A batch of new orientation programs, part of the “Learn/Explore/Activate/Participate” (LEAP) initiative, sprang up this year in hopes of filling the free time of first-years at orientation, but as with most fresh starts, not everything about the programs was perfect. The Creative Arts and Performances (CAP) program offered more creative first-years the opportunity to explore their talents through workshops and professor-led performances. However, it may not have been as smooth of an experience as it hoped for.
I was sectioned off into the yellow team, which focused on the performances. Yellow group members experimented with body movement and the basics of blocking within theatre. While engaging, there were a few uncomfortable moments when we had to feel our assigned partner’s body parts with our eyes closed. It may be a way to quickly get to know someone rather intimately, but for some of us it was less-appreciated than a simple icebreaker. The main assignment was to write a short rant and animate it with the gestures we’d learned. In groups, the goal was to synchronize movement and speech to form a cohesive drama.
Members of the blue group were responsible for producing a film representing the “Portrait of Amherst.” Unfortunately, not all groups were created equal. One could sense a general feeling of resentment from members of the blue group, who spent the majority of their first day in Fayerweather Hall learning how to use the editing software Final Cut Pro — not the typical interpretation of exciting. The following day, they were dispatched with GoPro cameras to capture Amherst on digital film. Every scrap of content had to be produced by hand, which for some first-years ate up valuable free time after hours, splicing together audio files of piano tracks or beatboxing.
The red group’s responsibilities involved capturing the spirit of the town of Amherst in a multimedia presentation. After a day, which some would say took too much time, of producing interview questions for locals. After a trip into town, Reds could pursue any physical form of their choice for their presentation. Cameras, displays and raw materials were available.
For the perfectionist artists who wanted a whole finished product, CAP felt stressful. During the day, we danced, discussed fine art and actually learned each other’s names. But during the night, we were isolated, furiously rehearsing lines or clipping together video files before we lost steam. It was difficult to see members of other first-year orientation programs exploring Amherst of their own free will, when we only had the chance to go as part of a project. While many of us could fit the stereotypes of eccentric artists, we weren’t quite looking forward to slaving our early college nights away on homework, worst of all the kind that didn’t even count for a grade. It wasn’t an inherent problem with the program or what we had to create, but the time allotted by the programming. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were our videos or performances.
Any qualms we did have with the program were lessened during the final night of the program. Following a quick tour of the creative arts facilities, CAP students were invited to a first-years-only Coffee Haus, hosted in Marsh House. With a few guest appearances from upperclassmen, the event was an opportunity for first-years to showcase the talents that separated them from the rest of the identical faces. Any first-year was free to jump up and take the mic, and the group was incredibly supportive of all talents. Even towards the end of the evening, when performances stretched thin, yellow group members were willing to do group performances and on-the-fly poetry readings. It was the atmosphere we enrolled at Amherst for.
The first-years-only Coffee Haus is what most of us had hoped for when we originally signed up for the CAP program — an open free space where we could both demonstrate and improve our performance skills. We learned more about each other in those two hours than we had during the rest of the program. In this way, the CAP program was a slight disappointment from what we expected. If the Coffee Haus experience could have been extended another day, possibly spent working on the skills we demonstrated with help from our advisors, it would make the perfect end to the CAP program.
Is CAP a suitable alternative for the creative junkie over more popular options like FOOT and CEOT? Sure. Is it the essential Amherst arts experience? Not yet. With a redistribution of time, a greater choice in which groups first-years are placed and more emphasis on the individual talents that CAP students possess, the Creative Arts and Performances program could rival its longstanding competitors. Until then, it remains worth enrolling in if just for the artistic community it fosters.