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The truth behind Wonder Woman

Dropping some truth about the man who created Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is everywhere, but do you know her real-life creation story?
ASU play examines the story of the man who created Wonder Woman.
February 11, 2016

Play examines the man who created superhero, and his sometimes racy past

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. ... The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” — William Moulton Marston, in "The American Scholar"

It’s hard to imagine a time before Wonder Woman.

Even now, years after her creation, the image of the most archetypal female superhero is so firmly embedded in our cultural zeitgeist that there’s at least one person at every Halloween party dressed up in her iconic, star-dotted tiara.

And with Wonder Woman taking a co-starring role in the upcoming "Batman v Superman" movie, she's becoming part of the zeitgeist for a new generation of fans. And with that, they might wonder where she came from.

“Lasso of Truth” can help fill in that background. The play, written by Carson Kreitzer and being staged at Arizona State University this weekend, tells the story of the man behind Wonder Woman. William Moulton Marston was the psychologist who invented the lie-detector test and later conceived one of the great feminist icons of the 20th century. He was also in a polyamorous relationship with two women (here’s where the story starts to get racy).

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. presents "Lasso of Truth" as part of its 2015-16 MainStage season, directed by guest director Pamela Fields and starring ASU students.

The play will be performed at the Lyceum Theatre on ASU’s Tempe Campus at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12–13 and 18–20 and 2 p.m. Feb. 14 and 21.

Tickets are $16; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for senior citizens; and $8 for students. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 480-965-6447.

Communications Program Coordinator , ASU Art Museum


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Joking aside, Maysoon Zayid teaches lessons of inclusion

Comedian Maysoon Zayid returns to ASU to teach, preach accessibility.
ASU students learning stand-up from a real comedian.
February 1, 2016

ASU's first comedian-in-residence aims to help university become most accessible in nation

When Maysoon Zayid presented the most watched TED Talk of 2014, she spoke of a turning point in her career: her senior year studying theater at Arizona State University.

That year, Zayid auditioned for the role of a girl with cerebral palsy.

“I was a girl with cerebral palsy, so I was convinced that I was finally going to get the part. And I didn’t get the part,” she said. In that moment, Zayid more closely understood the challenges facing disabled performers.

Now, the stand-up comedian, co-founder of the New York Arab-American Comedy Festival, Hollywood actress and global advocate for equality is back in ASU’s classrooms, this time as a faculty member and comedian-in-residence — thought to be the first role of its kind for a university.

Man in an interesting pose.

Graduate acting student Mike Largent performs
a special character he has been developing during
his stand-up comedy class with Maysoon Zayid at the
Nelson Fine Arts Center in Tempe on Jan. 28.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“I decided to come back because one of the most influential people in my life was my theater teacher at Arizona State University, [director and Tony Award nominee] Marshall Mason. I believe that if I had not been taught by Marshall Mason I would not have even become a comedian. He set me on the path I made to use comedy as my way into entertainment,” she said, marveling at how the campus has changed since her graduation in 1996. “It’s really amazing to be back here 20 years later. I call it my triumphant return.”

During her residency, which is co-sponsored by the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and ASU Gammage, Zayid (pictured above during class) is teaching a stand-up course for students majoring in any discipline, leading workshops (including one on Feb. 2) and moderating a comedy competition featuring celebrity judges.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said film student Robert Rossfeld, who is a member of Zayid’s class. “It’s a really nice atmosphere where everybody feels comfortable. I feel myself learning every day and leaving class a little stronger. It’s great.”

On the weekends, Zayid is on tour. She is working alongside her students to develop jokes, and she says she has more new material now than she has had in years.

In addition, Zayid is hosting a weekly web series, “Advice You Don’t Want to Hear,” in which she answers questions submitted from the ASU community. Her first pieces of advice are to compete with one’s self, not with others, and to let things go — or, if one can’t let go, to find help.

What she says she is most excited for is “Disability Festivus,” a sequence of open and welcoming meetings for students of all abilities to discuss their experiences on campus, learn to advocate for themselves, find encouragement to take advantage of the university’s disability resources and — importantly — be what Zayid calls “loud and proud” of who they are.

“I’m not just here to do comedy. I’ve put my shaky hand in the hand of ASU’s because we dream of making this the most accessible campus in the nation — if not the world,” Zayid said, noting that she thinks ASU is doing a fantastic job of making people from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable.

