Lawrence University News

Student-written plays featured in Fred Gaines Playwrights Series

Posted on: March 4th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

Four performances of three original one-act plays will be presented March 5-7 in Lawrence University’s Cloak Theatre of the Music-Drama Center in conjunction with the college’s second biennial Fred Gaines Student Playwrights Series.

GainesSeriesArtwork_weblogCurtain times are 8 p.m. each day, with an additional 3 p.m. performance on Saturday, March 7. Tickets, at $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, are available at the Lawrence Box Office, 920-832-6749.

This iteration of the series explores the impact of genre, covering the gamut from melodrama to farce. It features the work of senior Nathan Lawrence and Claire Conard and Luke MacMillan, both 2014 Lawrence graduates. Timothy X. Troy, professor of theatre arts and the J. Thomas and Julie Esch-Hurvis Professor of Theatre and Drama, directs each of the three plays.

Lawrence’s play, “Happy Birthday, Stephen Jones,” critiques sexism in the work environment through physical comedy. Conard’s “Ren Rising” follows a young woman as she struggles to decide if she should accept her boyfriend’s hand in marriage. MacMillan explores the dangerous consequences of an abusive household environment in “Somewhere North.”

“Most people don’t realize that plays can’t be written in a vacuum,” said Lawrence, an English and film studies major. “It’s difficult to predict how an audience will respond until you see your work performed. Having this experience as an undergraduate is a unique opportunity. It’s rare you get to learn and entertain at the same time.”

The series honors the work of former theatre professor and department chair Fred Gaines, who taught at Lawrence from 1977-2000 and passed away in 2010. Troy, a 1985 Lawrence graduate, was inspired to launch the series as a way of passing on the wisdom Gaines shared with him as a student.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Lawrence grad discusses film score at Wisconsin premiere of “Pilot Error”

Posted on: February 24th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

Emmy Award-winning composer and 2010 Lawrence University graduate Garth Neustadter discusses his work on the feature film “Pilot Error” when it makes its Wisconsin premiere Monday, March 2 at Marcus’ Appleton East Cinema.

Pilot-Error-Photo_newsblogThe movie also will be shown Wednesday, March 4 at the Green Bay East Cinema and Thursday, March 5 at the Oshkosh Cinema. The film will be shown at all three theaters at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Neustadter, a Manitowoc native now living in Pasadena, Calif., wrote the film’s score. Prior to all six screenings, he will lead an audience talkback related to the music in the film, including how composers collaborate with directors and how composers can enhance a film.

Following each screening, talkbacks also will be held with the film’s producer/screenwriter Roger Rapoport and veteran airline training pilot and accident investigator Robert Hesselbein of Madison.

Set in Wisconsin and filmed in part in Milwaukee and Appleton, the film was inspired by true events, most notably the 2009 Air France flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that mysteriously disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 200 passengers and crew onboard.

The film explores many of the same questions raised following two other more recent air disasters:  the loss of Malaysia Air 370 in March 2014 and the Air Asia crash in the Java Sea last December.

Tom Boldt, is CEO of The Boldt Company based in Appleton, served as the film’s executive producer and recommended Neustadter to Rapoport.

“He’s off the charts as far as we’re concerned,” Rapoport said of Neustadter. “He’s a special composer.”

“Pilot Error” is the 10th film Neustadter has scored. He began working on it last August, and unlike some film projects that have deadlines as tight as two weeks, he had the luxury of a little more than two months to write approximately 60 minutes of music for this film. His score was performed and recorded live by Los Angeles studio musicians.

“I was extremely pleased with how the score turned out,” said Neustadter, who won a 2011 Emmy Award at the age of 25 for his film score for “John Muir in the New World,” a PBS American Masters documentary. “Having live musicians for the recording process was really important to the producer and the director. They (live musicians) definitely breathed a certain life into the score that you need for a film like this that you can’t get with synthesized instruments.”

Neustadter said one of the things that made his job on “Pilot Error” easier was that from the start, everyone involved with the project, from the director to the editor, was on the same page regarding the score.

“That’s not always the case,” said Neustadter, whose credits include scores for 2013 documentary “The Thingmaker” and the 2012 James Franco-Mila Kunis-Jessica Chastain feature “Tar,” as well as films from China and India, Progressive Insurance ads and an American Express commercial that debuted during Sunday’s (2/22) Academy Awards telecast. “As a composer, my goal is to realize what the director wants the music to be and can that align with what I envision the music to be. That was definitely the case with this film. We knew we wanted a larger orchestra score that could bring out the drama in the film but in a way that never became melodramatic or overplayed things too much.”

