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Using the power of theater to create change

May 3, 2016

Rivka Rocchio realized she wanted a theater degree when she was teaching in Samoa with Peace Corps

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Rivka Rocchio is a theater-maker and educator interested in using theater to engage communities in cross-cultural dialogue. She received a bachelor's in theater education and writing, literature and publishing from Emerson College, and has taught theater and English in prisons, high schools and middle schools. She has also worked as a community-based artist with the Peace Corps in Samoa and Liberia.

Portrait of Rivka Rocchio, who is graduating from ASU with an MFA in Theatre for Youth

In fall 2015, Rocchio’s applied project, "Theatre Across Prison Walls," received a Pollination Project grant and was featured on the Huffington Post. The theater workshop and residency program brought student inmates at the ASPC-Eyman State Prison in Florence, Arizona, together with students from ASU. The resulting workshops and performances explored, in Rocchio’s words, “the intersections of social justice, incarceration and the prison industrial complex.” Rocchio also received the MLK Jr. Student Servant Leadership Award for her work with inmate populations in Arizona.

As a teaching artist with Childsplay, a renowned local theater company, Rocchio once revealed the terrible joke she says she tells the most: "What kind of socks does a pirate wear? Arr-gyle."

Rocchio, who hails from Mount Vernon, Washington, graduates this spring with a MFA in Theatre for Youth from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I realized I wanted to get an advanced degree in Theatre for Youth when I was teaching in Samoa with the Peace Corps. I had been partnering with organizations in the community and struggling to articulate ways in which theater and the arts could be a more effective and powerful way of working. I knew I needed to develop a vocabulary and critical pedagogy that suited me as an artist and yet remained community inclusive.

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

A: I’ve been surprised in the classroom by the ways my teaching has grown to include the perspectives of non-traditional students, first-generation students and students who have been systemically excluded from “ivory tower” academics. I am a better student and teacher because of the communities ASU has granted me access to. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the success of graduate students. I looked at who was a changemaker in the field, and reading bios I kept seeing ASU’s influence. Also, ASU’s reputation as an inclusive and diverse school enticed me. I wanted to be a part of a university that looked like the surrounding population. 

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

A: I would encourage those still in school to fail. As Beckett writes, “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” School is an environment to take creative risks and learn from them. Once you are outside academia, failure has different consequences. I have learned WAY more from the projects that didn’t work out as planned, the grants I didn’t get, the partnerships that never happened, than from all the “successes” I’ve achieved.

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

A: The “Secret Garden” between Dixie-Gammage and West Hall was a place I frequented to sit with a coffee and a book and think over the advice and guidance of my mentors. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am pursuing a career in higher education.

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

A: I would use arts and theater to address issues surrounding incarceration. I don’t just mean the actual caging of humans that still happens, but the systems of oppression, policing, racism and justice that are all too present for some members of U.S. culture. Essentially, this would tie in to communities and community health — which the arts are crucial in maintaining.

Top photo: As part of the Theatre Across Prison Walls program, inmates rehearse before the start of their performance at Eyman State Prison in Florence on Nov. 25, 2015. The performance of "Free Drama" was performed for Cook Unit inmates, prison administrators and ASU faculty. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Deborah Sussman

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


So many new sounds to explore

Double-major graduate Bethany Brown started making films at 11 years old

May 3, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Bethany Brown was 11 years old when she started making her first films: a short documentary on Cave Creek, her hometown, and a stop-animation Western using Legos. Around the same time, she says, she started “taking my piano lessons seriously.” Headshot of Bethany Brown, ASU double major in music composition and filmmaking practices Download Full Image

This month, she graduates from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with a double major in music composition and filmmaking practices. (Her twin brother is also graduating from ASU, with a degree in journalism.) She entered college planning on becoming a film composer, but a concert she attended her freshman year expanded her musical horizons beyond what she had previously imagined. 

As Brown recalls it, “An ensemble was performing George Crumb’s ‘Vox Balaenae’ (Voice of the Whale), which requires blue lighting and the performers to wear masks. It was a completely different kind of music than what I was used to, and I was simply amazed at the sound. I realized then that there was so much to learn and so many new sounds to explore, and I was really excited to do so.” 

