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Fall 2019

Take Your Places

Take Your Places

Denison’s performing arts students share their drive to perform—and their hopes for their time in the new Eisner Center.

Over the summer, faculty and staff packed up their offices in Ace Morgan Theatre, Burke Hall, Burton Music Hall, and Doane Dance Building, and regrouped in the new Michael D. Eisner Center for the Performing Arts. For a few months, they shared the space with workers who were placing the finishing touches on the building—installing the blue wall graphic, a nod to the Big Blue Tent that housed Denison Summer Theatre all those years ago; moving the 30 pianos (including five Steinways) that now occupy offices and rehearsal spaces; and prepping the board in the green room, which now awaits signatures of the performers and visiting artists who will grace the performance spaces. Some faculty members pulled out new compositions that they were working on and set them upon pianos in their offices. Some pulled off their shoes and stepped onto the heated floors in Thorsen Dance Studio. Some stepped onto the stage in Sharon Martin Hall, looked out at the empty seats, and dreamed of the possibilities. For the first time in Denison’s history, all three performing arts departments were under one roof. They settled in, got to work, and awaited the students’ return this fall, which launched the inaugural year of teaching, learning, practice, and performance in the building that was years in the making.

On the following pages, we hear from a few of the first students who will breathe life into the Eisner Center—named for Michael Eisner ’64, Denison life trustee, former chairman and CEO of Disney, and founder of the Tornante Company—as they set the stage for generations to come. 

Clem Errol Pearson ’20

Major: Music (composition)
Hometown: Berea, Kentucky

Why did you choose Denison?
Because the campus is beautiful and the people are friendly and authentic. I visited several schools where it felt like the admissions office was trying too hard to sell me something, but Denison was able to just “be itself.”

What excites you most about the new Eisner Center?
Martin Hall! I’m thrilled to be able to perform on such an incredible stage, and to have the opportunity to play in pit orchestras for opera and theatre productions.

Who is your favorite professor at Denison?
Dr. Philip Rudd, our orchestra director and my conducting teacher. He’s thoughtful, dedicated, and passionate about his work, and he’s helped me become not only a better musician, but a better person.

As a senior, what advice would you give to incoming first-year music students?
Two things. First, cultivate the discipline to practice thoughtfully, learn with enthusiasm, and build connections with your peers and your teachers. Second, engage with music, don’t just play it. Go to every concert you can–—they’re free! Attend masterclasses, listen to things you’re not familiar with, and put in the extra 10 percent to make the most out of the amazing opportunities you have.

Who inspires you on a daily basis?
My uncle. He dedicated himself to becoming an architect out of a desire to create things that make people’s lives better. I want to use my music in the same way. 

Magdalyn “Maggie” Rene LaMaster ’22

Major: Biology and dance double major
Hometown: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Why did you choose Denison University?
I chose Denison because of its beautiful campus, the sense of community I felt when I visited, and the promise of a beautiful new arts building!

What excites you most about the new Eisner Center?
I love Thorsen Dance Studio in the new Eisner Center, especially the heated floors. 

How many hours do you spend practicing before a performance?
Before a performance, I practice as much as I possibly can. Every time I dance, I try to explore my movement slightly in some way, so I’m always growing as a dancer. The performance is no different. 

Sophia Menconi ’20

Major:  English (creative writing) and theatre double major
Hometown:  Potomac, Maryland

Why did you choose Denison?
When I was looking at colleges, I was really only interested in schools with strong and involved creative writing programs within their English departments. Denison’s curriculum—with the year-long senior writing project—really piqued my interest. After that, I had a really successful overnight visit, and ended up applying Early Decision. Once I got to campus, I stumbled into involvement with the theatre department and was welcomed with open arms. 

What excites you most about the new Eisner Center? 
The Eisner Center provides our performing arts communities new opportunities to collaborate and support each other. The building also presents a great opportunity for students to continue to develop their own work and skills with the most up-to-date and advanced materials possible. I mean, have you seen the floors in the new dance studio?

