Three a semester, a vast majority of people on campus file into the living room of Brooks House, carrying pillows, cups of hot chocolate and various musical instruments. They navigate through the burgeoning crowd to find a place to sit in front of the makeshift stage. The room is crammed and buzzing with anticipation for a lively performance showcasing the talents of Principia students. This is a place where everyone can perform, whether they’re the most talented and trained performers or just people who want to find new ways to be creative.
We all know this event to be the ever-popular Starbrooks, one of Brooks House’s longest-standing traditions and a significant benefit for Principia’s performers. But this year, Starbrooks has been subject to some changes, and the Starbrooks event is struggling with the duality of the event’s ongoing traditions and the forward movement of both performers and organizers involved in the event. Will Starbrooks continue to take place in Brooks House? Has Starbrooks gotten so popular that it’s impossible to maintain tradition? And does Starbrooks monopolize performance venues on Principia’s campus?
Sophomore Hannah McCauley, Brooks House co-president, has been working on the issue that concerns Starbrooks’ traditional venue and juncture. Early on in the semester, McCauley and her co-president, senior Becky Skala, were addressed about a potential date change of the event. “Student Life came to us proposing that we could possibly change Starbrooks, typically on Thursday night at 9:30, to Friday night at 10:30, so more people could have the option to come,” McCauley said. “On Fridays, people can enjoy it, and it can be an activity for visiting weekends and reach a larger audience.”
The two presidents were open to the change, and the first Starbrooks event of the year happened Friday night. It was attended by over 180 people, which was an excellent turnout. However, it exceeded the number of people allowed inside the Brooks living room by the fire code. As a result, concern over Starbrooks’ specific location arose. “We may have to move Starbrooks out of the house because we have a fire limit in the living room of 100 people, and we consistently have been getting over 100 people, so we are figuring out what to do,” McCauley said. “Either we’re going to open up the porch and have people sitting on the porch and bringing pillows and blankets, or we have to change the venue.”
The second Starbrooks of the semester was moved back to Thursday night at 9:30 in order to better suit the fire code. It was also moved to keep the original vibe of Starbrooks: a study break, not a weekend event. Beyond the concern with obeying fire codes, the issue of changing the venue of Starbrooks is also an issue of upholding custom. “We really don’t want to change the venue because we feel like that would take away from the tradition of Starbrooks,” McCauley said. “There’s a long history with Starbrooks, and Becky and I have been very aware of that tradition and making sure it stays consistent.”
Starbrooks is also one of the only venues on campus for students to perform at, and it is certainly the most frequently recurring open mic event. McCauley says Starbrooks is the “most consistently popular event on campus.” Senior Arthur Soemarsono, a music minor and piano and guitar player, estimates that he has performed at two out of three Starbrooks events each semester. He argues that Starbrooks is not the best opportunity to showcase talent for student musicians, but it is the one that happens the most often and has the widest attendance. When asked about other regular performances, he said that “Music at Davis is more focused on classical music. Parents Weekend is the most formal and requires auditions, but Starbrooks is the most informal event.”
On whether or not Starbrooks maintains a variety of performers, McCauley said, “We do try to keep it open for newcomers, and I think we get a pretty good mix of returnees and newcomers that perform every time.” However, in a small school like Principia, performances are not only about talent. They’re also about the support and camaraderie of friends and peers, and the audience cheering on even the biggest mess-ups.
Soemarsono, who has been playing piano since the age of five, said “Prin audiences are the nicest audiences to have.” They provide a good balance of support for those whose acts aren’t practiced or perfected. On the other hand, he notes that often, the same people perform at Starbrooks every time.
Freshman Mikaela Alioto, who performed for the first time in the second Starbrooks event of the semester, agrees with Soemarsono, saying “I think at small schools people get comfortable, and they like to know what to expect … there are some people who it’s clear have done many Starbrooks, who are well known and expected to do something good … there’s someone who always does a folk song on the guitar, someone who sings a little jazzy alto rendition of a song, someone who sings a soulful song. It’s great because they’re gaining respect as a performer, but it’s also a little intimidating because people who are new to Starbrooks aren’t as well known and aren’t getting that same attention and recognition.”
Alioto says that one of the main reasons she performed was because she doesn’t feel like there are enough performing opportunities on campus. Because of her early experiences with performing at Principia, she has made the decision to take initiative and establish her own performing group next semester. “There’s only one performing group on campus, which caused me to want to start my own … just so there are more opportunities,” Alioto said, “I noticed at Starbrooks that there’s a lot of kids at the school who are talented and I feel like people want to hear them but … there should be more opportunities for people who love to watch music or perform and who know what’s happening and have a chance to do it.”
Originally, Alioto intended to be in one of Principia’s primary musical performing groups, Plus One. However, when she didn’t make it into the group, she realized that even though Principia is a small school, “there shouldn’t be only one performing group and it shouldn’t be only a cappella. All of the talented people in Starbrooks could potentially join new groups, and if no one else is going to start it, I might as well.”
Starbrooks is an event that has established its identity as the most open and informal performance venue, and it will continue to be popular, attracting throngs of excited viewers and audience members as well as new and old performers, but as discussions over the event rise to the surface this fall semester, there may be change in the air for the event itself and for performers across the campus.