After graduation, she anticipates working in film/video production while she continues writing music for local musicians and ensembles, and she plans on eventually going to graduate school to study musicology or ethnomusicology.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I have always loved music and film. I started making films when I was around 11 years old, and started taking my piano lessons seriously around that time as well. I wanted to combine my interests to be a film composer, so I entered college with that aspiration. My career goals have since changed over the course of the four years earning my degree. While I always had a passion for music, my first “aha” moment was during a concert I attended my freshman year. An ensemble was performing George Crumb’s “Vox Balaenae” (Voice of the Whale), which requires blue lighting and the performers to wear masks. It was a completely different kind of music than what I was used to, and I was simply amazed at the sound. I realized then that there was so much to learn and so many new sounds to explore, and I was really excited to do so.

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

A: It is hard to pinpoint just one moment from my time at ASU that changed my perspective. I have changed and grown so much in four years as a result of continuously challenging but rewarding experiences and classes, and also as a result of fantastic professors. My relationship to music and composition has changed drastically, and I feel more confident in my own style of expression. Learning about music and composers of the 20th/21st century, music’s therapeutic properties in a class on music and healing, film history, film production, etc. (because of great professors, the list extends to nearly all my classes I’ve taken at ASU) all challenged and/or changed my preconceived notions from my relatively limited experiences with music and film. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in the UK for a summer, and briefly visit Japan through a government ambassador program. I learned so much about other cultures and people on these trips. But perhaps my jobs as a Student Academic Mentor and Community Assistant at Barrett provided my most valuable lessons. Through these positions, I realized the immense importance of community, and the value and necessity of creating a network of support. At ASU, I learned to keep an open mind and be open to opportunity, new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was interested in ASU because my twin brother decided to attend this university, members of my family (including my mom) had attended, it was close to home, and I received a full scholarship. I chose to attend ASU, however, because of the great music program, and the interactions I’d had with my future professors on the day of my audition at the music school.

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

A: Be present. It is so easy to think in the future tense — next semester, next milestone, next degree. While some anticipation and planning can be beneficial, recognize how amazing it is to be where you’re at right now. It is something I need to work on as well! 

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

A: The second-floor balcony of the music school is good for early-morning studying, reading or naps. I also frequented e2, the Secret Garden and the rocking chairs at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Currently, I do not have any definite plans after graduation. In the summer, I will be working at a fine-arts camp in Alaska for a month. I was also commissioned to write music for the TALIS Festival/Saas-Fee Film Festival annual silent-film collaboration, which will premiere in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, in July. I hope to travel, continue writing music, produce my capstone feature screenplay that I worked on for my film degree and, after four years of hard work, rest! I am applying for jobs around the Valley, and anticipate working in some form of film/video production while continuing to compose for local musicians and ensembles. I hope to remain active as an artist — either here in Phoenix, or perhaps Los Angeles or New York in the future — before eventually applying to graduate schools for musicology or ethnomusicology.

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

A: Hard to choose! Funding for the arts, funding for education, issues concerning the environment ... I’ll have to get back to you! 

The music composition major is out of the Herberger Institute's School of Music, and filmmaking practices is out of the institute's School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

Deborah Sussman

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


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Setting the table for better health

CENAS isn't just cooking, but a cooking experience, organizers say.
Incorporating cultural ties as well as health is key to cooking program's aim.
April 15, 2016

New ASU program combines cooking, theater to promote healthy behavior changes

In ASU’s teaching kitchens in downtown Phoenix, the din of cooking activity is peppered with the sounds of friendly conversation.

Just an hour ago, the white-aproned amateur chefs knew each other only casually. Now they are cooking shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing stories inspired by the food, such as eating nopalesNopal is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti, as well as for its pads. and making tortillas with their grandmothers. They also discuss their roles in the cooking show they will record. As the group cooks, shares and later crafts a theater piece together, they are also promoting behavior that will help prevent type 2 diabetes.

A tall white chef’s hat bobs energetically about the room as the lead chef demonstrates tortilla-making techniques or asks someone to elaborate on a meal or recipe they remember. The man beneath the hat calls himself Mero Cocinero, the People’s Cook. Periodically he gestures broadly with a wooden cooking spoon or praises the participants in a booming voice.

