Author: Charles Mayo

First-year musician makes St. Olaf debut in The Lair

“I was just kind of thinking that it was time to play here at St. Olaf,” Emily Cardinal ’19 said, just 45 minutes before her Saturday concert. “I play a lot at, like, pubs and coffee shops in the Twin Cities, so it was like, ‘Why not bring it on home to ‘Stolaf,’ y’know?’”

She cited a cover an Elvis Presley as one of her favorite songs to perform. The cover in question later revealed itself to be a soulful rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

When asked what, if any, songs she was dreading to perform, Cardinal laughed and replied, “Oh yeah, most of them actually.”

The first-year solo musician took to the small stage of The Lair at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. The show attracted a good crowd that comfortably filled the space. The stage was decorated only by Cardinal’s instruments of choice – a guitar and piano – as well as a microphone and the warm glow of Pause Tech-provided lighting.

“I didn’t ask for those [lights], but they’re here and I’m pretty excited about it,” Cardinal said. “Pause Tech is just doing their darndest to make this an awesome experience, and I’m just very glad about it.”

The audience was both made up of several of Cardinal’s friends, but also other students who were interested in coming to see a weekend concert. In addition, three of the faces in the crowd were Cardinal’s hometown pals that had traveled over three hours from Norwood Young America, Minn. to attend the show.

The concert was stylistically diverse, ranging from more contemporary hits like the show’s opener, “Valerie,” to golden oldies such as Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and the aforementioned “Heartbreak Hotel.”

“I especially enjoyed the cover of ‘Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash” audience member Ian Sutherland ’18 said.

The show was not without a few technical hiccups, however. For example: while Cardinal was trying to rock it like Elvis, she may have rocked it just a little too hard, nearly knocking the mic away.

“Woah, that was close!” Cardinal said, after stopping in the middle of her song to catch the mic. After a few chuckles from the audience, she picked up right from where she had left off.

Many of the other mishaps were similarly played off with humor. Cardinal practically made a stand-up routine of constantly restarting her cover of “Blackbird” by The Beatles while the light technician struggled to find a setting that did not blind the singer. When situational jokes ran dry, Cardinal turned to just straight up chit-chat with the audience, which was also well-received.

“She really had a great sense of interaction with the audience, which I think really added a social lubricant element to the show. It was wonderful, it was beautiful,” Alexander Prophet ’18 said.

Though covers mostly dominated Cardinal’s set list, she peppered in a couple original songs as well. The first was “If I Told You,” which Cardinal described as being about the anxieties of making yourself vulnerable when getting to know someone new. The second, which closed the concert, was titled “Megan’s Song,” a tribute to her best friend from home – one of the three that had traveled to St. Olaf. The titular Megan burst into tears about halfway through the song.

Cardinal’s original songs tended to expound upon many of the same themes of the covers she chose to perform – energetic yet thoughtful ponderings on life’s somber sentiments.

“It’s music that you can think to. She’s got a beautiful voice, but the things that she sings about resonates with personal experience,” Christine Menge ’18 said.

Updates on upcoming Emily Cardinal performances can be found on the artist’s Facebook page.

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The Oscars: why do we care?

The Oscars happened a couple weeks ago, and the ceremony marked the end of an era. Viewers of the 88th Academy Awards watched as Julianne Moore single-handedly killed a meme by opening an envelope and uttering the name, “Leonardo DiCaprio.”

Oscar parties all across campus – from the big one in the Pause to more intimate dorm lounge gatherings – erupted with giddy screams. Even the actual attendees of the award show displayed their approval with an standing ovation before finally settling down to allow DiCaprio to give a lengthy acceptance speech the band did not dare to attempt to play off.

For those not familiar with the buzz behind DiCaprio’s Oscar, in recent years, the online community has adopted a strange, obsessive outrage that Leo had yet to win a small golden statue.

Now you might be asking, “But why do they care so much?” Now that is an excellent question that no one can ever really answer. Another question worth asking is, “Ought they to care so much?” I would answer with a resounding no.

Now, I’m not attacking the concept of having interest in the awards; I myself am a loyal viewer. The Oscars are a great time to remember some of the year’s best movies, to partake in some friendly gambling or to pretend you have more knowledge of the film industry than you actually do. But it’s problematic when folks start to treat it as something that actually matters.

Unless you or a friend of yours is actually nominated for an award, there is no reason to so heavily invest one’s emotions into an award show that ultimately carries little weight. Sure, the Academy is made up of industry professionals, but their professions are of such a wide variety of disciplines in the filmmaking process that many of them do not have any more particular insight into choosing the “best” of the year than the average joe watching at home. If we’re going to go with actual career validations, we’d be better off dedicating our prayers to having our favorite celebrities pick up wins at the individual guild awards. But those are not as flashy, so we’re not as interested.

