John Frohnmayer’s musical SPIN shows what can happen when personalities clash — over art.

spin_p2Put a controversial performance artist, a conservative U.S. Senator, the chair of the National Endowment of the Arts and a preacher named JoeBob into a room together to discuss art and politics, and the resulting personality clashes are sure to generate comedy. That’s what John Frohnmayer had in mind when he wrote SPIN, a musical that depicts the early ‘90s “culture wars” that pitted artists seeking complete freedom of expression against those who demanded stricter rules for federally funded art.

Frohnmayer, an affiliate professor in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, knows all about the subject matter. SPIN is loosely based on his years as the chair of the NEA and his 1993 book that chronicles that turbulent experience, “Leaving Town Alive: Confessions of an Arts Warrior.”

SPIN made its first run at Oregon State University on May 8, and its debut was the product of collaborations throughout OSU and beyond. Director Marion Rossi Jr. has helmed more than 30 OSU productions as an associate professor of speech communication. Music instructor Sila Cevikce Shaman wrote SPIN’s compositions, and David Ogden Stiers, best known as Major Winchester on the television series M*A*S*H*, joins a cast of student and community actors.

“To see a director like Marion Rossi, a veteran performer like David Ogden Stiers and some wonderful student actors bring SPIN to life and give it their interpretation is incredibly exciting,” says Frohnmayer.

Rossi, who began workshopping the musical with his students in theater classes more than a year ago, says he’s loved witnessing SPIN develop. “It’s a great experience for the students — working on an original production, seeing how it grows, evolves and changes over time,” he says.

For University Honors College senior Maarika Teose, who plays the outrageous and provocative performance artist Polly, that experience has been even more enhanced by Frohnmayer’s continuing input and presence at rehearsal. “This is the first play I’ve done that hasn’t been performed before, so having the playwright there is fantastic. If we have any questions about the script, or if something isn’t working, he can guide us or make changes,” she says.

Teose says that Stiers, who joined the cast about a week after they began rehearsing winter term, is also a resource. “He’s fun. It’s really nice to have someone there who has a lot of real-world acting experience. He can give some really deep advice,” says Teose, who has been involved in OSU theater for the past five years.

Stiers wanted to join SPIN’s cast because he feels strongly in freedom of expression. Likewise, Rossi hopes audiences leave SPIN with a deeper understanding of art’s importance in their lives.

Although Frohnmayer’s primary motivation for writing SPIN was to entertain his audience, he still believes the issues of free speech and politics that electrified the early ‘90s are relevant today and that people — no matter how extreme their viewpoints — ultimately need to communicate with each other. “We need to learn to deal with differences in the context of a community,” he says. “If a community is going to succeed, then we all have to succeed together. Free speech is an enabler, but we have to listen as well.”

From coral reefs in the tropics to Oregon’s rocky banks, Mark Hixon investigates coastal marine fishes.

OSU zoology professor Mark Hixon’s research on fish population dynamics has taken him to most of the planet’s oceans, both temperate and tropical. He’s dived in the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Coral Sea. He’s graduated from the bone-chilling dives in cold-water kelp forests that he made as a doctoral student in the 1970s to using small research submarines in frigid northern waters. Marc Hixon

Hixon’s research is driven by a mystery relevant to both fisheries management and marine conservation — whether and how isolated populations of adult fish are linked. “One of the most important challenges in marine science today is to understand how the decline of a species in one part of the ocean affects the same species elsewhere — how spawning in one region replenishes populations in other areas,” says Hixon.

In two ongoing studies — one in Hawaii, the other in the Bahamas — Hixon and his graduate students are investigating connections among isolated populations of coral-reef fishes. They are studying the demographics of the yellow tang on Hawaii’s Big Island and the bicolor damselfish in Exuma Sound off the Bahamas. They are sampling DNA from adult and juvenile fish at multiple reefs. Their goal is to understand the drift patterns of fertilized eggs and larvae that travel with tides and currents in a process known as “larval dispersal.” And they are testing whether a high level of larval connectivity between two populations is reflected in the population dynamics of adult fish in those populations.

Ultimately, the answers will guide conservation and management, not only of fish, but of the reefs themselves. These complex ecosystems brim with more species than anyplace on the planet, even tropical rainforests. And many are dying. Pollution, global warming and overfishing have degraded about 20 percent of Earth’s coral reefs so far. Another 50 percent are at risk. In Hawaii, the yellow tang, coveted by the aquarium trade for its brilliant color, was depleted until the state created marine reserves along the Kohala-Kona coast of the Big Island to protect them.

Marc Hixon Dive

Preliminary data from Hixon and his colleagues suggest the reserves are working. “Comparisons inside and outside protected areas demonstrate that the reserves produce larger populations of spawning adults, and the aquarium fisheries are thriving as a result,” he says. The yellow tang genetics, still being analyzed in Hixon’s lab, will reveal which of Hawaii’s reefs need replenishment from spawn drifting in from highly productive “source” reefs and where those respective reefs are located.

