As Rex Orange County played in the background of McCormick Lounge last Thursday night, the audience filled the room for the Underground Collective winter showcase, Midnight Oil. Performers explored their theme, “what keeps you up at night”, through a set of spoken word, dance, and theatrical acts from the newly recognized RSO.
Though many of the performances tackled difficult topics like death, mental health, and racism, the show also included comical moments in songs and a skit-based rendition of When Harry Met Sally. Highlights of the show included a moving spoken word piece by second-year Jhanelle Smith, the newest member of the collective, which was a tribute to her late grandmother entitled “Eulogy.” In her piece, she likened her grandmother to a lantern, weaving Wikipedia definitions and facts about the lantern into the poem. The contrast between the formal language from Wikipedia and intimate details about her relationship with her grandmother illustrated the distance between the poet and her grandmother—or, metaphorically speaking, the lantern.
Next was Claire Moore’s poem “Water and Rock,” written about her struggles with mental health and eating disorders. The poem blended Spanish and English, switching between languages mid-thought or even mid-sentence, reminiscent of the poetry of Juan Felipe Herrera. Moore conveyed complex emotions through natural imagery, playing with the way bilingualism communicates the same nuanced ideas.
One performance that spoke closely to the night’s theme of Midnight Oil was second-year Ashvini Kartik-Narayan’s “(Not) Thinking About You,” in which she described being freed from obsessing over a crush. “Sometimes you like toxic people, and it’s horrible, but when you don’t, you have so much to think about, and it’s great,” she said to introduce her piece. Her specific examples, like corduroy pants and blueberries, invited the audience members into her thoughts, and her confident delivery garnered loud applause.
Other performances included music by second-years Trish Zulueta and Jeremy Lindenfeld, both of whom composed and wrote their lyrics. Zulueta and Kartik-Narayan performed a duet called “The Grind,” an appropriately named song as finals week approaches. Accompanied by a recording of Zulueta’s electronic music, the song detailed the motions of everyday life, feeling overwhelmed by schoolwork, and the insecurities of UChicago students. The song spoke to the anxieties of college life, in a comical and self-deprecating way with lines like, “How did I get into UChicago in the first place?” The penultimate performance was Lindenfeld’s “Foxfire,” which channeled Bon Iver with its strummed guitar and metaphorical lyrics ripe for interpretation.
The show ended with a group performance by Smith, fourth-year Bryan Waterhouse, and second-year Felix Lecocq. With an ode to Lakeshore Drive, they explored the ways in which we attach significance to certain places. For them, that meant recounting their past experiences with Lake Shore Drive, or framing other experiences in terms of it. In “Ode to Lakeshore,” there were elements of melancholy and nostalgia found in Smith’s “Eulogy,” clever wordplay from Waterhouse’s “Growing Older,” and charming lightheartedness found in Lecocq’s “Nightmares.” The group performance was a satisfying conclusion to the show, bringing together three members with different talents for each other to build on.
Throughout the evening, the performers managed to navigate difficult themes and include a variety of acts that highlighted each member’s strengths. Although not all of the performances connected directly to the theme of “Midnight Oil,” each one seemed to build well on the others, gathering momentum as the show went on. The members’ mutual love and support was palpable; it was clear that they are each other’s strongest supporters. By the end, the audience members felt like they were part of the show, snapping and clapping with each line that struck them.
Correction on March 6, 2018, 1:53 a.m. CST:
Felix Lecocq should have been identified as a second-year, not a third-year.