As part of that ambition, Zayid is working with ASU’s Disability Resource Center to introduce live captioning — a real-time transcription of spoken sounds and words for the deaf and hard of hearing — at her events. She wants to model that including others who may seem different makes “everything much more vibrant, and much more educational and much more fun.”

“We are so fortunate to have Maysoon back at ASU and telling her story,” said Jake Pinholster, associate dean of policy and initiative and professor of performance design in the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. “She demonstrates how comedy can bring people together — even if they don’t originally think they have much in common.”

“It’s something old, something new — that’s what I feel about coming back to ASU. The fine arts and music buildings are very familiar to me, but what I think is so different is the fact that the campus is so diverse. I’m amazed,” Zayid said. “I’m really proud to be back here because, in the past decade, ASU has really revolutionized itself. I think now ASU has become a school that people really want to go to because it’s so innovative, it has such an incredible staff and it has a guest comedian-in-residence.

“What more could you ask for?”

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Spreading the message on big data

Worried about big data tracking your life? This public conversation can help.
Find out how corporations are making money from your data.
January 29, 2016

ASU's Human Security Collaboratory hosts conversations about how your personal data is used by corporations

“Big data” sounds like it could be a pretty boring topic, maybe not something you want to bring up during a dinner party. 

But the intrigue builds when you discover that corporations are making money off the data you create while grocery shopping, applying for a home loan or casually strolling through the mall, transforming our everyday activities into "invisible labor" for them. It’s part of the “big data” construct, a virtual representation of your movements, interests and interactions tied to purchases and the use of our many smart devices.

In an effort to inform the public about big data and how it’s used, Arizona State University’s Human Security Collaboratory is hosting a series of “Critical Conversations” about human security research and impact activities. The first of these free, public conversations, “(Un) Corporal Technologies: How Data, Algorithms and Interfaces Rub Up Against the Body,” is from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 1, in room 492 of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 (ISTB4), on the Tempe campus.

While new technologies and devices have shaped and redefined our world, not all of it is for the better. The information shed from your devices and personal computer can also be detrimental — it can prevent a person from getting a job, a house or vital medical coverage — all because your data is packaged and sold to corporations who may be using your personal data for very different purposes.

“The legal world has yet to catch up with what our digital tools are doing in our everyday lives in regards to Digital Civil Rights,” said Jacqueline Wernimont, a professor in the Department of English and co-founder of ASU’s recently formed Human Security Collaboratory.

“Everyday technology puts you at risk because the information is shared and sold, and has a much bigger impact than most people realize.”

Launched by the Global Security InitiativeThe Global Security Initiative (GSI) is a university-wide interdisciplinary hub for global security research that focuses on openness, inclusiveness and connections to the global defense, development and diplomacy communities. The initiative addresses emerging global challenges characterized by complex interdependencies and conflicting objectives, where there may not be obvious solutions. GSI also serves as ASU’s primary interface to the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community and ASURE (ASU Research Enterprise), an off-campus research facility., the Human Security Collaboratory is focused on addressing complex problems affecting the security of individuals and communities, with a special emphasis on digital technologies and their uses.

“The idea of big data is a very intangible thing, and many people might not even know what it means,” said Jessica Rajko, a professor in the School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts., who, along with Wernimont, is co-director of the collaboratory.

“So how do we start to engage the public to make them not only understand what it means, but also how it can be meaningful for them?”

Last semester, Wernimont and Rajko presented “Vibrant Lives and Data Archives,” a performance installation that demonstrated the concept of personal “data shed” by providing an experience in which the data could be seen, heard and felt.

Data shed refers to the nearly 3.5 million bytes of data produced per person, per day. The data is unique to each person because it is derived from things like smartphone apps or wearable fitness devices that record a person’s behavior and data. It sounds relatively innocuous until Wernimont cites a few examples.

“If you’re at the mall with your iPhone or Android in your pocket with the Bluetooth on, it is possible to track what stores you've visited and for how long,” Wernimont said. “Or, let’s say you’re a recruiter searching for potential employees on a job website and put in certain parameters and lo and behold, there’s nothing but male candidates for the job. Well, that's potentially the result of algorithms that are favoring a certain community and that's illegal. Similarly, we see the phenomenon of reverse redlining, which has leveraged everyday information to target people for subprime loans.”

