From business to breaking: Dance student combines passions to expand career path

May 1, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Graduate student Lawrence Fung came to ASU from Hong Kong, China, to study at the W. P. Carey School of Business and then stayed to pursue his passion for dance at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.  ASU graduate student Lawrence Fung. Download Full Image

While a student at W. P. Carey, he picked up breaking, a dance form within hip-hop culture. After receiving his Bachelor of Science in finance and supply chain, he made the decision to switch his professional path — determined to make a career out of dance. 

He chose to pursue a master’s degree in dance. And he soon discovered he could marry his previous business studies with his creative expression. 

“For the longest time I was feeling unfulfilled working in the corporate world, and all I wanted to do was dance and travel the world,” said Fung. “With my business background, I could start a dance company and tour concert shows around the world, but I needed formal training and a bigger perspective regarding opportunities and possibilities in the arts field. As I got better and more creative at my craft, that was when I realized that I had to go back to school to learn more.”

Fung is now set to graduate this month with a Master of Fine Arts in dance from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. 

He answered a few questions about his process and continued journey below.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Although I majored in dance, I accidentally picked up filming during the first semester of my creative approach class, and I became interested in viewing dance in new perspectives and various mediums through the principles of film. I dived fully into film and have been shooting nonstop with my colleagues either just for fun or for festival submissions, and through practice and trial and error, several of my short dance films have gotten into film festivals around the world and won numerous awards. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its comprehensive dance program that includes an urban track and the program's emphasis on creativity. Unlike other dance programs in the nation that only have an appreciation for the classic forms such as ballet, modern and contemporary, ASU's dance program fosters the collaboration between various genres of dance styles. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Eileen Standley is my creative professor and also a supporting member in my graduate committee. She has always been above and beyond to enlighten me with what has been done and possible in the art and dance world. She was the one who made me understand that dance is not a separation but a part of the umbrella of contemporary art. With the abundance of dance styles and trendy competitions, it is easy to forget about the big picture of why we dance, which is self-expression and happiness. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school? 

A: Understand the power of saying "no” in order to give yourself the time and energy to explore your own interests, curiosity and potential. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The giant stairs above the ASU Art Museum is the perfect place to have a picnic, short meditation, and (it's an) eye-catching place for a photoshoot.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Move to Los Angeles and build the infrastructure of my dance and art company, Kraken Still & Film. There I will be focusing on creating evening-length concert work, screen dance and photographic exhibits. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? 

A: Unionize freelance dancers and dance educators and equalize their pay and compensation among other artists. If you look at any musicians, writers, actors/actresses, dancers are at the very bottom of the totem pole and are significantly underpaid, and they lack social benefits such as health care and retirement support.

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


ASU grad found community, major that tapped into her passions

April 30, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Anna Ciza Deogratias, who’s graduating from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts with a major in communication, began her ASU journey at the Downtown Phoenix campus as a nursing major. ASU communication graduate Anna Ciza Deogratias Anna Ciza Deogratias, who came to ASU from the Phoenix Union High School District, found her passion for communication close to home, at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. Download Full Image

“I entered as a nursing major because that's what my parents wanted me to do and, of course, I wanted to make them proud,” said Deogratias, who came to ASU after graduating from the Phoenix Union High School District. “I tried it for a semester, but I quickly realized that I was wasting my time and opportunities to learn things that I was passionate about.

“I remember scrolling down through the ASU website in my search for another major. Once I clicked on the major map for communication and saw the classes I would take, I realized this was the major I was looking for!” she said. “I love talking to people and learning about different cultures, so I was really excited.”

She eventually added a minor in theater to her program, too, from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

As a first-generation college student, the one thing Deogratias said she worried about most when deciding on which university to attend was how she was going to pay for her education.

“My parents didn’t have the money to pay for my education, so I really had to apply for a lot of scholarships and attend the university that offered me the most money. ASU did that for me,” she said. “Plus, the Downtown Phoenix campus was close to home and the low teacher-to-student ratio was really nice.” 

Deogratias said she had support from a number of scholarships during her undergraduate years, including the Doran Community Scholars Program, Sun Devil Family Association Scholarship, Benjamin Gilman Scholarship, a Phoenix Union High School District Scholarship, a Kiwanis Club of Phoenix Scholarship, a Be A Leader Foundation Scholarship and College Success Arizona.

She also worked as a College of Integrative Sciences and Arts community assistant in the Taylor Place residence hall her sophomore and junior years.

“I had such an amazing experience and learned a lot about how to lead people, plan events and solve problems. The CA position helped me to be more confident, especially when it came to speaking in front of people,” Deogratias said. “I used to be a very shy person when I first moved from Tanzania to the U.S. at the age of 9, and I still can't believe I grew out of that!

“I also got close to some of my coworkers, and some of the residents I met during my first year as a CA have become some of my closest friends,” she said. “It was a really fun, rewarding job to have as a college student and I’m grateful that I had that opportunity.”

