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Alec Sarche ’17 Pushes the Limits of Experiential Art with Audio Dramas

By Montana Bass ’18

In a mix of creativity and innovation, Alec Sarche ’17 has reinvented the theatre experience with his audio dramas. Inspired by post-modern designers who weight their work more to the audience’s experience than actors’ performances, Sarche created a situation in which the audience becomes the actor, participating in his theatre themselves, all without their sense of sight.

Sarche says he was inspired to create an environment where the audience could witness and interact with art. “Art is becoming more and more ‘make of it what you will,’ or ‘it’s your thing not ours;’ I wanted to take that as far as I could and make something completely designed by my audience,” Sarche says of his original idea to create the audio drama. He decided to take away sight and designed a soundscape that would guide witnesses, a term he ironically coined to describe the participants in his theatre. While witnesses listen to the soundscape, blindfolded, Sarche and his facilitators move physical objects with which the witnesses interact at specific moments dictated by Sarche and his soundscape.

His first audio theatre, “Shore and Woods,” led witnesses towards a fan with the sound of ocean waves playing in their ears. As they moved through the room, Sarche brushed them with branches. The branches acted as an axis prop, the object Sarche uses as the center of his drama. “I tend to write these based around the tactile experience,” he says. “I think about what would be interesting to touch without seeing. If you touch a tree and feel bark and branches, can you picture it?”

The answer turned out to be a resounding “yes,” as witnesses reported seeing vivid scenes in their mind’s eye. “They came up with this incredible rich environment in their heads,” Sarche explains. Even more interesting: the vast difference in the scenes witnesses described, exemplifying the variety of ways their minds interacted with Sarche’s invented world. “Even though you know the script,” says Tinka Avramova ’17, who worked as a facilitator on Sarche’s set, “it changes every time because each new person relates to the directions differently. There is such a rush when something goes right, when someone lets out a laugh or smile. There is this whole world that I get to see as the operator, but somehow I can’t help but feel that the blindfolded audience is actually seeing even more in their imagination.”

During Block 7, Sarche’s final audio drama of the year, “New Season,” pushed the possibilities of this new approach to theatre even further by including two witnesses who move their way through two different, intertwined audiotracks simultaneously. “One track was more optimistic, the other more pessimistic,” says Sarche. “They thought they had the same experience while they listen to the soundscape, but then when talking together, they realized they had this completely different idea of what they thought was the same thing.”

The differing impressions of the two witnesses highlight the powerful psychological results of Sarche’s work. Just as these witnesses were awakened to the misguidedness of their assumption that the other participant would finish with the same perceptions, so future audio dramas can be used to awaken witnesses’ abilities to recognize others’ viewpoints. “I think it could be a really effective tool in social justice,” says Sarche. He plans to gear his next work towards experimenting with that concept. Look out for his thesis, coming out Block 1 next fall.

Better Understand Your Irrational Behavior with Professor Thaler

Monica Black ’19

Humans are attached to their stuff.

This is the idea behind behavioral economics, a blossoming field in finance. The typical neoclassical, traditional economic vision of the human psyche is that it is rational and wants to maximize profits, but behavioral economics, which only came into vogue in the 1970s, takes into consideration the innate irrationality of humans when it comes to economic decision-making. The psychology of the consumer can affect the market.

On Wednesday, April 27, Richard Thaler , professor of economics at the University of Chicago will be giving a talk titled “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics.”

Thaler is considered one of the fathers of behavioral economics, a young field.

Mark Smith, CC professor of economics, was instrumental in bringing Thaler to campus. Smith says, “I wanted to bring him to campus because behavioral economics is one of the most exciting trends in economics today.”

Two of Thaler’s books, “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics” (2015) and “Nudge: Improving Decisions about Wealth, Health, and Happiness” (2009), lay out his theory and practical applications for the thinking consumer. “I have used both books as required supplemental readings in my microeconomics courses to expose my students to behavioral economics,” says Smith.

Though many students may be put off by the seemingly niche title, behavioral economics’ daily applications are manifold. In “Nudge,” Thaler and co-author Cass Sunstein detail ways that an understanding of behavioral economics can help people save money, encourage contributions to charity, and take care of their health. It also allows us to understand why we are so shortsighted when it comes to impactful economic decisions, and how to rewire that tendency.

“[Thaler] should be interesting to anyone who is interested in economics, public policy, psychology, judgment and decision-making, and simply how people think,” says Smith, who specializes in environmental economy and is interested in the policy implications of Thaler’s work. “He will be a provocative speaker. I think people will enjoy his stories.”

