Author: Dylan Walker

Hamilton contest explores historical icons

The winners of the Hamilton Essay Contest, a contest sponsored by the St. Olaf Institute for Freedom and Community, were announced on Oct. 11. According to the press release, the contest was “designed to generate insightful student perspectives on important political figures and controversies.”

The contest was open only to St. Olaf students from the class of 2020, and contestants were instructed to write on one of two prompts: “If the two candidates running for President this November were Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, whom would you vote for and why?” or “Who should be in your wallet? How should the recent controversy over faces on the fronts of the $10 and $20 bills have been resolved and why?” The 11 winners will go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago on Dec. 3 to see the Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton” in the room where it happens, the PrivateBank Theatre.

The Institute for Freedom and Community was established at St. Olaf in 2015. According to its mission statement, the Institute strives to educate students interested in public affairs and searching for truth. It also “seeks to challenge presuppositions, question easy answers, and foster constructive dialogue.” The Institute sponsors several programs here at St. Olaf, including the Public Affairs Conversation program, faculty development, lectures and debates. In fact, the Hamilton Essay Contest was designed to preview a panel of visiting speakers on Oct. 20, titled “Who’s In Your Wallet?: Hamilton, Jackson, Tubman, and the Presidential Election.”

Meanwhile, the contest was first announced in the St. Olaf Class of 2020 Facebook group over the summer and through posters placed around campus during the fall. The 11 students making the Dec. 3 trip are George Arbanas ’20, Alyson Brinker ’20, Matthew Dufresne ’20, Madison Duran ’20, Callahan Gergen ’20, John Goodson ’20, Erik Lepisto ’20, Meredith Moore ’20, Molly Nakahara ’20, Devon Nielsen ’20 and William Randolph ’20. Writing the essay proved a challenge for some, but others enjoyed the prompts.

“I decided to enter because I have always liked Alexander Hamilton since third grade, and I like to think I was a trendsetter back in grade school now that everyone likes him because of the play,” Lepisto said. “But I really do believe that Hamilton doesn’t get the credit he deserves, so it is great to see people really take an interest in him.”

“I would vote for Hamilton. I justified this by stating that Hamilton was a candidate of conviction and stood true to his beliefs, yet Jefferson did not uphold many of his when he was in office, whether that be strict construction or equality. Hamilton knew he had to prove himself and had to demonstrate his political prowess therefore he stood true to his beliefs, yet still compromised when the interest of the new nation depended on it,” Lepisto said.

Randolph, on the other hand, decided to tackle the controversy of whether or not to keep Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with his essay.

“I decided that the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was the right decision, based solely on the fact that Jackson despised paper money and should never have been put on there in the first place,” Randolph said. “And then of course there’s Tubman’s list of achievements, which is impressive all on its own, let alone compared to Jackson’s. All in all, I was satisfied with the decisions the public has made.”

Even though the winners will only have 24 hours in Chicago, they are very excited for the trip.

“I am ecstatic! I could not believe that I had won originally; I was kind of in a state of disbelief and happiness. I cannot wait until the show,” Nakahara said.

“I feel shocked, excited and extremely thankful,” Moore said. “When I first heard the news, I was so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling for the next few hours. Even now, I still get super excited when I think about it. I can’t believe that I really get to see “Hamilton” in person. I realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful for the chance to participate in this contest.”

“I’m still in shock over it, honestly,” Duran said. “I think I will be until Decemeber third is right on the horizon.”

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Male birth control reveals flaws in contraceptives

For sexually active heterosexual people, birth control is often a necessity. In an ideal world, the duty to prevent pregnancy would be shared by both parties, or at least both parties would have the option to prevent pregnancy on their end. However, the fact of the matter is that this responsibility unilaterally falls on the person who risks becoming pregnant and having a baby. Attempts to change this reality and create reversible and effective birth control for male partners have thus far been unsuccessful due to several factors.

A recent clinical trial for a new birth control shot showed promise as 220 males were given a testosterone-suppressing injection once every two months. Only four female partners were impregnated during this trial, showing the effectiveness of the new development. However, the trial was halted early due to the reported side effects of the shot, which included increased acne, muscle pain and feelings of anxiety and depression.

Sound familiar? It should, because women who use hormonal contraception have had to deal with these side effects since the first birth control pill was introduced in 1957. Because of this, various blogs and websites posted think pieces about how men are wimps and need to take some responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies. A closer look at the actual facts of this trial shows that this is an overly simplistic take-away from the study.

First of all, the health and wellbeing of people of all genders is important. We should be careful about rolling our eyes at this study just because women on birth control already experience these symptoms. Writing off the experiences of half the population does nothing for anybody and contributes to a society infected with toxic masculinity where it’s “not manly” to express emotion or to seek help. The men who dropped out of the study weren’t “giving up” or being whiny; they were taking care of themselves. It is unfortunate that this trial caused painful side effects, and I genuinely sympathize with those who felt excessive pain because of this new form of birth control.

