to bring the intimate family storytelling of his childhood to New York City. Dawes held the first Moth in his living room, but word of mouth spread the event to cafés and clubs across the city, and seventeen years later the program is now available to listeners across the country through The Moth Radio Hour, which is broadcast by more than 200 radio stations. Started at the College in 2010 by Will Bellaimey ’10.5 and Bianca Giaever ’12.5, The Middlebury MothUP immediately packed audiences into the intimate social space and café housed in The Gamut Room. Since then, the program has only grown, hosting a never-ending line-up of students and sparking a J-term workshop in narrative storytelling. Middlebury MothUP producer Luke Greenway ’14.5 has been involved with the program since his first week on campus. “I had heard of the Moth previously and listened to it on public radio, so when I heard that there was a Moth here at Middlebury, I got in touch with the people in charge and wondered if they wanted someone to tell a story,” Greenway said. “My very first month here I got up and told a story and then asked if I could get involved, so it’s been a passion project since then.” Last year, the Middlebury MothUP traveled out of The Gamut Room and into the Concert Hall of the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts (MCA) for the first ever Cocoon live storytelling event, bringing the MothUP to an even larger audience. Featuring six storytellers – including two students, one alumna, a faculty member and two active members of the community – spinning narratives of metamorphosis the sold-out event proved a smash success, and this year’s Cocoon has built on that momentum to bring the event to even bigger heights. “We wanted Cocoon to be a bridge between the Middlebury campus and the community because the limitations of The Gamut Room space, which we love, mean that the event is usually not conducive to community members attending,” Greenway said. “We wanted something that would be in addition to the Moth, not instead of, but that would allow people from the whole community to participate. It’s like the Middlebury MothUP on steroids.” Last year Greenway served as the lead producer of Cocoon, but this year his role is overseeing the mentorship of each storyteller as they develop their narratives. “Recently, for example, I spent an hour on the phone with one of the storytellers, discussing his stories with him and helping him to formulate ideas and get ready for the performance,” Greenway said. This year, Middlebury MothUp producer Veronica Rodriguez ’16.5 is leading the student coordination of Cocoon, selecting the storyteller line-up and emcee. Working directly with Director of the MCA Liza Sacheli, Rodriguez worked to develop a theme, advertising material and strategies for work shopping the stories to be told. “I love live storytelling,” Rodriguez said. “It is one of the most basic forms of human connection. Sharing stories is a way to communicate and it is how we gain understanding of one another, and how we remind each other that we’re all human. A lot of times, a story paves a path towards catharsis and empathy.” 2014 Cocoon storytellers include climate activist and actress Kathryn Blume, sixth generation Vermonter and logger Bill Torrey, Chair of the Dance Department Christal Brown, NYU masters candidate Chris De La Cruz ’13.5 and native Vermonter and creator of the Stockbridge, Vermont Stable Space Otto Pierce ’13.5. The theme is blood, which can be taken literally, figuratively or simply as a point of inspiration. Middlebury MothUP producer Rachel Liddell ’15 co-hosts the monthly student events with Greenway. The process of crafting a larger event like Cocoon, she explained, is largely one of collaboration. “Typically we brainstorm which people we want to reach out to as a group,” Liddell said. “Veronica has been leading point on this, and Liza also gives us ideas of people we could contact. Usually people are interested and really care about the project when we reach out to them. We were able to be more proactive this year, so we were able to find some great storytellers from a diverse background that doesn’t include our immediate community.” This year, in addition to the six diverse faculty, alumni and community storytellers taking the stage this year, the Middlebury MothUP is thrilled to present Jay Allison as the emcee of the event. Allison is an independent journalist who produces The Moth Radio Hour through Atlantic Public Media and has contributed to NPR news programs and This American Life. A six-time Peabody Award winner, he hosted and produced This I Believe on NPR and co-edited the bestselling companion books. “Since last year, the Middlebury MothUP has developed a relationship with Vermont Public Radio’s version of the Moth, and has collaborated to bring the Moth events to Burlington,” Rodriguez said. “With Jay Allison as our host for the evening, we continue to see collaboration between Middlebury’s storytelling projects and figures from our main source of inspiration, the Moth Radio Hour.” Cocoon is an opportunity for members across the College community to join together in the enjoyment of stories that represent many levels of collegiate and local life. “I think sharing stories is a thing that a lot of people find very rewarding,” Liddell said. “For people who are sort of routine visitors of The Gamut Room Moth, this is essentially the same thing with a glossier, more professional feel. For people who haven’t yet had exposure to the Moth, this event is a great opportunity to listen to people who you don’t normally get to hear from and learn about people’s perspectives on the world.” Cocoon will take place Friday, Oct 24 at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the MCA. Tickets are available through the Box Office at $10 for the public, $8 for college ID holders and $5 for students. The event is expected to sell out. A catered reception with the storytellers will take place after the show.
