The Musical Theatre Society Fall Broadway Cabaret

On October 12th I attended Slippery Rock’s Musical Theatre Society’s Fall Cabaret. This year, the cast of 64 talented singers and dancers performed seven-teen songs from the beloved Broadway classics such as Hamilton, All Shook Up, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and many more. All were played beautifully to the accompaniment of a live band.

The show was directed by Rachel Sobota, with assistant directors Brody MeKenna and Andrew Borcherding. The choreography was done by Mindy Clearly and Sydney Don Giovanni.

The Cabaret kicked off to a somewhat slow start with a set of songs from Godspell. I felt the energy was lagging and cast was lacking in enthusiasm in this opening song, but this was only a minor hiccup. The tone changed rather quickly by the next songs as we were given stunning performances by Anna Roe singing “Not for The Life of Me” and Antonie Dodson’s emotional solo in “Solla Sollew”. As always, the men’s ensemble left the audience enraptured in laughter and excitement with their performance of “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof. The female ensemble’s performance of “Mama Who Bore Me” from Spring Awakening, featuring Sa’rai Freeman and Alex Bradly as the soloists, left me in awe; the energy and passion put into that piece was astounding and easily stole the show for me. Other acts such as “Forever Yours”, “What You Mean to Me”, “Marian the Librarian”, “Just Another Day”, and “A Step Too Far” made me speechless. Alex Scabis’ performance of “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton had the audience falling out of their seats laughing.

The Cabaret closed with most of the cast in “Burning Love” from All Shook Up, we were all enchanted by this group and left the building that night in amazement. While I really enjoyed this year’s Cabaret, it was not without its faults. There were a few times where the singers were either being drowned out by the band, muffled by their own mics, or had the mics so close to their mouths you could hear them breath. It was very distracting and took away from an otherwise perfect performance. Over all, this was a wonderful performance and I look forward to the rest of their productions in the upcoming year.

Falling into Abstract Season

For most people, Fall means the temperature is dropping, the leaves are changing colors, and it is time to breakout the sweatshirts and boots. However, for English majors it is abstract season. This means students are spending hours writing, editing, and staring into computer screens in hopes that their work will be accepted to a conference. As if writing an acceptable piece was not hard enough, the dreaded abstract must be written and submitted. While some conferences allow both the abstract and the paper to be sent in, many only ask for the abstract. This is why it is so important to have an abstract that can stand alone. Do not worry the English Department has a Solution!

Dr. Lauren Shoemaker to the rescue!

On October 11th, Dr. Shoemaker presented an Abstract 101 workshop where she went over how to write abstracts and what the conference judges look for in an abstract. An experienced conference presenter herself, she was able to give those in attendance a well-rounded outlook into what conferences are all about. The bulk of her presentation dealt with personal examples of abstracts where she gave the student’s time to read and analyze. One of the most important things to remember is to “mirror/mimic the language used in the call for papers for your abstract.” Other things that must appear in the abstract are:

  • Context: make your paper relevant to the conference or panel (historical, theoretical, etc.).
  • Thesis: Specific argument about your text.
  • Analysis Expected: What you are going to look at/examine.
  • Stakes/Take-Away: What is it the benefit of your paper.

These five things that Dr. Shoemaker taught will help make your abstract stronger and more likely to be considered.

She also showed us how to find conferences that fit our interests and ability. There are hundreds of available conferences, it is important to choose ones that we will have a good chance of being accepted. We like to think we’re all that and a bag of chips, but don’t submit to a graduate or doctorate conference if you’re an undergrad. You must find your place that will make you shine, as well as challenge you.

Dr. Shoemaker’s presentation was a huge help in preparing for conferences this year. Now, submit, submit, submit!

An English Degree Matters

Alumni Speak Series Poster

I could feel the tension exhibiting from the new freshmen English majors filling the room. They are worried, contemplating and searching for answers as to why their degree is so valuable. Most of us have heard the well-known question, “what are you going to do with an English degree?” Although I am an Secondary English Education Major, I still face this wrath. The English department hosts an event where an Alumni of the English Department comes in and talks about what their degree has done for them.

As some may know, Autumn Moss came into to talk about how her English degree from SRU has helped her career in healthcare. Now you are probably wondering, how can an English degree be useful in healthcare? Autumn provided us the answer. She was a part of a new program with the Allegheny Health Network, where she created content about the program in forms of pamphlets and posters, along with making the proposal for making this an official program.

Something I have come to realize after coming to see Autumn speak is that I too can make my English degree work for me. She said, “don’t listen to someone who says you cannot get job in this degree, because you can.” The passion and drive filled the classroom; the look in some of the first-year students’ eyes, as well as mine, were filled with reassurance.