And, in some ways, I think this obsession with the Oscars can actually be harmful. For example: the flailing mess that was the #OscarsSoWhite campaign. To be clear, I am not dismissing the general sentiments of the complaint, which I do think is an important issue. I just think that maybe in the quest to fix the clear institutional racial prejudices in the Hollywood system, it would be more beneficial to confront the actual roots of the issue – casting decisions and availibility of roles for non-white actors. Though it may be more difficult and uncomfortable, I guarantee it would be a million times more effective than attacking the awards.

Castigating the Oscars doesn’t send a message to the Academy that they need to fix racism in Hollywood. Instead it sends a message that they need to calm public outcry by putting on a purely aesthetic facade of diversity that they can parade around the red carpet every year at their shallow, inconsequential, rinky-dink award show.

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Spring play garners Great Expectations

Don your best tweedy rags, folks, and wrap yourselves in your finest tattered sweaters because the St. Olaf Theater Department is soon to open its new production of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, adapted for the stage by Gale Childs Daly. Premiering in Haugen Theater on Thursday, March 10, and playing six shows through that weekend, six student actors will quickly alternate between nearly 40 eclectic characters to tell the story of a poor orphan boy by the name of Pip.

Let me repeat that: this play is about a poor, mistreated orphan boy who spends the narrative being essentially tossed around from one kooky eccentric to the next. It’s about as Dickensian as it gets.

The production is headlined by St. Olaf Theater veteran Memo Rodriguez ’16, starring as the orphaned Pip in his final Department show. Other familiar faces on stage will be Matt Stai ’18, last seen in The Cherry Orchard, and Christine Menge ’18, who was on stage just three weeks ago in the Interim production, Elephant’s Graveyard.

There are also plenty of faces new to the Department stage. For half the cast ­– Joanna McLarnan ’17, Amy Trunt ’17 and Bjorn Long ’18 – this will be their first time acting at St. Olaf outside of student-produced shows or theater class projects. This cast, diverse in class years, is under the leadership of guest-director Doug Scholz-Carlson ’90.

Scholz-Carlson graduated from St. Olaf College with a degree in Theater and Speech (a major that no longer exists), and was involved in several Theater Department shows. Pictures of him starring as the title character in The Miser still adorns a wall or two of the Theater Building.

He went on to pursue a career in theater, eventually working his way to his current position as the Artistic Director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minn. In fact, it is at GRSF that Scholz-Carlson became familiar with his star’s work; Rodriguez was an acting apprentice in the program.

Scholz-Carlson’s play has been somewhat of a scramble to arrange. He was invited to guest-direct relatively last-minute over the summer, after the rest of the season had been decided. Consequently, his show was not announced until well into fall semester. Originally, the Department had announced a different show, The Liar.

Unfortunately, although this show was Scholz-Carlson’s first choice, the rights ended up being denied due to a professional production that was doing the same show in the nearby area. The Department returned to the drawing board and settled on Great Expectations in time for auditions to take place just before finals week last semester.

Legend has it that people who passed by Dicken’s home while he was mid-creative process were alarmed as he stormed around his house, orating his current work at the top of his lungs. Aspiring to convey this sensability, the production team has found Dickens’ text easily transferable to the stage. They are going full-on traditional Dickens in this production, from the wicker furniture to the frilliest of costumes. Shop workers are even fabricating a cobblestone road to be affixed to the floor of Haugen.

With only six actors playing a few dozen characters, the cast will have to make plenty of quick costume changes. All of these will occur on-stage for the audience to see.

Tickets are available at the door or the box office of the Theater Building.

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Elephant’s Graveyard addresses room

On Friday, Feb. 12, the St. Olaf Theater Department’s newest show, Elephant’s Graveyard, premiered in Kelsey Theater. It was the first of a two-weekend run that continues Thursday, Feb. 18.

Elephant’s Graveyard is the result of the Theater Department’s annual interim course, in which students rehearse and prepare a play over January and perform it at the beginning of the spring semester. It was directed by Artist in Residence Dona Werner Freeman.

The play tells the true story of events that occured in September of 1916 in Erwin, Tenn. that culminated in the execution of a five-ton elephant via hanging. A second-rate circus, Sparks World Famous Shows, gains notoreity after acquiring Mary, an elephant that a larger circus was discretely selling for undisclosed reasons. The circus then hops on the rails to Erwin, a podunk town that has never seen a spectacle quite like Sparks. Townies gather on Main Street to watch the elephant parade leading the circus troupe to the big top.

