2 Minutes With … Mads Layton: Fashion, theater passions merge backstage

Mads Layton works on a dress in the theater costume shop at Lawrence.
Mads Layton ’22 combines interests in fashion and live theater in the Lawrence costume shop. Here she works on a costume for “She Ventures and He Wins,” showing Thursday through Saturday at Stansbury Theater.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

Have you enjoyed recent Lawrence theater productions such as Mass and Pippin? Perhaps you’ve wondered how those amazing costumes are created.

Mads Layton ’22 works in the costume shop; she’s here to take us inside and raise the curtain on the work she does to prepare for the shows we love.

The English major’s two greatest passions are fashion and live theater, so she’s a great fit for the costume shop. She started working there after Pippin ran its last show in the fall, sorting old costumes for washing and getting ready for an upcoming play on the bill, She Ventures and He Wins.

More on the Theatre Arts program at Lawrence here.

Initial decisions

Costuming normally begins after the cast has been determined and characters are developed. Before anything new is made, students pull what they can from a stock of costumes in storage. However, some productions like She Ventures and He Wins require large builds of new costumes. This calls for early preparations, such as a tailoring tutorial for waistcoats in winter term. Mads began work on the play shortly after she started working at the costume shop.

“Actually, the first thing I made was in preparation for this show because we knew it would be a really big build,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of stuff from that time period, so they had us starting early.”

She made a skirt with box pleats, and 10 feet of box trim for one of the lead’s dresses.

She Ventures and He Wins, a Restoration-era comedy, will be presented this week. The show — and its spectacular costumes — will be on stage in Stansbury Theater at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Mads Layton works on the trim of a costume in the theater costume shop.
Mads Layton on putting her skills to work in the theater costume shop at Lawrence University: “I really enjoy doing detail work and hand-sewing, so I get a lot of hand-stitching of hems, as well as trims.”

Team effort

Students in the costume shop don’t tackle full garments alone. Instead they’re assigned tasks based on their skill level, and the garment is pieced together in the end.

Mads, who came to Lawrence from Mesa, Arizona, may be new to costume-making but she’s confident in the sewing abilities she learned from her mom, who taught her and her sisters at a young age.

“I really enjoy doing detail work and hand-sewing, so I get a lot of hand-stitching of hems, as well as trims,” she says. “Other than that, I’ve made a lot of skirts this year.”

For Mads, learning new ways to create garments is a perk of the job. She had never worked with pleats before, and now that dress is her favorite costume she’s worked on.

“I did seven or eight hours of just doing box pleats, and then I had to sew them on,” she says. “It’s just a beautiful dress. I have a little bit of an attachment to that one because I spent so much time on it.”

When the director delivers final notes on the costumes, and last alterations are made, it’s showtime. Mads has always supported the art form she loves, and working in the costume shop allows her to see her creative work in action onstage.

“I make sure to go to all the shows because I love live theater,” she says. “I think it’s important and wonderful.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Religious studies grad finds her calling in an Appleton elementary classroom

Michelle Gibson '17 works at a table with a second-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Appleton.
Michelle Gibson ’17 works with students in her second-grade classroom at Appleton’s Lincoln Elementary School.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Michelle Gibson ’17 had visions of being a religious studies professor.

She arrived at Lawrence University six years ago as a first-year student enamored with the idea of teaching about life’s mysteries, about how our human qualities make us more alike than different despite our cultural and faith histories and how a thirst for learning can lead us to the inner peace we crave.

Today, nearly two years after graduating as a religious studies major, Gibson is indeed teaching those principles she holds so dear. But the students staring back at her, well, they’re a little younger than the college students she once envisioned.

Welcome to Appleton’s Lincoln Elementary School, where Gibson is a second-grade teacher, one year removed from a year-long apprenticeship program that provided a different path to the classroom than most of her teaching peers.

It turns out Gibson’s journey through Lawrence ignited a new spark, one that called her to the elementary classroom. And the launching of an apprentice partnership between Lawrence and the Appleton Area School District proved to be ideal timing, providing the opportunity she was looking for.

Gibson became one of the first two graduates of the Teacher Education Apprenticeship Program, and on April 28 she was honored with the Early Career Education Award presented by the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (WACTE). The award goes to teachers in their first three years of teaching who are already making an impact.

It was during Gibson’s sophomore year at Lawrence — her last name was Johnson then — that the seeds of a new career were first planted. She took a sociology of education course that brought her into a kindergarten classroom during her practicum.