Anna shared more with ASU Now about her undergraduate experience and her future plans.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I learned to find a balance between my social life and school. When I first started, I was so super focused on school that I forgot to enjoy college. And that’s where my friends that I met at ASU came in. They would invite me to go out to eat, get ice cream, see movies or just simply hang out.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?  

A: In the four years I have been here at ASU, this semester was the second time I had the opportunity to be taught by a black professor, whom I had for the African American Theatre class taught at Tempe campus. His name is Donta McGilvery. I have learned a lot in that class and one of the most important lessons he taught me was to not let anyone underestimate me and the potential that I have — whether that be a professor telling me that the paper I wrote wasn’t good or getting rejected by “important” people. No matter what, I should strive to make my dreams come true for the next person to be able to start theirs.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: To be still and know that it’s going to be OK. It may not be OK now, but trust me, it’s going to be OK.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: For studying, I loved reserving a room in the library at the Downtown Phoenix campus or studying in one of the lounges in Taylor Place. The tables outside of Starbucks were a really nice spot to meet with friends.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A:  I plan to take the GRE exam and pursue a journalism master’s program in ASU’s Walter Cronkite School. I also hope to get hired by a TV station, because I want to work in the TV/film industry. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle the diversity problem in Hollywood. I think having people of color and their stories told is so important. I remember when I first saw Lupita Nyong'o on screen one day — the feelings I had were just indescribable. I still have goosebumps every time I see her speak or on screen. I want the next African child to have the same feelings and know that it really is possible.

Maureen Roen

Director, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


The show must go on: ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre holds first-ever virtual auditions

April 27, 2020

Professors, students and staff around the world are adapting to new learning environments for their classes, but what about educational experiences and activities beyond the classroom?

For theater students at Arizona State University, a crucial component to their curriculum is the work they put into productions produced by the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, both behind the scenes and on the stage.  From upper left to lower right: Stephanie Gentry-Fernandez, Maritza Cervantes, Yadira Correa, Gina Cornejo and Belinda Cervantes in Teatro Luna's production of "Machos." Photo by Johnny Knight. Download Full Image

In an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19, spring theater productions have been postponed and cancelled, and the school is looking to the fall semester. Planning for fall shows, including the crucial step of casting, always begins early in the spring. So the school held its first-ever virtual auditions the last weekend in March.  

“The whole thing has been a beautiful learning experience and one I feel quite privileged to have been a part of,” said Alexandra Meda, director of the school’s fall production of “Machos,” an investigation of what is macho, or what is masculinity.  

“Machos,” which is slated to premiere at ASU in October, comes from an anti-suppression group that examines how gender is performed. 

In 2006, frustrated by the patriarchy and its impact on all genders, Teatro Luna, a Latina and women-of-color theater company where Meda serves as artistic director, set out to ask men this question directly: "What does it mean to be a man and what are you really thinking?"

The result was “Machos,” a performance drawn from interviews with 100 men nationwide and performed in drag by the all-female social justice theater company in 2007 and 2008 in Chicago and on a regional tour to colleges and universities. 

The initial auditions and callbacks for the fall performance at ASU were held via Zoom over the course of three days, and the feedback, although varied, was mostly positive. The school’s production manager, Carolyn Koch, said it was a “really smooth process.”  

“It was easy to move people in and out of the breakout rooms so that they have a private audition with the director,” she said. “For the callbacks, the director and choreographer met with all of the performers together. They each got to participate equally and share their interpretation of the prompts. Everyone seemed very relaxed and at ease.” 

Koch said one benefit to virtual auditions is that performers can audition from anywhere, which could allow more people the chance of being cast in a show for future auditions.  

“Even if we were not in the current situation, I think some of this could be helpful because it allows someone to participate without needing to be physically present,” Koch said. “So they don’t have to allow for travel time from their place of work, et cetera.”  

Hugo Crick-Furman, a third-year theater major, is not unfamiliar to auditioning via an online tool. However, this was their first live virtual audition.  

“A live but virtual audition process seems to be made of the worst of both worlds, really — the liveness and inability to do multiple takes that makes physical auditions so nerve-wracking, coupled with the limitations of having to express a physical artform through a digital medium.”   

However, Crick-Furman said, Meda made the process for the “Machos” auditions a positive experience.  

“The director managed to create a very calm space that was open to the possibility of risk-taking — ideal for any audition environment.”  

Meda credited the actors with helping to facilitate a constructive setting for the auditions and said she was proud of all the participants.

“My process is all about identifying a level of deep-knitted group dynamics, and the best way to do this is to put everyone in a room together and see how they interact, who supports whom, and who is able to model leadership and compassion while also showcasing their artistic soul,” she said. “Not an easy formula. Luckily the group of actors we invited back to callbacks came with such an incredibly generous spirit we were able to, within 90 minutes, really drive some real connections.”

