Author: Ed Berthiaume

Richard Yatzeck, longtime professor of Russian at Lawrence, dies

Richard Yatzeck, professor emeritus of Russian, passed away on March 7, at the age of 86.

Yatzeck had one of the longest tenures in Lawrence University’s history. He joined the faculty in 1966, retiring in 2014 after a distinguished 48-year career at Lawrence that included leading students on multiple summer-long treks through Eastern Europe.

Richard Yatzeck

He was in his element teaching Russian literature and leading those biennial expeditions to Russia and Eastern Europe.

Upon his retirement nearly five years ago, Yatzeck noted that he wasn’t much of a fan of the modern world, preferring instead to savor the wonders of the 19th Century and the writings of Tolstoy, Pushkin and Dostoevsky.

“Basically, the only way to amuse yourself was to read and that’s what I’ve done all my life, and so in some ways I feel as if I still live in the 19th Century,” Yatzeck said just before his retirement in the summer of 2014 at the age of 81. He noted that he never owned a television.

“Part of being happy teaching at Lawrence is a lot of my work is spent reading and preparing for classes and the thinking that goes along with it,” he said. “When you read a book, you have to make your own pictures so that you’re exercising your imagination. What is this guy saying, what would it look like?”

To see obituary in The Post-Crescent, click here

Yatzeck began organizing every-other-year trips to Russia and Eastern Europe with former professor George Smalley shortly after he joined the faculty in 1966. Traveling in seven Volkswagen buses, as many as 35 students would participate in the trips throughout the continent.

“The (Lawrence) authorities at that time thought it would be a good idea. I’m not sure why they did because everybody else asked us if we’d get back alive,” said Yatzeck, who called the trips the highlight of his teaching career. “They were certainly good for my oral Russian.”

Those trips — as well as two stints (1991, 1997) as director of the ACM’s study-abroad program in Krasnodar — inspired him to chronicle his experiences in the 2012 book, “Russia in Private,” a collection of his observations of Russian life.

Yatzeck was also an avid hunter and fisherman.

“They are quite different things,” he said of teaching and his outdoor pursuits. “The business about hunting is you switch off your intellect and you listen to your senses. Something smells or you hear or taste something and your intellectual powers are in abeyance, and that’s a nice rest. But that isn’t how you teach.”

Yatzeck’s scholarly work included a dozen published poems, but he also wrote extensively about the outdoors, including 11 articles for Gray’s “Sporting Journal,” the “New Yorker” of outdoor literature. His first book was 1999’s “Hunting the Edges,” a collection of his musings about the philosophical, not the practical, aspects of the outdoors.

An on-campus memorial for Yatzeck is being planned for Reunion Weekend. It’s schedule for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. June 15 in Strange Commons in Main Hall.

Details will be included in the Reunion Weekend schedule.

‘Tonight is perfection’: McKees’ outdoor rink is an Appleton oasis on ice

An aerial view of the ice rink in the McKees' yard.
The McKee ice rink measures more than 100 feet in length and hosts pickup hockey games three times a week.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Welcome to The Venue.

It’s a Tuesday evening in February, and the super snow moon — the biggest, brightest full moon of the year — is hanging over the outdoor ice rink in the Appleton yard of Chuck and Lesley McKee, shining like a beacon on a scene that screams, “This is how we all should embrace our Wisconsin winters.”

The rink, more than 100 feet long and 35 feet wide, is crafted with detail; the ice tended to with care, perfectly smooth on this 20-degree night. A dozen friends and acquaintances, pads on and hockey sticks in hand, ages ranging from 30s to 70s, skate across the rink in a game of pickup hockey, navigating around a large shagbark hickory adorned with lights while firing pucks into mini-sized goals.

“Tonight is perfection,” says Bill Carlson as he scans the scene that unfolds on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons — weather permitting — during the winter. He’s been coming to these makeshift hockey games at the McKee house along Green Bay Road — just a few blocks north of the Lawrence University campus — for 25 years.

“This is called The Venue, and this is the finest athletic facility in the state,” Carlson says with a wink and a smidge of exaggeration. He smiles and gives a nod to Chuck McKee ’68, the architect who has lovingly tended to this winter oasis for nearly three decades.

The McKees are alumni of Lawrence — both 1968 graduates — and are longtime friends and supporters of the school. Chuck, who retired three years ago after a long career as an Appleton physician, was a football star for the Vikings in the 1960s. He was a captain on the 1967 team that went undefeated and was inducted into the Lawrence Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame two years ago. Individually, he was a charter member of the Hall of Fame in 1996.

The McKees have stayed closely connected to Lawrence through the years, attending shows and games, serving on boards. Chuck once served as director of the wellness center on campus and assisted as a doctor for LU athletic teams. Lawrence hockey players will sometimes come to the McKee ice rink to play low-key pond hockey after their season ends.

In many ways, this house is an extension of Lawrence.

Lawrence alumni connections: Learn more here.

Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame: See Lawrence honorees here

A party on ice

It was the McKee daughters who first inspired an outdoor ice rink in the years after the McKees moved back to Appleton in the late 1970s. The rink was much smaller back then. But through trial and error, it would grow and become a more elaborate undertaking.

Others have taken notice.

In its January edition this year, Better Homes & Gardens magazine featured the McKees’ rink, showcasing an outdoor ice-skating party they threw last winter — it was dubbed Moon Over Ice and featured everything from homemade ice lanterns to an outdoor spread of food and drink. The elegant party was initially launched in the 1990s when the McKees thought it would be a good excuse to get friends and neighbors outdoors in the winter. It was halted after a couple of years, then revived again a few years ago.

“Everybody wore old-fashioned fancy clothes and I had a tux that I wore,” Chuck says. “It was really fun.”

If the weather cooperates, it can be a fabulous experience. If it’s too cold or windy or the ice doesn’t cooperate, then not as much.

The 2018 party fell into the fabulous category, a blessing considering the presence of the photographer working for Better Homes and Gardens. It was like a dinner party in a snow globe.

“That day it snowed all day,” Chuck says. “People were out setting up stuff from 10 o’clock in the morning, hanging lights and fashioning the snowbanks to put the tables on. We had a 30-foot-long table on the ice. It was really nice. The whole idea was to spend all that time outside, and everybody loved it.”

