Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Hold it and picture a field of poppies glistening in the sunlight among the rolling green hills. You are peaceful. You are floating among the clouds. Now exhale slowly and feel the love.
Joshua Searle-White has dropped plenty of coin to hear gurus share visions like this in workshop settings through the years. In the process he developed a love-hate relationship with the self-help and new-age movements — some of the philosophies and practices might seem strange and nonsensical, he says, but by the end of each weekend, he’s glad he stuck it out.
Searle-White, professor emeritus of psychology at Allegheny College, explores that relationship in a one-person stage production that he will preview in Meadville on October 26 before taking it to the bright lights of New York City in an off-Broadway show on November 3.
The play is called “The Weekend Workshop,” and it’s the story of a man who is pressured into going to a workshop because he is told he needs to “find himself.” Searle-White describes the show as “simultaneously a scathing critique of and a love letter to the self-help and new-age movements.”
“The new-age movement is low-hanging fruit,” says Searle-White, who retired in 2018 after 22 years of teaching at Allegheny. “It’s easy to make fun of it, but at the same time I love it.”
In “The Weekend Workshop,” the hero confronts the question: “What is the difference between something that is just goofy and something that is utterly profound?” The 90-minute production includes energetic staging, clever wordplay and lots of physical comedy.
Searle-White has behind-the-scenes assistance in the production from Dan Winston, a 2010 Allegheny graduate, who is the director; LeeAnn Yeckley, the technical director of Allegheny’s Playshop Theatre, who is the stage manager, and Noah Stape, a junior at Allegheny, who is the lighting operator.
“When Josh came to me with his idea for an original show and asked me to direct, I had no hesitations,” says Winston. “It’s unlike any other show I’ve ever worked on or seen. Josh performs it entirely on his own, splitting himself between seven unique and fully-realized characters. You’d think having only one actor on stage would make the show monotonous or that it would be difficult to have interactions between characters, but we worked really hard on fleshing out each character and blocking the show so that you feel like the characters are really alive in front of you, even when Josh is playing someone else.”
The show grew out of one of the courses Searle-White taught called “The Human Potential Movement,” and it takes on all sorts of new-age practices from eye-gazing to trust falls and cuddle puddles. Searle-White plays all the characters, which include the unnamed hero, Steve, Kip, Candy, Max, Star Thunder Hawk Flower (yes, that’s really what she calls herself!), and, of course, the Guru. “Everything that I make fun of in this play, I have done myself,” he says. “I love all of it. But I also resist it with my entire being. I sign up for workshops, but then when the time comes actually to go, I start making up excuses for why I shouldn’t or imagine all the other things I could be doing instead. But despite my resistance, and despite the many difficulties with these workshops, I keep going.”
The production in New York City is part of the three-month United Solo Theatre Festival, which features one-person shows and is the largest of its kind in the world. Searle-White and his crew will have 15 minutes to prepare the stage, 45 minutes for a technical rehearsal, 90 minutes for the play, and then 15 minutes to clear the stage. “It’s a real challenge,” he says.
Searle-White is not new to the stage, having appeared in some Meadville Community Theatre productions. He has also taught storytelling at Allegheny. “I’ve always loved the creative process. I’ve written stories and performed them for years, but I’ve never tried a full-length show until now,” he says. He currently is working on another play aimed at college students that will explore the issues of sexuality, relationships and consent, which will debut in Meadville in the spring of 2020.
“The Weekend Workshop” will be staged at 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 26, in the Montgomery Performance Space on Allegheny’s campus. The show is free and open to the public; the show is recommended for adults only (not suitable for children). The one-time staging off-Broadway will be held in Theatre Row at 410 West 42nd St. in New York City at 2 p.m. on Sunday, November 3. The theater holds about 60 patrons, and admission will be $54.
In the meantime, take another deep breath. Feel the love. Namaste.
What started as an idea for a communication arts class several years ago has turned into a meaningful and engaging project for dozens of Allegheny students and residents of Meadville.
It has even inspired one former student to embark on a self-made career following his graduation.