Meda said the show is not fully cast yet and recognizes some students may not have had the chance to audition in the chaos of all the changes. She said they are adjusting the timeline to allow for any additional auditions that still might need to take place.   

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


ASU SpringDanceFest moves from the stage to Zoom

April 21, 2020

Dance exists beyond the stage. Students, faculty and staff in Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre have always explored how movement and dance performances can happen in nontraditional settings, from the steps leading to an art museum to the film screen. And now they are testing their creativity even more to find ways to inspire through movement and dance when they cannot dance together and cannot perform to an audience in those spaces with them.  

In an unwavering effort to continue to bring the arts to the community, a combination of students and faculty in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre will come together to present their first-ever virtual SpringDanceFest at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 25. SpringDanceFest2020 Created by Brunella Provvidente. Photo by Lawrence Fung. Download Full Image

This virtual dance concert will be an evening of dance works highlighting the 2019–20 season. It will include recorded videos of rehearsals and performances and some time set aside for audience interaction afterward. The show will feature seven pieces created and performed by ASU graduate and undergraduate students, plus screenings and previews of two exciting dances choreographed by guest artists Liliana Gomez and Nicole Klaymoon.  

This open-to-the-public event is an opportunity to celebrate the hard work of ASU artists and guests in a new way and showcases the brilliant adaptability of these individuals.

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 25 (Login available at 7:15 p.m.)  
Presence and support is greatly appreciated, join the community on Zoom here:

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


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Cultures of health in a time of crisis

April 16, 2020

ASU health humanities experts reveal epidemic histories and articulate possible futures

In a relatively short time, much has been written about the global cultural response to the COVID-19 pandemic. ASU researchers in the health humanities think there should be even more discussion — connecting it to historical epidemics and continuing for long after the crisis is over — about the cultural aspects of health and health care.

To understand this important and complex approach to health studies, ASU Now spoke to several ASU faculty who have expertise in the area and whose field-specific interests range from 16th-century literature to discourse analysis to theater history.

Our roundtable of experts includes (from left to right below) Cora Fox (early modern literature and culture), Annika Mann (18th-century literature), Matthew Prior (applied linguistics) and Tamara Underiner (theater history and performance studies).

Image of health humanities panel experts: Cora Fox, Annika Mann, Matthew Prior, and Tamara Underiner.

Question: How does your specific field interact with the study of health and culture?

Cora Fox: My research focuses on the history of representations of well-being and fantasies of happy communities mainly in early modern England, where seasons of deadly plague were part of the rhythm of life. I focus particularly on how emotions were represented as supporting or breaking down communities of care in times of stress. Anticipating our global world more fully then he could have realized, John Donne famously wrote in the 17th century: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main ... any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Donne was encouraging his Christian readers to take on the afflictions of their neighbors as a way to strengthen their faith and practice, but beyond this theological context, this acknowledgement of our interconnected well-being has been confirmed again and again in modern studies of health and resilience.

Annika Mann: I’ve spent a long time studying contagion during the 18th century, a historical period when contagion was still a fairly flexible concept. That is, during that period the term “contagion” could be used to explain, or raise fears about, the spread of noxious matter, dangerous passions or inflammatory ideas. Because contagion was so flexible, thinking about contagion in medical or literary texts during the 18th century could raise fears about particular persons or populations as well as the various media that could facilitate dangerous spread: air, performances, even printed texts.

Matthew Prior: As an applied linguist and discourse analyst, I’ve long been concerned with the management of emotionality, mental health and well-being through narrative. Narrative constructionist inquiry, an interdisciplinary approach, offers unique insights into human health and well-being. It recognizes the “narrative imperative” as a fundamental part of the human experience. Through the stories we tell ourselves and others of moments and events, people and places, both ordinary and extraordinary, we give meaning to the past, the present and the imagined future. But illness, trauma and other life disruptions can threaten our sense of stability.

Tamara Underiner: “Stand back! This is a job for a theater historian!” The phrase appeared on a T-shirt that made the rounds a few years ago at my professional society’s annual conference, and may hardly seem apt in the middle of a crisis like this one. Yet historians of Western theater can offer a 2,500-year perspective on what happens to humans in times of pandemic.

Question: What can your perspective tell us about the current pandemic?

Fox: As the world confronts the fact that we are indebted to communities of scientists and health care workers to keep us and those we love alive during crises of the body, we are also confronted by the ways we depend on our leaders and institutions — local, national and international — to ensure health as a basic right. I have been asking myself, as many Americans have been, what it means to act in care of my community, and not just myself and my friends and family. Yes, Americans should "stay home," but we should also be considering how the history of this outbreak will be told: Will it be a time when citizens of the U.S. recognized their interconnectedness in a local community and a global world? Or will it be remembered as a moment when their fractured political systems dissolved further into willful ignorance or policies grounded in racism and fear? Narratives of care that develop empathy, altruism and shared endurance must be the focus of cultural responses to this pandemic.