From this experience I learned it does not matter what English degree you are in, because any English degree is highly versatile. The experiences here at Slippery Rock University will matter; cherish your professors, get involved, and get your name out there, because in the end, as Autumn stated, “do not put yourself in a box, but put yourself in a room.”

Twelfth Night

As they say, Shakespeare was meant to be performed.

For most college students, spending their Saturday at a Shakespeare play probably wouldn’t be ideal. However, for a group of English majors, myself included, the prospect of seeing one of Shakespeare’s works come to life was more than enticing. So, on a Saturday in February, several of us ventured to the O’Reilly Theater in Pittsburgh to see Twelfth Night.

The plot: Twelfth Night tells the story of Viola, who is separated at sea from her twin brother, Sebastian. Disguising herself as a man named Cesario, she finds herself working for the Duke of Orsino in the land of Illyria. Orsino is in love with Olivia, a wealthy, beautiful woman, but she doesn’t return his affections. Cesario courts Olivia on Orsino’s behalf, but Olivia falls in love him instead (he is, remember, Viola dressed as a man). Complicating the love affairs even further, Viola falls in love with her lord Orsino. Later on, Sebastian comes to Illyria and reunites with Viola. I’ll stop here, so as to not give the ending away.

I had never seen a Shakespeare play before, so I didn’t have a clue what to expect. Upon walking into the theater, the backdrop, made of beautifully-crafted, picturesque houses, immediately caught my attention. When the play began and the actors entered, it was clear that we were all in for a good show. Every actor that came on stage played his or her character true to form, speaking each word with conviction and passion, which easily entertained the audience. The costumes were very impressive. Olivia wore an array of elegant, black dresses and the men, including Cesario, sported extravagant suits. Overall, Twelfth Night was a great production in every aspect.

Sir Toby, Olivia’s drunk uncle, and Malvolio, Olivia’s steward. They had the audience hysterically laughing more than a few times.

The two crowd-pleasers, and maybe most memorable characters, were Sir Toby, Olivia’s drunk uncle, and Malvolio, Olivia’s steward. They had the audience hysterically laughing more than a few times. Throughout the entire play, Sir Toby was always drunk and always hilarious, and loved to sing and dance. He enjoyed pranking people, and his abuse of Malvolio proved to be comedic relief. In one scene, Malvolio, a usually morose character, came out wearing yellow stockings, smiling and crowing about his happiness. He thought that wearing the absurd stockings would make Olivia love him, but the audience knew it was a prank orchestrated by Sir Toby and others. He was “most notoriously abused.”

Reading Shakespeare’s work is a vastly different experience than watching the play. When reading the play, the words can appear lifeless, and it’s more difficult to understand contexts. However, the play on stage was easy to follow. The ability to see the actors’ gestures and listen to their tones of voice gave me a deeper comprehension of not only the characters but also the language. As they say, Shakespeare was meant to be performed. What a treat.

The Validation of Attending Conferences

Editor’s Note: this post first appeared on the blog that SRU’s Sigma Tau Delta students compile around attending the honor society’s annual conference, this year held in Louisville, Ky.

Emma Cummings, who is both a Theatre major and a Creative Writing major, won an Honorable Mention for Scenic Design, the Vectorworks Award, and the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in January. At the Sigma Tau Delta conference she presented a paper entitled “Not Easy to Love.”


The most intriguing parts of the two sessions I attended today were the questions and discussions after the papers were read. They were thought-provoking, engaging, and refreshing. There were many questions addressed to the panelists that I wanted to answer myself.

First, I attended a session of Creative Non-Fiction works dealing with love and loss. The moderator ended the discussion by asking them why they write. A short, yet totally complex and weighted question. The panelists seemed to answer them with such quick ease (so much that I am envious) and all had distinct reasons for beginning their journeys in writing. But because no one asked me personally, I had to ask myself, why do I write?

Well, I write because it is who I am. It is in my nature to write. When I was a child, I found books on my own. I gravitated toward story telling by some unseen force. I was fascinated by what I read and I wanted to create my own world too.

I write because it is the only way I am able to make sense of anything that happens in my life. I have kept dozens of journals, all probably less interesting than the last. I record everything that happens so I know how I feel about it. Nothing makes sense in my brain until it is copied down on pen and paper. I also fear forgetting each detail and need it all to be documented.

I record everything that happens so I know how I feel about it. Nothing makes sense in my brain until it is copied down on pen and paper.

I write because I cannot think fast enough to speak my mind. I need that time to capture what it is I truly am trying to say. Take this post, for example: if I had been asked this question during my session, I would have stammered out some whirlwind of a response that I would think back on later and kick myself for sounding so incoherent. Instead, I get to sit in this hotel bed on my laptop, analyze my thoughts, and use a thesaurus to cure my chronic brain burps. This post is so long because I did not realize how much I had to say about the subject until sitting down to write it. I could go on with this answer until I have written many volumes of books on why I want to write many volumes of books.

