Author: Zoey Slater

‘Poe Pieces’ ensemble devised show’s script

Combining short, dramatic scenes, haunting musical pieces and darkly comic puppetry, “Poe Pieces,” which ran Feb. 8 through 16, formed a theatrical anthology of Edgar Allen Poe’s work that gave audience members a look into Poe’s often disturbing creativity. Interpretations of Poe’s various literary works, including “Mask of the Red Death,” “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Raven,” came to life on stage as actors, student musicians and theater technicians presented their work.

HANNAH RECTOR/Manitou Messenger

“Poe Pieces,” devised in a theater interim class, paid tribute to the life and work of Edgar Allen Poe.

“Poe Pieces” was a devised play, which means that unlike a traditional play, actors did not start with a script on which to base their performance. Instead, students spent the four weeks of interim in a theater course where they assembled the performance from the ground up. This type of “workshopped show” allows actors to become more involved with the piece because they have a hand in its creation.

Assistant Professor of Theater Jeanne Willcoxon led the project and has past experience in devised-theater production.

Various elements of Poe’s life and works came together during the show’s creation, providing audience members with a multifaceted look at the author’s work. Actors and other students working with the performance began by reading several of Poe’s poems, short stories, letters and biographies. Along with Poe’s work, students studied Sigmund Freud’s essay “The Uncanny,” which defines “the uncanny” as something familiar, yet strange, an experience that produces an eerie feeling of uneasiness. By holding this essay in the background while assembling the different elements of the performance, students lent the play a dark, off-putting mood that fit Poe’s melancholic style.

After reading through Poe’s short stories, poems and letters, students began interpreting the pieces for theater. The students formed small groups and were all assigned the same piece of Poe’s literature. Despite having the same literary work, each group focused on a different element of theatrical production. For example, when the students worked with the poem “To My Mother,” one group concentrated on text, another on movement and another on sound. Focusing the students on different theatrical elements encouraged them to completely dissect each piece and understand how to effectively communicate Poe’s emotion throughout the entire scene.

After working in groups, the students came together and discussed each element. Willcoxon reminded the students that each theatrical performance has a variety of elements, and she prompted the students to layer them. Because the groups worked separately from each other, their interpretations would occasionally conflict.

During this process, which lasted for a few days in January, students strove to understand Poe’s purpose in each work and asked themselves what they wanted to convey to the audience. This intense focus on each piece eventually allowed students to successfully layer the different elements into a cohesive production.

Once students established which pieces they liked and began interpreting them for the stage, they tied the stories and poems together into a loose plotline of Poe’s life, using letters and biographical information. They incorporated Poe’s mournful love for the various women he had lost in his life and details about his psychological instability. Students got the information partially from a biography. However, recognizing the biography’s potential bias, they also used the letters Poe had composed himself, including letters to his wife, his friends and the letter he wrote before a failed attempt at taking his own life. Because the letters came directly from Poe, students were able to integrate Poe’s voice directly into the performance.

Isaac Rysdahl ’14, an actor in “Poe Pieces,” appreciated the opportunity to devise a play because it allowed him to connect to the work in ways that other performances had not.

“It was a great experience for the actors to be involved with the creative process,” Rysdahl said. “There is a certain sense of vulnerability that is necessary when trying to create a piece because you have to be willing to try things and know they’re going to fail. We failed many times during the creative process, but I think we succeeded in coming up with a great cohesive piece.”

According to Rysdahl, the creation of “Poe Pieces” was a wholly collaborative effort. Although the end goal was to create a single theatrical performance, the unique creative process behind “Poe Pieces” provided a valuable experience for every student involved.

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Northfield turns up Christmas spirit with Winter Walk

On the evening of Dec. 6, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m., Northfield will hold its annual Winter Walk festival. Despite the lack of snow and the unseasonably warm weather, candles will line downtown Division Street, reindeer sleighs and horse-drawn carts will run all night, shops will pass out free hot chocolate and Santa and his elves will spend some time with the younger festival attendees. With the addition of a few extra blocks of activity, this year’s Winter Walk is Northfield’s largest ever, encompassing nearly the entire downtown area. The Northfield Chamber of Commerce’s 14th Annual Winter Walk promises to continue the town’s tradition of gathering thousands of residents and students to bring holiday cheer out into the streets of Northfield.

If you are new to Winter Walk, begin the night in the heart of downtown, Bridge Square. In the square, you will find carolers, drawings for prizes, holiday treats and information about other festival activities. Follow the luminaries – paper bags with small candles – down Division Street to explore the different events.