Mann: As a literary historian, it seems to me our moment shares with earlier epidemics and pandemics the way contagion appears to imperil knowledge, particularly knowledge about the self. So we might be asking right now: Am I sick or well? Healthy or infected? How do I know what is in my own body? But, in the face of this uncertainty, other things become suddenly hypervisible. So right now I think we are suddenly very aware of our inextricable connections to one another and to our shared world, connections that flow through objects and actions — particularly patterns of consumption — that we might normally ignore, might categorize as safe. 

Prior: Close analysis of our narrative sense-making helps make visible the “whats” and the “hows” of our inner and outer worlds. Labels, e.g., “pandemic,” “foreign virus,” “social isolation,” and metaphors, e.g., “war,” “flattening the curve," for example, are never neutral. They make relevant the tensions between, for example, said/unsaid, self/other and us/them. Narratives thus open up our identities and language choices to reinterpretation, making us vulnerable and forcing us to confront unanticipated emotions and responses.

Underiner: The great exemplar of Greek tragedy, “Oedipus Rex,” opens on a scene of vast devastation we might relate to today: The city of Thebes has been ravaged by a plague that has touched every household, and the drama is propelled by one man’s search for answers to alleviate it — only to learn that he himself is its cause. The heroes and heroines of this and other epic tragedies remind us not only that there are limits to the power we have over our ultimate ends, but that these ends are shaped by a curious collusion between character and circumstance.

Question: When this immediate crisis passes, how can your field contribute to the future of health care and conversations about how to move forward?

Fox: Scholars have revealed the ways a nation’s cultural response — and not just its material response, or lack thereof — leads to crises of caregiving that have life and death consequences. As Priscilla Wald points out in her 2006 book “Contagious: Cultures, Carriers and the Outbreak Narrative,” the word “contagion” means literally ‘‘to touch together.” As early as the 14th century, it referred to ideas as well as bodies and it drew attention to social, emotional and not just physical bonds. It is precisely the tenacity of those social bonds in the U.S. that has been tested in recent years, as political movements have exploited deeply-rooted structural and institutional injustices and violence toward communities of color and indigenous communities to promote both literal and social wall-building. Those walls will need to come down because those affected by this epidemic will need care, and care must be defined as social and communal, not just medical and technological. If we miss this opportunity to address these structural injustices, we will have failed to take the opportunity inherent in the crisis.

Mann: In terms of resources for our own moment, I turn to those scholars and activists who have worked extensively on HIV/AIDS, and who can give insight on what can be done to organize and to advocate for those populations most at risk. Right now I’m reading a lot of Steven W. Thrasher, at Northwestern, who has a recent piece in Slate.

Prior: The present novel coronavirus pandemic has radically affected our lives and our stories by disrupting the social order and disordering our bodies and minds. When many of us are ill, can any of us be well? This forces us to consider how our biographies are entwined with other people and their stories. We are confronted daily with public narratives that describe the ongoing spread of the coronavirus and the efforts of governments and citizens to combat it, and we are encouraged to learn from the personal narratives of victims, survivors and those on the front lines. Yet, narrative is not just a means of representing experience; it is a space for us to confront and to re-story those representations. Applied to the present pandemic, a narrative constructionist approach can help us recognize the creative possibilities for agency and resilience even in the face of uncertainty.

Underiner: Great drama shows us that the choices we make in response to the circumstance of this virus will depend upon our characters — tempered only by the other circumstances in which we are able to exercise them at all. Not all circumstances are created equal, and theater and its allied arts are very good at showing us the parts we play in creating those circumstances, or could play in making them more just and equitable for all. In another vein, theater history also shows that in some times and places, authorities of towns suffering from ague, if not plague, would commission traveling performers as a kind of social remedy: lighthearted forms of theatrical entertainment — farcical sketches, virtuosic acrobatics, other forms of minstrelsy — were understood to have a salutary effect on the public health. Moving forward, I see these insights helping to fortify the foundation for emergent research that helps us better understand exactly how and why the arts and culture contribute to health and well-being, both for individuals and for communities.

More about our panelists

Cora Fox is an associate professor of English and the leader of the health humanities initiative at the Institute for Humanities Research, coordinator of the interdisciplinary health humanities certificate in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a founding board member of Creative Health Collaborations.

Annika Mann is an associate professor of English in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Matthew Prior is an associate professor in the linguistics, applied linguistics and TESOL program of the Department of English, in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Tamara Underiner is associate dean for academic affairs in the Graduate College, founding director of the doctoral program in theater and performance of the Americas, and founding member and chair of the board for Creative Health Collaborations, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Suzanne Wilson contributed to this story.

