Seniors reflect on time in Tufts performance groups

Graduating seniors from the Tufts Amalgamates Amy Sokolow, Isaac Lasko, and Jeremy Silver pose for a portrait in Granoff Music Center. Courtesy Donna Knight Photography

Venture onto any Tufts athletic field toward the end of the spring semester, and you are likely to encounter a Senior Day celebration. Complete with flowers, parents, balloons and occasionally tears, these festivities serve as both a long-awaited culmination to seniors’ athletic careers at Tufts and a bittersweet send-off. At Tufts, however, this type of senior recognition is not limited to the realm of sports.

Over the past month, Tufts’ plethora of student performance troupes, clubs and organizations have been exhibiting their final spring shows, sets, plays, concerts and musicals. For the seniors in these performance groups, these last shows can represent the final chapter of a career that has spanned anywhere from just a few months to a lifetime of singing, performing, acting or directing. Others plan to keep performing right through graduation and beyond.

The Beelzebubs

According to the senior members of the Tufts University Beelzebubs — Nate Krantz, Jack Halverson, Davis Franklin and Taylor Ampatiellos — their time spent as members of the “Bubs” has seen a number of momentous changes since they joined as first-years, both within the group and on the Tufts campus at large.

“We’ve become more conscious of the fact that we’re a male group on a college campus,” Franklin said. “The group has worked on being positively conscious of who we are and the space we take up.”

While the wider atmosphere at Tufts has impacted the way the Bubs externally present themselves, it has also altered the group’s internal life.

“Now we’re making an effort to promote individual relationships within the group, working on bonding as individual members,” Krantz said.

Ampatiellos pointed to changes in the way the Bubs recruit new members.

“In the past, we looked at how certain people would fit into the existing group,” he said. “Now, we accept people who we think will shape the group, trying to meet new people so we can grow.”

Beyond the evolution of the Bubs in their own careers, all four of the seniors eagerly shared favorite memories and highlights of their time with the Bubs. For Halverson, doing shows at high schools was always an enjoyable challenge.

“We’d go out and see all these kids there who thought they were too cool to be smiling, and halfway through the show you’d look over and see them totally into it and dancing,” he said.

Krantz specifically remembered his first college gig at Emory University fondly.

“It was awesome, seeing another college, becoming best friends with other people your age for one night,” he said. “I always loved doing shows at colleges; it was always like a mini-vacation.”

Now that their Bubs careers are coming to a close, all have varying plans for continuing their performance careers. They all proudly cited the Bubs’ robust network of alumni.

“I definitely plan on attending shows and getting to know future members,” Halverson said.

Ampatiellos agreed.

“Moving on will be difficult,” he said. “I worry that in the future I may find myself wanting what I had here, which isn’t really possible. I definitely plan to continue singing, but maybe not a cappella.”

For Franklin, graduating from the Bubs feels like a definitive turning of a page.

“The Bubs have been the defining factor of my college career,” he said. “I plan on taking a break from music and focusing on my career. I got everything out of the Bubs that I could have hoped for, and I feel comfortable moving on.”

3Ps (Pen, Paint, and Pretzels)

3Ps has been an invaluable outlet for the diverse range of creative juices churning in the minds of seniors including Deborah Greene, Ben Nissan and Phoebe Cavise. For Nissan, 3Ps led him to a beloved passion project.

“I’m involved with Lord Barnum’s Players, which is a group that adapts and performs Shakespeare for kids in the Boston area,” he said. “That’s been a huge highlight of my time here at Tufts.”

The broad scope of 3Ps and its connection to other theater and performance groups on the Tufts campus enabled many of its seniors to find their own niches in the Tufts creative community. In addition to his work with Lord Barnum’s Players, Nissan performs a cappella and acts; Greene, who came to 3Ps by way of Sarabande and Torn Ticket II, is an accomplished dancer in addition to her work in theater; Cavise has done acting, directing and miming with HYPE! Mimez.

These three 3Ps seniors pointed glowingly to the wider umbrella group of student performers with whom 3Ps is associated, including HYPE! and TUTV. For Cavise, the umbrella group provided an in to diversify the Tufts creative community.

“I have a lot of friends who are in theatre and want to get into film, but don’t really know how,” she said. “TUTV is great for theatre students to learn to act on film.”

Cavise believes the umbrella organization also gives the creative community at Tufts a broader appeal.

“Straight theatre can be pretentious and not very accessible,” she said. “Having umbrella groups is a great way for people who want to perform, but don’t want to put their whole life into just straight drama.”

Accordingly, Greene, like many other actors, was first drawn to 3Ps because of its nature as an umbrella organization.

“You can start in one group and mosey through all of them,” she said. “I was in Sarabande, but my junior year I dropped.”

Having left Sarabande, Greene found herself lured by the many different arms of the wider 3Ps organization.

“The social exchange with 3Ps seemed more positive, and I had a lot more performance opportunities and choreographic opportunities I wasn’t getting elsewhere, through Torn Ticket and 3Ps,” she explained.

