Project Stay organizes cultural events


Katarina Pennington/The Chart

Project Stay students Kendall Barclay, Leslie Shorter and Ashlee Rickard pose for a photo with one of the members of the Blue Man Group at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

It was nearly midnight when the Project Stay convoy pulled into the empty parking lot at Southern. The vehicles parked and 15 passengers piled out.

The group had just returned from Tulsa, Okla., where they saw the Blue Man Group perform at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.

Among the group were Timothy Jacob Gehmann, a Project Stay representative; Greg Jackson, Project Stay’s Academic Support Specialist; and Eddie Kirkendall, Project Stay’s adviser and counselor.

Project Stay organizes several cultural events each semester, and students who participate receive grant aid points. The goal is to link real-life experiences with educational objectives. This particular trip, proposed by Jackson, counts as one of five cultural events that Project Stay sponsors every semester.

“The idea is to combat the rural isolation of students,” said Dory Quinn, director of Project Stay. “Small towns don’t offer many cultural opportunities, so we organize events for our students.”

The staff members at Project Stay convene regularly to discuss upcoming events within a 150-mile radius.

They base their selections on what might be educationally beneficial. The next cultural event on the Project Stay calendar is tomorrows highly anticipated tour of Missouri Town 1855 in Lee’s Summit.

Formerly a Las Vegas show, the Blue Man Group is a hybrid performance that combines percussions, technology and art. The result is an intense show of light and sound.

“I was in awe, thinking what did I just see?” said Gehmann.

The themes of the show are open to interpretation. Many viewers consider it to be a depiction of extra-terrestrials who have come to earth and endeavor to understand human culture by studying it. There are three blue men costumed in black latex outfits and painted all in blue, hence the name, “Blue Man Group.” The “aliens” are fascinated with all facets of human society, technology in particular.

“The scenes with technology were meant as a satire on our digital age and our obsession with technology, especially cell phones,” Jackson said.

Audience participation is encouraged, and volunteers were incorporated into the show. Gehmann recounted a memorable scene: In a failed attempt to emulate polite society, the blue men invite a volunteer up onstage to partake in fine dining, complete with a set table and chairs, but they end up serving her Twinkies.

“I think the fact that they chose a formal dinner experience to represent human interaction reflects an acknowledgment of traditional values,” Kirkendall said.

All of this activity takes place without any talking at all, of course, because these humanoids do not understand our language.

Even when the show ends and the audience is filing out, the blue men stay in character by remaining silent. A smudge of blue paint is the only autograph they will give.

Project Stay funded this cultural event for the students, covering the cost of transportation, dinner out and the show itself.

To organizers, the expense is justified by the fact that such experiences are beyond the reach of most college students.

A show like the Blue Man Group serves to illustrate the errors that can occur when people fail to truly understand one another.

Kirkendall said, “I always think communication is important in our interactions, and this clearly demonstrated that.”