Last Friday’s traditional, bi-weekly “Coffee Haus,” which almost always takes place in Marsh Ballroom, had a special twist. The members of Marsh Arts House decided to hold an auction in order to raise funds to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. The house members organized and each volunteered what they could auction off.
Some offered material things, such as a painting of a cantaloupe (in the form of an antelope) and an 80’s style tracksuit, and others offered to give lessons on musical instruments, languages and even improvisational theatre. A group of Marsh residents volunteered to do door-to-door serenades for bidders.
A particular favorite of mine was one girl’s offer to write an erotica piece starring the winning bidder and their significant other — a prize that, if I remember correctly, sold for $121.69
The assorted pieces up for auction were displayed on a table in the Marsh library where some items were up for silent auction while others were to be announced during the show. The library also included some more PG-13 items, such as a sultry love poem, hidden in corners and announced at the end of the night.
The night proceeded as usual coffee hauses do, with students showing off their talents in improvisational acting, stand-up comedy, simultaneous magic tricks with cards and drumming from Josh Harmon ’18 as well as presenting original songs from groups such as “Radical Enthusiasts”, and solo artists such as Hannah Herrera ’17 and Anthony Narag ’17.
After every couple of sets, Bryan Doniger ’18 would step up to the microphone and announce the next item up for bid. With the vibrato of a professional auctioneer, he gave a starting price and then managed the crowd as they shouted out competing bids. The competition was heated, and some items sold for triple-digit prices.
This was particularly true at the end of the night during the “X-rated” part of the bidding when the erotica was up for grabs as well as a “sexy” calendar made by everyone’s favorite Marsh boys. The audience laughed as bidders screamed ridiculously high numbers, and the next band warmed up. After a particularly energetic performance that ended with Siraj Sindhu ’17, frontman of a band whose current name is some variation of “Scrungo Beepis,” spinning on the ground while belting. The night ended more traditionally with dancing and an enthusiastic sing-along to “Wagon Wheel.”
Coming off the high of a (much-needed) snow day, everyone there had trekked to Marsh in the middle of a snowstorm to enjoy their friends’ talents and donate to a good cause.
In reaction to the recent executive orders passed by Trump, the ACLU has challenged Trump in court in defense of immigration and human rights. The need to take action has been felt on campus, and students have organized marches and phone-banks to call political representatives.
I was impressed by how Marsh members were able to combine activism with fun and art, providing a sense of a community of people fighting for the same cause while also enjoying a Friday night. Ella Yarmo-Gray ’19, one of the MCs of the night, commented that the energy was very distinct from other Coffee Hauses, “There was a different crowd of people, and the social atmosphere was different with activism mixed in.” In the future, Marsh House hopes to establish a relationship with local organizations that have received less national attention and donations.
It was a particularly special Friday night in Marsh; it reminded me of the time Coffee Haus was held in Frost Library during Amherst Uprising on the second day of student’s occupying the library. Speakers, microphones, a drum set and a keyboard were transported from Marsh to Frost Café, where regular performers played for a new audience and newcomers shared the microphone to creatively represent all the feelings the uprising was inciting.
These moments where the arts and activism collide create a community where everyone can share their mindset, be witnesses to the same cause and celebrate — either directly or indirectly — the principle of giving back, at least for that moment in time.