Oberlin Blogs

Winter Term On Campus: So Chill!

February 21, 2011

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

Now that I've graduated, I lust after winter term projects. I'd like all of them, please, and thank you. I want to eat the edible mushrooms grown in composting coffee cups, I want to get ink all over my being, I want to kick butt on aikido mats, and I want to be center stage in a campus production. All this with a side of good cooking, lots of extra time to spend with friends, and a good deal of photos. Check, please. My January is now sated.

This year, my "project" was to collect winter term projects. I put out an all-call on Facebook, learned about fun projects here and abroad (Drawing comic books! Working in schoolyard gardens! Neuroanatomy of fish forebrains! Working with the senator from Puerto Rico!), and if people were on campus, I tried to track them down for a little impromptu photoshoot. I saw things grow in the Science Center, music soar to the ceiling of Wilder, and sparring and sticks in Hales.

So, revel with me in photos of all the projects I had the pleasure of visiting briefly, and the little bits of info I picked up along the way. I will never stop learning! Thus is the Obie way.


First and foremost in this post, because this was Ben's winter term project! Over the month, he and his close-to-a-dozen classmates spent six hours a day in three sessions (morning, afternoon, and night) working with a Cleveland-based sensei. The class culminated with a technical exam (and according to Ben, washing all the big huge mats by hand in the January weather).

When I visited the class, they were doing sword work.

On mats in a gym, students wearing all white practice with wooden swords

The teachers, wearing white and black, demonstrate a move for the class, who are seated on the floor

More practicing with wood swords

In this exercise, students are paired off with swords raised, ready to strike

More sword practicing

Two students practice with wood swords

Looking in at the practice through the open gym door

Letterpress Studio

This was one of the most enviable projects I visited, and I really wish I had gone back for second visit. Kristina (our awesome new graphic designer whose creativity and love of typography and mustaches resides in the office next door to mine at Communications), Brandi, Patrick, and I toured the studio one afternoon and had to be dragged away an hour later due to other obligations. Old things are so cool. Ink is so cool. Words are so cool. DINGBATS are so cool! I am turning into such a nerd! Yay!

Read more about the project in Eli's Dissociated Press blog post.

A few lines of text arranged on a letterpress

Students attentively work on blocks with tools

Looking down at the press and the page it has just printed

A drawer full of metal symbols

A student pulls down on the machine's large lever

Compost Mycology

One of the Office of Communications student writers, Eva, was assigned to interview the creator/executor of this project, Darrin. Darrin had been collecting various paper products over the course of the semester, which now lined the walls of his lab space in the biology department, along with different cultures and growing fungi. This was a real blast from the past, since my dad used to employ my brother and me to inoculate logs with shiitake spores so we could grow all the edible mushrooms we'd ever want to eat, dry, and sell. I almost convinced Darrin to give me some mushrooms, but lucky for him and his experiments, he didn't have any fruiting mushrooms yet. I would have eaten them all (read: mitake, shiitake, chicken of the woods, and oyster mushrooms... YUM!).

Eva wrote an awesome article about his research, I highly suggest reading it here [linked resource no longer available].

Jars on a shelf filled with yellow things that look like corn kernels

A student pulls out some lab dishes from a small fridge.

Close-up of a vial with something gooey in it

A small jar in the lab is filled with something white and crusty

Songs for a New World

I could say a lot here, but I'll direct you to Helena's backstage preview and my later review of the show (at the end of the post). I visited a rehearsal right after they got into Wilder Main, and I was bouncing around all levels of the space to take photos. That sort of photographic luxury really only exists during rehearsals and I live for it.

Performers rehearse in a large room with a wood floor, which has sections marked ou with tape.

Piano player at rehearsal

Singer on a balcony

Jerusalem of Gold

This autobiographical Obie written-produced-directed-acted hiphop musical (damn, that's such a mouthful) is my most anticipated project. I visited their rehearsal early in January, overlooking a sunny South bowl on the first super cold day of the year (it was -1 degree Fahrenheit when I wandered in at 10:30am after several hours of dashing around Oberlin to finish up something timely, and to be noted, my hair, which was not wet, was frosted over). They were running a particularly poignant exchange and a dance sequence flashback while I was there, and when it was over, I talked to the director, Josh Sobel '09, about his life and times in Chicago (he works with a social media genius I'm dreaming of meeting). Oberlin connection of random: my grandmother is friends with some of Josh's New York relatives. Oberlin's world is small but huge.

Read more in Brandi's article on the show [linked rewsource no longer available].

An open laptop on a chair during rehearsal

Rehearsal continues

Another view of rehearsal. There is an electronic keyboard in the foreground.

Five performers rehearse dance moves.


My friend Jessie just returned from a year off, and over catching up on life one evening after she got back, I learned about her winter term project: stitching a sampler and embroidering a piece with all the stitches she'd learned. After visiting Eliza's copycat Ma'ayan meal (read: Thai extravaganza!) in Sci-Fi Hall co-op (née Keep), I macro-lensed her project like crazy. Textures! Colors! I want to learn how to make more things with my hands.

Embroidered symbols on a cloth

Embroidery in progress

Embroidery examples showing fern stitch and creten(?) stitch

Close-up of a stitch pattern

Closeup of a different stitch

From Yarn to Garment

This is the third year in a row that I've gone to this show, and after being flattered so much by some of this year's students (apparently Betsy raved about me to the class, and they passed the news on to me), I ended up in a perfect seat right at the turn of the catwalk. I took complete advantage of my new macro lens, too, and got some gorgeous up-close shots of the textures of many of these hand-woven pieces.