Let’s restate the fact that women on birth control have dealt with these symptoms for years, have been expected to quietly deal with said symptoms and have not been taken seriously when they speak up about their experiences. Birth control can come with truly scary side effects (such as the onset of depression or unmanageable periods), and gaining access to it can also be difficult. These struggles are too often disregarded by both the general population and medical professionals. Women who use birth control and have problems with it are oftentimes told they’re being dramatic, or to just “get over it.”

That’s not to mention the fact that this is 2016. When women reported serious side effects during trials for the pill in the 1950s, they were ignored. As a result, the pill was approved for the general population much earlier than it should have been, unlike the recently developed testosterone-suppressing shot. Despite the large numbers of women reporting a connection between contraceptive usage and depression, no major study of this link was released until this year. There is a long history of gross injustices and apathy toward the plights of contraceptive users that continues to this day, and it is very frustrating that it takes a study centered on the voices of men to open up this conversation.

In short, it was a good thing that this particular trial was discontinued, and it is wrong to laugh at the side effects of birth control. However, when one looks at the facts, I think that only a few of the aforementioned critics are truly laughing at the pain of male trial participants. It seems to me that the anger about the trials stems from the fact that women are fed up with having their experiences dismissed, talked over or simply misunderstood. There is indeed a demand for male birth control, but right now such a thing is going to live in our imaginations while the burden continues to fall on women to prevent pregnancy. I also think that most people do recognize this injustice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for further improvement. We can do better in the way we talk about birth control and the people that use and need it. Hopefully the results of this trial will spark a conversation, and soon new developments in birth control that people of all genders can use with minor side effects will be available.

Dylan Walker ’18 ( is from Mountain Grove, Mo. They major in classics with a concentration in film studies and women’s and gender studies.

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All-female “Lysistrata” will not withold laughs

“We do have something you want, it just never occurred to us that we have the choice to give it to you,” the title character of “Lysistrata” tells the Magistrate of Athens. Some may suggest that ancient theater is not relevant to us today, but as campuses around the nation grapple with how to handle the ethics of consent, lines like this could have been written yesterday.

The St. Olaf Muse Project hopes to open up important conversations with their production of the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” as the all-female theater group kicks off their 2016-2017 season. The show was originally written by Aristophanes and adapted by Ellen McLaughlin. For two nights, Nov. 4 and 5, audiences will have the opportunity to engage in a dialogue about gender and power, think about the importance of consent and laugh at a plethora of raunchy humor.

The St. Olaf Muse Project’s goal is to promote inclusive theater and raise up marginalized or undiscovered voices. Muse Project artistic director and director of “Lysistrata” Margaret Jacobson ’17 selected this play partly because of this.

“At the heart of it, it has a lot of messages – not just the very blatant one about war and peace,” Jacobson said. “There were commentaries that became clear about consent, and what it means to have women protesting in politics and how women in politics fall under so much more scrutiny than men in politics.”

“Lysistrata” tells the story of the Athenian woman Lysistrata, played by Lindsey Bertsch ’19, who has a “brilliant plan” to end the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta: convince all the women of Greece to withhold sex from their husbands until peace is declared. Naturally, the men of Athens are not a fan of this plan, and antics ensue.

The main character herself is subject to many of the commentaries Jacobson mentioned, and audiences should not miss seeing her in action.

“I think this retelling especially makes it pretty obvious that she definitely has a lot of her own personal interests in mind with this – ‘I want war to end, but I want the legacy to be the person that did this,’” Bertsch said of Lysistrata. “And we played around with the differences with Lysistrata when she’s around women as to when she’s around men. With women there’s this idea that someone has to be more masculine, whereas with men it’s more manipulation. She stands up for a good cause, but she’s pretty prideful about it.”

Indeed, it’s difficult to know what to make of a character whose opening line is, “I hate women.” Is she a feminist hero who ended war, or merely self-serving? Jacqueline Radke ’18 portrays the play’s antagonist, the Magistrate of Athens, and echoes this question.

“She’s a female lead, but the character is kind of a terrible female lead. The whole time she’s complaining about women,” Radke said.

While Lysistrata is a complicated character who is fun to analyze, and the text brings up many important and relevant discussions, we can’t forget that this play is meant to be funny. Therefore, we have to talk about the comic relief. Lysistrata is up against characters who range from “an epitome of the patriarchy” (as Radke characterizes the Magistrate) to simply buffoons, such as Kinesias (Holly Ness ’19), a soldier returning home from the war and hungry for sex with his wife Myrrhine (Catherine Stookey ’18). A large part of the play’s humor stems from these male figures. For example, audiences are sure to enjoy one particular scene in which Kinesias returns home from the war.

