Thursday, April 19, 2012

NMSU gets its ‘Shine On’

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Ever wonder what would happen if a bunch of scientists and artists decided to get together and put on a show?
I did, as I meandered over to the Las Cruces Convention Center to see the New Mexico State University College of Arts and Sciences’ second “Shine On” fundraiser.
It was quickly obvious that it helps if the “kids” putting on the show have the right cast and production crew.
In this case, that included a sophisticated multimedia and animation crew from Creative Media Institute, a Tony Award-winning playwright and some talented current and former faculty members and students. And those with charisma and star quality ranged far beyond the expected theatrical departments to math, philosophy, education and administration.
And history — those who have seen Jon Hunner’s programs and contributions to town and gown cooperative projects like recent centennial programs realize he knows many ways to make history entertaining. But who knew he could juggle?
There was no surprise in the entertainment chops of Mark Medoff, who, besides that Tony, has also garnered many film awards over the years, including an Academy Award nomination. But it was amazing to see him, in his seventh decade, deliver such athletic tap dances and suave gymnastics, as the ivory tower he perched on morphed into a collage of components of academia.
“This is my first time as a cartoon character,” he noted, as the impressive animation skills of CMI students and faculty were showcased on a giant screen behind him.
NMSU alum Sgt. Mike Cano, a member of the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, the official fanfare ensemble for the President of the United States, was a star of the evening. The talent that has saluted presidents and world leaders at the White House added drama and gravitas to everything from dessert delivery to a documentary series of videos. Offering their views on what Medoff described as “compelling questions about teaching, learning and life in general,” were an eclectic mix of great minds that featured deans, department heads, faculty members and NMSU-grads-who-made-good, including witty and always intellectually agile J. Paul Taylor and our own erstwhile El Paso Times editor and Las Cruces Sun-News editorial writer, Barbara Funkhouser.
“Shine On” could be considered a kind of company picnic for members of the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences, and their friends, family and community supporters. (Officially, the event is a benefit for the college’s Dean’s Fund for Excellence, which provides grants to students and faculty members).
But this was a “picnic” eight months in the planning, with a cast that I suspect involved hundreds, at least.
Instead of classic events like egg tosses and three-legged races, we were treated to multi-screen and stage productions that combined slide shows with bios of illustrious alumni, the aforementioned animation shorts and documentaries, plus pop-up Socratic dialogues, as spotlights highlighted speakers at tables throughout the convention center ballroom. It was all interspersed with some live-action feeds. I never quite figured out the technology, but figures periodically disappeared behind a screen in the corner — and appeared in Great and Powerful Oz-like proportions on a giant screen.
The impressive performances included a star-is-born turn, a recitation of all the components of the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences by young Grace Marks, identified only as “Class of 2024, major unknown,” but clearly known within the university family as the granddaughter of Stephanie and Mark Medoff.
And we know it is a family. Those of us who have spent large chunks of our lives laboring in the groves of academe ourselves and/or supporting love ones who toil there still, know that all families have their dramas. Sibling rivalries. Feuds and grudges. New heirs appearing to grapple over legacies and family fortunes, progress and traditions.
But if you can inspire the “family” with a project, a reminder of common goals, it’s amazing what we can produce: generation after generation of inquiring minds, accomplished professionals, new frontiers, builders and preservers of civilizations.
And it’s great when families come together to create a showcase that shines a light on where we came from, why we’re here, where we’re going.
Hmm. Could we take “Shine On” to Washington, D.C., for a revival production by the U.S. Congress?

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

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