The Meadiaville Listening Project is the creation of Associate Professor Emily Chivers Yochim. The course that spawned the project is in its third year, and Yochim says it is helping to change the way students view their education.
“I want them to see education as cooperative instead of competitive. Everything is so competitive nowadays, and we’re all encouraged to just look out for ourselves. I want students to see that a large group of people can work collectively toward the same goal,” says Yochim. “Most importantly, the students are envisioning and creating the project, spending time working with each other, and learning from both one another and the community.”
Three years ago, Yochim decided to bring her passion for exploring ethnography into her classroom. As a 2000 Allegheny graduate, Yochim based her senior project on ethnographic research, a qualitative method where researchers observe and interact with a study’s participants in their real-life environment. She returned to Allegheny to teach in 2008. Then in 2013, she collaborated with Professor River Branch on “Tool City Voices,” a media project that examined the up-and-down fortunes of the tool-and-die industry in the Meadville area.
That led to Yochim and her students interviewing Conneaut Lake residents and sharing that information with the former Eila V. Bush Endowed Professor of Art Amara Geffen, who crafted “Ganesh,” a sculpture installed at Fireman’s Beach in Conneaut Lake in 2016, culminating a community art project two years in the making.
Yochim has written two books based in ethnographic research. Her first, “Skate Life: Re-imagining White Masculinity,” explores how skateboarders negotiate their identities in skate culture. The second, “Mothering Through Precarity: Women’s Work and Digital Media,” co-authored with Associate Professor of Communication Arts Julie Wilson, is based on extensive ethnographic research conducted with mothers of young children in Meadville and Erie. Wilson also co-taught the Meadiaville class with Yochim during its second season. “My collaborations with Julie have been so important to both my research and teaching. She and I share teaching ideas all the time, and we’ve really developed this collaborative pedagogy together,” Yochim says.
Yochim has also worked closely with Oral History in the Liberal Arts (OHLA), a Great Lakes Colleges Association faculty development initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Yochim is the communications and pedagogy director of OHLA, which encourages faculty to fold community-based oral history and narrative projects into the classroom.
“I really wanted to bring this to students, to encourage them to know their community better, to do something that mattered, and then to make their work public,” says Yochim. “OHLA was instrumental in helping me to imagine and build this project. It connected me with a network of liberal arts faculty who are doing similar work, and it helped me to develop the teaching know-how and the digital tools to bring the project to life.”
Project Work Led Graduate to Forge His Own Career
As a senior, Brogan McGowan was part of the Meadiaville project in the spring of 2016. Three years later, he finds himself employed as a private contractor working from Washington, D.C., and has juggled 18 consulting contracts with profit and nonprofit organizations since his graduation. His resume lists work titles from communication and marketing manager to creative strategy consultant to visual designer — all a strong representation for the versatility in skill set that ethnography in practice benefits a workplace.
“I learned from Professor Yochim and the Meadiaville experience to use communications as a tool to build relationships with people,” says McGowan.
His first contracting job out of college was with WQED-TV, Pittsburgh’s public broadcasting station, where he helped librarians develop and use short videos and podcasts as educational tools to bring children under the age of 5 and librarians together to document their lived experience learning together. This work concluded after three months, leading McGowan into a new direction in working with for-profit companies and organizations.
McGowan also has worked with the Allegheny County Health Department in Pittsburgh as a visual designer helping craft messaging and graphics to fight stigma surrounding folks battling addiction. His most recent consulting job, where Allegheny magazine reached him on the streets of San Francisco, is observing and helping design digital advertising and community engagement strategies for The Gender Confirmation Center, an organization that works to create high-quality gender-affirming medical care for trans and non-binary individuals.
“With almost all the contracts, I’ve developed the communications plan and worked to recruit and build a team of people that can take over the project. I believe finding more people to invest in the work creates a sustainable intention,” says McGowan. “There has been a lot of learning on the fly, and I’ve fallen a few times, but I’ve been learning from the whole experience. It’s unconventional but definitely incredible work. I’m being compensated for being a critical member of the community.