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Garth Neustadter ’10

While a student at Lawrence, Neustadter earned first-prize honors (second place behind the grand prize winner) in the 2007 Young Film Composers Competition sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. A year later, TCM commissioned him to write an original score for a restored version of the 1923 silent film “The White Sister.

The film’s other Wisconsin connection includes well-known Milwaukee Repertory Theater actress Deborah Staples.

Award-winning stage actress Kate Thomsen makes her screen debut as Nicola Wilson, an investigative reporter trying to find out why a jet headed from South America to Paris disappeared in the Atlantic, taking her close friend and 211 other passengers with it.

As she searches for answers as to how a plane can just disappear, Wilson puts her job, friends and career on the line. Even though she knows nothing about aviation, refuses to fly and doesn’t speak French, Wilson uncovers astonishing details about the missing flight. Was it preventable? Has it happened before? Could it happen again? Was it pilot error?

According to Rapoport, the goal of the movie is to “encourage more hands-on flying and simulator training for airline pilots at a time when the industry is increasingly focused on automation. At the screening we’ll be announcing some very good news about a major advance in weather forecasting technology that will benefit pilots everywhere.”

“Pilot Error” is based on five years of research and interviews with more than 200 pilots, airline executives, plane manufacturers, regulatory agencies and the team that found the missing Air France 447 in the Atlantic. The film provides an inside look at the fate of pilots unfortunately kept in the dark about failed automation.

“Top airline training pilots speaking at our preview events have been warmly received by audiences trying to understand how, in the most interconnected moment in human history, it’s never been easier to hide the truth,” said Rapoport, whose first film, “Waterwalk,” also was shot in Wisconsin.

Watch a trailer for the film.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Lawrence’s “Music for All” outreach program performs at Riverview Gardens Feb. 24

Posted on: February 22nd, 2015 by Rick Peterson
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Michael Mizrahi

Lawrence University’s “Music for All” community outreach project performs the first of three interactive chamber concerts at Appleton’s Riverview Gardens Community Center, 1101 S. Oneida St., Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 5:30 p.m.

The performance features Lawrence students and faculty, in collaboration with members of the New York City-based chamber ensemble Decoda. Light refreshments provided by Stone Cellar Brewing Co. will be served. The concert is free and open to the public.

Other Music for All concerts at Riverview Gardens are scheduled for April 20 and May 21 at 7 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively.

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Erin Lesser

Pianist Michael Mizrahi and flutist Erin Lesser, both assistant professors of music at Lawrence, are co-directing the Music for All project. Both are also members of Decoda, whose mission says Mizrahi, “is to create deep artistic connections in members’ home communities, especially in non-traditional locations where such music is rarely performed.”

The “Music for All: Connecting Musicians and Community” project is supported by a $16,700 Arts & Culture grant from unrestricted funds within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

New Lawrence opera director makes debut with Copland’s “The Tender Land”

Posted on: February 17th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

American composer Aaron Copland‘s classic folk opera “The Tender Land” comes to the stage of Stansbury Theatre Feb. 19-22 in a collaborative production of Lawrence University’s theatre, music and opera studies programs.

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Junior Mitchell Kasprzyk (left) portrays the drifter Top and senior Stephanie Popik portrays Laurie Moss in Lawrence’s production of Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land.” Photo by Nathan B. Lawrence

Curtain times for performances Feb. 19-20-21 are 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday, Feb. 22 matinee at 3 p.m. Tickets, at $15 for adults and $8 for seniors and students, are available through the Lawrence University Box Office, 920-832-6749. The three-act performance runs approximately two hours with no intermission.

Well known for its soaring melodies, “The Tender Land” brings the Depression-era American Midwest to life. With Copland’s music and a libretto written by his romantic partner Erik Johns under the pseudonym Horace Everett, the story explores themes of the stranger among us and the stranger within. Under Copland’s sweeping, yet intimate score, characters dance between their own inner and outer worlds.

The story is told through the eyes of Laurie Moss, the eldest daughter of a Dust Bowl-era 1930s farming family, who feels unconnected to both her family and community. The arrival of two drifters turns Laurie’s thoughts to the freedom of the road and its possibilities. Smitten with one drifter, she plans to leave home with him, only to have him depart without her. Laurie soon realizes it was the dream of abandoning the farm and starting life on her own terms with which she was really in love, not the drifter.

