SubUrbia’s Strong Performances Connect With Audience

SubUrbia is a heartfelt, emotional roller-coaster that pulls the audience in and does not let go. The cast’s performance enthralls the audience as they watch conflicts and relationships unfold with visceral and unrelenting emotionality.

This play, directed by Josh Bristol, tells the story of a single night of five young adults as they struggle to come to terms with what they want, who they are, and where they are going. It starts out as a typical night for the group, getting drunk and high, listening to music, getting yelled at by the manager of the 7-11 and just hanging out. They laugh, they argue, they fight, but then their old friend, Pony, stops by. He has achieved some fame touring and playing music and his return only escalates the problems of the night. It is a play about people who don’t know what they want; who are angry and confused and a little bit scared about life in general. As a group and as individuals they address the doubts and problems that everyone faces in one form or another.

The audience is able to identify the traits of their friends and of themselves in these men and women. They are drawn into their arguments and their caresses; the audience will care what happens to these people. By the end the show they will most likely feel emotionally drained. They begin to discover that no one is without troubles and the world isn’t as perfect and orderly as it might seem.

The small cast of nine members has excellent chemistry. Both their heated rapports and light hearted scuffles inspire a sense of history, that the characters have truly known each other for years. The trio of Jeff, Tim, and Buff (seniors Adam Curtis, Jonathan Noble, and Alex Vaughan, respectively) feel like a group of kids have gotten together every weekend since elementary school. Their exchanges are strong, their silences even more so; they are redolent of the friendships that rival brotherhood.

Sooze and Pony (first-years Emily Atkins and Jonathan Wagner) act the parts of artists trying to discover how to express themselves with great conviction. As they struggle with their pasts, they must find a way to escape what beleaguers them. Beebee (senior Kiki Possick) and Erica (senior Alana Slater) are attempting to find meaning in the seemingly unending repetition of their lives. Their struggles are acted out in different but equally striking manners.

Both Norman (senior Adam Wise) and Pakeesa (senior Catherine Meringolo) play staff at the 7-11 where the kids hang out. At first, they seem to be the stereotypical mangers who just get annoyed at loiterers. But, through the earnest performance of these two actors, the audience learns that everyone has their dreams and their troubles, and everyone feels stuck in some way.

This show is very dependent on the interactions between cast members and they do not disappoint. Lines drip with emotion and strike the audience with their weight. Overall, the cast does an excellent job of expressing the wide gamut of emotions.

The set is a 7-11 storefront, impressively fitted with a real dumpster and a scruffy, well-worn look. Beer bottles, crates, trash and cigarette butts feel very natural to the convincing street-side convenience store set.
Aside from minimal line mistakes and a late sound cue, there was not much to detract from this show. The audience really gets a sense of a search for meaning and the hopelessness that is sometimes not far behind.

The cast delivers the dialogue which can be rife with profanity, with great fervor. The audience will laugh, cry, and feel disgust and empathy throughout the course of this performance. This approximately 2 ½ hour show is definitely a worthwhile way to spend an evening.

SubUrbia will be showing December 10-13 at 8:00 PM and December 14 at 2:00 PM in Bruce Davis Theatre in Montgomery Hall. Tickets can be purchased at the Box Office in Montgomery Hall; prices are $4 for students, faculty, SMCM staff, senior citizens, and Arts Alliance members; $6 general admission.

Benefit Raises Awareness

The red cloth banner draped over the entrance table was riddled with the names of people who cared; people who cared to help spread awareness about a growing epidemic: AIDS.

On December 1, AIDS Day 2008 was acknowledged worldwide, and St. Mary’s took part by throwing a benefit concert in DPC at 8:00 p.m, which included the signing of a red cloth by all guests. The event was put together by Binta Diallo, senior; Tricia Realbuto, the Coordinator of Orientation and Services; and Candace Daniels, a Wellness Advocate. Bringing in about 40 students who helped by raising $50 in donations for UNAIDS, the benefit concert featured music by the band Half the Battle, new dance moves from the Step Team, and singing by the Gospel Choir.

“It’s really good to know that our school cares enough to put this event together. And I didn’t even know there was a world AIDs day before this event or that AIDs affects so many people,” said senior Rachel Reckling.

Sponsored by the Counseling Center, Student Activities, and FUSE, the proposal for the event was presented to Tricia Realbuto’s office from Lenny Howard, the Assistant Vice President of Academic Services. Realbuto then “picked up the idea and ran with it.”