“Meadiaville gave me a voice for technical directions in these later projects,” McGowan says. “I learned project management, but more importantly how to meet people where they are in their lived experiences. I use it as a passageway to connect with people.”
Listening Is Important
The Meadiaville Listening Project results from work done in Yochim’s Communications Arts course called Media Consumption. Students prepare for their work by spending the first few weeks reading and discussing scholarship and theory about the current semester’s topic. The first two seasons of Meadiaville explored Meadville’s youth media makers and local community organizers. They also read work on doing ethnography and creating podcasts. To get up to speed on how to edit a podcast, Yochim turned to Allegheny communication arts alum Nick Ozorak ’13, who lives in Meadville and hosts “The Roundhouse Railroad” podcast. Ozorak generously developed a presentation on podcasting basics for the first semester of the class, and Yochim has drawn on his knowledge ever since.
Students then set the listening project theme for the semester, develop interview questions, contact potential interviewees, conduct the interviews, analyze the interviews and find common themes. They use all of this material to build a mini-series of podcasts about the theme, and they share these with the community. Students are encouraged to do timelines and profiles of the interviewees as well.
“The important thing is they are creating the course with other students, spending time with them and learning from them,” Yochim says. “Conducting long interviews is a great way for the students to get to know Meadville. Listening to community members forges important connections between the students and Meadville. They really begin to take ownership over the project and start to feel a true responsibility for the work they’re creating with the community.”
The students break into teams to handle different aspects of the project. “They start assigning themselves tasks because they are invested in the project,” Yochim says. “They can’t wait to share the final product. It’s really the students who become inspiring.”
Yochim’s class completed the project’s third season in the fall of 2018. Over the course of 14 weeks, Yochim and her students created a website, produced podcasts, created marketing materials, and published ethnographic analyses, all grounded in communication arts theory. It culminated with the release of “North Main Narratives,” an oral-history podcast that features the college’s recently retired staff and professors. The podcasts aired on WARC-FM, and the students planned and hosted a listening party in December in the Meadville Public Library.
Season Three explores the lives of Allegheny’s educators on campus and throughout the Meadville community. In a series of four podcasts, the season explores structural changes in higher education, employees’ personal experiences as educators, and the many interactions between the College and Meadville.
“Ethnography and oral history encourage students to listen deeply and carefully,” says Yochim. “So many folks retired after Allegheny’s retirement incentive last year, and so this year I wanted to give students the opportunity to learn from those retirees, to capture their voices, and to explore with them the unique lives on a liberal arts campus in a small town.”
What the Students Take Away
“Working on this project has been an amazing opportunity to work with and get to know more about these retired professors and faculty members, as well as what they do in and for the Meadville community,” says Emily Brady, a sophomore from Medford, Massachusetts. “Overall, this project has opened my eyes to the connections Allegheny has with the Meadville community, and vice versa.”
“My peers and I are certainly excited to have the opportunity to share the stories of those who gave many years to the college and have much to share in regard to their experiences,” says Alex Hasapis, a senior from Wooster, Ohio. “I think the community will be able to fully immerse themselves in these podcasts and come out with a rich perception of both Allegheny and Meadville.”
Visitors to the website can listen to the current season of the project and can visit anytime to find Seasons One and Two, which focused on Meadville’s youth media makers and community organizers, respectively.
Emily Hayhurst, a junior from La Crescenta, California, who was part of Meadiaville’s Season Two, says, “I think the project gives Allegheny students a unique opportunity to get to know the Meadville community while learning important skills such as interviewing, analyzing ethnographic research, and putting together a project for a public audience. I was especially excited to learn about the community because my mom grew up in Meadville and I used to come and visit every summer. I never knew a lot about the community then so I loved learning about all the awesome people and initiatives that are here.”
Senior Mark Myers has worked closely with the Meadiaville project for three years, working on its first season as a first-year student in the spring of 2016 and then as a teaching assistant for the last two seasons. “Since Meadiaville’s first rendition, the project and its breadth have grown exponentially, and I have had the opportunity to watch as different groups of students have expanded it, and pushed it,” says Myers. “I look forward to seeing how the project evolves moving forward, and have no doubt that it will continue to reach new highs, and continue to reflect the experiences of those within the Meadville and Allegheny communities.”