“I realized that when I was in that classroom, that was when I felt the most at home and actually felt happy,” she said. “I wasn’t stressed. It was almost like a release for me to go hang out with those kids.”

Michelle Gibson sits on the floor with some of her second-grade students during a class project at Lincoln Elementary School.
Michelle Gibson ’17, in her first year as a second-grade teacher in Appleton, was a religious studies major at Lawrence who used a one-year apprenticeship program as a path to her teaching certification.

But it wasn’t until the following year, when she took a philosophy of children class taught by Assistant Professor of Education Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd, that she was convinced the elementary classroom would indeed be her calling.

“That’s when I realized, oh my goodness, I need to teach,” Gibson said. “We were finding ways where you can pose these philosophical questions like you do in religious studies, but with children.”

In a religious studies college classroom, she figured she would mostly be speaking to students with a similar view of the world — “We are all human, we are all the same, we need to find the sameness within us to really come together as a world and as a community,” she said.

“Or I could go into an elementary classroom and be working with young students and really be helping them to see that truth and having those large philosophical conversations with them about the sameness within people and how as humans we are more alike than different, and how that can build community rather than divide us.”

That’s where the post-graduate apprenticeship program, a collaboration between Lawrence, the school district and the Mielke Family Foundation, pays dividends. It allows for undergraduates in any major at Lawrence to apply for admittance, giving them a one-year path to teacher certification as an elementary teacher.

“Our program is rare in the sense that, at its core, what we value most is the education of the liberal arts, that an education about learning to love and engage deeply in learning across disciplines and subject areas is the best preparation for teaching young children,” Burdick-Shepherd said. “The elementary school teacher teaches how to learn, and our students learn to teach learning in our elementary teacher certification program.”

Lawrence saw two graduates, Gibson being one of them, jump into the apprenticeship program in 2017. Another graduate is in the program this year and two more are lined up for next school year.

Burdick-Shepherd said her courses that are focused on working with young children are consistently full, and not just with students on a teaching path. And, as they did for Gibson, such courses might just light that fire.

“Michelle is a shining example of how someone who never saw themselves as an elementary teacher learns to recognize a call to change the world by working with young people,” Burdick-Shepherd said. “Michelle is one of LU’s outstanding alums. There was not a book you could throw at her that she wouldn’t read deeply. She wrote magnificently. A religious studies major, she traveled the world engaging deeply with other cultures and traditions.

“Michelle could do any job she wanted, but she chose to learn to teach. I think she chose this because she wanted to share her love of learning in the most impactful way she could.”

Gibson, who grew up in Minoqua, was one of two teachers honored by WACTE. The other is Dan Singer, a band teacher at Oshkosh West High School who has mentored eight student-teachers from Lawrence through the years.

Lawrence’s apprenticeship program, Gibson said, provided the guidance she needed to transition smoothly into an elementary teaching career.

“The apprenticeship, that’s when you really felt, OK, this is what teaching actually looks like,” she said. “This isn’t just reading from a textbook on what teaching looks like, this is actually what it looks and feels and smells and is like.”

She liked the full-year apprenticeship, as opposed to a one-semester student-teaching stint. It provided time to absorb, to adjust, and to ask questions.

“I knew I had an entire year to see where the kids grew, where they started off and where they ended, and I could even map my own growth alongside them,” Gibson said.

She also found her teaching style, her own pacing and methods of student interaction, heavily influenced by her liberal arts background. That’s an important thing, a base to build on.

“I could just start off with a very inquiring style of teaching,” she said.

“I had Lawrence modeling, that conversational style of teaching in the college setting, which was actually very easy to transition into a first- or second-grade room.”

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

2 Minutes with … Sebastian Roman: Solving the math and music equation

Sebastian Roman holds his saxophone as he stands in front of a chalkboard full of math equations.
Sebastian Roman is studying math and music. They go together better than you might think.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

We like to think of math and music as insular communities of study. It’s easy to draw a hard line between what we see as “creative” and “not creative” and assume no interrelation. Math major and music minor Sebastian Roman ’19 embraces the unexpected harmony of studying these seemingly adverse fields.

The logical solution

For Sebastian, a saxophone player, it all comes down to logic. He works with math that is not computation, as math is commonly perceived, but the translation of very abstract concepts into simple, logical notations, called proofs. He believes the journey from problem to solution is the connection between math and music.

“When you write out a proof, just like how you write out a piece of music, there’s a story, there’s a development, there’s a conclusion,” he says. “You feel good afterwards. In the same way a proof is almost like a melody. There’s little aspects of it that work together.”

