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The world’s passing by, again, in Claremont

by John Pixley

“Nochella.” That’s what the sign said. The sign that was hand-printed and taped on a lamp post when I was going up College Avenue. The sign with the arrow, pointing over there. The sign that made me take a detour in my afternoon.

It was Saturday afternoon of the first weekend that the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was going on out in Indio. I suspect there were at least a few students from the colleges who had taken off to the desert for the weekend. Never mind that the end of the semester was in sight and that it was time to hit the books and write term papers and theses and study for finals. Never mind that it was crunch time at school. This was, after all, Coachella—the cultural phenomenon now so big that it is repeated for a second weekend.

I imagine that, while it may not be noted in the official catalogues and brochures, the Claremont Colleges are now well-known—and popular—for being not far from the world-famous music festival in the desert.

Still, there were plenty of students sticking around, or stuck on, the campuses, not able to go out to Coachella. For one thing, it was, after all, crunch time at school. Bummer.

Thus, “Nochella.”

Just as I suspected when I followed the arrow, this was a substitute music festival, with a stage and a couple food vendors being set up on the lawn in front of the Smith Campus Center near Bridges Auditorium on the Pomona College campus. There was a list, also taped on lamp posts, of bands playing every hour on the hour from 4 until after midnight, including “after hours” sets.

This was clearly a homemade, DIY affair. While certainly not impromptu, this no doubt wasn’t an official college event—it wasn’t listed in the colleges calendar—and was put on by students with considerable planning and care. Even with schoolwork piling up, this was about coming together and “Let’s put on a show.” Big time. If we can’t go to Coachella, we’ll put on one of our own!

Or maybe “Nochella” meant something different, something better.

I didn’t stay, so I don’t know if the bands were any good or if they kept to the tight schedule (when I left at about 4:20, the first band was still plugging in). But the intent was very much there.

I was reminded, with the let’s-put-on-a-show vibe, of the Bottom Line Theater, which literally puts on a show. I have been quite impressed with the work of (and privileged to work twice with) this student-run theater company, based at Pomona College’s Seaver Theater, which puts on a number of high-quality productions for free or a couple bucks. (Never mind that when I arrived a few minutes before a recent 8 p.m. play, Varve, written and directed by a student, senior Bob Lutz, I was told to “come back in about 20 minutes” by a guy at the door who seemed surprised when he looked at his watch. This was the first time I’ve seen this happen, and these are, after all, kids who, when I once attended a meeting of their committee, the Druids, approved items by saying “sweeeeet!” and were planning a 5-college party featuring 100 bottles of wine.)

The fact is that the BLT productions are at least as good as the theater department productions, and the one last weekend, a moody comedy called Lookyloo, again written and directed by a student (Alex Genty-Waksberg, a sophomore), was particularly good.

There are also a remarkable number of student-run a capella groups on the campuses. Last Saturday, I happened across and ended up enjoying a nice alfresco concert featuring them, plus 2 other student groups from Los Angeles, again set up on the Smith Campus Center and not officially listed or publicized. Then there are the ballroom dancers, in concert this weekend (and perhaps not completely student-run).

I haven’t come across a performance by Without A Box in the last few years, but, for a while, this excellent, hilarious, student-run improv group was doing gigs in Hollywood.

These are the same students who rally and march and even lock down buildings in support of the people who prepare and serve their food and clean their dormitories. They are also the students who tutor underprivileged kids and help people understand how to conserve energy. And, according to a flyer I recently saw, these students prepare food and write notes to give out to homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths.

As the semester and school year comes to a close with a flurry of performances and activities, listed and unlisted, it is all the more evident that these students make up a whole world, their own world, here in Claremont. Even with papers and exams piling up, even with it being do-or-die time in their separate careers and lives, these students make the most of the community they have created together here.

The closing of the school year each spring, culminating with graduation, making room for other students to join in and come together in the fall, is a sharp reminder of the worlds and communities created year after year on the campuses. While a few of these students may return to live in Claremont after their schooling here, these communities and worlds are in but very much separate from Claremont.

I have heard some people over the years lament and complain that this is the case and wish that the students, with their energy and passion, were more involved in Claremont and its doings. I have done the same. But Claremont isn’t where the students live; it isn’t their community, isn’t their world. And guess what. During my years as a student at UC Riverside, except for when I was doing an internship in town, I barely acknowledged Riverside.

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