The Meadiaville Listening Project is made possible by the Meadville community, Oral History in the Liberal Arts, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Allegheny Department of Communication Arts and Theatre, and Allegheny College. More information on this project can be found at meadiaville.com.
Allegheny College junior Marisol Santa Cruz has been awarded a $4,000 Gilman International Scholarship in order to help defray the costs of her participation in an Experiential Learning Seminar trip to India in May 2019.
“After conducting extensive archival research in the summer of 2018 under the supervision of Professor Ishita Sinha Roy, I was on a mission to complete my goal of being able to study abroad,” says Santa Cruz, who is from Santa Ana, California.
Santa Cruz will be accompanying a group of students and faculty members to India from May 13 to June 3 to study India’s experiments with globalization across its 5,000-year history. As the group treks across the Indian subcontinent, the coursework will investigate how historical sites and narratives provide the “theatrical” backdrop to contemporary media events. They also will study and explore how heritage arts and crafts are being revived by global markets, while tribal villages are organizing their own forms of cultural survival. The course is titled “India: Restaging History as a Media Event.”
“As a Gilman scholar, I will conduct a follow-up service project that will help other students apply for study away programs and help them acquire the funding to participate in these opportunities,” says Santa Cruz, a communication arts major and computer science minor.
“My vision in life is to see more Mexican women, like myself, studying internationally as they take the initiative to open up opportunities for others,” Santa Cruz says. “Through the Experiential Learning Seminar experience, I’ll be transmitting my experiences back to the community through a research paper, presentation, a virtual journal and videos.”
Santa Cruz will bring diverse and fresh perspectives to the India learning experience, says Patrick Jackson, director of fellowship advising.
“Marisol’s application was really interesting because of all the diverse perspectives she’s trying to understand and incorporate with one another. She’s a Mexican-American woman thinking about India through the lens of the work she did last summer on historical women here in Meadville through the Crawford County Historical Society,” Jackson says. “I think with this kind of background, Marisol is liable to come home with all kinds of interesting things to say and with a lot of creative ideas that she might put into action in any number of ways. Her application was classic liberal arts: open-minded and ready to connect things that don’t immediately seem like they go together. I can’t wait to hear what she has to say when she comes back.”
The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic competitiveness. The program aims to encourage students to study and intern in a diverse array of countries and world regions. The program also encourages students to study languages, especially critical need languages (those deemed important to national security).
Allegheny’s Communication Arts and Theatre Department students will release the third season of the Meadiaville Listening Project, called “North Main Narratives,” an oral-history podcast that features the college’s recently retired staff and professors, with a listening party planned for Monday, Dec. 10, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Meadville Public Library, 848 N. Main St. The event is free and open to the public.
Community members also can tune in to WARC 90.3-FM for a preview of the podcasts on December 6 from 6 to 8 p.m.
The Meadiaville Listening Project is a podcast series that illuminates everyday life in Meadville, focusing on how media thread through daily experience here. Season Three explores the lives of Allegheny’s educators on campus and throughout the Meadville community. “North Main Narratives” traces the changing contours of a liberal arts education, featuring the voices of recently retired professors and staff. In a series of four podcasts, the season explores structural changes in higher education, employees’ personal experiences as educators, and the many interactions between the college and Meadville.
Accompanying the podcasts is a website about Allegheny life, including explorations of its history and culture. An interview with President James H. Mullen, Jr., who is set to retire in June 2019, will be added to the site by mid-December.
The Meadiaville Listening Project is produced in its entirety by students in an ethnographic methods course in Allegheny’s Communication Arts and Theatre Department. Designed to teach students ethnographic and oral history methodologies, the course ultimately moves students to engage in deep conversations with community members and to spend time learning about the Meadville community. Through this experience, students not only explore their lives at Allegheny College and changes on campus, but also their lives in Meadville and before making the community their home.
