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Art Keeps Me Sane At MIT by ARTalk

[by Danbee Kim '09] The beautiful irony is that the analytical, obsessive, and perfectionist mindset of a scientist or engineer is what makes artists at MIT so good at their art.

[by Danbee Kim ’09]

My mother, like any other parent, likes to keep tabs on what I’m learning at this fancy college I go to, which is why she gave me a quizzical look when I came home for Christmas break freshman year knowing three new ways to juggle and talking about how I was being cross-cast in the IAP musical. To be honest, the only reason why I started doing theater at MIT was because the Musical Theater Guild was performing Star Wars Trilogy: The Musical Edition fall of my freshman year – the unhealthily obsessed geek within me totally plowed through any stage fright that I could have possibly felt as I sang and danced as Bail Organa, Lobot, an empirial technician, and an ewok in a grueling three-hour, two-intermission-long show.

Kenneth Kamrin, a graduate student in mathematics, works with the Yoda puppet, one of the stars of ‘Star Wars Trilogy: Musical Edition,’ a production of the MIT Theater Guild. Photo / Jax Kirtley

Really, can you blame me for falling in love with theater at MIT? And the more I got involved, the more I learned about every aspect of theater. In high school, I was only ever involved with lighting or set related tech. Spring semester of my freshman year, I got the incredible learning opportunity of directing a musical with the help of a mentor. The next fall, I co-costume designed the show with two of my fellow cast members. And the learning opportunities kept coming. I used to dread dancing the way a lobster dreads lemon butter. Doing musical theater helped me learn to dance, even love to dance. True, I don’t get any credit or pay for the hours I put into the Musical Theater Guild; but after all the math and science I get saturated with in my academic life, it’s mind-blowingly refreshing to have something in my schedule that requires a completely different set of skills and mental attitudes.

Andrew Lippa’s ‘Wild Party,’ the Musical Theater Guild’s current show, with performances February 1-9.

That’s how I got seduced by juggling as well. One day, an upperclassmen on my hall started to contact juggle in our lounge in order to take a break from a grueling pset. What is contact juggling? Remember that really cool thing David Bowie did with a glass ball in the movie Labyrinth? That’s contact juggling. And there it was, right before my eyes, and by an MIT computer science major with crazy spiked hair. From him I learned to contact juggle, toss juggle, and even juggle fire and do tricks with a whip. It opened up a whole new realm of artistic exploration and creation, and when I joined the MIT Juggling Club, I found a whole community of people who are also inspired and motivated to push the boundaries of performing art.

I am not exaggerating when I say that doing art is what keeps me sane at MIT. The beautiful irony of it is that the analytical, obsessive, and perfectionist mindset of a scientist or engineer is what makes artists at MIT so good at their art. I remember having a conversation with a fellow member of the Musical Theater Guild about how we were able to break down something artistic, such as a choreographed dance, and analyze why one particular aspect of it worked or didn’t work. And the ability to make unique connections, the desire to push expectations and norms, are all things that can lead to greatness in any field. But for me, and for any performing artist, it’s all about being in that moment, that zone of supreme awareness of each muscle in your body, and understanding how to create something beautiful and exhilarating. And even here at MIT, where the people can spend hours happily coding on a Saturday night instead of partying, people understand the sheer physical joy of performing art.

Of course, it’s a little more difficult to present this idea to parents who are sending their kid to an institute of technology that costs more than $45,000 a year to attend. But for those of us who have found the balance between our academic passions and artistic love affairs, who says we can’t have our cake and eat it too?

13 responses to “Art Keeps Me Sane At MIT”

  1. S says:

    It is great to hear about the arts at MIT. I am a dancer and have run tech in all of my high school’s productions. I’m glad to hear that the arts community is alive and well!

    P.S. First!!

  2. Alexander says:

    I dont know if this is the right place to ask this but once you send a musical supplement, does the music department send a confirmation that they got it? Cause I sent mine around two to three weeks ago and I didnt get a reply yet. I also sent a mail to the same address asking if they got it about 5 days ago and I didnt get a reply to that as well. I just wanted to know if I should be worried or is this normal. Also when is the last day that they accept music supplements just in case I have to submit it again? And finally the art thing in MIT is great. That was one of the things that attracted me to MIT the most. That and a killer culture.

  3. Jess says:


  4. Akshay says:

    It’s a nice post. Juggling is a good thing to learn while at MIT. I would love to juggle to escape the rigor of the academic work for a few moments to learn it.

  5. Akshay says:

    And I want to ask if this juggling spike headed guy the one who has been featured on theU in one of the MIT videos?

  6. Keri says:

    Wild Party is awesome.

    Also, I’m producing it SO EVERYONE SHOULD GO SEE IT

    That is all.

  7. Lainers says:

    Regarding the Star Wars: the Musical production: is there anywhere I could find the show book or at least the lyrics to the songs? Was the show recorded? It sounds like it must have been a blast to work with.

  8. Chris B.'12 says:

    Theater at MIT?!?! YES!!! You have no idea how happy this just made me. Juggling? Something I must try (Along with salsa dancing). Question: How easy is it to drift between doing tech work and performing? And I am so jealous of you doing Into The Woods this summer. I love that show and i can’t be in it. :(

  9. I suspect that if I achieve my goal of becoming a part of the Logs, that there won’t be enough time to be involved in the MT Guild. (counterexample welcome). If I don’t get to be a Log, however, I’ll make sure to get involved.

    How are MIT’s dance PE classes? My theater class this year did some basic dance stuff, but our teacher doesn’t have much background in that area so it was less than great. I’d like to try to get better at it.. but if the class is sub-par I might go for something else. comments?


  10. To Alexander and other applicants who submitted music supplements: please note that due to the high volume of submissions, we had a few glitches with the server. Even though all submissions were received, not all submissions were acknowledged by the autoresponder. All submissions have been evaluated and sent to admissions. Good luck to all. I hope to see you in person at MIT Campus Preview.

  11. Piper says:

    MTG! One of the many things I intended on joining when I came to MIT. I plan to do the spring musical.

    And yeah, art is part of the balance, I think. Even if it’s only through HASS classes (though I prefer more – I’m a photographer and guild gamer). It’s all about creativity. You can’t live without creativity.

    So much to do, so little time.

  12. Ken Haggerty says:

    I really love this article. It’s exactly what happened when I went home over break and my parents were wondering why I was projecting movies for LSC and doing other non-school/-technology stuff.

    P.S. – Will be seeing “Wild Party” smile

  13. Danbee says:

    question: how easy is it to jump between tech and performing?
    answer: very easy. I’ve done lighting, directing, costuming, props, and run crew in addition to being in the cast – sometimes even working on cast and crew at the same time!

    question: spiked juggling dude featured on mit juggling videos?
    answer: probably. if he’s kind of tall, asian, and had pikachu-like hair, that’s the one!

    question: acappella AND theater?
    answer: yes! A very good friend of mine does both acappella and musical theater, although he has to time his commitments carefully. MTG does 4 shows a year – 1 during fall term, 1 over IAP, 1 during spring term, and 1 over summer break. so you can do theater only during non-academic terms and still get your fix of theater without losing too much time away from classes and extra-curriculars that only happen during term.

    question: dance pe?
    answer: the dance pe’s at mit are pretty good. I’ve taken modern dance, and I’ve also been to some of the open ballroom/salsa/swing dance sessions in the student center, and they’re all really good.