With the twin losses of my loving, supportive fraternity and a serious relationship, the conclusion of my sophomore year at Muhlenberg left me emotionally cratered. I performed my on-campus summer job as a walking vacancy: begging for fulfillment, yet unable to trust that any positive emotional anchor would outlive situations over which I had no control. For the first time in years, I had little interest in acting or creating theatre for months at a time; instead, I retreated into myself and into poetry, using the summer to meditate on how I deal with loss, grow to trust people intensely, and express myself artistically.
Here at Accademia dell’Arte, I feel healed. I could write about how each and every one of my classes has changed me for the better, but after a Philosophy discussion on how we must avoid being eaten by commodification by knowing that our creative labor and passion does not function on a quantified, individual level, I physically felt the process of artistic mending. Combined with Commedia, Movement, Voice, Italian, EBAS, Tarentella, Juggling workshops, going into town for meals or exploration, and working closely with a group in which every member is essential, I feel a compulsion to create. I am ready to fully commit to every moment of a scene, every step of a lift, and every human connection I make back in college and beyond.
– Kevin Mitchell
For me, an experience that changed the way I view the world was our trip to Venice. After enduring the touristy bustle for a day and hating every moment of it, a friend and I ditched the opera at La Fenice and walked along the Grand Canal at night, when it was completely deserted. It was this that redeemed the city of Venice, like flipping over a postcard and reading the personal note on the other side. The image on the postcard is meant to advertise, to show off the treasures of a city to the rest of the world in hopes that they’ll come see it for themselves. But when they do come, they come all at once and the picture becomes nothing but camera lenses, discarded trash, and Hawaiian shirts. People are messy. It is not their city, they have only come to see it and take a piece of it with them. They miss the comforts of their cities, their homes, and so the tourist industry must cater to their needs in order to convince them to keep coming. They advertise Parisian perfumes, build a McDonald’s, and line a street with brand-name stores so that the people can keep to their preferred lifestyle, only with the novelty of being in a foreign city. People leave their mark, however indirectly, wherever they go, and I believe that parts of Venice (Florence, as well) have been left to them. You must go where they have not, and it is there that the real beauty of a place can be found, not the glossy pictures trapped on a card and sold in a shop. These parts of Venice still belong to the people who live there, and if you walk silently in the shadows, you might be able to see what they do.
– Miranda Sealander, Music
In my junior year of college, I wrote a short comedic play about a man who could talk to computers. It was an entirely pointless class assignment. I couldn’t think of a title, so I simply called it “The Human Condition.” My professor was enthralled with it. He pointed out my masterful connections between the protagonist’s struggle and our current economic strife. He brought in religion, politics and social issues. He called it a wondrously poignant satire. I called it the worthless product of 2AM procrastination, but I took the compliment. You see, I believed that art was only good if its meaning was visible and intended. It didn’t matter that one person found my story to be a whimsical representation of our world; I didn’t write it to be a whimsical representation of our world, therefore it wasn’t. Art with multiple interpretations confused me and I was even more confused to find such art being celebrated by critics. How could you call something art if people disagreed over the very reason why it was made? If art is supposed to inspire, delight and comfort or confuse, frighten and disillusion, why were we championing paradoxical pieces that had no clear purpose?
My time at the Accademia has challenged me to see art in a new way. I’ve learned that the value of a piece of art is not dependent on the strength of the meaning ascribed to it by the artist – its value comes from the meaning the viewer takes away from it. Values, morals and meanings are not universal and it was naive of me to believe that art had to have an easily identifiable purpose in order to have worth. It doesn’t matter if the artist has no emotional connection to the piece they created, or if they even like it or tried to ascribe meaning to it – what matters is how the art makes me, the viewer, feel. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What is life-changing to one is meaningless to another and the artist is not exempt from this balance. I’ve seen things here that offer me no meaning but brought others to tears, but the very next day, I’d be the only one in the audience with damp cheeks.
Understanding this granted me new freedoms in my work. I don’t need a lofty reason to produce art. I can produce art because it’s fun, or even simply because I want to create a piece of art. I don’t need to build in a resonating sense of importance into my creations because my audience is more than capable of finding in my art what is important to them.
