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Rockin' at the Academy

Festival seeks to marry intellectual discourse and entertainment



O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
-- Act 5, Scene 1, The Tempest
by William

University of Southern Colorado professor Eric Stephenson wants to put the wonder back in education. So when he and his colleagues at the state university down in Pueblo put their heads together to organize a beginning of the school year, campus-wide event, the result was a plan for Brave New World, a one-day festival to be held on Friday, Sept. 22 on the USC campus.

"The premise for the festival began with the notion that we're forgetting what has largely gotten mankind to this point in history," said Stephenson, "a healthy delight in intellection, an unbridled joy in the freeplay of the imagination."

When a society collectively forgets to wonder in that way, Stephenson posits, a "purely vocational mentality" emerges that denies consideration of the essential questions of "who we are, why we work, and where we will wind up later in life."

The festival, he says, is a small attempt to reverse that process. And everyone is invited.

An open-air festival of merchants and performances will take place simultaneously with academic symposia on subjects essential to the future of today's inquiring student. Symposia on space, government, literature, race, religion, gender, genetic engineering, business, environment, and the future of the university will be ongoing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will be led by panels of academics grounded in the subjects.

But don't expect dry discourse --the festival's mission statement insists that "the educational process meets with the most success when it both delights and teaches."

"This is an opportunity for students to learn the language of their discipline," said Stephenson. "One of the byproducts of intellectual torpor is indifference to the future, which, at this point in time especially, is a tremendously dangerous ontology. Virtually every major technological advancement throughout history has transformed global culture, but the inevitable transformations we now face are of a new breed. This is what the symposia are about."

While discussions of the future take place indoors, outdoor revelers will be entertained with music, performance art and good things to eat -- a marriage of learning and entertainment that we seem to have lost in modern times, observes Stephenson.

"In Shakespeare's time, this marriage was expected in most of polite society," he said. "And despite a common prejudice to the contrary, there is nothing pretentious or unnatural in wanting to share enlightened and stimulating conversation with others in a live and pleasant environment. This is why we've arranged a wonderful open-air festival to run concurrently with the symposia."

The festival ends later in the evening with music and dancing for everyone. Starting at 9 p.m., little big band Cabaret Diosa takes the stage at the Occiato Center Ballroom, offering their unique blend of swing, Latin music and big band sound, designed "to make you dance." Featuring a repertoire of Cuban, Brazilian, Hollywood and Spanish Harlem classics of the 1930s through the 1960s, the band has become a Colorado favorite with their flamboyant, theatrical style.

Downstairs at the Occiato Center, three live alternative rock bands -- King Slender, Lost in Thought and It's Blindingly Clear -- will play simultaneously. A $5 cover at either door will get you into any show. Doors open at 8:45.

Among the highlights of the all-day festival will be performance art by the Damon Runyon theater troupe, Hungry Eye poetry readings in the Hearthwell Lounge at the Occiato Center, an underground film festival featuring student films by local Pueblo students, an all-day watercolor exhibit, continuous live music, and special activities for younger children.

For a complete schedule of events, visit the festival Web site at:

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