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Alumna sings her way into the President’s lap

By Eliza-Eva Leas

Emily Bergl could be referred to as one of Grinnell’s more illustrious alumnae, but after this weekend, the phrase seems too uptight. Bergl, class of ’97, is certainly well known, but any woman who sits on President Kington’s lap in front of an audience of one hundred deserves a title befitting her chutzpah—something along the lines of “girl we would all most like to be friends with and hope we will become upon graduating.”

Emily Bergl ’97 performs a cabaret number from Kidding on the Square in Lyle’s Pub on Saturday night – Andrew Kelley

Lap-sitting was just one of Bergl’s many activities last Saturday evening, where she performed a one-woman cabaret accompanied by G. Scott Lacy on the piano. Lyle’s Pub was filled to the brim for the event. Community members and faculty snagged many of the seats at the front and students got their pre-game on while standing in the back.

Students weren’t the only audience members to take advantage of the new kegerators—professors were spotted enjoying the results of last semester’s student initiative as well, and Bergl requested that they all pour out a little beer for the demise of Jimbo’s. Lyle’s doesn’t have a full liquor license but someone rustled up a whiskey for Bergl to perform with, although she waited until the after the show to finish it off.

Not many would have faulted her for drinking it; others might have required a few shots before pulling off the stunts that Bergl executed. Her first song prepared the audience for her devotion to entertainment. As she sang a variation on “Mad About the Boy,” originally written in the 1930s by Noel Coward, Bergl performed a half-crazed mimicry of love-sickness. Her acting was hyperbolic rather than exaggerated—the way someone would express emotion if there were not a variety of social stigmas associated with being desperately “in like.”

Bergl’s singing and performance skills belayed none of the awkwardness or shyness that her Grinnell reminiscences hinted at. Each song was sung with the appropriate accent—from call girl to love-sick school girl—and Bergl showcased her multi-lingual skills with both German and French pieces. She accented other songs with brief dance steps, and—once—mosh jumping.

Javon Garcia ’14, right, laughs with Emily Bergl following her performance in Lyle’s Pub last Saturday night – Avery Rowlison

After warming the audience up, Bergl began to get comfortable—perhaps, for President Kington, too comfortable. “If you’re here with a sweetheart, or a hookup, or a study date … go ahead and get cozy ‘cause we’d like to put you in the mood,” Bergl said, before gently rubbing the curly hair of Peter Daniolos, President Kington’s partner.

“Are you here with someone tonight?” Bergl asked him. When Daniolos nodded, she added, “That’s too bad—we’re only two numbers in and she has been eying you all night. And so has he.” At the time, it was unclear if Bergl was aware of exactly who she was fondling, which only added to the audience’s appreciation of her antics.

The interlude set the stage for the rest of the event. While Bergl crafted her cabaret with humor and vibrancy, it was really her interspersed comments and monologues that tied the evening together. The crowd especially enjoyed her Grinnell anecdotes.

“I loved that she was able to personalize it for Grinnellians,” said Lindsey Challis ’12.

Among other reminiscences, Bergl described flirting with a boy by bringing a joint and the “Blade Runner” soundtrack to his room; thanked Ellen Mease, Theatre, for her words of wisdom; told the story of winning the dance contest in Disco ’96 by getting “nasty”; and joked about the dating scene at Grinnell.

“We had a really early version of IMing at Grinnell … so we learned the skill very early of never asking somebody out face to face,” Bergle said. She is glad that other things haven’t changed, either.

“I was really impressed I went out last night and I saw a lot of you out there having a good time. There were two sets of vomit outside of Main hall,” Bergl said. She was further relieved to find a similar type of student, since before her trip she had wondered, “Is everyone still going to be weird?”

Bergl took a break from performing mid-way through the act and encouraged G. Scott Lacy to keep going. Meanwhile, she directed her attention to our revered President.

“Is it your birthday?” Bergle asked Kington, as the audience broke out in laughter. “Do you want it to be?” The audience finally confirmed that Bergl knew just whose lap she was sitting in when she said, “You’re much more handsome than [former President] Osgood.” President Kington laughed along with the rest of the crowd and accepted the extra attention with good humor.

“It was great, I loved it. It was really fun, and I blushed a lot,” Kington said of his impromptu appearance.
Bergl briefly made her way further into the crowd, to sit upon Amber Gruner’s [’13] lap. She said that she hoped Gruner was a GWSS major, before asking “Would you like to objectify me? … I hear there’s an extra S in GWS now—Gender, Women’s Sexy Studies” Gruner seemed to appreciate the attention.

“It was life changing,” Gruner said. “I don’t let just anybody sit on my lap. She was special, she earned that.”

Bergl returned to the front to continue her dalliance with the president by requesting that he pull the zipper down her dress and then ensured him that there would be no lawsuit. She stepped out of her dress to reveal a sequined, bright white flapper costume. Alas, Bergl had trouble continuing the show afterward, and momentarily forgot her lines.

“He just got me all hot and bothered. … Dr. Kington’s just so sexy, it’s too bad he doesn’t play for my team. We could have beautiful children together,” Bergl said, before amending, “I tell you that those children are so gorgeous you couldn’t get any more beautiful.”

That last line may have received the most cheers of the evening, and seemed to represent her performance as a whole. Bergl’s cabaret is entitled “Kidding on the Square,” which is a phrase that dates back to at least the early 1900s. It is certainly appropriate for Bergl’s unique mix of humor, irony and sweetness.

“It means something like the truth hidden behind the smile. As my Irish mother says, when you’re half joking, it’s usually the whole truth,” Bergl said.

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    Christopher SchlichtMar 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    I was a student at Grinnell from ‘93-’95 and knew Emily Bergl. I can attest to the fact that she could be rather shy at times. As far as I tell see she only had one exasperating habit: complaining about her weight while never seeming to gain a pound. She wore her intelligence, wit and talent very lightly. She was (and is) very pretty too, of course. Feeling outclassed by her was almost always a thoroughly enjoyable experience.