Hear from Thaler Wednesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Celeste Theatre.

CC Grad Receives National Attention for Investigative Feature

By Montana Bass ’18

Tay Wiles ’08 recently got her big break in a journalism career, sparked here at CC, with a feature-length story in High Country News, where she is an editor.

“I was a winter start,” Wiles says of her introduction to both CC and the start of her journalistic career came during her first year at CC when, “I saw a copy of the Cipher. I remember thinking immediately, ‘I want to work for that.’” And that’s exactly what she did. Wiles went on to become editor-in-chief of the Cipher during her senior year, preparation for her later success. That year, the team received a grant and Wiles was able to help transform the magazine from an extremely radical publication to the more balanced, literary reportage it provides today. “I love that in college publications, there’s a lot of turn over. It makes it difficult, but it also makes for a huge range of alumni who feel invested in it,” says Wiles.

She also worked in both the news and music departments at KRCC during her time as a student. Jeff Bieri, KRCC program manager, hired Wiles as his assistant when he worked as music director. He says she “was absolutely eating up the experience of learning here at CC, getting involved in every opportunity that came her way to gain experience.”

A recent feature for HCN, “Sugar Pine Mine: The Other Standoff,” was Wiles’ first feature since her years at CC, the first in her professional career, and it has received national recognition. The publication of the story aligned fortuitously with national media attention to developments in the conflict. HCN capitalized on the spike in national interest, posting new updates and teasers from Wiles’ feature on the website in the days leading up to its release. “It sort of dovetailed,” says Wiles. “It was really exciting to me because I felt that all the work I’d been doing over the previous year really came to fruition.”

Prior to HCN, she earned a degree in religion with a journalism minor from CC. “A lot of why I was interested in religion was that I really like to try to understand how people perceive their world, how they understand the forces that put them where they are, and how they fit into society,” she explains. Her intense curiosity translated well into her work in investigative environmental journalism with HCN.

The year after she graduated, Wiles completed a fellowship with Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, which she credits for her precise editing skills. “They really go after environmental justice — hard. I was always fact-checking, meeting with editors, making sure that stories were air-tight so we wouldn’t come under fire.”

The “Sugar Pine Mine” story was a part of the “Sagebrush Rebellion” issue, and drew on those skills. Wiles expertly reports the story of a mining dispute between the radical Oath Keepers and local government in Josephine County, Oregon, which caused a standoff that threatened to erupt into an armed battle.

Wiles continues to prove herself as an excellent journalist by landing the editing position at HCN, a publication she cares for deeply, just over five years after completing her fellowship. “I love that it’s a small, tight-knit team,” she says of working at HCN, “We really try to pick ideas that mean something to people. We get people calling who say ‘Hey I’m calling from Idaho. This is what’s going on for me,’ and if it’s good we’ll write it.”

Meet Maria Mendez: CC’s New SARC

Maria MendezBy Monica Black ’19

With the start of 2016, the Sexual Assault Response Program welcomed a new leader: Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Maria Mendez.

Mendez has been working since January 4, the beginning of Half-Block. “Aready, I have come to admire and be inspired by students on campus and the drive and passion they have in all facets of life,” says Mendez.

The SARC’s two main roles are support and prevention. She is a confidential resource that survivors, no matter the perceived severity of the violence, can use to work through all forms of dating and sexual violence in whatever capacity they choose.

Mendez’s previous work is mainly in prevention. Before coming to CC, she worked for a domestic violence and rape crisis center in her home state, California. There she worked in grant writing and eventually transitioned to working to develop programming intended to educate on and prevent sexual violence.

In recent years, Mendez says, media coverage of and White House focus on the high rate of sexual assault of women on campuses shifted the focus in sexual assault work to college communities. At the crisis center, Mendez became more involved with the local college. “It sparked interest for me to work on a college campus,” says Mendez. “When the opportunity here at CC came up, I jumped on it.”

CC in particular appealed to Mendez because of the history of the SARC program. “I loved how CC was talking about the issue and how the program had been around since 2004,” she says. “It was very encouraging for me.”

The program has seen transitions recently. When Tara Misra, SARC from 2013-2015, left the position, it created a temporary vacancy. Last semester Gail Murphy-Geiss, the Title IX coordinator, and Heather Horton, director of the Wellness Resource Center, acted as interim SARCs in the absence of a full-time employee.