Realbuto said the main goal of the event was to “raise awareness and to get a discussion going. Everyone has this mentality that if it doesn’t happen to me and that if I don’t know anyone with AIDS, it must not be a problem. But it can happen to anybody.”

The seriousness of the illness was conveyed through poetry read by members of the audience in an open-mic style between bands. Marian Stukes, senior; Mariela Mata, senior; and Suzanna Sample, sophomore; were just a few of the people to read their pieces aloud. From a letter written to God from ‘love’ reporting that it is giving up on people, to a skit performed by Adam Butler about an 18 year old who is scared to tell his pregnant girlfriend he has HIV, the performances were memorable for all attending.

Half the Battle also captured the audience’s attention with their renditions of some popular songs from the 90s and more recently, like ‘Mr. Jones’ by the Counting Crows and ‘Sweetest Girl’ by Wyclef Jean.

The Step Team gained a few more members since their last performance at The Dance Show and energized the crowd with new moves. Dancing in red shirts to acknowledge World AIDS Day, the Team took up half of DPC with their performance and succeeded in drawing in the crowds. Senior Kait Gruber said, “I came out just to see what the event was all about, but mainly to see the Step Team.”

In addition to the entertainment, the front table provided all guests with an array of brochures about the basics of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, testing for HIV infection, and a list of HIV counseling, testing, and referral sites in Maryland.

Condoms and red ribbon pins were also supplied. Daniels strongly encouraged the audience members to get tested for HIV, especially if they were concerned that they may have the symptoms.

Realbuto was also adamant about students getting checked for the disease: “We wanted to do HIV testing at the Health Center, but unfortunately they don’t have the labs or the manpower to carry it out. Hopefully the information on where to get tested throughout the county will inspire people to do so.”

Hammond Reads From Latest Published Book

As Jeff Hammond read from his latest book last Thursday night at DPC, you could tell from his nuanced and careful dialect that this was a man who spent a lot of time with his writing. Hammond says the book, Small Comforts: Essays at Middle Age, “addresses not being young anymore, but not being quite really old.”

Hammond doesn’t gloss over his words. “The first time I met Jeff Hammond he said the F-word in front of my 10-month old daughter,” said Jennifer Cognard-Black when introducing Hammond to the stage. She explained that she noticed this not because she was offended, but because Hammond wasn’t treating her like a junior colleague, but instead as a fellow writer. He is “a man who’s frank, informal, relaxed, witty and personal.” He’s also a man who has been published in over 80 essays in many creative writing journals, and won the prestigious Pushcart Prize. This is his third published book.

The chapter he read focused on Hammond as a boy, and told of what his relationship with his father went through when they joined the Indian Guides together, which was a YMCA program to encourage young boys and their fathers to form closer bonds, similar to the Boy Scouts. Hammond said that as a boy he had thought to himself that by joining the Indian Guides, “Maybe dad and I could be good Americans by emulating those original good Americans.” However, his father and he were soon disillusioned by the Indian Guides’ veneer of Native American culture over what seemed like overtly religious themes, musing whether the Indian Guides weren’t “christian propagandists in buckskin.” Hammond said he learned from this experience that “to do some things right, you have to be alone.”

Hammond says that although he is writing about himself, he is using the self to get to something else. “Writing, for me, is a way to connect with people.”

“I loved that Jeff’s writing was never Hallmark,” said Zack Pajak. “It was real life.”

Hammond was the last VOICES reader for the Fall 2008 semester, which has included artists-in-residence Sharon Wyrrick and Jane Ingram Allen discussing their art project, “Bitten by Butterflies” and Ana Maria Spagna reading from her “Shack Stories” about the time she lived in a shack with several friends. “We look for a mix of people who are accomplished writers,” said Karen Leona Anderson, who arranges the VOICES readings. The next reader will be poet Ann Buechner on January 22nd.

After his reading, Hammond went over to a small group of people who had stayed and began peppering his phrases with the f-word. This wasn’t a man who was afraid to speak his mind, albeit with his careful and nuanced dialect.

Student Author Looks to Promising Future

Ben Cumbo has impressed faculty and students with his calm demeanor and achievements.