And that discount card you use at the grocery store that entitles you to some pretty smokin’ deals? Rest assured the corporation who owns the grocer is not only using it to track consumer behavior, but is probably selling the data to others and getting their money back tenfold.

Which is why the collaborative is engaging ASU faculty and researchers with its series of lunchtime conversation.

“What we’re doing is finding as many different ways as possible to meet the average person where they are in terms of knowledge about their data shed,” said Rajko, who said the collaborative will also host lab sessions, host a personal data and wearable-devices charette and present its work at an international retreat.

“These are all creative strategies to understand and address these topics because our goal is to be proactive rather than reactive.”

Human Security Critical Conversations:

• “(Un) Corporal Technologies: How Data, Algorithms and Interfaces Rub Up Against the Body,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 1 in ISTB4 492

• “Who Has the Rights? Data Ownership, Invisible Labor, and Agency,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 22 in ISTB4 492

• “Healthy Data: Health, Data and Healthy Practices in the Age of the Quantified-Self,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 21 in ISTB4 492

• “Algorithmic Bias: Subjectivity and Implicit Biases in Algorithm and Tech Design,” 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 18 in ISTB4 492

Reporter , ASU News


Emerging Artists III features dance explorations of social stigma and transformation

January 25, 2016

Emerging Artists is a series of dance performances featuring choreography from the graduating MFA in Dance students in the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre. These thesis projects are the accumulation of several years of study, exploring a variety of issues through movement, interactive media and performance.

This year’s iteration of Emerging Artists III will feature Ricardo Alvarez and Jenny Gerena. Emerging Artists III Photo by Tim Trumble courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Alvarez’s work, “It’s My Party,” is an immersive multi-media production that focuses on understanding the social and personal issues surrounding HIV stigma. Drawing from a series of round table conversations with newly diagnosed HIV+ young adults, Alvarez seeks to illuminate how HIV+ individuals find empowerment and personal acceptance.

“My hope is to show others that although it may be difficult for someone to accept their HIV+ diagnosis, that it doesn’t have to change who they are,” Alvarez said. “They are not a statistic; they are not a bad person; they do not deserve to feel ashamed.”

Gerena’s production, “Flesh Narratives,” is series of 5 distinct pieces that explores the power of personal narrative and storytelling as told through the language of the body. The interplay of creation and destruction, the transformation of seasons and the transformative power of water are examples of themes explored in each work.

“I aim to create pieces that allow the dancers as well as the audience to feel a sense of nostalgia, perhaps taking them back into their personal memory bank to assign meaning to what they are experiencing,” Gerena said. “In short I make choreography to communicate, share and provoke emotions or thoughts that extend beyond our physical understandings of our reality.”

Emerging Artists III, featuring Ricardo Alvarez’s “It’s My Party” and Jenny Gerena’s “Flesh Narratives,” is playing at the Dance Lab in the Nelson Fine Arts Center room 122 on ASU’s Tempe campus at these times: 

6:30 p.m. Jan. 29
7:30 p.m. Jan. 30
2 p.m. Jan. 31

Tickets are $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for senior citizens; and $8 for student. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 480-965-6447.

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


Marvin Gonzalez

January 15, 2016

Marvin Gonzalez, a second-year Master of Fine Arts in dramatic writing student, has been selected to participate in the acclaimed Theatre Masters’ Take Ten 2016: National MFA Playwrights Festival and Aspiring Playwright Competition.

Gonzalez’' 10-minute play, "“Prostheses Bound,”" a story of a man’s difficulty adjusting to cutting-edge myoelectric prosthetic arms, was chosen from among submissions from the top Master of Fine Arts playwriting programs in the country. Gonzalez will represent Arizona State University in the festival, which includes Master of Fine Arts students from the University of Iowa, Yale and Carnegie Mellon, among others. Download Full Image

The winning playwrights will participate in a workshop and reading presentation in Aspen, Colorado, Jan. 30 through Feb. 2. They will present before a professional panel and will have the chance to rewrite their work before Theatre Masters presents an Equity production of their plays to members of the New York City industry in late April 2016.