The production is the Lawrence debut of award-winning opera director Copeland Woodruff, who was appointed the college’s first director of opera studies last spring. He joined the faculty in September. In November, Woodruff earned first-place honors in the prestigious National Opera Association’s Best Opera Production Competition for the fifth time in the past eight years. He was recognized for his 2014 production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” with University of Memphis Opera.

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Copeland Woodruff

Working with his team of set, lighting and costume designers, Woodruff said of the production “we’ve tried to create a world that allows a framework of the Midwestern farm, but leaves room for magical realism.”

The set incorporates the use of a large, opaque, translucent quilt, which serves as a surface for projections. Other elements of the set are skeletal/suggestive that function in different ways, including as projection surfaces.

“The use of the set and projections to create an interior life for the characters will help support the feelings of freedom that live nascent in Laurie: moments when she is alone, when she is feeling connected, and the final moments before her departure from this community.”

The opera will be performed with a split cast, with seniors Graycie Gardner and Stephanie Popik sharing the roles of Laurie Moss.  Seniors Kirsten O’Donnell and Melina Jaharis sing the role of Ma Moss, while junior Charlie Aldrich and 2010 Lawrence graduate Justin Berkowitz portray drifter Martin, Laurie’s love interest.

Dirk Durossette served as the production’s scenic designer. Barry Steele designed the lighting and projection while Karin Kopischke was the show’s costume designer.

The orchestra will be led by guest conductor Katherine Kilburn with music direction by associate professor of music Bonnie Koestner.

Prior to each performance, several area agencies who deal with marginalized and disenfranchised members of the Appleton and Lawrence communities will staff tables in the lobby of the Music-Drama Center to interacting with audience member as a way of setting a tone of how the stranger among us is perceived.

Following each performance, there will be a talk-back sessions led by representatives of Celebrate Diversity Fox Cities with the audience to facilitate discussions on moving from an “us-them” paradigm to a more inclusive “us” mentality.

“We hope to open up Lawrence’s doors to community members who well may have never been on our campus,” said Woodruff.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

 

Lawrence Student Cost Increase Smallest in 20 Years

Posted on: February 13th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

The cost to attend Lawrence University for the 2015-16 academic year will reflect the smallest rate increase in 20 years based on the recently approved budget by the college’s Board of Trustees.

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At 9:1, Lawrence has one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios of any college in the country.

The comprehensive fee for the next school year will be $52,950, an increase of 2.89 percent over the current year. The increase is the smallest since a 2.84 percent change for the 1996-97 academic year and is the second smallest in more than 30 years.

This moderate increase is due in part to the Lawrence community’s efforts to decrease operating expenses by 7 percent or $3.75 million over the next three years while preserving the quality of the education.

The comprehensive fee covers tuition, room, board, student activity and sustainability fees.

“I realize the financial burden that many of our students and families face, and I take seriously any increase to the comprehensive fee,” said Burstein, who has made affordability a cornerstone of his presidency since assuming the office in July 2013. “The cost of providing a rigorous and challenging academic experience, with a student-to-faculty ratio (9:1) that is among the lowest in the country, is indeed great. As we continue to improve this institution and its offerings to students, it is imperative that we work to find ways to moderate the increasing cost of the transformative education we provide.”

A focused campaign to raise student scholarship funds was launched last September with a gift of $25 million, the largest in school history. Lawrence alumni and friends have contributed more than $18 million to match this extraordinarily generous gift. These funds will be used solely to create endowed scholarships that help meet students’ demonstrated financial need.

“Efforts to raise funds and decrease operating costs are essential to the continued health of Lawrence and to the affordability of the education we offer for future Lawrentians and their families,” Burstein said.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Acclaimed philosopher, author Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses honor, citizenship in Lawrence convocation

Posted on: February 11th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

Award-winning philosopher and foreign policy writer Kwame Anthony Appiah examines questions of honor and societal obligation Tuesday, Feb. 17 in a Lawrence University convocation.

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Scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah examines questions of honor and societal obligation in a Feb. 17 Lawrence University convocation.

A professor of philosophy and law at New York University, Appiah presents “A Decent Respect: Honor and Citizenship at Home and Abroad” at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. He also will also conduct a question-and-answer session in the Warch Campus Center cinema at 2:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

Named one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” in 2010 by Foreign Policy magazine, the London-born Appiah challenges audiences to consider the big questions: what does it mean to be a citizen of the world?; what is a person’s obligations to others?; should larger obligations always trump concerns for family, friends and local communities?

