On the Record: Nusha Martynuk, Founder of OASIS

This coming fall, Oberlin College will introduce a new semester–long arts program called the Oberlin Arts Intensive Semester. In collaboration with guest artists from the Cleveland Public Theatre, it will feed into a full-time Winter Term project and culminate in an evening-length production of the work of both faculty and students. The focus of OASIS is to integrate the arts more extensively in the curriculum, to learn about collaborative processes and to provide the opportunity to engage with a community of like-minded peers in the creation of an original stage piece through intensive work in Cinema Studies, Dance, Music and Theater. The program will involve 18 students selected from an application process and five faculty members, including Associate Professor of Cinema Studies / New Media Rian Brown-Orso, Director of Cinema Studies Geoff Pingree, Professor of Dance Carter McAdams, Program Director and Professor of Dance Nusha Martynuk and the Conservatory’s Chair of Technology Music and Related Arts Tom Lopez. They will be accompanied by the Cleveland Public Theatre’s Raymond Bobgan, executive artistic director, and Christine Seibert, director of education. The Review talked to Martynuk, who laid the groundwork for the OASIS program, about collaboration, interdisciplinary courses and the students who should apply to this new program.

Kara Brooks, Arts Editor

Can you tell me a little bit about how OASIS started?

In the spring of 2006, I became the director of Dance, and I was talking to the dean at the time about collaboration, teaching more collaboratively and allowing the arts to do more work of that sort. Then, in fall of 2010, it so happened that the President’s Office called a meeting with the arts chairs about a wonderful organization on the west side of Cleveland called the Gordon Square Arts District that represents a number of arts organizations which are housed in that area.

Gordon Square was interested in partnering with Oberlin to say “Let’s see if we can do programming that is more educationally oriented for us,” something they don’t do and that allows Oberlin to move toward Cleveland and do more work outside of Lorain County — something that we really want to do but is very hard logistically to figure out. So as soon as the President’s Office said, “Do you have any ideas?” my suggestion was, much like we have this program called Oberlin–in–London, why don’t we do that in Oberlin? Why don’t we have a program called Oberlin–in–Oberlin?

What sort of final performance will OASIS lead to / What is the vision for the final performance?

The trick is to get seven different artists and 18 different students to make one piece. What happens is, over the course of the semester, the students take 15 credits that will provide a deep but well–considered opportunity for them.

One of the courses is collaboration — that’s a workshop course, collaborating in small groups. Another course is called Space and Time, and that’s a critical studies course, in which students will look at the way that space and time cross over these disciplines. It’s great to be working on it, but you also want all of that input about how all of that theoretically happens. And then the third course is sort of this big umbrella course in which students come together, and they share their work. It’s also an opportunity to bring them all together on Friday and have a big sharing of what we’ve been doing. So, 13 weeks later when the semester ends and we have a break, we come back for Winter Term to work intensively for a month, taking all that work and shaping it and structuring it and installing it in this incredible space [the Cleveland Public Theatre at the Gordon Square Arts District] where the performance will be.

What will students get out of participating in the whole program, as opposed to taking the classes individually?

It’s really about taking this cohort of students and putting them in this little oasis, which is not how we actually came up with the name, but it really is that. Students want to collaborate across disciplines, and they’re doing it, but they’re doing it on their own. What they don’t get a chance to do, however, is an extended project where they really have the time to work with different people to bring these ideas together, look at them, rethink them, shape them differently.

What type of students should be applying to OASIS?

We’re shooting for getting students who are majoring in the arts across every discipline. In other words, people who are majoring in the arts, who are really committed to art. The selection process will consist of a written application, followed by an interview with faculty from your discipline, followed by a group audition.

How about Art History majors?

We decided Art History majors can be eligible too. The reason for that is that most Oberlin students don’t just do one thing anyway, so somebody in Art History quite possibly danced extensively at some point.

English majors?

It’s possible, the question English didn’t come up because the question of Creative Writing did, and we said “Yes!” And when I talked to Sylvia [Watanabe, co-director and associate professor of Creative Writing,] she agreed too. There are Creative Writing majors I know who want to work interdisciplinarily, and this is that chance. We need people who are thinking in terms of language. So specifically the disciplines that we’re looking for are Creative Writing, Art, Cinema Studies, Music, Theater and Dance. It’s very much about immersing yourself in creating work.

Out of the 18 students, will some be exclusively dancing and others doing video, for example?

Everybody does everything, but in the end, you’ll gravitate toward your comfort zone. I think it’s important if you’re going to work collaboratively — we always have the same question, first discussion every time, do we want the students coming into this to only stay in their one field? Or do we want them to learn each other’s work? Well, we feel that to learn each other’s work, at least moderately, at least to some extent, is what enables them to be good collaborators, so everybody does all the work a little bit. We’re hoping to get majors from every single arts department, and we’re looking for the right mix of those students.

Can students who are not in the OASIS program take OASIS classes?

There are specific classes, the OASIS classes, that no one outside the program can register for, and they’re stipulated as this is an OASIS course. Here’s the deal: This is a pilot project, and it’s been an enormous amount of work to set up, including raising the money for it. This thing is on steroids: two guest artists, traveling a Winter Term, doing it in Cleveland. But we have been talking to other arts faculty, going, “Well, would you be interested in maybe collaborating with each other?” We were talking about what they want to envision, so if this goes well, it will be sort of the first one of subsequent intensives where faculty go “Oh, the two of us could teach these two courses, and they could overlap in this way, and we could sort of design them so that the students in yours and the students in mine are doing some kind of projects together, or we could do three courses together, and it doesn’t have to be this whole five–course, full-semester thing. But we’ve begun that process already, talking to other faculty.

Where can interested students find out more about registering?

There won’t be a program on PRESTO that says OASIS, but if they go to the Theater and Dance program website, or the Cinema Studies website, or the TIMARA website, there will be all this information on the program. The classes will be listed under the disciplines that their four–letter prefix states. So some of those classes are under Dance, but it always says this is an OASIS course.

If you’re interested in the OASIS program, check out the website for more information. Application deadlines are coming up, so make sure to look it up and send an email to [email protected]