Final Acts and Demented Animals

The end of the semester always hits this quiet hilltop campus like a brainchild blizzard, like the dawn of a new civilization or something. You know, all of a sudden, the creative labors of hundreds of students come to the surface and the place is on fire with new ideas and perspectives. Last Thursday, I mean all in one day, there was an open studio in all the art buildings, a Rapid Reviews featuring short, pithy book reviews by students, faculty and staff and a film festival of works by the Video Documentary class and other film students. On Saturday there were festive opening receptions for Plan exhibits by seniors Mara Eagle and Colby Silver and a Plan film world premier by senior Juliette Sutherland. But one of the biggest revelations to me was on Friday, when students in the Encounters and Revelations class presented their work.

Although it sounds like it might also be the title of an evangelical TV show, Encounters and Revelations is the scriptwriting workshop led by theater professor Paul Nelsen. Eight students worked with Paul—developing their voices, their senses of timing and place and humor and irony, their diverse and sometimes bizarre characters—to create short scripts that would be appropriate for stage or screen. The result was a scintillating series of readings that included embattled siblings, reunited lovers, rivalrous comediennes and rampaging Mongolian horses. In short, I’m telling you it was way more moving and inspirational than any evangelical TV show.

I know you’re probably wondering about the rampaging Mongolian horses, and with good reason. These were in sophomore Zebulon Goertzel’s “The Horse in the Shadows,” the absurdist story of an animal psychologist who finds his girlfriend is replaced by a Mongolian horse that is ransacking his apartment. The script also includes a depressed turtle and other demented wildlife, a “head” doctor and, somehow not surprisingly, the end of the world. Also on the lighter side, senior Mercedes Lake’s “Bad Will Hunting” is a humorous look at life after college for a young woman and her unemployed roommate who is bent on romance, and freshman Reily Mumpton’s “The Grandfather Maple” is told from a child’s point of view.

Just so you don’t think the reading was all fun and games, two of the scripts, sophomore Mike McIvor’s “The Bouncing Betty” and junior Jesse Nesser’s “The Messenger,” were on the serious theme of casualties of war. But you know, even more than the subject matter of the eight scripts, which ranged from the mundane to the ridiculous, I was blown away by their quality and the range of emotions they evoked in yours truly. Okay, so I also cried at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, but that was because it was the midnight premier and I was overtired and had consumed too many Junior Mints.

 

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Dancing Out of the Apocalypse

For those of us who have a hard time touching our toes without grunting audibly, dancing seems like such an unlikely art form. You know, when you get winded playing Wii tennis or chasing a cab or pushing a heavy shopping cart, it’s hard to imagine prancing and leaping and squirming with enough poise to conjure up any feelings in an audience other than sympathy. But more than 40 Marlboro students had no such problems, conjuring up feelings of angst, love, sadness and joy—without grunting audibly—at this semester’s “Dances in the Rough” performance last weekend.

It all broke loose with the first presentation by the Beginning Modern Dance class, 28 students prancing, leaping and squirming in complex arrangements to the upbeat music of Rani Arbo. Already at that point I was so exhilarated that I could have done a few laps at Price Chopper with a heavy shopping cart, and it just kept getting better and better. Several advanced students shared their own choreography and moves in solo or small ensemble acts, including senior Cookie Harrist’s amazing tour de force in three acts called “Present, Present, Present.” This was was so powerfully energetic it had me wondering what they put in the breakfast cereal at the dining hall. But perhaps my favorite was a collaboration between junior Hannah Ruth Brothers and sophomore Esperanza Friel that involved flinging handfuls of paint on a sheet of paper in a dancerly way that would have made Jackson Pollock spattered green with envy.

The final act by the Repertory class was the culmination of a semester-long study of the concept of ecological footprints, part of an ongoing effort to find common ground between the arts and sciences. “Now What?” was an eye-popping look at the resource gluttony we have all come to know and love, and aptly included a bicycle-powered stage light designed by senior Ben Lieberson and human-propelled cello music by freshman Liana Nuse. Brightly clad dancers seemed to struggle out of a post-apocalyptic hellfire, like an evolutionary leap from busy, egocentric, resource-guzzling humans to way-more-enlightened mudpuppies. Working together, they found ways to stand again, leaning on each other, carrying each other and helpfully squirming into human knots, even going so far as to wear teeny weeny ballet toe shoes to reduce their impact. I mean, it was all I could do not to throw myself on the mercy of the dance floor, pleading “guilty.”

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