Author: Abby Grosse

Theater company makes debut with Lady

With no stage, no set and only a handful of props, the three actors of Craig Wright’s Lady had the task of captivating their audience with their performances alone. It was a mission that the fearless first-years of Myswyken Salad Theatre Company pulled off with aplomb.

Seniors may recall hearing Craig Wright’s name tossed around three years ago when the theater department staged his most well-known work, Recent Tragic Events, and Wright himself visited campus. Lady is similar to Recent Tragic Events in that it takes on post-9/11 political discourse alongside fragmented relationships and existential angst. Chaz Mayo ’18, Ian Sutherland ’18 and Will Ibele ’18 played Lady’s three middle-aged, longtime friends, whose personal demons break into violence on a weekend hunting trip.

The Art Barn was the perfect venue to convey the suffocating quality of old friendships that can no longer conceal the rage built up over decades. There were no barriers between the audience and the actors; the first-row viewers were only several feet from them, creating a disconcerting sense of intimacy and urgency that complemented the emotional narrative very well.

Three rows of seating on each side of the atrium faced each other in thrust-stage fashion, and due to the natural lighting coming through the Barn’s many windows, the two halves of the audience watched each other’s reactions through the duration of the show. At the play’s dramatic and comedic peaks, this unique visibility allowed the audience members to feed off of each other.

Director Matt Stai ’18 noted that having a small cast in such a compressed, minimal space was tricky. For much of the play, only two of the three actors were onstage at once – and since the narrative was driven by dialogue far more than plot, they needed to be meticulous about their body language.

“For me, I think the greatest challenge with this show was how to keep the action interesting in a show of two people talking on a blank stage,” Stai said. The actors took care to pace the stage area in a way that gave their performances fluidity and dynamism.

If you are not familiar with the Myswyken Salad Theatre Company, it is because it was just born this year. First-years interested in doing theater at St. Olaf found it difficult to access roles in faculty and student-run plays. Rather than resigning themselves to the sidelines, a group of like-minded freshmen found each other in Intro to Acting and formed the company to create more opportunities.

“At the beginning of first semester, we were having trouble being part of department and Deep End shows. Our intention was to make more theater opportunities available,” Sutherland said.

The label “company” is not just a title – it refers to the structure of the group. Stai explained how that model differentiates the group from department and Deep End participants.

“By the company model, we mean a structure where a pre-determined, limited number of theater-makers work together to create shows over a duration. Our company in particular is looking to operate with a minimum of structured hierarchy to encourage a free-flowing artistic dialogue,” Stai said.

“At the beginning of the year, people will audition for the company,” Sutherland said. Most Ole thespians are accustomed to auditioning on a production-by-production basis, but this structure allows the group to draw from a consistent pool of actors.

Though the first-years of Myswyken Salad have plenty of audacity, mentorship from upperclassmen was crucial in launching the group.

“Denzel Belin ’15 and Preston West ’15 helped us a lot,” Sutherland said. Fittingly, Belin was listed in the show’s credits as “Wise Sage.”

grosse@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit:CASEY BOULDIN/MANITOU MESSENGER

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St. Olaf Sentiments: March 13, 2015

Skills for the Real World

The singing birds, the scent of damp earth in the air, the drops of sunlight reflected in puddles! Gleeful Oles bringing their caf trays and hookahs into the fresh air! Rolling down the car windows and blaring the radio!

It all points to one thing – no, not spring – I mean the fact that I am going to be unemployed and potentially homeless in, like, two months.

It’s time for me to make a thorough inventory of the marketable skills I’ve acquired in this hallowed institution of learning. When I agreed to take out student loans that I would have to barter my firstborn in order to repay, I assumed that along the way I would acquire some skills that would bring all the employers to the yard.

The first one that comes to mind is definitely my ability to sleep in any location, at any time of day. The thinly-carpeted floor of the library? Yes. A couch in the middle of Tomson traffic, under the scrutinizing glare of every administrative figure? Especially yes. This should signify to prospective employers that I am adaptable. I don’t rely on an established routine; I take initiative and step outside my comfort zone.

Another quality that I think will land me a solid, no-food-stamps-necessary salary is my ability not to care what I look like while dancing. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a picture of yourself dancing at the Pause or a similarly, erm, laissez-faire off-campus venue, but I can assure you, you look like a hot mess. I am no exception – in fact, I have had the misfortune of confronting the photographic evidence – and I have learned to embrace it.

