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The Scarlet & Black

Cirque du Happenstance

Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in Roberts Theatre, the theatre troupe, Happenstance, will be performing their show “Impossible! A Happenstance Circus” as part of their week-long residency at Grinnell, sponsored by the new Artists@Grinnell program.

Happenstance is composed of six members: Artistic Co-Directors Sabrina Mandell and Mark Jaster, as well as Karen Hansen, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, Alex Vernon and Gwen Gastrof. In this most recent show, according to Mandell, the group creates an entire circus, including high wire, animal trainer and magic acts, using only props, costumes and the troupe members themselves. The performance also has a broader artistic vision.

“We show the contrast of the offstage world with the onstage world, we juxtapose the two and show how the backstage world is as poetic and magical as the onstage one,” Mandell said.

Mandell and Jaster began their collaborative relationship after meeting in a clown workshop in 2006. They then began looking for other performers to work with and eventually found the additional four members that make up Happenstance.

“It’s the perfect chemistry,” Mandell said. “We’re all eccentrics. We all bring a lot of different skill sets together and we all know ourselves really well. And so we’re all really good at dealing with people who are like us.”

Happenstance was brought to Grinnell through a connection with Justin Thomas, Theatre and Dance. Mandell and Jaster met Thomas when he was doing light design for one of their shows, and a strong friendship has continued ever since. As a member of the Artists@Grinnell committee, Thomas suggested bringing Happenstance to campus for a residency.

In 2012, Faulconer Gallery proposed Artists@Grinnell as an Innovation Fund project. Although the project was approved, funding came late, which delayed the official start until this spring, but the committee—composed of Thomas; Tilly Woodward and Lesley Wright of the Faulconer Gallery; Dean Bakopoulos, English; John Rommereim, Music; Lee Running, Art and Caleb Neubauer ’13, Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for the program (a newly established position)—has been meeting monthly since the beginning of fall semester.

It has been working to create plans to bring in artists for the next two and half to three years of the program that have, at this point, been funded.

As defined on the Grinnell College website, the intention of the Artists@Grinnell program, meant to echo the vision of Writers@Grinnell, is to help “Visiting artists bring new work and creative processes to campus to inspire students, to mentor faculty and staff, and to build partnerships with alumni and the surrounding community.”

Another artist brought to campus recently through this program was Detroit-based photographer and sculptor Scott Hocking, connected with Grinnell this time through Bakopoulos. Hocking creates sculpture installations in the many abandoned buildings of Detroit, and thus spent most of his time in Grinnell working with and mentoring Bakopoulos, Rommereim and Running’s interdisciplinary seminar of over 40 students on a site-specific installation tour across campus. The culminating event took place on Monday, March 10, and over 100 members of the College community participated. Neubauer felt that the first residency of the Artists@Grinnell program was a success.

“He carried the weight of the responsibility well, and the amount of student engagement he had was very worthwhile. I think the students were really excited and energized,” Neubauer said. “That’s what we’re striving for—bringing in new energy and allowing that to pump up the classes.”

Happenstance concludes this season of Artists@Grinnell’s residencies, but the committee is lining up a residency with Alex Dodge, an artist who works in combining computer science and linguistics, for next fall. The program is looking to lengthen residencies to about two weeks and increase the amount of time artists spend on their own work while on-campus, as well as the variety of departments with which the artists get involved.

“Our goal with the artists we bring in is to integrate them with more than just the department they might categorically be revolving around,” Neubauer said. “Hopefully this will be a program people can be on the lookout for.”

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