A candid look at creative process
Penny Lane — a seasoned storyteller, nonfiction filmmaker, assistant professor of art and art history at Colgate, and … self-proclaimed thief?
    In a thought-provoking and honest lecture about her role as a visual artist, Lane discussed the complexities of being a filmmaker who appropriates others’ images exclusively to create her own nonfiction narratives.
    “Everything [in my work] in a sense is stolen and reflects my lack of interest in creating images. I’m much more interested in finding things than making things, which leads me to my work in nonfiction,” she explained in a lecture in Golden Auditorium in September.
    After showing three of her most popular works — How to Make an Autobiography, an excerpt from Our Nixon, and The Voyagers — Lane revealed specific moments in the films where her storytelling needs took precedence over an accurate or factual representation.


A film still from Professor Penny Lane’s Our Nixon shows the former president in his iconic pose.

    According to Lane, the most challenging aspect of creating nonfiction films is striking a balance between telling a compelling story and not distorting reality. In her award-winning documentary Our Nixon — which recently premiered on CNN and at Colgate — Lane appropriated archived home movies filmed by three of Nixon’s closest aides during his presidency.
    Lane said she used artistic license to construct sentences — it took her three days to create an eight-word sentence by adviser John Ehrlichman — that better fit the story she was telling through the compiled footage.
    “I feel like if I did some of these things as a paper in a college class, I’d be called in front of the academic integrity board. And I’m wondering why we don’t have anything like that in the world of visual arts. I’m intrigued by the idea that in art and film, we should have better standards of how we explain these ‘distortions’ to our viewers,” she said.
    Lane entertained the idea of providing her audience with an annotated guide to every edit and manipulation after her next film, but understands that it could potentially backfire because many other documentary filmmakers are not as transparent about their edits.
    Ultimately, Lane has shown a keen ability to put seemingly unrelated images, sounds, and words together to form cohesive and relatable films.
    “When you’re telling a nonfiction story, you have to take a whole bunch of messy material from the world and shape it into something that reads as a story to your viewer. It’s a really intense process,” she explained.
    Named one of Filmmaker magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” Lane is currently working on a new project and had some of her work showcased in an exhibition at Colgate’s Clifford Gallery this fall.
— Laura D’Angelo ’14

Thirteen Strings, Stormy Weather
This September, a new musical ensemble featuring 13 virtuoso string musicians debuted at Colgate with a special concert in Memorial Chapel. Under the direction of Professor Marietta Cheng, the Thunder and Lightning Orchestra delighted the audience with a memorable rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 48, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, featuring acclaimed violin soloist Kristin Lee.

(image by Dmitry Vereshchagin)
    Cheng said she chose the Four Seasons as a historical baroque-period piece: the small ensemble is similar in size to ensembles that would have played it in Vivaldi’s time. The Four Seasons also inspired the orchestra’s name: four sonnets, each describing a different season representing one movement, accompany the piece. “Thunder and Lightning” represents the storm that breaks out in “Summer.”
    The idea for a new orchestra emerged while brainstorming ideas with the Colgate Arts Council to bring more arts programming to Colgate. “We want exceptional, interdisciplinary events,” said Cheng. “We were trying to come up with ideas that will celebrate the arts at Colgate.” Further, given that the ensemble was created in 2013, she was inspired to follow Colgate’s age-old numerical tradition, by forming a group with 13 players.            
    The ensemble features alumni of the Juilliard School of Music, including the soloist, Kristin Lee, from New York City and the upstate area.
    Picking up on the interdisciplinary theme, Professor Jeff Foy proposed a psychology study in conjunction with the performance. Foy wanted to study the “Vivaldi Effect” — that listening to the “Spring” movement of the Four Seasons increases alertness, reducing reaction time to stimuli — as shown in a previous scientific study in the United Kingdom.
    Working with two students, Duy Trinh ’14 and Joe Cohen ’15, Foy recorded reaction times and cognitive functions of volunteers as they performed tasks — such as hitting the spacebar on a keyboard every time a green square flashed and solving short word problems. They studied the differences between the results when subjects performed the tasks while listening to the music, and in silence.
    The team announced their findings at the Thunder and Lightning debut: although it is a charming piece and a pleasure to listen to, they were unable to detect the Vivaldi Effect here at Colgate.
    “True, our findings weren’t consistent with the original study, but ours was small,” said Foy. “It is possible there is an effect and we just didn’t find it, or perhaps the original paper’s findings are anomalous. Based on our findings, all we can really conclude is that it is too early to conclude anything.” So, Foy’s not ready to call the study a total washout.
— Kellyann Hayes ’16