This fearlessness is actually quite the sought-after “transferable skill.” My possibly delusional lack of self-consciousness will enable me to project confidence and charisma during my super legit professional presentations on business-type charts and stuff.

I would also note the resourcefulness I demonstrate in seeking out myriad forms of melted cheese on weekend evenings. A basic human settles for slice or two of Pause pizza, but as an outside-the-box critical thinker, I combine my pizza with delicassies from Taco Bell and even the grossly underrated mecca of processed fare that is Kwik Trip. I don’t settle until I’ve achieved the exact ratio of carbs to saturated fat that will knock me into a stupor. If that isn’t being a go-getter, I don’t know what is.

To highlight my superior problem-solving capacity, I would point to my successful handling of mold problems in every dorm room I’ve lived in. Never mind whose negligence created the mold in the first place; that’s neither here nor there. What matters is that I have always eliminated it, like a boss.

What allows me to sleep peacefully at night knowing that I am a viable candidate for paid, non-imaginary employment is my superior ability to enter a room ten minutes late and convince everyone it’s not a big deal by acting like it’s not a big deal.

I’ve exercised this mind control on just about every professor I’ve had, and let me tell you, I have perfected it. No supervisor will ever be able to perceive my flaws – namely, regular tardiness – if I refuse to acknowledge them!

Writing this has been a tremendous relief. I trust that I will nail the segue from graduation to the 9-to-5 world. Some pessimists would have you believe that a Bachelor of Arts degree isn’t worth what it used to be, but I know that these four years have granted me a full arsenal of marketable skills. I expect that a year from now, you’ll be reading my success story on the St. Olaf Web site. Um ya ya!

grosse@stolaf.edu

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Music on Trial: How to discover great new music

I live in fear of waking up one morning and realizing that I’ve fallen deep into a rut. You know, having the epiphany that I’ve worn variations of the same outfit and pondered variations of the same thoughts while the world around me thrashed, and then oops! years have passed, and I’m closer to death with nothing to show for it.

One of the ways I try to ensure that this will never happen to me is by constantly seeking out new music. However, perfectly-curated playlists don’t arrive in my PO with the same regularity as solicitations from credit card companies and letters from my dear friend, Sallie Mae. Thus, I’ve learned to exploit the resources at my disposal, and I hope you will too, with this handy guide to discovering new music…

Method 1 – Songza: I list this first because it is my personal favorite. I have yet to find another site as comprehensively organized around moods – anything from “aggressive” to “raw” to “nocturnal.” If you’re like me and need your playlist to be 100 percent aligned with what you are feeling in a given moment, check this out. Unlike Pandora, which leans heavily on popular singles, Songza will probably expose you to a song or artist you haven’t heard before.

Method 2 – Word of mouth: Find that kid with the slouchy beanie and black-framed glasses and ask him what he’s listening to these days. Surely you will be enlightened. Just kidding! It’s always a fun conversation starter to ask friends and acquaintances if they’ve heard anything good lately. You can also learn everything you need to know about people by asking them what their favorite song is.

Method 3 – The Current playlist: The only thing Oles love as much as fair-trade coffee and nose piercings is the Current. No shade; it’s totally justified. The radio station consistently delivers a spirited mix of cutting-edge new stuff, forgotten treasures, campy “No Apologies” tracks and indisputable classics. When you hear a song you like, take note of the time, then get the artist info on the station’s daily playlist, which is always up-to-date online.

Method 4 – The Hype Machine: This is for the person who’s already heard everything on the Current – hell, they DJ the Current. This person needs something fresh, something ahead of the curve. The Hype Machine features tracks that are being released and blogged about in real-time.

Method 5 – Spotify “related artists” feature: This is kind of cheating, because it won’t really take you to any truly breathtaking new territory. It will, however, deepen your understanding of some of your favorite genres and eras. It’s cool to see which artists are in conversation with each other.

Method 6 – Movie/TV soundtracks: If you know how to secure a job being the person who selects movie soundtracks, please hit me up immediately, because that would be a dream. Sometimes even the lamest, soapiest productions xoxo, Gossip Girl feature awesome music from bands outside the mainstream. Try to remember one key lyric so you can Google it later.

