Celebrating Student Achievement in the Arts

Who are those students who, all hours of the day and night, haunt the hallways, studios, rehearsal rooms, and performance venues of the Hopkins Center for the Arts and the Black Family Visual Arts Center? What are they doing? And what are they prepared to do once they graduate?

The annual Arts at Dartmouth awards ceremony takes place June 2 in the Moore Theater at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. (Photo by Martin Grant)

The annual Arts at Dartmouth awards ceremony—which this year takes place Tuesday, June 2, at 4:30 p.m. in the Moore Theater of the Hop—is a snapshot of some of the most dedicated and accomplished graduating members of the College’s arts community. While at Dartmouth, they have directed complex productions, launched recording and filmmaking careers, contributed significantly to the Upper Valley’s community arts scene, and employed cutting-edge technology and entrepreneurial ideas.

The Arts at Dartmouth Awards event is free and open to the public and includes—along with the presentation of dozens of awards in theater, music, visual arts, art history, and film and media studies—a fully staged performance of “Opening Doors,” a rousing song from the musical Merrily We Roll Along, starring current students and directed and accompanied by Max Gottschall ’15, plus remarks by Sharon Washington ’81, an accomplished theater, film (The Bourne Legacy, Michael Clayton), and television (Gotham, Blue Bloods, Law & Order) actor and a featured writer and performer in this summer’s New York Theatre Workshop three-week Dartmouth residency.

Below is a sampling of graduating seniors who are among approximately 70 undergraduates being recognized.

Quality Opens Doors

Michael Blum ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

Raised in a musical household on Long Island, Michael Blum ’15 came to Dartmouth a committed jazz guitarist. Playing in a pit band for a theater department musical during his first year at the College led to a job in the pit band of a summer theater, his first professional gig. In his junior year, he recorded a CD that earned rave reviews in DownBeat Magazine, All About Jazz and Vintage Guitar Magazine.

A music department residency last fall with jazz musicians John and Jeff Clayton strengthened his ambition. “My teacher always used to tell me, ‘As my friend John Clayton always says, the doors of opportunity will open to you based on the quality of your work.’

“Then I got to meet John Clayton, and he said, ‘The doors of opportunity will open to you based on the quality of your work,’” Blum says. “It really gave me faith that what I spent so many hours on each day would show some benefits down the road, if I kept raising the level of my playing.” Blum will be awarded the music department’s Macdonald-Smith Prize, which recognizes high achievement in musical performances.

Carving Her Own Path

Amanda Young ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

Entering Dartmouth with a strong interest in media, Amanda Young ’15 found her way into new media—the online, digital and interactive variety—and at the College has blazed a trail others with similar interests might follow. On campus, she was involved in game design at the Tiltfactor Lab; in filmmaking with the student film production club Stories Growing Films; and in entrepreneurship as part of the student leadership team of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN). Off campus, she has interned in venture capital and in marketing and business development at a startup, and was also among 16 students who took part in the first film and media studies off-campus program in Los Angeles during the winter of 2014, which included an internship at Hulu.

After graduating, she hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of business and innovation. “Even though Dartmouth is a liberal arts school, I’ve been able to work with cutting-edge media,” Young says. “It’s been great to really experience carving my own path.” She will be awarded one of the five Maurice H. Rapf ’35 Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Film and Media Studies.

The Power of Extracurriculars

Evan Griffith ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

A typical Sunday for Evan Griffith ’15 involves accompanying choir rehearsal at the West Lebanon Congregational Church, followed by the church’s morning service, then heading back to campus to lead a rehearsal of the Dartmouth Chamber Orchestra (DCO), then to Rollins Chapel to play organ at the evening service, and then to the Roth Center to lead a rehearsal of the UVJC-Hillel Choir, the Jewish liturgical ensemble he started as a first-year student.