Hixon’s tropical reef research, part of OSU’s top-ranked efforts in conservation biology, has relevance here in Oregon. “Off Oregon, it’s impossible to gather the enormous amount of data we can extract from warm, clear tropical waters,” Hixon says. “However, once our methods are developed and tested in the tropics, we can bring them home to Oregon.”

Fish

One of the world’s leading authorities on coral reefs, Hixon has been cited in scientific journals more often than any other coral-reef ecologist in the Western Hemisphere over the past decade, according to the Thomson Institute for Science Research. He was ranked third worldwide behind two scientists who live adjacent to coral reefs year-round.

In the end, Hixon wants our progeny to inherit a world still relatively intact. He wants tomorrow’s children to have a chance to dive into the pulsating rainbow of biodiversity that is the tropical reef. “You feel as if you’ve fallen into a universe of stars,” he says. “It really, truly is amazing.”

More on Mark Hixon’s research can be found in the Spring 2008 issue of Terra

Links:

Mark Hixon’s Web site

Department of Zoology

College of Science

National Science Foundation

National Undersea Research Program

Distinguished Professor Tracy Daugherty balances his writing and teaching lives.

Tracy Daughtery
Tracy Daughtery

Tracy Daugherty always knew he wanted to be a writer. Books like “Charlotte’s Web” and “Little House on the Prairie” came alive when his teachers read them aloud to their elementary school classes. Daugherty remembers reading the speeches his grandfather, an Oklahoma politician, wrote, and later hearing how they could capture a crowd. “Early on, I was impressed how language is communicative, that it’s a living, communal thing,” he says.

Growing up in Texas, Daugherty read as many novels as he could. He wrote them, as well, in the Ray Bradbury, sci-fi style that often captivated adolescent boys. “I was writing space novels, and they were terrible,” he says. At 11, he had yet to develop the strong sense of place that characterizes his mature work.

Teaching came later, when Daugherty was a Ph.D. student at the University of Houston. He knew he would have to couple teaching with writing to make a living, but at first teaching terrified him. “I had all these faces staring at me, expecting me to give them something, and I had no idea what to do,” he says.

But the terror didn’t last long. Soon Daugherty could tell he was making an impression on his students — their writing improved. “You can see that students are grateful,” he says. “They’re able to communicate things that they didn’t think they could communicate. And you can see that very tangibly.”

Daughterty’s longtime success in both arenas has earned him the title of “distinguished professor,” the highest honor a faculty member can receive at OSU. “Tracy’s impressive record in teaching, publication and academic program building deserved this kind of recognition,” says Distinguished Professor of American Literature David Robinson, who nominated Daugherty for the award.

Throughout his teaching career, Daugherty, who joined the OSU faculty in 1986 and now chairs the Department of English, has remained a disciplined and prolific writer. His fluid style and natural dialogue distinguish his eight books, 25 short fiction works and numerous essays, interviews and magazine articles. He won the Ken Kesey Award in 2005 for his novel “Axeman’s Jazz” and has earned the Oregon Book Award three times, among many other honors.

Daugherty was also instrumental in developing OSU’s Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, a process that took more than a decade at a university sometimes more acknowledged for science and engineering.

The program now attracts applicants from all over the country — more than 100 a year for only six spots. “The program is flourishing, and it’s a wonderful thing to have happen in an unlikely spot. We started out as underdogs, and we’ve come a long way,” Daugherty says. The students who seek Daugherty’s mentorship tend to reflect his varying and sometimes contradictory styles, from straightforward narratives to fragmented stories that follow their own non-linear chronologies.

As a teacher, Daugherty is dedicated to an atmosphere of extensive dialogue between professors and students, as well as among the students themselves, says Robinson. “The one thing that makes this program distinctive is that we work hard developing a very intimate, supportive community,” Daugherty says. He also gives his students plenty of his personal time.

“Tracy teaches in a way that inspires in students a true love for writing,” says Larry Roper, vice provost for Student Affairs and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Daugherty’s next book, “Hiding Man: A Life of Donald Barthelme,” in fact, is a biography of one of his former University of Houston professors. “Hiding Man,” which is due out next year from St. Martin’s Press, is Daughterty’s first excursion into biography and a trip he never intended to take. But when some of Barthelme’s work began going out of print and a different biographer had dropped the project, Daugherty decided to write about his old mentor.

Daugherty’s presence as a teacher comes in part from emulating Barthelme’s emphasis on rigor and tradition, as well as the older writer’s habit of making himself available to his students. “Teaching writing is a one-on-one proposition, really,” Daugherty says, “It takes a lot of individual attention. I saw Barthelme do that with students, and I do that with our students.”