At New York City’s 2008 Fringe Festival—a celebration of cutting-edge theater co-founded by John Clancy ’86—two Obies made a big splash with There Will Come Soft Rains. Soft Rains began at Oberlin and was later produced at the Fringe by Sinking Ship, the theater company founded by Jon Levin ’07 and Josh Luxenberg ’06. But that was nothing compared to the powerhouse that their new play, Powerhouse, became when it debuted at the 2009 festival.
Powerhouse follows the life of Raymond Scott, a brilliant (but unknown) American composer. You might not know Scott’s name, but if you’ve ever seen a Looney Tunes cartoon, you know his music. Despite an unfamiliar subject, Powerhouse sold out every night, winning high praise from the New York Times and Time Out New York, which lauded the "talented young company" for a "kinetic and visually enchanting production."
Powerhouse started without script. Over a long, improvisation-filled rehearsal period, cast members researched their own characters, generating a huge amount of material, scenes, moments, and images. From there, Levin and Luxenberg created an outline that Luxenberg refined into a script.
Sinking Ship features a number of Obies: Jesse Garrison ’07 and Clare McNulty ’07 acted in both Powerhouse and Soft Rains. Joshua Morris ’07, the music director and sound designer, grappled with the extensive works of Raymond Scott.
As well as exploring new content, Levin and Luxenberg presented their story in a novel way. Instead of drawing or projecting the Looney Tunes cartoons associated with Scott’s music, Sinking Ship used puppets—a theatrical, 3D vocabulary for an inherently 2D art form. "Theater is often more engaging when the audience has to use their imagination. People take great delight in seeing the act of creation on stage, in seeing all the pieces come together," Luxenberg said, "It’s important that the strings show."
As an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency in Pennsylvania, Russell Swan ’89 is used to putting an end to shady practices and underhanded deals. That should be good preparation for his new role as a contestant on the CBS tough-as-nails reality-program Survivor. Not only must he brave the Samoan jungle and its boa constrictors, poisonous stonefish, and disease-bearing mosquitoes, he also has to deal with something far more dangerous: his fellow contestants, all conspiring against each other for the $1 million prize that comes from lasting the longest on the show. A former kick boxer and a four-year All-NCAC track and field star while at Oberlin, Russell’s certainly got the physical ability to best the competition. The question is: Will this Philadelphia lawyer continue to police the treaty-breakers and double-crossers, or will he embrace the anything goes, kill- or-be-killed law of the jungle? Stay tuned…
In the spring 2009 issue of OAM we asked readers to send in photos of disused material they had creatively transformed into something with a new use.
Miles Epstein ’84 of San Francisco fashioned a strangely elegant chandelier made from "an old papasan chair frame and a bunch of plastic bottles."
Freedom Baird ’85 of Cambridge, Massachusetts, turned old oak ladders and some lumber obtained through Freecycle into an impressive backyard grape arbor. Wrote Baird: "The vine was there when we bought the place three years ago, but it needed tending and support. Don’t we all.".
Nathan Leamy ’06
A trip around the world looking at crops and cuisine
Nathan Leamy ’06 was awarded a Watson Fellowship in March 2007 and with it he traveled the world "to look at dietary and culinary shifts that have taken place due to changes in the farming of staple crops because of techno-logical advancements and swings in the political climate." Or, as he also puts it, he "asked people why they eat the breads they do."
Leamy’s resulting blog has maps, photos, videos, and entertaining articles documenting his world-wide travels, including exhaustive lists of superlatives, like "Strangest things I imbibed" (number two on the list: Tibetan Butter Tea—"quite literally just a big glass of melted Yak butter") and reviews of the various airports he’s visited. He also posted his final report to the Watson Foundation. "Seeing firsthand how fortunate I am to have control over so many variables in my life," he wrote, "has likely been the most inexpressible lesson."
Leamy, now operations manager at Slow Foods USA, has a website, www.mylifeinlines.com, in addition to his travel blog.
Aries Indenbaum ’09, Michael Dirda ’09, and Jeff Hagan ’86 contributed to Oberlin Beyond Oberlin.