Amherst’s Theater and Dance Season Kicks off with Shakespeare, Reimagined

September 7, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Photo by Scott Treadway

In the earliest years of the 17th century, Shakespeare wrote a little-known play called Pericles, Prince of Tyre. This Wednesday through Saturday, Sept. 9–12, Amherst’s Holden Experimental Theater transforms into Pericles’ world, complete with shipwrecks, assassins, pirates, romance and the heartbreaking story of a family torn apart.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre kicks off Amherst’s Theater and Dance 2015–16 season. Even if you’ve seen a production of Pericles before, chances are you haven’t seen it like this.

Amherst’s production is “a bold, imaginative, playful interpretation of a Shakespearean adventure story,” says director Ron Bashford, a professional director of Shakespeare and a faculty member at Amherst. The production first ran in 2014 at North Carolina Stage Company, where Bashford met and collaborated with five professional actors to create an innovative version of Shakespeare’s epic tale they’re now bringing to Amherst.

Because Pericles was originally written with nearly 30 speaking characters, Bashford says paring it down to five actors was a challenge that he and the cast found an innovative way to solve. “Every character has one item that identifies them,” he says. “People don’t go offstage to change costume.” Instead the props are carefully hidden onstage. But you’ll have to see the show yourself to find out how they pull this off.

Though most of Amherst’s Theater and Dance performances directly involve students, this first production of the season is for students—along with faculty, staff and members of the larger Amherst community—to sit back, relax and enjoy. “It is an especially fun, understandable and touching rendition of a rarely-performed play,” Bashford says. “We also hope that new students in particular will see the show and come to know, by example, that there are many options for them to attend weekend arts activities on campus throughout the year.”

In addition to these performances, the Pericles cast—which includes Willie Repoley, Charlie Flynn-McIver, Laura Fortuna, Rebecca Morris and Catori Swann—met with new students as part of Amherst’s Creative Arts and Performance orientation program, and will attend upcoming classes as guest lecturers. “By learning about how professional actors work to bring a play like Pericles to life,” says Bashford, “students will be able deepen their comprehension when reading Shakespeare, or other playwrights, in the future.” 

See Pericles, Prince of Tyre in the Holden Experimental Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 9, through Saturday, Sept. 12, at 8 p.m., with an additional matinee performance on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are free, but reservations are strongly recommended. Call the box office to reserve yours today: 413-542-2277.


5 Free Things to Do on Campus This Summer

By Elaine Jeon ’17

The newest season of Game of Thrones has ended, and you’ve already binge-watched all of Orange is the New Black. And you can’t keep frequenting restaurants in town or your credit card will surely explode. Whether you’re a student, professor, staff member, alum or visitor, here are five free things to do on the Amherst College campus to keep you busy and financially solvent this summer.



The Mead Art Museum

1. Cool off in the air-conditioned comfort of the Mead’s galleries

Escape from the New England heat by visiting the Mead Art Museum for “It’s Cool at the Mead” gallery talks. Held every other week on Thursdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., the gallery talks feature topics ranging from Hudson River School landscape paintings to avant-garde baroque paintings. Specific themes of the gallery talks can be found on the online event calendar.



The telescope at Wilder Observatory

2. Explore the night sky at the Wilder Observatory

Tucked away on Snell Street is the College’s Wilder Observatory, open to public for free every Saturday starting at 9 p.m. from April through October. Cross your fingers for excellent weather, as the telescope can open your eyes to the moon, planets, stars, asteroids, galaxies and more. If you feel extra adventurous, ask Tom Whitney, who operates the telescope, to find specific things in the night sky that you’ve always dreamed about.



The view from below in the Wildlife Sanctuary

3. Hike a trail in the Wildlife Sanctuary

Avoid the honking cars and the never-ending red lights by checking out the trails in the Wildlife Sanctuary. Located southeast of campus, the 500-acre wooded paradise offers a peaceful getaway. Check out the Emily Dickinson Trail for a short run or the Norwottuck Rail Trail, which extends all the way to Northampton. (Here’s a map of the trails.) Or you could even opt for a romantic walk instead of a typical movie or restaurant date.