"“This is the first time that ASU has been invited to participate in this competition, and we got in,”" says Gonzalez. “"I'’m just happy to have the opportunity to show that the next generation of American playwrights are springing up across the whole country, including right here in Arizona.”"

Setting the stage for academic conversation

ASU theater experts help bridge gulf between theory, practice

January 14, 2016

Academic writing gets a bad rap.

The journals, books and periodicals of colleges and universities are often viewed as divorced from the real world; there is a large gulf separating theory from practice and academic research from everyday life. The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

But that gulf is slowly diminishing as academic discourse opens up to a larger audience, thanks to the Internet. Websites and blogging platforms are helping to bring both theoretical and practical discussions to a larger community, creating a space for discovery and innovation.

In the realm of theater, HowlRound is that space. The online journal and blogging platform was established four years ago as “a place for artists to provide feedback, learning, expertise, frustration, and vision — in an effort to enliven the fields of theater and performance to the aspiring and established artist alike.”

Just this year, Arizona State University was named No. 1 in innovation by U.S. News and World Report 2016 college rankings. It comes as no surprise, then, that the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre is at the cutting edge of innovative discussions, both in the classroom and online. Since HowlRound’s founding, nearly a dozen ASU-affiliated students, alumni and faculty have contributed to the site on topics ranging from stage combat to immersive theater.

"ASU faculty and students are bringing artists, scholars and theatermakers of all kinds into conversation with one another,” said Jamie Gahlon, senior creative producer of HowlRound. “Their contributions to HowlRound are helping to bridge the gulf between theory and practice for the advancement of theatrical form and discourse."

Julie Rada, an alumna of the MFA in Theatre (concentration in performance) program at ASU, who now works at the University of Utah as a Raymond C. Morales Fellow, has written for the blog on three separate occasions, covering such topics as casting practices in devised theater. She said she writes for HowlRound both because it is speedier than writing for an academic journal and because of the ethics of the site (it’s free to users, unlike journals, which are only free to people with academic institutional affiliations). 

“It really is a kind of ‘melting pot’ of academic, scholarly, interrogative publishing, practical how-to’s and idealistic musings from emerging artists,” Rada said. “There’s space for everyone at the table, particularly with the three possibilities for submission (blog, article or series). There are some heavy-hitters in the field who contribute: heads of academic departments, founders of seminal theater companies and ensembles, published playwrights, etc. There’s always the possibility that someone you admire and respect will read and comment on your writing. That’s very exciting.”

Dan Fine is an alumnus of the MFA in Theatre (concentration in interdisciplinary digital media) program, a joint degree of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. He’s teaching a graduate class on performance technology in the theater department at ASU. He was encouraged to write by Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theater in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, and he ultimately decided to share that writing (a series of instructives on media design) on HowlRound because he felt it would reach a larger audience. 

“What I find with a lot of practitioners is that we are just too busy to write about what we’re doing — because we are constantly doing things,” said Fine. “So there tends to be a lot of information that’s not shared because of that.” 

Fine said the online format of HowlRound seemed like the best way to get that information out to people, especially in a field like media design, which is digitally based to begin with.

“It’s something that feels less physically tangible, because you can’t pick it up and touch it, like a book or a journal,” he said of online writing. “But in a different way it feels more tangible because it’s active, it feels like it has more life.”

"HowlRound and similar outlets are opening up new ground for discourse in the theater profession,” said Jacob Pinholster, director of ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Where previously we had a ‘never the twain shall meet’ gulf between popular websites and academic journals, we now have an amazing new field for true interplay between ideas and practice. It is an eloquent statement about both HowlRound's and ASU's relevance to emerging practices and trends in theater that so many of our students, faculty and alumni are consistent contributors."

And the dialogue can only expand further. HowlRound is always open to pitches for essays, blog posts, series and criticism.

“Better thinking makes better art,” Rada said. “The ability to organize your thoughts can make the ephemeral and often evocative work of the theater more tangible and communicative to a wider audience. This requires agile, flexible thinking. And thinking is made better by writing.”

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


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Dance legend Liz Lerman to join ASU

World-famous dance legend bringing her talents to ASU.
Liz Lerman, dancer extraordinaire, ready to move ASU students.
January 7, 2016

Dance Exchange founder and MacArthur fellow to teach, launch Ensemble Lab

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

Liz Lerman — choreographer, author, educator and 2002 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship recipient — will join the faculty of Arizona State University at the beginning of the spring semester.

