'Ballad of the SpaceBankers'

Instead of joining in the chorus of people complaining they're helpless to fight the corporate takeover of the world, two Southern Oregon University students created superheroes.

Palmer Nicklas and Niels Goossens' break-dancing, light saber-wielding heroes slip back through time to battle the beast Greed and fund "good karma loans" to save the future in "Ballad of the SpaceBankers," performed Thursday as part of Southern Oregon University's SOAR week.

Now in its fourth year, Southern Oregon Arts & Research's celebration of student and faculty work has established itself as a public extravaganza of creative and intellectual visions — a saxophone orchestra, American Indian fiction, reconstruction of Leonardo da Vinci's cam-hammer, and myriad other projects.

The sprawling array of projects and presentations representing work over the past academic year "celebrates everything we do in arts and research," says Southern Oregon University spokesman Jim Beaver. (To see project descriptions, go to www.sou.edu/soar.)

As visually and philosophically engaging as anything you're likely to see on an Ashland stage, "The Ballad of the SpaceBankers" was performed Thursday under black light at the Stevenson Union. Helping Nicklas and Goossens with the project were Emily Abrahams, Will Cooper, BriAnna Johnson and Rain Sterrett.

The 20-minute play, a capstone project for Nicklas' professional writing degree, involved many facets of his studies, including creative writing, comic booking and dance.

"It's a projection of what might happen in the future, as more rights are taken away from humanity and the world is lost to the super-rich elite," said Nicklas. "If people demand their wealth back, war would come" and people would have to battle the force of greed itself, he said.

The dancing, props, costumes and art of Nicklas and Goossens is stunning and captivating, with light sabers flashing, spaceships (albeit cardboard vessels) convincingly navigating the cosmos, dinosaurs doing their thing in a puppet show and the audience in stitches.

As the Cultured Creatures troupe, the pair performs monthly at Ashland's CultureWorks on Oak Street and will do their play at 8 p.m. Sunday, June 19. It's $10 or $7 if you wear a costume and are willing to get in the drama.

The play, says Goossens, grew out of "us feeling jaded by what's going on in the world, the corporatocracy, what it means to our future and how we can't put our energy into that. So we thought, wouldn't it be nice to have some superheroes to take it on and go back in time to invest in what can be fruitful later, like with good karma loans where you pay back less than you borrow?"

The project, says Goossens, was "an unbelievable amount of fun, in which I invested in the future."

Since its inception, SOAR has blossomed into a public, campuswide "open air academic fair," Beaver says, with plenty of opportunities for learning and enjoying the arts, including tents with musical performances. For the first time, he says, busloads from Mountain Meadows retirement community came to take it all in.

As a sampling of offerings, SOAR this year presented "Green Water Infrastructure in the Rogue Valley," "Planning for Tsunamis on the Oregon Coast," "How Dropping Out of School Increases the Likelihood of Future Incarceration and What California and Oregon are Doing About It" and "We Teach Pets — Or Do They Teach Us?"

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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