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All in the Family

By Catharine Hill

Vassar’s student and alumnae/i entertainers inspired and thrilled audiences at this spring’s Sesquicentennial events.

The original campus cast of Vassar Voices poses with their New York City counterparts at the February 24 celebration. From left: Conrad Schott ’11, Julia Anrather ’13, Elliot Villar ’02, Lisa Kudrow ’85, April Thompson ’94, Darice Murphy ’11, Will Gaines ’11, Frances Sternhagen ’51, Nicole Wood ’12 Meryl Streep ’71, Grant Miller ’11, Lorenzo Pisoni ’97, and Voices director and co-writer, Professor of Drama Christopher Grabowski.

By the time you read this, an estimated 5,000 alumnae/i, this has been part of a campus-wide Sesquicentennial effort parents, and friends will have participated in this spring’s Vassar Sesquicentennial celebrations. Considerable attention has been focused, and rightly so, on the largest of these events, which took place February 24 at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. That magical evening drew a sold-out house of more than 1,000 people to hear a cast of outstanding alumnae/i actors—emcee Meryl Streep ’71, Frances Sternhagen ’51, Lisa Kudrow ’85, April Thompson ’94, Lorenzo Pisoni ’97, and Elliot Villar ’02— expertly deliver a staged reading called Vassar Voices. The performance was part of a program that also included live music, film footage, and speeches.

The chair of our Board of Trustees, Bill Plapinger ’74, has commented: “It is a point of pride that all aspects of this birthday celebration—from the research to the writing, from the direction to the music, from the cast to the crew—are the result of time, energy, and creativity of members of the extended Vassar community.” Alumnae/i have played a key part in that creativity. With Lisa Kudrow as emcee, the superb California cast included Jon Tenney ’84, Dan Bucatinsky ’87, Shawn Peterson ’96, and Alexa Alemanni ’02. Bookending the Voices at every program were two marvelous videos edited by young Vassar graduates, Alexandra Meistrell ’04 and Ben Rutkowski ’09. The steady hand of stage manager Ryan Durham ’04 kept everything going smoothly on the technical side. And all of this has been part of a campus-wide Sesquicentennial effort co-chaired by Professor of Art Susan Donahue Kuretsky ’63, who is extraordinarily eloquent about the college’s history, and Regional Programs Senior Director John Mihaly ’74, whose skills as an impresario somehow made the whole traveling show come together in each city. One last note: Vassar Voices is dedicated to College Historian Betty Daniels ’41.

It is equally exciting to see how much our students are contributing to these memorable evenings. I’ve watched members of the original campus cast of students (pictured above) performing Voices from Florida to New England and audiences have responded with unbridled enthusiasm to the way these gifted young actors, under the direction of the chair of our Drama Department, Chris Grabowski, bring individuals from Vassar’s past and present vividly to life. As Voices author (and Vassar writer) Lance Ringel, who worked in close collaboration with Chris to create the piece, points out, “The student actors, working with us over several months, played a pivotal role in the development and evolution of Vassar Voices.”

At the March 13 San Francisco celebration Alison Goodman ’12, Caitlin Arias ’13, choral director Christine Howlett, Nicholas Rocha ’11, and Michael Hofmann ’13 serenade a full house with “Sentimental Journey.”

And then there were the singers, drawn from the Vassar College Women’s Chorus and the Vassar College Choir. Three choral interludes are integral to Vassar Voices, and the overall program has two additional choral numbers. The logistics of traveling with the show has caused the size of the singing group to fluctuate, from 60 voices in New York City, to an intrepid quartet who gave up their spring break to ensure that there was live music at the Florida and California performances.

But no matter the size of the group, the quality of the sound, under the leadership of Christine Howlett, director of choral programs in our Department of Music, has never varied; in fact, you’d be amazed to hear how 5 voices (Christine joined the quartet in singing) can sound like 25!

The effort of the 20 singers who participated in the Washington, DC, event deserves special mention. Many of them had taken part in a Friday night concert on campus and then joined the student actors in taking a crack-of-dawn bus from Poughkeepsie to the nation’s capital, where they performed wonderfully on Saturday night. Then they took another very early bus on Sunday morning in order to make a 3 p.m. concert back at Vassar. That’s real dedication!

Although many of the students who helped to bring this spring’s Sesquicentennial celebrations to joyous life are now young alumnae/i themselves, still more Vassar students are certain to join alumnae/i, faculty, and staff in bringing this fall’s celebrations to St. Louis, Houston, and Atlanta (October 19-22), and to Cleveland, Chicago, and Minneapolis (October 27-30). If you happen to live in or near these cities, or have plans to visit them at those times, you will not want to miss the chance to join us in celebrating Vassar’s 150th birthday, as well as the amazing talents of our alumnae/i, faculty, staff, and, most especially, our students.