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The Arts Scene

A challenging fall

Hannah Opdenaker
MSM Class of 2018

(10/2017) Autumn is a period of transition. The leaves begin to change, children go back to school, and the birds fly south for the winter. The transition to fall began for the students of Mount St. Mary’s this past August, but it doesn’t just end with Move-In or at the start of classes.

The Performing Arts program at the Mount is in a similar transitional period. Typically, Mount Theatre hosts one Main-Stage play per semester and a few "Cabaret" or "open mic" style performances, the Horning Theater will host many new performances this coming semester. Alpha Psi Omega, the academic theatre honor society, intends to introduce a variety of performances, break-out classes, and lectures spotlighting different scenarios in which the arts can be applied to the "real world."

In a world in which arts programs are being cut or underfunded, theatre, music, and visual art is coming alive again in the Delaplaine Fine Arts center. The goal of Mount Theatre and Alpha Psi Omega is to introduce the Mount Community to a wide variety of events that highlight the correlations between reality and creativity.

Mount Theatre has not finalized a schedule of events yet for the Fall Semester, however, what they have "in the works" include events like "What a Theatre Degree Did for Me", "Improv Lightening Class", Play Festivals, and Staged Readings of famous playwrights like William Shakespeare. These events all will be housed in the Delaplaine Fine Arts Center, and will be free for students, faculty, and surrounding community.

One of the more interesting lectures planned, "What a Theatre Degree Did for Me" will highlight members of both the Mount Community, as well as those in the surrounding area, who have their Degree in theatre. The event will also host some working in the field. The event stems from the question "why major in theatre?" The Mount Theatre Program has produced many quality performers, teachers, lawyers, and graduate students all with backgrounds or majors in theatre. The event is geared towards Freshmen and Sophomores who are still deciding and debating on whether majoring in theatre is for them.

After a successful 12 Hour Play Festival last fall, Alpha Psi plans to bring back the 12 Hour Play Fest. In this event, small groups will be tasked to write, rehearse, costume, and stage a play in a 12-hour period, then perform it live for an audience that evening. Groups are given a theme to stick to, as well as a genre and prop that must appear in their piece. The shows are expected to be 10-15 minutes in length. This improvisational style of theatre encourages students to actively engage with each other, critically think about a theme, and relay a message through a short piece. In a similar sense, the improvisational theatre classes and workshops will encourage students to look beyond themselves in a situation and enhance their administrative skills as well as verbal communication and personal interactions.

Mount’s Visual and Performing Arts Department desire to expand their programs. They seek to make the Mount a place for the community to come together and enjoy, learn, and grow from the arts and humanities. It is said that art often imitates reality. However, the reality of the world today is that art programs are being defunded and theaters are closing their doors. The Mount Theatre program is trying to reimagine the way performing art is viewed on campus, and make it a more inclusive campus activity.

Mount Theatre is not the only organization on campus making some shifts. The Mount Music Society is also actively trying to engage the community this academic year, by rolling out new programs both on and off campus. Mount Music Society President Kara Van Dyke claims that the goal for this year is "to reach out to more of the Mount community by providing opportunities to attend off-campus shows, performance opportunities on campus for the musician, and other fun ways to engage a wider range of the Mount community in their appreciation and love for music." Upcoming events include a "Dance-a-thon" event on October 20th, in which couples pay in $2 for a chance to win prizes if they are the last couple standing at the end of the night. On the 21st, the Society plans to host an off-campus trip to the Frederick Symphony Orchestra to see the production of Tchailkovsky’s works in "Moscow on Monocacy".

Also "transitioning" this fall is one of the Mount’s favorite student trends. Formerly known as "Tuxedo Avalanche", the band (which formed in 2016) continued with a name that they were not necessarily happy with. "Tuxedo Avalanche" "went with it" to make a name for themselves on campus with the goal of playing at rAMPage Weekend, The Mount’s pre-finals week end of the year celebration. Last academic year, the band met that goal, and played around campus about 15 times, which is where they decided to start taking their music a little more seriously. Mount students Tim Lyons (c’2018), Bryan Dorbert (c’2017), and Par Collins (c’2019) intend to start recording their own album this year. Recently, they just added guitarist Jacob Harding, a local from the Thurmont community. While the band is committed to their new name and their upcoming original music, the band still loves to cover some of their favorite bands and artists such as Muse, Twentyone Pilots, Two Door Cinema Club, or The Killers. The band intends to have an EP recorded by January or February 2018, and have a show sometime after that.

This month I also sat down with Professor Nick Hutchings of the Visual and Performing Arts department. Recently, Hutchings completed an art piece that now hangs in the atrium of the Knott Academic Center. This piece, Hutchings claims, "reflects on a series of questions about existence in this universe, and the boundaries of our understanding of it." While creating the piece he ruminated on the idea of the firmament, or the vault between the seas as is discussed in Genesis. Hutchings explains it is described as the place in which the stars are held above the earth, and his piece "symbolically represents the empirical limit of our universe, while the expanse references our known universe – the space between the waters."

One of my favorite parts about the piece, however, is its likeness to the human brain. As an avid Grey’s Anatomy fan, I have seen my fair share of artificial "brain maps". The human brain fascinates me, it is such a simply shaped organ, yet it holds our senses, memories, and souls. In an instant, it can all disappear. If you have never watched videos of dementia patients’ brains there is a certain way that synapses fade, it is a romantically depressing idea. Hutching’s piece is not evocative of death, though, it is very much of a young, happy, and healthy brain. Hutchings acknowledges this likeness, "it echoes the neural synapses in the brain and their elaborate connections." He continues with the concept of string theory, which suggests that particles are naturally interconnected across the universe. This begs the question, how might stars be connected to our brains? "We are composed of the same particles that formed the stars that exploded in an age long ago, we are all made of them. And, those stars that reach out towards us from the firmament are tethered to us."

Thoughts like these have recently stuck out to me as a senior majoring within the performing art program. We must hold that we are all connected in some respect; art, it seems, is the best medium to push people together. It forces the individual to be offended, ask questions, and make mistakes. Recently, it appears society is afraid to be offended by art. We are afraid to be challenged. We are afraid of being ignorant. As I pass by Hutchings’ piece every day, I am constantly reminded that we are connected. Just by looking at his piece that reminds me of a brain, I am stimulating some neurons, triggering some memory, which forces me to want to push on as an artist that pushes boundaries. This fall the Visual and Performing Arts department is about taking risks, trying innovative programs, and reconnecting the campus and community.

When I asked Hutchings why people should take a class within the department, his initial response was "why not?" And I think he is right. I will close with an idea from Hutchings that stuck with me, and that I challenge the surrounding community to think about, as we transition from summer to fall: "Art is challenging and fun. It forces you to explore your world in new ways. Seek to understand different perspectives. Builds skills with your hands and values with your soul. Pursuit of ideas made into material, craftsmanship, dedication, discovery, and failure are just some of the things you’ll learn in an art class. But therein lies the problem: many people are afraid of failure and feel that they don’t have the skill for art. They are afraid to fail and therefore they don’t give it a try. Failure is essential in art and skills come through practice. It is important to see failure as a chance to learn, to grow, and to try. The only real failure is stopping or never even starting in the first place. Failure happens, so get over it and get in to an art class and have some fun, make some horrible and terrific artwork and see what happens-- you might just love it."

Read other articles by Hannah Opdenaker