Tag Archives: Featured Dispatch

Summer Scene: PTP/NYC Season Opener Off Broadway


A scene from The Castle

The Off Broadway sensation with a Middlebury connection has opened its 27th season to rave reviews.

PTP/NYC is performing both The Castle, an energetic epic by Howard Barker, and Serious Money, Caryl Churchill’s play about 1980s greed in London’s financial district, this season in New York. The two are in rotation Off Broadway at Atlantic Stage 2 and have already captured the attention of top reviewers from the New York Times, Broadway World, and Time Out.

The Castle, directed by Professor of Theatre Richard Romagnoli, features Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner Jan Maxwell as well as alums David Barlow ’94, Rachel Goodgal ’13, Stephen Mrowiec ‘13, and Aubrey Dube ’12. Sumi Doi ’13 is assistant to the director.

Serious Money, directed by Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone, has a cast that stars alums Tara Giordano ’02, Mat Nakitare ’11, Alex Draper ’88, Aubrey Dube ’12, David Barlow ’94, Megan Byrne ’96, Molly O’Keefe ’12, Sarah Lusche ’13, Isabel Shill ’12.5, and Noah Berman ’13. Christo Grabowski ’12 is assistant to the director, and the crew includes Alicia Evancho ’12 as choreographer.

The collaboration between the PTP/NYC and Middlebury began in 1987 and it remains the only collegiate program of its kind to offer undergraduate students opportunities to work in professional theater.

If you’re in New York this summer, be sure to check out the performances! See the website for the most recent information on show times and tickets.

Around the World in 10 Events!

top10[1]Every summer, a short but sweet burst of Language Schools events fills the campus with music, lectures, and art—all in language, of course.

Here are the annual “Top Ten” suggestions from Michael Geisler, vice president for the Language Schools, Schools Abroad, and graduate programs. Be sure to check the campus calendar for updates as well.

School of Hebrew
Sunday, June 11, 7:30 p.m.
Gitit Shoval and Ron Druyan concert
Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall

Gitit Shoval, Ron Druyan, Tutti Druyan, and Shaqed Druyan perform renditions of Israeli and American music.  Shoval, one of Israel’s singing treasures, was discovered at the pre-Eurovision contest of 1979 when she was just 13 years old. Since then she has performed around the world, both solo and with various musical ensembles. In addition to her work for adult audiences, Gitit Shoval has provided the Hebrew voice of many children’s characters. She has six solo albums and four holiday and children’s albums to her credit. Her seventh solo album complements her current show, From Gershwin to Dylan: The Genius of Jewish Songwriters.

French School
Friday, July 5, 7:30 p.m.
“Chiche L’Afrique” performance, text and interpretation by Gustave Akakpo
Wright Theatre

“Chiche L’Afrique” is a one-man show performed by Togolese author and actor Gustave Akakpo, who invites political actors of Françafrique onstage. African leaders, Nicolas Sarkozy, Charles Pasqua, and others are the protagonists of this hilarious spectacle. With its ironic and cheeky tone, “Chiche L’Afrique” both entertains and provides insight into the situation in Africa, illuminating the consequences of bad governance on its local population. The show has received positive reviews since it was first produced in Paris, in 2011. It is directed by Thierry Blanc.

Spanish School
Friday, July 5, 9:30 p.m.
Chicha Libre concert
McCullough Social Space (standing room only)

Chicha Libre plays a mixture of Latin rhythms, surf, and psychedelic pop inspired by Peruvian music from Lima and the Amazon. This Brooklyn band includes French, American, Venezuelan, and Mexican musicians who combine covers of Peruvian Chicha with original compositions in French, Spanish, and English; re-interpretations of 1970s pop classics; and cumbia versions of pieces by Satie, Love, and Wagner. Chicha Libre has performed for audiences around the world.

Italian School
Saturday, July 6, 9 p.m.
“A Mediterranean Myth”
Wright Theatre

The Italian School’s opening performance, a one-act play, is a semi-serious tale for a feminine voice performed by Isabella Carloni, faculty member of the Italian School. Carloni is an actress, singer, and songwriter for theatre.

