Author: Ashley Belisle

Deep End APO closes season with God of Carnage

A stuffy, sweltering dorm basement might not be a theatergoer’s ideal venue for a full-length play, but Deep End Production’s run of God of Carnage took advantage of the environment. The weekend of May 1 through 3, four actors took the stage corner of the room in the Thorson basement lounge who knew that existed?. The intimate – and humid – location reflected perfectly the suffocating environment of the action on stage.

Written by Yasmina Reza, translated to English by Christopher Hampton and directed by Nathan Aastuen ’17, God of Carnage displays the intensely awkward turned totally dark meeting between two sets of parents whose 11-year-old sons got into a playground fight.

In a Lord of the Flies-esque commentary on the darker sides of human nature, God of Carnage explores the interactions of these four parents as they transition from polite to maniacal, yanking audience members into each painful moment.

Lily Bane ’17 played Veronica Novak, the hippie-writer mother who called the other unwilling parties to meet. Bane drove the action during the first half of the play, bringing the awkwardness of the situation to new heights with each enunciated, pointed comment.

Opposite Veronica were Alan Raleigh Morgan Keefe ’15 and Annette Raleigh Kim Sesvold ’18, the parents of stick-wielding Benjamin, who, as the audience learns, has hit Henry Novak in the face with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth. Within moments of the play’s opening, the tension between Keefe’s and Sesvold’s characters is palpable. Audience members not already sweating in the heat of the Thorson basement certainly began to perspire as they were immersed in the tension of the Raleighs’ marriage.

Chaz Mayo ’18 played Veronica’s husband, Michael Novak, and provided the much-needed comic relief for the majority of the performance. While Michael’s lines were not always funny in themselves, Mayo hammed up their execution, which kept a grateful audience from plunging into complete despair 20 minutes into the show.

Although it was an intimate basement play with a simple set and no scene changes, God of Carnage boasted excellent special effects. During the first half of the play, Annette repeatedly announces that she does not feel well. The claim seems pretty benign – and understandable considering the toxic nature of the characters’ situation – until Annette, clutching a pillow to her chest, vomits all over the coffee table and carpet.

The vomit was impressive. Victoria Westman ’18, whom the program credited as “Props Master,” deserves some major kudos for creating professional puke for this mom-and-pop production.

Sloshed on rum, Alan dropped his cell phone in a vase full of water on purpose, of course, tulips thrown across the living room and a real window for characters to look out complimented the impressive vomit pillow for a deceptively complex cast of props.

The cast of four college students playing embittered, middle-aged parents seemed at times ridiculous – and perhaps overdone. But the presumably parents in the audience absolutely cracked up when Mayo and Keefe delivered monologues or one-liners about the nature of marriage or parenthood. The actors must have hit home.

Further, the cast’s ability to live in the dark space the script constructs without losing the moments of humor buried within was unexpected – and impressive. By the end of the play, the characters are all screaming, crying and throwing things at one another, demonstrating behavior just as childlike as that of their 11-year-old sons. Theme of the play, anyone? The paper printouts on the door warning audience of “mild language” in the play were certainly understated.

Reza’s script is subtle and complicated, the epitome of a dark comedy. And the actors got that. During the closing scene, audience members could hear snickers on one side of the room and whimpers on the other. At once sad and funny, God of Carnage asks for these reactions as it prompts audience members to consider their own humanity.

In his program notes, Aastuen writes that “Reza probes into the questions that our society tends to ignore, especially in our passive-aggressive Minnesotan bubble.” For 80 minutes in a sweaty Thorson basement, Aastuen and his cast had at least a handful of these Minnesotan bubble-dwellers paying attention.

belisle@stolaf.edu

Photo Credit: SONJA NELSON/MANITOU MESSENGER

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BORSC Talk Box starts conversation

The Board of Regents Student Committee BORSC has launched an initiative to facilitate communication between students and the Board of Regents. Called the “Talk Box,” BORSC’s new enterprise invites students to anonymously submit comments or questions – via Oleville or on old-fashioned paper – about some aspect of St. Olaf. Members of BORSC will then find answers to those questions and responses to those comments.

Talk Box – as well as other recent BORSC initiatives – are meant to bridge the perceived gap between the interests of the Board of Regents and current students. Evan Davis ’15 currently serves as BORSC coordinator, and has worked this year to restructure BORSC so that its role is more relevant to Regents and students alike.