Widely recognized as an important influence in the worlds of dance, arts-based community engagement and cross-disciplinary collaboration, Lerman will assume a unique position as Institute Professor to lead programs and courses that span disciplines within and beyond ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“When I arrived at ASU, President Crow challenged me to recruit a leading artist and public intellectual to the Institute. I wanted to bring to ASU someone who has transformed how artists work in the world — whose life’s work is a testimony to everything we believe the Herberger Institute stands for — artistry and scholarship that is fully engaged in public life and open to new techniques, new partners and new spaces for creative work. I immediately thought of Liz — perhaps the most creative, generative and generous artist working in America,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.   

“My appointment here, as much as it’s about the art, it’s also about the university itself and its interest right now in multidisciplinary practice and its relationship to the community on the whole,” said Lerman, citing her enthusiasm for Tepper’s vision that design and the arts are critical resources for transforming society at every level. “This is an incredible opportunity to leverage the talent of this great university to advance what has always been for me the intersection of artistic practice for the stage with broader civic purposes.”

As a young artist based in Washington, D.C., Lerman (shown in the top photo by Lise Metzger) founded the Dance Exchange in 1976. She cultivated its multigenerational ensemble into a leading influence in contemporary dance until 2011, when she began an independent phase of her career, including a recent residency at Harvard University.

Working with collaborators from fields as diverse as genomics, to religion, to physics, her work has won critical and scholarly attention and has included an examination of human-rights law commissioned for the Harvard Law School; a dance about origins launched in the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and later performed at ASU Gammage; nine short performances about the defense budget; and innovative residencies and collaborations that span nursing homes and medical schools to the National Academy of Sciences and the London Dance Umbrella.

Her Shipyard Project engaged hundreds of local citizens to reflect on the historic and controversial shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and was one of many community-based endeavors in which she demonstrated the role of art in fostering civic dialogue and promoting social capital.

Recently, Lerman debuted "Healing Wars," a theatrical dance about the role of healers tasked with treating the physical and psychological trauma of war.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘What makes something good at a children’s hospital? What makes it good when it’s on stage? What makes it good in whatever environment you’re in?’ ” asked Lerman. “There’s permeability between studio art and community art. Sometimes you’re in both worlds. That seems to me more true of how life is.”

At ASU’s Herberger Institute, Lerman will create a cooperative of artists, researchers and civic leaders in a lab-like environment to experiment with methods and techniques for broad social impact. Working across disciplinary lines and schools, her Ensemble Lab will examine the role of artists in society, expand artists’ professional opportunities, and prepare artists to be both imaginative innovators and civic partners.

Lerman will integrate her widely recognized Critical Response Process — a four-step system for giving and receiving feedback on artistic works in progress — into “Animating Research,” a course she will teach during her inaugural semester. The course will link Herberger Institute students to an array of ASU research projects in ways that will enable artists to refine their personal voice while also translating ideas, statistics and other research into new forms.

“When we think about the role of the artist in society, a central theme of Liz’s work at ASU will focus on equity, inclusion and the need to embrace and advance all creative voices in America,” Tepper said. “Liz’s Ensemble Lab will allow us to experiment and reinvent the 21st-century design and arts school so that we are tapping into and helping to advance the creativity inherent in our diverse culture and society.” 

“ASU is giving me a platform to extend my artistic explorations and a chance to work alongside great faculty and students, all of us embarked on the mission of expanding the role of artists in society,” Lerman said. “Personal expression matters: It has been the central focus of the arts in the 20th century. But now it’s important to take the skills and priorities developed through the arts into the wider world. The Herberger Institute has already embarked on that work. I am excited to be a part of advancing it into the future.”

Top photo by Lise Metzger; video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Sparked by film's impact

Grad moving to LA to pursue film dreams, work for ASU's Film Spark program

December 15, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Ashley Peatross always knew she wanted to be involved in entertainment production — she just wasn’t sure where that path would ultimately lead.  Woman looking into the camera. Ashley Peatross is graduating from ASU with a film degree, but she's not leaving the university. Peatross is moving on to work with ASU's Film Spark program in Santa Monica. Download Full Image

The 27-year-old Cleveland transplant came to Arizona State University to study film after obtaining a degree in recording arts and technology from "Tri-C University" (Cuyahoga Community College) in her hometown.

