Climate Change Theatre Action event pairs Biodesign scientists, Herberger actors

ASU performance was one of 211 similar events held in 38 countries


November 16, 2017

Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute played host to “Climate Change Theatre Action” Tuesday, an event communicating some of the most pressing sustainability issues of our society, by featuring three performances by ASU student actors followed by presentations from Biodesign scientists.

The event filled the Biodesign auditorium and was presented in partnership with the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. It was one of 211 similar events held in 38 countries to address climate change through theater. Climate Change Theatre Action performance Tuesday's Climate Change Theatre Event matched Biodesign scientists with Herberger student actors. Download Full Image

Micha Espinosa, organizer of the event and associate professor at the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, said she was thrilled with the turnout.

“I think the event did exactly what we wanted it to do, which was to ignite people to action,” she said. “I was thrilled with the illumination that the texts provided and that the scientists were then able to tell us about their research and the great work that’s being done here at ASU.

Each play was matched with a Biodesign researcher. Biodesign faculty Arvind Varsani and Athena Aktipis, along with graduate student Charles Rolsky, presented about their research and took questions from the audience. Topics included conducting research around penguins in Antarctica, microplastic contamination in the oceans, and examples of human cooperation in different cultures around the world.

Chispa, a local community advocacy group part of the League of Conservation Voters, also presented information about their clean air campaign at the event.

List of plays:

“Homo Sapiens”

Did homo sapiens cause their own demise, or evolve into the next species? Written by Québécois Chantal Bilodeau. Directed by Rachelle Dart. Featuring Corey Reynolds and Jillian Walker, partnered with scientist Athena Aktipis.

“Penguins”

Penguins spy on scientists in a comical interpretation told from the penguins’ view. Written by graduate of the University of Queensland Elspeth Tilley. Directed by Professor Sandra Crews. Featuring Jonathan Gonzales, Victor Arevalo, Gnyanesh Trivedi, Caroline Householder and Tara Scanlon, partnered with scientist Arvind Varsani

“Single Use”

Two characters stumble through an awkward first date, discovering their values clearly do not align. Written by Jamaican born and Canadian raised Marcia Johnson. Directed by Tara Scanlon. Featuring Fay Schneider and Dirk Fenstermacher, partnered with scientist Charles Rolsky.

Ben Petersen

Fathers, daughters and empathy: ASU dance students showcase work at Emerging Artists


November 14, 2017

Michelle Marji isn’t throwing her father a party on his birthday this Friday. Instead, she’s premiering a new dance work at the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s Emerging Artists production — a dance piece that is all about her father.

“I interviewed him last summer because I wanted to learn more about my culture and history,” said Marji, a senior dance student at Arizona State University. “I became so inspired by his stories that they became my senior dance project.” ASU Emerging Artists 2018 Created by ASU dance student Michelle Marji, "Father" will premiere at the ASU School of FIlm, Dance and Theatre's Emerging Artists production. Photo by Justin Villalobos Download Full Image

Marji says “Father” is a series of true stories involving celebration, love, humor, abandonment, death and internal turmoil. One piece explores her father’s time at an orphanage after his mother's death. Another explores his “exuberant morning routine.” The work comes to life thanks to a cast of 17 dancers. It includes contemporary and urban movement styles, Arabic social dance and gestural work inspired by Marji’s father. The show also includes an immersive intermission piece, audience interaction and narration.

Marji says the work is meant to touch hearts and minds, and she hopes people feel as involved in her father’s stories as they would their own.

“I want to create a sense of connection between the audience and the stories on stage,” Marji said. “I was interested in my father's story because I am interested in all of our complicated stories as humans. I hope the audience will know just how important their stories are as well.”

Rebecca Witt also hopes audiences will find a connection to the piece she is premiering at Emerging Artists.

“I hope they will feel welcomed into the community that has been created with my dancers and [me] over the last seven months,” said Witt, a third-year MFA in dance candidate. “I hope people will connect to the ideas being shared and be able to experience it alongside the performers.”

The piece, called “shiFT,” is a contemporary piece that was created in a collaborative nature between Witt and 10 dancers.

“The dancers all had a hand in the form the piece took and offered movement material created from group exercises that I then structured in to a group piece,” Witt said.

Witt created the work as a way to kinesthetically study empathy.

Last year Witt began researching crowd mentality and “the unique circumstances that allowed for people to resist the urge to flee from something dangerous alongside a large group, and instead run towards the danger with the intent to help other people.” That research led to a duet with Felix Cruz, a recent ASU graduate. Witt continued to investigate different forms and productions of empathy, including the neurological function of empathy. 

