Wesceleb: Brianna van Kan ’12
We’re convinced that Brianna van Kan ’12 can do pretty much everything. A triple major, future lawyer, and Russian speaker, van Kan does not waste time. The Argus sat down with Brianna to discuss Soviet jazz, organization, and the joys of Jedi robes.
A: So, you’re a triple major in College of Letters, Russian, and Music. Tell us about that.
BVK: The College of Letters was one of the reasons I came to Wesleyan. It was a really great program that combined a lot of my interests. I love the idea of studying just literature, but it felt incomplete without having a deeper understanding of the philosophy and the history surrounding it. I liked the study abroad requirement, so I started studying Russian to fulfill that. As I went abroad, it become something that I felt really excited about. After coming back, I felt like I had an understanding and interest in it, that it didn’t make sense not to major. And then music–I’ve been playing instruments since I was little. I was the band president at my high school, and it was something too deeply ingrained in me to leave behind. Even though I don’t plan on having a career in music, I went into a music class my freshman year and I was like, “Nope, this is part of my life still, and I want to major in it because I want to take the cool classes.”
A: And you’re doing a thesis that combines all three? How did you manage to do that?
BVK: I’m writing about the jazz-oriented youth counter-culture in the Soviet Union from about WWII through the 60s. It’s an examination of how music can be a representation or a misrepresentation of cross-cultural perception. But mostly I’m just looking up what about somebody’s connection to music can be so strong as to risk their lives, to risk going against the law. It was serious enough [in Russia at the time] that if you got caught with a saxophone, at the very least, you would have it taken away from you, but you could be taken away and never be seen again for performing in a club, or even for wearing the clothing associated with it. You could be chased down and have your hair cut and your clothes cut off. And there’s just this general paranoid phobia of people trying to not be associated with this. And so there was this counterculture and they would do things like burn vinyls onto old x-rays, because it was easier to redistribute than actually getting materials.
A: On top of all of that research, you do Second Stage shows?
BVK: Yeah, mostly I’ve been a stage manager. I stage managed “12 Angry Men” last spring and “The Last Five Years” this past fall, and this semester I am stage managing “Urinetown.” A lot of the other odd jobs I have done for Second Stage have come from the fact that I have worked at the CFA since my freshman year. So I have the technical knowledge to do things like be a master electrician. I was musical director for “Assassins” and I did the make-up for “The Pillowman,” which I had never done before, but it was really really fun to figure it out. A little too much fun.
A: What draws you to stage managing as opposed to something more creative like directing?
BVK: All my experience with theater is behind the scenes. I appreciate the job of a director, the job of actors, but I don’t understand it at all. I’m growing to. But also I think that my personality is such that I like seeing all of the different elements come together. I like being somebody who everyone in the production can rely on when they’re going crazy because I feel like having to be the calm one helps me stay calm. I’m also in love with designs being executed. I like seeing things carried to their completion. I love knowing a show through and through like that, in a way that I think sometimes even the director doesn’t. And… I don’t know. It’s just… what I do!
A: So you’re super organized. Is there any area in your life where you aren’t so organized?
BVK: My room. Um, I really don’t think if you asked my parents “organized” would be a quality they would ever use to describe me. I have just always loved being busy and doing a lot of things, and that kind of necessitates developing a good sense of time management and when it’s something that is a very intense form of organization, I’m good at it because I find it interesting. But when it’s something like making sure my laundry is not all over my floor or are my dishes done, it just doesn’t happen.
A: If you ever find the time, what do you like to do to relax?
BVK: I’m a huge nerd. I love watching TV. I mean, honestly, right now, an ideal relaxing moment would be curled up in my Jedi robe with a cup of tea watching a movie. I do a lot of physical stuff too, just for fun, like football, soccer, rock-climbing, yoga. Oh, I do dance, that’s fun. I did Terp and I did Winter Dance.
A: How are you going to integrate your divergent interests after you graduate? Or are you going to choose?
BVK: To a certain extent, I’m going to have to choose. One of my thought on finding a job has always been that you’re never going to find something that combines everything that you love, regardless of whether you have one major or five. So you have to focus on finding a job that you will enjoy doing, that you will be good at, and that can hopefully provide for you to do the other things you are interested in. I am looking at a sort of interdisciplinary approach to law, in that the two types of law I’m looking into studying right now are international and entertainment. So I guess that’s kind of led by my interests.
A: Scary question time: where do you see yourself when you’re 40?
BVK: Oh gosh. Hopefully with a family…I also hope to be a partner in a law firm… though that could change, I don’t know. Honestly, I really just hope to still be an active person and to not ever have lost sight of the things I like to do for enjoyment. I want to still be having fun with whatever I’m doing. I think a lot of people think I’m a very serious person because I do a lot of very academic things. I am very ambitious, but, you know, I’m also just kind of insane and giggly and… blonde [laughs].
A: Any pearls of wisdom for the mini Brianna van Kans out there?
BVK: Make sure to make time for your friends! Try and take moments to step away from whatever you’re doing in the hard moments, and remember why you like it. I feel like I’m always trying to think up positive perspectives. Like for COL comps, it’s this big, looming, terrible thing at the end of your junior year and I think part of that came from having this constant voice in my head reminding me of how cool it would be to be done with it, but also what it represented: that I was capable of writing about anything I had studied in college up to that point. So a lot of positive reminders. I feel like one benefit of studying many things, too, is that when one thing gets really hard and miserable, there is almost always something really great going on in one of the others to keep you excited.