What’s your favorite part about seeing your work performed on stage?
As a theatre student, my work focuses mainly on playwriting and directing, and for me, the most exciting part of working on a show through rehearsals to its final stage is to see the way the actors come to fully embody their characters. To see that growth throughout the process is really wonderful, and to see it all come together with the lights and costumes, that is what makes making theatre really magical.

Bebe Blumenthal ’20

Major: Music (performance) and bluegrass double major
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Why did you choose Denison? 
I was deciding between Denison and another similar school, but it was a pretty easy choice. I was really attracted to the bluegrass program and the Homestead, which were both unique to Denison. The bluegrass program was a major factor, probably the most important one in making my decision. 

How many instruments do you play?
I play the violin/fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and guitar.

How old were you when you started playing?
I started playing classical violin when I was 5 or 6—some time in kindergarten, but I didn’t start fiddle until I was a first-year at Denison. I started banjo my sophomore year, mandolin my junior year, and guitar lessons this year. 

How do you feel the Eisner Center will help current and future students?
The Eisner Center is already drawing new students, and I’ve seen pretty significant growth in all of my ensembles. I think the new spaces will allow ensembles to expand, and that growth gives all of the ensembles more opportunities to put on larger performances and play a more challenging repertoire. 

Destiny Mack ’21

Major: Theatre & black studies double major
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois

How long have you been interested in theatre?
I have been interested in theatre since the fourth grade. Growing up, art was not always prioritized in my community. I am very grateful to have been connected to theatre at such a young age and to use theatre as an outlet to express my imagination.

Why did you choose Denison?
I wanted to explore my interests and open my mind to new ideas and experiences through the liberal arts. I also wanted to live in an environment that was different from my hometown and allowed me to engage with diverse minds. I thought the campus was beautiful and could present me with great opportunities.

What excites you most about the new Eisner Center? 
I am most excited to perform on the new stage. I think that it’s  amazing to be able to produce art in a building that caters to the creative minds of the performing arts
students on campus.

What has been your favorite character to play in a Denison production?
I have enjoyed all of the characters I have
played, but I really enjoyed the role of Thyona in the production Big Love. I had never played a role as powerful and as meaningful to me as I did with Thyona. This role pushed me as an actress, but also helped me to learn more about myself as an individual and how much my voice matters in society.

Anthony Bruno ’20

Major: Psychology
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio

Why did you choose Denison?
Within minutes of exploring campus, I knew it was the right school for me. Pete Mills, the saxophone and jazz instructor, also impressed me with his dedication to the music department and his interest in helping me grow as a musician.  

Why sax?
My school district had students choose between band, orchestra, or chorus prior to entering fifth grade. Upon mustering my way to playing three notes on the saxophone, I decided it was the instrument for me. 

As a senior, what advice would you give to incoming first-year music students?
Be intentional and passionate with everything you do. Appreciate the little things, and acknowledge how special the atmosphere is here on The Hill. 

What are your plans after Denison?
I am applying to graduate programs in psychology, and hope to find a program that helps me conduct further research dealing with music and psychology. 

Vaval Victor ’20 

Major: Anthropology/sociology and dance double major 
Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

How long have you been dancing?
I have been dancing since I was 9. I’m interested in a lot of music videos from artists like Chris Brown, Michael Jackson, Usher, and Neo. I also was influenced by praise dancers from the southern black church.

Why did you choose Denison?
I fell in love with the beautiful campus when I visited. There was an atmosphere at Denison that made me feel like this place was home. 

What excites you most about the new Eisner Center?
What excites me more than the Center itself is that the arts at Denison finally have up-to-date resources. I look forward to more inter-departmental collaborations. Art is a powerful thing, and this new space gives us the tools to share that power. 

How do you feel the Eisner Center will strengthen Denison’s dance experience?
I know it will help young artists really understand the ins and outs of the art world on a professional level, as well as an educational level. It also is a chance for the student body to come together through the arts. I am happy to get the opportunity to witness the Eisner’s success during my time here at Denison. 

