Life Skills: Cheap Art

JP Allen ’11 initiated the Arts Runoff series and spent Winter and Spring ’11 as a MiddBlog Lead Editor. He is currently working as a NYC Urban Fellow. Read all life skills posts here.

JP's ticket wall

We’ve all heard Middlebury is a bubble. Most arguments that begin there end urging students to burst out. While that is great advice, there are also plenty of incredible resources within the bubble that can be easy to ignore or take for granted until graduation.

The arts are one of the biggest. Think about it: at Middlebury, $12 sounds extravagant for a theater or dance show that features talented people and high production values in a venue five minutes from your room. You’d be hard-pressed to find that kind of deal anywhere else.

So here is some advice for the potentially more awesome but definitely more jagged and expensive post-graduate art world:

Pay for what’s good

Art is expensive. Recent graduates are (almost always) broke. In order to bridge the gap, I suggest going for quality rather than quantity. You can take risks on cheap events and save your big money for stuff that’s been recommended by friends. I had a grand plan to review a play a week in NYC, but I didn’t have the time or the budget. Instead, I splurged on one showing of Sleep No More and am still thinking about it. Just remember: paying money for experiences tends to make people happier than paying money for objects.

Don’t be discouraged by what sucks

Because some art just sucks. One of the first plays I saw after college—paid $18 to see—was godawful, pretentious, poorly acted and too long. It was like small-town community theater minus the feel-good message and cute children. People were getting paid to make this garbage? Middlebury can spoil people in lots of ways. But you can build a base of good arts options in your next setting without too much difficulty. One great way is to…

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Life Skills: For the uncertain grad

JP Allen ’11 initiated the Arts Runoff series and spent Winter and Spring ’11 as a MiddBlog Lead Editor. He is currently in the thick of a year stint on NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Speechwriting team, where he was placed through the New York City Urban Fellowship. He will be giving a Professional-in-Residence session Friday, January 20th from 2 to 4 at CSO to talk about Urban Fellows and life after Midd. Stop by anytime! Read all the Life Skills posts.

At this point last year, I had no idea what I’d be doing at this point this year. I applied to short-term fellowships and jobs hoping to test some of my interests empirically (and save some cash) before investing in graduate study. It was a great plan, except that I had no idea how it would feel when I actually arrived at my next step.

Most during-college career advice centers on getting into jobs or schools or programs—but what happens once you’re in? Especially if you’re thinking of a fellowship or fixed-term tour of duty instead of grad school or a typical open-ended job, the moment when “what next?” becomes “what now?” is a tricky one.

Here’s a quick guide to what I’ve learned about working a real job that’s sometimes not exactly a real job—to help uncertain Middkids decide, and to help “program participants”-to-be prepare themselves.

#1: Defining your job is part of your job

Maybe it was because I was the first Urban Fellow to work for Speechwriting, but I felt like my office had some trouble figuring out what to do with me. I was thrown into an extremely busy group and given an ambiguous job title. The luck of getting to do more than menial tasks in my first “real job” was balanced by my uncertainty about what actually was appropriate work. Even over four months in, I still actively offer to take on much of the work I do. Learning to firmly but respectfully gain responsibility and define one’s role may occupy a bigger piece of your consciousness than you think. But if you can do it well (I’m barely starting to), it can help immensely, because those ambiguous situations are exactly the ones where you can change things, or move forward yourself.

#2: People and access are part of your salary

Positional ambiguity has advantages. A huge one: important people aren’t always sure where I fit into the system and may therefore be surprisingly open to contact and discussion with me. I am the youngest person in my office by seven years, and the most inexperienced by at least the same amount—and yet here I am, having conversations every day that make me amazed and thankful to be working where I am.

It won’t last: budgets in City Hall are rightfully tight, and my chances of being re-hired are slim. But the more I learn, the more people I talk to, and the better I understand the career worlds with which I intersect, the better prepared I’ll be to do more of the same or do well at something different. You may have less job security (and less money) when your fellowship ends, but you have the chance to spend some early time avoiding the grind of being at the bottom of the ladder, and that has its own benefits. (For an entirely opposite experience, talk to a paralegal at a big law firm.) Continue reading

The $4 milkshake

First, get your mind out of the gutter.

Second, after too many rainy days, it’s finally sunny and warm enough to dress and live like you’re in one of the pictures on Midd promotional materials. To help you enjoy the weather, and to help stop your brain from overheating during finals, we present Three places to get amazing $4 milkshakes, all within walking distance of campus. Continue reading

Arts Runoff: IT’S… THE ARTS

Unless I’m forgetting something (and please forgive me for missing you, Riddim), this will be my LAST “ARTS RUNOFF” POST EVER. I’ve had a really fun time doing these reviews, and I like to think they’ve served the purposes I hoped they would. I’ll do another post about it later to wrap up–maybe a review of my reviews! Meta!–but for now, check out this cool play in the Zoo this weekend:

Summary: A bundle of surreal(ist), hilarious(tastic) short skits culled from the classic Monty Python TV series, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” A totally extracurricular project dashed together over the last few weeks.

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Arts Runoff: VICTORY

Victory: Choices in Reaction. Great play, bad subtitle.

Summary: A play by Howard Barker loosely based on England in the 1660s–the monarchy was deposed, a commonwealth declared, then the monarchy came back. Runtime of almost 3 hours, lots of swearing. Intricate language. Severed heads.

