"Alright! Let's do a one-word-at-a-time-story!" calls Drue Robinson (89) assembling a circle of Fairhaven students and faculty on the floor. "Come in closer!" she says, and they all lie on the floor, feet outward, facing eachother.
They begin telling an improvisational story, one word by each person, around the circle. As the yarn twists in different and unexpected directions, giggles begin to erupt from different areas. Soon, their bodies are twisting with laughter. It goes on like this until it peters out, and then someone gets up and tells a story, or performs an act, or plays a song.
This is Art Sharing.
Play "Art Sharing Revival" video on www.vimeo.com
Art Sharing is a biweekly get-together when students, faculty, and staff break out their art and get down, all at once laughing, sharing, critiquing, performing, and tightly knitting the community that is Fairhaven. It is, essentially, an open-mic style storm of artistic expression.
"One time," Drue Robinson says, reflecting on a one-word-at-a-time-story from years ago, "we laughed so hard we actually peed." She is full of these stories. A Fairhaven alumna and current adjunct faculty member, Drue has revived Art Sharing. Although it was aflame when she was a student, somehow it was snuffed out in the nineties.
"Students are just so pressed for time," she said, reflecting on how it can be difficult to organize events with students when there are so many other outside events going on in their lives. Though, at Fairhaven in the 1980's, Drue doesn't remember it that way.
"Back in the day, when I was a student…" Drue Robinson says, mocking herself with an old geezer-sounding drawl, "there was just this constant buzz in the hallways. People were posting their poems and stories on the walls, playing music in the stairwell, juggling in the lounge, organizing—the feeling was palpable." For Drue and many other Fairhaven students, Art Sharing was a big part of that.
Drue teaches courses in theater and activism such as "50 Random Acts of Theater," and "Speak the Speech." She's also the Founder and Director of the Bellingham Children's Theater in Bellingham. In her college courses, students enter into such places as "a vocal performance playground" where they're encouraged to take risks as well as reflect on outcomes, audience impact, and personal growth. Art Sharing echoes that sentiment. On first and third Friday afternoons in the Fairhaven Auditorium, students bring artwork, music, stories, improvisational theater, scripts, poems, essays, videos, photography, songs, skits and multiple other things to share and perform with their fellow students.
It sounds tame, but there's a rich history of Fairhaven's non-traditional approach to what "art" really is. Formerly called "The Fairhaven Talent Shop," Art Sharing was featured in a 1976 Western Front article for acts that experimented with tricks and played with the boundaries of performance. Sarah Ormond's ability to light matches with her feet to Rodger Prentice, then called "Fairhaven's Elton John," who played tunes on the piano along with flashing stage lights. Robinson even remembers a friend who shaved her head on stage. Drue stirs things up a little for experienced Art Sharers by incorporating themes such as "Gratitude," "Scenes from Childhood," and "Most Embarrassing Moments."
A 1976 article in the Western Front on the
"Fairhaven Talent Shop" view larger image
Mario Orallo-Molinaro current Fairhaven student, arrived at the loosely themed "Most Embarrassing Moments" Art Sharing with a story about being a straight-laced button-up shirt student breaking out a dance to Whitney Houston in front of all of his hip-hop dance friends in high school. But instead of simply telling the story, he did a full re-enactment—essentially reliving the moment. With an audience.
As Whitney Houston's "I wanna dance with somebody" blared through the Auditorium speakers, Mario performed his memory. He stayed put in his chair nodding to the imaginary friends around him, waving them away and modestly saying "What, me? You want ME to dance? Oh no…" then casually steps out of his chair and shows off a short, humble movement. A quick jerk of his head signals his transition into a full-on, choreographed-looking series of dance movements that is maybe hip-hop influenced and distinctly 90's pop all at the same time, in perfect synch to the song that is clearly known by heart. The Art Sharing audience roars in laughter, all of us knowing we've been there to some degree, or at least in a moment, or maybe wishing we'd been brave enough to break out our own hip-hoppy dance moves in full force as he did.
(The camera I was using to videotape, in fact, shakes from my laughter.)
"It was fun," Mario said after his brief performance, receiving complements from his fellow students and faculty as he took his seat on the floor next to them. And almost as soon as his performance is over, another is willing to take the floor, this time to share a song he wrote that flexes to include audience participation in the verses.
"Art Sharing is a chance for people to share who they really are," Mario said. "This is a great outlet for students."
Yes, Art Sharing is about a release, but it's also about showcasing the work going on in the classrooms. Students can integrate coursework by sharing independent study projects such as films and scripts and artwork and music.
When she was a student in the 80s, Drue said, "Faculty brought in a chapter of the book they were working on, or a draft of the poem they were writing, and students brought in projects from class." Now, students want that to happen again. Recently, Nick Mikula brought in a video he's editing, for example. Faculty members brought in some of their recent works. Stan Tag wrote and read his "Ode to a Nap," and Mary Cornish read from her children's books. Dan Larner often reads a newly penned sonnet or a poem or two, and twice already Niall Ó Murchú has sung a song in Gaelic.
Dario Ré, current student and Peer Mentor, says he'd like to see Art Sharing, among other things, become a place to critique work. "Art is usually such an independent activity," he said, "but I think there's a lot of value in sharing your art. I'd love to get feedback on my paintings."
But it can also be a chance to create community. As Drue says, in her day, "it was a chance to get to know your teachers on a personal level." Mario Orallo-Molinaro said that was one of the most unique feelings he's ever encountered in an academic environment. "To see Stan, Drue, and Dan there….reading their work," he said, pausing, "and how much meaning is behind it. It just gives me goosebumps."
Maybe what Art Sharing is trying to tell us is that it can be everything—relief from the academic life of paper-writing, seminaring, and self-evaluation-writing as well as a place for stories, critiques, movement, potlucks, performance, and risk-taking. After all, perhaps our "embarrassing moments" may not be embarrassing at all, but rather moments of power, bravery, and clarity.