A member of the Buckley Chamber Players

4. Listen to the Buckley Chamber Players perform piano quartets

Enjoy a high-class performance by the Buckley Chamber Players on Friday, July 31, at 8 p.m.

The group began back in 2007 with Professor of Music David Schneider and pianist Alissa Leiser. Since then, many musicians from the Five Colleges and other parts of the country have collaborated in the group. For this concert, Leiser will accompany violinist Joel Pitchon, violist Ronald Carbone and cellist Volcy Pelletier as they perform piano quartet masterpieces by C.P.E. Bach, Robert Schumann and Gabriel Fauré.



The Beneski Museum of Natural History

5. See one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur footprints

Even if you’ve visited the Beneski Museum of Natural History before, come again to ask the student docent to guide you on a personal tour. Or print and complete field guides to learn even more about the collection on your own. The Beneski, the third biggest natural history museum in New England, boasts about 8,000 objects on display and approximately 200,000 in its collection. Be sure to save plenty of time to explore the dinosaur footprints from the Connecticut Valley on the lower level of the museum.


Price Papers Joining the Archives

Submitted on Tuesday, 6/2/2015, at 11:44 AM

Hugh Price by Bill Sweet

Hugh Price '63, a nonresident Senior Fellow for the Brookings Institution and former president of the National Urban League (1994-2003), recently donated numerous records from his multiple careers to the College's Archives and Special Collections at Frost Library.

After more than a half-century of working for the causes of racial justice and education, Price is saddened to see how much more work remains with these issues, but he is impressed with the new generation of activists and future policy makers.

Price said he decided to donate the papers to Amherst because of family ties to the College, and because of the opportunity to provide student and faculty researchers with unpublished material concerning the civil rights movement and other significant causes.

"I was dealing with police brutality, excessive use of deadly police force 50 years ago," he said. "It's important to understand for people who are researching this today, who are advocates today, to understand how the issues have evolved."

The donation includes papers dating back to the 1960s, covering numerous careers up through his stints with the National Urban League and the Brookings Institution.

In particular, there are documents that deal with Price's work with the civil rights and antipoverty movements.

  • Correspondence (though only photocopies of the letters from Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush)
  • Keynote speeches
  • Strategic memos
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Book manuscripts
  • Position papers
  • Recordings of television appearances

The summer after graduating from Amherst, he served as a marshal for the March On Washington. After earning a law degree from Yale in 1966, Price began his legal career representing poor clients in New Haven, Conn., later becoming the first executive director of the Black Coalition of New Haven.

Upon moving his family to New York City in 1978, he spent four years as an editorial writer for The New York Times, and then six years as senior vice president of WNET/Thirteen in New York, the nation’s largest public television station.

Appointed to the Rockefeller Foundation in 1988, he oversaw its domestic investments improving educational opportunities for minorities and at-risk youth.

Under his urging and consultation, the National Guard launched its Youth ChalleNGe Corps, a 22-week residential program conducted at selected U.S. military bases that teaches academic and life skills to high school dropouts. This program is the subject of Price's latest book, Strugglers Into Strivers, which argues that the social-emotional elements of the military model could help U.S. public schools.

Many of the papers are related to his days as president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League (1994 − 2003), the nation's oldest and largest community-based movement empowering African Americans to enter the economic and social mainstream.

Most recently he was a visiting professor in public and international affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.

"I've had about 13 careers," he said. "One of the blessings of having had a lot of careers is you move offices a lot, and stuff gets boxed up. If you don't unbox it, it stays put."

"It's like offering a child for adoption," he said. "But I feel that's public space and public property."

At the Brookings Institution, the nation’s oldest think tank, he specializes in education, equal opportunity, civil rights and urban affairs.

Price received an honorary doctorate from Amherst in 1995.

Price credits his continually-evolving professional life to his Amherst education.