“The reason I came here was not only because I saw the connection to Los Angeles with Hollywood Invades Tempe [a film-screening series at ASU] bringing industry professionals here, but also because this is just a great place to learn, to make mistakes, to get support from your professors. We have a lot of resources that we can use,” Peatross says.

During her time in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, Peatross was quick to take advantage of these resources.

The first big opportunity for Peatross — who chased her bachelor's in film with a concentration in film and media production — came when she was selected to participate in ASU Film Spark’s Feature Film Internship Initiative for the movie “Car Dogs.”

“I said to myself, ‘I’m a film student — I need to get my hands involved,’ ” Peatross says. “With film, you can’t just teach it [in a classroom]. You have to be on set, you have to learn hands-on. So I thought, why not do it? They brought in industry professionals, they taught us so much, and I learned a tremendous amount about everything.”

Peatross worked as assistant to the line producer, and even took on a small acting role in the film, playing Octavia Spencer’s daughter during the four months of production. But her true passion is directing.

For her senior film capstone project, Peatross got to explore this role; she wrote, produced and directed a film titled “Embrace,” which told the story of a young tattoo artist having to choose between saving his deceased mother’s tattoo shop or pursuing his dream as a fine artist.

“With directing you get to work with actors, you get to see how the story unfolds, you get to communicate with your cast and crew … and when you finally get to say 'action,' and you get to see them actually perform your word and everybody’s behind you supporting you as you’re seeing your project come to life, it’s amazing,” Peatross says.

“Embrace” was selected to be screened at the Fall Film Capstone Showcase, where Peatross was subsequently awarded the F. Miguel Valenti Award for Ethical Filmmaking, which is presented to the project that substantially and significantly represents issues and themes related to ethical inquiries and/or represents complex and difficult subject matter in an ethically responsible and compelling manner.

The future looks bright for this grad. She already has a fellowship lined up post-graduation at the brand-new ASU Film Spark offices in Santa Monica, California. Film Spark is a career accelerator and industry innovation incubator responsible for programs like Hollywood Invades Tempe and the Feature Film Internship Initiative. In just five years, Film Spark has connected ASU students with five Oscar winners, six Oscar nominees, numerous blockbuster producers and many award-winning directors.

Peatross’ ultimate dream? To one day direct and produce a major feature from a major studio that is an action/thriller. She sees it as a specific opportunity for a woman in a genre dominated by men.

“We don’t see enough of a male’s point of view looking through a woman’s lens,” Peatross says. “It’s different and it’s going to be a lot of work. There are a lot of years I still need to get under my belt for that.”

But in the meantime, she’s content to keep working toward those goals, and committing to what she cares about most.

“I love how film, and other kinds of media, can influence you and change your outlook or just make you laugh or cry,” Peatross says. “It can be relaxing or it can be intense and you can learn. It can take you different places, and I like them all.”

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


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Theater across prison walls

ASU takes its theater program into the prison system.
No first-show jitters as this stage show debuts in prison.
December 1, 2015

ASU students and Eyman Prison inmates unite for performance

Rania Zeineddine peers through a wall of windows, watching the audience fill the seats in this makeshift theater.

She and her fellow actors start the show tapping on the glass to get the attention of her co-stars on the other side. One of them, Charles Thigpen, comes over and flattens his palms against the glass. She does the same before they start laughing and mimicking each other as if the window were a mirror.

This will be the closest thing to physical contact these actors will have in their performance. Once the seats are filled and the doors open, the actors will have one strict rule to follow: No touching.

This isn’t an avant-garde theater edict. This is a condition of staging a play inside the boundaries of Eyman State Prison.

Zeineddine is one of three Arizona State University undergrads who coordinated and crafted “Free Drama,” a 45-minute joint production between the students and Eyman inmates that stages the journal entries these prisoners and students exchanged during the course of a semester in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’sThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Theatre Across Prison Walls class.

The doors finally open and the three students wearing ASU shirts walk inside, ready to join the prisoners wearing jumpsuits with “ADC” emblazoned on them.

There isn’t apprehension or fear. Rather, there are smiles and the joy coming from actors who get to perform their stories in front of an actual audience.