A player brings the puck up the ice during a Tuesday night game at the McKee outdoor rink.
Players range in age from their 30s to their 70s. “You lose yourself in this, in the hockey. You’re all the same age out there,” says 72-year-old Chuck McKee ’68.

Then there’s the hockey

The activity on the ice the rest of the winter is a bit less sophisticated than a dinner party. It’s about hockey, but mostly it’s about camaraderie.

There are upwards of 25 guys who come for the hockey games on a semi-regular basis, usually 12 to 15 on any given Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday, skill levels varying from some to none. They’re not necessarily friends outside of the hockey get-togethers, but they come because they’re drawn to the casual nature of the hockey and the friendly banter that comes with it, not unlike pickup basketball games or weekly softball leagues that draw players well beyond their athletic prime who still revel in friendly competition. This just happens to be at somebody’s house, a side yard transformed into an elaborate ice rink and a basement turned into a makeshift locker room.

“I’m most taken by how these various people got here,” Chuck says. “The only thing we do together is play hockey. Otherwise, very few of us have any close relationship.

“Probably only half or a third of the people who try this actually stick with it. We’ve had a lot of people who have said, yea, I want to give it a try, and then said, nah. It’s hard to predict who is going to stick with it.”

Marty Thiel came to the group this year. He’s 62, has been playing hockey since high school but had put his skates mostly on the shelf while his kids were growing up. They’re out of the house now, and one day he was asking around about where he could play some “old guy hockey.”

A week later he got a call from Chuck and an invite to join the group.

“Now I’m here three times a week,” Thiel says. “It’s everything and more. I’ll be sad when the season ends because the setting here is just perfect.”

The group helps the McKees keep the rink in working order. They come together on a weekend in December to help set up the rink, and then tend to it during the winter as if it were their own.

“It’s a human labor of love,” Carlson says. “During intermissions, about 15 shovels come out and we shovel the ice. It’s like a Zamboni with shovels. And then at the end of the night, there are a few guys who use the hose and spray another layer so it’ll be ready for the next time.”

Getting the ice just right took years of starts and stops, Chuck says. He found silage film, typically used on farms, that he cuts to size and places on the ground before making the ice. He puts up 6-inch-wide boards around the rink, turning his yard into a massive bathtub. He replumbed a faucet in the basement to accommodate a 1-inch hose.

“So, we take that hose out of the window in the basement and I just let the hose run for 18 hours when I know it’s going to be sub-freezing for five days or so,” Chuck says.

Then it’s a matter of chasing falling leaves as the water freezes.

“Brown oaks are usually the last trees to drop their leaves,” Chuck says. “And these shagbark hickories, one of them didn’t drop its leaves this year until January.”

Aerial view of hockey players making their way across the ice on the McKee outdoor rink.
A rotating cast of players show up on a given weeknight or Sunday afternoon to play hockey on the rink in the McKees’ Appleton yard. They navigate around a shagbark hickory on the east end of the ice.

But now, on this Tuesday night in mid-February, the leaves are no longer an issue and the ice is gleaming, the super snow moon providing a glow.

“Now is the sweet time,” Chuck says.

When the hockey is done, the players return to the basement, remove their pads, drink some beer and hang out. It’s a ritual that’s been playing out over and over again, with an ever-changing cast of characters, for nearly 30 years.

“Here’s what I think,” says Chuck, who at age 72 takes a back seat to no one on the ice. “Who gets to do this at my age? Who gets to sit down in a locker room and drink beer and play darts? I suppose I should be reading AARP books instead. You lose yourself in this, in the hockey. You’re all the same age out there.”

Chuck, who on this night was not playing because he had broken a rib on a freakish fall during a game a couple of weeks earlier, says the rink isn’t going anywhere, even when he eventually hangs up his skates. This ice thing is a hobby he can’t quit.

“Honestly, I’m going to make ice even if I’m not playing hockey,” he says. “It’s really fun. It’s like winter gardening.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

When March Madness came to Lawrence: 15 years later, bonds stay strong

“That’s when you start
thinking, man,
this is kind of a big deal”

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Sometimes madness can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

Those who have even a passing curiosity of college basketball know the month of March is an unfolding tapestry of drama and strategy, unabashed joy and cruel heartbreak, playing out on hardwood courts across the country, often in spacious arenas housing hoops royalty but sometimes in small but achingly charming gymnasiums far from the spotlight.

So begins our flashback to 15 years ago, when the men’s basketball team from Lawrence University began its own magical dance through March Madness. It was a run that took the Vikings to the Division III Elite 8 before they suffered an agonizing 1-point overtime loss to the eventual national champions in a game that the then-Lawrence coach calls one of the greatest college basketball games ever played — even though the gymnasium in Tacoma, Washington, was mostly empty.

No, this is not a story that ended with a national championship. History rarely remembers a team that came up two games short.

But March Madness is different. A good Cinderella story has legs, made of moments and memories that live on.

Until March 2004, Lawrence had never won an NCAA tournament game. Ever. It hadn’t happened in 101 years.

They would win three on this post-season journey, a fourth slipping from their fingers, a Final Four berth just a few ticks of the clock out of reach.

Division III gets little love from national media, so this wasn’t quite the hysteria of Maryland-Baltimore County beating top-seeded Virginia last year. But it was big here. The Post-Crescent, the daily newspaper in Appleton, chronicled Lawrence’s run through the 2004 tournament with equal parts excitement and astonishment.

— — —

“Those brainiacs over at Lawrence showed they can ball with anybody on the Division III level, and those of you who were paying attention no doubt had quite a ball following their Shock the Nation National Tour. One point, one play from a spot in the NCAA Division III Final Four. Lawrence University? Tell you what, folks, on a larger scale, this would be like Lehigh making it to the Elite Eight in Division I.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent

— — —

Still winning

As we check in with that 2003-04 team 15 years later, we find that those players who posted a 24-5 record and went undefeated at Alexander Gymnasium were far more than basketball players. It turns out they were scholars, embracing the academic side of Lawrence as fervently as they attacked their basketball preparations.

Chris Braier, a sophomore that season who would go on to become the most accomplished player in Lawrence history, would also earn the status of Academic All-American. Now 34 and a physician assistant in Chicago, he earned his MBA in December from Northwestern University and has added clinical health care consultant to his resume.

Three other players from that team are now doctors — Kyle MacGillis, a hand/wrist/elbow surgeon in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Jason Holinbeck, an orthopedic surgeon in Wichita Falls, Texas, and Brett Sjoberg, a radiologist in Madison.