Channels for expression

It’s not just logic and hard lines. Sebastian values math and music together as important outlets of expression in his life.

“They’re both languages. You can learn that language with improvisation, logical resolutions and musical ideas, and express something within you that you couldn’t with words. In the same way with math, you can internalize all these logical methods of getting to an argument and express something that you can’t express with words.”

Math and music go hand in hand as outlets of creative expression. Math offers new experiences and insight that Sebastian says he expresses through his music. Being able to study both is one of the great draws of a Lawrence education, where the Conservatory of Music is part of the university.

“(Doing math) makes me a better musician in the sense that I’m learning more about myself and how to express myself and be a better person,” Sebastian says. “I’m gaining life experiences. And then when I go play the horn, I can express that stuff.”

More on Lawrence’s Mathematics offerings here and Conservatory of Music here

Balancing act

Sebastian is taking linear algebra, foundations of analysis and jazz improvisation II this term. Outside of class, he plays in Combo I and Latin Jazz Ensemble, takes jazz lessons with Jose Encarnacion, and tries to practice saxophone two to three hours a day. Yet he rarely feels overwhelmed.

“Sometimes I’d like to have more time doing music and sometimes I’d like to have more time doing math,” he says. “There’s not enough time. But I’m also a very social person and I like to hang out with people. Thankfully, math allows me to hang out with people and do homework.”

The two disciplines combine to make his learning journey whole, he says.

“If I’m doing math and not practicing, I’m getting better at music. If I’m playing music and not doing math as much, I’m getting better at math, in a weird kind of way. They help each other and they work together very well.”

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … George Mavrakis: YouTube, fish and a hobby gone wild

Lawrence University senior George Mavrakis feeds fish in an aquarium in his dorm room.
George Mavrakis ’19 tends to his fish in his Lawrence University dorm room. The LU economics major has built up a successful YouTube channel focused on coral fish.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21 

A lot of students have had a pet fish, but it is not every day someone can turn having a pet fish into the nation’s largest aquarium show and a YouTube channel with nearly 120,000 subscribers. Lawrence University’s George Mavrakis ’19 has done just that. 

“It was all about seeing what other people thought of my tank,” the Lawrence senior says. “I always wanted to show off my tank and see if other people think this is an awesome tank.”

It was. And they did. And a hobby focused on coral fish was about to explode.

George, an economics major from Golf, Illinois, who played on the LU basketball team, runs the YouTube channel CoralFish12g. He and a business partner have also launched Aquashella, an aquarium festival show that debuted first in Chicago last year and then Dallas earlier this year, drawing thousands of aquarium enthusiasts with a mix of fish, music and art.

Getting hooked

George went through 10 fish before he finally got the hang of things. In his defense, he was 14 and working with a much more difficult kind of fish than your standard gold fish — coral. There was much to learn about keeping salt water fish alive.

“YouTube, Google and books,” George says of his eight-year journey. “Like, my coral would die and I’d just be like, welp, it wasn’t calcium. Then I’d check that off, then my next coral would die, and I’d be like, well, it wasn’t calcium or the light. By trial and error, I taught myself to keep coral.” 

Then he set out to teach the rest of the world via YouTube.

His first videos were mostly just his tank. He eventually went in front of the camera, sharing knowledge on salt water aquatics through what he refers to as “infotainment.”

He found an audience, and now he has the biggest salt water aquarium channel on YouTube, making him the biggest salt water aquarium influencer, all operating out of a dorm room at Lawrence.

He traveled to Israel over holiday break with Facebook influencer Nas Daily. His 1-minute video has more than 3 million views.

Check out CoralFish12g, including the Nas Daily video, here.

Geoge Mavrakis poses in his Lawrence dorm room with his fish tanks and tech equipment.
George Mavakis’ YouTube channel, CoralFish12g, has nearly 120,000 subscribers.

He created Aquashella last year with a friend while studying abroad in London. They were both fans of aquarium festivals but wanted to launch one that infused art and music with the showing of the fish. Mission accomplished. More than 4,000 people showed up for an August 2018 show in Chicago, while 7,000 came out for an early spring show in Dallas. Chicago is again on the books for August 2019.

He tapped into skills learned through Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program. Balancing his coral fish hobby-turned-business with school has been a challenge, George says, noting he was “pulling more all-nighters” than desired and was giving up free time in pursuit of his fish adventures. The payoff, though, for all that hard work is on YouTube for all to see.

Sharing YouTube wisdom

Want to start a YouTube channel of your own? We asked George for four tips:

1: “Being different is better than being better.”