Cumbo was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of three, but that didn’t slow him down.  At six years old Cumbo was heavily involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. His MDA involvement gave him the opportunity to travel the United States, spreading awareness about his chronic condition.  He also participated in seminars with the hope of raising money to put toward medical research.

Cumbo started his academics at St. Mary’s as a history major, but changed his focus following a freshman year sociology course. During his freshman year Cumbo was a parliamentarian, and by junior year moved up to the President position, which he said was “very intense.”

“Part of me loved that leadership quality and to be very initiative taking,” said Cumbo.  He says he enjoys the role he has in creating activities for the campus community.

Cumbo’s sociology focus is unexpected considering his heavy involvement in politics.  He was an intern for president-elect Obama’s campaign immediately following his presidential candidacy declaration.

As an intern Cumbo was delegated to answering phone calls from constituents and assisting in tours of capital hill.   Looking back on his campaign experience Cumbo feels, “Just to realize that I was a part of it and had some part of his success makes me feel good.”

Cumbo began writing in his early teens. Writing was “something fun that I liked…it was an activity, if you will; a leisurely thing.”

During his freshman year Cumbo’s family members expressed interest in his writing.  Cumbo admitted, “My family members asked if they could see it.  They recommended I send it to somebody who was actually a writer themselves….it needed a little bit of editing,” he said.

Cumbo entitled his manuscript King Me.  It is a fictional story set approximately ten years into the future.  The plot details a dialogue between three characters addressing the good and bad of being human.

Cumbo is influenced by his friends’ personalities, and some of their character qualities definitely show through despite the futuristic setting.  When asked if he is apart of the novel, Cumbo said, “to some degree…but more dialogue and discussion-based.”

Over a two year period Cumbo worked alongside an editor to improve his manuscript. He confessed that the “Manuscript was a lot longer lot of stuff you wish was in there but sometimes those elements aren’t there and you have to take it out…big process.” Around this same time, Cumbo and his family financed and started the Fourth Press publishing company based in Prince George’s County.   In the end Cumbo was satisfied with the revised manuscript.

Cumbo continues to write in his spare time, but understands that school comes first.  Currently, Cumbo is the Peer Mentor for Professor Coleman’s first year seminar course, Literature of the American Civil Rights Movement (CORE101.13).

Professor Coleman wanted Cumbo specifically because of his past performance in his ENGL230 course, African American Expression. “During that class it became apparent that Ben was an exceptional student with an impressive knowledge of world history and religion. He has an uncanny ability to connect current or historical events in America to similar events that have occurred around the globe.”

Coleman continued, “I could have selected any student on campus as the peer mentor for my First Year Seminar but I knew Ben would be the ideal choice. He has contributed greatly to class discussion and has established a constructive rapport with most of the students in the course.”

Cumbo’s dream is to write fiction, but he hopes to eventually be a part of the intelligence community.  He is a very gifted young man.  As Professor Coleman puts it, “I think he has a promising future as a graduate student, writer, and educator.”

St. Mary’s Dance Show So Hot the Fire Marshall Threatens to Shut it Down

This year’s Dance Show in St. Mary’s Hall featured a number of eclectic dances, including dances to car noises and classical music with a beat, among others. (Photos by Brendan O’Hara)
This year’s Dance Show in St. Mary’s Hall featured a number of eclectic dances, including dances to car noises and classical music with a beat, among others. (Photos by Brendan O’Hara)

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If you’ve ever been in St. Mary’s Hall the night of a dance show, you would expect to see students filling the seats, lining the aisles, sitting in the window sills and crowding the Hall until students were blocking the doors—but not this year. In compliance with Fire Marshall’s code, the Dance Club executive board issued tickets for this semester’s performances.

With the dance show becoming increasingly popular with each semester, the College’s Dance Club was asked to control how many students were entering St. Mary’s Hall this time around. This semester’s Executive Board issued tickets in the Campus Center during peak dining hours the week of the performances. In their All-Student e-mails, they warned that not picking up a ticket would possibly mean missing the show.

Though some students were turned away, the Dance Club executive board feels confident they did their best in accommodating students while keeping the fire code in mind. “We tried our hardest to make sure the most students could see the show. I’m sure some mistakes could have been made but I think we did our best,” said Dance Club President Maykeyda Hilliard.

By issuing tickets, the Dance Club had to make some sacrifices in terms of reservations for families and community members. “Students weren’t the only ones that couldn’t come to the show, a lot of our family members couldn’t come anymore,” said Hilliard.