Image at top: Antigone leads Oedipus out of Thebes in the 1842 painting by Charles Francois Jalabert, "Oepidus and Antigone," from Wikimedia Commons.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Senior marketing and communications specialist , Department of English


ASU Film Spark hosts online Q&As with Hollywood pros

April 9, 2020

Film Spark in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at ASU is hosting a series of Q&As Monday nights throughout the month of April on the Film Spark YouTube channel.

During the Q&As, cinematographers, producers and other Hollywood professionals who helped bring audiences “Avengers: Endgame,” “Joker,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”, “Venom” and more will explore the debate on whether or not superhero movies are Cinema.  Image by ASU Film Spark Download Full Image

The series kicked off April 6 with Scott Derrickson, the director of “Doctor Strange.” If you missed it, you can watch the Derrickson Q&A on YouTube

The schedule for the rest of the series:

  • April 13: Larry Sher, cinematographer, “Joker” and “The Hangover”
  • April 20: Chris Edwards, founder/CEO of visualization studio The Third Floor,  “Avengers Endgame” and “Star Wars” 
  • April 27: Matt Tolmach, producer and executive producer, "The Amazing Spider-Man", ”Venom”, "Jumanji" and "Future Man".

Livestreams begin at 7:30 p.m. The Q&As are part of the ASU course FMP-494: Welcome to Hollywood, but enrollment is not required to watch. Guests subject to availability, and students should RSVP for all events

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


Latina filmmaker to screen award-winning film for ASU students

February 18, 2020

Award-winning filmmaker, actor and director Fanny Véliz will speak with ASU students following a screening of her film “Our Quinceanera.”

The School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s Film Spark program will host the screening and the Q&A with Véliz, the film’s director and producer, this Friday, Feb. 21, at 6:30 p.m. on ASU’s Tempe campus. Photo of Fanny Veliz Fanny Véliz Download Full Image

The documentary follows a high school principal in a small town in Texas who hosts a yearly quinceañera for students who can't afford one. The entire border town gets together to teach these girls that with the power of community, any dream can come true.

Véliz said the film has won every film festival where it has screened.

In addition to the success of “Our Quinceanera,” Véliz was just announced as one of eight female filmmakers selected for a new development program as part of the Geena Davis' Bentonville Film Foundation. The program aims to foster voices from underrepresented groups. Véliz, who is one of the few working Latina directors in the U.S., will receive industry support and financial backing over the next year.

Along with Nelson Grande, she created Avenida Productions to help fund films and give a “platform and voice to independent filmmakers of color, women, the LGBTQ community and those who are overlooked and underappreciated by a vast majority of studios.” In its three years, the company has raised millions of dollars via crowdfunding for close to 200 projects. 

Véliz talked with ASU Now about her films and the importance of representation.

Question: Can you share how and why you got into filmmaking? 

Answer: I got into filmmaking because of the lack of roles available for me as Latina. I expressed my frustration to a professor in college, and she encouraged me to write my own roles. That’s how I got started. Then I realized, I don’t have to wait for anyone to cast me or other talented Latino actors; I can be the one to create the roles and have a say in the way our community is represented in the media.

Q: Tell us a little bit about “Our Quinceanera,” which will be screening at ASU. Why was this project so important to you?

A: I really thought it was important to tell a positive story about our community. I was also drawn to the opportunity to tell a story that takes place in a border town and the duality of the culture in the region of the country. I wanted to ask the question, “Can you live in the U.S. and also be proud of your heritage?”

Q: What do you hope the ASU students who attend the screening get from the film? 

A: That everyone has a particular voice that needs to be heard. I’m mostly interested in students learning ways to make their dream projects a reality without waiting for anyone to give them the green light.

Q: How would you grade the level of Latino representation in film and TV today? 

A: C+. Although there are some great shows out, the data still proves that Latinos are the most underrepresented group based on our population. Behind the camera the numbers are even lower. But I see improvement, and it’s an exciting time for our community.

Q: What advice do you have for young filmmakers at ASU? 

A: Just get it made. Stay true to yourself. Tell the stories that are in your heart. The money will come if you have integrity and share your unique point of view.

'Our Quinceañera' Screening + Q&A 

When: Friday, Feb. 21. 6:30 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. screening.

Where: Marston Exploration Theater, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV, Tempe campus.

Details: Free food and drink provided. RSVP required.

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


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Colonize this

Tbakhi is influenced by ASU professors and poets Solmaz Sharif and Natalie Diaz.
Tbakhi will present a writing workshop at Desert Nights conference this weekend.
The Piper Center's writers conference runs Feb. 21-22 on the Tempe campus.
February 18, 2020

ASU theater alumnus Fargo Tbakhi's one-person show uses poetry to examine what it means to love the Palestinian body

Complete black. Then, out of the darkness, from underneath a pile of dirt in the center of the room, emerges Fargo Tbakhi, into the light, for all to see. His clothes are filthy and torn, his face is unshaven and his glasses are askew. And that’s how this Arizona State University theater alumnus and burgeoning performance artist wants us to see him. Because to love him is to love all of him, dirt and all.

