Water, Warner Main, and Winter Term: An OASIS Status Update

Julia Hubay, Arts Editor

While most Oberlin students can’t imagine working as hard as we are right now until finals come around next semester, the students participating in the new Oberlin ArtS Intensive Semester program are just gearing up to put in a month of 10-hour workdays. In the final push before the culmination of their efforts, the students and faculty of OASIS will divide their time over Winter Term between Oberlin and Cleveland, producing a show called Water Ways, which will run for two weeks at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Over the course of the semester, the students of OASIS have been truly immersed in all aspects of the creative processes that go into producing their devised theater piece. The OASIS program involves courses taught by Professors of Cinema Studies Rian Brown and Geoff Pingree, Professors of Dance Carter McAdams and Nusha Martynuk, TIMARA Professor Tom Lopez, Education Director of CPT Chris Siebert and Executive Artistic Director of CPT Raymond Bobgan. Under the expertise and guidance of these mentors, the students have studied in-depth approaches to artistic collaboration, critical studies of space and time in the various art forms and have had guided studio sessions to work on self-inspired pieces.

Every two weeks, the students of OASIS present their current work to Bobgan and Seibert, who provide constructive criticism and encourage students to expand on particularly evocative and fruitful ideas in their projects. Although Bobgan has the final directorial word on the production, part of the essence of devised theater is that productions are born out of collaborative improvisation.

With the guiding thematic inspiration of water — how it is controlled, used, sold, contaminated, how it is an essential and transformative part of our experience — the students of OASIS have been collaboratively creating works, many of which will somehow be included in the final show. On Friday, Nov. 30, OASIS presented a showcase of a fraction of the works that have been generated over the course of the semester to a small, invited audience. Most of the pieces were staged in Warner Main Space, using the spacious room to its fullest extent with dances, projected video art, installations and theatrical and musical performances, usually in combination with other mediums.

One piece that demonstrated the result of artistic collaboration in performance art particularly movingly involved the talents of the performers as writers, musicians, dancers, actors and visual artists all in one piece that lasted for only about five minutes. As the narrator recounted advice about the “three conditions for a midnight swim,” three dancers moved in front of a screen where their images were momentarily captured before fading away, while plaintive saxophone music set a somber mood. As with most of the pieces, it was impossible to discern a straightforward narrative, but this did not detract from the emotional impact of the works.

Collaboration among the artistic disciplines is central to the teaching of the OASIS program and to the creation of the works that are a part of the project. As College junior Regina Larre Campuzano put it, “You might make an amazing work of art as an individual, but the conflict that comes from two minds makes your work infinitely more complex.”

Aside from learning to collaborate, students’ understandings of the different forms have also expanded. Double-degree junior Nate Mendelsohn explained, “Even though I work in the avant-garde of jazz, I suspected that the avant-garde in other art forms was bullshit. Now I have a different understanding about the ways that the arts are compatible and a better appreciation of that world.”

With a semester’s worth of collaborative artistic exploration and intense contemplation of the artistic process behind them, the students of OASIS are sure to put on a beautiful and moving show. Water Wayswill run at Cleveland Public Theate from Jan. 24 to Feb. 4, and there will be a shuttle running from Oberlin to the CPT so that students can see the final product of their friends’ creative efforts.