It’s all extracurricular, as is his participation in the Handel Society of Dartmouth College; likewise his organization last fall of the DCO’s first-ever New York City community outreach tour, where the student-led ensemble played for firefighters, school kids, seniors, and more; and the hours he has been spending lately writing and recording his own compositions, which range from choral to orchestral, from Jewish to electronic dance pop, and have been premiered at Dartmouth events as well as New York’s Temple Emanu-El, his home congregation. A double major in music and psychology, Griffith will receive the Handel Society Chorus Award, given to an undergraduate who has helped the Handel Society most in a musical or managerial capacity; and, in the music category, the Marcus Heiman-Martin R. Rosenthal ’56 Achievement Award in the Creative Arts.

Swapping the Small Screen for the Large

W. Spencer Janes ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

The small screen held W. Spencer Janes ’15 in thrall when he arrived at Dartmouth: shows in which the writer’s voice mattered, like Friday Night Lights, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under. He soon immersed himself in film history courses, the Telluride at Dartmouth festivals, and the Dartmouth Film Society, of which he’s a member of the directorate. A screenwriting class with Visiting Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies Bill Phillips led him to write for film and also to his winning Dartmouth screenwriting awards three years in a row, including this year. The student film production club Stories Growing Films chose a screenplay of his to produce during his sophomore summer. He plans to move to Los Angeles after graduation and pursue a career as a screenwriter. He will be awarded one of the five Maurice H. Rapf ’35 Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Film and Media Studies.

Who Had the Most Fun?

Julia Kannam ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

Flip through the Flickr albums for the Hop’s HopStop series of performances for young children and it’s hard to miss one member of Vandana, the student-led South Asian dance troupe, being hugged by a preschool child in the audience. Julia Kannam ’15 received many such embraces that day after Vandana’s performance for an audience peppered with Kannam’s professors’ children as well as children she knew from working at Dartmouth’s childcare center. She’ll receive the Erich Kunzel Class of 1957 Award.

This summer, she will be the director of a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Then, she’ll return to campus in August for a placement in a local school, continuing the student-teaching she has done this year as part of Dartmouth’s elementary-teaching certification program. Her vocational path unfolded during her Dartmouth years, starting with a class in music theory as a first-year student. Although she had played piano all her life, theory was new to her, but she loved the challenge. Deciding to combine her interests in music and child development, she crafted a music major modified with education, and worked with the Hop’s Students Teaching in the Arts (START) program. Last year, she and two other START volunteers taught American history through music, together planning and carrying out the 45-to-60-minute lessons, which took place once a week over the term. “I think I had the most fun of all,” Kannam said.

Maxed Out

Max Gottschall ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

Since the arrival on campus four years ago of Max Gottschall ’15 and Max Samuels ’15, there has hardly been a Dartmouth theater production that has not been “maxed” in some way. They’ve played leads in such MainStage productions as Hairspray, Romeo and Juliet, Angels in America, and Spring Awakening. In student-led productions, Gottschall directed Glengarry Glen Ross and music-directed Cabaret, both of which starred Samuels. This spring they worked together on their biggest collaboration yet: the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which starred Samuels as a successful but jaded composer looking back on the decisions he’d made since college, and was directed and produced by Gottschall. The production was funded by a grant from the theater department’s Lazarus Family Musical Theater Program Fund, one of two awards Gottschall will receive at the Arts at Dartmouth awards ceremony.

Max Samuels ’15 (Photo by Rob Strong ’04)

Gottschall, who is pursuing a double major in theater and government, intends—after a gap year funded in part by his other award, the David Birney Award for Excellence in the Theatre Arts—to go to law school and eventually work in theater. Samuels is pursuing a double major in theater modified with business and economics and Chinese.

“I want to pursue an acting career, and a big part of that these days is being entrepreneurial and controlling your brand,” Samuels says. The combination of theater, business, and economics courses he concocted might be a useful template for other students with similar goals, he added. Samuels will receive The Warner Bentley Fellowship Endowment & Henry B. Williams Fellowship Endowment, which is intended to be a bridge between the undergraduate experience and that of the professional theater world.