Student Spotlight: Sylvie Benson ’25 is composing original music and will star in upcoming production of ‘Rent’

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Benson also hopes to form a band in Dartmouth and pursue music after college.

by Michaela Gregoriou | 02/18/22 02:05

Source: Courtesy of Sylvie Benson

Sylvie Benson ’25 is a singer and songwriter who will play one of the lead roles in the Theater Department’s upcoming production of “Rent.”

“Rent” is a rock musical centered around a group of young musicians trying to survive in 1980s New York amid the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Benson will play one of the musicians, Roger. Although Benson identifies as a woman, she said portraying a man was not a problem for her.

“I feel like playing a man isn’t a deep challenge just because, [although] I identify a lot with femininity, I also feel like I have a bit of masculinity in me that I can sink into. [and] leverage,” she said.

Benson explained that playing Roger made her more aware of both her physique and her tone. She said her voice coach at Dartmouth, Louis Burkot, helped her prepare for the role.

“I have really low parts because Roger, being written for a man, is a tenor… And [Burkot] helped me figure out how to access a more masculine sound in my voice, a fuller sound in the lower part of my voice…and how to do it in a healthy way,” she said.

Decker Jackson ’25, who is also on the set for “Rent,” commented on Benson’s portrayal of Roger.

“Never in my life have I seen Roger played by someone who identifies as female, and I think she absolutely kills it,” Jackson said. “…She has the character of a rocker, [the angst]she has the leather jacket… She does it really well,” Jackson said.

“Rent” isn’t Benson’s first experience with the performing arts in Dartmouth. She has already performed her original songs through Dartmouth Friday Night Rock, a student-run organization that organizes free concerts. In preparation for his performance last fall, Benson arranged a set of nine original songs and recruited fellow student musicians Jackson on keyboard and Connor Norris ’25 on guitar.

Benson explained how the musician Eartheater’s October 29, 2021 opening via FNR was an incredible opportunity.

“I had never had the opportunity to perform a set of my original songs in front of a crowd before,” she said. “I [had] played a song here and there in my county, but it was my first real gig, and I got paid for it too.

Although she was nervous about some technical aspects of her performance, she explained that her nerves dissipated once on stage.

“I was really nervous about the finger work on my guitar and my voice not coming out,” she said. “But when I got up there, I just realized that everyone is there to get into the room of the song that I’ve built, they’re there to enjoy the music and they want me to succeed.”

Elaborating on the supportive environment of the concert, Benson noted the audience’s attention and willingness to listen.

“[The first song] was very sweet and it was about laying in that grassy field, just allowing your cares to escape, and it seemed like people were really ready to accept that message… That’s where I was like ‘They really care and they want to hear what I have to share,’ she said.

Jackson, who starred alongside Benson, described his experience working together.

“You will play [music] with people and it’s not going to be a super fun experience or it’s not super inclusive, but playing with Sylvie wasn’t like that,” Jackson said. “She’s really energetic and enthusiastic about music, and really willing to tweak her style or take suggestions.”

Benson’s close friend, Gwendolyn Roland ’25, also commented on her FNR performance.

“You can kind of tell when people have that talent for acting…and you can tell that with Sylvie because she’s just as good a performer in her dorm sitting on the floor trying not to wake up the downstairs neighbors like her. is in Sarner Underground. [in] full costume, full lights,” Roland said.

Of the original nine songs she performed, “The Clock” and “Didn’t Sign Up for This” were written by Benson for Savon, a hometown band she’s been a part of since 2020. Both of these songs are became available. on Spotify last winter with the release of Savon’s debut album “Stuck on the Large,” which features seven songs co-written by Benson.

Benson’s earlier band experience inspired his goal of forming a band in Dartmouth.

“I want to form a full band with other students here who want to be musicians as a career,” she said. “…I’m looking for people I can grow with beyond college.”

While talking about his future ambitions, Benson expressed his passion for mixing genres, a technique used by his favorite rock band, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

“I just think there are so many amazing types of music out there… [Genre] the mix is ​​so inspiring to me,” she said. “It’s my goal to one day be able to create psychedelic folk music.”

Through her writing, Benson wishes to convey messages of ecology, including an appreciation for the natural world.

“Most of my songs have nature related motifs in one way or another because I think it’s such a powerful force,” she said. “It’s just this unbiased space where you can process your emotions.”

She mentioned how AURORA, a singer and songwriter from Norway, has been a big inspiration to her by incorporating environmental activism into her songs.

“[AURORA] is able to create these environmental anthems that maybe don’t seem the way they do initially,” she said. “And because of that, they’re able to slip into your mind with their beautiful melodies and imagery, and then you’re ready to listen.”

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