"Amherst made me curious about everything, and I tried to sate it," he said. "It gave me the confidence to try lots of different things, in a lot of very different fields."

Price has four generations of Amherst connections. His sister-in-law is the eldest daughter of Dr. Charles R. Drew '26 and his wife is niece of Dr. William Montague Cobb ’25. A nephew is Dr. Kendall Drew Price ’92 and a grandniece is Rachel Abernethy ’16.

"I guess I'd say Amherst owns a big piece of us, and we own a little piece of Amherst," he said.


Future Food: Students are “Hooked on Aquaponics”

Submitted on Tuesday, 5/12/2015, at 9:15 AM

Plans for the greenhouse by Bill Sweet

Right outside of Amherst College’s dining hall, a new student club is exploring what just might be the future of food.

This spring, the Hooked on Aquaponics club has been constructing a greenhouse outside of Valentine Dining Hall. Their ultimate goal is to have a self-sustaining, soil-free aquaponics operation raising fish and plants.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (farming of aquatic animals) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil). The greenhouse setup collects waste from the fish and converts it into plant food.

The project began as a collaborative effort, with individual aspects drawn from the interests of founding members Peter Suechting ’15, Jim Hall ’15, Thais Correia ’16 and Eli Mansbach ’18. Hooked on Aquaponics now boasts about 10 core members and attracts twice that at meetings.

“We have a very strong base of underclassmen,” said Hall. “When it comes to building projects, everyone wants to get involved, even people who aren’t official members.”

Correia is a computer science major who’s taken several environmental studies classes. She’s interested in how technology can be used for the betterment of the Earth’s health. “I thought this was a cool way to do something on campus and work on both of these interests,” she said. She and Henry Laney ’17 have assembled an electronic system that keeps the moving parts of the greenhouse running and collects data on pH, temperature and more. Suechting's involvement comes from his original plan to build a greenhouse as part of his environmental studies senior thesis.

The greenhouse, funded by the Office of the President, contains two 300-gallon fish tanks, which drain into a filtered tank. The water will then be pumped into six tubs containing plants and bacteria which assist in converting the fish waste into usable fertilizer.

“Once the water reaches a certain level, it gets dumped back into the [fish] tank,” said Correia. “By this point it’s been mostly filtered out by the plants themselves … so the only water that we lose is through evaporation.”

In theory, hydroponic systems conserve 90 percent more water than traditional agricultural methods, and aquaponic systems, in turn, conserve 90 percent more than hydroponics. Depending on the plant, aquaponics can make it possible to grow twice as many plants per square foot as in traditional agriculture.

“You can grow it year-round. You can produce more in less space using fewer resources,” Hall said. Outside the Val

The club is starting with 200 baby koi, being fed fish food as the operation gets going. Future plans include raising edible fish such as tilapia, carp or bass, Suechting said.

The group hopes to sell the produce and fish to Valentine Dining Hall, especially during the winter, when the campus’s Book & Plow Farm doesn’t operate. “We wouldn't be able to provide the whole school with enough fish, but it could supplement,” Suechting said. “Things grow a lot faster in these types of systems, and it’s easier for us to switch between different types of plants.”

The implications for a hungry planet are significant if this technology can be implemented on a large scale, students said. Abandoned buildings could be converted into greenhouses, bringing fresh, organic produce and jobs back to urban dead zones. As produce could be made year-round potentially anywhere, there would be no transportation costs.

Hooked on Aquaponics intends to pass the campus greenhouse down from class to class. As it involves a potentially wide array of technologies and species, the club’s founders are optimistic that the greenhouse can thrive and evolve.

“I hope that every year people just keep adding more and more complexity to the system, and eventually we can get a bigger greenhouse,” said Correia. “This is just the beginning.”


Finding Inspiration: Studio Art Majors Share the Stories Behind Works on View

May 4, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Darrow and Brathwaite in the studio Darrow and Brathwaite in the art studio they share with Blackmore and Rothkopf in Fayerweather Hall

After a year spent sharing an art studio on the bottom floor of Fayerweather Hall, Natasha Blackmore, Shannon Brathwaite, María Darrow and Emma Rothkopf are slowly beginning to pack and clear the space for next year’s studio art seniors.