But what does it mean to love someone that way, and how do we accomplish that? He’s not sure, and that’s why he’s asking us — the audience at the Dec. 12 Phoenix premiere of his one-person show, “My Father, My Martyr, and Me”; the greater community; the entire world (himself included) — to think about it.

The subtitle of Tbakhi’s show is “Postcolonial Instructions for Loving the Palestinian Body,” a topic that in today’s global climate is innately politically and socially fraught. Indeed, the three characters referred to in the show’s title are Tbakhi himself, his father and the infamous Sirhan Sirhan, known best as the assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

In his artist’s statement, Tbakhi explains that he began writing the script for his show in the summer of 2018, “while hundreds of Palestinians, peacefully protesting for their internationally recognized right to return to their ancestral homes, were being murdered by Israel.” In response, his performance is an attempt to give people an opportunity to “understand what it takes to critically, fully, generously love someone like (him).”

Tbakhi was born in California and moved to Phoenix when he was 12. His Palestinian father was largely absent for most of his life, but Tbakhi remembers that when he learned of his heritage from his mother, he was instantly beset by a desire to define its significance.

“Whatever I knew or had heard of Palestinians now applied to my body,” he said. “So over the past many years, I've been trying to understand what that means, and I think it's just a constant question rather than something that I will ever have a definitive answer for.

“Because the answer is like, what does it mean to be an identity of any kind? Those answers have consequences, and they work their way into the way that we treat each other and the way we relate to each other, the way that we legislate each other.”

“My Father, My Martyr, and Me” turned into Tbakhi’s senior-year thesis project. For about nine months, from the fall of 2018 through May 2019, he worked to perfect it under the guidance of his thesis director, Jennifer Linde, principal lecturer at ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

At first, they thought the piece would explore the concept of home, something they’d been considering in one of Linde’s classes, perhaps featuring interviews with Tbakhi’s relatives about their experiences living in Palestine. Then he took a poetry course with ASU Associate Professor of English and MacArthur Fellow Natalie Diaz.

“From there, it went a totally different direction,” Linde said. “He became really invested in incorporating his poetry.”

Tbakhi had only recently begun reading and writing poetry. His class with Diaz impacted him greatly, as did another ASU faculty member, Solmaz Sharif, an Iranian-American poet whose work has focused largely on the language of war. Though he never took a course with her (he laments that he was unable to because she joined ASU the year after he graduated), he had asked for her debut book of poetry, “Look,” for Christmas after initially being captivated by the title poem and promptly devoured the rest of it.

“I was like, ‘Oh, wow, I've never read anything like this,’” he said. “I was obsessed with it.” He even memorized and performed 10 minutes of it for his speech and debate team at ASU.

“She takes the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms and repurposes that language into poems and forces context back into it,” Tbakhi said. “It’s like she’s taking language that has become collateral damage, that has been used to sanitize and simplify loss of human lives and human failings, and she’s wrestling power back from the state by doing something with the language that is subversive and destabilizing.”

At the recent launch of ASU’s Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, directed by Diaz, Sharif was one of the featured performers. She read her poem “Drone,” which closes “Look” and includes such lines as, “two generations ago my blood moved through borders according to grazing seasons / then a lifeline of planes / planes fly so close to my head filled with bomblets and disappeared men.”

Both Tbakhi and Sharif will be contributing to the upcoming Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference, hosted by ASU’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, taking place this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22, on the Tempe campus. Sharif will participate in a panel discussion, “The Political Landscape of Creative Writing,” and will present the workshop “Say it Plain.” Tbakhi will present the workshop “Unarcheology: Anticolonial Queer Aesthetics, Re-Purposing, and Putting Things Back in the Ground.”

“Unarchaeology” is a term Tbakhi uses to describe the act of subverting the traditionally accepted practices of archeology in which notions about groups of people are derived from artifacts whose meanings can be misinterpreted.

“I was just thinking about archeology and the ways that performance and storytelling is a lot like archeology, especially when we're talking about people who are dead,” he said. “And this performance is my way of trying to reckon with, like, what do I do with these 267 names of Palestinians who have been killed this year? How do I just carry it around? And I started to think that my performances — of what at this time was still a thesis project in the works — felt a lot like digging people up and telling their story, which is what archeology is. When we do that, though, there's this delusion of objectivity. There’s a long history of Western people digging up things that they think they understand, which then shape how they treat X group of people. Then I started to think, what can I do that isn't that?”

In high school, Tbakhi was fascinated by the Kennedy family. It’s part of the reason he chose Sirhan Sirhan as one of the characters in his show. If accepting himself meant accepting everything that comes with identifying as Palestinian, he figured, it meant he had to find a way to accept Sirhan Sirhan, who had murdered a man Tbakhi revered. So he started combing through pages of Sirhan Sirhan’s diaries, looking for evidence of some sort of humanity he could relate to. He believes he found it, and in part of his show, he sings aloud some of the entries he thinks display it best.

