Eye-Catching: RIT's Public Performers
by Kevin Zampieron | published May. 18th, 2016
"I get nervous about it all the time."
“Oh, I get nervous about it all the time,” said first year Game Design and Development major Sarah Anne-Saunders. “But once I get over the initial part, it’s fun.”
You may not know Saunders’ name, but you very well may have seen her playing violin around campus. She plays her violin in public, performing to people making their way to class. She started doing it during her freshman orientation last year.
“My friends said I should play outside and I figured, why not?” said Saunders.
Saunders is not alone. There are certain individuals who see the Quarter Mile as their own personal stage. And as the weather gets nicer, you’re bound to see more of these performers on your way to class.
A clear exception to this rule is fourth year Computer Science major Ben Walton, who doesn’t let the weather dictate whether he dances outside or not. In fact, the cold motivates him.
“If it’s prolonged cold for too long, I need an outlet,” said Walton. The coldest temperature Walton has danced in?
“About zero,” Walton said nonchalantly.
It was clear how seriously Saunders and Walton take their respective crafts. Both have been performing for years and consider their performances a major part of their lives. This level of dedication begs the question of why Saunders or Walton didn’t go to school for their passions.
“I really hate the fact that I didn’t go into performance because I was told it was unrealistic by a lot of people,” said Saunders. She’s played the violin for fourteen years, beginning her musical training when most of us were still concerned with cartoons and popsicles.
“As long as I hold onto it, I think I’ll be fine," she continued. "Creativity is a huge part of me and I probably wouldn't be the person I am today if to wasn’t for my four string instrument."
Walton also isn’t giving up on his passion in favor of his career.
"I'm pursuing dance as a career... I'm just also pursuing computer science."
“I’m pursuing dance as a career, don’t get me wrong. I’m just also pursuing computer science,” he said. Walton has been a dedicated dancer since middle school, and is currently in a leadership position in the Vis Viva Dance Company at RIT.
Of course, their hobbies have to come second to their majors. And as STEM majors, creative work isn’t the most obvious match to their skill sets.
For Saunders, the juxtaposition between creativity and technicality is a spot of tension.
“I went into game design because I thought it would be balance between creativity, which is something that fuels me all the time, and technology, which is what my parents consider reliable,” said Saunders.
But the level of creativity in the major didn’t fulfill Saunders, who is now looking to switch into Illustration.
“I’d rather do something that I enjoy,” she said, emphasizing how important creativity is to her.
Walton has approached the disparity between his love of dance and computer science more harmoniously.
“I am one of the few people who can see the overlap between the two, so I felt almost as if it’s my responsibility to bridge the gap between dance and technology,” said Walton.
Walton’s work is based in creating technological solutions for choreographers, who he said are stuck in the dark ages.
Saunders and Walton both receive largely positive feedback, enough so that the occasional negative comment (always from Yik Yak and Reddit) doesn’t phase them. They both recognize the positive impact of what they’re doing.
"Music is a language on its own."
“Music is a language on its own, and we can all figure out [what] it’s trying to say without having actual words put to it. I love that so much,” said Saunders.
Saunders said that she had friends in the RIT Orchestra who would be too nervous to play alone in public, thereby depriving campus of another public performer. She encourages anyone who wants to express themselves to do so.
“It’s not as scary as you would think it would be,” she said.
Walton also encourages people to let their inner performer come out.
“I want to promote self-expression without worrying about what other people think,” said Walton. “Be yourself. There’s really no time not to be.”
“You just gotta brush [criticism] off. It’s doing more good than it’s doing bad,” he advised. And they are doing good; the introduction of public art has in many cases revitalized and enriched communities, according to the Project for Public Spaces.
And RIT is a community. A constantly changing community with disproportionate demographics and epidemic levels of sleep deprivation, but a community all the same. Integral to the feeling of community is the sharing of experiences. RIT students come from different countries, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. They belong to different majors and have different social circles. But one experience that this disparate community shares? Being an audience to the guy dancing his heart out in the Infinity Quad or the girl who plays violin on the Quarter Mile. And in a weird way, that’s beautiful.
Check out RIT's performers in this amazing video: