Sixty seconds to light up the stage

Last Thursday, I found myself and about 50 others at the ’62 Center’s CenterStage to watch or participate in “The Spotlight Experiment,” which purported to be “the liberation of theater creativity in a one‑minute piece.” The seats, elevated into dimness, were half‑filled – mostly with students waiting to perform. Some held papers, others instruments, one wore a cape and another a lion costume. A timer went on and off like the excited whispers in the audience. “Chef” Meredith Nelson ’09 came onto stage in an apron, saying to applause that she was “cooking up one-minute talents.” The timer would beep after the performer had gone on for one minute.

More than 30 acts endeavored to participate in the show, all of which could cover any method of artistic expression for evaluation. The students were advised to compel, surprise or amuse to get across “a story, discovery or reflection” and encouraged to be original. Omar Sangare, professor of theater, explained that this two-year-old tradition was a chance to showcase talents, and the material chosen by the volunteering students had either been “requested” or was “organic.”

Many of the acts certainly delivered. From poems to songs to monologues to personal accounts, these thespians used CenterStage as a canvas and their imaginations as palettes. Each performer stepped into the venue’s namesake pool of illumination – except one, who defied social norms by standing beside the spotlight – and faced 60 seconds of exposure. Everyone seems to be on first­â€‘name terms, as evidenced by the cheering in the front rows. What was remarkable was how strictly everyone conformed to the time limit, abbreviating musical pieces and skits so acts were cohesive and poignant as well as under the specified limit.
The acts were as variable as the actors themselves. Quinn Franzen ’09, for example, dressed as Simba, munched on Girl Scout cookies, guzzled booze and gave a humorous spiel drawing on first-year experiences and Disney. He explained how he related to the way an exchange student might get caught up on the drinking culture, experience new things – as his character does with cars – and be snagged by cultural memes from home, which Franzen metaphorically connected with eating gazelles.

Later, Murat Kologlu ’12 performed a Star Wars twist on the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. by speaking in a Darth Vader voice. Any nerd would enjoy how he mock‑seriously launched into painting an ideal world where his “four little Jedi – would be judged not on their force but the content of their character.”

The “most anticipated act” of the night was the bongo duo of Tim Kiely ’11 and Kevin Rose ’11, who played in complement to their spoken word “Who Gives a F—- about Oxford Anyway?” The pulse of the duo’s skillful playing mounted higher and higher as the drums got the heart pumping, but a few very random statements deflated the act. Still, I appreciated this ironic parody of the performance poetry that I’d gotten used to.

Some people relied on wit and flaunting their abilities, telling stories or reciting poetry in Spanish. Some were guitarists, funny or solemn, and one played the dulcimer. A Beyoncé and a V for Vendetta impersonator were also present. People bared their souls with stories about life‑changing abroad experiences and the most disturbing thing they’d ever heard or divulged tales about “nanas” or jokes from down‑on‑their‑luck heroes. Others played “Two Truths and a Lie,” dished out philosophical theories about M&Ms or made thought‑provoking “public service social commentaries.” A few birthed verse from various sources – teacher‑appalling rhymes on incest and stanzas on dealing with dysgraphia. Some performers announced flat‑out they were ad-libbing, and in most instances I braced for a slight dip in quality.

An exception was the game of charades performed by Lizzy Fox ’12, which captivated the audience and drew laughs as she acted out movie titles and waited for someone to shout out guesses. I felt closer to her and these people, introduced to me by their first name and their art. Refreshing was each actor’s candid openness, even among those with a common interest. In short, these theater exercises were a breath of fresh air from the college workload on a random Thursday night.