It’s here that they’ve collectively created more than 45 works of art—including collage-style paintings with sculptural elements (Blackmore); large and small abstract paintings (Brathwaite); sculptures made from welded steel and scraps of fabric (Darrow); and intimately rendered large-scale photographs (Rothkopf)—that are on display in this year’s Studio Honors Exhibition at the Eli Marsh Gallery through May 24.

Read on to learn more about their inspirations for the works on view and a bit about the artistic processes they’ve developed while at Amherst.

Shannon Brathwaite

Shannon Brathwaite, Records of Entropy

Brathwaite says her senior thesis, a collection of 16 abstract paintings, was inspired by an exhibit she saw in her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.: Kara Walker’s sphinx-shaped sugar sculpture exhibited in an old sugar factory.

“I was actually inspired by the building itself, which was super-rusty, super-grungy and painfully smelled like sugar,” Brathwaite says. “It was terrible, but it looked really cool, so I took a bunch of pictures of the walls and decided to do paintings of them.”

Constructed with canvas, ink, acrylic paint, wood and scraps of paper, her paintings are a mix of “squares like [Piet] Mondrian’s,” “Jackson Pollock-y drips,” and “the feeling of gravity, decay, rust, aging and things falling apart but still being beautiful,” she says.

Though she dabbled in art in high school, Brathwaite says she didn’t actually come to Amherst to be an artist. In her first year, she says she was on the med-school track and didn’t take a single art class: “I was miserable!” So she signed up for an art class, decided to take on an art major in addition to her pre-med classes, and never looked back.


Emma Rothkopf

Emma Rothkopf, Bathrooms and Bedrooms

Inspired by her friends at Amherst and at home in Harvard, Mass., Rothkopf’s senior thesis is a series of 14 photographs depicting intimate scenes of young women ages 14–26. “They’re psychological in a way,” she explains. “You enter into the psyche of a young woman.”

Her thesis title, Bathrooms and Bedrooms, refers to where she took the photos, in spaces most people consider private. This allowed her to capture what she calls “moments that you don’t normally see photographed.”

Before coming to Amherst, Rothkopf considered herself a painter. It wasn’t until her sophomore year, in Professor Justin Kimball’s intro photography course, that she tried her hand at photography. “I love painting, but when I took photography, I felt like for the first time I was forced to really think about what I was making, not just how I was making.” And that new line of thinking is what inspired her to choose photography over painting for her senior thesis.

Rothkopf says photography has given her a new way to make work that she finds more flexible than painting: “It’s a way for me to make the things I’m interested in, and if it doesn’t work out, I can try it again, and tweak it slightly, and it’s a faster process in that way than any other medium that I’ve ever done.”


Natasha Blackmore

Natasha Blackmore, Transcendence and Affliction

Working in large-scale collage with paper pieces and watered-down acrylic, Blackmore created five paintings for her thesis that she says are like “imprints” of her body. “I work on the floor,” she explains, and instead of using paintbrushes, “I use my hands,” she says while moving her hand to mimic the circular shape that appears in most of her paintings. 

Inspired by Zen Buddhist philosophy, many of Blackmore’s paintings incorporate the ensō, a hand-drawn circle used to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. In addition to being inspired by the universal elements the ensō embodies, Blackmore says her work is about dualities: “It’s about the private and the public, lightness and heaviness, earth and sky.”

Her paintings are also simultaneously personal and collaborative. For instance, Circle of Thoughts is an interactive painting installed on the floor of Eli Marsh Gallery and accompanied by paper, pens and an invitation to the viewer to add “any thought or burden, wish, hope, secret, etc.” The idea in adding a small piece of paper to the larger work, says Blackmore, is that “the sum is literally greater than its parts.”