The role of Mero Cocinero is played by Robert Karimi, a chef and performance artist. He joined faculty from ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Transborder Studies to create Cultural Engagements in Nutrition, Arts and Sciences (CENAS, which is the Spanish word for “dinners”). CENAS combines theater-making and cooking to promote behavior changes linked to healthy eating and type 2 diabetes prevention in populations at risk for the disease. At the same time, the program honors the cultural food pathways each participant brings to the table.

That theater-making can take the form of role-playing, but sometimes includes actually filming a cooking show. It's not just cooking, but a cooking experience, organizers said.

Tamara Underiner is associate dean for research in ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. She leads CENAS with colleagues Seline Szkupinski-Quiroga, faculty research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center; and Stephani Etheridge Woodson, associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. The research is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and by ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research.

The team designed the research methods and cooking curriculum for CENAS to evaluate the impact of a series of lively, immersive cooking experiences on the attitudes and behavior of participants. Over a three-week period, students, community leaders and professionals in south Phoenix donned aprons and began to mix, mince and marinate under the direction of Mero Cocinero.

Mero Cocinero enthusiastically guided participants to put on cooking shows, role-play as farmers or chefs or learn a new skill in the kitchen. With encouragement from Karimi and trained ASU students, participants shared stories about the recipes their grandmothers made, favorite holiday foods and memories of a childhood garden.

“Making theater together, honoring the stories your grandmother told while she was cooking the beans over the cookstove, those are the kinds of things that help people move to a position of strength to honor who they are and where they came from and to continue to cook together for the whole family's benefit,” said Underiner.

The CENAS team introduced ways to incorporate traditional foods into meals using the American Diabetes Association’s “plate method” of eating, which recommends filling half a plate with vegetables, one-quarter with starches and one-quarter with protein. Karimi emphasizes that eating culturally important foods is not inherently unhealthy, contradicting a message that some of the participants unfortunately have received, even from medical doctors. Instead, he explains, returning to the recipes and foods cooked by older generations and based in ethnic cuisine can be both healthy and empowering.

“This is the place to do this kind of work. If you have a good idea you can do it here.”
— Tamara Underiner, associate dean for research in ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Art

“Food is the beginning, not the end. Food is both educational and is bringing the community together through food culture and joy,” said Karimi.

After the cooking experiences, participants reported eating more fruits and vegetables and having a more open attitude towards healthy eating. Importantly, participants also reported viewing healthy eating as a practice they could embrace and one that made them feel empowered.

Quantifying the effects of theater-making on behavior change and healthy eating is novel in the field of medicine. The results of this study are now being used to design broader intervention research that will comply with National Institutes of Health standards.

Karimi likens ASU’s transdisciplinary culture to the comedy improvisation rule of “yes, and,” which commands actors to consider unexpected outcomes and to collaborate with other performers.

The CENAS project would not be possible anywhere but ASU, said Underiner, because of the “yes, and” willingness of faculty to collaborate across academic disciplines and the support from university leadership to try something new.

“This is the place to do this kind of work,” said Underiner. “If you have a good idea you can do it here.”

Top photo by Lyn Belisle/

Kelsey Wharton

Science Writer , Knowledge Enterprise Development

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A stitch in time

ASU dance shop coordinates costume needs for a dozen faculty and student shows.
Students both wear and make the costumes in ASU's dance shop.
April 14, 2016

Costume shop maven makes sure ASU's dancers hit the stage in functional style

It’s the first night of dress rehearsal, and Jacqueline Benard is sitting in the back of a darkened theater. Though she is taking in the action on the stage, her eyes are zeroed in on the dancers’ costumes.

Will the fabric change its color under the house lights? Does the pattern match what the dancer is trying to convey? Will the piece rip with intense movement?

For Benard, the coordinator for Arizona State University’s dance costume shop, these are crucial questions, and ones that need to be cemented before this weekend’s annual performance “Dance: Inventions and Conventions” hosted by the School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is in the Herberger Institute for the Design and Arts..

The high-energy show features more than 40 dancers and highlights some of the greatest hits and new original pieces of the 2015-2016 season. There’s a lot riding on the line for students, but Benard remains a steady hand.

“I don’t really get nervous, but there’s always something to fix or little adjustments that have to be done,” Benard said.

“Dancers are very physical so they break buttons or rip out a stitch or a hemline might catch. The idea behind the dress rehearsal is to try and catch and fix those mistakes before they take the stage. I’m confident it’ll all work out.”

