Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Performing History

I chose a liberal arts school to gain exposure to various disciplines. I didn’t want to graduate only knowing how to draw economic models, but instead wanted to be able to talk about a multitude of subjects. But there was one requirement that scared me: fine arts. 

I’d been putting it off semester after semester and wasn’t sure what class I would end up taking. I didn’t really want to do creative writing and I didn’t see myself as an artist. I had taken music in elementary school, but the truth is, I can barely keep a beat. Maybe because of all the years when my mom would send me off to soccer practice in a costume or maybe it was the many musicals she forced me to watch, but the theatre and dance department was calling my name. 

I looked through all the class listings. There were a lot of contenders, but only a few fit my schedule. One class stood out, a kind of  Downton Abbey-meets-Minnesota with a sprinkle of urban history, acting, and scriptwriting, otherwise known as Performing History: Interpreting the James J. Hill House. 

Although I wasn’t really sure what the class would be like, the description made it sound amazing. Luckily, the reality didn’t disappoint. From the minute I walked into the class, my experience was transformed as the clock rolled back 100 years. Theater professor Eric Colleary makes every effort to immerse us in the Edwardian era world of St. Paul’s Hill family. Often the fun has included field trips, cooking lessons, period songs, and archival research. 

Our first field trip was to the Hill House, an impressive mansion and Minnesota Historical Society site about two miles from campus and just across the street from the St. Paul Cathedral. James J. Hill was a 19th and early 20th century railroad baron responsible for connecting Chicago and Minneapolis with the West Coast. James and Mary Hill had 10 children, the eighth of whom was Rachel Hill, the girl I will be playing in the interpretive play we are writing to be performed at the Hill House. 

We are crafting the entire piece as a collaboration among the 12 students in the class. We decided on a murder mystery-style show centering around the theft of a piece of Mary’s jewelry. With the downstairs and upstairs staff, as well as the detective, being played by my classmates, it should be quite an interesting final project. We’ll be performing our piece at the Hill House in early May. This class has been an amazing experience and I’m only 5 weeks in.  I just completed my archival research today and I am ready to start writing our script! 

Nadine Penkovsky ‘16, New York, NY