Similar to past years, a variety of musical groups will play an integral role in creating the festival’s atmosphere. Local radio station KYMN will blast Christmas songs for the duration of the festival. Along with the radio’s pop classics, musical group I Cantani and the Northfield High School and Middle School choirs and bands will be performing throughout the night in various locations downtown. Stop by the Rare Pair to listen to classical guitar music by Randall Fergeson. The Season Singers will also be performing in the Archer House lobby. Watch for your classmates as the St. Olaf trombones perform while strolling downtown from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Winter Walk also features many events that highlight other forms of creativity. The Northfield Arts Guild dance troupe will perform a rendition of The Nutcracker. Warm up from the chilly evening in the Northfield Public Library with two floors featuring elaborate working model trains. Create personalized ornaments at the Eclectic Goat and Glass Garden Beads. Inside the Northfield Armory, festival-goers can enjoy the summer’s favorite Riverwalk Market Fair, featuring local food and crafts.

Some of the other food related events include free hot chocolate provided by the Trinity Lutheran Church outside the Thrivent Financial building, “S’mores in a Cup” from Edina Reality and drive-through hot apple cider and donuts at Millstream Commons. Many stores view Winter Walk as an opportunity to attract new costumers, and some provide food for patrons. Local store SWAG will demonstrate their caramel corn makers by giving away free samples. Paper Petulum will be also be demonstrating how to make the Norwegian favorite Krumkake. Stop by the Secret Attic for apple cider, cookies, and in-store drawings throughout the night.

A variety of events allow attendees to pass holiday cheer onto others in the community through charity. The VFW encourages residents to “Spread Warmth Overseas” by purchasing hotdogs, fries and hot chocolate. All the proceeds from the food will go to buy phone cards for soldiers stationed abroad. Bring unwrapped toys downtown to help Domko Ford Dealership “Fill a Ford” with toys to donate. Premier Bank will provide hot chocolate outside their building and will be accepting donations that benefit the Prairie’s Edge Humane Society.

As finals loom and the year comes to a hectic close, spend some time away from campus celebrating the holidays with Northfield residents at the Winter Walk festival.

“My first experience at Winter Walk really highlighted for me amazing aspects of the Northfield community,” John Knapp ’14 said. “Walking around downtown has a special feel when the entirety of the community is out there with you. Plus, free hot chocolate is always a plus!”

With events ranging from musical groups and crafts, to food and other holiday activities, Winter Walk brightens downtown Northfield and encourages all members of the community to stroll Division Street and ring in the holiday season.

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Big apple-tunities

While many students took fall break as a brief respite from the bustling first few months of school, 25 Oles flew out to New York City to meet with alumni and explore their vocations. Students that participated in the Piper Center for Vocation and Career’s New York Connections trip spent four busy days exploring careers in the arts, business and journalism.

The trip helped students expand their networks by introducing them to St. Olaf alumni working in New York. More importantly, it pushed participants to think about how liberal arts degrees can translate into real-world careers.

According to Kris Estenson, a Piper Center associate director, the program allowed students to explore a variety of vocational fields by introducing them to numerous alumni living and working in New York City. More than simply connecting students with potential job opportunities, she explained, the trip allowed students a chance to think more critically about their vocational paths.

“We met young alumni that explained to the students how to get their feet in the door and gave other practical advice like how to build a network of friends,” Estenson said. “We also met older alumni that spoke about the path they took to get where they are.”

The trip’s itinerary provided students a glimpse into the lives and careers of alumni and people with connections to the St. Olaf community. Saturday started with students meeting Brenda Berkman ’73, who led them on a tour of the World Trade Center’s tribute museum and memorial. After graduating from St. Olaf, Berkman fought for gender equality within the New York City Fire Department and became one of the department’s first female firefighters.

Sunday emphasized fine arts and provided students interested in the arts with the opportunity to meet with alumni Maren Lankford ’09 and Vanessa Trouble ’91. The alumni explained to students the struggles and triumphs of “making it” in the arts.

On Monday morning, the journalism group met ABC Studios Senior Producer Cat McKenzie ’92 and spoke with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gretchen Morgenson ’76 of The New York Times in the afternoon.

Students on the business track met with Dean Maki ’87, Mark Hanson ’89 and Robert Thrash ’94 at Barclays Capital. The alumni, who graduated from St. Olaf with a wide range of majors, stressed the value of a liberal arts degree in the world of business.

Cuitlahuac Turrent ’97, a vice president at Goldman Sachs, echoed their comments when students met with him in a private conference that afternoon. These and other alumni demonstrated the advantage of a liberal arts education and helped participants discern a vocational field.

Art students met with Ward Sutton ’89, a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, at his apartment, which doubles as his studio.

Oles with a taste for theater and music had the opportunity to meet with Charles Barker ’75, the principal conductor of the American Ballet Orchestra and other alumni in the business.