The second really important discussion occurred in the other session I attended on Sci-Fi/Fantasy short stories. An audience member asked the panel how their departments support them not only as writers, but as fantasy writers, and if they ever felt inadequate because of their choices in genre. Most of them answered very similarly and I am grateful that I could relate to them. They each talked about how they have professors and advisors who may try to break them out of their shell, but who also support and push them towards what they are most passionate about. While I am not drawn to fantasy writing, being in a department like ours helps me to uncover my passion and feel connected to those who feel similarly. I am lucky to have never felt inadequate. Freshman year, I would have never thought I would enjoy writing creative non-fiction. Yet here I am, presenting a CNF paper that I am strikingly proud of.

Being surrounded by people with similar passions is a bit of morale boost. It makes you realize that you are not alone in what you love. Attending conferences validates the choices I have made in educational paths. I can do what I love and not have to feel sorry for it.

Bailey Vox Reading, February 2017

I’m looking forward to seeing more people share their stories in the future!

Students doubled-up on the seats as extra chairs were wheeled into the room. Some people sat on the floor next to their book-bags. Two dogs were also there. John Riggio cupped his emotional support dog in his arms like a tiny, teething football, while my service dog sprawled out on the floor and made doe-eyes at people. Room 315 of Spotts was small, considering the crowd that showed up. But the Bailey Vox Reading turned out to be a cozy event in the end.

Suzanne Hasenflu read “To the Girl Who Wants Big Boobs.” She bemoaned all of the beige-tone shirts with high-cut collars (while wearing a tan-colored sweater). The poem was witty and honest, and it listed one irritation after another. Suzanne’s poem is important for women of all bra sizes to hear. Despite the importance put on having a large chest, big boobs are a daily pain.

In between readings, raffle tickets were drawn and prizes were distributed. One student won an emergency get-well kit, in case he gets hit with the flu. The kit included oranges, chicken noodle soup, cough drops, and tissues. This was very thoughtful of the SLAB staff!

Joe Szalinki shared his experience of encountering another tall person at a concert:

To the tall piece of shit at the Old 97’s concert,
I see you there, because it’s hard not to.
All gangly and awkward, obscuring views . . .
From one tall person to another, you’re an asshole!
I make sure I’m not blocking anyone,
I’m self-conscious about my height,
plus, we’re tall people . . . we can see anywhere!
My girlfriend, who is a foot shorter than I, cannot,
not to mention, we were there first,
you only came in after the opening act!
You’re not a true fan of the music, you bastard!
Did this really seem like the best place to stand?!
Be glad my girlfriend stopped me from saying anything.
I would’ve been pleasant…at first
Asked you, “We paid for tickets, just like you, could you please move?”
But you’re an asshole, from bumfuck Cleveland,
so you probably wouldn’t have.
If that happened, I would’ve gone all passive aggressive…
Begun stepping on your shoes, shouting lyrics in your ear,
which would gradually progress to insults, and then threats.
I don’t care how fucked up I was,
I could’ve kicked your ass, had it come to it!
Hell, I’d’ve ripped off my belt, choked you, had your girlfriend punch you in order for me to stop…
I don’t care if you fuck with me,
but mess with my lovebug, and I’ll go primal on your ass!

– Joe Szalinki, “To the Tall Piece of Shit at the Old 97’s Concert”

It makes sense that people who are taller, or larger in some way, are self-conscious of the space they occupy. I enjoyed that there was a sort of unspoken “code of ethics” among tall people. It was humorous seeing Joe want to “go primal on” somebody who broke this code. His reading of this piece was very fast and angry, and the writing was very real. Several people in the room enjoyed Joe’s experience at the concert.

As I read my piece, my service dog, Mavis, whirled around me and sniffed people’s ankles. She doesn’t have stage fright, unlike me! I am glad to have gone up and read.

The Bailey Vox Reading was a good time. It was a very supportive environment, and I’m looking forward to seeing more people share their stories in the future.

Spring Term Events

We’ve created an Events Calendar that you can access via the link on the upper right of our pages and in the widget to the right. Here are some of the flyers we’ve received for upcoming events: if you know of more to add, please let us know!

A Christmas Carol

Scrooge truly appeared to be a bitter, old man.

A Christmas Carol is a classic tale that everybody has heard at least once. No two productions of this story are the same. Some more traditional, others more comedic; but no matter how you present the tone, they all have the same story. So, going into this production, I entered with only moderate expectations, expecting the same story I have heard every December.

As I entered the theater and took my seat, I was greeted with the cast of the show singing Christmas carols while some of the children were selling water bottles. I took the time to study the set. The walls were covered in books, most likely to draw reference to the play coming from an old story.

