Author: Paige Marshall

Faculty share favorite crime fiction in panel discussion

On Tuesday, March 7, a panel of St. Olaf College faculty, scholars and enthusiasts of crime fiction gathered to discuss their favorite writers of international crime fiction, and what this genre and these authors mean to them and the diverse readership of crime fiction worldwide.

Included in this panel were St. Olaf President David Anderson ’74, Associate Professor of French Jolene Barjasteh, Professor of French Mary Cisar, Visiting Associate Professor of English Bjorn Nordfjord and Assistant Professor of French Maria Vendetti.

Anderson focused on Rex Stout, the writer who first made him a fan of the crime fiction genre when he researched him in graduate school. Stout, the author of the “Nero Wolfe” series, sparked Anderson’s passion and scholarship of crime fiction. Anderson described the different archetypal characters of the “Nero Wolfe” series and the importance of family in the novels, even in an unconventional sense.

Barjasteh, organizer and panelist of this event, talked about the works of Fred Vargas, an award-winning French female novelist whose success has changed the game of crime fiction writing, which is generally seen as a genre made by and for men. Barjasteh focused on Vargas’ originality in style and character development that make her novels representative of the art of crime fiction.

Cisar presented on one of her personal favorite authors, Louise Penny, a Canadian author of Quebec procedural crime fiction. Cisar emphasized the way in which Penny’s cozy mysteries can offer insight into the tensions between Francophone and Anglophone cultures in present day Quebec.

Nordfjord concentrated on Nordic noir and how it differs from traditional noir. Using works by authors from each of the Nordic countries, Nordfjord compared these texts to traditional noir to highlight the cultural differences between them.

Vendetti explored the French Mediterranean noir of “Marseilles, the European Capital of Culture.” Vendetti focused on Jean Claude-Izzo’s “Marseilles” trilogy and how these novels, seen as the baseline of Marseilles crime fiction, reflected the views of immigration and trade within the culture.

The idea for this event originated in the fall of 2015 during a conversation between Barjasteh and Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies Linda Mokdad.

“[The conversation with Mokdad] was at the beginning of the last school year. I had an interest in doing something with cinema and film diversions of crime fiction. But then, as the conversation went on, we decided the timing wasn’t going to work for something like that,” Barjasteh said. “Then I connected with her spouse, Bjorn Nordfjord, who works in Nordic crime fiction … and we started broadening it from there. I was thinking, ‘Who else might have something that they’d want to add?’ That’s how the panel formed and I was really pleased that the President who has expertise in Rex Stout and other forms of crime fiction was willing to participate.”

Anderson was happy to be included, stating that, “Back in another life, I did a fair amount of writing about crime fiction, so while I’ve always been a steady reader of it, I thought the opportunity to go back and revisit some of the things that I’d been thinking about for a long time with a bunch of other smart people would be fun.”

Although each member of the panel spoke on a different author or tradition of crime fiction, they all shared the same goals of making faculty scholarship visible to students on campus and to pique campus interest of crime fiction.

As Anderson noted, “Everyone’s presentations almost always ended by saying, ‘Hey, over spring break, why don’t you try to pick up some of these titles that interested you.’”

Barjasteh agreed, “We just want to encourage people to keep reading. My goal was for students, faculty, staff, retirees, people in the general community, alums in the area who have an interest in this kind of fiction to become more aware of authors from all over the world.”

This event has been archived online and many of the writers discussed have books recently ordered or on display in Rolvaag Memorial Library.

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“B*tch of Living” to return to Pause stage

“B*tch of Living,” an arts collaboration with the Wellness Center, is a cabaret-style show about mental health, and will be performed on April 7.

The show is comprised of singing, dancing and slam poetry performances about some of the really difficult aspects of life. Performing the show has been a tradition at St. Olaf, but was noticeably absent on campus last spring. However, the new directors Becca Thavis ’17 and Graham Essex ’17 are “really grateful not only that we’re able to bring it back this year, but also to put a new twist on it,” Thavis said.

Thavis credits much of their successful “twisting” of the show to the talent of her co-director, Essex, because of his “gift of being able to combine music fluidly,” which allowed them to create “four original mashups for the cast in one day.”

Besides original music, this show will also feature a special performance by the St. Olaf Gospel Choir, marking their first partnership with another on-campus organization. Their involvement is “a dream come true” for Thavis, who stated that she’d already cried after watching them in one rehearsal.

This specific production is especially dear to these two seniors, who performed in the show together their freshman year and are now able to bring it back for their last year on the Hill. The co-directors divide up the rehearsal process in an interesting way; the performers all work with Essex to learn their music and, in his words, “they go to Becca to cry.” The pair believes this creates a nice balance; showing “the duality of knowing a piece and performing it,” Essex said.

Thavis echoed, “They come to me knowing the song and the notes. We work on how they can connect to those words and the messages personally.”