Liza Mussato ’14, an economics major with a management emphasis and a concentration in biomedical studies, heard about the trip through one of the numerous emails the Piper Center sends students about opportunities to explore vocation. Once arriving in the city, she was admittedly a bit nervous before meeting the alumni. However, she explained that her apprehensions quickly disappeared.

“They really opened up to us and told us how St. Olaf helped them and how we could further our own careers,” Mussato said. “It was really cool to hear their stories. I mostly gained inspiration and insight about my own career. I thought the people we met were going to be cutthroat, but that wasn’t the case at all.”

Along with the opportunity to meet high-powered alumni in New York City and explore the possible career options with a St. Olaf degree, Mussato said that the trip bridged gaps between social groups at St. Olaf and broadened her network of friends when she returned to the Hill.

“The experience was one of my best experiences at St. Olaf,” Mussato said. “I didn’t know a lot of the people going into the trip, but after a few days, we all felt like we had been in the city together for weeks. When we got back to campus we were all very close. On campus, the economics majors and the art majors don’t always interact that much, but this trip helped me meet new people.”

Students interested in participating in a Piper Center Connections trip will have the opportunity to apply for the Houston trip in the next few weeks and the Washington, D.C. trip later this year. The Houston trip will focus on the sciences and the Washington, D.C. trip will be slightly less specific, emphasizing law, government, nonprofits and entrepreneurship.

Regardless of which trip students choose, Estenson asserts that the Connections trips inspire students, allowing them to realize the possibilities for their future.

“It was inspiring to see that Oles can make it in New York,” Estenson said. “Students on the trip saw the network of encouragement in the Ole family. They left with a sense of being a part of the community with supportive, talented young people that are doing great things.”

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Homecoming Weekend puts a new spin on tried-and-true traditions

On the weekend of Sept. 21-23, current St. Olaf students, families and alumni will gather on campus for the annual Homecoming Weekend. Over the years, Homecoming Weekend has been a highlight of St. Olaf’s fall semester. Homecoming offers a welcome break from the bustle of the first few weeks and a time to celebrate Ole pride. This year’s theme, “Kicking it Ole School,” brings a retro feel to the Homecoming festivities and draws a connection between St. Olaf’s history and its campus today. Fitting the “Ole School” theme, this year’s lineup of events features a combination of Homecoming staples with several new events that showcase the college’s direction for the future.

Past Homecomings at St. Olaf were marked by events like pep rallies, worship services, bonfires and the annual crowning of the “Queen of Oledom.” While we no longer have some of the events that were once commonplace in the Homecoming agenda, many events have become tradition.

Homecoming Weekend will begin with an opening breakfast on Friday, Sept. 21 in Stav Hall.

Other events for Friday include a sneak peak of this year’s dance department choreography, titled “First Glimpse,” a hilarious “King of the Hill” men’s talent show and the annual bonfire behind Thorson Hall.

On Saturday, students can wake up bright and early to participate in a 5K at 7:15 a.m. Later that day, as they do every year, students donned in black and gold will flock to the football game to cheer “Um! Ya! Ya!” in support of our team. This year, the Ole team will face off against Gustavus Adolphus College at 1 p.m.

While many events have remained the same, this year’s Homecoming also includes events that highlight the campus’ new features. If they have not already seen it, students and alumni have a chance to explore the new Piper Center for Vocation and Career. On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., people can meet the Piper Center staff and hear about the new programs the center will offer students as they plan the course of their academic and career paths. They will also offer insight into what it means to have a “vocation,” and they will facilitate a discussion on the topic.

Another addition to this year’s Homecoming centers on sustainability. Students and visitors have the opportunity to gather at the newly built Art Barn down in the natural lands to learn about St. Olaf’s relationship with the green movement. Visitors will hear about the new student-driven sustainability initiatives launched this year around campus. A tour of the natural lands area will be followed with a discussion of how the college protects and uses the natural space. The theme of sustainability will carry into lunch that afternoon – a “zero-waste” event. Locally grown and prepared foods make up the menu, and the utensils and supplies will be compostable. This year’s emphasis on sustainability showcases St. Olaf’s mission to create a greener campus and represents the college’s focus on becoming a leader for environmental awareness in the future.

Homecoming Weekend will end with a worship service on Sunday, followed by brunch and a choir concert. These events, like many in the Homecoming lineup, are traditions created decades ago. The weekend features many events that commemorate the college’s history and heritage and allows past and current Oles to bond over their shared college experiences. However, the new events, such as the seminars that prepare students for a career or teach them how to live more sustainably, emphasize how far St. Olaf has come since its founding in 1874 and celebrate the college’s vision for the future. In blending old and new, this year’s Homecoming will enliven current students and alumni alike as they ring in another school year on the Hill.

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