Nissan echoed the appeal of the diverse creative opportunities within 3Ps.

“You have people beyond acting, people who do design, and you’re not restricted in terms of who you’re able to work with,” he said.

Greene agreed about the importance of having a diversity of opportunities.

“You just get to try different things,” she said. “I think that’s the most important thing about student theatre.”

Beyond her own graduation, Cavise wants to see the positive collaboration she found in 3Ps extended even further across the Tufts creative community.

“I want there to be more collaboration between umbrella groups,” she said. “Cheap Sox and HYPE! do a crossover show every year, so I know I’ll be doing one improv show, and they know they’ll have to learn to mime. Not a lot of the other umbrella groups have crossover, and that would be really cool to see.”

The Amalgamates

Coming from a variety of different musical backgrounds, the seniors of the Tufts Amalgamates all took unique paths to find their home in the group. For Amy Sokolow, joining the Mates in her sophomore fall was a return to familiar territory.

“I had been singing forever, and I did a cappella in high school,” she said. “It was so different from my freshman year; I just had this whole new family all of [a] sudden.”

In addition to this familial sense of belonging, the Mates also provided a musical space Sokolow had been lacking.

“I had really missed performing,” she recalled. “It was a really good creative outlet for me, and it was a social outlet as well.”

Fellow senior Isaac Lasko came into the Mates despite having very little singing experience.

“I was never really a singer or musician before, until my senior year of high school,” he said. “I had piano lessons that year, and I also started singing in the shower. One time my mom heard me and told me that I had a really good voice.”

During his orientation week at Tufts, Lasko immediately noticed the Mates at the a cappella O Show.

“The Mates sang the song ‘Love Runs Out’ by OneRepublic,” he said. “It was such an amazing rendition that I immediately knew it was something I would want to be part of.”

Deciding to take a leap of faith, he auditioned and was accepted.

“And just like that, I found the most formative part of my experience in college,” Lasko said.

While Sokolow and Lasko sought out the Mates, for Jeremy Silver, the script was flipped.

“I played a lot of jazz piano and trumpet growing up, and I did not expect to do a cappella at Tufts,” Silver said.

However, a chance encounter brought him to the Mates.

“I was in the practice rooms, playing piano and singing,” Silver remembered. “Two members walking through the music building at the time with flyers just put one under the door.”

When he walked outside a few minutes later, he found them waiting for him, and Silver was convinced to audition.

All three Mates seniors cited the group as central to their own personal growth through their time at Tufts. For Lasko, the Mates provided a space where he could more authentically express himself.

“I think I always had it in me to be very expressive and be that person who has a knack for being a big presence and a confident presence,” he said. “Since becoming a performer in the Mates, I’ve become a more confident, more willing to be goofy, more willing to say what I’m feeling.”

Sokolow found herself adopting a new musical persona as her Mates career went on.

“There’s a running joke about the ‘Mates style,’” she explained. “It’s this very derpy, very expressive, bouncing up and down, intense style, and I totally adopted that as a performer.”

She now jokes that she can’t control where her hands go during a performance.

“Everyone is so intense and present with each other; we’re really loud,” Sokolow said. “We have a lot of power behind us, and when all of us belt out that final note, it’s the biggest adrenaline rush you could ever imagine. It’s added a whole new dimension to how I perform.”

The Mates also helped Silver grow into himself personally.

“I came in with a lot of different musical experience and knew my way around music generally, but there was so much to learn about being in an a cappella group,” he said. “I think being in a group of 10 to 15 singers, where you have to manage getting gigs, rehearsal spaces, fun events outside rehearsals and organizing trips, those are all incredible lessons to learn.”

Through his time with the Mates, Silver feels he has matured substantially.

“It’s all about learning to be a member of a group and respecting people with a common interest,” he said. “I learned more about life than I did about music in the Mates.”

The Institute Sketch Comedy

The senior members of The Institute Sketch Comedy have seen a number of upheavals in the outside world during their four years at Tufts, yet this has only lent them a sharpening comedic sensibility as time has gone on. For seniors Sam Zinn and Jacob Hafey, this has driven their comedy firmly into the territory of weird and wonderful.

“My magnum opus was the ‘Magic Hands’ sketch,” Hafey explained with pride. “This phantom figure named Magic Hands is called to take the husband in a sitcom scene away, and all he can say is ‘Magic Hands!’”

The character, featuring Hafey as a shadowy figure with Mickey Mouse-style gloves, steals the husband’s face.

Zinn was equally enthusiastic about an Oedipus-themed sketch he performed with fellow senior Meghan Wales.

“It was fun for me because I’m often typecast as a dad, because of the way I look and am,” Zinn explained. “So it was fun to play this creepy, demonic child.”

For senior Lily Blumkin, the group’s president, time with The Institute (and other on-campus troupes) has been spent diversifying both her style of comedy and the role she plays in delivering it.