2: “Persistence is the key. It won’t happen overnight.”

3: “It’s a third luck, a third skill, and a third the quality of your content.” 

4: “Provide people with value.”  

Awa Badiane is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Isabella Mariani: In pursuit of a good read

Portrait of Isabella Mariani with a James Joyce book.
Isabella Mariani

Two student writers, Awa Badiane and Isabella Mariani, have joined the Communications staff and will begin writing a series of stories — 2 Minutes With … — to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. To get it started, we asked Awa to write about Isabella and Isabella to write about Awa.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

From very young and for reasons she cannot quite pinpoint, Isabella Mariani ’21 has been a bibliophile.

“Always when I was kid, I was reading,” she says. “I would bring a book everywhere I went.”

Fast forward to today, and chances are good you’ll find the Lawrence University sophomore English major with her nose in a book, even on a Saturday night.

“(Reading is an) escape,” Isabella says. “Not really from anything in particular that I consciously acknowledge, but it’s relaxing. For one thing, I am generally pretty busy and stressed out, so to have reading as a time to just relax and forget everything else is sorta the idea.” 

Did you know?

Isabella describes her dorm room as “looking like a library,” with books on the shelves, desk and floor. “Books are stacked everywhere,” she says.

But — quick fun fact — despite frequently studying in the library, Isabella has never actually checked out a book. Ever. She prefers buying her books, mostly from thrift stores, as she builds her own personal library.

As she pursues an English major at Lawrence, Isabella is able explore and have discussions about new reads in everything from the works of Jane Austen to Vladimir Mayakovsky. It’s a good fit, one she’s been eyeing since childhood.

“After learning to read, I remember doing short children’s stories for my younger brothers, which I also illustrated,” she says. “Creative writing time was my favorite in school and reading and writing never felt like homework to me. I’ve been journaling for years, and that’s where I’m at now.”   

Isabella, who credits her mother with instilling a love of books early on, says she became a prolific reader while bringing a book along to her brother’s hockey games while growing up in Sun Prairie. Turns out, it was time well spent.

A shared passion

On that note, we asked Isabella for some book recommendations. You’re welcome.

Five books she’d recommend to a friend: The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson; Ulysses, by James Joyce; To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf; Invitation to a Beheading, by Vladimir Nabokov; The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon 

Book she’s most looking forward to reading: The Master in Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. “Other people I know have talked about it and I really want to read it. And pretty much all the Jane Austen books.”

Book she thought would not be great but surprised her: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë 

Book she’s reread more than any other: Holes, by Louis Sachar

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Awa Badiane: Embracing leadership, celebrating diversity

Portrait of Awa Badiane
Awa Badiane

Two student writers, Awa Badiane and Isabella Mariani, have joined the Communications staff and will begin writing a series of stories — 2 Minutes With … — to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. To get it started, we asked Awa to write about Isabella and Isabella to write about Awa.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

“I like making connections throughout campus,” says Awa Badiane ’21. “You get to meet a lot of different people.”

It’s true. The sophomore is a familiar face on the Lawrence campus. And it didn’t take her long to get involved.

She was elected president of the Black Student Union, or BSU, before she finished her freshman year. The student organization works to promote cultural diversity and unity through education and social activism.

“Black students and other students of color on campus need a space where they can fully be themselves and be around people who can connect with certain aspects of their experience,” she says of the need for BSU to be active and accessible on campus.

Did you know?

Awa, a government major from Harlem, came to Lawrence via the Posse Foundation, a scholarship program that looks to identify future leaders among students of diverse backgrounds. High school students who show leadership potential are recruited from 10 participating U.S. cities. Lawrence partners with the Posse Foundation.

Awa remains tight with the nine other Posse students from her class.

“Not only do I get to be part of a very large group of leaders nationwide, I get to be part of the larger Posse community on campus,” Awa says. “It’s also nice to be recognized for my leadership skills.”

A passion to connect

She joined BSU early in her freshman year. Then, when it came time to elect a new club president, Awa stepped up and was elected. 

 “I was honestly very surprised because I was only a freshman, but at the same time I was excited because of having the opportunity to implement all the ideas I had,” she says.

Awa proposed the creation of a safe space complete with arts and crafts, a fashion show, a day of service and the first Excellence Ball, which launched during winter term as a lead-in to the annual People of Color Empowerment Week.

“We try to implement the encouragement of diversity in all of our events,” Awa said.