“I began rehearsals for my thesis piece with the intent to continue studying functioning empathy but focus on the effect a lack of empathy has on personal relationships as well as on larger communities,” she said. “The focus of the piece changed as I discovered, along with my dancers, that being empathetic is not as simple or as innate as we had thought. The piece then changed to allow for us to explore what stands in empathy’s way and what we can do ourselves to recapture true empathy.”

Witt’s work also includes a pre-show installation showcasing a dance film she and her dancers created that was inspired by the form of empathy inside the brain and how it changes based on our experiences with other people.  

Witt says she hopes people connect with the ideas she presents through dance, but she also hopes they just enjoy the art of dance.

“One of the things that I love about dance performance is being able to learn or experience something new while also being able to learn more about the body and the capabilities we hold within all our bodies to create art.”


Emerging Artists

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17–18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19

Where: Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio, Physical Education Building East, ASU's Tempe campus.

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

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

480-727-4433

ASU students to participate in international Climate Change Theatre Action event


November 8, 2017

On Nov. 14, students from Arizona State University will participate in one of 211 events across 38 countries aimed at addressing climate change through theater.

Climate Change Theatre Action is a worldwide series of readings and performances of short climate change plays presented biennially in support of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP meetings). In the U.S., 132 events will take place in 96 cities across 45 states. ASU is part of the action in promoting this awareness through the power of storytelling and demonstration of science. Acting students in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts will offer three staged readings. ASU Climate Change Theatre Action Download Full Image

Each play is matched with a scientist/researcher from ASU’s Biodesign Institute in order to illuminate the material and their related research. Masavi Perea, executive director of CHISPA and a local leader for climate change awareness, will be attending the event. The staged readings will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Biodesign Institute auditorium. For more information, visit climatechangetheatreaction.com/arizona-state-university/.  

The plays include:

“Homo Sapiens”
Did homo sapiens cause their own demise, or evolve into the next species? 
Written by Québécois Chantal BilodeauDirected by Rachelle Dart
Featuring Corey Reynolds and Jillian Walker, partnered with scientists Carlo Maley and Athena Aktipis

“Penguins”
Penguins spy on scientists in a comical interpretation told from the penguins’ view. 
Written by graduate of the University of Queensland Elspeth Tilley
Directed by Professor Sandra Crews
Featuring Johnathan Gonzales, Victor Arevalo, Nick Freitas, Caroline Householder and Tara Scanlon, partnered with scientist Arvind Varsani

“Single Use”
Two characters stumble through an awkward first date, discovering their values clearly do not align.
Written by Jamaican born and Canadian raised Marcia Johnson
Directed by Professor Micha Espinosa
Featuring Fay Schneider and Dirk Fenstermacher, partnered with scientist Charles Rolsky

‘The Compass’ puts you inside a courtroom drama

ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre production puts a teenager, technology on trial in inventive play where the audience is the jury


November 6, 2017

What if you could trade in your internal moral compass for a digital compass?

In “The Compass,” which opens this weekend at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, an app lets users forgo the struggle of making decisions altogether. Using information given to the app and users’ online history and social media data, the Compass app is more than just a prediction tool. It tells users what they actually would do in any situation. ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre's The Compass Download Full Image

“The relationship that we all have to our devices and to apps I just find pretty fascinating,” said Michael Rohd, who developed the piece over three years at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. “At first I thought we were working on a science fiction, or speculative fiction, piece, but I interviewed big honchos at Facebook, Google and other places, and all of them said we’re only a couple of years away.”

Rohd, an institute professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, not only explores the future of technology but also taps into the future of theatre as participatory art.

In this inventive play, the audience acts as a jury — determining the fate of Marjan, a teenage girl on trial for actions she took after consulting the Compass app to see what life-altering decisions she would make. Should she be held responsible? Did the app make her do it? Do her motivations matter?

“The jury will decide if our main character is guilty or not guilty,” Rohd said. “Things they say in their discussions will affect and appear in things that are done and said in the show. Part of the show is the jury wrestling with the case.”

Flashbacks to Marjan’s story, scenes from the app’s launch and witness testimony inform the audience during the trial. The audience will be divided in groups, each with their own juror. Throughout the play, jurors will lead conversations with their groups, as if the audience were stepping into the deliberation room.  

“When I am playing prosecutor I really have to pay attention to what the jury is thinking, how they’re reacting and also be very flexible in terms of changing tactics and maneuvering, trying to sway them from thinking not guilty to guilty,” said Leslie Campbell, an international undergraduate student double majoring in theater and global health. “It definitely raised the stakes in a way that I have never been able to play before.”

The ethics of technology served as one of the starting places for this groundbreaking play, but Rohd said it’s about more than that.

“It is about the relationship that young people have to adults, the relationship young people have to technology, the relationship we all have to how we make decisions for ourselves,” he said. The show explores how communities respond to trauma and violence, questions what it means when adults tell young people to stand up for themselves yet may not agree with how they do it, and puts the desire to use technology to make things more convenient next to potential downsides.

