Performance over Mississippi River has social message to deliver

A class performance emphasized the river’s importance to the University.

Jeannine Aquino

Decked in a black maid’s outfit and wielding a tiny feather duster, first-year anthropology student Catalina Hotung decided to do a little dusting inside the Washington Avenue Bridge on Tuesday.

Hotung, as a maid from the musical “Big River,” was performing her interpretation of the song “River in the Rain.”

She was joined by 24 other students who performed a variety of poems, songs and dance for an event titled “Bridge over Troubled Waters.” The students were part of professors Mark Pedelty and Heather Dorsey’s Identity, Culture and Community in the Performing Arts class (GC 1312).

Pedelty picked the central theme of the Mississippi River because it literally and metaphorically connects the University to different communities and people.

“The Mississippi River is obviously an incredible feature of the University and the rest of the neighborhood,” Dinkytown resident Ardes Johnson said. “It’s our connection to the rest of the world.”

Using the Mississippi River as a catalyst to find songs and poems, Dorsey said they wanted to “look at different text and poems and how they relate to individual identities.”

Pedelty wanted to educate students on river-related issues as well, and decided to use theater as a way to do so.

He talked about the Upper Midwest’s contribution to the growing problem of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, an area where few fish and plants are able to survive.

“Science can only do so much,” he said. “Theater and art can help scientists get their message out there.”

Students performed poems by Langston Hughes, Sara Teasdale, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others.

Sociology sophomore Jessica Herrera said she liked reciting Lucille Clifton’s poem “The Mississippi River.”

“I’m glad we’re bringing awareness,” Herrera said. “People don’t realize the effect littering has on rivers.”

First-year finance student Molly Horras stopped by to watch students perform.

“I give them credit for standing here in the cold doing this,” she said.

Kayla Krebsbach, a first-year student, liked how performers “never break character.”

First-year student Ruston Aaker, who performed Teasdale’s “The River” with electrical engineering junior Thinh Bui, said he kept getting weird looks from people passing by on the bridge.

“Most people who come through here don’t expect us to be performing,” he said. “It’s cheap entertainment, that’s for sure.”

Aaker played the ocarina while Bui beat an African drum.

In addition to using the performance to replace a final for the class, Pedelty decided to use the event as a way to raise money for the Friends of the Mississippi River, a citizens’ organization working to protect and enhance the Mississippi River in Minnesota.

“They do a lot of work in educating Minnesota schools about things like storm runoff and pesticide,” Pedelty said.

“I think it’s good that we’re supporting the Friends of the Mississippi River,” Herrera said.

Students will perform again Wednesday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on the Washington Avenue Bridge.