ASU dance students walk with costume-shop coordinator Jacqueline Benard to a rehearsal.

Jacqueline Benard (also pictured at top, in the
costume shop) makes her way with dancers
to a dress rehearsal at the Galvin Playhouse
on April 13 in Tempe.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Benard made it work for 19-year-old dance major Quinn Mihalvic, who will perform a 5-minute dance solo called “This Is the Dream Before I Die.” Like most of the dancers in the show, he defers to Benard for advice on his costume.

“I came into the shop and told Jackie what I wanted, and she created it for me on the spot — she literally made these black Spandex shorts from fabric in 10 minutes,” Mihalvic said. “I have very thick thighs and sometimes that can get in the way. I’ve ripped pants before. It was the easiest process I’ve ever gone through with wardrobe. Now I can go onstage with confidence and just focus on my performance.”

The costume shop — one of threeThe other two costume shops are located in ASU’s School of Music and the J. Russell and Bonita Nelson Fine Arts Center. in the Herberger Institute — has been Benard’s stage for the past 27 years. It has been in the Physical Education Building East since it was constructed in 1965 on the Tempe campus. The costume shop remains as relevant as ever, Benard said.

“There’s a new interest in handmade things, and there’s jobs all around the field of costume design,” Benard said. “It’s never been a lost art form because it never went away. All three of our shops are non-stop busy, especially in the spring when we have shows one on top of another.”

The dance shop coordinates all of the costume needs for about a dozen faculty and student productions. It produces everything from dresses and pants to jewelry and hair braids.

Dancers are required to take a second-year class that Benard teaches in the shop called DCE 261: Team Teaching in Sections of Creative Practice. Students learn about costume design, lighting, sound and media and dance. They also learn hand-painting, silk-screen techniques, sewing and costume design.

“We start with the basics like sewing a button, learning how to stitch or make a hem, simple things you might take for granted that you think people know but necessarily don’t,” Benard said. “The idea is to become a well-rounded artist because you just can’t be limited to being a dancer, a mover or a choreographer. There’s a lot of skills that an artist must embody.”

Second-year graduate student Yingzi Liang, a 25-year-old dance major from China, said she didn’t know much about costume design until she took a grad assistance class with Benard last year. She said her skills have grown tenfold.

“Before I came here I was just a dancer. Now I know how to use a machine, how to dye a fabric, how to select the right texture or fabric,” Liang said. “My focus will remain on dance choreography, but I want to offer my audience the full visual experience of costume and body.

“I now look at myself as a full artist.”

Benard said working in the dance shop has offered her something even more: a full and enriched life.

“The beauty of being in an educational setting is that there’s always new and fresh energy. You see students come in as naive and eager freshmen, and by the end of four years they are confident, have expanded their intellect and their artistic skills,” Benard said.

“These students are like my kids. When I first came to ASU, I was an older graduate. Then gradually I became the aunt, then a mom, and now, I’m like a grandmother. It’s nice.”

If you go

What: “Dance: Conventions and Inventions.”

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 15; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 17.

Where: Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, 510 E. 10th St., Tempe.

Admission: $16 general; $12 ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 senior citizens and $8 for all ASU students.


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Traversing the depths of geekdom, grief

She Kills Monsters at ASU navigates grief through world of Dungeons and Dragons.
March 30, 2016

ASU production of 'She Kills Monsters' blurs fantasy, reality — winning rave reviews

How does an action-packed, '90s-themed romp in the world of Dungeons & Dragons also navigate the caverns of grief? Through the Arizona State University production of "She Kills Monsters." 

To rediscover the younger sister she lost to a car accident, lead character Agnes must embark on a quest into deepest, darkest geekdom. The line between fantasy and reality blurs as Agnes battles her own demons and learns to embrace the unordinary. 

Lance Gharavi, the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre professor who’s directing the play, said that it’s “a fun, zany, goofy piece of work that does, at the core of it, have something very serious.” 

And Kerry Lengel, theater critic for the Arizona Republic, said that “She Kills Monsters” is “about geek power, girl power and the redemptive power of storytelling.” He also calls the ASU production of the play a must-see. (Read the full review here.

The play, written by Qui Nguyen, has its final weekend at ASU’s Paul V. Galvin Playhouse through April 3. Order tickets here.

