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Winter 2002

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People and Projects

A tree grows in Williamsburg
A river runs through her
Broadway art
Acting out of character
Snowbound
Stage struck


A tree grows in Williamsburg

Never doubt the enduring nature of Skidmore friendships—even when they began over 50 years ago. Last fall several classmates helped pay special tribute to Joy Archer ’53 at a tree dedication ceremony at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Archer, longtime coach of women’s field hockey and lacrosse at the school, was diagnosed a year ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig’s disease), a degenerative condition that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

In October more than 200 friends of Archer’s gathered on a William and Mary playing field to dedicate a forest pansy redbud in her honor. “We selected this tree with care,” noted longtime William and Mary athletic administrator Millie West. “It lives its life so much the way Joy lives hers—to bloom where you are planted.”

According to the Williamsburg Daily Press, Archer’s influence reached beyond the campus. She was a board member for the Coalition for Quality Growth and the Historic Rivers Land Conservancy. An avid bird-watcher, she was also involved with the Williamsburg Bird Club.

Since her diagnosis, scores of Archer’s friends have joined to form the volunteer “Joy Love Club” (a takeoff on Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club), to assist her with shopping, transportation, and meals. Sally Sanderson Cutler, Sallie Reimann Kimball, and Betty Howe Shannon were among those gathered in Williamsburg to commemorate Archer’s exemplary career in physical education and the many contributions she has made to the community. They expressed gratitude for her leadership, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and compassion.

Archer, in return, seemed equally pleased to be there. “I can’t tell you what it means to me,” she told the crowd. “I am so honored and happy you are here.”

A river runs through her

JoAnne Myers ’75 recalls the day she fell in love with the Hudson River. It was back in the late ’70s; she was the volunteer relief cook on the Clearwater. The 106-foot sloop, a movable classroom and laboratory, had docked below West Point, and Myers was on deck early one morning when the mist was rising off the river. It was so beautiful—“more beautiful than the paintings by Hudson River School artists,” she remembers—that tears came to her eyes.

Now president of the board of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., Myers is actively committed to the board’s mission—envisioned by Hudson Valley residents, including folksinger Pete Seeger, thirty-five years ago—that by learning to care for one boat on one river, the public could come to care for all threatened and abused waterways.

Clearwater, says Myers, “conducts environmental education, advocacy programs, and celebrations to protect the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related bodies of water, and to create awareness of the estuary’s complex relationship with the coastal zone.” The Hudson, she adds, is a unique blending of Adirondack freshwater streams with the salt tides of the Atlantic, whose estuaries rank second only to rain forests in biological productivity.

If you think that sounds like teacher talk, you’re right. Known as Dr. JAM at Marist College (Poughkeepsie, NY), where she codirects the women’s studies program and has taught political science since 1986, Myers also volunteers at least once a year on the Clearwater as a teacher of Hudson Valley fourth-graders who, class by class from April to October, get a hands-on taste of the river. “Rain or shine,” says Myers, the kids haul up the sails, read charts, test the water, and steer the boat, putting into practice one of Myers’s favorite dictums: “To teach and to learn, one must experience.” —ACH

Broadway art

Next time you’re in Saratoga (or make a special trip), take a stroll up Broadway. Look for the white neon sign in the second-story window: Gallery 100. Then head up the blonde-wood stairway (it’s a limbering climb) and turn the corner. Behold a refreshingly simple gallery—elegant, tranquil, and not overrun with artwork. As you look around, you may notice the quiet opera music in the background (every now and then the tenor voice swells) or sense the warmth radiating from the small enameled woodstove; but chances are, you will mostly be drawn to the visual offerings.

Having their own art gallery in the heart of downtown Saratoga was a longtime dream for Deborah Martin, UWW ’87, and her partner Jim Lowe (whose mother is Jane Pearce Lowe ’44). After scouting around for a suitable venue, the pair chanced upon a second-floor space that’s bright and airy, with two east-facing windows that look out on Broadway. Paintings are hung “salon” style (one above another, but still within comfortable viewing range) on the exposed brick and white walls; ceramics and handmade books are displayed on a fashionably weathered country table.

Martin, herself a painter and printmaker (she has a master’s in fine art from the University of Albany and taught in Skidmore’s art department a decade ago), and Lowe, a former corporate marketing executive in the pharmaceutical business, ooze enthusiasm with a certain lightness that contributes to the welcoming ambience of the gallery.

While there are plenty of places in and around Saratoga that exhibit art, the city was ripe for Gallery 100, the owners believe. They wanted a retail and commercial fine arts gallery that would attract not only individuals looking to art up their homes or offices, but also interior designers, builders, and developers. Their intent is to feature original, quality works by regional painters, printmakers, sculptors, and ceramists and to tap into some of the more “unheralded” artists.

With exhibits changing monthly, Gallery 100 features works from a wide range of area talent, including Skidmore faculty and alumni. The April exhibit, “8 From the Series/In Art’s Footsteps,” is a national traveling show that developed from the New York Times’s acclaimed ten-part series “In Art’s Footsteps,” which ran in the newspaper’s Metro section last summer.