A model wears a hooded sweater on a makeshift runway

Modeling a red dress

Weaving(?) yarn on a loom(?)

Close-up of the above device

Finished scarves hang against a wall

Close-up of a fastening device

Close-up of a button on a colorful sweater. It looks like it's floating on a rainbow sea.


Theater Productions

In addition to these winter term fruits I reaped and photos I took, I also attended the following productions (no photos, sorry, I was being a great audience member. Jerusalem of Gold is going up next week (I'm seeing it on Thursday!), so no review yet. Oh, and I missed Bait and The Hothouse. So much theater, so little time.

Circus Mortis

Though the thought process behind this winter term circus was a drastic departure from the last winter term circus four years ago (still one of the best circus shows I've had the pleasure of seeing six times and photographing), Circus Mortis excelled at one thing above all: showcasing newly-learned skills in a surprisingly stunning storyline. A group of traveling circus performers are an hour before their next show, running through the acts in a final dress rehearsal, but in rehearsing the first act, one of the performers is murdered! As the cast runs through the rest of the show, a detective and his ghost friend solve the murder along with the audience. I was also very impressed with the quality of the acts; every performer had picked up their new circus skill at the beginning of the month. Even after five months of PoiCo, I couldn't do some of the basic to intermediate tricks the performers had learned in three weeks. Wowzers.

Firefly: The Big Gorram Musical

Playing out like every spacecow(fan)girl's dream, this original musical was set between the end of the television show Firefly and the beginning of the film Serenity, extrapolating relationships and friendships from Joss Whedon's original characters. I'm not going to spoil anything for you (because if you haven't seen Firefly yet, do yourself a favor and just do it!), but let's just say that the casting was spot-on. Carolyn will forever be my Kaylee, Hana will forever be my Mal, and so on and so forth through the whole cast. I was watching some of my favorite characters in real life, and I adored it.

The Zoo Story

A cerebral two-person play by Edward Albee in Wilder Main, this play was incredibly powerful but also incredibly dark. I totally forgot this was happening until Phil Wong, one of the two actors and director of the show, posted a very exciting update on arrival of some vital set pieces (two park benches) on Facebook. Ah, the power of the internet. I'm really glad this popped up, or else I would have missed this twisted philosophy of life play.


This an incredibly moving piece seemed like a Romeo and Juliet story times three, but with a commentary track. Starring Kat Lee, the most stunning and multitalented lady I know (She acts! She photographs! She does things with computers! And she's beautiful!) as Eurydice and Aaron Profumo (I don't think I've missed a performance of his since he began here at Oberlin three years ago, and he's acted in several of my friends' films) as Orpheus, I was completely thrown into the time-warp that was the modernist world meets the underworld in this Greek myth. I laughed. I cried. It was one of the best mainstage productions I've ever seen. (Sidenote: This was Kat's last production, and she had tears streaming down her face during the curtain call. From my front row seat, I could see all the hugging and tearing backstage after they left the stage. It was beautiful.)

The Property Known as Garland

I didn't realize this show was happening until I went to the first OSTA show of the month, The Zoo Story. I did a bit of reading up on the play, and found that it was not only a great concept, but on a character and a time period that intrigues me. Set on the eve of her last public performance, the play revolves around reminiscences and final thoughts of actress, singer, and performer Judy Garland. There's much more over that rainbow than meets the eye. The gal who played Judy embodied the perfect combination of diva, experienced performer, and Hollywood cog. As a cinema kid, I have actually seen lots of Garland films beyond The Wizard of Oz, and I've read up about both her history and the history of Hollywood when she was acting. It's a rough but fascinating time.

Songs for a New World

The teaser from the rehearsal I visited made me want so much more. I love musicals and musical revues, and Songs for a New World is a bit of a combination, and I wanted to hear every song again. I had tingles throughout the whole show. Each song is a vignette, with moving music and powerful dynamics, even though they don't fit into a narrative structure. (My favorite part was sitting in the front row, and Helena looking down off the stage at Patrick and me and giving us both knowing looks and a huge grin. That girl can BELT.)


And there you have it! The month of learning and experiences really doesn't end at the end of January, as the theater productions come and go, the mushrooms keep growing, and the presses never stop running. We're in a perpetual cycle of creation and beauty. It's awesome.

And speaking of things that are awesome, here's some gorgeous beauty shots of Oberlin from a snowy January. Fact: all the snow is gone for right now, but we'll get more soon!

Snow outside Peters Hall

A tree in the snow

Looking at King from a snowy Tappan Square

Bosworth on a snowy day

Memorial Arch in the snow

Responses to this Entry

What great projects! I can see how it might be hard to choose just one.

Posted by: Abba on February 21, 2011 1:32 AM

My first Winter Term glimpse at the letterpress studio was a great one! It astounds me how creative Oberlin students are.

Posted by: Kristina on February 21, 2011 10:40 AM

I feel so old. I took print shop in high school; it was a required shop class along with metal shop wood shop, etc. We had to memorize the box, learn how to use spacers to justify, etc.

Posted by: Abba on February 21, 2011 1:21 PM

you make me so happy to read this, & I am blushing.

Posted by: Kat Lee on February 23, 2011 12:36 AM

@Abba - I'll take you to visit the studio when you guys come in March. It's so amazing! (It's also going to be integrated with several classes starting this semester.)

@Kristina - Your nerding out was one of the best parts of visiting the letterpress studio. I could tell that you wanted to throw on an apron and get covered in ink immediately.

@Kat - You're wonderful! I am excited to see you on Broadway one day! :D

Posted by: Ma'ayan on February 23, 2011 10:33 AM

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