Get a glimpse below.

Top photo by Tim Trumble

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Finding kindness amid the challenges

March 22, 2016

ASU grad and Fulbright winner Lin Wang teaches English in Taiwan

Lin Wang, an Arizona State University graduate, won a Fulbright grant and is working as an English teaching assistant in Taiwan.

Living abroad has been a challenge, but Wang, who is from Gilbert, has been moved by the deep kindness she’s experienced.

“I have been shown so much kindness here I started crying one day,” said Wang, whose majors at ASU were chemistry and dancefrom the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

“Taiwanese people are so nice and feel responsible for the earth and other people. For example, in our driving test, we were required to answer questions such as ‘Why should you remove debris from the road?’ and the answer would be, ‘so that the safety of other people is not compromised.’

“My heart feels so happy to know there are people who take responsibility for their actions, and have hearts full of kindness and selflessness.”

Wang answered some questions about her Fulbright experience:

Question: Can you give an overview of what you’re doing in Taiwan?

Answer: I am an English teaching assistant at an elementary school in Taidong, Taiwan. I teach fourth grade and fifth grade from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Often, I will read stories at the local story-telling house to children and during the first semester I had a dance team that performed for the school’s sports day.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: I empty my dehumidifier (because Taiwan is VERY HUMID) — often using the water to flush the toilet. Then I pick out my outfit — often something light for the hot weather and with a lot of coverage, for blocking the mosquitoes — and then I hop onto my scooter to get breakfast. We all have scooters here. Scooters are the preferred choice of transportation over cars and large vehicles. Taiwan is a small space so they can’t afford to have too many big trucks taking up all the parking spaces.

For breakfast I will eat oatmeal with honey and fruit, but there are really yummy traditional Taiwanese breakfast places all along my way to school.

When I get to school, I go through lesson plans with my leading English teachers and then co-teach four to five classes, all 40 minutes long. Lunch is served at school, always with rice, vegetables and a meat dish. It’s really healthy and quite delicious.

An interesting fact about Taiwanese trash: they split their trash into: compost, recyclables, and trash for the landfill. So at school every 20 feet there is a compost bucket where people throw their leftovers from lunch into. It’s very sustainable because they use the compost for fertilizer or to feed pigs. And you have to bring your own bowl and utensils — no plastic utensils: another sustainable act.

At 4 p.m. I am FREE! I will walk around the track for around 30 to 40 minutes or chat with the physical education teacher who I have become close friends with. At  5 p.m., I scooter 20 minutes over to Zhiben, where the Taidong University is located. At the university, I swim for around 40 minutes.

Then I unwind at home with music, dancing, ukulele playing or just crashing from exhaustion. 

Q: What do you do on the weekends?

A: I will either go to the beach, travel around Taiwan, scooter up the coast, stay home to clean or hang out with local friends I have made.

Lin Wang in Taiwan

ASU grad and Fulbright winner Lin Wang is teaching English in Taiwan this year.

Q: Have there been any challenges?

A: Yes. Many challenges. My first semester was a struggle. I wanted to go home many times. But the students made me so happy, and they just brought so much joy into my life that I reminded myself, things will get better.

Q: What’s next for you, after you return?

A: I plan on working a year as a barista (something I’ve always wanted to do!) while dancing and training my body before I go back to school. This year has been very revealing in what I want to do — to dance professionally and to be a high school dance teacher.

Q: What would you tell someone who is contemplating applying for a Fulbright?

A: I would tell them, it is a crazy year, you will pull out some hairs, you will miss home, you will struggle, you will sweat and probably cry at some point. But if you are someone who wants to challenge yourself and try living in another country, then apply. You will grow and you will learn so much about yourself and experience another culture drastically different from America. But if you never wanted to live out of America, don’t apply. If you only want to apply for the name brand of Fulbright, don’t apply. People can see through a mask, especially students.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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What's the Kerfuffle?

ASU MFA student creates Kerfuffle, a theater for young children.
What is with the "Caterpillar's Footprint"? Lots of kid-friendly fun.
March 8, 2016

ASU MFA student creates theater company for very young children

Ashley Laverty doesn’t mind when her shows have an element of chaos.

In fact, she encourages it.