Kyle MacGillis drives to the basket against UW-Stevens Point in the 2003-04 NCAA Division III tournament.

Chris MacGillis, brother of Kyle and the leading scorer with 22 points in that Elite 8 game, earned his law degree and is now a partner in a Milwaukee area law office.

Ben Klekamp earned his doctorate and now works as an epidemiologist in Florida.

Another is a college basketball coach, another a financial advisor, another a director of business development, another a manager of a regional business. The list goes on.

Count John Tharp, the then-34-year-old coach of that team, impressed. Not surprised, but impressed.

“The greatness of that run wasn’t necessarily just the wins,” Tharp says as he chats from Hillsdale College, where he now coaches the Division II Chargers. “The greatness of the run was the collection of people that we had in the program at that time. You want to epitomize what a student-athlete is, it was the collection of guys that were on that basketball team.”

— — —

“This whole experience has left a mark that will never go away, and that’s a good thing. For the journey was full of tales and memories that have no shelf life.” Mike Woods, The Post-Crescent

— — —

An historic run

By the time the tournament began in early March 2004, the Lawrence campus had already taken notice that something special was going on. Despite having no player taller than 6’6″, the Vikings had imposed their will as they marched through the Midwest Conference schedule.

As the season rolled on, Alexander Gymnasium got down-right rowdy. It was full. It was loud.

The Appleton Fire Department had to turn people away because of fire code concerns.

“The vibe around campus, people were really excited,” Braier says. “The first game, there was a row of chairs along the baseline at Alex, and by the end of the year they had to build a whole new bleacher section on the baseline because of the crowds.

“When you would come to games, a lot of times the women would play before us, so you would come in during the first half of the women’s game, and you started noticing that there would be a line to get into our games. You couldn’t find a parking spot an hour and a half before the game. That’s when you start thinking, man, this is kind of a big deal.”

They won all 12 home games.

Chris Braier, here playing against Sul Ross State in the 2003-04 NCAA Division III tournament, was inducted into the Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame three years ago.

Then came the tournament. The run began with a first-round 86-51 blowout of Lakeland at a packed Alexander Gym.

“I can remember diving for a loose ball into the standing room-only crowd in one of the corners and realizing that they’re 10 deep in the corners to watch this game,” Braier says.

Then it was on to Storm Lake, Iowa, a seven-hour bus trip into the round of 32.

“When we went to play Buena Vista and we were in Storm Lake, Iowa, we had a ton of students who were at that game,” Tharp recalls. “That’s a great effort to be there. It was amazing. To come out of that locker room and to see how many Lawrence kids were there, and just people from Appleton who were not even necessarily connected to Lawrence, that was incredibly special.”

Lawrence would beat Buena Vista 72-66, sending them to the Sweet 16 in Tacoma and a match up with Sul Ross State, a team from Alpine, Texas, loaded with size and talented junior college transfers. It was unchartered territory for any school from the Midwest Conference, which had never seen a team advance past the second round.

A thrilling 86-79 overtime win that included a late double-digit comeback moved the Vikings to the Elite 8 and a showdown with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III power located just 60 miles west of the Lawrence campus but light years away in terms of basketball history. The Pointers at the time had advanced to the Elite 8 twice in the previous decade and would go on to win back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005.

It was a nail-biter, neither team giving ground, filled with drama to the end — witnessed by no more than 400 or so people in a college fieldhouse nearly 2,000 miles from home. A late Stevens Point three-pointer sent the game into overtime — a bonus five minutes — and then Lawrence’s improbable journey came crashing down in the waning seconds of that extra period.

A made basket by the Pointers to retake the lead. Then a last-second shot that would have won the game for Lawrence fell short. The scoreboard read 82-81.

“I just remember being completely exhausted, dropping to the floor,” Braier says.

Just like that, the ride was over.

“You felt like that last shot, how does that not go in?” Braier says. “It’s like we were in a movie. In the movie, that shot goes in.”

Puget Sound, the host school, had lost the night before to Stevens Point. Thus, witnesses in the arena that night were few.

“There weren’t more than 300 or 400 people in the crowd at that game, and it was probably one of the greatest college basketball games ever played,” Tharp says. “It was a phenomenal game.”

Rob Nenahlo buries his head as he falls to the floor at the end of the game against UW-Stevens Point.
Rob Nenahlo falls to the floor as the game against UWSP ends one point short.

Stevens Point would roll through the next two games to claim a national championship. Lawrence was left with what might have been.

“I think when you talk to everybody they all think we were one or two possessions away from maybe having a chance to win a national championship,” Tharp says.

After the game, even the Stevens Point coach wished aloud that both teams could move on.

— — —

“The Vikings would have gladly jumped at that invitation to play one more game together. On Sunday, though, the talk in the airport was already moving to this week’s final exams on campus, spring-break trips and other ‘real life’ adventures. The team knew that this particular group, like all teams, only receives one chance to write its story.” Dick Knapinski, The Post-Crescent

— — —

“I think there was a sense of disappointment and heartbreak after that loss,” Tharp says. “Afterwards, and over the years, I think there is an obviously special place in everybody’s hearts about the run that was made.”

For Chris MacGillis, a senior on that team, the end of the journey hurt more than missing out on a chance at a national championship.

Chris MacGillis

“I wasn’t emotional because we lost and I thought we should have won,” he says. “I just remember becoming emotional because of how proud I was and how happy I was to be with this group of guys. We were a very tight group. We all relied on each other and we all cared about each other, and we still do to this day. I was more emotional about not being able to do this with these guys anymore than I was about losing.”

Lawrence would continue to dominate the Midwest Conference for the next couple of years, going undefeated in the 2005-06 regular season and claiming the school’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking. They’d win a couple more tournament games, as well. But they never quite recaptured the glory of 2004.

“It really was magical,” MacGillis says.

Still together

Fifteen years later, most of the players on that team remain connected. There are job changes and weddings and children and other life moments to navigate. But the bonds formed during that memorable season remain to this day. For basketball players, a March Madness experience, no matter if it’s under the bright lights of D-1 or in the more dimly lit shadows of D-3, lodges in your soul and stays there forever.

When Braier was inducted into Lawrence’s athletic hall of fame three years ago, many of the players from that team made their way back to Appleton. Braier said it was a reminder to him of how special that group was.

