Arts Night—an annual favorite—showcased Milton artists of all types and levels of experience in venues all over campus. Students love sharing their work with one another in music, dance, drama, speech, painting, sculpture, creative writing and artistic ventures of many kinds.
This year a unique event unfolded before the audience, a distillation of interviews between 10 students in Advanced Oral Interpretation and 33 Milton alumni, who answered students’ questions with their stories about Milton during World War II years. “Milton Generations: A World War II Oral History Project” took place on Arts Night, April 20, in King Theatre.
David Ball of the history department (and academic dean) had for some time been harboring the idea of an oral history project with WWII-era alums. Peter Parisi of the performing arts department was planning to teach Advanced Oral Interpretation. The two collaborated to develop the course that culminated in this performance, and that drew students into experiences that they could hardly have predicted last September.
Members of the alumni relations office served as the bridge between the idea and the people, locating individuals from classes beginning in the Class of 1934 who lived close enough to be accessible, explaining the project to the alumni, and ultimately helping to drive students to the interviews.
Students prepared for the course by reading Studs Terkel’s The Good War. Peter Parisi and David Ball helped students learn about the people they would interview through trips to the Milton archives; and two local alumni—Brad Richardson ’48 and Paul Robinson ’52—welcomed the task of giving practice interviews.
Interviews began with questions about the graduates’ personal experiences at Milton and moved to questions about what Milton was like during the war years. After many interviews, students transcribed the conversations and the resulting 700-page oeuvre became the source for discerning what Peter labeled the “performative” sections. Students found recurring themes, like service, boy-girl relationships, and teachers, and the themes suggested the shape of the performance.
A final question for the faculty members involved framing the challenge for student performers: Should they try to become the octogenarian whose face lit up as he told his story, try to tell the story with the images that hovered in his imagination? Peter agrees with David when he expresses his central hope that the students are able to express the youth, vitality and emotion that the people had when they were living these stories.