“Ethnography and oral history encourage students to listen deeply and carefully,” said Emily Yochim, associate professor of Communication Arts. “So many folks retired after Allegheny’s retirement incentive last year, and so this year I wanted to give students the opportunity to learn from those retirees, to capture their voices, and to explore with them the unique lives on a liberal arts campus in a small town.”
Students have spent the semester researching the changing shape of higher education, and their interviews with professors and staff have shown them how those changes have impacted the Allegheny community.
“Working on this project has been an amazing opportunity to work with and get to know more about these retired professors and faculty members, as well as what they do in and for the Meadville Community,” said Emily Brady, a sophomore. “I was surprised to learn that even though many of the people we interviewed have retired many of them are still teaching classes and doing work for the school. Overall, this project has opened my eyes to the connections Allegheny has with the Meadville community, and vice versa.”
Visitors to the website can listen to the current season of the project beginning on December 10, but can visit anytime to find Seasons One and Two, which focused on Meadville’s youth media makers and community organizers, respectively. The website can be found at meadiaville.com.
“My peers and I are certainly excited to have the opportunity to share the stories of those who gave many years to the college and have much to share in regards to their experiences,” said Alex Hasapis, a senior. “I think the community will be able to fully immerse themselves in these podcasts and come out with a rich perception of both Allegheny and Meadville.”
The Dec. 10 kickoff event will offer listening booths featuring all three seasons of the project, children’s activities and light refreshments. Interested attendees will also be invited to participate in mini-interviews in the library’s new mediaLAB, which features a podcasting booth and green screen technologies.
About the Meadiaville Listening Project
The Meadiaville Listening Project is imagined and executed annually by Dr. Emily Yochim and students who enroll in her course Media Consumption. The class began with 18 students in January 2016 and has since expanded to create a new season each year with a new set of students and teaching assistants from seasons previous.
Over the course of 14 weeks, Yochim and her students conduct interviews, create a website, produce podcasts, create marketing materials, and publish ethnographic analyses, all grounded in communication arts theory. The Meadiaville Listening Project is made possible by the Meadville Community, Oral History in the Liberal Arts, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Department of Communication Arts and Theatre, and Allegheny College. More information on this project can be found at meadiaville.com.
Mark Cosdon,Allegheny College professor of theatre and performance studies, appeared on a recent episode of the Australian television show “Who Do You Think You Are?”.
Cosdon’s segment was recorded in August in London, where he met with Noni Hazlehurst, an immensely popular Australian stage and screen performer who was featured in the episode. “Who Do You Think You Are?” is a documentary genealogy series that profiles celebrities and traces their family trees with affiliates around the globe.
“For over two decades I have been researching the Hanlon Brothers and the history of popular entertainments,” Cosdon said. “This work culminated in my book The Hanlon Brothers: From Daredevil Acrobatics to Spectacle Pantomime, 1833–1931, about a famed family of aerial and slapstick comedy performers. While I regularly field inquiries from other historians whose work intersects with mine or from those conducting research into their family’s roots, being approached by Warner Brothers to participate in ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ was certainly a most unusual and satisfying experience.
“Noni Hazlehurst is a beloved Australian performer. Her great-grandfather Patrick Carmody was employed by the Hanlon Brothers for nearly 10 years. We shot the first segment alongside the Thames and then traveled to the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End to shoot a second segment.”
This is a free event to celebrate amazing work being done in the community. The Meadiaville Listening Project Team has been making podcasts that present the work our local community members do, and the stories they are telling about Meadville. This celebration at 5 p.m. Monday, April 30, serves to showcase the final product and the community of Meadville. There will be food and drinks available, so come to this event to celebrate the community. The address is 847 N. Main St. Suite 201.
The Allegheny College Playshop Theatre will present Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit” from April 12-15 in the Gladys Mullenix Black Theatre in the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts.
Show times are Thursday, April 12, through Saturday, April 14, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, April 15, at 2:30 p.m. Directed by Professor Mark Cosdon, the show will feature five Allegheny students: Mark Shimkets, Marina Varvaro, Simon Brown, Cayla Brandon, and Noah Stape. “Detroit” runs approximately 90 minutes and is performed without an intermission.