There’s no place like home
It was like Dorothy awakening from her dream and finding herself back in Kansas for Mary Jane McNamee ’87 when her daughter Sophie got a part in a local summer stock production of The Wizard of Oz.
    Sophie played a munchkin and a jitterbug on the stage where McNamee had interned during college, at the Gretna Theatre in Mt. Gretna, Pa. What’s more, McNamee’s college friend and musical theater compatriot Louis Goldberg ’85 was directing the music.

image by iStock Photo
    Goldberg had directed McNamee in Company at Colgate back in 1984; she described him as “humble” and “extremely talented.” Today sporting an accomplished career, Goldberg has more than 300 musical theater productions across the United States and Europe under his belt. After winning a number of local and international awards for piano, he worked with off-Broadway productions, and taught musical theater at Syracuse University, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of the Arts. He currently teaches at the Westminster College of the Arts at Rider University, and directed productions of My Way, Kiss Me, Kate, and The Bikinis this year alone.
    Their reconnection happened when, while attending one of Sophie’s ballet practices at Gretna five years ago, McNamee overheard a conversation about the next summer stock production. When she heard that someone named Louis Goldberg was part of the directing staff, “I never expected that this would be the same person I went to school with years ago, but I decided to look into one of the rehearsals down the hall, just in case,” she recalled. Sure enough, it was her old classmate, and they have stayed in touch over the years.
    “It’s amazing how everything is coming around full circle,” McNamee said. “I remember being so awed and proud of Louis as a 20-year-old, so it was sweet to see him with my daughter just as she is embarking on her career in stage entertainment.”
    McNamee’s first involvement with the Gretna, as an assistant stage manager during the summer before her junior year, came about through the recommendation of Atlee Sproul, Colgate’s theater director at the time.
    Over the years, McNamee has also encountered other Colgate alumni who have been involved at the Gretna: former fellow Swinging ’Gates members.
    For McNamee, the experience has not only been a reminder of how fortunate she was to meet such talented people at Colgate, but it has also taught her to truly appreciate these reconnections. “They conjure up emotions that help you to keep young at heart!”
— Aminat Olayinka Agaba ’14

Elegy honors Donald Berry
A new work of chamber music honors the life of Donald Berry, who taught philosophy and religion at Colgate from 1957 to 1994 and died last January.
    The Fenimore String Quartet, whose cellist is Berry’s daughter Ruth, premiered Elegy for String Quartet at the Artworks Concert Series in the Star Theatre in Cherry Valley, N.Y., in July. The quartet commissioned the piece from composer David L. Post, to honor, as the score’s inscription reads, “a man whose love of spirit, education, and music was incomparable.” Post, whose Fourth String Quartet was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is a consultant and contributing music editor for Dover Publications as well as a practicing clinical psychologist.
    Ruth Berry is an active chamber musician performing throughout central New York and beyond. Last October, she and two fellow musicians with Colgate ties — cellist Benjamin Whittenburg ’76 and Michael Cleveland (violin instructor and concertmaster of the university orchestra) — traveled with the Glimmerglass Opera to Oman as guests of the Royal Opera House and Sultanate, to perform in its production of The Music Man.
    Berry played with the Colgate orchestra while in high school, and she and Whittenburg both studied cello with Cathy McLelland, spouse of longtime geology professor Jim McLelland.
    Performing the elegy in tribute to her father was remarkable on many levels, said Berry. “Learning/rehearsing the piece, the ritual of performing it as if going through the organized content of a religious service, and the shared experience for people who had traveled to the performances specifically because they knew my father — each was a stage in acceptance and understanding of his death, and of life.”





Preview



Colgate University Theater Presents: A Mouthful of Birds
By Caryl Churchill and David Lan
Adrian Giurgea, director
Brehmer Theater, Charles A. Dana Arts Center Showtimes:
    Nov. 6–9, 2013, 8–10 p.m.
    Nov. 10, 2 p.m.

Following the unpredictable stories of seven seemingly normal characters, A Mouthful of Birds is a parable focusing on the themes of violence, escape, and self-discovery. Each story is told in the context of an introduction, an “undefended day” — when the character is possessed by a spirit, love, violence, or an addiction — and an aftermath.
    Based on Euripides’ ancient Greek tragedy Bacchae, the intricately designed play weaves scenes of Pentheus, the king of Thebes, with choreographed dances, revealing the human tendency to act irrationally.


For more information on arts events, visit www.colgate.edu/arts