Cambridge University educated — he earned both his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. there — Appiah has written extensively on a wide range of topics, from foundations of probabilistic semantics to African and African-American literary and cultural studies.

Included on Forbes magazine’s 2009 list of the world’s “seven most powerful thinkers,” Appiah was honored with the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for his 1992 book “In My Father’s House.”  Charles Johnson of The New York Times declared it “one of the handful of theoretical works on race that will help preserve our humanity.”

His 2010 book, “The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen,” focuses on how human morality is continuously shaped and altered around definitions and traditions of honor.

Appiah has been recognized with dozens of honors and awards, among them the 2011 National Humanities Medal “for seeking eternal truths in the contemporary world,” election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

 

 

Lawrence Librarian Honored with Local Historian of the Year Award

Posted on: February 4th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

Antoinette Powell excels at using history to tell stories. Her expertise at doing so has been recognized by the Outagamie County Historical Society.

Antoinette-Powell_newsblog

Lawrence music librarian Antoinette Powell will be honored March 18 with an Outagamie County Historian of the Year award.

Powell, music librarian and associate professor at Lawrence University, has been named the 2015 recipient of the historical society’s annual Lillian F. Mackesy Historian of the Year Award, which honors outstanding contributions to Outagamie County history.

Nominated by the staff of the History Museum at the Castle, Powell will receive her award March 18 at a meeting of the Outagamie County History Society.

Powell, who joined the Lawrence faculty in 2002, was selected for her contributions to three local history projects:

• she conducted critical research on the Cleggett-Hollensworth-Newman families in support of the History Museum’s “Stone of Hope” pop-up exhibition.

• she organized a Marian Anderson Tribute Concert last October at Lawrence that featured repertoire from a recital Anderson sang at the Lawrence Memorial Chapel in 1941.

• her ongoing efforts as webmaster to maintain Appleton’s Historic Old Third Ward website.

Established in 1976 by the Outagamie County Historical Society, the award is named in honor of Lillian Mackesy, a former columnist and editor for The Post Crescent, whose columns included “Looking Back 100 Years,” “Historically Speaking” and “Remember When?”

“Through her Post Crescent articles, Lillian Mackesy made local history appealing and accessible to two generations of Fox Valley residents,” said Matt Carpenter, executive director of the History Museum at the Castle. “Antoinette follows Mackesy’s example. Employing her meticulous research and documentary skills, she focuses her passion for history on untold or misunderstood stories. Her talents for research and storytelling have made her projects especially credible and engaging.”

Mackesy, the award’s first recipient, was devoted to the preservation and promotion of the region’s historical heritage. Her personal collection forms the core of the History Museum’s research files and photograph collection.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Pianist Michael Mizrahi Selected for National Arts Award

Posted on: January 27th, 2015 by Rick Peterson

Lawrence University pianist Michael Mizrahi has been named one of five international recipients of the S&R Foundations 2014 Washington Award.

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Assistant Professor of Music Michael Mizrahi was among five national recipients of the Washington Award presented by the S&R Foundation.

Presented annually by the Washington, D.C.-based foundation, the Washington Award recognizes individuals who display outstanding ability and artistic excellence. It supports those who contribute to an international cultural dialogue.

Mizrahi, assistant professor of music at Lawrence, will be formally honored May 30 at the S&R Washington Awards Gala at the Halcyon House in the Georgetown district of the nation’s capital. He will receive a $5,000 cash prize in support of his career.

“We are thrilled that Michael has won the Washington Award,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music. “Since the award is specifically for talented individuals with high aspirations in the arts, I can’t imagine a better recipient. Michael is always pushing musical boundaries, working closely with composers to create new works, redefining the relationship between audience and performer and bringing live performance to underserved audiences. This award will help him take his musical aspirations to the next level.”

According to Sachiko Kuno, CEO and president of the S&R Foundation, the 2014 Washington Award winners “are dynamic artists who are engaged with their communities and with audiences worldwide.

“We applaud their drive and aspirations and are proud to support them towards the next steps in their creative development,” said Kuno in announcing the award winners.