“The show presents the facts. It doesn’t offer a right or wrong ­— the audience, in a way, decides how it feels about that.”

 With the final verdict left up to the audience, many might even wish they could pull out a phone and open the Compass app for help.

'The Compass' 

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 16–18; 2 p.m. Nov. 12, 19.

Where: Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, ASU's Tempe campus.

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

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

480-727-4433

 
image title

ASU film duo’s 'Red Pill' plague script selected for 2017 BloodList

October 30, 2017

Professor Chris LaMont and alum Joe Russo honored for 2nd year on annual list featuring 13 favorite screenplays in horror, thriller, sci-fi

Every Halloween season the BloodList unveils a list of the best 13 unproduced horror and suspense genre screenplays, and for the second year in a row, the list included a script by ASU faculty Chris LaMont and ASU alum Joe Russo.

ASU film faculty

Chris LaMont

In 2016, LaMont, clinical assistant professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and Russo, his writing and producing partner, were named to the BloodList for their horror screenplay about online dating called “Soul Mates.” This year, the duo was named for their suspense thriller screenplay “The Red Pill,” about an average guy who becomes infected by a plague — but instead of getting sicker, he's getting better.

"It's a great honor for our script to be named to the BloodList, and it's a real testament to the quality of the work to be selected two years in a row,” LaMont said. “It helps screenwriters to get their work out to producers who respond to the material and continues to build recognition among producers of the creative voice a screenwriter brings to the industry."

Only working executives at studios and production companies can vote on the list. LaMont says it has become a leading resource for genre producers searching for the perfect material and the chance to get it first. Produced films from previous BloodLists include Oscar nominee “Arrival” and “The Shallows.”

After being included on the list, “Soul Mates” was bought by the producer of the “Saw” franchise. LaMont hopes the “The Red Pill” also sees success.

“The BloodList is a tremendous accolade that helps to further a screenwriter's career, and selling your screenplay would be a tremendous result of the honor,” LaMont said. "We love ‘The Red Pill’ and look forward to ambitious producers who love it as much as we do.”

Top photo by Ehsan Namavar/Freeimages.com

Sarah A. McCarty

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

480-727-4433

 
image title

First-ever Herberger Institute Day shows students the joy found in a world of arts

October 17, 2017

Workshops ranging from museum talks to design challenges to ghoulish makeup are followed by a community Meal on the Mall

Ever since Dean Steven J. Tepper arrived at ASU, he has been working on a way to bring the diverse students, faculty, staff and alumni of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts together. Given that ASU’s Herberger Institute is the largest comprehensive design and arts college in the nation, with five separate schools and an art museum, the task he set for himself was daunting.

On Oct. 12, together with the advice and support of design and arts faculty and staff, he made it happen.

The first ever Herberger Institute Day began with dozens of workshops offered by all all units — School of Art; School of Arts, Media and Engineering; The Design School; School of Film, Dance and Theatre; School of Music; and the ASU Art Museum. The workshops were open to Herberger Institute students, faculty, staff and alumni, who were encouraged to experiment with subjects outside their usual work and classes.

Video by Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

The workshops ranged from Latin social dance in the Stauffer breezeway to “Sing like an opera singer in one easy lesson!” to a librarian-led workshop on “Art and Music: Creativity in Dark Times.” In between there was laughter yoga, the great cardboard chair challenge and a workshop on queer expressionsThe workshop description: "Camp, drag, disidentification, ambivalence, criminality, utopian and dystopian temporalities — queer artists use tactics like these to challenge normativity. Have you used similar strategies in your own work? This workshop invites artists from all of the schools in HIDA to bring examples of your own work or of artists you admire to share in a dialogue about queer expressions in dance, film, theater, music, art and technology, visual art and design." in dance, film, theater, music, art and technology, visual art and design.

In the “Musical Trash and Toy Circuits” workshop, participants dug through piles of random objects with guidance from Althea Pergakis, from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, and then made music. It was, as promised in the description, “weird.”

Meanwhile, the museum conducted several workshops based on its popular Escape the Museum events and secret vault tours.

Third-year music education undergrad Katie Demassa, who had never been in the museum before Herberger Institute Day, said the event was “cool. I think I’ll go back (to the museum) now, because it was actually really fun.”

Amy Dicker, a third-year architecture undergrad who also experienced Escape the Museum, agreed.

“You joined little groups, so we got to meet new people,” she said.

Dicker said she hoped Herberger Institute Day would become an annual event, “just for the exposure to different things outside of your school.”

Digital culture undergrad Lisette Borja, who sported what looked like a nasty open wound on one of her forearms, took a behind-the-scenes tour of the costume shop and ghoulish makeup workshop. (The wound she explained, was from the workshop.)