“I always thought, man, these guys are ridiculously smart,” Braier says. “That was my first thought when I first dealt with my teammates.

“I don’t think at the time you realize how special of a group of individuals this was. It was just an everyday thing. … Everyone was such a high achiever. You didn’t think it was anything different. But then when you stepped away or you talked to friends from other teams, that’s when you realized it.”

The coaches remain as connected as the players, despite a decade and a half of travels and life experiences separating them from those three weeks of madness.

“Those guys are part of my life, and obviously things have changed a little bit with me being at a different school and those guys are all over the country now, but I think everyone knows where everybody is at and what everybody is doing,” Tharp says. “But what makes it special, I still think to this day if anybody needed anyone else on that team, I think everybody would still be there for each other.”

Braier is getting married in September and most of his Lawrence teammates will be there.

There’s also a Las Vegas getaway every March that reunites many of them. No better time than March to recall that fleeting moment when Lawrence basketball got to dance.

“Man, I could talk about this forever,” Braier says.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Use of VR tech now reality in classrooms; FaCE grant to ramp up pace

Christopher Gore-Gammon wears VR headset in photo linking to video.

“One of the reasons I did that project was not only to explore my interest in it but also to give Lawrence the chance to pioneer in an art medium and form that not many schools are doing yet.”

Christopher Gore-Gammon ’17, on creating with virtual reality

— — —

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

When students in Lavanya Murali’s Anthropology of South Asia class explored a Bangladesh refugee camp via a documentary, they did much more than just watch the narrated video.

Without leaving campus, the Lawrence University students walked the paths of the camp housing Rohingya Muslims who had fled violence in Myanmar.

Virtual Reality (VR) technology allowed the students to take the walking tour, with a 360-degree view. Not only could they walk with and listen to the “I Am Rohingya” tour guide discuss the camp, they could veer off on their own, wander inside the makeshift housing at the camp, explore the edges.

“For me, the object was to humanize something that is such a huge crisis,” Murali said, “and to have my students understand how refugees were living and the conditions in which they were living and to understand the magnitude of the refugee crisis.

“And I think the VR experience did that because it’s immersive. It does a better job of that than just watching the documentary would have.”

The experience of the Murali class, using Google Cardboard headsets with smartphones during winter term 2018, is an early example of VR technology being integrated into the classroom at Lawrence.

Constance Kassor, an assistant professor of religious studies, followed suit this term, using the Google Cardboard headsets for students to explore religious sites in India and Tibet. Martyn Smith, associate professor of religious studies, has been dabbling in other uses of the technology in class.

More is on the way, be it VR, Augmented Reality (AR) or 3D technology.

The Makerspace wing of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, housing the early investments in that technology, has already been expanded and reconfigured since its launch three years ago.

EXPLORE MORE: See Film Studies and Seeley G. Mudd Library

The next step will come this summer when faculty representatives from Lawrence will join with other Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) schools for a conference on blending immersive technologies with liberal arts classrooms.

Lawrence, led by Reference and Learning Technologies Librarian Angela Vanden Elzen, and other ACM schools successfully sought a Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) grant to fund a two-day workshop in July aimed at kick-starting new collaborative efforts to share, promote and develop best practices for growing the use of VR, AR and 3D technologies in classrooms at 11 ACM schools.

The workshop will be held at Grinnell College and will be a jumping off point for collaboration that will be ongoing, Vanden Elzen said.

They’ll share not only the classroom potential of VR and AR but also some of the low-cost options that make the technology accessible without major blows to the budget. Murali, for example, is among the Lawrence professors already using Google Cardboard, a VR platform adaptable to a smartphone, available for as little as $10 each.

“At a lot of these campuses, there is a small handful of people, in some cases maybe only one, who are doing this kind of stuff with their students,” Vanden Elzen said. “It’s going to provide a great opportunity for a bunch of people interested in VR and AR and 3D visualizations to share what we’ve learned.”

Pioneers in VR tech

Lawrence has had a handful of students dive into VR for their Chandler Senior Experience, including two this year under the guidance of Anne Haydock, assistant professor of film studies.

Two years ago, Christopher Gore-Gammon ’17 and Noah Gunther ’17 were pioneers of sorts, the first two Lawrence students to use VR in their Senior Experience projects.

Gore-Gammon, now a videographer with Lawrence after graduating with a degree in film/cinema/video studies, said helping Lawrence push forward on the use of VR and AR technologies was a big motivator for him.

“One of the reasons I did that project was not only to explore my interest in it but also to give Lawrence the chance to pioneer in an art medium and form that not many schools are doing yet,” he said. “You have your art schools here and there that are doing it, but liberal arts schools of this size aren’t even venturing close to it. So, to integrate VR and AR into not only the projects that students do but into the classroom itself gives Lawrence a unique opportunity to change how we approach pedagogy, and how we approach not only teaching the students that come in but also teaching each other.”

Piquing the interest of faculty

Getting faculty buy-in across campus is the next hurdle for many schools. Some schools have jumped into VR and AR technology with more enthusiasm than others. Some have faculty members already experienced in the new technologies. Others do not. Lawrence has made significant progress over the past couple of years but there is room to grow.

What schools are finding, Vanden Elzen said, is that students are often ahead of their instructors in this technology and are pushing for it to be used in the classroom.

Kassor called the new technology an innovative tool to get students engaged in exploration on a deeper level. In early February, 10 students in her class on Buddhism in India and Tibet used VR headsets to go on a virtual scavenger hunt, seeking and exploring monasteries, temples, statues and murals.

“I gave students a basic orientation in how to use the VR viewers and some apps they might want to look at on their phones,” Kassor said. “Then I kind of turned them loose and gave them time to explore, and then we had a kind of show-and-tell after they found things.

“The value of that for me was really just to give students another opportunity to explore things on their own rather than me curating content for them. It was really encouraging them to do something a little bit more than just a Google image search.”

The students’ enthusiasm reflected the growing interest in the technology, and the classroom possibilities, Kassor said.

At Lawrence, that growth in student interest can be seen in the Senior Experience projects as well as the daily traffic coming in and out of Makerspace.

“Students have been really embracing this,” Vanden Elzen said. “At first there were just a few students who would use this space. Now we’ve seen a lot of students embrace the space independently. So, it’s kind of come the other way around where the students are telling their professors what they’ve been making in the Makerspace.”