The White House Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey that Murphy-Geiss conducted last April indicated that sexual assault is an ongoing problem at CC, in line with the national average on campuses, and that many survivors do not file complaints. Murphy-Geiss wrote in the conclusion of the study that “creative programs and ongoing dialogues must continue to be at the center of prevention and response efforts.”

In fact, reduction of sexual assault on campus is one of Mendez’s goals. “Moving forward, I hope that because of the prevention efforts from several offices around campus, including the SARC, and the community,” she says, “my support role will no longer have to be my primary function.”

“Black Faces, White Spaces” with Carolyn Finney

Carolyn FinneyBy Montana Bass ’18

Carolyn Finney, author of “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors,” will bring her expertise to the Colorado College campus March 3. Finney is currently a geography faculty member at the University of Kentucky.

In a time when racial tension has exploded on college campuses across the country, including CC, and environmental discussion is at the forefront of political and social debate, Finney facilitates conversations regarding the intersectionality of these topics. “We have a long history of marginalizing people, and the environment is included in that,” Finney says. “It doesn’t mean that black or brown people haven’t had a relationship with the environment, but that relationship differs depending on their unique experience and history. We have developed a culture that pushes a universal way of looking at things, and that classic narrative isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not truly universal.”

It’s thanks to Drew Cavin, director of the Office of Field Study, that students will have the opportunity to discuss such topics with Finney. “I had a strong hunch that a large portion of the missing sense of inclusivity at CC was due to the ethos around nature, outdoor adventure, and the environment. I know from my research that these things do not resonate equally with all people for a variety of different reasons, but largely, I think, because of our country’s past and present of systemic racism, and the cultural paths that have emerged in different communities because of those systems,” says Cavin of his push to bring Finney to CC.

Both Cavin and Finney are excited about her visit to campus, and hope students will be, too. “As soon as I start talking about it I’m pacing back and forth,” she exclaims. “I love hearing about what people are experiencing.”

Find full event information at: “Black Faces, White Spaces.”

Esther Chan ’16 Tells the Story of Lives Changed By Meadows Park Community Center

Subjects of Esther Chan '16 thesis projectBy Montana Bass ’18

Esther Chan ’16 is sharing an inspiring message of struggle and empowerment. For her thesis project, she spent months gathering video footage and conducting interviews. Now, through a multimedia presentation, she will highlight the lives of three young people in Colorado Springs who overcame adversity to incite change in their community.

Chan’s thesis project is a culmination of an innovative, independently designed major – visual media, and social change. It follows Miguel Roacho, David Atencio, and Danielle Atencio in their daily lives, focusing on their work at Meadows Park Community Center. The thesis event will take place Friday, March 4, from 4-8 p.m. at Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 East Colorado Ave., in Colorado Springs.

The three individuals featured in Chan’s film all grew up with MPCC as a major influence in their lives. “It has always been their safe space and home and where they’ve found comfort,” says Chan. “Their story is of growing up in low-income Colorado Springs. It has a lot of violence, struggle, and drug use. It’s defined by the strength to break the cycle and make Colorado Springs better.” MPCC’s main goal is to empower youth to overcome the adversity they face, and have a successful and functional adult life. “Brian Kates ’93, the MPCC director, calls it organized chaos,” adds Chan, laughing. “Kids just get to run around and play.”

Chan volunteered at MPCC during her sophomore year as part of a youth empowerment class. Later, as she thought about her thesis, the lasting impression MCPP left on her sparked an idea. “I wanted to use a sociological research method called ‘photovoice,’ where you give cameras to kids in the community, then base the research on the videos,” she explains.

Filming began in September and Chan has continued once or twice a week ever since, gaining over four months of footage for her final documentary. “I just told them, ‘whenever you’re doing something, let me know,’ [so I could document it]. Mostly, I’m at MPCC where they work and hang with the kids,” says Chan. “They’ve totally let me into their lives and shared special moments with me.”

Shuttles to Cottonwood Center for the Arts will leave from the south side of Worner Campus Center continuously between 4-8 p.m. on Friday, March 4. There, attendees can watch the short documentary, view a gallery of photos from MPCC children, catch live music from student band Ominous Animals, and enjoy food provided by Mobile Meals.

Balancing Two Careers – Acclaimed Musician and Professor – with (Susan) Grace

Susan GraceBy Monica Black ’19

From the rooms of Packard Performance Hall, Susan Grace, artist-in-residence and lecturer in music, is making waves. At CC, she’s known as Susan, director of the Summer Music Festival and talented professor of piano. Recently, though, she’s been receiving recognition for her work outside of the school as well. The London Sunday Times recently named her as a contributor to one of the top ten contemporary recordings of 2016 for her recording “Stefan Wolpe – Music for Violin and Piano,” and that’s just one in a long line of acknowledgments. To name a few formidable awards, she was nominated for a Grammy in 2005 and received the Spirit of the Springs award in 2014.