“We got to play with cornstarch, we got to play with food dye … to make gooey bloody wounds and bruises.”

Her favorite part of the day, she said, was getting to spend time in the costume shop.

“I really really love costuming, but I’ve never done anything with it for my major,” shd said. “I liked just being in that area and seeing what the other students in that major were doing.”

It was a sentiment others seemed to share. As one group toured the costume shop, a student said aloud, “OK, this is cool. Why did I not know about this?”

Stephani Etheridge Woodson, faculty in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and director of the Herberger Institute’s Design and Arts Corps, led more than 100 students in a “Find Your People” workshop: Participants were divided into teams, and each team had to complete two challenges as part of its quest. (Sample challenge: Find the COOR covered walkway. Ask someone how they are feeling today. Based on their response, create an indie rock band album cover photo. Photograph it and post it to Instagram.) For the third challenge, the teams had to locate the dean and complete an exercise with him. The final challenge involved individual team members each picking a balloon with a “conversation starter” on it and taking it out into the world so they could continue “finding their people” as they went throughout the day.

Tepper, who had a meeting with ASU President Michael Crow after the exercises with students, took a balloon along for the president. The question on the balloon read, “What makes you feel really alive?” President Crow’s answer: “Waking up in the morning.”

During Herberger Institute Day, the dean did some sketching in a fashion class and dropped in on a choir singing a South African song. He spent time painting a “speed mural” with School of Art Associate Professor Mark Pomilio and dozens of other volunteer painters. Tepper took part in an “Open Air Mattress Talk,” where participants “used their bodies and minds to break down boundaries and have an open conversation about consent and sexual-violence prevention on campus.” He also briefly conducted a brass band.

When the workshops concluded, more than 400 people gathered for the Meal on the Mall. They sat at tables covered in bright paper and worked with specially trained graphic recorders to capture, in pictures, a record of what the day meant to them. They ate box lunches and were entertained by pop-up performances, including climate-change plays led by Micha Espinosa, faculty in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and lively music from both a jazz ensemble and the brass band, which passers-by were free to conduct themselves.

The brass band, and watching people conduct it, was Gnyanesh Trivedi’s favorite part of the day. Trivedi is a mechanical engineering major doing his master’s degree at ASU, but he has taken introduction to acting at ASU.

“That’s why I’m here at Herberger (Institute) Day,” he said. “I was a part of the plays that they put up for climate change. I played a penguin, passing judgment on humans.”

“I love theater,” Trivedi continued. “I did a little bit of theater back in my home country, which is India. And I wanted to come here and explore what theater in the United States is like. And then being an engineer it gets really painful sometimes. The stress can be overpowering, but with my acting class I really get to explore another dimension of my personality.”

Trivedi echoed those who want to see the Herberger Institute Day become a regular tradition.

“It’s so much fun,” he said. “There’s happiness all around. I think this is something that brings joy to people. This is something that should be shared with as many people as possible on as large a scale as possible.”

So what are the chances of Herberger Institute Day happening again?

“It really depends on popular demand,” Tepper said as things drew to a close. “It was worth it, but it was a lot of work. Seeing everybody smiling and singing together and playing and creating and having a good time and realizing we’re this big creative family, or even this big creative city within ASU — it’s thrilling for me as dean. But I want to make sure everybody wants to do this again, and if they do we’re definitely all behind it.”

The bigger challenge, he said, is figuring out how to more forcefully integrate curriculum.

“We have to give our students more opportunity to explore across the Herberger Institute, we’ve got to develop more research and creative teams that are building out multidisciplinary projects together. We’ve got to build our Design and Arts Corps, which is going to bring students from different disciplines together to activate and engage with community partners.

“(Herberger Institute Day) is kind of a symbol of what’s possible. It’s a way to celebrate together. But we really have to put our shoulder to the wheel and figure out how we live every day in our curriculum and in the way we work and teach and interact and research, how we live that collaboratively and across all disciplines and schools. So we have a lot more work to do. But I think this is a great first step.”

Top photo: Liberal studies sophomore Jonah Ivy (center) enjoys the Latin dance workshop with fellow Herberger Institute students Oct. 12 on the Tempe campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Deborah Sussman

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

480-965-0478

 
image title

Indie filmmaker reels in students for sci-fi thriller shot at ASU

ASU students help produce upcoming sci-fi thriller, shot on ASU's Tempe campus.
October 11, 2017

Students land key jobs on movie project as Herberger Institute program gains notice

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2017, click here.

“The Nutty Professor” (1963), “A Star is Born” (1976), “Jerry Maguire” (1996) and — coming soon — “Rhea” (year TBD).