For Awa, BSU is a great avenue to share her ideas and follow her passions. But, like involvement in other campus activities, it’s also a great way to meet people and develop meaningful relationships.

“It’s important that it forces me to get out and talk to people,” Awa says.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

Lawrence’s John Holiday finds joy in recruiting young music talent

John Holiday

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

John Holiday slips comfortably into multiple roles.

There’s John Holiday the performer, considered one of the rising young countertenors on the world opera stage.

There’s John Holiday the educator, a sought-after voice instructor at Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music.

And then there’s John Holiday the recruiter, a man on a mission to draw some of the finest student musicians in the country to Lawrence.

He’ll be wearing all those hats this week as he joins the conservatory’s Presto! tour to Houston, but perhaps none as significantly as that of recruiter.

Houston is Holiday’s hometown. His connections there are deep, meaningful and current, and he’ll spend much of this week connecting young musicians from his beloved Texas to the university 1,200 miles away that he now calls home.

Collaborations key to Presto tour to Houston: See story here

“I have significant ties to Houston because of my family and my upbringing and my church,” said Holiday, who was born in Houston and grew up in nearby Rosenberg. “Subsequently, whenever I travel home, I always make sure that I plan to visit many of the high schools in the Houston area, chiefly the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which is a long-standing, well-known school for the creative arts, one of the best in the United States. They have won many, many awards at the national level.”

The Presto! tour, a six-day visit to Houston featuring two Lawrence music ensembles and seven faculty members, brings Holiday’s skills in performance, teaching and recruitment into almost ideal alignment. He’ll perform on March 21 along with the two ensembles in a public concert at the Midtown Arts and Theatre Center and spend considerable time teaching and recruiting at area high schools.

He usually makes the visits to the schools solo. This time he’ll have a team with him, spreading the word of the Conservatory of Music and selling high-achieving students on why a Lawrence education would make sense.

“What I do when I go home is I always make sure that I set up master classes and important meetings with the students, not only at HSPVA but other high schools and junior highs in the area as well, so they can become acquainted with me in terms of the opera singing and the jazz singing that I do, but also so they can become acquainted with what I know is an excellent, excellent place for them, which is the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University.

“So, it’s really keeping with that that we came up with the idea to take Presto! to Houston.”

Texas is a state that’s rich with music talent. The 33-year-old Holiday, who has been teaching at Lawrence for nearly two years, already has three students from Texas studying in his voice studio. He makes no secret that he’d love to draw more.

“Texas is a huge, huge, huge arts state,” Holiday said. “As long as we’ve got football, there’s always going to be a phenomenal band and choir in Texas. And, because I’m from Houston, I think Houston has the best.

“But I also can say I’ve experienced wonderful singing and wonderful learning in the Dallas and Austin areas, San Antonio, too. They are all over.”

Holiday has much to sell when it comes to student recruitment. First, of course, there is the world-class quality and social outreach of the Lawrence Conservatory. Then there is his own impressive resume, which includes winning the prestigious Marian Anderson Vocal Award and performing on some of the world’s most celebrated stages.

Consider his performance schedule in the coming weeks and months. In addition to his teaching duties and the Presto! tour, there’s a date with the Dallas Opera, a May 1 faculty recital here in Appleton, a recital at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, a run of performances in England, a recital in Beverly Hills, a tour to Shanghai, a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, performances in Switzerland and then an early 2020 run of performances at the Los Angeles Opera.

That will get the attention of any aspiring musician looking for a mentor.

“Whenever I am somewhere singing a show, I am always recruiting,” Holiday said. “So, if I am in Florida, I’m finding a high school or a group where I can go in and mentor them and do a master class. If I’m in California, I’ll try to find the same thing. I’m actively recruiting because I believe in this school. I believe that we are a phenomenal institution and I believe that we should make it possible for students to get here, so it’s my endeavor wherever I go to find those students who I believe represent what I think is a good Lawrentian.

“A lot of these students have already heard of Lawrence. Then they are able to put a face with a name, with me. And then put a face with the school. Now they say, I know this person is there, so I should totally give it a look.”

More information on Lawrence Conservatory of Music here

It’s hard to put a value on that sort of outreach and energy, said Brian Pertl, dean of the conservatory.

“For us, it’s been an incredible advantage having him on the faculty because he just loves the recruiting,” he said.

Doing that recruiting in your hometown? Even better.

“I’m so looking forward to it,” Holiday said of this week’s Presto! visit to Houston. “It makes my heart soar just knowing there are Texas students coming here, because I am a Texas guy through and through.”

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