It’s also the reason why the Arizona State University student has named her theater company Kerfuffle, which means a commotion or fuss. The company produces interactive performances for children age 5 and younger.

“There have been a lot of chaotic moments during our shows, but we try to embrace them and remember chaos is not a bad thing,” said Laverty, who is an MFA student in the School of Film, Dance and TheaterThe School of Film, Dance and Theater is in ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts..

“Obviously things will always go wrong in a production and that is OK. We don’t try and fix it. This is a show for children under 5, and we want them to behave like they’re under 5. They don’t have to sit still if they don’t want to.”

Laverty’s words come on the eve of her first production, “The Caterpillar’s Footprint,” which began an 18-show engagement at Mesa’s i.d.e.a. Museum on Tuesday. It runs through March 13.

A unique theater production.

Actor Amanda Pintore (center) emerges
as a butterfly near the end of a dress
rehearsal of "The Caterpillar's Footprint"
at the i.d.e.a. Museum in Mesa on
March 7.

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The 30-minute magical show takes the audience on a journey through a fantasy forest where a bear, a dinosaur and a fox meet a caterpillar. Featuring music and puppets inside a 14-foot dome with mushroom-cap seats, it’s designed to engage very young audiences.

A recent dress rehearsal started when the bear and the dinosaur chummed up Owyn and Joel Gramp — ages 6 and 3, respectively — in an outside play area. Once the Gramps became familiar with the characters, they were invited into a “forest,” which included rugs, logs, pillows and flowerpots. After a few minutes, the flap of the Kerfuffle tent was opened and the two were treated to the performance. The boys smiled, giggled and laughed aloud at times. Their eyes also revealed a few lightbulb moments.

“I saw a need for this type of theater because it just doesn’t exist in Arizona,” Laverty said of targeting very young children. “This is a way for young children to sit and watch theater that fosters their imagination, helps develop their brains and to be engaged with the characters.”

The inspiration for “The Caterpillar’s Footprint” came after Kerfuffle’s team, which includes fellow MFA students Amanda Pintore and Andy Waldron, spent time with children attending Mesa’s Good Earth Montessori School and Bright Horizons at ASU.

“There are lots of moments during the show where we interact with each individual in the audience and they have the option to speak, laugh, react or not even go into the tent,” said Pintore, who plays the part of the curious caterpillar. “We’re not going to tell them, ‘No,’ or how to react or behave as long as they are safe. We don’t have traditional expectations of our audience.”

Waldron, who plays the part of the bear and the fox, said “The Caterpillar’s Footprint” is special because it’s reactive to each individual child.

“As a performer there is a certain structure, but we improvise based on what they give us,” Waldron said. “We greet each child and realize their ideas and creativity in real time.”

The show is also Laverty’s culminating applied project for completion in the Masters of Fine Arts Theatre for Youth program at ASU. It is also a Pave Arts Venture IncubatorThe Pave Arts Venture Incubator is part of the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, which supports arts entrepreneurship education and undertaking entrepreneurial activities and research. 2015 grant recipient.

Laverty, a former children’s theater actress in New York City, playwright and artist in residence at Lowell Elementary School in Mesa, said starting Kerfuffle has been challenging at times but ultimately rewarding.

“I’ve never started a theater company before and I’ve never written a thesis before, so combining these two elements for my applied project has been stressful,” Laverty said. “But I must say to see these young children so engaged and affected has been amazing, which makes it all worth it. It’s really been special.”

“The Caterpillar’s Footprint”

When: March 8-13

Where: i.d.e.a. Museum, 150 W. Pepper Place, Mesa

Details: For performance times, tickets and additional details, visit this page.

Top photo: Actor Amanda Pintore, as a caterpillar, allows 3-year-old Joel Gramp to touch her head in the dress rehearsal of Kerfuffle production of "The Caterpillar's Footprint" at the i.d.e.a. Museum in Mesa, on March 7. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Spike Lee frames dialogue on education and film at ASU Gammage

Spike Lee on education and the film industry.
Spike Lee says America needs to make education cool again.
March 4, 2016

Spike Lee, who has been hailed as a visionary filmmaker, the voice of a new generation and agent provocateur on many social issues, admitted to an Arizona State University audience that his point of view is firmly rooted in “old school” values of the 20th century. 