On Oct. 3 and 5, the Opera Company of Middlebury (OCM) presented a concert staging of Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata at the Town Hall Theater. The production, directed by OCM Artistic Director and Executive Director of the Town Hall Theater Doug Anderson and joined by the College Choir under the direction of Associate Professor of Music Jeffrey Buettner, wowed sold-out crowds with big-city talent on a small town stage. This staging is remarkable in many ways. The orchestra, College Choir and members of the principal ensemble practiced together for only three days, or about six hours, before opening night. It is a testament to the professionalism, dedication and preparatory rehearsal time of each of those groups that La Traviata appeared as a polished, seamless performance after so little combined rehearsal time. Verdi’s 1853 opera La Traviata follows Violetta, a character based on real-life Parisian high-priced prostitute Marie Duplessis, who arrived in the city penniless and slept her way to a position as one of the richest women in Paris. Critical of decadence, aristocratic privilege and 19th century gender roles, La Traviata is a sumptuous production filled with party scenes and extravagant behavior that is also a tragedy, following Violetta’s journey from loose woman to doting wife to dying patient. Her ornate lifestyle is literally killing her, most likely from tuberculosis, and tragic forces separate her from the man she loves. The songs of La Traviata are extremely recognizable, including the rousing drinking song “Libiamo,” which includes full ensemble and choir, and Violetta’s aria, “Sempre Libera.” Soprano Rochelle Bard demonstrated an impressive vocal range and control as Violetta, appearing in most of the acts with her consistently rich vocals. She portrayed a woman of extravagance well, displaying ecstasy and agony in equal measure as Violetta traveled an emotional roller coaster. Bard has performed as a soloist at Carnegie Hall in New York City and with opera companies around the country. Joining her were the equally impressive tenor James Flora as her doomed lover, Alfredo, who has previously performed with OCM and will be performing with the Metropolitan Opera in 2014, mezzo-soprano Olga Perez Flora and decadent baritone Brian Major as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio. There is an athletic dedication to the craft of vocalization present in opera that requires not just exquisite knowledge and care of the vocal chords, but practiced control of breath, diaphragm, posture, emotion and foreign diction. It is not singing that makes one a diva. It is the personification of passion through meticulously crafted trills, controlled vibrato and mastery of dynamic phrasing that allows a singer to even consider themselves a diva. Opera singing is difficult, and these professionals did it with an ease that made it seem as natural as carrying on a conversation. The fact that the Town Hall Theater and Opera Company of Middlebury are consistently able to draw world-renowned opera stars to participate in their productions is astounding. And the cost for this professional quality performance, $40 to $50 per ticket, is a fraction of the expense of a large-venue production, making an art form stereotypically labeled as elitist or snobbish accessible to an entirely different audience. Tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s production of La Traviata, running this December and January, are selling for upwards of $400 each. This is due to the sheer number of people, in addition to the principal singers, required to stage such a lavish performance, including up to 80 orchestra members and equally large choirs, depending on the piece. On a stage as prestigious as the Met, opera stars charge large fees, and some production companies have started to place financial caps of $500,000 on each production. Operas cannot be staged eight times a week in the same manner as a play or musical because of the physical demands on the singers, who have required days of rest when they occasionally don’t speak at all to save their instruments. Ticket fees cover only about 50 percent of the Opera Company of Middlebury’s production costs, with sponsors, intermission refreshment sales and raffle profits covering the remaining half. The College Choir, fresh off of their summer tour to Berlin, Prague, Liepzig and Vienna, participated as the opera’s chorus. This community and collegiate collaboration provides students a unique opportunity to work with experienced opera singers and appear in a professional production. Leo DesBois ’15 participated with the Choir in Madama Butterfly two years ago, and he is thrilled by the opportunity the musical collaboration provides. “It’s incredible to kind of be so close physically to these amazing soloists to experience that level of musicianship, and also to work with a professional conductor of the caliber of Emmanuel Plasson, who has conducted at the Met, and all over the place,” DesBois said. “He brings an intensity and a precision to his conducting that you don’t get to experience very often. It’s also amazing that it’s such a big ensemble with the orchestra right there, the conductor, the soloists in this intimate setting, it makes you feel like it’s the real deal, because it is.” Since the semester began, the Choir’s four-hour a week rehearsals have consisted primarily of Verdi’s La Traviata choral repertoire. Their only additional rehearsals were a sitzprobe, or seated rehearsal, on Tuesday, Sept. 30 and a ticketed dress rehearsal on Wednesday, Oct. 1. These rehearsals paid off, as the Choir was phenomenal throughout the opera, easily performing at the professional level. The Choir’s first collaboration with OCM came in the Fall 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly after Anderson approached Buettner in the spring of 2012 about the possibility of working together. Due to the huge success of that teamwork, Anderson approached Buettner again about La Traviata, which has a critically important choral component. “We had to learn the music very, very quickly, and with an opera, the challenge is not just learning the music but the Italian text and also the timing of the entrances, because the chorus is sort of like a minor character who has to pop in every now and then and say things, and it’s hard to get that timing right when you’re not with the soloists and with the orchestra,” DesBois said. Orchestra, chorus and OCM members alike brought a thrilling combination of professionalism and musical excellence that made the three and a half hour opera seem much shorter. The audience buzzed with excitement at each intermission and, after the show, thrilled at the rare experience OCM and the Town Hall Theater creates twice a year. OCM’s Spring 2015 production is Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, which will be staged May 30 to June 7. The Town Hall Theater also broadcasts Live Metropolitan Opera productions on its big screen for a $24 admission fee, giving the community an opportunity to view the Met’s productions for a fraction of the in-person cost. The Met’s season opener is Le Nozze de Figaro on Oct. 18. Tickets are available for a discounted $10 for students at the Town Hall Theater box office. More information about the College Choir is available at go/choir.