The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 25, 2012

Performing arts | Sister a pioneer in music program

BY TOM LAVIS
TLAVIS@TRIBDEM.COM

CRESSON — When it comes to the history of performance arts at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, students and staff handle most everything in-house.

Doing it this way has allowed participants to keep an eye on every step in the process.

Sister Eric Marie Setlock, RSM,  who was an associate professor of music and a guidance counselor, is considered to be a pioneer in breathing new life into a program that was treading water four decades ago.

Setlock served Mount Aloysius from 1973-1982.

During her tenure, she produced one musical a year for eight years.

“Because we were a small college at the time, it took a lot of teamwork to get things done,” she said.

“We were looking for something for people to do on campus, and by doing our musicals, we had students from all departments involved.”

Setlock was in the music department and taught vocals. To produce the musicals, she counted on departments such as merchandising to handle costuming, art to design sets and occupational therapy to build them.

“We were a close-knit community, and as the students worked to make the musicals successes, they were learning what it took to be self-motivated and it enhanced their education.”

It wasn’t as if the campus was devoid of culture before Setlock arrived.

Records show that in 1947, the administrators of then Mount Aloysius Junior College hired Lydia Walker, a graduate of Radcliff College and Boston University to teach Shakespeare.

“In 1949, a new stage was built in Alumni Hall and a children’s production of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ was presented,” Setlock said.

“In 1950, Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’ was staged.”

The college went through many transformations, starting with its Drama Club, followed by the Tower Players and the Mount Aloysius Thespians.

Students presented dramas, music programs and minstrel shows, which were the forerunners of the college’s popular Madrigal Christmas Feaste.

Setlock was instrumental in starting the feaste.

“When it was a minstrel show, there was a concert, followed by a dinner,” she said.

The madrigal is an important annual event, where students, faculty, staff, alumni and many friends of the college come together to prepare and perform the special  feaste.

“I was told the idea of a madrigal would never fly,” Setlock quipped.

“That was 42 years ago and it is still going strong.”

The madrigal evolved into its current format over four decades of continuous shows.

In 1973, musicians, wandering minstrels, jugglers and dancers were added to the performance. The lord and lady characters were added in 1977.

Today’s madrigal incorporates all of these elements, along with the additions of the court chaplain, Lord and Lady Chamberlain and Lady Misrule.

Each year, the college celebrates the Christmas season with two days of medieval costumes, decorations, the accents and food.

“I loved it because it brought every aspect of theater and music to the students and the other participants, bringing them all together,” Setlock said.

That was her trademark when producing musicals.

She used as many students as possible to give them performance experience.

“We always had large casts,” she said.

“When we did ‘Wizard of Oz,’ we had munchkins and everything except the flying monkeys.”

She admitted that if she had access to the right cables, she would have flown the monkeys.

“That’s what stopped us from doing ‘Peter Pan,’ ” she laughed. “But when we did ‘Finian’s Rainbow,’ we built a large tree in the center of the stage.”

Despite the elimination of the music department in the 1980s, Setlock said she is encouraged that a new theatrical director has been hired.

While she hasn’t met Nathan Magee, the new theater director, she likes what she sees to date.

“I think he is doing a nice job and trying to get the students involved,” she said.

Setlock was always one to “shake the bushes” to encourage students to expand their horizons through the performing arts.

“I always told them to try it because they would never know where it could lead unless they did,” she said.

“Many who did try discovered they were multitalented and were better for the experience.”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.