An in-production feature film is joining the ranks of those in which Arizona State University’s Tempe campus has had a co-starring role.“Rhea” is setting itself apart from its predecessors in a unique way, however; a way that is putting ASU’s young film program into focus.

The film, a futuristic sci-fi production from Arizona filmmaker Robert Conway, marks the first outside film production to involve the participation of ASU students in key production roles including assistant director, script supervisor, production manager, camera operations, editing, wardrobe and set decoration and extras.

Sixteen ASU film students participated in the filming of “Rhea” in the summer of 2017 under the supervision of Assistant Professor Jason Scott of ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Shot over 23 days on and around ASU's Tempe campus — and other locations around the Valley — the film involved students working 12-hour days in the heat of Arizona’s noted summer months for an experience none will soon forget.

“No other film program has so successfully and consistently integrated undergraduate students into key positions on professionally produced feature films,” Scott said. “There are many one-off examples of small groups of students from a school getting to work on a feature — and some have graduate programs that fund feature films and offer experience to graduate students on those sets — but there is nothing equivalent to this ‘teaching hospital’-type model in the world of film and media education.”

That model appears to be working and is getting noticed as an industry incubator. Online trade publication TheWrap.com recently ranked ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre — one of the fastest-growing film programs in the country — at No. 35 on its list of the Top 50 Film Schools of 2017. The publication highlighted the program’s features including student access to the state-of-the-art Sun Studios soundstage and internships via ASU’s Film Spark career accelerator program, which produced the movie “Car Dogs,” “Justice Served” and “Postmarked.”

ASU's film program also boasts a connection to newly minted Oscar winner David Breschel. The ASU alum and USC graduate film student produced this year's Academy Award winning student short “Mammoth,” directed by Ariel Heller of USC.

Created just outside the margins of the Film Spark program as a non-ASU-originated film project, Conway's “Rhea” internship offered a first-of-its-kind experience for ASU students in terms of working with an outside filmmaker — and left a strong impression on the seasoned director and screenwriter.

“I wanted to make sure the students were getting what they needed out of the project,” Conway said. “It was interesting because by the end of the second week, they were like regular crew — they had jobs, they understood what they were doing — and this was not an easy shoot. These were six-day weeks and long days. It was a lot to put on the students, but they were really dedicated. I told them at the beginning that I can’t promise you that you’re going to have fun all the time, but I can promise that you will learn a lot.”

And they did.

Lynzie Robb, who is majoring in film and media practices, served as a script supervisor for Conway’s “Rhea.” She said working on the film and other coursework has made her all the more excited to venture into the world of film production knowing how many jobs there are behind the scenes in pre- and post-production.

“I feel like I have had a really enriching experience learning about film,” Robb said. “After this internship, I feel like I am a little more prepared for what to expect on a film set. I feel much more ready to jump into the water.” Robb, who will graduate from ASU in fall 2017, has her eyes set on working in editing and script supervising after graduation.

Samuel Maupin, a senior majoring in filmmaking practices, had the opportunity to tackle several roles on the set of “Rhea” both behind the scenes and in front of the camera — even performing a little stunt work as an extra. Having gained what he described as an “in-depth experience” with the “Rhea” internship, Maupin said he felt like the film program at ASU keeps getting bigger and better every year.

“It’s really great how much the professors put into this program and how dedicated they are to their students,” Maupin said. “There may be some other schools that have a lot more resources and funding than we do, but I think the family-oriented environment at ASU helps create success for the students.”

After graduation, Maupin says he wants to work with some local production groups that he hopes will open more doors for him in film. He and other students earned college credit for their participation in the internship.

Citing the school’s available resources in the way of building architecture, camera equipment and production talent, Conway says he is happy with his decision to partner with ASU to make his movie at the university and encourages other filmmakers to do the same.

“It was definitely a team effort; it was a joint production for sure,” said Conway, who has been making films professionally for 20 years. “Between myself, another friend and the school, we were able to cover all of our equipment needs with very little need to rent additional gear.”

Conway encourages students to take full advantage of the programs and resources offeredStudents and faculty can get an up-close look at some of courses and resources offered through ASU's film program through a series of workshops on Herberger Institute Day on Oct. 12. through ASU’s film program.

“Write as many scripts as you can, shoot as much as you can, edit as much as you can and learn as much as you can. That’s going to pay off for you,” he said.

Described as a young-adult, campus take on HBO’s futuristic fantasy series “Westworld,” “Rhea” — whose producers include ASU instructors Jason Scott and Chris LaMont — is in post-production.

Conway’s film credits include a number of horror and sci-fi thrillers, including “Redemption,” “The Encounter,” “Krampus: The Reckoning,” “Krampus Unleashed,” “Breakdown Lane” and “The Covenant.”