“The Board of Regents is a 35-member committee of mostly alumni who are highly dedicated to the college,” Davis said. “It’s very similar to a business model, and most higher education institutions – with the exception of big state schools – use this same model.”

“They decide things like which profs get tenure, and appoint the president,” Katelyn Regenscheid ’15, who serves as the Marketing and Communications Officer for BORSC, said. She explained that board members are appointed to six-year terms and have varied roles. Current Regents choose the new appointees, and a recent graduate joins the board each year as well. The board meets three times each year and focuses its attention on three specific issues at a time.

Because the Regents address a few topics in detail each year, BORSC underwent a restructuring beginning this academic year to align itself with the system the Regents use.

“BORSC used to be a committee that would research one big topic relevant to campus,” Davis said. “Last year, we decided to take on diversity – in the broadest sense.” However, when the Board of Regents was focused on sexual assault and BORSC was focused on diversity, conversations between the groups were less productive than everybody hoped.

“They really want student feedback and opinion, but it’s not really helpful if we are saying things that aren’t productive,” Regenscheid said. “It’s just a little more strategic and a little more effective if we are talking about the same issues.” She said that the Board of Regents and BORSC do some negotiation about what the plenary issues are; they are not merely dictated by the Regents for students to accept.

“We do have to take a step back as students and realize that the issues that are ours right now can’t be the only issues they are focused on,” Davis said. “We have to try to balance what our urges are right now with what is strategic and possible in the long term.” This year’s topics of focus are refreshing the strategic plan, faculty governance and marketing and communications.

“What we are doing now is being more project-oriented,” Davis said. Rather than focusing on one year-long project, BORSC aims to create platforms for communication between students and Regents on a variety of subjects. This is where Talk Box comes in.

“The Talk Box is an opportunity for students to give feedback that we are going to look at and use for conversations with the Regents,” Davis said. “At the same time, it will educate students about what happens at our school.”

Students can find birdhouses in Buntrock Commons with slips of paper next to them. They can write down any question or comment and slide it into the box. Alternatively, students can visit oleville.com and submit an anonymous comment via the Web site.

The current Talk Box theme is “myths and rumors.” Students are encouraged to submit any rumors they have heard to the Talk Box. Then, members of BORSC will do their research and find answers to those questions.

“A lot of times, people say, ‘Well, how am I even supposed to get answers about that?'” Regenscheid said. Talk Box was launched to demystify “the administration” and to help students find the answers they are looking for. After “myths and rumors,” BORSC will announce more Talk Box themes.

“In coming weeks, we will be asking questions that directly relate to what the Regents are talking about,” Hannah Fedje-Johnson ’16 said, who was recently elected as BORSC coordinator for the 2015-2016 academic year. BORSC members said they are looking forward to not only educating students, but also making sure that students’ voices are heard by the Regents.

“We know we’re going to get lots of responses about gender-neutral bathrooms and about Black Lives Matter, because that’s what students care about,” Regenscheid said. “We can then tell the Regents that that’s what students are talking about.”

“The project, so far, is doing exactly what we wanted,” Davis said. “Some questions are serious and some are less serious. We will take everything seriously and give students a legitimate answer.”

“We’re actually more excited about some of the more controversial ones,” Fedje-Johnston said.

The next step for BORSC is to organize the submissions into categories, and then publish the answers on Oleville. Students can – and should – join in the conversation by visiting oleville.com/borsc and clicking on “Talk Box.”

belisle@stolaf.edu

GraphicCredit:ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Flaking on friends gives millennials a bad rap

In her March 18 op-ed piece published on mic.com, Katie Hakala argued that technology – specifically texting – has allowed young adults to become huge flakes, arriving late to events after sending a quick “be there soon!” text, and deciding last-minute not to show up at all.

She makes a good point. I think I would be hard pressed to find a current Ole who has never relied on a cell phone to flake out a little.

Can we push back dinner to 6:15?

Ugh. I just have so much work. Would it be okay if we do tomorrow instead?

I’m soooooooooo sorry, but I’m really tired and I think I’m just going to go to bed.

We’ve all done it. Some are worse offenders than others, but it happens all the time.I agree with Hakala that the increase in flakiness certainly has a significant negative impact on friendships. For instance, I have diminished trust in my friends who frequently flake. I don’t believe, however, that the flaking phenomenon arose from the convenience of texting. I think it’s actually selfishness, bred in the “you do you” world in which we twentysomethings grew up.