Thavis and Essex are not the only performers who have continued to come back each year. Julia Pilkington ’17, another senior performing in the show, reminisced on her previous years participating, saying that it was something she continued to look forward to each spring. This statement was echoed by Essex.

“It’s a very cathartic experience,” he said.

This show is one of the most anticipated performances of the semester, and for good reason. The variety of performances, showcasing the “b*tches of living” of the different performers, create an intimate experience for audience members. It invites them to explore their own emotions: to laugh and cry, to take a deep sigh when they are leaving and to feel renewed and validated.

“It’s this collection of the joys and angsts of life. It shows you things that resonate with you personally and some things you may not have any experience with. Either way, you leave knowing that you aren’t alone, in anything you do or anything that you have experienced,” Pilkington said.

Essex agreed, adding, “If the audience doesn’t cry at least once, we’re doing something wrong. They should cry from laughing, but also just cry. I think it’ll be a mix of both.”

Thavis thinks the show has an important takeaway for audience members.

“Sometimes, we as humans have a tendency to overcommit and it’s really good to be able to support your whole being and your mental health. People forget that who they are, just by being who they are, is very important. It gets overwhelmed and lost in everything so making sure that everyone feels guided, safe and important is the nature of this show,” Thavis said.

More information will be released about ticket sales in the coming weeks. Stay on the lookout because they will sell out fast.

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One acts will bring the unfamiliar

From March 9 to 12, the St. Olaf theater department will put on a double-feature, “Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Rockaby” by Samuel Beckett.

The one act plays were written at different points in Beckett’s life. “Krapp’s Last Tape” was written very early in Beckett’s career and is one of his warmest and most human works, while “Rockaby” was written at the very end of Beckett’s life and is a highly stylized, image-based work.

“Krapp’s Last Tape” follows a 69-year-old man named Krapp celebrating his birthday by listening to a recording he made 30 years ago on his now-antiquated tape recorder. The audience watches Krapp relive his past experiences and finally makes a new recording to comment on his last 12 months. “Rockaby” shows an old woman in an ornate evening gown who sits still in her rocking chair and listens to a dulcet recording of her own voice telling the story of her life.

These one acts are an interesting choice. They are usually not performed by professional theater companies because most audiences are unfamiliar with many of Beckett’s plays. It is an especially creative choice for the St. Olaf theater department when juxtaposed with the department’s most recent show, “Sister Act,” one of the most recognizable musicals in the United States.

The one acts were chosen by director Joanna McLarnan ’17. McLarnan applied last spring for the Spring Haugen directing position, a slot reserved for a senior theater major to put on a show of their choice as part of the theater department’s annual season.

McLarnan first read “Krapp’s Last Tape” as a fifth grader and said it surprised her, showing her that “this is what theater could be.” When it came to choosing another show to pair with it, “Rockaby” seemed to fit.

“The pieces put together feel like they have this really nice arc to them. Even though they don’t tell the same story, they seem to flow together to me,” McLarnan said.

The connection between the two shows is clear thematically as the audience observes these fleshed out characters struggling to understand themselves and coming to terms with their own mortality.

The production begins with Krapp, a “strange and misanthropic” old man, according to McLarnan, who we come to love throughout the course of the show.

“When you spend an hour with that person and you’re just watching them live their life, you kind of have to feel something for them,” McLarnan said.

Then, we are introduced to the old woman in “Rockaby” and we watch her accept her own isolation and mortality as her own voice rocks her to stillness.

Stephen Oberhardt ’19 takes on the role of Krapp and was challenged by the idea of trying to capture an audience’s attention with almost no action onstage.

“Doing nothing onstage, while having no action, and no words for any number of long pauses throughout the play, is something I’m totally unfamiliar with so trying to make that interesting was a nice challenge,” Oberhardt said.

The role of the old woman in “Rockaby” is portrayed by Jacqueline Radke ’18 who was surprised by how much she connected with her character throughout the rehearsal process.

“On a base level she seems emotionless but she really breaks my heart now,” Radke said.

This production will definitely stray from what may be typically expected from a theatrical experience, and McLarnan encourages that.

“I hope that people can put down their preconceptions of what they’re coming to the theater to see and sort of roll with it for an hour and a half,” McLarnan said.

She and her two actors are also excited for the conversations that can come out of these performances. They certainly do not expect audiences to leave with a complete understanding of what they just watched.

“I hope the audience has the experience to think about some things and then leave and not really come to a definitive conclusion,” McLarnan said.

“I’m kind of excited for people to hate it, if they do. I’m excited for people to fall asleep during it or be completely confused by it,” Oberhardt said.

“I hope audiences leave thinking deeply but feeling emotionally secure,” Radke said.

McLarnan wanted to create a “whole experience” where audience members “feel cared for.” This begins with strings of Christmas lights which warmly welcome audiences into the intimate setting of the Ralph Haugen black box theater and continues after each performance with live music and cookies.

“Krapp’s Last Tape” and “Rockaby” open on Thursday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. and run for one weekend. Tickets are available online or in the box office in the Theater Building and are free for students.

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