Meanwhile, Film Studies just got approval to create a high-end VR station just outside of Makerspace in the library. While the impetus came from Film Studies, it’ll be available to students across all majors, perhaps as early as the start of next term.

Film students “will use it to develop their own VR content to be used with the campus HTC Vive VR headsets,” Vanden Elzen said. “They’ll be using Unreal 4, a game-design program, and a 3D modeling program, probably Blendr, to create their content. … We’re hoping that by having this resource in the library, students from all majors will feel like this is available for them to use.”

That’s part of the VR momentum that’s building on campus, Gore-Gammon said.

“There are already multiple students who are interested,” he said. “They don’t have to be experts, but they’re interested. And soon we will go from the two people — me and this other student — two years ago to these students this year to eventually there will be 50 students who will want to do it, and that will be amazing.”

When Kassor and some of her students return to Nepal next year — a biennual trip — she hopes to have students create VR content that students back in Appleton can then access. That’s the next step in this VR journey, she said.

“We can bring some of that back and some of the students who don’t have the opportunity to travel can experience some of the same things the students who are traveling get to experience.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

President Burstein talks liberal arts education on WPR ‘Morning Show’

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein joins host Kate Archer Kent Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio's "The Morning Show."
Lawrence University President Mark Burstein joins host Kate Archer Kent Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show.”

Lawrence University President Mark Burstein appeared Thursday morning on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” with Kate Archer Kent to talk about challenges facing higher education, the value of a liberal arts college and the need to assist students in navigating the costs of college.

Below are excerpts from what President Burstein had to say on the live show. To listen to the interview, click here.

On the type of connection a private institution such as Lawrence can have with the surrounding community:

“One of the things that really drew me to Lawrence and the Fox Cities was what I would consider a symbiotic relationship between the college and Appleton and the Fox Cities. Appleton is actually named for Amos Lawrence’s wife, her maiden name. And that relationship, that connection is so alive and well today. We collaborate on so many different things, Appleton and Lawrence, and we really both together create a more vibrant place for all of us to live.”

On the draw to a private liberal arts college?

“We do provide a different type of education. The faculty-student ratio at Lawrence is 8 to 1, which allows us to provide a more individualized, engaged learning experience for every student on campus. And that can be summer research opportunities in laboratories or it could be individualized study.”

On helping students navigate costs of college?

“At Lawrence, this has been a real focus for us. … Our stated price is about $57,000 a year. But 98 percent of our students get aid. And that aid on average is half the cost. So, it halves the costs every year.

“And we’re really trying to raise even more money to increase that grant aid to students and families. Right now, our average debt that a student graduates with is $31,000. That has decreased over the past six years. And we’re trying to get it down to about $25,000. So, for Lawrence, it is a sustainable proposition. We’re really trying to raise more money to support every student and family to ensure they can afford a Lawrence education.

“On the other hand, not every private institution has the kind of resources Lawrence has. We have an endowment that’s over $300 million. We have an extraordinarily generous community that surrounds us. It’s really something that students and families have to think about. What is the debt you would have to take out for a four-year college education, and is that sustainable for you?”

On how the Full Speed to Full Need campaign came about at Lawrence?

“Full need means the institution, the college or university, has enough resources to support every family to the level that federal methodology says that we should. What surprised me … is that there are only 70 full-need institutions in the country. And there are over 3,000 institutions that teach undergraduates.

“One student came in … said he was working 38 hours a week, he already took out $20,000 in debt, he was a first-term sophomore and he needed to take out more to complete that year. … His parents were divorced, his dad had just been evicted from his home for not paying his rent, his mom worked in a bookstore, and he loved it at Lawrence and wanted to stay there. And I started by saying, maybe you should think about transferring to your local state institution, where maybe the finances would be different for you. He said, ‘Mark, you didn’t hear one part of what I just said, which is I love it here.’ …

“So that started me on this odyssey of what it means to be full need. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the Lawrence community we’ve now raised $79 million in scholarship aid, which goes into the endowment and supports students and families absolutely every year, including that student, who did graduate from Lawrence with more aid.”

On the battle to keep enrollment numbers up?

“In general, we are seeing declining enrollment in colleges across the board, both in public and private institutions. We see that in the UW System as well. That’s a demographic change, which is we have fewer high school seniors graduating in the United States. …

“Lawrence is very fortunate in that we have a student body of 1,500, and strong demand for the education we offer. About 25 percent of our students come from the state of Wisconsin, but 75 percent come from elsewhere. We have 47 states represented on campus and actually over 70 countries around the globe. That kind of demand is essential for both the future of Lawrence but also for the learning experience; interacting with this diverse population is part of the learning we offer.”

Cultural Expressions brings talent to the stage; check out photos from the big night

Kyree Allen sings during Cultural Expressions.
Kyree Allen was among the performers at Saturday’s Cultural Expressions.

Cultural Expressions, a showcase of talent ranging from music to dance to spoken word, highlighted a festive Saturday night at Lawrence University.

The annual performance event brought People of Color Empowerment Week to a rousing close.

The Saturday festivities started with a dinner in the Intercultural and Diversity Center. That led into a gallery exhibit that put student works in the areas of art and film on display in the Mead Witter Room in the Warch Center, followed by the talent showcase on stage next door in Esch-Hurvis.

Here are some photos from the big night. You can find more photos here.

Literary honors continue to roll in for Bjornerud’s ‘Timefulness’

Marcia Bjornerud poses for a photo on rocks in Svalbard, arctic Norway.
Marcia Bjornerud in Svalbard, arctic Norway. Photo by Emily Thiem ’08.

UPDATED AUG. 12: The accolades keep rolling in for Marcia Bjornerud’s 2018 book that explores Earth’s deep past and the lessons we need to take from it to ensure a more sustainable future.

Bjornerud, the Walter Schober Professor of Environmental Sciences and Professor of Geology at Lawrence University, has received a number of national honors for Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World.

In early August, Bjornerud learned of yet another honor — Timefulness was named to the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Book Awards Short List. The award winners will be announced Oct. 1.

That follows word earlier this year from the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, where Timefulness was selected as a finalist in the category of Science and Technology. Bjornerud joined four other finalists for the award.

That honor followed a January announcement that the Bjornerud book had been selected for a PROSE Award from the American Association of Publishers in the category of popular science and mathematics. She was one of 48 winners in subject categories, selected from 156 finalists.

