Abandoned Utica School is Inspiration for Collaborative Project

Nathaniel Lanman ’15
Nathaniel Lanman ’15

An abandoned building can hold many memories, and Utica’s Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School may hold more than most. Since closing in 1992, the school has stood in disrepair, but people in the surrounding area still have strong memories of its role in the community.

A group of Hamilton students and faculty are working on a long term project, “BRICKS: An Intersection of Architecture and Community,” to understand what the space means to the community and to create a derived theater piece about the building. With funding from the Emerson Foundation, Nathaniel Lanman ’15 is compiling a collection of creative writing about the school, which the group will later use in writing a script for the performance.

The BRICKS project combines a Levitt Group Project and Emerson Grant and is advised by Professor of Theatre Carole Bellini-Sharp and Assistant Professor of Theatre Andrew Holland. Lanman has been working with the students in the Levitt Group -- Katherine Delesalle ’14, Elizabeth Buchanan ’15 and Allison Schuette ’16 -- to interview Utica community members, including former teachers and students, about their experiences with the Roosevelt School. They hope to hear stories that show what being within the space of the school was really like. Lanman explained, “The project is really about spaces and what they mean to a community and what it means when that space is deteriorating.”

Lanman is writing a collection of poetry inspired by his interviews about Roosevelt. He generally uses small details as inspiration for his writing, as he feels they do the most to bring life to memories of Roosevelt. Lanman focuses on specific experiences people may mention in passing, such as moments within a classroom. He is “trying to find the things that set the school apart and give it a story,” and is experimenting with different techniques, such as writing small dialogues based on the interviewees’ memories. In doing so, Lanman hopes to imbue his writing with emotions that accurately capture the experiences of students and teachers within Roosevelt.

As the project has progressed, Lanman feels that he has grown as a writer. He has always been passionate about creative writing and is grateful to have a summer to focus on it exclusively. The project has also encouraged him to write from different perspectives. Lanman noted, “I typically write more personally . . . This project encourages me to branch out from that.”

Through his poems, he has adopted the voices of various people involved in Roosevelt. Lanman described the process as challenging because it necessitates making assumptions about the voices he takes on. However, he believes that being able to write in different styles and from different perspectives is an important skill to have and he feels that the project “has made [him] more complete as a poet.”

Lanman will do a reading of some of his works in the fall, and he hopes to also talk about the project and share the inspiration for some of his pieces. The Levitt group will then use his writing to inform their script, and Lanman said that he is “excited to see what it becomes.” After so much time spent striving to understand the Roosevelt School from different angles, the group hopes to create a performance that truthfully depicts the relationship between the space of the school and the surrounding community.

Lanman is a graduate of White Plains Senior High School in White Plains, N.Y.

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