Las Madres de la Plaza, An Original Opera

By Meaghan Morin

The performance of Las Madres de la Plaza, an opera created by Elizabethtown College professor of English, John Rohrkemper, and Music professor, James Haines, is based on a series of historical events and was performed as part of the college’s Women and Gender Studies program of events on the topic of “Women, Men and War.”

Background

The opera is based on the events that occurred during the 1970s and 80s in Argentina. In order to understand the basis of the opera, a brief history lesson is necessary.

Juan Peron came to power in Argentina in 1946 and brought radical change to the country. Peron was removed from power in 1955 only to return from exile in 1973. After his death in 1974, his third wife, Isabel Peron, took over presidential responsibilities only to be removed by a military coup in 1976. The military, under General Jorge Rafael Videla, ruled Argentina until 1983.

The Opera

It is during the military rule that this opera takes place. The performance revolves around the stories of several young individuals, who because of their occupations, education, or activism involvement, were kidnapped, tortured and often murdered. These individuals became known as Los Desaparecidos, or the disappeared.

The title of the opera, Las Madres de la Plaza, earns its name from the group of mothers from all social classes, who took the central plaza in Buenos Aires wearing white scarves, demanding answers and justice for their disappeared children. These mothers marched the Plaza de Mayo on a daily basis and to this day, still march around the plaza once a week to remember the disappeared children.

Rohrkemper was first moved by these mothers in the 1970s after seeing the efforts of the mothers on TV and in newspapers. In 2005, he was reminded of the mothers once again, and was inspired to begin writing the play. Haines and Rohrkemper collaborated to write a musical plan for the play, eventually turning it into an opera.

The principle cast and members of the Disappeared Chorus were comprised of Elizabethtown College students, faculty, and professionals from outside the college.

Review

As the opera begins, the audience is introduced to each character as they tell their story, in song, of how they were kidnapped. Their stories are emotional and you feel as though you are there with them as these events are taking place. Scenery and props in the opera are minimal, but it works because it is the stories of the characters and the emotion that you are supposed to focus.

The opera was a success in many ways, particularly in that audience members were able to emotionally connect and sympathize with the characters. As each character told their story of being kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and with some, murdered, you can’t help but having an overwhelming sense of sorrow for each of them.

What makes the emotional appeal even greater is that these are not just actors playing a part in a fictional story. These horrendous acts actually took place and each one of the individuals portrayed in the opera is a son, daughter, mother or father, each with a family concerned with their whereabouts and well-being.

The realistic aspect of the opera can also be found within the songs themselves. The sung texts of the General and Cleric are direct translations of public announcements made by the Argentinean military and church officials.

Las Madres de la Plaza, was made possible by a Collaborative Interdisciplinary Scholarship Program (CISP) grant given by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Elizabethtown College which offers financial support for interdisciplinary scholarship projects undertaken at Elizabethtown College.

Women and the Military; A discussion by Dr. Cynthia Enloe

By Meaghan Morin

Dr. Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University and an internationally recognized expert on women and the military, visited Elizabethtown College in March as part of the celebration of Women’s History Month. The night’s discussion focused on the topic of “Women, the Iraq War, and the Militarization of American Culture.”

Pressure on Military Wives

In her discussion, Dr. Enloe talked about the pressures put on civilians, particularly women who have husbands serving in the military. One woman’s story that Enloe focused on in particular was Kim Gorski, the wife a man serving in Iraq.

“Kim was seen as having the same rank as her husband, so while he was gone, the Defense Department called on her to take on a leadership role,” Enloe said. “The U.S. Government keeps track of military wives, and puts tremendous pressure on them to suppress their feelings on the war and remain supporters of the troops and U.S. policy.”

Because of her husband’s leadership position, the government expected Gorski to continue his role by acting as a mentor, guide, morale booster, and problem solver to the wives and girlfriends of the men currently serving under her husband.

Due to the overwhelming responsibility required of her and the time consuming job of emotionally supporting the other women, Gorski quit her job as a realtor, and became a full-time unpaid employee of the government.

According to Enloe, military planners are nervous of military wives like Gorski. “These women vote and have a big stake in government foreign policy and stand to lose a lot. They’re not bound by the same codes of censorship as their husbands and can talk about their opinions openly in the media.”