“‘Detroit’ is a comically dark play about the suburbs of any midwestern American city, racked by financial hardship, addiction, and the fracturing of the American dream,” Cosdon says. “Suburban neighbors meet for a barbecue and slowly develop a friendship that will be tested while laying bare the American psyche. ‘Detroit’ is an agonizingly funny play with serious ramifications for all of us. Thematically, the Pulitzer-nominated ‘Detroit’ will feel readily accessible and familiar to anyone.”
“Detroit” features the work of two visiting guest artists, Andrea Ball and Chuck Hatcher. Ball’s scenic design captures the look of a first-ring suburb’s neighboring houses. Hatcher, a sound designer long associated with Cornell and the University of Cincinnati, has created a soundscape that conveys the aural realness of the suburbs.
In addition, Allegheny professors Michael Mehler and Miriam Patterson designed “Detroit’s” lights and costumes, the Playshop’s Sandy Everett is the technical director, and senior Amanda Fallon is the stage manager. More than 30 students were involved in the building process for the sets, and will work on its running crew as deckhands, dressers, and board operators.
Tickets are free for current Allegheny students, but they are encouraged to reserve tickets here. All others can purchase tickets by calling the box office: (814) 332-3414. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $8 for non-Allegheny students, Allegheny employees, and senior citizens. Due to strong language and themes some might find unsettling, “Detroit” is recommended for audiences over 14.
Ayanna Thompson, a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar and one of the world’s foremost authorities on issues of race in Shakespeare and the impact of nontraditional casting on audiences today, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 15, in Ford Chapel at Allegheny College.
A reception will follow in the Ford Chapel Oratory. The free event is open to the public.
Thompson’s talk is titled “Shakespeare, Race, and Performance: What We Still Don’t Know.” She is president-elect of the Shakespeare Association of America and a professor of English at George Washington University, specializing in Renaissance drama and issues of race in/as performance.
She is the author of “Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose: A Student-Centered Approach,” “Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America” and “Performing Race and Torture on the Early Modern Stage.” She wrote the new introduction for the revised “Arden 3 Othello,” and is the editor of “Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race” and “Performance and Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance.”
Currently on the editorial boards of the “Shakespeare Quarterly,” “Renaissance Drama” and “Shakespeare Bulletin,” she has served on the board of directors for the Association of Marshall Scholars.
Thompson will be on Allegheny’s campus for a two-day program on February 15–16 that will include classroom discussions, meeting with students, and her public lecture.
Phi Beta Kappa is a national scholastic society which has had a chapter at Allegheny since 1902. It was founded in 1776, has chapters at 286 colleges and universities, and has more than half a million members throughout the country. The Visiting Scholar Program gives undergraduates the opportunity to spend time with some of America’s most distinguished scholars. The 15 men and women participating during 2017–2018 will visit 110 colleges and universities with chapters of Phi Beta Kappa, spending two days on each campus.
Allegheny’s Playshop Theatre will present “Love and Information,” a play by Caryl Churchill, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 22-24, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, February 25, in the Gladys Mullenix Black Theatre in the Vukovich Center for Communication Arts on the Allegheny campus.
In a whirlwind of 57 scenes and 100 characters, playwright Caryl Churchill snapchats a world awash in data, examining the ways that our exponentially growing environment of information impacts our interactions, feelings, and relationships. Screenwriter Tony Kushner calls Churchill “The greatest living English playwright” and this brilliant, funny and poignant play reveals a master work of contemporary theatre.
The cast includes 17 Allegheny students, Professor Daniel Crozier is the director, Associate Professor Michael Mehler is designing set and lights, and Miriam Patterson is designing costumes.
The Allegheny Playshop Theatre, now celebrating its 88th season, will stage William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” Nov. 16-19. Performances are at 8 p.m. Nov.16-18 and at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 19 in the Gladys Mullenix Black Theatre.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for non-Allegheny students, senior citizens, and Allegheny employees. Admission is free for Allegheny students with identification, but they are asked to make reservations. For more information or to order tickets, contact the Playshop Theatre box office at (814) 332-3414.