The Rivers Coffeehouse: Led by Students, Enjoyed by All

More wide-ranging than a talent show, more inclusive than a polished concert, more improvisatory than a play or musical, the Rivers Coffeehouse is a place where anyone can take to the stage and receive a warm response. From first-timers to old hands, from nervous ninth graders to fun-loving faculty members, everyone in the Rivers community is welcome in the Black Box theater three times a year, and while the event itself can be freewheeling and unpredictable, a supportive audience cheering for every performer is guaranteed.

“I began performing in the Coffeehouse during my sophomore year,” said Lexi Tower ’24. “Before, I was so nervous and could never imagine performing in front of a crowd. However, once I built up the courage to sing and play guitar in front of my peers, I found a passion for performing at the Coffeehouse events.” Today, as one of the Coffeehouse student leaders, Tower, along with her co-leaders Ethan Kasparian Weisman ’24 and Payson Salyer ’24, is responsible for every aspect of the evening cabaret. 

“I had always looked up to the Coffeehouse leaders during my first few shows,” said Tower, explaining why she pursued the leadership role. “I wanted to do the same for new performers as well.”

Student leadership is one notable aspect of the Coffeehouse, said faculty member Stewart Pierson, who not only served as advisor for the most recent edition of the show last Friday but also joined the lineup of performers. “It’s one of the few moments at Rivers where the kids run the show and it’s unscripted,” said Pierson. “Julia Auster-Hogan [the longtime Coffeehouse advisor, who was unable to attend on Friday] is always central in her organizational support, and it couldn’t happen without her generous and enormous help. But it’s all the kids up there on stage, doing what they want to do. It’s often raw, often unrehearsed; some kids are veteran performers and others are obviously trying it out despite not really knowing how to do it. Kids do the recruiting, the performing, the cheering. There’s no coach, no polish, and the kids get full ownership. Rivers is usually adult-directed...but the Friday night Coffeehouses are an exception.”

Added Auster-Hogan, “It’s a place where you don’t have to be polished to be ready to showcase something…It’s also a casual vibe, so transitions between acts are relaxed. There isn’t a rush or a goal of perfection.”

Among the acts in Friday’s Coffeehouse were Sarah DuBard ’25, Jordan Felice ’25, Ally Giebutowski ’25, and Ceci Giebutowski ’25 singing four-part harmony on Taylor Swift’s “Mean”; Nathan Manasseh ’24, Gabe Manasseh ’26, and Jacob Decker ’25 performing a semi-improvised version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely”; and Maylea Harris ’26 reading her original poetry. (And, of course, Pierson leading the audience in a sing-along version of the Crosby, Stills & Nash classic “Love the One You’re With.”)

For Tower, the best part of leading the Coffeehouse is “getting to support and perform with such an amazing community of people. It has given me an opportunity to grow closer with many of my friends and meet new people. Additionally, I love encouraging first-time performers and the Rivers community to attend. It is always so much fun seeing my friends and teachers in the audience and sometimes even performing.”

Tower’s favorite memory among many memorable evenings in the Black Box, dating from this past fall, is something of a Coffeehouse classic, in that it was tuneful, meaningful, and spontaneous: “Just an hour before the show, Payson Salyer, Ethan Kasparian Weisman, Mason Klein [’24], and I put together an act and performed U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’” said Tower. “It was so much fun playing with a band, harmonizing, and performing together.”
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