Method 7 – Live music: Very few “broke” college kids would shell out the money to see an artist with whom they weren’t at all familiar. The opportunity to see a random act perform live at little/no cost does present itself, though. Check out the group rocking one of the dinky, lesser stages at a festival. Show up for the openers for the band you paid to see, instead of just assuming that they’ll suck.

When all this is finished, you’ll experience the adrenaline rush of a successful hunt. Gaze upon the bloodied carcass – I mean, new playlist – with pride. By soundtracking your life in a new way, you might start to see things in a new way.

grosse@stolaf.edu

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Sexual assault gets needed attention: SGA Town Hall meeting raises community response

No e-mails carry as much weight as those from Fred C. Behr. So far in the 2014-2015 school year, students have seen an unnerving rise in messages tagged “Crime Alert.” As of Nov. 7, there have already been five reports of sexual assault – as many as there were in the entire 2013-2014 academic year.

This increase in assault reporting on our campus – as well as increased attention to the issue on a national scale – has understandably sparked concern and confusion. St. Olaf Student Government Association SGA responded with the launch of “It’s On Us,” a campaign to foster community accountability for sexual assault on campus. The sense of urgency spiked, though, after a student reported an assault that took place at this year’s SGA-sponsored Halloween Pause dance. To generate feedback on how to move forward, SGA hosted a “Town Hall” meeting and open forum on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

In the spirit of discussion, chairs were arranged in a circle, with a central ring consisting of administrative figures and representatives from SGA and the Sexual Assault Resource Network SARN. Vice President for Student Life Greg Kneser, Dean of Students Rosalyn Eaton-Neeb ’87 and Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell were present to field questions regarding the institutional end of assault procedures.

Students filled the available seating and flowed over into standing room. Though the event was Wellness swiped, less than half of attendees lined up to swipe their cards.

SGA President Rachel Palermo ’15 kicked off the conversation by addressing the student body’s concerns about increased assault reporting. She emphasized that although frequent reports are upsetting, they can be “a step in the right direction.” More reporting does not necessarily indicate a surge in actual rates of assault; it is more likely that more students feel empowered to speak up.

Maren McGill ’15, Co-Chair of SARN, took the floor next to establish a common understanding of the terms “rape” and “consent.” She clarified the need to refer to “survivors” and “perpetrators” rather than “women” and “men,” since sexual assault does not always adhere to the stereotypical man-attacks-woman model. McGill then explained the difference between confidential Boe House, pastor’s office, SARN and non-confidential residence life, faculty, Public Safety, EMTs resources, which is that non-confidential resources act as mandated reporters. Eaton-Neeb rounded off the introduction by breaking down St. Olaf’s sexual assault statistics from the past several years, and elucidating the action that the College takes when an assault is reported.

“When a complaint is received by the college, a no-contact order is issued and an investigator is assigned,” she said. If there are witnesses, they are called upon. Throughout the proceedings, the complainant and respondent never meet in the same room.

A disturbing trend in reported cases at St. Olaf is the near-universal presence of alcohol. Eaton-Neeb noted that of the cases brought to her attention over the past five years, all but one of them involved alcohol and/or other substances.

The discussion was then opened up to questions from the group as a whole. SGA members passed around microphones to participants who raised their hands. The first question – posed by Olivia Slack ’15 – asked why college and police discipline are separate, with the latter often completely absent from the proceedings. Kneser explained that the decision to report assault to the police is at the discretion of the survivor.

“We encourage people to make the report to the Northfield police, but ultimately, it is [the survivor’s] choice,” he said. Jo Treat ’15, Co-Chair of SARN, reiterated that survivors often make the decision not to involve the police.

“For a survivor, it’s whatever they choose… we never push them to a certain option,” Treat said. She acknowledged that going to college authorities rather than the police tends to be “a lot less traumatic.”

Further questions focused on the degrees of punishment available to perpetrators. A general sense of dissatisfaction with disciplinary measures pervaded the conversation. In an emotional moment, a survivor rose and spoke about her dismay that her assailant still attends St. Olaf, and stated that he was in the room. Josiah Mosqueda ’15 also questioned the apparently limited range of discipline.

“Why is expulsion not on the table?” Mosqueda said. Though the Deans were eager to engage in the dialogue, it was difficult to do so while respecting the confidentiality of individual cases.

“We can’t release the outcome of cases. We can’t say exactly what happened,” Kneser said. “Expulsion is on the table… ‘suspension’ often means four years.”

“Suspension does not mean automatic return,” Eaton-Neeb said.

