Since college students were unable to return to campus this past spring semester, many of them missed the creative extracurricular activities, such as art and theater, that offered them an opportunity to socialize with each other. This new reality has driven students to find alternative outlets to build an artistic community.
After their study abroad semesters were cut short, Livingston resident Sarah Gordin, a theater major with a concentration in directing and acting, and Wyckoff resident Alison Cummins, a sociology major double with a minor in creative writing and English, missed their artistic spaces at college and recognized how others might also be in the same boat. In response, the two decided to develop Berg Originals, their own community-oriented artistic space. Launched this past May, Berg Originals provides a virtual place for a diverse group of artists to showcase their work and receive constructive feedback on their pieces and performances.
As rising seniors at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania (a school that offers an extensive curriculum for performing arts and theater), Gordon and Cummins first reached out to their college community to gauge initial interest in the virtual club. While they initially attracted a substantial number of Muhlenberg students from the tri-state area, the two students have since opened the club to students from across the country.
Berg Originals hosts workshops on Thursdays at 8 p.m. via Zoom. Participants can either submit and feature their own work or come to watch and appreciate the work of others. These sessions last between 45 to 90 minutes and draw around 50 people each week.
During its first event, Berg Originals hosted a live virtual play performance where actors read aloud lines from each play.
The event featured six original plays from member submissions and more than 50 attendees. Gordon and Cummins put out a call for actors beforehand and assigned them each their own plays to rehearse, which they then performed together via Zoom.
While play reading is its most popular event, Berg Originals also hosts poetry recitations. Gordin and Cummins give participants a week to create and submit their own original poetry. During the event, they have the opportunity to read their poetry aloud, or have it read aloud anonymously.
Cummins emphasized how the club gave students an opportunity to share their creativity with others during quarantine.
“People who write in their spare time found this outlet to share poetry they had never shared out loud before,” Cummins said.
Berg Originals’ success brought Gordin and Cummins to a global stage. Earlier this month, Berg Originals had the opportunity to participate in Dramebaazi, a three-day international children’s theater carnival. The carnival, which is based in India, went virtual and international this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Participants joined writing workshops, masterclasses, webinars and theater performances with artists all over the world.
During the festival, Berg Originals streamed two programs––a showcase of its club members’ original artwork, and a virtual play they performed with a group of Indian teenagers participating in Dramebaazi.
“It has been really great both to provide a space for others and to participate ourselves,” Gordin said. “During this time, there is such physical distance between everyone. To create something, see it presented and share with others gives you the feeling you get in person during a live theatrical event. I still get butterflies.”
Gordon emphasized how impactful the club has been for those struggling to stay productive while away from school and its structure during the pandemic. Berg Originals gives members a clear task, time frame and an attainable goal. These “creative challenges” ultimately help others take pride in their efforts.
Berg Originals’ upcoming event, “Bake Off,” is on Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. Writers will get to write a play of their choice, but must weave a certain “ingredient list” of topics into their storyline. To learn more about the event, please visit https://forms.gle/QbCr1cKqwrLcAfc27
Berg Originals intends to continue using its platform to build an open artistic community and foster a space for creatives. If you are interested in joining the Berg Originals community, please follow @Bergoriginals on Instagram.
By Olivia Butler