Maria Stadtmueller is the Senior College Advancement Writer. She also portrays a certain red-headed dish-thief huntress.
1. As Senior College Advancement Writer, you are responsible for writing web and print materials and working on multimedia projects for Middlebury fundraising and recruiting. In the course of your work, what is your favorite Middlebury story that you have told?
I couldn’t point to just one story. But a particular type of story always gets me: students who couldn’t have come here without financial aid. (And I don’t think it’s just because I had a similar experience, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, at another NESCAC school). These students could be undergraduates, Bread Loafers, maybe Language Schools graduate students—but their potential is tightly leashed due to family circumstances the students don’t control (especially in the case of undergraduates). And then someone they don’t even know slips the knot with a scholarship, and they’re off! The best is when the student falls in love with something he or she had never met before—Northern Renaissance art, particle physics, the geology of Antarctic ice cores, Arabic poetry, Beckett plays¾and wants to explore it in depth.
2. You live in a solar-powered yurt on a 10-acre permaculture homestead and are soon launching a podcast (youturnradio.com) about creating a Nature-based cosmology. How did you develop your own environmental ethic?
I think everyone has this ethic, if deep down, since this is our home and we’ve evolved over billions of years with everything around us (except for those things made by Monsanto). For many people, though, that natural ethic lies under the waxy yellow build-up of cultural stories about human superiority, our anointed dominion, and our exemption from nature’s limits. I got heavily waxed with all that, but it didn’t stick. It helped that my parents were conservationists—my late dad grew up farming and my 85-year-old mom’s a total commando. But the primary reason it didn’t stick was that nature got to me first. I grew up on a homestead with gardens and lots of animals in a beautiful rural area of New Jersey. Most of the adults I knew were nuts, so the flag went up early that Nature made more sense. Another flag went up in adolescence that the human/nature relationship was in deep trouble. Watching bulldozers tear up and diminish—aka “develop”—land that was as intimate a friend as any human broke my heart. It’s in a million jagged pieces by now, with this sixth great extinction that humans are causing. The more I know about this industrial growth society and the failure of the U.S. government to act as these times demand, the greater the rage that enters the mix. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, although it may manifest differently in others. Glad you asked?
3. You have worn many hats (even wigs) throughout your career. You used to run a chamber music series in San Francisco and direct chamber music grant programs in New York. Who are your favorite composers?
I love Anonymous and early music. I grew up singing Gregorian chant and it just transports me, although probably not where the nuns wanted me to go. Des Prez, Lassus, Monteverdi—love those guys. Bach! All Beethoven. Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert Lieder. Stravinsky. Mahler. Richard Strauss. Bartok. I’m out of the loop on living composers but favor John Adams, who was a pal in San Francisco, and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. I also love Indian classical music although I’m pretty ignorant about it.
4. We also hear that you used to do a little stand-up comedy on Comedy Central, VH1, and MTV. What is your favorite joke to tell (one that can be repeated on this blog)?
I did clubs almost every night for six or seven years, but I didn’t do jokes. Most comics don’t—you do “chunks”–little stories on a topic that peak and ebb through punchlines and rhythm. I never did stuff about dating or “hey, guys, what’s with that remote?” –ugh. And I didn’t work blue, so I could repeat it here if I remembered it (fortunately, it was before the interwebs so I can’t remind myself). I recall talking about being a vegetarian in a world of meat, the confusion of little Catholic kids being taught fantastical stories in class that they must believe and being read fantastical stories at night they’re supposed to shrug off, that kind of thing. It was a weird life, pulling in to a mining town in Pennsylvania and playing a club called “the Coal Hole” or playing to a roomful of sailors at the Improv during Fleet Week in New York. But when you get enough practice to make it work, when people are venting their beverages nasally and the room becomes this creature you can feel and shape, it’s better than anything.
5. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently un-wigged you as the woman behind Aunt Des. What do you enjoy most about playing this character?
This’ll sound like some NBA player talking post-game about being part of “a good ball club” but the really fun part of Aunt Des is the collaboration. Yeah, I knew Des and do accents and am willing to make a spectacle of myself, but I have such creative colleagues, without exception. On the Des project, Nikhil Ramburn ’10 does all the lighting, filming, and editing, and Stephen Diehl helps with the script and produces our little jaunts. I blame Diehl for the nails. Some of the ideas we come up with that we can’t use are hilarious. What I like most about Des’s character, though, is that she can call it as she sees it.
What I would love to enjoy about playing Aunt Des is hanging up the wig knowing that she’s helped convince people to bring their plates back. I mean really. Such a no-brainer.