Some dancers were skeptical about having tickets for the show. “I think a lot of community members wanted to come and couldn’t get in but I understand it’s a student show,” said choreographer and performer Catherine Meringolo. “I think tickets in combination with something else for next time would be better because there were some kinks to be worked out.”

The issuance of tickets and decreased attendance may have affected the student enthusiasm of most Dance Club performances. During intermission Hilliard explained that normally dancers can hear the audience downstairs in the dressing rooms and asked the audience to get loud so the dancers were excited to perform for them.

“The audience plays a big role in getting the dancers pumped up and it was lacking a little this year,” said former Dance Club President Rachel Flurie.
Aside from issuing tickets, other factors made this semester’s performance unique from others in the past. One of the most obvious differences was the assortment of music selection which ranged from “Witchdoctor” on the Alvin and the Chipmunks Movie Soundtrack to “Glassworks: Floe” by Philip Glass which was almost entirely car noises. “A lot of them were very different from years before and I think they represent the choreographers very well,” said DCB Ricky Ramos.

Along with diversity in music, the wide range of dance styles made the show eclectic. A few choreographers even went as far as using the aisles to create more interaction with the audience. “I think this year we’ve definitely stepped up our game in the creative sense. All the choreographers came up with great ideas and they’ve all ventured out of the box,” said Hilliard.

The audience noticed. “It was probably the best show in my four years here,” said senior Calvin Wise. “It wasn’t very repetitive as I felt it was in years past.”
During intermission, the Dance Club took a non-traditional approach of giving their dancers a break in the middle of the show. The St. Mary’s Step Team performed a short step show to keep the audience’s energy up throughout the performance. “I think people like that short performance before the rest of the show goes on. I’ve heard nothing but compliments about the step team,” said Hilliard.

With every seat in the house taken at all of the shows, the Dance Club performances were undoubtedly a reflection of the hard work of the Executive board, choreographers and dancers.

“All of our dancers have truly made the choreographers’ visions come true about their dances,” said Hilliard. “And I think the audiences enjoyed it and were entertained because there were so many styles – there was something for everyone.”

SubUrbia Guaranteed to Rock Your World

Left to right: Jonathan Wagner as Pony, Adam Curtis as Jeff, Jon Noble as Tim and Alex Vaughan as Buff will perform in the entirely student-run play, subUrbia, the second weekend in December. (Photo by Rowan Copley)
Left to right: Jonathan Wagner as Pony, Adam Curtis as Jeff, Jon Noble as Tim and Alex Vaughan as Buff will perform in the entirely student-run play, subUrbia, the second weekend in December. (Photo by Rowan Copley)

The scene that unfolded outside of the 7-11 involved lots of drama, including drunken vomiting, a girl leaving her boyfriend for another guy, and almost broke out into a fight. However, the 7-11 isn’t built yet, and the director yells cut before anything more can happen.

This definitely isn’t your typical college night. Or maybe it is. It’s rehearsal for a play being directed by Josh Bristol that will be showing Dec. 10-13 at 8p.m., and on Dec. 14 at 2p.m. The play, SubUrbia, centers around five main characters during the course of an evening.

Both Bristol and several actors emphasized how character-driven the play was. “This play is about a group of aimless, disenfranchised, angry youth,” said Bristol, “who have nothing better to do with themselves than stand outside 7-11; drink, smoke, get in fights, and [screw].”

The angry youth are startled out of their usual listless existence when their old friend Pony visits. ?“Once [my character] comes back, it sparks a lot of things that might not have been there,” said Jonathan Wagner, who plays Pony. His character is the only one of the five main characters who has “escaped” the suburbs, and has also achieved mild stardom as a musician. Wagner found the play’s story difficult to describe. “It’s kind of crazy, it’s kind of screwed up.”
“It’s about you, and those guys you knew and hung out with in high school,” said Adam Curtis, who plays Jeff in the play. Alex Vaughan, who plays a drunken “party animal” named Buff, compared the play to the high school drama The Breakfast Club. Other actors in the play include Jon Noble and Emily Atkins.

The Designer is Leon Webers, and the Light Designer is Mary Donahue.

SubUrbia is the first student-directed play since 2005 that is playing on the main stage, according to Bristol. The play is Josh Bristol’s St. Mary’s Project, but he says the amount of oversight is minimal. Bristol’s advisor for the play is Michael Tolaydo, who Bristol said serves more as confidant than as someone with creative control. “Every night in rehearsal it’s only students that are in here,” said Bristol.