Sarah Wilson ’20

Major: English (creative writing) and theatre double major
Hometown: Pelham, New Hampshire

Why Denison?
Everyone I spoke
to, from my overnight host to my admission counselor to the professors I met, seemed genuinely interested in me. I realized that if I was going to become a capable, employable adult in four short years, I needed caring people in my corner. Denison was where I found that.

What would be a “dream” performance for you?
I don’t know if I have a dream role/performance as much as people I want to work with. I would love to go back to Shakespeare’s Globe and be part of the ensemble that taught me when I studied abroad there.

What is your favorite spot in the Eisner Center?
The green room—officially named the Burpee’s Seedy Green Room. It’s cozy and hidden away.

Which professor has inspired you the most?
Eleni Papaleonardos. Not only do I want to be her when I grow up, but she has been an incredible mentor to me as a director, actor, and theatre professional. Many of my favorite theatre experiences (especially in Columbus this past year) have been the result of her mentorship.

Thomas Hellman ’21

Major: Environmental studies major
Hometown: Albion, Michigan

What instruments do you play?
The euphonium is my primary instrument, but I also play the trumpet.

How old were you when you started playing?
I started playing the trumpet when I was 11 and in the sixth grade. I started playing the euphonium at 15 when I was a sophomore in high school.

Who is your favorite professor and why?
Dr. Chris David Westover is a professor that has played a huge role during my time at Denison. He is director of the Wind Ensemble, of which I am a part, and I have had him in a music class on Beethoven that I really enjoyed. He often expresses to myself and others in the Wind Ensemble that we are not just playing music for the sake of the art, but we play music for our own sake and for those around us.

Sophie Gilson ’22 

Major: Political science and economics double major 
Hometown: Cleveland Heights, Ohio

What excites you most about the Eisner Center? 
When you have a beautiful, professional space in which to work, you are motivated to work even harder to improve as a musician or artist.

You’re a twin. Do you enjoy singing with your sister?
I have sung in choirs with my sister since we were both young, and it has always been a special aspect of our relationship. At home, we could always tell when we had learned our music well, because we would spontaneously start singing together. It’s wonderful that we have been able to continue to make music together in college. 

How do you feel the Eisner Center will strengthen Denison’s vocal music experience?
I have always felt that the arts are strengthened by inspiration and collaboration across disciplines, which is possible in a large space like Eisner. Additionally, I think it is really unique that the choral program has a new director at the same time that a new arts building is being dedicated. It sets the stage for a lot of opportunity for growth within the program. 

What is your favorite spot in the Eisner Center?
It’s so difficult to pick a favorite spot! I love the room in which the Chamber Singers rehearse because the acoustics of that space give us such a live sound. In general, though, I always feel energized whenever I walk through Eisner on my way to rehearsals, because the space is beautifully filled with natural light. 

Hannah Gilson ’22

Major: Political science and economics double major
Hometown: Cleveland Heights, Ohio

What are your first memories of singing in front of an audience?
I do not have a specific memory of the first time I sang in front of an audience. However, I do have a very vivid memory of being cast as an animal in an opera production at the Cleveland Institute of Music when I was in third grade, though no singing was involved. I still remember how exciting it was to be around professionals in costume, in an atmosphere where everyone was passionate about what they were doing.

Do you get nervous when you are singing for large crowds?
I always get nervous before singing in front of large crowds, particularly if I am performing a solo! The nerves go away quickly once I am on stage, however, as I get caught up in doing what I love.

Do you prefer to sing alone or with your twin sister?
I love both singing alone and with my sister. For me, solo work is a wonderful opportunity to gauge my vocal development and try singing in new genres and parts of my range. That being said, singing with a group will always have a special place in my heart. There is something magical about people from all walks of life coming together for the common purpose of creating music. When you perform with someone, you form an immediate bond. I’d say that for Sophie and me, performing together connects us as sisters. Plus, we can do a highly entertaining duet of “Loathing” from Wicked