“He is so driven by his own desires that he is blind to everything else, and he is so dependent on his wife that he has trouble even just doing basic things, because he is very disoriented and doesn’t really know what’s happening,” Ness said regarding Kinesias. “Aristophanes is making fun of his own sex through this character who is just being pushed around through the show.”

Overall, cast members consider Lysistrata a powerful yet fun way to discuss important topics. Jacobson’s direction really plays up the comedy of the show, and one should expect a night full of laughs. The cast uses the Art Barn’s balcony and their close proximity to the audience well, there is plenty of physical comedy and the script is witty and full of sexual humor, typical of an Aristophanes play.

“There are so many innuendos, so many sex jokes. It’s so great,” Stookey said. “I’m sure they’re also present in the original text, but in this one it’s probably more obvious. That’s fun, and it’s going to be fun getting a lot of laughs for all the shenanigans.”

Make plans to come to the Art Barn and catch the Muse Project’s staging of “Lysistrata” on Nov. 4 or 5 to laugh the night away and think about the more serious topics the show comments on. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and the show starts at 8:00 p.m. Admission is free and there will be live music and free food, so be sure to arrive early. Note that this show contains adult content, and children under the age of 16 will not be allowed inside.

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Tenth season of Lyric Theater opens

For most St. Olaf students, fall break is an opportunity to sleep, shirk homework and put a semester’s worth of stress in the background for a well-deserved long weekend. Not so for the 37 singers and six members of the orchestra involved in this year’s fall opera, “Die Fledermaus” (German for “The Bat”). Since the opera was scheduled to run Oct. 19-22, they spent the break rehearsing all day and putting together the set and lighting to turn Urness Recital Hall into a 1920s party.

“Die Fledermaus” marked the first show in this year’s St. Olaf Lyric Theater season. Audience members can always expect quality from the Lyric Theater, but 2016-2017 also marks a special occasion, as it is the tenth anniversary of the St. Olaf Lyric Theater season.

The program has been an important source of high-quality opera and musical productions, opera creation residencies, world premieres and improvised opera. It has also served as a training ground for student singers, composers, conductors, directors, pianists, instrumentalists, choreographers, costumers and lighting designers. This production is the latest of nearly 30 put on by the Lyric Theater.

“Although we had been sporadically producing Lyric Theater productions before 2006, Janis Hardy [a former St. Olaf music professor] and I decided to create an entire Lyric Theater season that would cover all three semesters and elevate courses like Music 267 [Advanced Acting for the Lyric Stage] to full-blown productions,” music professor and director of the Lyric Theater season James McKeel said. “In ten years we went from a blip on the Lyric Theater scene to being one of the regional leaders in terms of lyric theater offerings for students.”

As for the operetta chosen to introduce the tenth season of Lyric Theater, “Die Fledermaus” was written in 1874 by Johann Strauss II (with libretto by Karl Haffner and Richard Genée) and debuted that year in Vienna. The show is a farcical comedy centered around a wealthy man with a short temper and love of pranks, Gabriel von Eisenstein, and his long-suffering wife Rosalinde.

In the opening act, Eisenstein prepares to go to jail for eight days after insulting a civil servant – but his good friend (and a frequent object of his pranks) Dr. Falke shows up and invites him to go to a party hosted by the Russian prince Orlofsky instead. Eisenstein is glad to sneak away. Little does he know, however, that Dr. Falke has a plan for revenge, inviting Rosalinde to the party dressed up as a Hungarian countess to observe her husband’s actions. Hilarity ensues, and the plot drags supporting characters from chambermaids to jailers into the joke. The operetta has been performed numerous times over the years and adapted into several silent films and television specials.

The strength of the St. Olaf music program made this production of “Die Fledermaus” something special. Because of the amount of talented people who auditioned back in the spring of 2016, the show was able to feature two alternating casts. One cast performed on Oct. 19 and 21 and the other performed on Oct. 20 and 22. When not singing a main role, cast members joined the already robust chorus. This resulted in great power during songs featuring the entire cast. Everyone was very well-cast and performed their parts well.

Another unique feature of the production (and a good move) was a change in setting. Rather than 19th century Europe, the characters relocated to 1920s New York City. The backdrop depicted a very opulent sitting room, which reinforced the setting, as did the detailed costumes – imagine flapper dresses and well-cut suits galore.

The only weaknesses in the show stemmed from the pacing of the plot. The third act was the strongest by far, full of comedic relief inherent in drunken after-party shenanigans and each character realizing something new. It features Rosalinde singing about scratching Eisenstein’s eyes out and divorcing him. What’s not to love? The first act was also a very good set-up, featuring several great solos for Adele the chambermaid. However, the second act definitely dragged a little and felt longer than it needed to be. It seemed that several songs could have been cut and the show would still be fine.

