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My City of Play (Reworked)

Ellen Cohn


Reworked Essay

My City of Play

At the beginning of my Bryn Mawr-bound summer, I had a checklist of everything I had to do to prepare myself to begin college. One of the most daunting things on the list was to select my top three choices for an Emily Balch Seminar.  Although each one seemed intriguing, I ended up selecting the “Play in the City” Seminar, largely because of the professor teaching it: Theater has been a big part of my life, and although I do not necessarily want to major in theater, staying within a community which I understand, and which generally understands me, seemed like a great idea. With Mark Lord, the head of the theater department, teaching my Emily Balch Seminar, I figured that I could get to know him without taking a theater class or participating in a main stage production.

I got so much more out of this Seminar than I was expecting. When I initially wrote this essay, I wrote about food, and how my freedom in the city (provided by this course) allowed me to express myself through my travels and the takeaway from those travels. Many times, the choices I made involved food, so I connected the enjoyment and freedom I felt in the city with that of the food I experienced.

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True or False about Sontag?

In the excerpt we read from Susan Sontag's "Against Interpretation," Sontag threw out many strong opinions about why interpretation is bad. Saying things like "Interpretation...violates art" and explaining that interpretation lets us forget our initial emotions. From this reading, I've generated a true/false question:

Does trying to find meaning in art strip the work of its otherwise emotion-rendering power? 

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My final trip into the city

Yesterday was pretty stressful! I left my rehearsal early in the afternoon (around 1:30 in order to catch the 1:50 Septa), and discovered about four inches of snow all around me--the most snow I've ever seen in my life. 

Once I got to the city, I went into Reading Terminal Market for about half an hour. Walking around the different boothes is always relaxing and lovely, and even though it was cold outside, the temperature was fine inside!

By far, though, the highlight of the market was the little train and town set up. In the middle of the market, there was a glass case, probably about 3 feet wide by 7 feet long (total estimate, but it was decently big). Inside of it, there was a small, and very detailed town! There were little trains that ran through the town, and a big group of people were standing all around the glass case, many of whom were small children, which was really sweet to see!  

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Who is "Barnes?"

Ellen Cohn


Barnes Reflection

Play in the City

Who is “Barnes?”

            Alfred C. Barnes was born in 1872 to two working class parents. He proceeded to build himself up in the world, and became a true renaissance man—meaning that he was educated in many fields and created a name for himself in many various areas. With all of the time we have spent in class studying his foundation, the movement of it, and his perspective on how it should be used, I began to think about how the actual person Barnes fit in. How did his personal life tie into his motives in creating the foundation, choosing the specific works he collected, choosing the location for the foundation, and limiting the audience.

            Barnes’ first success was in the medical field. At the age of twenty-seven, Barnes worked with a German chemist to develop a drug—Agyrol, which was marketed as a treatment for gonorrhea. During this time, Barnes showed a business-oriented mind, and the drug became an immediate success financially. By the time he was thirty-five, Barnes was a millionaire. He sold the business in 1929, a few short months before the stock market crash (which led to the Great Depression). He also conveniently timed his sale to happen before the discovery of antibiotics, which soon replaced Agyrol in the medical world.

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Barnes Reflection

Because I wasn’t in class on Tuesday, I feel a bit behind, especially considering how many people have reflected on what we discussed in class. I can, however, reflect on how my opinion changed based on the readings and the movie. And, to be completely honest, my opinion didn’t really change! I already knew that the Barnes Foundation moved, and that it is now much more public. I think that that is great, because just being there for a few hours, I saw so many masterpieces artistically organized on the walls. Making a treasure like that more open and available is an important step when looking at the progression of society.

If I were to redo my Barnes experience, I don’t know what I’d do differently. I’d hopefully go on a day when I don’t feel as sick as I did when I previously went.  It was pretty bad timing, but I think I made the best of it, and found the experience to be stimulating and exciting!

