The Chance to be a Star
Summer performance groups offer sophomores the opportunity to “dip their toes” in something new.
Sophomore summer has many long-lasting traditions, from well-known activities like the DOC Fifty hike and the Lou’s Challenge to more debaucherous ones like the Ledyard Challenge and the annual Masters pong tournament. Yet, some of the most artistic of these traditions are the summer performance groups. For 10 weeks, many student-run performance groups open their doors to the broader student population — regardless of prior experience — allowing them to live out their fantasies of being dancers, comedians or singers.
This summer, I’ve become one of those performers. Despite my lack of vocal ability, I find myself trudging to Wilson Hall at 7 p.m. twice a week, where I sing with my fellow Summerphonix members under the guidance of the Dodecaphonics. Many of my friends sang in a capella groups during the school year, and as a musician myself, I respected their abilities and wished that I was able to join them. After a short audition in which I sang my mediocre rendition of the song “Help Me, Rhonda” by the Beach Boys, I was accepted into an actual a capella group, with a whole group of people ranging from instrumentalists like me to singers in other groups on campus.
Evan Bass ’24 auditioned for the dance group Splenda — the summer version of Sugarplum — for the chance to meet new people and bond with old friends, while also noting the added benefit of Splenda as a P.E. credit. He said he found the audition process easy to navigate and never felt nervous, even though he was trying something completely new.
“It wasn’t really that stressful,” Bass said. “I showed up last-minute, and it was quick. You learned a quick dance, and then there were callbacks later on. I thought it was pretty low-stakes — or at least it was low-stakes for me because I wasn’t so attached to doing it — but it was fun!”
Fellow Splenda member Colton Sankey ’24 had similarly positive feelings about his Splenda audition, but was more intimidated when auditioning for the improv group Dog Days of Summer.
“Improv is something that I simply have no experience with, so going in [the audition] was a little scary,” he said. “But after we got up and went through a couple [improvised] scenes, it became a lot less stressful.”
Sydney Fortner ’24 emphasized specifically how the existing sophomores in her a capella group the Summerphonix organized the group with inclusivity in mind.
“It’s more of a ‘fun group,’ in comparison to the full-year Dodecaphonics. We don’t reject people… everyone who wants to be in it, is in it, and everyone who wants to get a solo, gets a solo,” she explained.
However, some groups are more competitive than others.
Lily Scott ’24, the logistics director for the dance group Shebalite — the summer group for Sheba — noted that while their expectations for dance experience and skill were lower, auditioning was difficult due to the limited number of spots.
“We try to encourage people with no experience to audition,” Scott said. “80 people tried out for Sheba, and we were only able to take around 30, so we still had to whittle it down quite a bit… the deliberations and difficult decisions were comparable to regular Sheba auditions.”
Most summer groups lessen the commitment level required. While the Dodecs practice six hours a week during a normal Dartmouth term, the Summerphonix only practice for two hours during the summer. Similarly, Shebalite only uses four hours of rehearsal time per week, compared to seven hours during a normal term. This decreased rehearsal time allows students carrying a heavy course load over the summer to participate in these performance groups without much added stress.
While the novelty of the experience is most apparent for new members, old members are also in unfamiliar situations. For the first time, they are the music directors, choreographers and teachers of the group. Even for those who aren’t in official roles like Fortner, these ’24s still coordinate activities with other members and are also tasked with the challenge of teaching total novices. But for Fortner, that opportunity is why summer a capella is worth the time commitment.
“I really love teaching music,” she said. “Since it’s the summer, and we already know the songs, we get to teach new members the different songs, which I really enjoy. The ’24s who are already in Dodecs also bond in a unique way because we’re all trying to lead together”.
That enthusiasm is contagious, and many newcomers thrive off the steep learning curve that accompanies these groups. For Sankey, seeing how all the individual steps he learns in his dance group come together has been one of the highlights of his summer, even as he has only had one rehearsal.
“Even if it ended tomorrow, I would be happy that I did it,” he said. “But I’m still so excited that there’s eight more weeks of getting a little more exposure to these performing groups and the people that are in them.”
When we headed to the activities fair for the first time freshman year, we were told that Dartmouth is a place where we can try new things. But the temptation to return to the same hobbies and activities we did in high school can be overwhelming — and that’s why these summer groups are so special. They provide us with the perfect opportunity to leap way outside our comfort zone, whether we are learning how to dance or how to sing or how to come up with witty one-liners on a moment’s notice. So while my dream of belting out a perfect vocal solo may not come to fruition, I’ll still savor the moment — because come next winter it’ll be back to “the Dartmouth grind” for me.