María Darrow

María Darrow, Winds of Change/Freak Flags/Onward

Darrow’s thesis features six sculptures on view in Amherst’s newly renovated Powerhouse, dozens of email printouts haphazardly stapled to a wall in the Eli Marsh Gallery and five paintings that hang in the stairwells of the social dorms.

Inspired by the college’s ongoing conversations about sexual assault and the representation of women on campus, Darrow says her senior thesis subtly encourages viewers to talk about issues of gender in a public setting. 

Her sculptures, designed to hang in front of the Powerhouse windows, incorporate translucent fabric that includes bits of her own clothing and some donated from friends. “I wanted them to be personal and have belonged to someone,” she says. Darrow worked with gender-specific clothing, such as bras and men’s underwear, and purposefully deconstructed them so that at first glance their gender specificities are hardly noticeable.

In thinking about the representation of women on campus and wanting to make work that sparks conversation, Darrow says, “I think a big part of it is just taking women more seriously.”

See their collective works in the Studio Honors Exhibition, on view in the Eli Marsh Gallery in Fayerweather Hall through Sunday, May 24.

Eli Marsh Gallery Hours: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.4 p.m.
Special Hours for Commencement: Saturday, May 23, & Sunday, May 24, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.



Amherst Glee Club Celebrates Sesquicentennial

April 28, 2015
By Rachel Rogol

Glee Club circa 1880
Amherst College Glee Club, circa 1880

Founded by students in the spring of 1865, the Amherst College Glee Club is now celebrating its 150th anniversary.

To commemorate the sesquicentennial, they've produced the first new college songbook since 1940; created memorabilia, including mugs and nylon backpacks; performed for alumni in Boston at Old South Church; held a song competition; and sponsored the two-day Amherst Today alumni program that culminated in a live performance (two selections from which are posted below). In May, they'll take a 10-day trip to Costa Rica with the Amherst College Women's Chorus and perform four full-length concerts while touring San José, La Fortuna and Guanacaste. And upon returning to campus, they'll perform at the Commencement Concert on May 23.

Two Tracks from the 150th Anniversary Performance

Glee Club
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"Manly Men"
Words and music by Kurt Knecht
Performed by the Glee Club

Glee Club
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"Soon Ah Will Be Done"
Spiritual arranged by William Dawson
Performed by the Glee Club with alumni 

Directed by Mallorie Chernin, Amherst's Glee Club is the fifth oldest collegiate choir in the United States and the longest continuously running student organization at the College. "Mainly the Glee Club sings on campus," Chernin says, "but it has also sung at many other venues, including international tours in 58 countries." And, as noted in the the new songbook, "its members have performed for kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers and even a pope."

Chernin is the 13th conductor of the Glee Club and has been at the College full-time since 1986. "The Glee Club provides a place for people to come together in song and bond despite different backgrounds, religions, politics or any other differences," she says. "Music really is a universal language."

And music abounds at Amherst. Branded as "The Singing College" for its long and varied musical history, Amherst boasts a Choral Society that includes the Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers, Women's Chorus and Glee Club; a large Symphony Orchestra made up entirely of students; a jazz performance program with one large ensemble and several smaller combos; and six student-run a cappella groups, including the Sabrinas, the Bluestockings, the Zumbyes, Route 9, the DQ and Terras Irradient.

"Music gives us a common goal, and an opportunity to entertain, share our talents with others, make beautiful music and have fun," Chernin says. "I can’t tell you why the Glee Club has lasted 150 years," she continues, "but, as the editor states in the songbook, what is important to the singers is 'the songs, the camaraderie and the bonds they formed with their fellow singers in sharing this wonderful tradition.'"

To purchase a copy of the new college songbook ($20), a mug or a nylon backpack ($6 each), contact Chernin


Arts at Amherst Spring Festival, in Photos

Arts Festival photos

See more photos from the Arts at Amherst Spring Festival.