The plot of the play was the same as every other Christmas Carol; not much was changed from the original. But as the play proceeded, I found that the actors were amazing and completely devoted to their roles. I never caught one actor falling out of character or losing interest, even for a second. The best example of this would be the actor playing Scrooge. His emotions, reactions, and body movements felt realistic and genuine. He truly appeared to be a bitter, old man.

Mr. Cratchit hopes for a raise from the bitter, old man. Photo courtesy Rebecca Dietrich. Here are more photographs from the production.

I was also happily amazed by the versatility of the set and its special effects. A few of my favorite effects were the ghost of Scrooge’s old business partner emerging from the bed, and Scrooge’s grave flipping down from a panel in one of the walls. The costumes were especially captivating; each one had its own special design to help stand out from the others. The costumes of the ghosts of Christmas past and present were sparkling and given lights to give off that spectral illusion.

The use of a puppet as the Ghost of Christmas Future took me by surprise. It was fascinating to see this larger than life specter towering over Scrooge as it showed him the darkest outcomes of the future. It really added an air of dread and menace to the final ghostly visit of the show. I did have an issue with the puppeteers, since I could see them controlling the puppet. It took away from the illusion for me; maybe a veil or something could have covered them.

In all, however, the performance of A Christmas Carol was simply spectacular. It was light hearted but was not afraid to be dark when it needed to be. Most of all, it stayed true to Charles Dicken’s vision to show what the Christmas spirit is about.

Halloween

It lets the doom in, but not the doom out.

Bob Ross, The Pope, and a DEA agent walk into a room. . . No, that is not the start of a bad joke but rather the events at the annual SLAB Halloween reading last week, where students and faculty alike take the opportunity to become someone or something else on the gothic night. Spiders had spun their synthetic webs around the room and sounds made to frighten played softly in the background of the dimly lit hall.

The music played through students sharing their work. It was audible how passionate each of them were about writing; a few shared multiple stories, some only appeared once, but all of them were entertaining. I couldn’t help but feel proud of my classmates and my department, even those I didn’t know in the slightest.

Valerie Robuck, a senior here at Slippery Rock University, read her story. For me, the story was psychological horror, taking one of my fears and bringing it to life. Her descriptions were intense and made the situation feel realistic and wonderfully disturbing. I actually had a chance to talk to Valerie about her story and what had compelled her to write it. She said:

I’d come across an article a few weeks ago about how a woman in the 1940s had jumped from the Empire State Building, landing on top of a government official’s limo. She was only 23 years old. The incident was dubbed “The Most Beautiful Suicide,” as photographer Robert Wiles snapped a shot of the woman on top of the limousine. The woman radiated beauty even in her state, her arms delicately placed on her chest and her legs crossed. Not a hair or bone was out of place or even a scratch to acknowledge she had just jumped 87 stories.

The story stuck with me. Using the photograph, I based my main character on the woman and her tragic tale, creating Evelyn McHale in a modern day story experiencing an unexplained-other-worldly phenomenon.

Many more students shared their work along with Valerie. Their confidence was intoxicating and their words seemed to resonate with each person in the room. Joe Szalinski, a staple of the SRU English department, shared multiple stories and poems. During a particular poem from a series that featured a woodland creature, the listeners couldn’t help but show their enthusiasm. He premised the poem by saying it’s based off of his friend group, The (self-proclaimed) Pepperoni Brothers. Joe commented on this later, saying,

It’s fitting that my friends, Dylan and DJ are included in a published poem because they helped me develop as poet so much over the years. Whether it was songwriting in bands that never worked out; reading poems in Dylan’s garage, The Doombunker (it lets the doom in, but not the doom out); or DJ recording and releasing music with me; they’ve helped grow tremendously.

Another poet of the night, John Riggio, enthralled people with his poem “Ded Boiis Get Bonerz 2”: “My baby fucks like a corpse / Pounds like a heart giving out / She’s got a way with those hands / Has a knack for showing men the other side . . . ” Read the whole poem . . .

The audience quieted, reveling in the stark opening. This was my first experience with someone who read a poem like John did. It felt like the poem took on a life of its own and came out through the author; his emotion and eloquence was incredible and helped further punctuate the splendid creepiness of the poem. The night ended with this work, after the cake had been cut and the costume prizes were distributed. It was an event filled with wonderful pieces like Valerie’s, Joe’s, and John’s, all well-written and perfect for the occasion.

That night I found more than just stories of monsters and horrors.

That night I found more than just stories of monsters and horrors. I saw the words of my peers spring forward and entrance a crowd. I heard the applause and recognition given to readers. Most of all, I felt the importance of sharing fellow undergraduate work. This was not an event I had been to before or a situation I imagined myself in, but it was exceedingly valuable to me as both a student and a writer. I have a lot to learn from my fellow English lovers; they are inspiring, intelligent people who have voices that deserve to be heard. This is why RockScissorsPaper is important to me. It gives these voices a place, and that’s the most exciting part of it all.