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30 Minutes with Matisse

     Within the beautiful modern architecture of the Barnes Foundation, hundreds of insanely famous artists and masterpieces are showcased. After a few hours of being overwhelmed by the different rooms, I decided to sit down for a bit. I rested on a bench in front of a giant painting by Henri Matisse. I stared at the work, not especially liking what I saw. As I sat there, however,  the piece grew on me, and before I knew it, thirty minutes had passed. 

Some things I noticed from looking at the painting:

The colors are very vibrant. The contrasting dark green versus pink versus teal drew my attention to it in the first place. When I first glanced at it, it appeared gaudy, clown-like, and like a cry for attention, but I soon noticed the smaller details, like the shading on the man’s face, which showed true skill.

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7 Reflections on the 17 Border Crossings

1.)   I am so happy that we got to go see 17 Border Crossings.

2.)   The show was so creatively done, both the presentational aspects, and the stories themselves.

3.)   My favorite story was with the Mexican border crossing.

4.)   The story that stayed with me most was the man who hid in the wheel compartment of the plane.

5.)   Thaddeus Phillips kept the audience engaged.

6.)   One man plats are very hard to pull off because the actor needs tremendous stamina and energy.

7.)   Phillips possessed both of these characteristics, and also had talent. 

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Deep Play

     It’s fall. It is supposed to be cold. Instead, the sun warms us as we sit in the grass. He smiles at me as we reminisce on the beauty of childhood. A kid runs by with a kite, painting shapes in the sky. The child’s parents guide her away from us; I guess it could look sketchy, two teenagers sitting on the edge of woods in a park. But we are literally just sitting there. We’ve been outside for hours, kayaking and walking, and just talking. It’s been so nice to see him. For the first time in a year, he’s come to visit me. We’ve spent the whole day together, and I don’t ever want it to end.

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Takeaway from Eastern State

            Eastern State Penitentiary is a foreboding reminder of a dark past.  I stand in my cell, wishing for a place to sit. But, considering my two options, a toilet or a metal bed frame, I decide to remain standing. The walls are chipped and there is gravel on the floor. This building showcases the remains of decades of trauma. I pace. Back and forth, around in circles. I soon realize I am making quite a racket with the heels of my shoes, so I try to stand still for a bit. I feel a strong temptation to grab my phone.

            Thirty minutes alone in a cell, and I couldn’t even do it.  How can I imagine the sentences dealt out during the prison’s prime? When it opened in 1829, the building stood tall. A fortress of innovation and reform. With a castle-like appearance, and top-rate appliances like heaters and plumbing, this penitentiary seemed like the most humane reform center of the time.

            Prisons of the day were brutal. They all practiced a similar mentality of locking each prisoner up with all the others, regardless of how dangerous the people were. This resulted in petty thieves and children being locked up with murderers and prostitutes. As one can imagine, this resulted in much corruption.

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Eastern State was more torture or prison than reform center.

Eastern State was a prison unlike any other, where the methods were so damaging to the human spirit, and was so radical that the fascination that came with the prison was far greater than the suffering. The prison was a site of mental torture, inconceivably harsh to anyone who had not seen it with his own eyes. It is a place where prisoners try to fight against isolation. Eastern State is truly unlike the other prisons today; prisoners must face perhaps the strongest punishment of our time, solitude. ESP was a place you wouldn’t want to end up in lest you enjoyed the company of your own criminal soul and the judging eye of god.

Does it really do anything for reform and penitence? Who rules the prison, the guard or the prisoners, comes into question. Most prisoners have no ability to read and spend their time (which is what they got) in trying to communicate with their neighbors.

The morals of Eastern State are questionable, and the role of success of reforming prisoners (rather than simply punishing them) is disappointingly low for how many people were forced to stay there. ESP was a place that stripped people of what made them human, and prevented people from performing acts that keep people sane. It could almost be seen as a method of torture, where instead of helping people as the founders had hoped, it took away every liberty a person has.

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