Gem on The Ocean, The Full Experience

At 5:30, I walked out of Fairchild Martindale Library and into a wonderful weekend. My classes and afternoon meetings were finished. A sense of relief flooded my body, as I allowed myself to mentally and physically release a week’s worth of challenging exams, tense interviews, and sleepless nights. A slight pounding in my head gnawed at me as a reminder of my exhaustion, but I chose to believe it was nothing more than euphoria pulsing through my veins. After all, I had an exciting evening ahead of me and sleep could certainly wait.

For one night, I would try something different. To say that I rarely indulge in Lehigh’s art scene is a gross understatement. During my freshman year, I attended a production of student run plays in Zoelner’s Diamond Theatre. During my sophomore year, I witnessed nothing more than a holiday choir concert at the Packard Memorial Church. Both events served as an eye-opening exposé of student talent and the experiences transcended my expectations of Lehigh’s art scene. Yet, as a second semester sophomore, my praise of Lehigh’s student talent is merely a hypocritical afterthought, because I have done the bare minimum to support it.

I would visit my brother in Washington DC and marvel at the cultural haven of arts and history available to him and other students at American University. To an extent, I was jealous of his enriched student experience, which contrasted the work hard, play hard mentality that envelops Lehigh’s student culture. Despite my longing for something different, I never attempted to find Lehigh’s cultural core, but tonight was an opportunity for change. For the sake of this reflection and my creative appetite, I bought tickets to see Gem on the Ocean.

I walked down South New Street, across the East Fourth intersection, and into Full of Crepes, where I met my girlfriend for an early evening dinner. Crepes in hand, we continued our stroll down the street and enjoyed dinner before the show on the Greenway. Neither of us knew anything about Gem on the Ocean and despite our curiosity, we decided to save the details for later. My only exposure to August Wilson was during an IB literature course in high school, where my classmates and I reenacted scenes from The Piano Lesson. Based on my reading, I knew that Wilson is known for conveying the comic and tragic aspects of the African American experience. I was excited to see how Lehigh students would capture and portray his unique style.

Our seating was ideal; we were far enough to suspend disbelief and capture the entire scene, but close enough to appreciate the set design and crafted facial expressions of the performers. Like a Monet painting, we wanted to stand back and witness each scene as a cohesive image. The student performances were incredible, far surpassing my expectations for this controversial work of art. The play itself gave way to a thought provoking message about morality and equal opportunity. Beyond the quality of the show, the cultural importance of Wilson’s work has hopefully inspired a new perspective and awareness among our student body.

To further engage in the experience, I ventured behind the scenes to learn about the production process and all of the hard work that made for a memorable performance. I initially decided to attend Gem on the Ocean because one of my brothers coordinated the stage management and set design for the production. After seeing the play, I spoke with him about the experience and I learned so much more about the process behind the performance. The picture below is a bird’s eye perspective from the rafters above the diamond theatre stage. From this vantage point, Alex spent many hours supervising rehearsals every Wednesday. Listening to him speak about the intricacies of the production was akin to standing two inches away from Monet’s Water Lily Pond and observing the patterns of each brushstroke. With a newfound appreciation of the artistic journey and the final destination, I can say with certainty that I will be returning to the Diamond Theatre as soon as I can.