Last Call: Ben Freeman

As the semester progresses at the speed of light, the senior class is beginning to make peace with that fateful day in May: Commencement. Until the class of 2013 leaves us, BlogDH wants to highlight all the interesting things the class has been up to. To this end, we are (re)starting the series, Last Call, featuring seniors reflecting on their experiences at Brown. Each featured senior will tag another senior for the next installment. Find this year’s other “Last Call” chain here!


Then + Now

People might know me as… that guy in the Bear Necessities who sings that song at Christmas, probably!

In my time at Brown, I am most proud of… I think that I have taken the injunction to sort of cultivate one’s inner life really seriously, and I’ve always been an introspective, reflective sort of person but I think that element has greatly enlarged itself since being here – sometimes to a fault, frankly, and sometimes in a sort of debilitating way. But generally I do think that I make an effort these days in a way that I didn’t before coming to Brown to just be mindful as much as I possibly can with as many things as possible.

On a Friday night, you might find yourself… I’m often thinking about having a glass of wine, but then I usually just fall asleep instead – I’m too tired to actually follow through on that action! Or I’m at a party and I’m significantly less drunk than anyone else. Basically, the thesis is that I’m really old.

The best class/professor at Brown is… Going back to mindfulness, two professors that have had a very substantive impact on me in that regard are Rick Benjamin, who teaches Poetry in Service to Schools and the Community and Wild Literature in the Urban Landscape, and then Erik Ehn, who’s in the playwriting department. Both of them are super, super spiritual and I think they really believe in art-making as a spiritually-based endeavor and how that intersects with service work. In terms of classes, I will say that I worked my butt off in Music Theory last year. I have never worked so hard at Brown as I did, and it was incredibly rewarding.

Three things you wish you knew freshman year…
1. If you’re craving to take a class in some department for whatever reason but think that you shouldn’t, just take it. I often just didn’t do things that I wanted to do and later realized that they would have been totally fine choices to make.
2. I wish I knew that I didn’t want to concentrate in linguistics, because that would have saved me some time and effort.
3. I wish I knew that it was possible to do new things without having to wholesale reject the things you already have done. I made a habit of transforming myself in a dramatic way throughout college which wasn’t always necessary. It would have been fine to say, “Great, I would like to put that thing aside and try this other thing, and it doesn’t mean that that’s not valid anymore.” It’s just not necessary to be so dramatic about those kinds of things.

Ratty vs. V-Dub… Ratty forever! I must be forthright about this, I was always a fan of the Ratty! I always loved the Ratty the whole time – people always accuse me now because I get so excited, if I know I’m going to the Ratty that day nowadays, I’m like, elated and I jump up and down. And people always accuse me, like, “Oh, you’re just nostalgic, you don’t really love the Ratty,” but I always liked the Ratty. The Ratty’s phenomenal.

One thing you wish you had done… I love nature, I’ve realized, but I didn’t really comprehend that until relatively recently, so I would have loved to just learn more about what is going on with environmentalism at Brown. I think it’s something that has become subversively important to me and I didn’t recognize that until very late in the game, and I realized that I was far behind in terms of just understanding what the issues even were and what the methods of approaching them were. I often find that when I’ve been in the same room with folks who really love the environment, it’s inspiring to me. I’ve realized that’s one enjoyment of or ability to enjoy nature at all is precariously mediated through a lot of political stuff. The matter is more deeply complex than I imagined – it transcends just hugging a tree. So that’s something that would have been interesting, in addition to just more legitimate service work. I sort of have had this thing where during the school year I’m an actor and a singer, and in the summer I’m a teacher, and I really love both those things and have been trying to bring them together increasingly. I’ve gotten better at it but it’s just been hard, it still feels like there’s a partition in my life. And this is something that I may accomplish in the next two months, but I’ve actually never been to Chicken Finger Friday! So that is something that I really need to do before I leave.

You’re really involved with theater on campus. What is the most rewarding production you’ve been a part of at Brown? There was something very deeply personal about Sunday in the Park with George. That piece of theater was really deeply resonant for me as a human being and, like, helped me understand some sort of vital concerns in the center of my life at that time. So I guess I would say directing that was probably the most personally meaningful, but I also really enjoyed directing Equus. But I do think that Equus had less to do with my personal self than Sunday did so that’s probably a good thing, in a certain regard.  [Sunday had an] enormously talented and thoroughly wonderful team that made that show happen. Ultimately the piece wanted to be a flourishing of light, and joy – so we committed to being joyful in one another’s presence for the duration of the process. In that regard, it was a genuinely transformative experience as a human being! It was a delightful culmination of my junior year.

What is your favorite song to sing with the Bear Necessities? We don’t sing it very often, but we sing this song “She Don’t Have to Know,” by John Legend, which is the most salacious of all time. Basically, the whole premise of it is that he’s saying, like, “Hey, girl that I’m getting with, don’t worry about my girlfriend, she don’t have to know about all this.” But it’s a really sexy song, that’s what’s kind of upsetting about it – it undermines your sense of morality while it’s happening.

After graduation, you plan to… Unclear, but in sort of a long term I would like to continue to integrate my work as an artist with my work as an educator. The good news is that that is not an untrod path, there are a lot of people who have done just that, but I think what’s scary about it is it’s unclear what it looks like on the ground until you start doing it so you have to carve out your own shape. I would like to travel a little bit – I didn’t go abroad. I don’t regret it, per se, but I sometimes think about what would have happened if I did. So I would like to find a way to travel a bit, even within the United States. I’ve always wanted to do a cross-country road trip and I keep almost doing it, but then I chicken out for some reason.

Who are you tagging next?
I’ll tag Chris Fitzsimmons. (He is actually ‘13.5, but I think he’s walking with us and is a second-semester senior at heart!!) He is the most delightful human being! I am more affectionate with him than almost anybody I know – every time I see him I just want to tousle his hair and give him Eskimo kisses. (Usually I refrain.) He and I became friends in the most miserable of circumstances – sophomore year – in the context of two theatre projects. The first was a short play I directed, Klondike Bars, by Kathleen Braine ’11. The second was a scene we did together for TA-116, an advanced acting class. In the scene our characters were best friends, wasted on the same woman and on brandy. Chris and I did extensive research in service of the latter (note well: brandy is not meant to be taken as a shot!!), and the rest, as they say, is history.

Next up: Chris Fitzsimmons
Ben’s question(s): What did you expect to find before you came to Brown? Did you find it?

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