Chinese School
Saturday, July 20, 8 p.m.
Music from China Youth Orchestra
Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall

The Music from China Youth Orchestra encourages and nurtures Chinese American youth, and invites all young people interested in Chinese culture to become active participants in Chinese music. Established by the New York-based professional ensemble Music from China and under the training of its artistic director, Wang Guowei, the group performs classical and folk arrangements played on traditional instruments consisting of bowed strings (erhu), winds (dizi, huslusi), plucked strings (yangqin, liuqin, zheng, ruan), and percussion.

Portuguese School
Saturday, July 27, 9 p.m.
Richard Miller, with guests Stacey Kent and Jim Tomlinson
Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall

Miller and his acoustic guitar bring us music in several rhythmic styles, including Xote and Bossa Nova. Accompanied by Vanderlei Pereira on percussion and Gigi McLaughlin on the accordion, Miller’s “Rhythms of Brazil” brings together a combination of styles whose origins span from southeastern to northern Brazil. Stacey Kent (vocals) and Jim Tomlinson (saxophone) will be joining Richard on stage.

German School
Thursday, August 8, 8 p.m. (pre-performance talk in English at 7:30 p.m.)
Friday, August 9, 8 p.m. (pre-performance talk in English at 7:30 p.m.)
“Die Fledermaus”
Town Hall Theater

This beloved operetta by Johann Strauss will be performed by the carefully selected and talented students in the German for Singers Program as their culminating project of this summer. “Die Fledermaus” is a mischievous delight, a tale of friendly revenge and mistaken identities, with farcical elements and inspired silliness set to a luscious score by Strauss. No doubt, these elements will again be highlighted for maximum effect by the director and producer of the show, Bettina Matthias, who is the director of the German for Singers Program, and musical director Stefan Rütter.

Davis School of Russian
Sunday, August 11, 8 p.m.
School of Russian Choir
McCullough Social Space

Directed by Elena Sadina and Sergei Grachev, the School of Russian Choir, made up of students, will sing, dance, play folk instruments, and reenact various Russian folk rituals during this exciting performance.

Middlebury International Film Festival
June 22 – August 10, 7 p.m.
Dana Auditorium

Middlebury’s International Film Festival is like no other film series. Starting in June, the Language Schools will present a major foreign film on the big screen in Dana Auditorium each week. The schedule of this year’s film festival can be found here.

**Vice-President’s Pick**
Thursday, July 11, 8 p.m.
Le Vent du Nord
McCullough Social Space (standing room only)

Le Vent du Nord is the top traditional music group from Québec, performing melodies and stories and exploring multiple cultural music traditions. Since its beginning in 2002, Le Vent du Nord has exploded onto the folk music scene. The group’s first recording, Maudite moisson!, was awarded a prize for traditional album of the year in 2004. Their second album, Les amants du Saint-Laurent, was chosen album of the year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. Le Vent du Nord won the 2011 Juno for best Roots & Traditional Album.


Bringing Sounds of Africa to Middlebury


Sounds of Africa
Professor Damascus Kafumbe—ethnomusicologist, performer, composer—teaches students what music means to world cultures and how to perform the music of his own.

Back in Uganda, Damascus Kafumbe’s mother would wonder why he took so long to bring water back from the village well. It seems the well was too convenient to two Buganda royal enclosures where a young boy peeking through reed walls to watch court musicians could lose track of time. By age 11 Kafumbe was performing with a noted Ugandan troupe. He continued his studies with Buganda royal musicians and other masters throughout Africa, learning the subtleties of diverse cultures’ songs and dances; he also perfected the skills to craft traditional instruments. Another lesson, which he immediately makes clear to his Middlebury students today: “In all the African languages I’m familiar with, there is no word for ‘music.’ It’s such an integral part of life that we don’t have a word for it.” Even “African music” is a misnomer in such a culturally varied continent, says the affable, soft-spoken Kafumbe. As an ethnomusicology scholar, he settles for “African musics”; as an artist, he counts on his teaching and playing to evoke what English can’t translate.