Two other survivors shared their experiences near the end of the conversation, receiving thunderous applause for their courage. One of them suggested having a SARN advocate present at Pause dances, rather than flat-out canceling them. The other – a survivor of male-on-male sexual assault – also suggested taking another path.

“If you cancel Pause dances, it won’t eradicate the problem,” he said.

Some students were interested in the concrete steps that the campus community could take to prevent assault. The possibility of mandatory bystander training was discussed, though SARN’s first-year corridor training remains voluntary. McGill mentioned that SARN is seeking “increased support from Residence Life.”

The conversation was still heated as the SGA leadership drew the event to a close. Though it was emotionally-charged and wide-ranging in subject matter, SGA regarded it as a success.

“I think it was good that we got people together for a dialogue. These are the conversations we should be having,” said Nick Stumo-Langer ’15, SGA Vice President.

“Seeing 300 people show up to the event meant a lot to us. We were proud to see so many of our peers and friends thoughtfully share their questions, comments and ideas, especially when it was about difficult topics,” Palermo said.

Although many attendees were grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in an open forum, there is still a limit to the tangible change that can stem from such an event.

“There were many helpful questions asked and points made at the town hall meeting. Students are right to ask what the college is doing,” said Campus Pastor Matt Marohl. “But, a truly safe campus requires every individual student to be part of the solution.”

grosse@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit: HAILEY SALAZAR/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Music on Trial: Which artists will stand the test of time?

Ours is a generation obsessed with nostalgia. Many of us look to the past for our icons, like Bowie, the Beatles and Zeppelin. Contemporary stars tend to rehash the aesthetics of bygone eras à la T-Swift’s recycled new-wave 1989, rather than innovate something that resonates with the moment.

I don’t mean to demonize anyone; it’s not like we’re any more or less original than our forebearers. This is not the first era to be hopelessly derivative. However, I often wonder which artists from our generation will withstand the test of time and be hailed as true visionaries 20, 30 or 50 years down the road.

Here, I’ve compiled my predictions for the artists whose legacies will endure after Katy Perry retires to be a soccer mom and Coldplay has sunk so deep into the electro-pop scene that Chris Martin will reinvent himself as a B-list underground DJ.

Lana del Rey

For every hater, there are three ride-or-die fans I’m so devoted that I’ve considered getting an LDR-style hand tattoo. Lana’s evocative and orchestral sound exhibits a level of musicianship absent from most pop music with as big of a following. Her meticulously-crafted persona may be the target of ridicule and accusations of melodrama, but no one can deny her intense, poetic glamor.

Gorillaz

The genre-fusing brainchild of British legend Damon Albarn set the standard for 00s dance music with 2005’s Demon Days. Its follow-up, Plastic Beach, further schooled the world on how atmospheric dance/hip-hop/rock should be done. Collaborations with Lou Reed, Bobby Womack and Little Dragon proved that not only does Albarn have a lot of friends, but one of the most versatile musical minds working today.

Skrillex

Who would have thought that a member of the forgettable early-aughts post-hardcore ensemble From First to Last would metamorphose into the face of dubstep in the U.S.? He wasn’t the first to construct his own music from technology alone, but Skrillex almost single-handedly normalized it. His cutting-edge marketing and investment in growing the industry made little Sonny John Moore a king, even among those who wouldn’t usually get down with the “womp-womp.”

John Mayer

Just because he epitomizes the colloquial use of the world “tool” doesn’t mean that the man isn’t a demigod at composing perfect pop melodies. His affinity for womanizing and spewing megalomaniacal nonsense in Rolling Stone is an unfortunate distraction from his simple and resonant songwriting. He does not got enough credit for his blues guitar mastery . . . or maybe I’m just trying to rationalize paying the arena-ticket price to see him play.

Kanye West

I’m not going to say he’s the greatest rapper in the game, but he is possibly the greatest crossover artist of our time. Kanye West is the cultural institution that brings together rap neophytes and seasoned fans. He is the force of nature you cannot ignore. Indifference is futile.

Beck

Beck has been lurking in the nebulous territory between indie and mainstream since the early 90s. No matter if his work is met with worshipful acclaim or crickets, every album he turns out is distinctive. The grace with which he embodies different genres calls to mind a great actor embodying different roles. His latest release, Morning Phase, carries a rare, authentic introspection that testifies to his decades of experience in the industry.

grosse@stolaf.edu

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