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Awakenings » Awakenings


Our Mission:

This class will explore the theme of awakenings. How do works of art in theater, opera, film photography, and visual art explore the theme of awakenings? What is illusion and what is reality? Who are we and how do we grow and evolve? We will study the way theater, opera, photography and the visual arts, by relying on acting, singing, stage directions, editing, and visual techniques, engage their audiences. Supported by the Macaulay Honors College Cultural Passport, we will look at major artistic works, studying their components and reflecting on how the arts contribute to the rich cultural landscape of New York City.

How does an artistic work define and illuminate an awakening? How does a playwright, a composer, an artist mold materials to expose an audience to new and challenging ideas? How do different texts and media illuminate the human condition –the twisting and turning, the metamorphosis, which we all experience as we struggle to understand who we are and why we exist? How do artists bring together disparate elements to create magical creative collages?

Our Design:

This fall, we began the semester by seeing a performance of Spring Awakening, a prize-winning musical based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial play, written in 1891 and first performed in 1906. Set in a19th-century German school, the contemporary musical explored the theme of sexual awakening, adding rock music to the text of the play. The result was an original and bold performance, one that engaged and shocked the audience.

Several weeks later, the class saw a performance of Tings Dey Happen at The Culture Project in SoHo. A one-man play, written and performed by Dan Hoyle, the docudrama focused on oil interests in Nigeria. This time, the awakening was political, with Hoyle, a former Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria, switching from role to role—in his effort to awaken the audience to the charged reality of African oil politics.

Rounding out our theater unit, the class saw the National Asian American Theater Company’s of Blind Mouth Singing, by Jorge Ignacio Cortinas. Working in the magic realism tradition, the play explores the theme of awakening from the perspective of personal fulfillment: how does one become (or not become) the person he/she wants to be? After seeing the performance, we were honored to have Ruben Polendo, the director, Hilary Austin, the stage manager, and Jon Norman Schneider, the actor who played the character Reiderico, visit our class to talk about the challenges of putting on an off-Broadway production.

Next on our reading list was Samuel Freedman’s fine book, Who She Was, a brilliantly researched look into his mother’s early life in the Bronx. Freedman visited our class and spoke in great detail about the two years that he spent researching this book. By discovering the mother that he did not know, he grew closer to his past, gaining insight into his mother and her world—before she married his father. The book and Freedman’s subsequent visit to Baruch were included in the syllabus to help students research and write their final Who SheWas/Who He Was stories.

The Bronx was also the setting for A Feather on the Breath of God, Sigrid Nunez’s powerful novel about an immigrant family struggling to survive. Once again, the reading was coupled with a chance to hear the author speak. This time, the class heard Nunez speak and read from her work at a Harman Writer-in Residence event on October 23rd (www.baruch.cuny.edu/wsas/harman).

As a prelude to our seeing AIDA on November 5th (at The MET), we had a special visitor. Soprano Angela Brown, the lead in Aida, accepted our invitation to come to Baruch. Her on-campus talk on October 30th was candid and compelling. Brown spoke about her life as a gospel singer in Indianapolis (her hometown) and about her journey to “catch up with her vision” and find her true calling in opera.

In November, we shifted our focus from opera to photography. The class visited the ICP Gallery where we saw a powerful exhibit on war photography. We viewed the slides of Jeff Mermelstein, a well-known street photographer, who came to campus and answered questions about the challenges faces by shooting on the street. Students also prepared Powerpoint presentations on several photographers including Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, Lewis Hine, James Van Der Zee, Diane Arbus, Edward Steichen, and Philip-Lorca DiCorcia. Finally, as a capstone to this unit, everyone in the class shot his/her own street photography project –12 images on a theme, accompanied by an essay. Students also created their own Collage Project–another effort to understand what it means to be an artist.

We wound up the semester with a visit to the Abstract Expressionism show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. To understand the movement toward abstraction, students prepared Powerpoint presentations on individual artists from the 1950s and the 1960s–including Jackson Pollock, Claes Oldenburg, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.

A lively semester-long series of awakenings–critical, intellectual, cultural, and artistic.

Please click on the blog links (About Faces, The Critic’s Corner, In the Spotlight, and Artistic Awakenings) to see the extraordinary results.