That followed the news in December that Timefulness had been long-listed for the PEN America Awards, one of the nation’s most prestigious literary awards. Bjornerud was nominated for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Prize for Literary Science Writing, which honors “a book that exemplifies literary excellence on the subject of the physical or biological sciences and communicates complex scientific concepts to a lay audience.”

Bjornerud said she’s savoring the attention from the run of literary awards, in part, because it shows the book is finding an audience.

“I wrote the book in the belief — possibly naive — that if more people understood our shared history and destiny as Earth-dwellers, we would treat each other, and the planet, better. So, it is tremendously heartening to find that the book is gaining visibility and reaching receptive readers.”

In the LA Times Book Prize competition, Bjornerud was joined in the Science and Technology category by Mona Hanna-Attisha, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City; Rose George, Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood; Eliza Griswold, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America; and Beth Macy, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America.

The complete list of finalists for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize included, among others, Michelle Obama, Susan Orlean, Michael Ondaatje and Terrance Hayes. There are 10 categories in the annual literary prize competition.

In her book, Bjornerud writes of the dangers of not paying attention to the passage of time as it relates to the Earth’s history. The rocks can tell us important things.

“As a species, we have a childlike disinterest and partial disbelief in the time before our appearance on Earth,” Bjornerud writes in Timefulness. “With no appetite for stories lacking human protagonists, many people simply can’t be bothered with natural history. We are thus both intemperate and intemporate — time illiterate. Like inexperienced but overconfident drivers, we accelerate into landscapes and ecosystems with no sense of their long-established traffic patterns, and then react with surprise and indignation when we face the penalties for ignoring natural laws.”

Timefulness, which includes illustrations from Lawrence alumnae Haley Hagerman ’14, has drawn rave reviews for its ability address complex geological issues in an accessible way.

Science wrote: Timefulness is a delightful and interesting read. The author’s cadence and the illustrator’s … figures made me feel as though I was having a glass of wine with a friend who was explaining geologic history while sketching on a napkin.”

Timefulness was published by Princeton University Press.

Alumni get chance to reconnect, give back through Bjorklunden seminars

Registration is now open for Bjorklunden summer seminars

Link to video of Bjorklunden
Video: Bjorklunden

The 2019 Björklunden summer seminar lineup will feature a strong showing by Lawrence University alumni eager to return to their roots at the university’s pristine northern campus.

The lineup features 40 speakers, with topics catering to a wide range of interests. Fourteen of the instructors will be Lawrence alumni. That’s no coincidence.

“We try to get alumni as well as current Lawrence faculty (to teach seminars),” Director of Björklunden Mark Breseman said. “We think it is a positive thing for everybody.

“We figure alumni can attract some other classmates, which is a cool thing, and the same goes for the faculty.”

Robert Spoo ’79, who holds an endowed chair in law at the University of Tulsa and is a former English professor and editor of the James Joyce Quarterly, is among those Lawrence alumni excited for that connection. He’s been a frequent instructor at Björklunden, and returns in June to lead “The Ulysses Starter Kit,” a seminar that will explore James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, as well as Joyce’s life, Dublin of the early 1900s and Irish history, music and culture.

“There are various ways we can give back to LU,” Spoo said. “One of those ways, for me, is to step into a role — teaching — that had such a great impact on me when I was on the learning side of the lectern. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t borrow something in my own classroom work that inspired me as a student at LU.

“Conducting seminars at Bjork is both an opportunity to give back in kind through teaching and to strengthen my connection as a LU alumnus. It’s especially satisfying when I can teach a subject at Bjork — in recent years it’s been the Irish author James Joyce — that I first encountered at LU.”

This year’s Björklunden seminar topics come in the areas of art, geology, film and television, history, literature, music, politics, religion and more. The seminars are open to both commuters and residents, who are housed in the estate’s 37,000-square-foot lodge, located on 425 acres just south of Baileys Harbor along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

One of Lawrence’s most visible alumni, ABC News chief foreign correspondent Terry Moran ’82, will lead a seminar titled “Americans First: We Don’t Actually Hate Each Other as Much as You Think.”

This is Moran’s third visit to Björklunden as a summer seminar instructor, with previous forums also focused on American politics.

Joining him in the political category is Paul Wickham Schmidt ’70, who is co-teaching the seminar, “American Immigration: A Legal, Cultural & Historical Approach to Understanding the Complex and Controversial Issue Dominating Our National Dialogue.”

Lawrence alumni are also instructing literary and artistic seminars. In addition to Spoo’s seminar on Joyce, Daniel Taylor ’63 will dive into Homer’s Odyssey, while Eric Simonson ’82 spearheads the Door Kinetic Arts Festival.

The summer seminars at Björklunden allow the lecture-goers to explore the northern campus and engage with the beautiful scenery in Door County.

Most seminars, which include meals prepared by Björklunden’s resident chef, begin Sunday evening and end Friday afternoon. Classes meet weekday mornings and some evenings, with remaining time available to enjoy Björklunden’s mile-long Lake Michigan shoreline and wooded walking trails or to explore Door County’s cultural and recreational opportunities.

A daily registration has been introduced this year. For $90 per day,  you can jump into a seminar for a single day.

Complete seminar information, including registration, dates, course descriptions and instructors, can be found at http://www.lawrence.edu/dept/bjork/ or by calling 920-839-2216. Questions can also be directed via email to mark.d.breseman@lawrence.edu.

By Nicole Witmer ’19

Bjorklunden’s summer seminar lineup

June 9-14: Listen to the Birds – Don Quintenz; Door Kinetic Arts Festival – Eric Simonson ‘82

June 16-21: Timefulness: How Thinking Like a Geologist Can Help Save the World – Marcia Bjornerud

June 23-28: A New Leaf for Your Art – Marjorie Atwood; The Ulysses Starter Kit – Robert Spoo ‘79; Wildlife Photography: Turning Passion into Productivity – John Van Den Brandt

July 7-13: Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camp – Bob DeRosa

July 14-19: Villains, Maidens, and Spirits: An Introduction to Russian Folklore – Victoria Kononova; Modern China Through a Lens of History and Art – Shelley Drake Hawks & Brigid E. Vance; Medieval Women: Life, Work, Space and Place – Jane Schulenburg ‘65

July 21-26: Dwight Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Dulles Brothers: American Foreign Policy in the 1950s – Tim Crain; Revolutionary Russia: Politics and Culture from Lenin to Stalin – Peter Thomas; The Great Failure: Why World War I Began, Continued, and Never Ended – Jerald Podair & John Greenwald