“Damascus is the stunningly right person in the right place at the right time,” says Greg Vitercik, chair of the department of music. Middlebury wanted to give due attention to non-Western traditions, and ideally wanted a performing ethnomusicologist to bring some of them to life on campus. Kafumbe, also a composer, arranger, and ensemble director, was a hand-in-glove fit.

His arrival in 2011 as an assistant professor opened a path for students to explore  musics they might only know through a Putumayo collection or YouTube video. They learn how Balinese gamelan, Nuyorican rumba, Irish fiddling, and Hindustani raga reflect and relate to the cultures, politics, economics, and religions of their societies. Student musicians with scholarly leanings can learn ethnomusicological research methods and techniques. Those wanting to pursue African musics in greater depth have a teacher who knows them in his bones.

“OK, so what do chimurenga and bikutsi have in common metrically?” he asks his African Soundscapes students after playing recordings of the two genres.

“Three-quarter time,” answers a student, correctly.

This survey course routinely shatters preconceptions that “African music” means drums and hand-clapping. Students examine traditions from the northern Maghreb to the southern Bantu cultures: songs that exalt kinship, encourage trance, or inspire dancing. “I had no idea!” is a common student reaction to this cultural kaleidoscope. Throughout, Kafumbe reminds them, “The ‘why’ is more important than the ‘how.’” Yes, they learn to distinguish different genres, but they also learn to hear the mix of ancient traditions and more modern responses to Africa’s tribal migrations, colonial rule, missionization, and surges for freedom.

“I’m proud that Middlebury can be one of the few institutions to promote the idea that African musics are not just drumming,” Kafumbe says. Students who want to feel Africa’s layered rhythms and distinct timbres in their fingers can take his African Music and Dance Performance course (there are dozens on the waiting list, notwithstanding an 8:00 a.m. start time and mandatory attendance.) With no audition, students learn to play an ensemble of traditional, mostly Ugandan instruments, some of which Kafumbe has crafted himself from natural materials such as animal hide and hair, Ugandan woods, fibers, reeds, and seed shells. For most of the students, mornings spent with the ndingidi (tube-fiddle), madinda (xylophone), or other instruments is their first experience playing music. (see slideshow to hear concert selections.)

In a dress rehearsal before the ensemble’s spring concert, Kafumbe gets the students’ attention by clapping a rhythm that they repeat. “When I am talking, no one is talking, no one is playing, please,” he says softly. He shakes a pair of nsaasi (gourd shakers) to start them in a piece he composed by blending modern and traditional elements. The students strike, bow, and pluck their instruments; the sound is lively but slightly ragged. “Oh, you’re slowing down,” he warns, and stops them.

He leans forward. “Music is a sweet thing. We have to feel it. We have to enjoy it, and we have to express it.” When they begin again, the loose ends have knit together. “I have never heard any of my American students play the madinda with such a sweet tone,” he compliments.

For graduating physics major Joe Putko ’13, this introduction to playing music has been unforgettable. “We miss out on these sounds in America—but I’m so grateful we can have this experience now,” he says during a break. “This class was a history class, a gym class, a performance class, but more than anything I’ve taken here it’s taught us to work and struggle together. It’s been a life class.”

Kafumbe closes the rehearsal on a musical high note that will carry into the next night’s packed performance. “When you are struggling—that’s when you make magic,” he reassures them. “I’ll love you guys till I die.”


Food Matters

Always at the forefront of new ideas for summer studies, Middlebury’s at it again with FoodWorks, a nine-week internship program for Middlebury students interested in local food and sustainable development. FWLettuce

With locations in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as here at home in Addison County, the program offers students a chance to work four days a week in different local food-related jobs and then take the fifth day to gather as a group and focus on a particular topic of the curriculum, such as sustainable agriculture and ecology, food systems, community and economic development, nutrition and health, food security and justice, and cultural food traditions.

FoodWorks was piloted in Louisville last summer and expanded this year to include Vermont partners. The 26 students—16 in Vermont and 10 in Kentucky—are working in local government, business and retail, publishing and marketing, nonprofits, and on area farms.