Grace, a pianist, has led a diverse career: she performs collaborative music, chamber music, in duos, and concertos. “I’m not stuck to one thing,” says Grace. While she loves the variety her career offers her, she acknowledges that it can be overwhelming. “I do a lot of recording,” she says. “It can be challenging to balance [my career and my teaching], but most of my students are pretty advanced and work hard.”

Grace is a mainstay in the CC Music Department. Beyond teaching classes, she directs the Summer Music Festival, an annual event that attracts advanced music students and faculty from all across the nation to participate in a month-long workshop. “I feel really fortunate to be a part of the community here,” Grace says. “The faculty development and possibilities are great.”

Her most recent accolade for the Stefan Wolpe was the fruit of a recording done in Packard Hall for Bridge Records. Her co-musicians on the recording were renowned violinists Movses Pogossian and Varty Manouelian. Her recording company had asked her to record Wolpe. “I had never even heard of Wolpe,” said Grace, “but I found the music really interesting.”

In addition to another Wolpe piece, she continues work with her piano duo, Quattro Mani. Grace is also preparing for an August recording of “Poul Ruders for Harpsichord and Piano,” a performance at famous venue National Sawdust in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a Quattro Mani performance at Bargemusic, also in Brooklyn.

Scott Bryan ’01 Named “Modern Day Pioneer” for Water Innovations

Scott BryanMontana Bass ’18

Whether or not you’re in need of a new pair of jeans, take a look at the Levi Strauss and Company “Modern-Day Pioneers” webpage, which last month featured CC graduate Scott Bryan. Bryan, who graduated from CC as an economics major in 2001, is now the president of Imagine H20, a company that supports startups with promising solutions to current water challenges.

As he mentions in the article, Bryan’s interest in water was sparked during his years at CC. He cites professors Mark Smith and Walt Hecox as especially influential on his education. During Smith’s environmental economics class, Bryan visited the Glen Canyon Dam, where he studied the system of water delivery to farms in Colorado and New Mexico. In his classes with Hecox, Bryan says, “I spent a lot of time in the San Luis Valley learning about the conflict between ranchers and water developers.”

Taking advantage of the opportunity for interdisciplinary study that CC offers, Bryan took an environmental sociology course, which he remembers as pivotal in developing his later dedication to address the strain on water resources. That class also spent time in the San Luis Valley. Bryan explains, “that is where we learned about the acequia [or communal irrigation] systems and the potential threat from logging headwaters.”

Today, Bryan recognizes the great impact his CC education has had on his life. “At CC, thanks to the block program, I really learned the value of diving into an issue or topic. This has been critical in my professional career,” he says. “It’s been fun to work in the water innovation space and connect with other Tigers. Andrew Fahlund ’91 is a deputy director at the California Water Foundation, which supports Imagine H2O. Jim McDermott ’91 founded a very successful water tech business called NanoH2O.”

In his interview with Levi Strauss, Bryan delves into the mission behind Imagine H20, his personal involvement, and what he sees for the future. Check it out.

Student Turns Challenges into Campus Discussion on Eating Disorders

Vanessa Voller' 16 hiking the Na’Pali coast in Kaua’i

Vanessa Voller’ 16 hiking the Na’Pali coast in Kaua’i

Montana Bass ’18

When I walk in to Sacred Grounds, a student-run tea house inside Shove Memorial Chapel, Vanessa Voller ’16 immediately shows me to an assortment of teas, puts on water, and makes sure I’m comfortable. In less than a minute, she has already impressed me with her obvious kindness and the comforting sense of calm she carries with her.

She is a sociology major and an avid hiker from St. Paul, Minnesota. Next block, she will facilitate an inaugural three-day event series during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week to raise awareness about disordered eating and eating disorders on college campuses. Events will include keynote lectures and book signings by Jenni Schaefer and Anita Johnston, two prominent scholars and activists in the field; a documentary screening and discussion about eating disorders in diverse communities; trainings and workshops for Athletics Department and residential life staff; and free assessments and referrals by specialists from the Eating Disorder Center of Colorado Springs.

“I was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2005, when I was just 11 years old,” says Voller. “I was physically and mentally ill for nearly a decade, losing my early and late adolescence to my mental illness.” We are sitting on colorful, plush cushions when I ask what motivated her to dedicate so much time and effort to this cause. She began her answer very simply.

