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The Carletonian

Visit by Aquila Theatre group raises profile of arts at Carleton

<rents’ Weekend underway, students out to impress their families over the next few days need look no further than the Concert Hall. The Aquila Theatre group, a traveling troupe known nationwide, returns to Carleton at 7:00 tonight for the first time in ten years. They will be performing an adaptation of Homer’s “The Iliad: Book One,” a play which The New York Times describes as “draw[ing] an audience so deep inside the great poem that one seems to experience what Homer’s heroes did.”

Clara Hardy, Professor and Chair of Classical Languages, was an instrumental force in bringing the New York-based troupe to campus. Because “The Iliad’s” roots tie directly into her classical curriculum, when Aquila called last spring and mentioned they’d be in Minnesota Oct. 17, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I heard of [Aquila] because of what they do in Classics,” Hardy said. “In Classics, we deal with ancient society people think of as dusty and dead. Theater is one of the ways to connect it.”
While the play is based on an ancient text, its setting has been moved to more modern times, taking place during World War II. According to Steven Richardson, Director of the Arts, such details are what make the Aquila Theatre group so well known.

“They’re a young, very dynamic company who perform in a very direct style,” he said. “It’s the kind of work that’s great to bring to campus.”

Bringing Aquila to Carleton involved the efforts of several academic departments. In addition to the influence of Classical Languages, the theater department also helped in principal aspects of the show, and, with the Concert Hall stage being transformed into a set, the music department has sacrificed valuable practice time.

The cooperation of these different departments coincides with a point of tremendous interest to Richardson: raising the profile of the arts at Carleton by highlighting their interdisciplinary nature.

“To take advantage of higher profile tools like the Aquila Theatre group ties in to everything else,” Richardson said. “That’s the great thing – it’s a show that’s rooted in the curriculum here.”

Other high profile events planned for the future include the Carleton Players’ winter production of “The House of the Seven Gables,” for which Tony Award winning set designer John Arnone has been hired, marking the first time in history the school has brought in an outside set designer. An original script adapted by Barbara Field, a playwright at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, will also be used, prompting Richardson to call the show “a homegrown Carleton product.” Spring term brings the return of director Barbara Berlovitz, whose show “Laundromat” was a hit last winter on campus.

A relatively recent attempt to improve the status of the arts in general is the purchase of the former Northfield Middle School. The building is the future site of the Arts Union, which will house studio art, offices, cinema classes and theatric performances. Because of the current global financial situation, Carleton administration has decided to temporarily forego developments regarding the construction of the Arts Union, meaning Phase I of the project is unlikely to be finished by the original Fall 2011 deadline. Despite the setback, faculty members are still optimistic that when the project is recommenced, the building will be of utmost importance to the school.

“[The arts] is an area that the college has been trying to do a lot in with few resources,” Hardy said. “With the purchase of the Middle School, we decided we need to put more emphasis on the arts. There are a lot of different threads in the way in which this will be exciting for a lot of different departments.”

Both Hardy and Richardson discussed how convenient the Arts Union would be for the Aquila performance. “This production is a great illustration of how arts can partner with curriculum and provoke thoughts in another way, and that’s really what the Arts Union is about,” Richardson said.

With “The Iliad’s” wide-ranging influence across departments as well as the Aquila Theatre group’s critical acclaim, tonight at 7:00, the Concert Hall is home to a 90-minute entertainment experience that should prove impressive for parents and students alike.

If an hour and a half does not seem like enough time to take in the full spectrum of the epic poem, however, an interdisciplinary panel comprised of Jorge Bravo, Visiting Associate Professor of Classical Languages, Laurence Cooper, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science, Greg Marfleet, Associate Professor of Political Science and Robert Oden, Professor of Religion and President of the College, is planned to discuss the nature of “The Iliad” in regard to topics ranging from economics to religion at 3:30 p.m. today in Leighton 304.

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