However, enormous pressure is put on Gorski, and other military wives, by the government and their families, to speak only positively on the war and governmental policies. Any comments not in support of the war that are made public could negatively affect their husband’s military careers. Therefore many military wives learn to be strong and suppress negative feelings in support of their families.

“It’s hard for these women to be full citizens. Full citizens have the ability to think for themselves and express themselves publicly, but for these women it’s extremely difficult to do so,” said Enloe.

About Dr. Enloe

At the discussion, Enloe also spoke about how she first became focused on women’s issues and the military. “Many of my friends were becoming feminists. They talked about Adrienne Rich, a well known feminist, and I imagined that my first book would come out and Adrienne would find it and see that women weren’t discussed.”

It turns out that Enloe unknowingly did discuss women in her book about ethnic and racial politics in the military throughout the world. Although Enloe currently teaches at Clark University and is involved in women and gender issues, it wasn’t until students at the university, gathered all of the women faculty members together in the 1970s and insisted that they start holding women and gender study courses.

Enloe’s presentation was sponsored by the Women and Gender Studies program at Elizabethtown College and was made possible by support from the Center for Global Citizenship, the Leffler Fund, the Department of Political Science, and Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Honorary Society.

Etown College Intramural Basketball Gets Too Physical

            Intramural basketball is supposed to be fun. A way to escape the academic world and just have a good time playing ball with your friends. But at Elizabethtown College the games are getting a little out of hand.

            “We play to win,” Matt Diller junior captain of The Soccer Team said. “This is not about fun, it is about coming out here and making sure we finish the season as champions.”

            Diller’s thoughts on the game are a little extreme but throughout the league this is a recurring feeling.

            “I will do whatever it takes to win this year,” senior Tynan Edwards said. “Last year I finished in second place, and I have heard it all year long from my friends on the first place squad.”

            In a game on February 24th Edwards and his team, the Basketball Guys, got into a little bit of a scrum with team YoCo.

            “They [team YoCo] were being extremely physical with us,” Edwards said. “They fouled me really hard when I went up for a lay up so when I got up I shoved the guy.”

            The two sides were able to break the scuffle up before it went any further.

            In a separate incident when The Soccer Team played team YoCo, senior Michael Terry was forced to exit the game early after catching an elbow to the nose, after grabbing a rebound. Terry had a bloody nose to show for his efforts on the boards.

            “It hurt for a few days,” Terry said. “It wasn’t done on purpose, just something that happens when two guys are fighting for position down low.”

“When you get to the court and you start warming up, you really start to get into that competitive atmosphere,” Diller said.

            Diller’s team, The Soccer Team, is made up of mostly current and former players on the Elizabethtown College men’s soccer team. Being one of the most competitive teams in the country on the soccer field also translates to the hardwood.

            “We hate to lose in soccer and in general” Diller said.

            Edwards team is made up of a lot of former Etown men’s basketball players.

            “A lot of our guys use to play here [Etown],” Edwards said. “They feel the extra pressure to win because they are supposed to be really good a basketball already.”

            The Soccer Team and the Basketball Guys teams are currently first and second in the standings. The only loss suffered for The Soccer Team was against the Basketball Guys 62-52.

            “A lot of those guys have been talking trash to us since they beat us,” Diller said, “but we’re going to get them in the championship.”

            Both teams have a lot of good friends on the other team, which drives the competition to an entirely new level.

            “I want to beat them even worse because we are all so tight,” Edwards said.

            All the blood, sweat, and tears that are spilled throughout the course of the season are worth it to walk away with the championship T-shirt that reads “2008 Intramural Basketball Champion.”

            “It sounds really bad when you think we do all of this for a lousy T-shirt, but, hey, we’re in college and doing laundry one less day because I have this shirt is worth it,” Edwards said. 

 

Questions about a New School

On March 24, 2008, I listened as the Elizabethtown Area School Board presented its plans for a new intermediate school to the Mount Joy Planning Commission. As the meeting progressed, I became more and more concerned regarding the proposal. Several community members spoke up to express their concerns. Thankfully, Vice Chairman Blaine Miller and other members of the planning commission appeared genuinely interested in listening to the concerns of those present.

