Once upon a time, an entire school devoted a full weekend (and then some) to exploring the importance of stories in our lives. The November 15 weekend, entitled Arts Weekend 2013: The Power of Story, brought together Thacher students, faculty, and an impressive lineup of visiting storymakers and storytellers for a packed schedule of performances, workshops, film screenings, and discussions in venues all over campus. Together, participants unearthed the importance of stories to personal and cultural identity and investigated the multiplicity of ways that stories can be made and shared.
“The Power of Story kept its promise,” explained Joy Sawyer Mulligan, who, along with Katherine Halsey headed the organizing committee. “Under a big, wondrous umbrella theme, we were able to gather over thirty extraordinary artists and experts from many professions that involve storymaking in one way or another. These new friends, in turn, invited students and faculty into the play and the work. And then, the connections just bloomed."
Events kicked off on Thursday night with Cape Town poet Malika Ndlovu, who entranced her audience by mingling words and song in front of a firepit in the Outdoor Theatre. On Friday evening came a panel discussion that included singer Melissa Etheridge P ‘15, actor Bill Paxton P ‘12, ‘16, Ms. Ndlovu, New York Times blogger Suleika Jaouad, documentary filmmaker Whitney Dow, and transmedia experiential designer Sara Thacher CdeP 2000. These generous talents shared their life experiences and expertise with candor and enthusiasm, and Mr. Mulligan extended the Q&A session to allow our eager students to probe further into the panelists’ insights about personal narrative, inspiration, and storytelling.
On Saturday morning, six familiar faculty members woke up the entire School with an impressively choreographed and costumed lipsync competition aimed to inspire risk-taking and bravery from the students. Immediately afterward, all Toads broke out into smaller groups to participate in nearly 30 hands-on workshops; students were able to select from an extensive list of offerings to convey their tales of truth and fiction, including workshops focused on film, performance, imagery, text, song, movement, technology, and spoken word. Volunteer leaders flocked to Ojai from all across the country to teach and share their activities with our young people; the workshops
invigorated an already buzzing campus with everything from Polaroid storyboarding to urban planning to graphic novel illustrating to hula dancing.
Supplementary activities surrounding the all-School Arts Weekend events included movie showings and discussions with the filmmakers, a Story Slam in which students were able to share and hear some of the work produced over the weekend, and The Belles Lettres Ball where all attendees dressed up as literary characters to dance the night away. Over Arts Weekend 2013: The Power of Story, interdisciplinary thinking infused Thacher’s educational environment with a high level of exchange, learning, and fun. Inviting students and faculty to consider how and why we tell different stories in distinct and engaging ways also resulted in an unanticipated energy boost, and we were thrilled to see this exciting weekend take flight with both vigor and zest.
Much of the credit for Arts Weekend’s success story goes to its authors, a committee of faculty and staff members that included chairs Katherine Halsey and Joy Sawyer Mulligan supported by Cal Jensen, Bonnie La Forge, Jennifer Finley McGill, and Courtney Sullivan, along with the able technical support of Bill Vickery.
“Helping to plan this weekend has inspired me all fall,” said Katherine Halsey. "Thinking about the many ways we use stories across the curriculum and throughout our lives, both public and private, plotting ways to represent breadth and depth of experience in the guests we invited to participate, watching the events of the weekend unfold, marveling at the convergence of so many talented, provocative storymakers as they engaged deeply with students and faculty has been a joy and an honor. The gifts to our community are immeasurable, to be carried forward by all of us in the stories we will write and tell."