Behind-the-scenes “Rhea” shoot photos by Jamie Ell/ASU

Suzanne Wilson

Sr. Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications

480-965-9681

'The Nether' tackles morality in virtual reality

ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre launches ‘intense’ sci-fi crime drama this weekend


October 10, 2017

Welcome to the Nether — a network of virtual reality realms. Plug in. Choose an identity. Indulge your every whim.

But can you really have a world without consequences?   Download Full Image

That’s one of the questions Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre explores in its production of critically acclaimed sci-fi crime drama “The Nether” by Jennifer Haley, which opens this weekend.

“It’s a very intense production driven by incredible attention to artistry and craft, from the acting to the script to the production values,” said Tiffany Ana Lopez, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “The subject matter is very bold and provocative, bordering on disturbing — by design.”

In this near-future thriller, the internet has evolved into The Nether, a virtual space complete with sensory immersion. A young detective discovers The Hideaway, a realm in the Nether that offers a disturbing brand of entertainment. Her mission to apprehend the creator of “The Hideaway” leads to a tense interrogation of the darkest corners of the human imagination. 

At The Hideaway, Mr. Sims, a self-confessed pedophile, welcomes guests to a Victorian home where they spend time with virtual children. The children are avatars — adults in the real world.

“This play deals specifically with pedophilia but it’s also asking bigger questions about what happens when we go online,” said Mary Townsend, who plays the detective. “What lines do we draw and what’s right or wrong when things are virtual versus when they’re real?”

Lopez says the play addresses violation of boundaries, both emotional and physical.

“The play touches on themes and presents scenes that can be triggering for those of us who have had experiences where our boundaries have been violated,” she said. “The play takes us into an arena where we become very conscious of the gray areas of boundaries and how they can be violated.”

Lopez says while seeing the show may be difficult for some, the “playwright wants to provoke us to think about our role as witnesses and have a conversation about public accountability.”

William Partlan, the director of the play and associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, said the themes are “particularly cogent and relevant to our current world.”

“The play takes place in a world not so far in the future from our own, where climate change has taken its toll on the real world to the degree that poplar trees are hard to find and clothes made from cotton would be a very expensive item,” he said. “In fact, even as we rehearsed, major hurricanes and other natural disasters were taking place, and we read articles about a corporation deciding to put microchips into the hands of its employees so they log on without having to do anything to identify themselves.”

He said that while the essence of the play is disturbing, it’s in the service of a powerful piece of theater.

“It’s the kind of show that asks lots of questions that are worth asking — and answers none of them. It should send our audience out into the world with lots of questions and lots of things to think about. As a piece of theater, that’s a really good thing to do.”

J. Casalduero says these tough questions and the playwright’s intelligent reflections are exactly why he wanted to play the role of Mr. Sims. 

“Every step forward humanity has ever taken has been outside of some sort of comfort zone.”

'The Nether' 

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13–14, 19–21; 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and 22.

Where: Lyceum Theatre, ASU's Tempe campus.

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.

Sarah A. McCarty

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

480-727-4433

 
image title

ASU Child Drama Collection extends its reach to scholars

Prized costume designer's collection at ASU to become accessible online.
September 20, 2017

Archives of costume innovator Irene Corey — who created looks from Barney to biblical characters — to feature searchable listing

Arizona State University’s Child Drama Collection is the largest, most utilized and internationally renowned youth-theater repository in the world, according to university officials.

It lures scholars, playwrights, performers and students from around the world to study its costumes, scripts, designs and ephemera — but the reach for one of its most prized portions has been limited to those who could journey to Hayden Library in Tempe.

By the end of the year, however, a listing of the contents of the Irene Corey Collection will become accessible to everyone online. Then, Katherine Krzys believes, “people will be coming in throngs.”

“Irene Corey literally changed the face of costume and makeup design,” said Krzys, who, among other roles — archivist, actress, director, author and historian — is the curator of the Child Drama Collection.

“All those innovations are documented visually and in print in her archive for scholars and artists to discover. It’s a one-of-a-kind source that will inspire generations of new theatrical artists.”

Irene Corey and Barney, one of her most famous creations.

For over a half-century Corey designed costumes, sets and makeup for shows as varied as theater classics and theme-park characters. Corey first became nationally known for the “Book of Job” in the 1950s, which had 22-year run throughout the world.

She also designed the costumes for the television show “Barney and Friends” (including the friendly dinosaur's trademark purple color) and helped create the first Chick-fil-A cows and Half Price Books’ Bookworm. Many in the field also believe without Corey’s visionary work audiences would not have seen “Cats” or “Lion King” on Broadway.

Among the collection's items are Corey’s innovative costumes for “The Tempest” and “The Book of Job,” animal makeup renderings, production photographs, costume renderings and her historical and cultural research files.