To learn more about what the students are doing on a daily basis and how they’re contributing to their communities, check out the FoodWorks website and blog.

Food Matters

Always at the forefront of new ideas for summer studies, Middlebury’s at it again with FoodWorks, a nine-week internship program for Middlebury students interested in local food and sustainable development. FWLettuce

With locations in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as here at home in Addison County, the program offers students a chance to work four days a week in different local food-related jobs and then take the fifth day to gather as a group and focus on a particular topic of the curriculum, such as sustainable agriculture and ecology, food systems, community and economic development, nutrition and health, food security and justice, and cultural food traditions.

FoodWorks was piloted in Louisville last summer and expanded this year to include Vermont partners. The 26 students—16 in Vermont and 10 in Kentucky—are working in local government, business and retail, publishing and marketing, nonprofits, and on area farms.

To learn more about what the students are doing on a daily basis and how they’re contributing to their communities, check out the FoodWorks website and blog.

A Return Engagement

It seemed improbable that five alumni, in the middle of their busy professional lives in film and theatre, would return to Middlebury on short notice to work on a new play and perform it during Reunion Weekend. And as if that weren’t enough, the alumni — together with the theatre department’s resident playwright, Dana Yeaton ’79, in the role of producer, cajoler, and on-site coordinator — decided to make the week in June a learning experience for nine current Middlebury students. There would be rehearsals, feedback sessions, master classes, on-camera workshops, and more rehearsals. They called it MiddSummer Play Lab, and boy did they ever pull it off!

Rehearsal in Seeler Studio Theatre

Rehearsal in Seeler Studio Theatre

Emily Feldman ’09 brought her play “The Pilot Project,” about three people who meet on a flight from New York to Rome. Jesse Holland ’02 came from Los Angeles to direct; Tara Giordano ’02 and Joe Varca ’02 came from New York for the roles of Savannah, a sharp-tongued flight attendant with a heart of gold, and Larry, a suspicious man might also be a reluctant hero; and Kristen Connolly ’02 arrived from the set of season two of “House of Cards” to play the part of Eve, a gentle ingénue in emotional danger.

The play was performed on June 8 as a dramatic reading in Seeler Studio Theatre with about 50 people in the audience. Throughout their week together, the five professionals revised the 75-minute drama by cutting lines, changing stage directions, and examining the logic of each character’s words and actions.

On the eve of the play’s premiere, the cast sat down with Middlebury Magazine for a conversation. 

MiddMag: What’s it been like to test out a new play here?

Emily: We are doing it in one of the safest possible ways, but with people who are fiercely intelligent and able to help us decide where to go with it. For me to come back and be amongst the teachers who got me interested in writing and supported my writing, and to connect with them and show them where I am now as opposed to where I was four years ago, it’s a great benchmark. And it’s a way to launch myself into the next phase of my writing, which will be pursuing a master of fine arts [at UC-San Diego] in the fall.

Dana: It feels like the same voice grown up. [To Emily] You have always had this quirky ability to nail the thought, nail the emotion on paper, but you have all this confidence now about what’s theatrical and what pleases you and what makes a scene work in your world. It’s still “Emilyworld,” but it’s all grown up.

Tara: We have a similar language as a foundation because we all went through the theatre program here. But it’s not only that. Jesse directed my senior project and Joey’s senior project and Kristen’s, and now he’s directing all three of us. We don’t have to figure out what’s safe. We have a shared history together and I feel really comfortable going deep into the work right away.

Joe Varca '02 as Larry, the salesman

Joe Varca ’02 as Larry, a modern-day traveling salesman

Joe: Jumping into that vocabulary is such an incredible gift for all of us. And it’s wonderful when you start working on a new play and there’s already so much depth there. There is logic and answers for all of the stuff our characters are doing. It just feels like an incredibly even and rich world that we are jumping into.

Kristen: A lot of times when you are working on a new play or you are doing a staged reading, you don’t have that much time to work on something and people are running in a million different directions, but here we can focus. We have had this whole week to work together, and then, by all of us going back to the same house at night, we keep talking about the play.