Millennials are not the iPhone-wielding mob of entitled narcissists that bloggers for the Huffington Post and the New York Times might have you believe. Most of my friends and peers have cares that reach far beyond the millennial sphere of hedonism in which they all supposedly operate. They want to invent drugs, teach children, fight social injustice and be elected to office. They want to change the world – not just earn money and go on vacation and watch TV.

We are not self-obsessed, but we are a little selfish. We’ve been taught – and wonderfully so – that we can do whatever we want to do and be whoever we want to be, and that we don’t have to answer to anybody but ourselves. That’s a great message, but it leaves out one important truth: we still have responsibility to one another.

Dear fellow millennials, college students, friends and peers: please stop being giant flakes and bad friends. Stop trading a friend’s trust for the instant gratification of staying home with a glass of wine. Stop arriving hours late because you had to watch just one more episode. The truth is that flakiness is not a quirky and inevitable characteristic of the millennial mind, but rather a social problem that needs active solving.

The good news: this is solvable. Here’s how.

Honor your commitments. Unless you are sick or facing an emergency, go to the party you said you would attend and show up at dinner at the time you suggested meeting.

Close Netflix. Your futon is so comfy, and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is so good, but that’s too bad. Arrive where you said you would when you said you would. Kimmy will still be there for you tomorrow.

Apologize sincerely when you do have to bail stomach flus and traffic jams do happen. Don’t offer excuses or make your friend reassure you that it’s totally fine.

Don’t try to justify flaking by being a “maybe” for every commitment thrown your way. If you’re always a maybe and you never show up, you are treating friends just as disrespectfully as those who RSVP with a “yes” and then bail last-minute.

Flaking, even if it’s “classic you,” is not funny or fine. It’s disrespectful, rude, thoughtless and hurtful. Stop it. If you’re “not a planner,” become one for just a few minutes each week so that you can show up when you said you would.

Independence and self-actualization are awesome. We can – and should – seize the opportunity to follow our own dreams and do what we want. But we should not do what we want all the time. That’s a lot of what’s wrong with this country and this world – the belief that people possess the ability to do anything they please without the responsibility to anybody else.

It’s time for millennials to cast off our bad reputations as entitled narcissists by demonstrating responsibility and treating our friends with respect – even when we don’t particularly feel like it.

Ashley Belisle ’15 belisle@stolaf.edu is from Mahtomedi, Minn. She majors in English and Spanish.

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Nina McConigley reflects on rural immigrant experience

Nina McConigley ’97 transferred to St. Olaf in the fall of 1994 at the beginning of her sophomore year. She sat in the back of an English classroom in Rolvaag and listened to a professor read poetry; she knew she was in the right place.

Twenty years later, on Thursday, April 9, McConigley addressed a crowd of students, English professors and fans in the same room she remembered from all those years ago.

McConigley, who now teaches in the English department at the University of Wyoming, only took one creative writing course as an English major at St. Olaf – during the second semester of her senior year. After she graduated, she worked in the insurance business for a year. She hated it, and decided to give writing a try. McConigley went on to earn her MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston and then her MA in English from the University of Wyoming.

McConigley returned to St. Olaf to read from her acclaimed collection of short stories Cowboys and East Indians. Though the stories are works of fiction, they reflect experiences that the author and her family encountered as what McConigley calls “the wrong kind of Indian” in rural Wyoming. With an Indian mother and an Irish father, McConigley was different from those around her in their tiny oil-and-gas Wyoming town.

“There’s just no other Indians,” she said. “There’s not an Indian restaurant in the entire state of Wyoming.” McConigley read aloud from the first story in the Cowboys and East Indians collection, “Pomp and Circumstances.” The story described a masculine, elk-hunting Wyoming man who shares a personal secret with his employee’s wife, an Indian woman. McConigley joked that nothing much “happens” in her stories, but that they explore the perspectives and identities of characters as they experience life.

“Stories are a really great way to try out different lenses – different points of view,” she said. “Your writing is your witness to what you’re experiencing.” Other stories in the collection feature characters – of different ages and genders and backgrounds – in both the United States and India as they explore questions of identity that have always fascinated McConigley.

“I’m always thinking about my identity,” she said. She talked about traveling to India when she was 23, standing on the street and realizing that, for the first time, she was not in the minority. Even so, she felt like an American in India; she did not necessarily belong.