“Irene was really into process, and when you look at this collection, you’re going to see little ideas on the back of menus, on the back of envelopes,” Krzys said. “Her process is the most important thing the collection can tell you.”

It can also tell you that Corey’s life’s work is worth a pretty pennyCorey died of Parkinson’s disease in 2010. She was 84.. Originally valued at $200,000 at the time it was donated in 1995, today it's possible the collection is worth millions said Lynda Xepoleas, an art history major at ASU’s School of ArtThe School of Art is a unit within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. and aide in the ASU Library conservation lab.

“I once worked on a Marc Chagall costume exhibit, and he and Irene Corey were top artists in their respective fields,” said Xepoleas, who is working with Krzys to preserve the costume portion of the collection. “The things I see in Irene’s collection are just as impressive as what I saw in his exhibit.”

For the past few months Xepoleas has been creating hanging and boxed storage for costumes, props, masks, wands, headpieces, belts and gloves. She said working with these items has given her an insight into Corey’s creative process.

“She wanted these costumes and props to be seen from a distance rather than be functional,” Xepoleas said. “To witness history up close has been very rewarding for me.”

Krzys said it took over a decade to convince Corey to donate her papers to ASU.

“I went personally to pack up her papers at her art-filled house in Dallas — finding costumes in the dirt crawl space of her outdoor studio, renderings under the sideboard in her dining room — wherever she had space,” Krzys said. “The process was filled with laughter, amazing stories, advice for designers and a lifelong friendship.”

The Irene Corey Collection is a part of the Child Drama Collection, the largest compilation in the world documenting the international history of children's theater back to the 16th century.

It was established at ASU in 1979 by librarian Marilyn Wurzburger, head of Special Collections, and by Lin Wright, chair of the ASU Department of Theatre. They jointly recommended the development of a Child Drama Collection in response to the academic needs of youth-theater students and faculty at ASU and the research needs of professional artists and educators throughout the world.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The first collection donated to the university, Wurzburger said, came from Rita Criste, a children’s theater professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who donated her papers and books to ASU.

“Every university library likes to distinguish themselves because they know it will give them a certain prestige. They know people will come from around the world to look at a collection,” said Wurzburger, who started at ASU in 1960 and retired in 2009.

Those people include John Newman, a theater professor at Utah Valley University who brought four theater students with him in July to view the collection. The students recently received a grant to research and develop a new play for the Utah Children’s Theatre called “Builders of America,” based on several historic American characters.

“The students were so engaged in research that it was hard to pull them away from the process,” Newman said. “We were greeted by the character Job, who was in an original Irene Corey costume, and it was a great introduction to the collection.”

Newman added that the collection captured the imagination of each of his students — a designer, a playwright, a director and a dramaturgeA dramaturge is a professional writer/editor within a theater or opera company who deals mainly with research and development of plays or operas..

“Kathy was able to find something that appealed to their individual or found a tangent that extended their interest,” Newman said. “It was an exceptional experience.”

Ashley Laverty, an MFA graduate from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s Theatre for Youth program in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, said she spent a good portion of her academic career perusing through the collection, drawing inspiration for her work.

“I used the collection pretty steadily all three years I was in grad school at ASU, and it was a huge resource for me,” said Laverty, who now works for the Rose Theater, a premiere performing-arts venue in Omaha, Nebraska. “I’m lucky to have been in a program where I could literally ask Kathy about a play and she knows how to get it.”

Wurzburger said once a university starts building a collection, others begin to notice.

“People start to think, ‘I’d like my papers to sit beside those,’” Wurzburger said. “When you get a good start, there’s hope you can build on that.”

Wurzburger was able to build on the collection through a key recruit she made in 1985 by enlisting the help of Krzys, who was then a graduate research assistant in the ASU MFA Theatre for Youth Program. Krzys said she had a job lined up at a children’s theater in San Francisco once she had obtained her master’s degree. She said she was required to write a research-methods paper and had stumbled upon the Child Drama Collection.

It was Krzys who oversaw the transfer of the collection from typewriter-generated finding aids into computer searchable lists of contents. The collection started with 132 books and 100 linear feet of archival collections. Today it contains more than 9,200 books, 294 periodical titles, more than 2,000 audio-visual media, and almost 5,000 linear feet of manuscript collections, documenting professional theater for young audiences, youth theater and toddler-through-high-school theater education.

Other highlights of the Child Drama Collection include:

Jonathan Levy Collection: Donated in 1999, it contains more than 350 books with copyrights from the 17th through 20th centuries, and manuscripts chronicling Levy's academic and professional career. Prior to getting this archive, the Child Drama Collection had documented the history of the field only from 1900 onward. The Levy collection expanded research possibilities back to the 16th centuryJonathan Levy also did research into what was happening in children’s theater in the 16th century; his personal research is included in the manuscripts he donated along with his library. In addition, books from the 17th century covered 16th-century events. and made the Child Drama Collection the largest repository of materials on youth theater in the world.