“It’s good to get another perspective from someone who is not an established professor of Theatre, Film, and Media Studies,” said Curtis. “It’s good to get someone fresh.”

Bristol said he mostly chose this play because the Theatre, Film, and Media Studies department does a lot of classics and foreign shows, and he wanted to do something “really modern.” SubUrbia was written as a play in 1994 by Eric Bogosian, and was adapted into a film in 1996 directed by Richard Linklater.
“I really like to direct stuff that I have a visceral reaction to when I first read it, and that has characters that I can immediately empathize with.” Bristol felt that the college community would connect to these characters. “I think that only the most non-reflective audience members won’t come into the theatre and see part of themselves onstage, and only the most cold-hearted of the audience will be able to come in here and not feel for the characters… if you grew up in Suburbia, there’s a piece of you in this play somewhere.”

VOICES Artist Redefines ‘Home’

VOICES reader Ana Maria Spagna reads from her book, Now Go Home. (Photo by Kevin Baier)
VOICES reader Ana Maria Spagna reads from her book, Now Go Home. (Photo by Kevin Baier)

Stehekin is not the most glamorous location for a writer to live. The small community in Washington’s North Cascade Mountains is only accessible by boat or float plane, and its 100 year-round residents make the College seem big by comparison.

Or at least that’s the comparison that visiting writer Ana Maria Spagna made at the VOICES reading on Thursday, Nov. 13.
At the reading, Spagna read an essay from her first book, Now Go Home: Wilderness, Belonging, and the Crosscut Saw. The book takes its name from popular Oregon bumper stickers that read, “Welcome to Oregon, now go home,” which is directed especially at people from California, the state in which Spagna was born.

The essay form the book, entitled “Entombing Spiders and Other Small Shack Stories” detailed Spagna’s experience in sharing a five-acre plot of land in Stehekin with three friends. She lived in a shack with her partner Laurie, who declared when spiders flooded the shack the first night that she was “entombing them” by duct-taping the spiders’ entrances.

“The shack, it turned out, is of the same dimensions as both Henry David Thoreau’s idyllic retreat along Walden Pond and the convicted Unabomber’s shack in Montana,” Spagna read. “So we’re wondering this: Are we living simply? Or are we crazy as heck?”

“It was a really honest opinion of someone trying to get away from the sprawl, but also being honest about their natural needs,” said senior Mary Clapp. Clapp can see herself living in more wooded, natural environments after college, and called Spagna’s essay “an encouraging story.”

Spagna also read an abbreviated version of a chapter from her newest project, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus. The chapter is from a part about her father, Joe Spagna, and his participation in the civil rights movement in Tallahassee, Fla.

Joe Spagna died of a heart attack when Ana Maria Spagna was 11 years old. Spagna felt that during her childhood, her father’s memory was glorified somewhat. “I was very suspicious of this ‘hero of the civil rights movement.’”

After some research, however, Spagna found her father mentioned as one of six young men who protested a Tallahassee statute that enforced bus segregation in spite of the then-recent 1956 Supreme Court ruling declaring bus segregation unconstitutional. Her second reading detailed her search for Leonard Speed, son of Dan Speed, small storeowner and active member of the bus integration campaign. She did not find Leonard Speed, but did find two of the men who rode the bus along with her father.

“I think they knew exactly what they were doing,” she said. “That’s the amazing thing.”

Spagna came to the College as a result of her friendship with Jerry Gabriel, a visiting assistant professor of English at the College. The two met at Northern Arizona University in the Masters program for English. Gabriel’s wife, English professor Karen Anderson, is in charge of selecting artists and writers for the VOICES program this year, and they both thought that Spagna would be a good choice. After the reading, Gabriel said, “I don’t think we were wrong about that.”

According to Gabriel, Spagna’s new project also includes other aspects of her life, such as spending time with her partner in Washington and taking care of her mother, who has cancer, in southern California. “The new book…is a stunning work,” Gabriel said. “The way she brings these three stories into focus is really amazing.”

The next VOICES reading will be held on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 8:15 p.m. in Daugherty Palmer Commons. College English professor Jeff Hammond will be reading from his nonfiction book Small Comforts to celebrate its recent release.