“I’m from an era where your parents told you what to do,” Lee told a capacity crowd of 3,000 people at ASU Gammage Friday evening, many of them aspiring filmmakers and artists. “There was no discussion or debate. Whether I liked it or not, I said ‘yes.’ ”

That message seemed to resonate with the standing room only crowd who came to hear Lee discuss his views on education, politics and the film industry.

The Academy Award-nominated director known for “Do The Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” was invited by ASU’s Film SparkASU’s Film Spark is a unit of ASUs Herberger Institute for the Design and Arts., a film and media program based in Los Angeles that connects students to jobs in the entertainment industry.

Sporting a New York Yankees baseball cap, white and black polka dot jacket and black T-shirt and tennis shoes, politics and education were on the filmmakers' mind.

Lee, who praised ASU’s efforts to innovate in higher education, said he believes the state of learning has gone backward and that popular culture has glamorized the idea of “keeping it real” in favor of growing intellectualism.

Spike Lee at ASU Gammage

Spike Lee speaks to the audience during
an event at ASU Gammage on the Tempe
campus Friday, March 4, 2016. The iconic
director discussed his path into film and the
industry itself. 
Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“We never, ever made fun of anybody who was smart. You got as much love for your intelligence, as much as athletes got for sports,” said Lee, who grew up in Brooklyn the son a jazz musician father and a mother who taught arts and literature. “It’s all turned around today … it’s no longer cool to have straight A’s or pursue academics. We have to turn this around.”

Lee said his life turned around when he discovered film — or as he stated — “it found him” in the summer of 1977. That’s when he returned to Brooklyn after his first year at Morehouse College, a private, all-male, historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was a “D+, C-minus” student through his first two years.

“It wasn’t because I wasn’t smart,” Lee said. “I just wasn’t motivated.”

He got motivated during the summer break before his junior year when he found a Super 8 camera on a friend’s bedroom floor and used it to film looters during a famous electricity blackout in July, 1977. Lee assembled the footage when he went back to Morehouse and with the help and guidance of a film instructor, put together his first film, “Last Hustle in Brooklyn.”

“I finally said, ‘This is what I want to do in life’ and I am doing what I love,” Lee said. “When you do a job you love, it’s not a job anymore. Hopefully you have not chosen a degree depending on how much money you can make. The worst existence you have is to go to a job you hate. For me, that’s not living, but living paycheck to paycheck.”

Lee told aspiring filmmakers that a life in cinema is not for the weak or faint of heart.

“This business is tough. It’s tough,” said the director whose latest film “Chi-Raq” was produced by Amazon Studios. “There is no such thing as an overnight success. Don’t believe it. Whatever you do, you have to learn your craft. You gotta work, work, work.”

Lee also spoke about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that caused him to skip this year's Academy Awards ceremony. (He attended a New York Knicks game while dressed in a tuxedo — a message to the entertainment industry.)

“The Academy Awards have nothing to do with jobs, the battle is with the studios, the gatekeepers,” Lee said. “Until there’s more diversity in those areas, nothing will change … filming with diverse casts make more money but we’re not in the room where these discussions are made.”

Spike Lee to host live Q&A at ASU

Iconic director to help usher in university's new Film Spark program

February 29, 2016

Spike Lee's projects and statements tend to attract attention. And in the last three months the iconic film director and cultural voice has been making waves, again.

The man who crafted “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” has received an Academy Honorary Award; released his controversial gun control film, “Chi-Raq,” as Amazon Studio’s first original movie; and ignited media buzz by announcing that he would skip the Oscars because their nominations lacked diversity. Spike Lee Spike Lee directed the films "Do the Right Thing," "Malcolm X," "Old Boy" and many others. His latest release is "Chi-Raq." Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons Download Full Image

Just days after shunning the Oscars, Lee will be at ASU Gammage at 7 p.m. Friday, March 4, to host a live, free Q&A session with ASU students and audience members. The discussion will focus on contemporary issues including gun control and race relations as well as Lee’s visionary work in a culture dominated by re-makes, sequels and franchised superheroes.

The presentation, “Why We Need Spike Lee — and All Visionary Artists,” is the inaugural event sponsored by ASU’s Film Spark, a recently-formalized program to give students Hollywood experience. The program, based in ASU’s California Center in Santa Monica, has been informally organizing events and connecting students with internships and filmmaking opportunities but was fully launched in January 2016 with an official endorsement from ASU President Michael Crow.