Good: Like The Europeans (staged at Midd a couple years ago) but easier to follow and grab onto. // The Theater Dept. often aims really high with artsy, emotionally intense, challenging plays. Often, they don’t quite make it. But this time they actually got there. // Freshman Matt Ball really impresses as the reinstated king who can’t figure out what being king actually means. // Perfectly unified punky look, from light to sound to ultra-skinny pants.

Bad: Half of the time the long, stylized transitions between scenes were interesting. Half of the time they just felt like long transitions between scenes. // Lilli Stein rather typecast as a powerful but chipped  firebrand with a precise accent.

Broad: Howard Barker invented a philosophy called “theater of catastrophe.” (Of course he did–why does every playwright feel the need to invent a theater of something?) The idea is to traumatize the audience without any forgiveness or recompense, so as to motivate them toward making change in the real world. I think he’s full of shit on that point. Victory is entertaining, enticing, and full of beautiful language. It has moments that make you feel the characters are justified in at least some of their actions. Now, either Barker is just doing all that stuff as a ploy to draw us in, or he cares at least a bit about beauty, which means he’s a hypocrite. Just a thought.

Contextual rating: The run is already over, but I would’ve suggested that you…
-…do it, and see this show if you can.
-…put off that important thing you have to do and see Victory.
-…skip it. SEE THIS SHOW.


Summary: Two Hollywood producers, Bobby Gould (Willy McKay ’11) and Charlie Fox (Dustin Schwartz ’11) get a big chance to climb the ladder of success when a famous actor approaches Fox with a desire to do a movie with one of Fox’s scripts. The question of doing good instead of making money in this cynical world doesn’t even enter the picture until a second possible script, and Gould’s temporary secretary, Karen (Shannon Fiedler ’14), get involved. By David Mamet, known for witty, mean, rapid dialog.

McKay, Schwartz, Fiedler.  Just look at these beautiful people.

                                   Good: At first, I thought Willy McKay wasn’t right for the role of Gould. McKay just can’t be quite cruel, manly, or physically large enough to fill the image of the merciless, masculine producer. However, as the play went on, I realized the choice was perfect: Gould wants to be that guy, and his struggle is between becoming the good person he might naturally be and becoming the bad person he needs to be to get rich. His stature also allowed Schwartz, whose character is lower on the economic hierarchy, to bully him a little bit. // Going off of that, kickass power dynamics, brought out via great directing from Ben Orbison ’13. // The focus of this play is the acting. Every time I see Dustin Schwartz in a show, he gets better and more varied. Awesome range of emotion.

Bad: Although the set design was mostly fantastic, the white back wall broke the illusion a little by looking too rudimentary; a simple white panel and suspension of disbelief might have done the job better than the ambitious attempt at making it look like a real wall with a pattern.  Also, unfortunately, the used paint cans still smelled like paint. They made sense in the set, but I may have lost a few brain cells.

Broad: The title of the play comes from a 14th-century poem expressed as a prayer to God for a good harvest. The shed in the Organic Garden is adorned with a hand-painted sign that says “Slow-the-Plow.” Interesting connections.

Contextual rating: If you have something important to do this weekend,
-…do it, and see this show if you can.
-…put it off and see Speed-the-Plow.
-…skip it. SEE Speed-the-Plow! Had trouble choosing, but ended up giving into the fucking awesomeness of the show. And that’s the way to describe it: approachable, hilarious, dark, something you could talk to both profs and bros about without being embarrassed.

Speed-the-Plow in the Hepburn Zoo. 8:00 Saturday. $4, tickets at the door. It might be crowded.


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Summary: An hour of short dance pieces. EVERYTHING is improvised: music, sound, lighting, and of course, the dance itself.

Good: Local multi-instrumentalist Ron Rost was fantastic as a part of the band. His main role was percussion, but I had no idea what bizarre instrument he would pull out next–drums, bells, sticks, flutes, even mouth-accordions. And they all fit. // Eamon Fogarty can make an electric guitar sound like anything. // The dancers really hit their stride about halfway through. The turning point was a great group piece in which I immediately understood each dancer’s relationship to the others, and also understood that they were in control.

Bad: During an improvisation, whether in music, dance, or acting, participants usually have three basic options: repeat a pattern, repeat and modify, or start a new pattern. The dancers chose the first option more often than I would’ve liked, watering down some great choices by not letting them go soon enough. // Maybe I think too much in terms of plot and characters, but I sometimes get the feeling in modern dance shows that each dancer is in a little individual bubble, moving out of sync with (and looking right past) the other people onstage. Especially since this was improv, things started to slide when the dancers lost touch with each other.

Broad: This is contemporary dance at its contemporary-danciest. It’s not at all pretentious–the energy in the dancers’ faces and bodies makes that clear–but it does obey its own kind of logic, a kind you don’t see too often in movies, novels, or plays. So be ready to abandon your normal ways of thinking for an hour. // Don’t take this review too seriously, since the show will be totally different tomorrow!

Contextual Rating: If you have something important to do this weekend,
…do it, and see this show if you can. [Although fantastic, perhaps not ideal if it’s the first dance concert of your life. As I’ve said before, watching choreographed shows by some of these same folks is really incredible.]
…put it off and go watch some performance improv!
…skip it. SEE THIS SHOW.

In the CFA, 8:00 Saturday. $10/8/6.