Disaster hits when a new, inexperienced elephant worker — referred to as “Red” due to his striking ginger hair — gets a little too aggressive with the whip upon a disobedient Mary. The elephant’s patience with its unqualified rider quickly grows thin, and she throws the man off her back and stomps on his head, killing him.

The townspeople, all of whom witnessed the killing, form a mob and demand justice from the circus. Charlie Sparks — the circus’s owner — determines that the only way to quickly resolve the situation (and avoid infamy) is to publicly execute the elephant.

The script for Elephant’s Graveyard was written by George Brant, who frames the narrative as a series of stories told directly to the audience by the play’s characters. The entire cast is on stage for the whole of the one hour, fifteen minute duration of the show, as the lights flicker around the stage to designate who is to speak. Most of the lines are spoken outward while looking audience members in the eyes; dialogue between characters is relatively rare.

The cast of characters can be generally divided into two categories: circusfolk and townsfolk.

The circusfolk are led by a ringmaster, played by Ben Swenson-Klatt ’16 and a manager played by Aaron Telander ’19. Troupe members include: a strongman (Max McKune ’18), “ballet girl” (Tara Maloney ’19), two clowns (Luke Fowler ’19 and JJ McNulty ’19) and a seemingly mute guitar player (Memo Rodriguez ’16).

The townsfolk are comprised of an angry sheriff (Ben Habel ’19), a lonely preacher (Matt Lockett ’19) and various muddy, downtrodden, and/or excitable townspeople played by Aaron Lauby ’19, Avery Evangeline Baker ’19, Christine Menge ’18 and Emery Rankin-Utevsky ’18.

There is one character in the show that lies outside of either classification: a train conducter/railroad spokesman played by Josh Horst ’19. He stands ominously above everyone else for most of the play.

One may notice that many of the faces are new to the Kelsey stage. For most of the cast – with the exception of Menge, McKune, Rodriguez and Swenson-Klatt – this was their first speaking role in a Department show.

The set, designed by Becky Raines ’16, is made up of a glowing skrim backdrop, two scaffolds that stand on opposite sides of the stage and a boardwalk ring that circles a large mound of dirt. Now, this is no cheap replica mud, mind you; the Elephant’s Graveyard production team actually imported over 3,000 pounds of fine, 100% genuine St. Olaf soil into the Theater Building and glued it into place on the Kelsey stage.

Though not an overall cheerful affair (keeping with the 2015-16 Department season’s aversion to comedies) Elephant’s Graveyard is a powerful, moving exploration of society’s darker impulses and demands for grotesque spectacle, as well as how the desire to do something can overwhelm questions of right and wrong.

The second weekend of Elephant’s Graveyard runs Feb. 18-20, at 7:30 p.m. Free tickets are available to students at the box office. The Theater Department’s next show, Great Expectations, directed by guest director Doug Scholz-Carlson ’90, premiers Thursday, March 10.

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Can spy films be cheesy again?

Last month, movie-goers flocked to their local theaters to go see Spectre, the newest installment of the James Bond franchise.

The film was good (not as good as Skyfall, mind you), but more importantly, Spectre took a step towards bringing the franchise back to the over-the-top campy spectacle iconic to the franchise that has been largely absent in Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond.

In a 2012 interview with a James Bond fansite, Craig attributed the change in tone to the Austin Powers films that parodied the character.

It would seem that the filmmaker’s view has softened a tad on this issue, with Spectre’s reintroduction of classic Bond cheesiness. However, it is still far away from borderline silliness of earlier films like Goldfinger and Octopussy.

But there are two recent films that set out to prove that it is still possible to have a spy movie that can be good without resorting to Bourne-esque melodrama.

The first, and more widely recognized, is 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service directed by Matthew Vaughn. The film even contains an oh-so-subtle scene where two characters discuss their nostalgia for older spy flicks.

The other recent film, which sadly fell into relative obscurity, is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. directed by Guy Ritchie. Folks may best recognize Ritchie’s work in the far superior Sherlock Holmes franchise, starring Robert Downey Jr. (fight me, Cumberbitches).

Rather than Kingsman’s modernization of the genre, Ritchie opts to harken back to a classic Cold War setting. Through a combination of Ritchie’s talent for tone, style and elaborate chase scenes, as well as unexpectedly great performances from Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, the film is the best action movie of recent memory.

Despite not getting much attention from audiences and critics alike upon its release, I believe that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. will eventually earn its place as a benchmark of what a spy film can be.

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