Gallery 100 is open Wednesday–Sunday. For information call 518-580-0818. —MTS

Acting out of character

When reviews for the Fulton Opera House production of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie hit the newspapers, theater critics in and around Lancaster, Pa., had mostly praise for the performers—including Christine DeZinno Bruno ’88, who played the introverted Laura Wingfield. “Bruno has found the considerable strength not just to play, but to embody glass-fragile Laura,” said one reviewer, and her portrayal “is likely to live in your memory.” “[She] is stunning in the role,” declared another.

The obvious parallel between the lives of Laura and her real-life counterpart is a physical disability: In Williams’s classic play, Laura has a minor limp; Bruno has cerebral palsy, which causes a more pronounced uneven gait. What dramatically sets the two apart, though, is that Laura’s affliction leaves her emotionally crippled and withdrawn, while Bruno charges into life full steam ahead.

After graduating from Skidmore with degrees in theater and government, Bruno enrolled at the Actors Studio Drama School in New York City. The master’s program there viewed her disability in a positive light, she believes. “The Actors Studio doesn’t need to meet a quota, but they do recognize the importance of diversity,” she told writer Barry Kaplan. She also thinks audiences are ready to accept her. “It’s not the public that’s unwilling,” she notes. “It’s the industry professionals who are blocking the way. The negative comments come most often from agents and casting directors. They just don’t know what to do with me. But when I perform, audience members come up to me afterwards and say, ‘It was really bizarre seeing you at first, but after five minutes I forgot all about it’; or they’ll tell me my disability added to my performance and to the story. It’s taken me a long time, but I’m starting to recognize that my disability can be an asset and not a liability.”

Perhaps it’s also helped her see the world a little differently. The Glass Menagerie’s Laura, for example, is typically viewed as “incredibly fragile.” Bruno, on the other hand, recognizes Laura’s strength as well as “the most beautiful thing about her: her ability to love unconditionally and without prejudice.”

The Fulton Opera House performance ran for ten days last fall; and now Bruno, ever in pursuit of her performance career, is on the audition circuit once again. —MTS

Snowbound

It may take a bit longer for Kurt Speers ’92 to collect Scope from his mailbox than it took you. He’s a National Park Service ranger on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, and for five winter months the road out there is closed by snow, passable only by snowmobile.

Speers and wife Kristy Nicolaus live in a comfortable modern house with water, electricity, and enough gasoline to power generators for a month in case of power disruption. They rely on a good stash of frozen vegetables and canned goods for their winter fare and spend a lot of time cooking and baking in the evenings. For company, there are two other rangers within walking/skiing distance and the occasional trans-canyon hikers.

Mail is another story. During the five months that the road is closed, Speers ventures out only twice—it’s a 100-mile roundtrip. Even with a snowmobile, it can take a few hours or even a few days, he says, depending on the weather. Regardless, one priority is clear: “Whenever anyone makes the trip,” he says, “the one thing they must bring back is mail.”

Since joining the National Park Service in 1995, Speers has worked at Zion and Bryce parks in Utah, Olympic and Mount Rainier (where he met Kristy) in Washington State, and Denali in Alaska. In his position at the Grand Canyon, he works for the ranger division, which handles law enforcement, emergency medical, and fire services, as well as natural resource protection issues such as hunting patrols. In addition to remote duty as a backcountry ranger, he has put in his time in a patrol vehicle in the “front country.”

When the snow melts this spring, says Speers, “we’ll be grateful for the convenience of the road”—fresh food, regular mail, and more. But, he adds, they’ll have a warm appreciation for “the unique experience of spending a winter on the north rim.” —KG

Stage struck

When Keira Naughton ’93 is onstage, on Broadway, with acclaimed actors like Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, she’s all business. Backstage, though, she admits to playing scrabble, chess, and darts to kill time.

As part of a six-member cast, Naughton plays the role of Jenny in Richard Greenberg’s new version of August Strindberg’s Dance of Death, which opened at the Broadhurst Theater in October. “My role is very small,” Naughton notes. “Helen and Ian play a married couple; I am their maid who enters at the top of the show, quits, and doesn’t return for the next two hours. It is a very low-stress job.”

In fact, when she landed the part, Naughton recalls, her initial response was, “Oh, I can rehearse and write songs for my band during the show and get paid for it!” Naughton, you see, has also taken on a music project —a band with a “plot,” if you will, called the Petersons. It’s made up of five actors and has, as Naughton tells it, “a theatrical, comedic slant.” She plays Mrs. Peterson, “a sultry singer in a rock band. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” she declares. “And it merges all of my interests: writing, music, comedy, acting.”

An English major with a creative writing concentration, Naughton received an M.F.A. from New York University’s graduate acting program, which she auditioned for as a Skidmore senior. Since then she’s been working in New York—mostly in theater and off-Broadway (“which isn’t lucrative”) and doing film and TV stints here and there.

Sharing the stage with stars like Mirren and McKellen has been an honor, Naughton says. “They are great actors tackling extremely difficult, theatrical material, and it’s been a great lesson just watching them rehearse. At first it was a bit intimidating to rehearse with them…but even on the first day, they went out of their way to include and empower the other actors. Helen asked us for feedback after the first reading of the script, and often solicited our opinions. Most stars wouldn’t do that.”

The question remains, however: Does Helen Mirren play darts backstage? —MTS

 


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