“Programs like Film Spark demonstrate why ASU was ranked the country’s most innovative school by U.S. World and News Report,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “Bringing a world renowned and groundbreaking filmmaker like Spike Lee to campus to talk about the future of movies is exactly what the largest and most comprehensive arts and design school in the country should be doing.”

“I saw Spike Lee speak as an undergraduate and graduate student,” said Adam Collis, a professor in the Herberger Institute's School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and the director of ASU Film Spark. “The experience was life changing. The opportunity to bring this free event to the ASU community as well as to the general public is a great honor and demonstrates how ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts fulfills its mission to transform society and project all voices.”

In alignment with that mission, ASU Film Spark has three primary goals that situate it at intersection of the entertainment industry and academia: 

• Career Accelerator: to advance the careers of ASU students and alumni in the entertainment industry

• Innovation Hub: to develop ideas and practices for a better industry, culture and society

• Southern California Outreach Arm: to expand awareness of ASU for the industry and prospective high school students

Film Spark began as a simple video-conference with a filmmaker that grew into a mission to connect ASU with the best filmmakers and executives in the world.

“After our first video-conference, my students went crazy,” Collis said. “It was obvious that we could deliver a lot of value by connecting them with successful filmmakers.”

Since then, ASU students have had the opportunity to speak with four Oscar-winners, five Oscar-nominees, three studio chiefs and the presidents of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America, as well as numerous blockbuster producers and award-winning directors.

Film Spark’s Feature Film Internship Initiative gave 85 ASU students and 15 recent alumni the chance to learn filmmaking on an actual feature film set with an Oscar-winner cast and crew on the production of “Car Dogs,” which will be released in September of this year.

Major upcoming Film Spark activities include:

• 2016 Feature Film Internship Project: For the fourth year in a row, students have the opportunity to learn how to prep, film, edit and publicize a feature film alongside veteran Hollywood professionals as interns on a feature film set. This year’s project is an innovative documentary executive produced by three-time Oscar winner Mark Jonathan Harris.

• Hollywood Invades Tempe!: A screening/Q&A series featuring “Jurassic Park” and special effects artist Mike Trcic.

• Coffee with Howard: Gives film students one-on-one career consultations with Emmy-nominated writer-producer and ASU alum Howard Burkons.

• Hollywood Alumni Hotline: Offers young alums facing critical career decisions the chance to get advice from veteran industry professionals.

• All for One: A national gathering to promote gender equality both behind and in front of the cameras.

• Welcome To Hollywood: An ongoing class that gives students a 50,000-foot view of the entertainment industry while giving them the chance to learn from working Hollywood professionals who visit the class.

To reserve your ticket for “Why We Need Spike Lee” visit This event is free and open to the public and will be covered on Twitter using the hashtag #SpikeLeeASU.

To learn more about ASU Film Spark, visit To stay up on current events and programming, follow ASUFilmSpark on Facebook and Twitter.

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Black Arts Matter

The role of art in the Black Lives Matter movement.
February 22, 2016

ASU professors spearhead community event highlighting the role of art in social justice

The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 when the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin prompted an international outcry on social media under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Since then, the movement has expanded physically — there are currently at least 23 Black Lives Matter chapters in the U.S., Canada and Ghana — and diversified its tactics for combatting injustice.

This month Nia Witherspoon, an assistant professor of theater in the ASU School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts., is highlighting the role of the arts as a necessary component of the Black Lives Matter movement and movements for social justice more generally. 

“We have to reconceptualize what we think of as art when we’re talking about black art,” said Witherspoon (pictured above). “Black art is absolutely fundamental and essential to black life.” 

In conjunction with Mary Stephens, producing director of ASU’s Performance in the BorderlandsPerformance in the Borderlands is an initiative of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University., Witherspoon has staged a series of workshops, performances and other events under the banner BlackARTSMatter, which will take place Feb. 19–28 throughout the Valley. 

Mesa Arts Center, Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Black Theatre Troupe and South Mountain Community College are also involved, making BlackARTSMatter a community-driven event.

Check out the full event listing here or visit the Facebook event page.

Communications Program Coordinator , ASU Art Museum