The second annual Arts at Amherst Spring Festival, April 10–19, celebrated the multitude of arts on campus. Organized by The Arts at Amherst Initiative—a collaboration among faculty from Amherst’s Departments of Art and the History of ArtMusic and Theater and Dance, as well as the Mead Art Museum—the festival featured:

  • live performances by student and faculty musicians
  • a hands-on "century camera" workshop with experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats '94
  • short film screenings with award-winning filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu
  • a faculty performance uniting jazz, dance, new opera and video 
  • and more! 

Ron Bashford, assistant professor of theater and dance and one of the festival's faculty organizers, says this year's festival was a success particularly among students: "One representative sophomore said to me how excited he was to attend a week of events involving so many people in the arts community here, and how much he looked forward to it happening again next year." 

Though planning for next year's arts festival hasn't yet begun, there are many arts events happening on campus in the weeks, months and year ahead. Bookmark and sign up for Arts & Museums: Happenings Ahead, a biweekly email, to stay in the know.


Amherst Explorations Celebrates Research and Creativity

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/22/2015, at 12:59 PM

Student Panelists at Amherst Explorations Even as students enter the time of year where they are practically living in Frost Library, they recently gathered there to share and discuss their theses and other projects at the third annual Amherst Explorations.

The daylong event offers a rare opportunity for students from a broad range of majors to share in one setting what they have been working on in the lab, classroom and community.

“There’s nothing more important than going and putting your ideas to work in the world, with an opportunity to think about the implications of what you’re doing,” said Amherst President Biddy Martin, introducing the event.

Some students and teams shared their projects via poster displays. These included findings from biology students who participated in the 2014 Interterm field trip to Monteverde, Costa Rica, where they studied tropical organisms such as bats, ants and butterflies.

  • John Kim ’15, Kelvin Chen ’16 and Sean Rodriguez ’15 prepared a poster about the life lurking under rotting logs.
  • Elizabeth Black ’16, Margaret Bogardus ’15 and Madeleine Lobrano ’15 presented findings about flower pollination.

Other projects explored

  • geologic records of prehistoric climate change in Mexico
  • protein folding
  • the circadian clock
  • plant defense mechanisms

In a TED-style series of lightning talks, students gave brief overviews of their thesis projects.

Coralie Pardo ’15, a Five College Digital Humanities Fellow, gave a presentation on a virtual-reality game that she is creating, geared at simulating what it is like to experience racism as a black person. Virtual interactions within the game “could be things like being followed in your neighborhood because somebody thinks you don’t belong, or being detained for buying something that’s too expensive,” she said. “Ideally the person who is playing the game will experience these things and take a step back and think … ‘When have I thought these things or done any of these things?’”

Student panels featured reports from fellowship programs such as the Lane Fellowships, which support arts projects informed by materials in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, and the Folger Fellowships, which involve intensive research at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Sophie Chung ’17, a managing news editor for The Student, did a project looking at printed news in 17th-century England. “It was really humbling to see this paper [in the Folger collection] that had survived,” the Folger fellow said.

Other panels shared tips and travails of the thesis process. Several speakers noted that one’s thesis research can be the start of something bigger. “The thesis doesn’t have to end when the due date ends,” said Gabriel Gonzalez ’15.

Gonzalez also spoke on a panel of students who assisted with “Life Is a Dream,” a course taught at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Correction as part of the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program.

Missy Roser ’94, head of research and instruction at Frost Library, said she and her colleagues always enjoy learning about students’ work at Amherst Explorations. “This is one of our favorite days of the year on campus,” she said, “because we get to see what they’ve actually been doing writ large, and it’s amazing.”


Amherst Celebrates Spring with City Streets Festival

Submitted on Wednesday, 4/22/2015, at 11:57 AM


Browse a Flickr gallery of photos from the City Streets festival.

The evening of Sunday, April 19, provided beautiful weather for the City Streets festival on the Valentine Quad. Amherst College students, faculty, staff and families gathered to play games and watch fire dancers. Snacks from around the world, music in various languages, and the dozens of national flags displayed on Fayerweather Hall gave this annual street fair some international flair.