Yet there is no denying that “Die Fledermaus” provided a pleasant opportunity for audiences to experience the talent St. Olaf has to offer. From the skilled comedic acting all around, to the high notes cranked out by Rosalinde (Myrtle Lemon ’17/Samantha Noonan ’17) and Adele the chambermaid (Erica Hoops ’18), to the talent of the student orchestra and the effort put forth by all created a spectacle to remember.

The Lyric Theater will continue its tenth season with an opera-creation residency with Prairie Creek School during Interim and the world premiere of a student opera, “The End of Saro” by Jack Langdon ’17.

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“Fuddy Meers” opens theater department season

The St. Olaf Theater Department kicked off its 2016-2017 season with a production of “Fuddy Meers” in Haugen Theater. The show ran from Oct. 7 to Oct. 9 and sold out three of its five performances. Between the well-written script by David Lindsay-Abaire, the skilled performances by the actors, the beautiful set design and the direction of guest-artist Randy Reyes, the captivating show served as a clear example of the power that good theater can hold over an audience.

Claire (Tara Maloney ’19), the protagonist of “Fuddy Meers,” is a painfully cheery woman. At the beginning of the play, she wakes up to discover from her husband Richard (Ian Sutherland ’18) that she has “psychogenic amnesia,” which means that she forgets her life story every day – everything from her name to her family. The play chronicles one of those days, and introduces us to a variety of strange characters. This includes: Kenny (Ash Willison ’17), Claire’s perpetually stoned son; the Limping Man (Chaz Mayo ’18), who claims Richard is trying to kill Claire and takes her away to the home of her mother Gertie (Christine Menge ’18); and the Limping Man’s puppet-wielding sidekick Millet (Will Ibele ’18). All of these characters come with plenty with odd quirks, unclear motives and dramatic backstories to keep a viewer’s brain whirring.

The script itself is weird in the best way. As the plot twists and turns, the play’s ability to keep everything in order and foreshadow even the most oddball events becomes more and more remarkable. The script takes the audience for a ride and manages to do so even as Claire’s world crashes down around her. As she uncovers the truth about her past, her world grows increasingly complex.

One interesting aspect of the production was the fact that the theater department brought in an outside director. Reyes, a 1999 Juilliard graduate, is a big name in the Twin Cities theater scene. Currently the artistic director of Mu Performing Arts – a Minneapolis Asian-American theater and taiko company – Reyes also served as artistic director for “The Strange Capers” and the theater-in-education director at the Guthrie. He has worked as an actor, director and theater educator everywhere from the NYU Graduate Acting Program to the Seattle Children’s Theatre. His directorial talent showed, and he and the rest of the directing and design crew were able to create a show that will likely stay with the audience for a long time.

The characters and plot provided by the script also gave the actors a lot to work with, and they delivered. Many of the characters have distinctive vocal tics and patterns that are crucial to the plot or reveal some aspect of the play. Nowhere was this more obvious than in Mayo’s Limping Man – who has a lisp in addition to a limp in one leg, a scarred-up ear, and a blind eye – and in Menge’s Gertie. Gertie, it is revealed, suffered a stroke and is now unable to form coherent sentences (the play’s title actually comes from her pronunciation of “funny mirrors”), yet this does not stop Menge from conveying her thoughts and motivations with great skill. In addition, the distinction Ibele made between the voices he used for Millet and his puppet was impressive, and the guarded way in which Sutherland approached his dialogue as Richard stood out, especially as Richard loses his temper at various points throughout the play.

Physical acting was also a key feature of the play, as evidenced by the manner in which Willison slouched her way through her portrayal of Kenny and Mayo’s nicely consistent limp. Overall, “Fuddy Meers” was well-cast and chock full of talented actors who lent humor, poignancy, desperation and power to the play at all the right times.

In addition, the play simply looked beautiful. The initial set design was sparse, consisting of no backdrop and a mat on the floor painted sporadically blue and resembling the sky, or perhaps the ocean. When the lights were down, glow-in-the dark spots on the floor really brought the sky resemblance home. Other set pieces were mounted on wheels and rolled around as scenes changed; a headboard became the front of a car, a kitchen counter turned around into a cellar wall. This simplicity lent a special beauty and supplemented the onstage chaos without upstaging it.

Also, the lighting shifted throughout the show to perfectly capture the mood of each scene, and the pink wave of light moving behind the actors combined with various sound effects to signify Claire’s occasional flashbacks were a nice touch.

“Fuddy Meers” proved to be a dynamic kick-off to the St. Olaf theater department season. The department’s next show will be “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will play in Kelsey Theater from Nov. 10-13 and 18-19.

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