– Remy Grant, Theatre
I feel that my “break through” was different than most. Having grown up in a small rural town in South Carolina, (where people actually still marry their cousins, build a small house with a front porch, sit on it, and refuse to move an inch for the rest of their lives, they’re fine right where they are, thank you very much) I’ve been extremely lucky in my short lifetime to have had an opportunity to get a great college education and to travel to various parts of the world. I have seen beautiful cities and grand mountain ranges; I’ve sung a Sunday Mass with a choir in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, as well as concerts in various churches throughout Italy and Austria. For a 21 year old, I’ve already had more fulfilling musical moments than most will ever have in their lifetime – and I couldn’t more grateful. However, though these experiences were memorable, I don’t feel like any of them necessarily helped me in figuring out who I am or what I want from life (besides to travel… a lot). Music has been my career of choice since childhood, so that has never really been a subject of debate for me. I consider my “a-ha” moment to be strange, because, unlike people I know, it wasn’t some huge, cataclysmic event, a beautiful place, or a work of art. And it happened much later in my life than I would’ve expected… because not until afterwards did I realize that a moment so powerful had never happened to me before. It was when I had already been in college for two and half years and was well on my way to getting my Bachelor’s degree in music.
In the fall semester of my junior year at Furman, I began getting sidetracked in my schoolwork. I found other ways to spend my time when I should’ve been composing or studying, and, ultimately, my grades began a steady decline. I wasn’t completely oblivious and could see this happening. I told myself to do something about it, but even with the best intentions, homework remained unfinished and music remained unwritten. In early November, a professor of mine called me into his office. I see this professor as a good friend of mine, and is very much a father figure to me as a young academic and eager musician. His knowledge and musicianship are things I greatly admire and I’ve learned a lot from him during my time at Furman. So, when he has something to say, I always listen, because I know he cares about my education and that it’s for my benefit.
When I arrived, he asked me take a seat and began by calmly asking me how I was doing. I told him well. We made small talk for a few a minutes, and then he got to his point. He told me he’d noticed the steady decline in my work ethic and my lack of musical output. I had also missed a few of his classes. And there, with a paternal reassurance, he gave me a very harsh lecture. It was not enough to float through school as an average/below average student, especially one who has the potential to do so much more (and we all do, if we don’t restrict ourselves). Graduate school admission boards, possible future employers… They will all be looking for someone who stands out; for someone with great potential and a great education. You can’t erase your transcript. You can try again – if you want to – later in life. But what is done can’t truly be undone. And it’s scary, because the choices you make here are ones that will affect you for the rest of your life.
It all hit me like a brick wall, then, all of my carelessness and laziness… For years all I’d known was music. It was what I’d lived and breathed, and it was what I wanted to do more than anything. For the entire semester my hopes and dreams had been slowly slipping away and all I had done was sit and stare. An overwhelming amount of realization washed over me, and… I cried. I cried for a very long time. Not because I was hurt by what he said (indeed, I was very grateful), not even because I was disgusted with myself. I cried because, for the first time I could remember, I felt reawakened. After further discussion and preparation, together we had mapped out a plan to get my education turned around by the end of the semester. I ended up finishing the semester well and everything has since become much better. I’m, obviously, studying abroad at the Accademia dell’Arte in Italy this semester and loving every minute of it. I’m on track to receive my diploma in the spring and will hopefully be attending graduate school next fall. Since the day my professor and I talked, I’ve felt a reawakening inside of me to compose more passionately, consistently, and honestly than I ever have before. And it didn’t have to take much. For me, it wasn’t a mass at the Vatican, a specific class that I took, a book I’ve read, or piece of music that I love. It was a good slap on the wrist and a big hug. Sometimes that’s all you need.
Thus verily I say unto you, it is important to have friends who make you laugh and smile – people that fill you with happiness and say things like, “Ooooh, you look damn good in those extra slim-fit jeans” that you bought on sale at Marshall’s (even if you really don’t); but, it’s also important to have a friend – all you need is one – who you know will always be brutally honest, if need be; someone who isn’t afraid to be frank and shake you awake. Compassion takes on many forms… the most unpredictable being the one that will give you a good kick in the pants, sending you yelping back in the direction you need to go.
– Holt McCarley, Music