Mizrahi joined the conservatory of music faculty in 2009. His debut album, “The Bright Motion” on New Amsterdam Records, was included on both Time Out New York’s and Time Out Chicago’s list of best classical albums for 2012. The video of the album’s title track was featured on National Public Radio’s “Deceptive Cadence,” which hailed it as “a meditation on quietude amidst unceasing movement, a thick-walled cell of solitary contentment in the churn of daily life.”

His recording portfolio also includes the world premiere of three works for violin and piano by Aaron Copland.

He is a founding member of both NOW Ensemble, a chamber group devoted to commissioning and performing new music by emerging composers, and the Moët Trio. He also is a member of the New York City-based chamber ensemble Decoda, which creates innovative performances and engaging projects with partners around the world.

Mizrahi is currently co-directing the project “Music for All: Connecting Musicians and Community.” The project is supported by a $16,700 Arts and Culture grant from unrestricted funds within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and is designed to bring classical chamber music to settings where such music is not normally performed.

Joining Mizrahi as 2014 Washington Award winners were:

The S&R Washington Award recipients for 2014 are:

Nabil Shehata, double bassist and conductor

Tamás Krizsa, dancer, choreographer

Erzhan Kulibaev, violinist

Huanhuan Ma, soprano

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Two New Champions Crowned in 50th Annual Lawrence Trivia Contest

Posted on: January 26th, 2015 by Rick Peterson
Trivia-Prizes-2015

First-year trivia masters get ready to award this year’s prizes to the top three finishing on- and off-campus teams during Lawrence’s 50th edition of its Great Midwest Trivia contest.

After placing second in 2013 and third in 2014, Hobgoblin of Little Minds claimed first-place honors with 1,236 points among 65 off-campus teams in Lawrence University’s 50th annual Great Midwest Trivia contest held over the weekend. 50 Shades of Trivia (1,225 points) finished second while Je suis Iowans, last year’s runner-up, placed third (1,217).

Bucky’s Brood of Burgeoning Butt Brigadiers’ Bizarre Belligerants Bird-Bondage-Base Burlesque Bonanza moved up from last year’s second-place finish to win the on-campus title (1,374 points), while Shrek/10 3: We Bought a Sherk, last year’s champion, settled for second place this year (1,347). Taking the Hobbits to #Octopunks is not Death placed third among 29 on-campus teams (1,141.5).

Hobgoblin of Little Minds was awarded a bowl spray painted gold for its first-place prize, while 50 Shades of Trivia received a gold-painted ghost wall décor and Je Suis Iowans earned a gold-painted mini wooden chair.

Bucky’s was presented a gold-painted old phone for winning the off-campus title while Shrek received a large, gold-painted car part and Taking the Hobbits to #Octopunks is not Death earned a gold-painted angel candle holder.

Once again, the contest’s final question, the Super Garruda, proved to be a stumper. No team was able to answer this ultimate brain tester:  Near property previously owned by Rockwell Lime Company is a manhole built in 1921 with an 8 inch diameter pipe leading downstream 226 feet. What is the Manhole Label and what is written on the cover of the manhole?

Make a note for next year since this will be the first question of the 2016 contest. The answer is “15-47″ “Richards Iron Wks” (works).

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.

Happy 50th! Lawrence celebrates a not-so-trivial birthday

Posted on: January 21st, 2015 by Rick Peterson
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Channeling their 1960s “Mad Men” era roots, 2015 Grand Trivia Master Weronika Gajowniczek (center) and her fellow trivia masters will oversee the 50th edition of the nation’s longest-running salute to all things trivial Jan. 23-25. Photo by Nathan Lawrence ’15

Can anything that survives for half a century really still be considered “trivial?”

A year older than the Super Bowl and tougher than the Seattle Seahawk’s defense, the Lawrence University Great Midwest Trivia Contest — the country’s oldest ongoing salute to all-things insignificant — celebrates its 50th birthday Jan. 23-25.

After 2,450 hours of competition and more than 18,000 questions since then-Lawrence senior J.B. deRosset first asked “Who was Superman’s father?” back in 1966, Lawrence’s 50-hour intellectual scavenger hunt has established itself as the game’s granddaddy, asking students and others to ponder the offbeat and obscure long before minutia ever became en vogue.

“Going into that first contest, I don’t think any of us contemplated this happening a second time,” said deRosset, who will travel from the warmth of Miami to chilly Cheeseland this weekend to help commemorate the contest’s milestone moment. “My mind was on being draft eligible for Vietnam, raging hormones and where to go to graduate school.”

