Artists discuss social change

Playwright Rob Urbinati chats with audience members after his first lecture on May 9 in the Ford Hall lobby. Kate Straube/Photo editor

A three-day symposium marked the beginning of the Linfield Lacroute Arts Series, an interdisciplinary series of events designed to integrate the areas of music, visual art and theatre. The symposium ran from May 7 through May 9 and featured three artists who gave presentations, participated in a panel discussion and worked with students in the classroom.

Musician Thomas Lauderdale, photo historian Corey Dzenko and playwright Rob Urbinati started the symposium with a panel discussion about the role of the arts in social change. The panel took place on May 7 and was moderated by Susan Agre-Kippenhan, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Linfield.

Topics of the discussion included the role of the artist, the varied interpretations of art depending on context and audience, and the purpose of art, whether to entertain, inform, invoke or all three.

“A lot of times, artwork is dismissed because it’s entertaining,” Dzenko said. “People think it can’t be entertaining and meaningful at the same time.”

Lauderdale presented the first of the artists’ lectures, “Singer-Songwriter: Learn Your Craft” on May 7. He narrated the processes of writing several songs for his band, Pink Martini. He illustrated the lecture with piano riffs, photocopied handouts of scribbled sheets of lyrics and clips of the finished songs.

“When I’m writing a song, I’m not trying to write a hit,” Lauderdale said. “I try not to be concerned how people will like it. If I don’t like it, it wasn’t worth it, and no amount of money can make up for that.”

The second lecture, “The Cruel Optimism of Gregory Crewdson’s ‘Suburbs’ and Suzanne Opton’s ‘Soldiers’,” was presented by Dzenko on May 8. She discussed idealized images of suburbs, traditional  views of soldiers and the way Crewdson’s and Opton’s photos explore stereotypes in how people view the American dream and the American military.

Urbinati gave the last two lectures May 9 titled “Creating a Play: From Idea to Page to Stage, Part One,” which covered Urbinati’s typical writing process and what Urbinati called the development path, or what happens after you finish writing a play.

Urbinati’s second lecture, “Rebel Voices and Necessary Dialogues,” focused on the role of theatre in social change.

Urbinati said since his view was that of someone who has chosen a career in arts, he sees himself as an artist first. But, as he pointed out, artists can be activists.

“The most overtly political play I’ve ever written was ‘Rebel Voices,’” Urbinati said. “I was asked to adapt ‘Voices of a People’s History of the United States,’ the companion to Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States.’ It’s a collection of letters, speeches, poems and original documents in these minority voices.”

To illustrate his lecture, Urbinati invited junior Chris Forrer, sophomore Jacob Priester and senior Kanon Havens to read a selection from “Rebel Voices” that juxtaposed a poem by Allen Ginsberg, a U.S. military report and an eyewitness account of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Urbinati also discussed his next project, temporarily titled “The Linfield Project.” According to Urbinati, this play will cover topics of racism and racial stereotypes, multiculturalism, cyberbullying and the way students communicate using technology.

“I wanted to get a sense of how things like this would escalate,” Urbinati said. “I think it’s going to be very complicated and mixed up, like how things get interpreted wrong in real life online interactions and escalate way out of proportion.”

“The Linfield Project” is scheduled to be produced in March 2013. Urbinati said Linfield students will be able to see the development of it throughout the 2012 fall semester.

The Lacroute Arts Series is sponsored by the Lacroute Arts Fund, named for Linfield trustee Ronni Lacroute. The series will include four similar interdisciplinary arts programs over the next two years.

Sharon Gollery/
Culture editor
Sharon Gollery can be reached at

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