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Students go ‘On the Road’ across campus

Monday, November 5, 2007

First published in 1957, Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” introduced the world to Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty and their long-distance roamings across the United States. On Thursday night, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of this quintessential Beat work, the Student Creative Arts Council’s annual MESH party began with a journey across campus, stopping at a series of arts events along the way. Though hardly cross-continental in scope, MESH captured the sense of spontaneity and surprise at the heart of Kerouac’s novel.

“This is our fourth annual MESH event,” Chloe Malle ’08 wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. Malle and Anna Hermann ’08 direct the SCAC board.

“It’s typically been a party in List (Art Center) around a theme,” Hermann said. “This year we also wanted to add another component that was targeted at a fusion of the arts, which is what MESH is all about. We had this idea of creating a small-scale happening – we were taking a group of people on an experience that they couldn’t necessarily predict.”

“Past themes have included Warhol’s factory, ‘La Boheme’ and surrealism,” Malle wrote. “This year we decided to place an emphasis on the literary, as past events have centered more heavily on the visual arts. The beat generation was a perfect way to underscore that priority and complemented the migrant nature of our event.”

The journey began in Modern Culture and Media Production Room 1, with screenings of short films by Claire Harlam ’08, undergrad David Harrington and Katrina Lencek-Inagaki ’08, all of which reflected some form of Beat influence. Harlam’s piece, “Red Webster (1965),” wore its Beat connections most prominently, with two Allen Ginsberg poems as its text. With its grittily beautiful images of New York, Harlam’s film argued persuasively for the persisting relevance of the Beats in contemporary America.

The screenings were preceded by a reading of “Odysseus’s Nightmare,” written by Mateo Mancia ’08 for the Literary Arts class, LITR 1110N: “Workshop for Potential Literature.” All of the MESH events included a reading or some other literary component.

The party then proceeded up Thayer Street and across Lincoln Field to Ashamu Dance Studio in a procession led by lion dancers Andrew Mathis ’10 and Paul Zhu ’11, dressed in elaborate Chinese lion dance costumes. There, the dance group New Works performed a piece whose “beats” came from two percussionists on djembes and other African drums.

The piece, based on a sequence of stomps and repeated motions was thrilling and ecstatic, and the brightly colored skirts and tops worn by the dancers made for a series of brilliant stage images. The performers’ obvious joy in the piece was infectious – audience members, contributing a chorus of claps, whistles and whoops, became part of show as well.

The next stop was the McCormack Theatre, where a “Museum of the Museum of Reality TV” had been set up as a reprise of “Be Brave, Anna!” a play by Tara Schuster ’08 that ran at the Production Workshop in October. “Be Brave, Anna!” comments on contemporary celebrity culture by turning the life and times of Anna Nicole Smith into a melodrama. The “museum” exhibited items such as the “Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor Worn by Lindsay Lohan” and “Acrylic Nails Removed from Skin of Contestant in ‘The Bachelor,’ Season 4.”

It also featured two actors performing excerpts from “Be Brave, Anna!” The student performers not only enacted various roles from the play, but also portrayed two squabbling professional actors, constantly bickering about missed cues and dropped lines, creating a hilarious variation on the original play that was entirely in keeping with the meta-theatrical, impromptu nature of the “museum” itself.

The group then walked along Fones Alley to see Providence’s Big Nazo Puppeteers perform in the rotunda of Robinson Hall. This non-traditional puppeteering troupe features performers, dressed in body suits that resemble giant, green, alien or ogre-like creatures, who sing and play instruments. Their off-the-wall performance was extremely well-received by the group of partygoers, which had grown from a dozen people into a crowd as the evening progressed.

Big Nazo then led everyone to List for a DJed party on the second-floor terrace, overlooking the nighttime Providence skyline.

MESH is only one of SCAC’s projects. The group also organizes the Spring Arts Weekend and helps the Creative Arts Council, a governing body that represents all of the visual and performing arts departments, distribute student arts grants. This year, trying to get a new annual speaker series off the ground, the SCAC also conducted a poll by e-mail to find out whom from the arts world Brown students would most like to see on campus.

Hermann declined to name the speakers SCAC is courting, only saying that the opportunity is “exciting.”

“As a student group,” Hermann said, “I think our presence is really growing, which is great.”

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