“I found it really hard,” she said. “I was really confused, and then I hated myself for feeling confused.” This confusion, though, prompted more questions about identity and authenticity not only in her own life, but in everyday experiences of all people. She cited the online self as a universal example.

“I’m a total hermit, but on Facebook I look like the most outgoing, fun-loving person ever,” she said. “I don’t even know what’s authentic about anything – at all. I love that feeling.”

Audience members asked McConigley lots of questions about her journey as a writer, and the author’s responses were thoughtful and frank. She discussed the ways in which creative writing has been an opportunity for her to experience the world.

“[Writing] is a kind of therapy, actually, for me,” she said. “There is a lot of truth. . . but in my stories I can make my characters sassier and braver.”

For all of her discussion of identity, authenticity, and the writing experience, McConigley never came across as lofty or pretentious. Rather, she was funny and friendly and simply a joy to listen to.

“I really am well-adjusted,” she said, to laughs.

Cowboys and East Indians won the 2014 PEN Open Book Award and the High Plains Book Award, and was named on Oprah’s list of award-winning books. Because the collection was published by a small publisher and then received such critical acclaim, the book is essentially out of print at present. However, interested readers can find a copy in Rolvaag Library.

belisle@stolaf.edu

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Emergency Plans

After three years of reviewing, revamping and establishing campus policies and procedures, St. Olaf Public Safety presented its updated protocol for emergency operations and incident response. Director of Public Safety Fred Behr offered a half-hour program at several different times on several days of the week “in an effort to reach as many community members as possible.”

Behr’s presentation was informative, thorough and much more interesting than students might expect. Behr clarified the distinction between emergency procedures and emergency operations; the former are actions taken by affected students, faculty and staff, while the latter are planned actions executed by the College. Extensive plans are in place for emergency operations.

Behr continued the program by explaining that there are generally four types of incidents that could occur on campus: community, emergency, critical and terrorist. While separate protocols certainly exist for each of these events, there is a wide network of staff in place to respond to anything that might happen on campus, from the routine hospital visit to a freak natural disaster. One element of this network is the dean on call, a position that rotates weekly.

“We communicate almost every serious incident – or at least every medical incident – with a dean on call,” Behr said. “We’ve gotten great support from the on-call folks.” He also said that some students provide important support for Public Safety.

“We also have a group of about 18 to 20 students that are nationally certified Emergency Medical Technicians EMTs,” Behr said. “It’s nice to have somebody that’s trained in that middle ground.” Perhaps the most impressive component of the College’s preparation for emergency operations is its incorporation of a critical event response team CERT.

“The CERT team is a group of experienced college personnel who have significant responsibility for student life, housing, campus safety, facilities and communication,” Behr said. “We want to make sure that there is somebody from each department at the table when we are making these decisions.” The College’s CERT team is made up of about 20 people: primary, secondary and backup contacts. They are from departments like Facilities and Student and Residence life, in addition to Public Safety.

In addition to CERT, St. Olaf emergency operations employs the National Incident Management System NIMS as a method of communicating about and responding to an incident – specifically a more serious one – that might happen on campus. NIMS is a method used in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sector to prevent gridlock in an emergency situation and not allow responders to “lose track of human accountability.”

“It’s a very uniform operating model, so if you go from New York to California, you will go all across the nation and people will be familiar with the Incident Command System,” Behr said. “You could take a person from Bemidji and bring them down to Northfield, and they would mesh right in. . . It is very organized and very compartmentalized.”

Behr made it clear that the College is ready to address incidents from tiny to major, but he also addressed the role of students in responding to an incident. All students are encouraged to sign up for the Ole Alert system by visiting http://wp.stolaf.edu/emergency/olealert/.

“You can enter your cell phone number or your email. You can be notified either way – or both.” Notification methods include display monitors and building monitors as well. Mostly, though, Behr said that students should just “keep on keeping on” unless otherwise directed.

“We just want you to continue with your day-to-day functions,” Behr said. “We want the College to keep moving ahead and keep rolling along.” Behr said that Public Safety and other campus departments have been working on developing this updated protocol for about three years.

“It’s been a lot of work, but I think we’re in a pretty good spot right now,” he said.

The program concluded with a 20-minute video that addressed “armed hostile intruders on a college campus.” Two additional programs will be offered; Behr will present on March 17 at 12:00 p.m. and April 8 at 12:00 p.m. in Viking Theater.

belisle@stolaf.edu

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