Emily: Right! When working at home, people meet for rehearsal and then go their separate ways. But by having a house for a couple of days and having the college let us to go back to college for a week [everyone laughs] lets us keep the conversation going about the work.

Jesse: Most of us live in cities right now, and it is just really, really beautiful up here. And the people in cities are generally pretty stressed out and self-centered, and the people up here are generally very giving. We have gotten so much support from everyone here. They really didn’t have to do it…

Dana: Fools! Fools!

Jesse: … and then there are trees and people here.

Kristen: And the cheese.

Jesse: Yes, the trees, the people, and the cheese.

Kristen: Let’s devote a few hours of rehearsal to that.

The cast of three

The cast of three: Tara, Kristen, and Joe

MiddMag: How did the idea for MiddSummer Play Lab get started?

Tara: Emily said, “Do you want to work on a play again this summer?” We had worked on one in a similar manner last summer in New York. And she said, “I’ll write it. Who do you want to be in it with you?” and I thought immediately of these two [pointing to Kristen and Joe] although we figured they’d be too busy.

Jesse: For me, it just felt like something I really wanted to do, so I came on board and committed to it happening.

Kristen: And then there’s the other part. We thought maybe there’s a way of incorporating theatre students into the process — to be rehearsing the play and working with the students. So it was like, “What would they be interested in?” [During the course of the week the students produced their own actor demo reels.]

 Tara: After the first rehearsal we had a feedback session with the students. I was taken by how much the students had to contribute and how intelligent their views were. It was one of the best feedback sessions I had ever been to.

Jesse: Yeah, I have been to some deadly feedback sessions! This was the best feedback session I have ever been to. It was a combination of Dana leading it and the brilliance of the students.

Dana: The students were all talking about the play as opposed to pretending to be talking about the play when they were talking about themselves, which is what kills feedback sessions.

Jesse: Who’s idea was it to use the [Liz Lerman Critical Response] guidelines?

Joe: It was Emily’s.

The playwright and the director.

The playwright and the director

Emily: So I was thinking about, what do I have to offer people who are actors going into theatre, especially in New York? When I first got out of college, I was practiced at talking about work when the writer wasn’t there, [but not at] talking about work that’s in progress. I had to get used to phrasing my questions and opinions in a way that’s flexible and opens up possibilities for the writer rather than closes doors.

Kristen: It was really great.

Jesse: It was astonishing!

Joe: One of the exciting things about what we have been doing is that we have an on-camera class with the students during the day, and then we have the open rehearsals so the students get to see how a new play is made. They are getting both worlds: film and theatre.

Emily: It was exciting for me watching Dana lead the feedback session, especially thinking about myself as a teacher this fall. Recognizing the presence and clarity and peace of mind he brings to creating the energy in that room. He allows for those kinds of conversations.

Jesse: I have a final thought. My focus right now is on directing films and my favorite part of the process is working with actors. Unfortunately, that is not a high percentage of the film experience because the focus is on getting the shot, and so this week has reconnected me with what I love most in the world, which is working with actors.

Emily: I don’t think I knew when I was 18 why I was choosing to go to a small college in Vermont, but the ability to do this kind of thing now is probably why.

Kristen: I hadn’t been back in 10 years so I got choked up a couple of times. It’s wonderful to see the things that have changed and the things that have stayed the same, and just to be here.

Kristen Connolly '02

Kristen Connolly ’02 as Eve

And with that, Kristen Connolly’s final remark hung over the theatre for a few extra seconds, for isn’t that what a college reunion is supposed to be all about? Seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same and immersing oneself in it for a few days.

The alumni then stood up and Jesse Holland announced that rehearsal would start in five minutes. Later this summer, “The Pilot Project” by Emily Feldman will be presented again in a special one-night-only performance, July 26 at 10:30 p.m. at the Atlantic Stage 2 Theatre in New York City, in conjunction with Middlebury’s Off-Broadway summer theatre project, PTP/NYC.