“It was really compelling,” said Linde, who pored over the diary pages with Tbakhi during his rehearsals. “When he first got all of the diary entries and brought them to rehearsal, it was so emotional because you could see how there were moments of political anger, and then some moments of instability. But as we were reading all of this, this person began to emerge. I knew who he was, but I had never humanized him.”

Tbakhi calls it “rehumanizing,” rather than humanizing.

“I think there are so many people who deserve that level of reevaluation,” he said. “Everyone does. We understand Sirhan Sirhan as someone who was crazy, someone who was violent and someone who murdered a wonderful, very beautiful person. So for me, part of this was going back and finding things that give you pause or make you reevaluate the story. There were a long series of actions and traumas and violences that led to that act. And to focus on just that thing as like this crystallizing moment of a person's existence doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Of course, Tbakhi also had to afford the same level of rehumanizing to his father.

“It's a little difficult in my particular situation because my dad was not a really consistent presence in my life when I was growing up,” he said. “But part of this project is to say, in order to love one of us, you have to love all three of us. And I think that also entails questioning what it means to love someone, and I think it’s complicated and shifting, and it involves forgiveness and holding them accountable. It’s being willing to understand a person in all their fullness and complexity.”

Tbakhi first performed the show in March 2019 at ASU’s Empty Space Theater, a black-box experimental space for which Linde serves as artistic director.

“It was quite an amazing performance,” she said. “I’ve staged a lot of pieces in the Empty Space, and for an undergrad student to reach that level of textual mastery and audience participation ... It was really powerful.”

The whole piece is 90 minutes long, and Tbakhi is moving and reciting his own words — with the exception of the Sirhan Sirhan dairy entries — throughout. It’s a veritable exercise in endurance. And the audience doesn’t get a pass on that: At various points, Tbakhi asks members of the audience to dance with him (at the December premiere, when the vast majority were up out of their seats, gyrating and grooving with one another, he shouted, “Colonize this!”), toss a ball back and forth and finally, to re-bury him in the dirt mound from which he came forth at the onset.

“It’s a big ask of people,” he concedes. “It's not an easy 90 minutes to sit through. But it's something that we have to do together; we are working through it together. It's a dialogue. I might be asking you to catch this ball and throw it back, but the point is I am asking for something and you're allowed to say no. There were people who said no to the dirt and people who said no to dancing. And that's OK. But my point is that this isn't something I can do by myself.”

Tbakhi’s next performance of “My Father, My Martyr, and Me” will take place at the OUTsider festival in Austin, Texas, this week. As someone who identifies as queer, it’s another aspect of himself he believes is important to acknowledge in his work.

“In many ways, Palestinians are already queer in some way,” he said. “They're bodies that are not right. They're understood as improper in some way because they are perceived as moving in the wrong places or in the wrong ways. So it's this narrative that, again, is wrapped up in so many of the things I touch on in the show, which is to say that so many of the ways that we are relating to each other are not love.”

Top photo: As the crowd begins to dance along with him at the Dec. 12 Phoenix premiere of his one-person show, "My Father, My Martyr, and Me," Fargo Tbakhi shouts, "Colonize this!" Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

ASU’s Herberger Institute receives $150,000 to develop NEA Research Lab

Lab will examine the role of art in supporting caregivers and their loved ones

February 12, 2020

Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is among five recipients selected from across the country to receive an award to conduct a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Research Lab. The $150,000 award supports the Creative Health Collaborations Caregiving Research Lab, which will examine the role of three art forms in three caregiving situations: how theater might support families of children with special needs; how a smartphone app designed for easy journaling can assist families of cancer patients; and how music aids families of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now in its fifth year, NEA Research Labs investigate the value and impact of the arts through the social and behavioral sciences for the benefit of the arts and non-arts sectors. The labs are housed at different universities and use transdisciplinary research teams to explore specific research questions in the areas of health, cognition and innovation. To date, 17 labs make up this growing national network. children watch a man playing the tuba At the intersection of art and health: ASU Theatre for Youth students worked with visiting artist Tim Webb to develop a performance for young people with profound and multiple learning disabilities in 2019. Photo by Tim Trumble Download Full Image

“We’re grateful to the NEA for its understanding of, and support for, the idea that design and the arts have something powerful to offer health care providers and caregivers,” said Steven Tepper, dean and director of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “This is yet another area where we as a society have not fully availed ourselves of the assets that artists and designers have to offer, and ASU is eager to be in the lead there.”

Creative Health Collaborations was first conceived in 2015 to encourage collaborations between ASU faculty in health, humanities, arts and design. In the spring of 2017, Creative Health Collaborations joined the Team Leadership Academy of Knowledge Enterprise, a capacity-building initiative designed to foster ASU’s readiness to respond to new research challenges and advance initiatives of central importance to ASU. 

