For the past three years, the village of South Orange has celebrated its diversity by hosting local artists, musicians and other community talents at its SouthNEXT festival. The weekend-long event, which kicked off on Oct. 6 and ran through Oct. 8, highlighted the community’s cultural multiplicity and local artistry, focusing on the concept of “creative collisions.”
South Orange Village trustee, Stephen Schnall, is the founder of SouthNEXT. He said the festival aims to embrace the idea of collisions as a positive and creative experience, in which the colliding cultures of South Orange speak to the community’s diversity.
“It’s a way of looking at different perspectives,” Schnall said. “It’s a way to provoke, shake-up, and catalyze people to change.”
Schnall, along with a board of 15 members and over a dozen volunteers, created a circus-themed venue filled with musical acts, panel discussions and other activities such as an escape the room, improv show and community art sculpture.
“I always feel the arts should be supported more, and that local art should be appreciated,” said Samantha Dyar, sophomore theatre major. “There was such a variety of different types of art and artists, and I felt all aspects of the arts were covered.”
Each activity was interactive and included a type of twist in order to provoke a new way of viewing the experience.
One band on Friday played an entire set of cover songs from female-fronted bands, though the performers themselves were male. On Saturday, the improv group performed their show almost entirely off stage, immersing themselves into the crowd and making the audience the star of the show.
“The intention of the festival is about engagement,” Schnall said. “It’s not a passive event. You have to lean in.”
Seton Hall’s WSOU was present at the festival Saturday to participate in a panel discussing the loud rock lifestyle. The panel consisted of people in the community of rock music, such as Kenny Hickey, former band member of Type O Negative, Amy Sciarretto of Atom Splitter PR, and Mark Maben, WSOU’s general manager.
The discussion shined a light on the heavy metal community, which is often associated with violent and aggressive behavior. The panel focused on “separating stereotypes from the reality,” Maben said.
“Right here in our immediate community are people who look like every other person in New Jersey, and yet they are going to the shows or they are involved in creating the music in some way,” Maben said.
Michael Friedman, a local psychologist and moderator for two of the festival’s discussions, said that exploring one’s darker emotions, such as those expressed through metal music, is healthier than suppression.
“It can be a medium to work through different issues that need unconventional ways,” Friedman said about both visual art and metal music. “It validates perspectives that [say] being different still has a place in the world.”
Both Friedman and Schnall said they believe South Orange is one of those places where conversations and differences are always welcome.
Payton Seda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.