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The former Penthouse Cafe located on the top floor of the Student Organization Center at Hilles has recently been transformed into a hub of artistic creativity, where experimental musicians and performers can gather and find a venue for expression.
Laila M. Smith ’17-’18 and Benjamin S. Wetherfield ’17, the co-founders of the new venue and experienced musicians themselves, stumbled upon the space last spring and were inspired to repurpose it to address what they saw as a lack of performance spaces geared towards student use.
Since then, Smith and Wetherfield have developed a unique vision for the space, distinguishing it from other performance spaces on campus.
“We want it to be experimental insofar as we want people to be trying things that they’ve never tried before,” Smith said. “As a performer, I have often felt that we were lacking in low-stakes spaces where people could try things out.”
The venue, which opened at the start of the semester, has had three performances and hopes to feature independent artists—in particular, students who may face difficulty securing venues because they are not involved with organized or well-known campus arts groups, according to Smith.
“We want to say that we’re actively affirming of all kinds of people, all kinds of identities, and we want to do our best to welcome those people and feature those people in our space,” Smith said.
After they developed their idea, inspired in part by their previous experiences attending other performances such as the Edinburgh Music Festival, Smith and Wetherfield submitted a detailed proposal to the Office of Student Life for approval and the College’s support.
Jatnna Amador, manager of events for the SOCH, was enthusiastic about backing their project from the start, and helped provide support from the OSL for music equipment.
“I’m really happy it’s happening. I think I’ve had several requests from students who were like ‘we’re missing this space where it’s unstructured, where students can come and show their craft,’ and I’m glad it’s happening finally in the SOCH,” Amador said.
The three performances to date include an opening event featuring undergraduate singers, a poetry performance set to live music, and a show by graduate student composers.
“The first two nights I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams how well attended they’d be. All credit goes to the artists themselves,” many of whom brought along audience members, Wetherfield said.
In the months ahead, Smith and Wetherfield hope to expand the range of disciplines involved in the space. In addition to music, they hope to feature play reading, experimental performance art, student visual art, and more.
“I want to think of it as as much of an interdisciplinary space as it can be,” Smith said.
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