While I understand the overcrowding situation the district is facing, I hope that the school board members will listen to the many citizens that have expressed their reservations. Until September 2007, the school board led the community to believe it was turning East High Street Elementary into an intermediate school and adding on to existing elementary schools. Now in the past 6 months the board has completely changed its plans. The school board has sent out 100 notices to neighbors it believes will be affected by the school. Unfortunately, many others (including those living in the immediate vicinity of the school) were excluded from this list. A proposal of this magnitude deserves thoughtful planning and input from various members of the community. Hastily pushing the project to completion will affect thousands of students, residents, and taxpayers for years to come.

The traffic for this school (with an estimated student population of 1,125) will impact far more than the 100 homes that were originally invited to the public meeting. Obviously, the bus and parent traffic along Groff and Ridge Roads as well as Sheaffer and College Avenue will increase dramatically. However, cross-town traffic will also increase substantially along smaller streets such as Chestnut, Mount Joy, Spruce, Campus, Hickory Run, and Spring Road. The smaller streets of these residential sections of town are not equipped to handle the volume of traffic that a new school of this size will require. Possibly a more important issue is the very limited access this proposed site offers. As it stands now there is only one access road (Sheaffer Road). Even with an extension of College Avenue, Sheaffer Road and College Avenue will both funnel to the same location at Campus Drive. This will no doubt prove to be completely inadequate to handle a school of this size. Has the board considered access from East High Street across district-owned property? Has the board considered dual access to the school from both East High Street and Shaffer Road to more evenly distribute bus and parent traffic?

In addition to inadequate automobile access, the new location is not appropriate for foot traffic in and out of the school. It is well-known that the neighborhoods in the proposed area have very few school-age children. Therefore, very few will have the opportunity to walk. Has there been a count of how many students will realistically walk to school along Sheaffer Road? I am aware that a good number of students attending East High Street Elementary walk. Will these same students be expected to walk to the new school? How many additional buses and automobiles will be necessary to get children to school? Furthermore, Shaeffer Road is very narrow and has no sidewalks. Has the board considered the safety of those children that will be required to walk?

The location has additional problems that will negatively affect the proposed school. This area is very damp with a high water table. The proposal calls for a bus parking area, an auto parking area, and a blacktop play area. Has the board planned adequately for the increased run-off due to these impervious surface areas? What impact will this runoff have on residents living down hill from the location, many of which already have draining problems? Has the school board commissioned studies to assure residents “downstream” that the additional run-off will not affect their homes? With the school in low-lying wetlands, have adequate measures been taken to assure the school will not be prone to flooding, mold, and other similar challenges?

I am equally concerned that this new school building is not the most cost-effective solution to overcrowding. Currently, there is plenty of school-owned property adjacent to the existing high school and East High Elementary. Some of this property is leased to the fair. Is the school district fairly compensated for the use of this land, and if so, how much is this compensation? A new school built adjacent to the existing schools will benefit from shared resources and infrastructure. By contrast, a new school on Shaeffer Road will require road improvements, additional traffic lights, installation of sidewalks, and drainage upgrades. Consequently, the district will force Elizabethtown Borough and Mount Joy Township to invest several million dollars in these infrastructural changes. Has the school board and the township considered these hidden costs being passed on to the taxpayer? How much of this expense is the school district required to contribute? Do the taxpayers understand the implications of building at this proposed site? I am skeptical that Elizabethtown Borough has wholeheartedly endorsed this plan. Have borough planners been involved in the discussions and have their concerns been heard?

As this letter demonstrates, there are many, many questions that remain unanswered. This project will impact thousands of individuals for years to come. Common sense dictates that the school board and planning commission not push this six-month old proposal to a hasty conclusion. Instead, it deserves a thorough vetting by the entire community. I hope that the Elizabethtown Area School Board and the Mount Joy Township Planning Commission will be sensitive to the concerns of their constituencies. Though “band-aid” measures (such as portable classrooms) will not solve the problem, they will provide time to involve the greater community thoughtfully and deliberately in this planning process. With time, I am confident the school board and planning commission will find superior solutions to the many problems this proposed plan creates.

Sincerely,

Wendi Kenley

Elizabethtown, PA

Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania Citizen Journalism