July 28-August 2: Americans First: We Don’t Actually Hate Each Other as Much as You Think – Terry Moran ‘82; The American Civil War: News and Views – James Cornelius ‘81

August 4-9: American Immigration: A Legal, Cultural, & Historical Approach to Understanding the Complex and Controversial Issue Dominating Our National Dialogue – Paul Wickham Schmidt ’70 and Jennifer Esperanza; When History Meets Philosophy – Terry Goode; Paraphrases and Reminiscences: Exploring the Art of Piano Transcription – Anthony Padilla

August 11-17: Watercolor: The Expressive Medium – Helen Klebesadel; Three Wives of Abraham – Bill Urbrock; Smartphone Photography: Exploring Creativity with Your Camera – Philip Krejcarek

August 25-30: What Makes a Classic Movie Classic? Learning to Understand the Difference Between a Classic Film and “Just an Old Movie” – Jack Rhodes; The Geopolitics of Energy: Past, Present and Future – Tom Cutler ’73 & J. William Ichord; The Prosecutor’s Art: From the Streets to the Suites of the Oval Office – Steve Licata ’75 & Charlie Schudson

September 8-13: Creating Emotional Landscapes Through Poetry – Marilyn L. Taylor; Wildflowers, Birds, and Mushrooms – Don Quintenz & Charlotte Lukes; Human Microbes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – David W. Hines ‘76

September 15-20: Watercolor: A Fresh Start – Helen Klebesadel; The Migration Phenomenon: Perspectives from Both Sides of the Atlantic – Christopher Murray ‘75; TV’s Middle Period, Late ‘70s to Century’s End: Time of Tele-Transition – Paul McComas ‘83

September 22-27: Stealing the Show: Memorable Supporting Players of the Classic Film Era – Jack Rhodes; Prosperity to Debacle: The Third Century Crisis in Roman History – Gerry Max ‘67; Experience Björklunden: Explore Door County on Your Own

September 29-October 4: Lincoln’s Spies – Doug Waller; Homer’s Odyssey – Daniel Taylor ‘63; Experience Björklunden: Explore Door County on Your Own

October 6-11: Baseball Double Header: Classic Baseball Films and the 2019 Postseason – Steven Landfried ‘66.

Excellence Ball, Cultural Expressions to highlight 2019 Empowerment Week

Cultural Expressions, a five-year tradition at Lawrence University, returns on Feb. 23, the conclusion of People of Color Empowerment Week on campus.

Performers are on stage during a past Cultural Expressions event.
Cultural Expressions features music, dance, poetry and more.

A week of activities celebrating and empowering people of color on the Lawrence University campus will kick off Saturday with a new event, the Excellence Ball.

It will be held Saturday night in the Esch-Hurvis Studio in the Warch Campus Center to officially launch the annual People of Color Empowerment Week.

The week, featuring a series of speakers and performers, will culminate with the Cultural Expressions talent showcase, set for Feb. 23. Check out a video preview here.

The Excellence Ball is the new entry this year. It will be a stylish affair, with attire billed as black-and-white formal wear. It runs from 8 p.m. to midnight and organizers say it aims to be a gathering to “acknowledge the accomplishments of people of color and to come together as a community to uplift each other and to have a good time.”

Music will be provided by DJ King Szn.

Cultural Expressions, meanwhile, is all about showcasing talented Lawrence students. Following a 4 p.m. dinner in the Diversity and Intercultural Center, an art gallery will be featured in the Mead Witter Room in Warch, showing students’ work in a range of art, film, poetry and sculptures. That’s followed by a series of performances in music, dance, poetry and spoken word beginning at 7 p.m. next door in Esch-Hurvis.

Admission for all of the student-organized events is free. All of the events are open to the public.

Awa Badiane ’21, president of Lawrence’s Black Student Union (BSU), said the Excellence Ball was added this year to provide a more significant launch to Empowerment Week.

“We’ll have posters and framed pictures up of people who represent black excellence,” she said. “The Obamas will be up, Maya Angelou, and others with captions underneath to describe who they are. It’ll be decorated like a ball. It’ll be a formal event with everyone dressed up.”

Like Cultural Expressions, the new ball is being organized by BSU.

“There was never really a celebratory event to say, hey, this is going to be a week about empowering and uplifting,” Badiane said. “So we’re going to start it off with this.”

Empowerment Week activities are being organized by All Is One: Empowering Young Women of Color (AIO), led by President Krystin Williams ’19.

Empowerment Week participants will include Vision, a spoken-word artist, at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Diversity and Intercultural Center; Sin Color, a Latin band from Los Angeles, performing at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Warch Campus Center; and Brienne Colston and Jaz Astwood, two Lawrence alumnae with New York City-based Brown Girl Recovery, facilitating a conversation on community accountability at 7 p.m. Friday in the Diversity Center.

Also planned is the showing of the movie “The Hate U Give,” set for 6 p.m. Monday at the cinema in the Warch Campus Center. Organizers also are working to set up an open mic at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Diversity Center.

Brown Girl Recovery is an organization in the Bronx that “aims to create avenues of support and community for black and brown folks through innovative and social justice-based programming, workshops and events,” according to its web site. It was founded by Colston, a 2015 LU graduate. Astwood, also a 2015 graduate, works with the organization.

“I think it’s nice to have alumnae from this campus back who did a lot for people of color while they were here,” Williams said of bringing Colston and Astwood in for Empowerment Week. “To bring them back and show the progress and how they’re still helping women of color in their own hometowns.”

Badiane said seeing alumni return for Empowerment Week sends an important message to current students.

“As a person of color on this campus, I do see the effects that POC Empowerment Week has,” Badiane said. “It’s essentially empowering you while you are on campus. It says I matter. And you see representation throughout campus, and you see accomplished people who get invited back. …. And you say, wow, that’s my goal.

“You see people who were in your shoes taking steps toward their goals or who have reached their goals, and you’re doing what they had been doing. So, you deserve an opportunity to celebrate that.”

Much-anticipated performance of Bernstein’s ‘Mass’ ready to open

Lawrence Opera Theatre’s presentation of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” runs from Thursday through Sunday at Stansbury Theater. Here’s what you need to know before you go. Tickets are available via the Lawrence Box Office

Image from video interview with Robert SchleiferA Lawrence University production of Leonard Bernstein’s highly acclaimed “Mass” will be staged this week with a significant twist.