Creative Health Collaborations is co-directed by founding members Tamara Underiner (Graduate College and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts) and David Coon (Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation). Founding members constituting its interdisciplinary board of ASU faculty advisers are Marlon Bailey, Bradley Doebbeling, Cora Fox, Shelby Langer, Elizabeth Reifsnider and John Takamura. Kimberly Fields serves as program manager. The team’s mission is to bring about a healthier world through collaborations integrating arts, design, health and humanities approaches in research, education, practice and policy.

“We know in our bones that the arts, design and humanities have something to do with healing, for both individuals and communities," said Underiner. "Creative Health Collaborations is about trying to understand how, and why, and under what circumstances this is so. If we can start to build the right kind of evidence, in collaboration with colleagues in the health sciences, then integrating the contributions of arts, design and humanities into regular health care practices and settings will more and more become the norm — for the benefit of all. And where else but ASU to do that kind of work?" 

Underiner said that the new Caregiving Research Lab supported by the NEA will bring community arts partners together with researchers in Herberger Institute, nursing, health solutions and humanities to help caregivers access creative resources not otherwise available to them and their loved ones. "Studying the effects on their relationships and well-being will help us understand the role the arts, design and humanities can play in broader health outcomes and help to build that evidence base,” Underiner said. 

The lab will study the health-supporting role of the arts in different types of caregiving contexts and via a range of participatory arts experiences involving both caregivers and their loved ones. The lab’s first set of activities will be in partnership with Childsplay Theatre Company, involving workshops with families of children with special needs. Underiner and Coon serve as co-principal investigators. Creative Health Collaborations team members Reifsnider and Langer are co-investigators, while School of Film, Dance and Theatre Professor Stephani Etheridge Woodson joins the team as an investigator. 

Parallel to the lab’s research activities will be the development of collaborative research and practice frameworks that will be of use to others interested in working in this intersectional space.

For more information on NEA Research Labs, visit

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Whimsy, comedy deliver a strong message in 'The Snow'

The School of Film, Dance and Theatre play opens on Valentine's Day

February 12, 2020

Whimsy, comedy and a powerful message about the importance of understanding emotion are at the core of “The Snow,” an upcoming School of Film, Dance and Theatre production that opens Feb. 14 at Arizona State University.  

Snow falls on the village of Kishka in amounts so massive that it may flood the city when it melts — only it doesn’t melt. Winter comes and goes, but the snow remains. The villagers all agree that something needs to be done. Young Theodosia Sutton and her team of heroes and heroines, who are much braver than her, catapult themselves beyond the snow to find its source. Theodosia’s action-packed journey reveals the mysterious truth about the village’s past and her future. silhouette of a girl flying over a town while it snows Artwork by Brunella Provvidente Download Full Image

Written by Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, who has created 92 plays for children and adults alike, “The Snow” is a tender envisioning of how the world could be, incorporating magic, humor and youth empowerment into a multimedia performance for all ages. School of Film, Dance and Theatre graduate student Claire Redfield will direct the play, which runs through Feb. 23 at the Lyceum Theatre on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“It’s very funny,” Redfield said. “There is a bit of a Monty Python feel. You will cry and laugh, all while reflecting on where you come from and your ancestry.” 

In the original script, “The Snow” told the tale of a young boy, Theodore, rather than that of a young girl. Redfield made this change just prior to casting in order to showcase a female lead. The role of Theodosia Sutton will be played by Bronwyn Doebbeling, an ASU freshman studying theater and economic thought and leadership.

“It’s kind of a whimsical engagement with the power of children,” Doebbeling said. “At it’s core, it’s a story that is deeply impactful and moving.”

Redfield said “The Snow” reflects on the power of youth to enact change in our communities. 

“There is a passion for the youth, as it teaches them about trauma, saying no and feeling sad,” Redfield said. “Parents and adults normally don’t want children to experience these things in live theater, but this play does a great job of portraying the importance of emotions.”

The play also features design production that Doebbeling said feels “very artisanal and very handcrafted:” hand puppetry and musical elements.  

For the music, composer Alicia Castillo, a student in the School of Music, is collaborating with Zachary Bacskay, a sound designer and student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. Audiences will hear their musical sequences played throughout the performance. The school hopes to continue similar collaborations with artists in other schools in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and throughout the rest of ASU, in its future productions.

Redfield said the show is not just for kids, but for everyone. 

“You’re going to remember the child in you or you’re going to be excited about being the child that you are,”  she said.

'The Snow'

When: 7:30 p.m., Feb. 14-15, 20-22; 2 p.m., Feb.16, 23.

Where: Lyceum Theatre, ASU’s Tempe Campus.

Admission: Adults, $20; faculty, staff and alumni, $15; seniors $15; students $10.


Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre