The last scene of Henrik Ibsen's 1879 play, A Doll's House, was the inspiration behind Aidan Murphy's Honors project, a full-length musical sequel to the play.
Murphy read the play his first year at Knox as part of the class Foundations of Theater and Drama. A friend later mentioned how the last scene might be a bit more lively if it were a musical number.
"It was then that the idea clicked into place," said Murphy, a creative writing and theatre major. "Rather than this scene being the conclusion, I thought it would make an exciting introduction."
Murphy's Honors project, the play Torvald, involved writing around 100 pages of dialogue, composing music and lyrics to 13 songs, and directing a performance of the musical (Watch a recording from the performance or listen to the album).
At Knox, 15 members of the Class of 2018 completed Honors projects. To complete College Honors, students must obtain an endorsement from their academic department and complete advanced study under the guidance of an interdisciplinary faculty committee. The project is completed over the course of an academic year, and once complete, students defend their thesis or creative project before a qualified outside examiner, modeled after the dissertation defense of many graduate school programs.
Murphy received support from many resources to complete his project, from the feedback he received from his professor and classmates in the course Playwriting/Screenwriting Workshop as he developed and revised drafts, to being given space where he could workshop the music. He was also chosen as an ASSET Fellow, which financially supported the opportunity for him to spend the summer before his senior year on campus researching musical and 19th Century theatre as well as writing dialogue and songs. He was further supported by the Vovis Center for Research & Advanced Study, which purchased notation software that he used to write and share the musical numbers. Finally, Murphy says that "declaring this an Honors Project gave me structural support. Since I was able to earn academic credit for my work on Torvald, I had the time I needed to finish writing the script and the music throughout the year."
Kelsie Pos, like Murphy, began preparing an Honors project well before her senior year. The biology major worked with Assistant Professor of Biology Nick Gidmark and two other students to write an 80-page book chapter (currently in review) on fish feeding anatomy. That initial project evolved into her Honors project, an in-depth, comparative study on minnow jaw anatomy. Pos traveled to Friday Harbor Laboratories at the University of Washington, where she microCT-scanned specimens representing almost 98% of species in the North American minnow biological group. She then spent the summer at Knox processing the scans and analyzing her findings with Gidmark and other scientists. The team found recent evolution (within the past 20 million years) as well as statistically significant anatomical variation throughout the specimens.
Pos was able to travel to Washington and spend the summer before her senior year on campus doing research through support from the Richter Memorial Fund. The fund also paid for her travel to San Francisco to present her research at the annual meeting of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology.
"The skills I've learned throughout my time [at Knox] were extremely helpful in my getting accepted to graduate school," says Pos, who this fall will begin studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where she has been accepted in the doctoral program in Marine Science and Technology. "I'll use everything I learned through my research and from my mentors at Knox for the rest of my academic career (which will hopefully be a long one!)," says Pos, whose ultimate goal is to become a professor at a liberal arts college like Knox.
Pictured above: Kelsie Pos examines a fish in the class Biology of Fishes. Below: Aidan Murphy, at left, reviews notes with actors rehearsing the production of Torvald: The Musical.