Following tradition, the 50th edition of the contest kicks off at precisely 37 seconds after 10 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23 and runs continuously through midnight Sunday, Jan. 25. As it has since 2006, the contest will be webcast worldwide on the Internet at wlfmradio.com.

“Trivia is like a 50-hour super bug…you don’t want to eat, you can’t sleep and the whole weekend is pretty much a weird fever dream.”
– Weronika Gajowniczek, 2015 Grand Trivia Master

Senior Weronika Gajowniczek, who presides over the weekend’s craziness as this year’s Grand Trivia Master, says trivia can “infect” players a little like the flu.

“Trivia is like a 50-hour super bug,” said Gajowniczek, who served as one of the contest’s 12 trivia masters the past two years before being chosen as the grand master this year. “You don’t want to eat, you can’t sleep and the whole weekend is pretty much a weird fever dream.

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A small army of trivia masters and other student volunteers will man the phones in the WLFM studios, collecting answers and tallying team point totals during Lawrence’s 50-hour Great Midwest Trivia Contest.

“Most people don’t just play trivia, they live trivia,” added Gajowniczek, who spent 16 straight hours answering phones at trivia headquarters as a freshman. “For that one weekend in January, you forget about everything else — homework, sleeping, eating, hygiene, your sanity. Nothing becomes more important than answering those arbitrary questions.”

Aah yes, the questions. Written by the trivia masters, the goal is to make them as “unGoggleable” as possible. The result is such brain teasers as On how many episodes of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” has the game Party Quirks been played? (129) or Who is immortalized on a blanket as Altoona Area High School’s top football player of 1965? (Dick Bard).

“You just dedicate your weekend to frantically searching in the weirdest corners of the internet,” said Gajowniczek, one of only a handful of women to oversee the contest in its long history.

In addition to the usual array of wacky questions and theme hours — Death and Destruction, Meowour (a segment devoted to felines) and, in tribute to Gajowniczek’s heritage, an all Polish-related set of questions — this year’s 50th edition will feature a tip of the hat to its 49 predecessors. Once each hour, Gajowniczek said they will ask a throwback question taken from the archives of the previous contests.

“Since there is 50 hours and 50 years, it works perfectly, so we’ll base a question off every year.”

Last year’s contest had 19 on-campus teams and 57 off-campus teams battling wits and busy signals for the loosest definition of the word “prizes.” Gajowniczek promises a return to more traditional prizes this year.

“The last few years, the trivia masters would just find something in the studio and give it out as a prize and mostly it was just things no one would keep,” said Gajowniczek. “We definitely want to bring back the tradition of the prizes, make them more memorable keepsakes, commemorative. I’m not promising anything special, but nothing like a jar full of cream cheese, like last year.”

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J.B. deRosset ’66

For all of its silliness, the contest actually grew out of a serious academic endeavor, one for which deRosset was bypassed. After not being asked to join a select group of students and faculty for an off-campus academic trip then known as “Encampment” to the general student populace and “Entrapment” to its detractors, deRosset came up with an alternative to the academic retreat: a contest on the campus’ radio station for “the trivial minds left behind.”

“My junior year set it up,” recalled deRosset, an attorney. “I had accumulated some extra credits from an off-campus program at Argonne National Labs and arrived my senior year with little stress and plenty of time and brain space for some creativity. It has kept going because it went so well the first year and my partner in crime, Dave Pfleger ,was ready, willing and able to do it again. With two contests under the Lawrence belt, it had the momentum to keep on truckin’. I know it takes a lot time for the students to put this together. More power to them for keeping the tradition alive.”

Again per tradition, Lawrence President Mark Burstein will have the privilege of blowing out the first birthday candle’ as it were by asking the  50th contest’s first question, which, also by tradition, is always the final question — the Super Garruda — from the previous year’s contest.

No team was able to add 100 points to its total last year by answering the 2014 Super Garruda: In the final resting place of Copernicus there are pillars with graffiti scratched into them. One of these pillars has graffiti that reads “EM is cool” and “DW is ok.” What does the only music-genre related graffiti on that pillar say?”

Come 10:00.37 Friday night, every self-respecting trivia team will know the answer is “Punks is not Death.”

Attention Lawrence alumni: If you’re making a pilgrimage to Appleton this weekend for your annual trivia fix, we’d like to chat with you. We’re hoping to connect with several LU grads about the contest for a story in the alumni magazine. Send a note to Communications@lawrence.edu and tell us where you’ll be on Saturday and how we can reach you. Thanks.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.