“I was fortunate enough to have access to help at the Emily Program in St. Paul, one of the best centers for eating disorders in the country. There, I attended intensive out-patient therapy, group therapy, and family therapy sessions.”

Though at a more stable weight, Voller admits that her mental health continued to suffer throughout her first three years at CC. Now during her last semester, she is determined to spread awareness about this deadly mental illness. “The most important thing for me for people to know is that healing and recovery is possible. I think if someone had said that to me when I was 11 or even a first-year at CC it wouldn’t have taken a decade to ultimately be freed from my own mental illness,” she pauses, waiting for me to look up, “make sure you get that down,” she adds taking a long sip of her chamomile tea.

The three-day NEDA week event series, says Voller, is the culmination of her own recovery process. It is also her senior capstone project for the Community Engaged Leadership Certificate program, supervised by David Harker, director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement and an extension of her recent Venture Grant supervised by Associate Professor of Sociology Kathy Giuffre. Voller received a Venture Grant to spend her winter break hiking the Na’Pali coast in Kaua’i and interviewing Hawaiian cultural experts and medical staff at Hawaii’s only residential eating disorder clinic, Ai’Pono.

The Kalalau Trail she hiked is one of the “Top Ten Most Dangerous in the U.S.” according to National Geographic. Despite various setbacks, including a flash flood, Voller ultimately completed the 22-mile trek, during which she said she was reminded of her own recovery journey. “At mile two on the hike, at the Hanakap’ai Stream, I faced incredibly dangerous, chest deep waters. A local park ranger told me that I had to turn around and wait out the flash flood because crossing could be deadly. I immediately thought of my childhood therapist, holding my 11-year-old hand saying, ‘Vanessa, if you continue with this behavior you could die.’”

“I began the hike alone,” she says, “thinking that I didn’t need anyone or any help. But honestly, it was quite bold to think I didn’t need anyone.” She sets her mug down, “After the flash floods I befriended three other hikers and we traversed the rest of the coastline together.” She adds, “You know, almost everyone I met during my travels was healing from something: a failed marriage, an addiction, the loss of a loved one.”

After her hike, Voller traveled to the Ai’Pono clinic in Maui. “I read ‘Eating by the Light of the Moon’ by Anita Johnston when I was in treatment and it profoundly impacted me,” she says. Voller speaks of Johnston with intense admiration. “Anita is a remarkable woman; a true healer. An inspiration. She will do wonders for our community and I am honored that she is taking time to visit us.”

This block, Voller is in an independent study with Giuffre focused on writing an auto-ethnographic memoir chronicling her recovery journey through the lens of her backpacking trip. “I’m not sure what will happen with the manuscript when the block is over,” she says, “but for right now, I’m just focused on exploring my own creative writing process and crafting a new narrative of hope and of healing.”

More information on NEDA week, which will be Tuesday, Feb. 23, to Thursday, Feb. 25, is coming soon.

Thaddeus Phillips ‘94 Transforms Space and Time Onstage

Monica Black ’19

In his most recent play, “17 Border Crossings,” which debuted in Manitou Springs, Colorado a few years ago and is now playing at the Blue Room Theatre in Perth, Thaddeus Phillips ’94 fills up the stage, and plays everyone, everywhere in 17 true stories of migration and separation. Backed by his own narration, Phillips transforms himself from a Hungarian border control agent – with shirttail protruding from his fly – into a smuggler. The standing microphone, table, chair, and a light bar are flipped and repurposed 17 times to become a trans-Euro train, a beach, a customs check, a motorcycle.

Eileen Blumenthal, professor of theatre at Rutgers University and a critic of the arts in New York City, recently featured Phillips’ work in American Theatre. He has developed, Blumenthal writes, his “own brand of theatre,” evidenced by his unique use of space and repurposing of common objects to create different universes. His diverse body of work ranges from one-man Shakespeare (“King Lear;” “Hamlet”) to more traditional plays that take on contemporary issues, from “Narcos” to onstage telenovela¡El Conquistador!” about Colombian soap operas.

His unique and formidable career in the arts began with his studies in the Theatre Department at Colorado College, where he encountered, via theatre professors at CC, cutting-edge ideas about onstage space adapted from Peter Brooks. He also worked with puppetmaster Encho Avramov (who has continued to teach and direct at CC as a visitor) and saw the renowned work of Robert LePage during the course of his studies.

Phillips now runs theatre company Lucidity Suitcase International, which produces much of his work. Read the full story.