Prisoners performing a play.

Inmate Dusty Lewis plays the nagging
wife who beats "husband"
Gregory Fulton during a scene
written in "Free Drama."

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

An inspired design

Rivka Rocchio has spent the past two years teaching drama to inmates inside Arizona’s Eyman Prison. But it wasn’t until this semester that the ASU graduate student decided to incorporate undergrads into the process.

She liked the idea of teaching a class that involved an exchange of ideas between her students in prison and her undergraduate drama students. The idea was approved, but there was one problem: The two sides wouldn’t be able to regularly meet to create a production. So Rocchio, who is using this project as part of her graduate thesis, improvised.

“We asked them to create a master list of themes and motifs that they were interested in, so of those five themes they were interested in, I created a series of journal prompts,” Rocchio said.

They settled on five themes: going home, joy or enjoyment inside of prison, emotions, animals, and stereotypes and layers. Each week Rocchio would ask the students to write journal entries relating to the prompts. After the entries were exchanged between classes, the students selected the pieces that best fulfilled the themes.

Rocchio then gave students in each classes prompts to delve into deeper stories that were developed into group scenes or monologues.

But the exercise become more intriguing when Rocchio decided to have the students and prisoners swap stories for the performance.

The results were varied ­— an inmate spoke about a first summer job interview at Starbucks, an ASU theater major performed a monologue documenting drug addiction and redemption through the Bible and religion.

“That really gave the students the opportunity to try on each others’ stories, to live in that identity for a little while and experience what it would be like, what it would feel like to say as a 23-year-old college student I’ve been a drug addict for 40 years and this is the impact that it’s had on my life,” Rocchio said.

Salome Chuma, an ASU theater major, was cast in an inmate’s tale of fighting with a doctor while his newborn child was in the NICU.

“That was the first time he had ever mentioned that story to anyone else, and he was like, ‘It was interesting that this is a story that’s personal to me and it’s in my memory and now it’s something that you have in your memory now. It’s weird that it’s living in two different people, and I’m seeing that lived out through you,’ ” Chuma said. “As actors you kind of never forget a monologue, or a show, so it’s now a part of you just how it’s a part of them too …  it’s crazy.”

Performing with passion

Back in the Cook Unit of Eyman Prison, Chuma sits in a chair on “stage” during the performance in front of inmates and prison administrators.

Her hands are empty, but she relays a monologue about a letter inmate T.J. Garrison had written to his mom, who died during his time in prison. The dialogue explained his attempts to better himself and to better understand his mother’s motivations.

Garrison is soft-spoken and contemplative. His fingers are tattooed with letters that spell out “beauty.” He was convicted in 1997 at the age of 20 and wrote his journal entry on a day he simply “felt open,” which many Cook Unit inmates say is rare.

“When she performed the “mamalogue” I cried, I sat on the side and I was like, ‘Man, these people are going to see me cry,’ and I didn’t care and I let it go,” Garrison said. “To see something that I had written, put down and is going to be acted by somebody else, it made my heart swell, it made my heart swell a lot.”

Afterward, he thanked Chuma for the performance. She thanked him for sharing his emotions and words.

“I didn’t think anything I could do could ever have that kind of effect on somebody, and that felt really powerful,” Chuma said.

Much of the show, which veered from poignant introspection to comedy, inspired the same sentiments between parties.

As the production closed, Rocchio gives thanks to the Arizona Department of Corrections, her graduate adviser and to her students before asking the entire group to paint a large white banner with their thoughts about the performance with markers or fingers. Inmate Garrison writes a large and colorful “Namaste” while B. Brewer, his tattoed hands covered in purple paint, makes hand stamp prints up and down the banner.

An appreciated understanding

Rocchio said the moment this unique experience “clicked” for her students was during the hourlong car ride back to ASU from the prison in Florence. Her students related their initial apprehension and how it gave way to an understanding that drama became a shared experience to better understand another person they had seen as so different from themselves.

“That’s what I want you to get out of it,” Rocchio said. “You are people and these are people and you connect through the passions that you have for theater and art.”

Story, photos and video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

image title

Resiliency the secret to better health, living

Want to know a key to staying healthy? Live a resilient life.
Resiliency can mean many things, but the umbrella term means healthy living.
November 24, 2015

Talk to 10 doctors or academics and you’ll get 10 different definitions of what the word “resilience” means.