Lowell and Nancy Swortzell Theatre Arts Collection: The award-winning Swortzells, who created the Educational Theatre Program at New York University, saved every scrap of paper — every letter, photo and class note — and started donating them to the Child Drama Collection so that their scholarship and teaching methods could be shared by scholars. This was the largest single donation of books and manuscripts to the Child Drama Collection.

The David, Sonja and Benjamin Saar Yellow Boat Collection: It contains framed drawings, posters, correspondence from audience members, letters and drawings from schoolchildren, photographs, press releases and other materials documenting the writing and production of “The Yellow Boat,” a play Saar wrote for his son Benjamin, a hemophiliac who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion and was asked to leave his private school.

Childsplay Records: ASU not only collaborates frequently with Tempe-based Childsplay Theatre but houses its archives. It includes video cassette tapes and DVDs from productions, scripts, posters, workshop and planning materials, and set models.

Krzys, who had once envisioned a life directing children’s theater only to spend the next three decades at ASU, says her life ended up having more purpose because of the power, reach and influence of the collection.

“I would have never thought I’d be a librarian for more than 30 years, but I stayed for a variety of reasons. I’m a big believer in fate,” Krzys said.

“I’ve been all around the world. I’ve met amazing people. And I don’t regret a single moment of my career.”

Top photo: Special collections preservationist Lynda Xepoleas presents two masks from the Irene Corey Collection at Hayden Library on Sept. 6 in Tempe. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Save

 
image title

Freshman filmmaker explores reel life at ASU

August 23, 2017

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles of fall 2017 incoming ASU students.

Arizona State University freshman Ashley Sorensen believes film, theater and television — if done correctly — have the potential to entertain the masses while addressing important social issues.

“I believe today’s audiences are receptive to hearing a message if it's entertaining and keeps their attention,” said Sorensen, a National Honors Society member who recently graduated from Chandler’s Basha High School. “If you can keep someone’s attention for two hours, you have the potential to change a lot of hearts and minds.”

Sorensen will spend the next four years at ASU’s School of Film, Dance and TheatreA unit within the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. in the film program trying to perfect her “two hours.” She’s already off to a pretty good start.

The 18-year-old has shot three short films tackling subjects such as self-esteem, depression, anxiety and mental illness. Sorensen also directed two classics for the stage and has racked up several film certifications and awards. In April she won a Max A. and Clara E. Springer Scholarship for $5,000, an academic competition for first-time freshmen graduating from an Arizona high school who plan to major in the arts.

Sorensen recently wrapped her first week at ASU and believes this saga will have a happy ending.

Question: Why did you chose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU because it was the one film program that cared about its students building a portfolio. That and knowing how much that department has grown in the last few years guided me here.

Q: What drew you to your major?

A: When I was 8 years old, “Corpse Bride” was on, and that’s when I really got into director Tim Burton. He sparked my interest in filmmaking because he showed me that you can have a completely different style of art and it can be amazing.

Q: What are you most excited about to experience in your first semester?

A: Being able to see who I’m going to be working with and see what creative ideas they have so we can possibly collaborate.

Q: What do you like to brag about to friends about ASU?

A: The Arcadia Residential Community is a very welcoming community and basically a big family. I got here less than a week ago and I’ve already made a ton of friends. I didn’t think I could get that experience anywhere else.

Q: What talents and skills are you bringing to the ASU community?

A: I’m experienced in backstage theater, and I think I’m going to bring some new and creative things to film.

Q: What’s your favorite TV show right now?

A: I’d have to say “The Office.” I love its satirical humor.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish during your college years?

A: I hope to gain more experience on how to direct and be a better cinematographer because those are the fields I’m looking into. I’m hoping to ultimately get into the movie industry in Los Angeles.

Q: What’s one interesting fact about yourself that only your friends know?

A: I can mimic a bird; I can do a bird whistle.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem in our world, what would you choose?

A: I would love to get together with National Geographic with that kind of money and spread information about how climate change has affected the world. The message would be, “This is the world we live in, and we need to take better care of it. Otherwise, we’re not going to have a place to live.” Another thing I’m interested in is to educate people about the LGBT community and Black Lives Matter. I have a lot friends who are affected, and it breaks my heart.

Q: Predictions on the final score for this year’s Territorial Cup game?

A: I have no idea what the final score would be, but I know ASU would kick some Wildcat butt!

Top photo: Filmmaking freshman Ashley Sorensen of Chandler has a goal of working as either a director or cinematographer. She poses in the movie theater at Sun Studios of Arizona on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Pages