“I started in the Institute as a writer, and I’ve grown into being an actor,” Blumkin said.

While she had been interested in comedy before coming to Tufts, The Institute and their unique brand of sketch comedy was an entirely new experience for her.

“I didn’t really know how to write sketch comedy; I’d really just watched ‘SNL’ (1975–) and tried to emulate what they did,” she said.

Being exposed to more different styles of comedy through interplay with both her fellow performers and other groups she encountered at events like the Brown University Comedy Conference and the National College Comedy Festival at Skidmore College, however, has given Blumkin the opportunity to develop her own personal style.

“I think, from watching different types of sketch and different types of comedy, that I’ve been able to develop better ideas of what I find the funniest, and it’s enabled me to branch out more into different genres of comedy,” she said.

Fellow senior Emily Baker echoed Blumkin’s belief that The Institute has made them more versatile.

“I’ve become more comfortable taking risks with the stuff I write and not worrying as much about whether it’s good or not,” Baker said. “Now, I just like to throw some spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.”

Wales added that she has become more willing to improvise and think outside the box.

“I used to memorize lines and highlight things, but now I’ve become a lot more confident with adding things, improvising lines and making bolder character choices,” Wales said.

For Greg Lehrhoff, The Institute provided both a home on campus and a venue for his provocative brand of comedy.

“I was really having a hard time in my freshman year, and at the end of the year I first got involved with The Institute to do their musical,” he said. “I just really liked how nice and friendly they were to me, especially since I was so nervous.”

He became further involved with The Institute as an actor and writer through the next year and has remained a member of the group ever since, even after taking a year off from Tufts. Some of his fellow seniors joked that his presence has caused them more headaches than laughs.

“I think I’ve been a voice for the ‘worst parts’ of comedy,” Lehrhoff said, to playful groans from his fellow comedians. “I definitely try to toe the line, and it’s good that the group gives me pushback, but I feel like as a comedy group, we should be talking very frankly about what we think.”

Echoing Lehrhoff’s observation about The Institute’s system of ensuring their comedy remains fair and respectful, the group’s seniors noted that it has doubled in size and gained a more robust organizational structure during their time at Tufts.

“Now, we have a more formal election system,” Baker said. “The group’s a lot more democratic, and we vote on sketches.”

There has also been a marked change in the group’s culture toward a more collaborative, team-oriented dynamic.

“I feel like it’s gotten more open,” Blumkin said. “I’ve seen a lot more collaboration between older and younger writers, which didn’t always happen.”

The various arms of The Institute’s productions have also come closer together.

“There used to be a clear hierarchy between actors and writers,” Wales said. “We’ve also integrated our filmmakers more into our meetings; there’s been a concerted effort to just be The Institute collectively, rather than different parts of it.”

Zinn also stressed that there is more positive progress to be made for The Institute.

“We still have work to do; for example, we could be a lot more diverse,” Zinn said.

Wales echoed the importance of actively working toward diversifying the group.

“It’s nice to see a group that’s actively trying to change that, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, we’re not as diverse as we’d like to be,’ and then crickets sounding,” she said.

Still, the evolution of The Institute in their time has made the seniors optimistic.

“I think every year, The Institute has gotten stronger with every new crop of leaders, and I’m very excited to see what the younger generations do to improve The Institute,” Baker said.

With regards to their own futures in comedy, the seniors of The Institute have varying plans.

“I’m definitely planning to do more comedy after school, but I think it’s pretty evenly split,” Blumkin said. “We have many talents in this group, so I know not everybody wants to do that.”

Indeed, for Hafey, entering graduate school feels like a beginning of a new phase.

“I’m [going to] be in grad school at Tufts, and I’d thought about asking to continue with the group,” he said. “[But] I’ve come to the opinion that I’ve had my four years, and it’s time to let the group move on.”

For others, however, being involved with The Institute has shaped their career choices.

“I’m a cognitive and brain sciences major, but I think because of The Institute, as well as other things that have gone on in my life, I’ve felt really inspired to go into entertainment,” Lehrhoff said. “I don’t know if it will specifically be comedy, but I think it will be hard for me to stop doing comedy.”

Zinn hopes that The Institute will become the starting point for his career.

“I’m definitely hoping to go into the comedy world,” he said. “I don’t want to be a comedian, but I want to work in the business.”

Whether they pursue careers or side gigs in comedy, all of The Institute’s seniors agreed that they will never simply leave comedy behind.

“I’ll definitely be doing comedy in some respect, no matter what I’m doing,” Baker said. “I’d like to be in the entertainment industry, but no matter what, I’ll always be a big fan of comedy and try to make as much as I can.”

Regardless of what the future holds, The Institute’s seniors remain grateful to the group and the irreverent brand of humor it has helped to instill in them for life.

“The earth is heating at an alarming rate, so we never know what’s going to happen,” Zinn noted.

Wales concurred, saying, “We’re all gonna drown!”