One might say it is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Another might argue it has to do with self-discovery.

What they all can agree on is that resilience is a key ingredient to health and wellness, and that the concept needs to be implemented into their areas of practice.

The Mayo Clinic's Center for Humanities in Medicine and the ASU Institute for Humanities Research hosted “The Art and Science of Resilience” at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale earlier this month as part of the Imagining Health series, an initiativeThe goal of the Imagining Health initiative, which launched in February, is three-fold: enhance medical humanities research, generate more permanent ties with the Mayo Clinic and grow research capacity and visibility at ASU to make it a flagship institution in this interdisciplinary field. that promotes university-clinic collaborations that transcend the borders of disciplinary knowledge to encourage advancements in our health and approaches to health care.

In other words, they encourage outside-the-box thinking — such as ASU teaching barbers to help their customers identify health issues or working with cancer-stricken kids to share their stories.

“Resilience is not something you’re born with, but it’s dynamic and you have to develop it over time,” said Larry R. Bergstrom, an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. “You can be resilient most of your life and have one incident change all that. My job is to try and help patients redevelop their resilience, and it mainly becomes a question of ‘Who am I?’ I try and help them get that back.”

If patients are cleared through medical tests, Bergstrom said he’ll test them holistically by asking about the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of their health. He said he looks specifically for cases of burnout or where people are no longer challenged in their lives and work. Once he can help patients identify trouble spots, they usually bounce back and resume normal lives.  

Olga Idriss Davis, an associate professor with ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Human CommunicationThe Hugh Downs School of Human Communication is part of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., said she views resilience through the prism of community, not as an individual approach.

“I’m particularly interested in how do we develop community-academic partnerships and create ways in which we can create connections, liaisons, partnerships and collaborations to bring about quality health to raise the consciousness of health in various communities,” Davis said during the panel. “Communities matter as we try and navigate ways to bring quality health to people that have been underrepresented.”

And like almost every aspect of health care, resiliency can be made or broken by a variety of external factors — including gender, childhood education, mentoring, structural conditions and lifestyle choices.

“If you had a heart attack and you went home and wanted to be resilient, you wouldn’t necessarily go back to the place or lifestyle that brought on the heart attack — diet, exercise, smoking or whatever that may be,” said Sally Kitch, director of the Institute for Humanities ResearchThe Institute for Humanities Research is a research unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at ASU. “Are we going to accept the new conditions we have or are we going to create better ones?”

Panelist Cythia Stonnington, an associate professor of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic, believes early childhood adversity can help develop a person’s resilience as they get older.

“Sometimes those earlier hardships are actually helpful in developing the resilience skills because it shows them what they’re capable of and they’ve become less anxious as a result,” Stonnington said. “One of the skills is knowing whether your initial adaptive process is relevant to the current situation … even though they are going through a hard time, they don’t become the illness.”

Part of promoting resiliency in health care is encouraging its development in other aspects of life. Building resilience in young artists is what Stephani Etheridge Woodson does in her role as associate professor and director at ASU’s School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts..

“We look at resilience as asset building instead of looking at risk management in a way that young folks do,” Woodson said. “There will be trauma, there will be conflict, and there will be tension — both academic and aesthetic — and that is part of the art-making process. So we build capacity for resilience within the process.”

ASU isn’t just talking a good game. Researchers and staff members are implementing their work in a variety of ways.

Woodson said in 2008 that she partnered with the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Program and started a digital storytelling project called iCreate. The program embeds an artist in the hematology/oncology units and provides medically fragile children an opportunity to play and create digitally, posting their stories on

Video: One of the stories to come out of iCreate.

“We have helped children ride dinosaurs, travel the world, look inside a volcano and connect with their friends,” Woodson said. “Play matters. Joy matters. Creative capacity is an asset.”

Through her work with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, Davis helped design a community-based collaboration with Phoenix-area barbers to form a health intervention program called the African American Cardiovascular Health Literacy Exploration. The program is designed to help barbershop owners to determine the health concerns of their customers.

“African-American men are often at the highest rate of mortality in terms of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. The list goes on,” Davis said. “The barbershop is a safe place where men can ask questions and get information they need to understand how they can improve their overall health.”

Reporter , ASU News