The much-anticipated production by Lawrence’s Opera Theatre Ensemble, led by Copeland Woodruff, the award-winning Director of Opera Studies and Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence, will incorporate a Deaf character played by professional Deaf actor Robert Schleifer.

“My inspiration was two-fold — the obvious metaphor of our current society, where people have a difficult time listening to one another, and the inclusion of community members who might not necessarily attend an opera,” Woodruff said.

American Sign Language (ASL) and Pidgin Signed English (PSE) will be used throughout the production. Twenty-one members of the student ensemble have spent weeks learning to communicate in sign language.

There’s a lot to unpack with this production, opening Thursday (Feb. 14) and running through Sunday (Feb. 17) at Lawrence’s Stansbury Theater.

A cast member gets makeup applied before rehearsal.
Actors prepare for Tuesday’s dress rehearsal of “Mass.”

First, there’s the staging of a production as wide-ranging as “Mass,” which was both acclaimed and controversial when it debuted in 1971 and is being presented now as part of the world-wide celebration of Bernstein’s 100th birthday.

Woodruff and his ensemble are collaborating with members of two local children’s choirs to reimagine Mass, structured like a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass but mixing sacred and secular texts and music. The celebrant leads the ceremony, and the Deaf character is the voice of the congregation challenging the celebrant. They argue and search for answers to universal questions together—their diversity highlighted by an eclectic blend of blues, rock, gospel, folk, Broadway, jazz, hymnal, Middle Eastern dance and orchestral music. Ultimately, they affirm the value of faith and hope for peace.

“Distinctive productions like Mass provide students with a rich educational opportunity to practice being a singer-actor, hone full-bodied communication skills, as well as develop appreciation and respect for the experience of others,” Woodruff said. “We hope that students will learn that the arts can be a powerful vehicle for personal and societal awareness and change.”

Actors on stage use sign language during dress rehearsal.
Sign language is used in real time throughout the production.

That speaks to the addition of Schleifer’s Deaf character, a statement on the difficulties we have in communicating when ideological differences come between us, be it political, religious or otherwise. It’s also a nod to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities and the daily struggles they endure.

“The use of ASL and PSE underscores the struggle to communicate, particularly between Deaf and hearing communications and within the Deaf community itself,” Woodruff said.

Community connections

Woodruff has a track record of partnering with community groups to examine socially relevant issues through opera. Members of the production team hope Mass will reach more than 2,000 people in the Fox Valley, many of them from the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.

“It is rare — even at the national level — for a signed opera to be produced and performed,” Woodruff said. “The majority of our area’s theater-going public would not ordinarily experience this type of performance. Mass will open dialogues about faith and inclusion to our community.”

Besides Schleifer, Kristine Orkin, a local interpreter for the Deaf, and two professional vocal/style specialists are participating in the production. Schleifer, along with Lawrence student performers, will sign most of the opera’s lyrics in real-time during the performance. Deaf audience members also will be able to read supertitles.

Lawrence student Erik Nordstrum, who shares the main role of the celebrant with Aria Minasian, said he has learned a lot about himself through his work on the production.

“Through working on this piece, I realized that I have not been listening to other people, or to myself, as intently or as consistently as I would like to, and that so many human failures stem from a failure to communicate,” he said.

Minasian, meanwhile, has taken lessons from members of the Deaf community she’s interacted with in the lead-up to the production.

“Learning about the Deaf community and applying it to the show has been awesome,” she said. “I’ve also found challenges with figuring out how to be a female celebrant in a Roman Catholic church setting. This show has a lot to unpack and many different ways it can be presented and interpreted, leaving a lot to the performers and production team.”

Religious conversations

Congregants from four Fox Cities faith communities have used this production of Mass as a vehicle to talk about how we communicate – or more likely, don’t communicate – when it comes to our differences.

“The Mass is this touchpoint for us,” said Linda Morgan-Clement, the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life at Lawrence.

Morgan-Clement’s office has been collaborating with Woodruff to bring together public conversations about Mass. She led a discussion at First Congregational United Church of Christ that included participants from that congregation as well as Memorial Presbyterian Church, First English Lutheran Church and the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. It was a chance to talk about our often jumbled and conflicting faith journeys and the barriers that keep us from communicating effectively. The arts — and in this case, Bernstein’s Mass — can be used to engage people in conversations they might not otherwise have.

“It gives people a touchpoint around which to come together,” Morgan-Clement said. “It’s not just let’s get together and talk about the ways we don’t talk.”

This production provides a plethora of jumping off points in that conversation.

There’s the modern music, the discord, the journey of doubt playing out on stage, all crashing into the deep traditions of a Catholic mass. It provides an avenue for discussion of our differences and our similarities.

“So, it opens up this moment in today’s time for people to talk about the ways in which we … are still being human together, sharing this earth, a lot of commonality in our emotional framework and the ways we operate,” Morgan-Clement said. “And in what ways do the symbols and the language get in our way of actually hearing each other?”

‘Touches my soul’

For Schleifer, the blending of opera with sign language is powerful and moving.

Robert Schleifer performs on stage during dress rehearsal.
Robert Schleifer performs in a dress rehearsal of “Mass.”

“My love of opera is longstanding, its visual language fascinating — depicted through conductor wand gyrations, the energetic dance of bodies fused with instruments in orchestral rhythms, singers’ storytelling through facial expression and movement and breathing strength — the power I see touches my soul,” he said.

Bernstein’s Mass – full title is Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers — debuted in 1971 after the famed composer was asked by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to compose a piece for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

Seeing it unfold on an LU stage come Thursday night with sign language being incorporated throughout will be an emotional moment for Schleifer.

“Bernstein’s Mass project has been both a challenging and awesome experience,” he said, “from the sound of the music itself and the abstract concepts portrayed through tone and inflection, which I cannot hear, relying on facial and body cues, figuring how to match American Sign Language with operatic language, to the awesome collaboration with Copeland and Kris, who helped me understand the complexities of poetic language, appreciate the culture of opera, and together watch the beautiful magic unfold.”

On stage

What: Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 through Saturday, Feb. 16; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17

Where: Stansbury Theater, Lawrence University, Appleton

Cost: $15 ($8 for seniors and non-LU students; free for LU students and staff)

Contact: 920-832-6749,  boxoffice@lawrence.edu, or buy online