Rivka Rocchio

November 23, 2015

Rivka Rocchio, an Master of Fine Arts in theatre for youth student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, recently received several awards for her work with inmates from Eyman and Florence state prisons. She was awarded the Humanities Rising Star Award from Arizona Humanities and the Volunteer of the Year Award from Eyman and Florence state prisons.

Currently, she is working on a project called “"Theatre Across Prison Walls,"” which will bring together three Arizona State University students and 15 inmates from Eyman State Prison to create a new piece of theatre. It is expected that this partnership will build the creative capabilities, develop best methods of creating in community-based ensemble models, and expand understanding of issues surrounding incarceration for the students involved, as well as investigating new ways that prisons and universities can partner with one another. Download Full Image

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ASU students launch film 'At Dusk'

An ASU student film's journey begins "At Dusk."
ASU students prove filmmaking doesn’t have to be an abstract Hollywood dream.
November 19, 2015

Movie follows a reporter who uncovers secrets of a Southwestern mining town

Arizona is one of the most picturesque states to film a movie.

Good luck trying to get one made.

Although Arizona has been the backdrop for such classic flicks as “3:10 to Yuma,” “Psycho,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “Midnight Run,” the film climate is not as friendly as it once was. Neighboring states such as New Mexico and Utah are luring film and television productions to their respective states thanks to friendly tax incentives.

Those roadblocks, however, didn’t stop a group of determined ASU students from making “At Dusk,” a 90-minute feature film shot entirely in the Grand Canyon State.

“We proved that filmmaking doesn’t have to be an abstract Hollywood dream,” said producer Ryan Casey, a 22-year-old psychologyThe Department of Psychology is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. major at ASU.

“Arizona is a great place to film, and we’re hoping our movie will showcase the all of the assets our state has to offer. There really isn’t an industry here, and that’s a shame because it doesn’t have to be that way.”

ASU is hosting a launch event for “At Dusk” at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Arizona Science Center’s Irene P. Flinn Theater, 600 E. Washington St., Phoenix. Admission for the event is free. However, attendees are asked to RSVP through this site.

“At Dusk” centers on Claudia, who finds camcorder footage depicting the mysteriously grizzly murder of two hikers while on a camping trip. When the town regent discovers she has the footage, Claudia works alongside a rogue cop to unravel the conspiracy behind a corrupt mining town.

The film was conceived a few years ago by director Vinny Viti and screenwriter Scott Suddarth, high school buddies from New River, Arizona, who took midnight hikes through the desert to stretch their legs after hours of playing video games.

“To make things interesting on these hikes, Scott would tell me scary stories to try and freak me out. When he finished, I’d try to outdo him,” said Viti, who is a 21-year-old film and media production major in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“Those stories were eventually woven into a script a few years later, which led to this movie.”

But “At Dusk” isn’t Viti’s first dance with cinema. He has spent the past few years shooting approximately 50 short films with Shane Stevens, a 21-year-old student at Scottsdale Community College who serves as the film’s cinematographer. 

The students raised half of the film’s budget through an indie film crowd-funding site and the rest through wit and grit, according to Casey.

“Funding came through many measures, including family and friends. We also borrowed. ... A lot of favors were asked. Equipment was generously lent to us. It was guerilla filmmaking at its finest,” Casey said.

The shoot was no picnic, either. Filmed over a seven-week period in summer 2014 in the desert and woods of New River, Anthem, Cave Creek and north Phoenix, the 30-member crew had to deal with heat, bugs and dust, often logging in 14-hour days, four days a week.

“Trying to run through the desert terrain in 5-inch heels, the location came with its own set of challenges,” said lead actress Christine Conger, a theater majorIn the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. at the Herberger Institute. “At the same time, it was exciting to be a part of a film that takes advantage of Arizona’s inherently distinctive qualities, such as the desert environment, in a way that’s integral to the story being told.”

The other storyline that should be told, said Casey, is that fellow students and artists should step out of their comfort zones and go for their dreams.

“Life is very short and you only live once. People should take risks and follow their passion,” Casey said. “This production shows anything can be possible and it isn’t as difficult as you might think. It doesn’t take Steven Spielberg money to make a movie.”

“At Dusk” will be submitting to film festivals in February and eventually will be delivered on several different platforms.

Reporter , ASU News


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'A comedy for a cause'

ASU students get Hollywood filmmaking experience with unique summer internship.
ASU-made dark comedy film helps to fight ALS.
November 17, 2015

ASU students gain experience on 'Hollywood-style' film that's helping in fight vs. ALS

Valley theater vets Gene Ganssle and Ron Hunting had been meeting to play poker for roughly five years when Hunting began to lose the ability to shuffle.

That was around 2011, when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig's disease..

The pair remained good friends, and Hunting continued to be active in the local theater scene, determined to produce work as long as he was able.

In 2014 Ganssle, a lecturer in the School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is an academic unit of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. at Arizona State University, attended a staged reading of a play Hunting had written, titled “Anything You Hear and Only Half of What You See.”

Intrigued by its dark comedy and sense of mystery, Ganssle thought it would make a great film. So he broached the subject with Hunting, who was immediately receptive.

Time was of the essence, though, a fact both were acutely aware of.

“I’d never actually directed a feature before, and I thought this was the right time,” Ganssle said. “But I wanted to make sure he was at the premiere, so I moved forward quickly.”

As luck would have it, a fellow Herberger Institute faculty member, instructor Christopher LaMont, was looking for a film to take the place of another that had fallen through for ASU Film SparkIn past years, ASU Film Spark has produced the films “Car Dogs,” starring George Lopez, and “Justice Served,” starring Marvin Young, better known to most of the world as singer/rapper Young MC., a summer feature-film internship program that gives ASU film students the opportunity to gain experience working on a “Hollywood-style” film set.

So in July 2015, production officially began on “Postmarked,” Ganssle’s film adaptation of Hunting’s play, with support from ASU Film Spark that included a crew of more than 30 ASU students, as well as eight alums, and roughly $200,000 worth of production assistance.

“ASU making us their summer film project was a big lucky break for us, because our budget was originally only $40,000,” Ganssle said.

The plot of “Postmarked” centers on everyday postmen who may have witnessed something they shouldn’t have, and are subsequently taken hostage by a deadly organization. All manners of high jinks and bamboozlement ensue.

Hunting himself spent years working in the postal service, which lends a sense of authenticity to the story.

Filmmaking practices major Lila Hickey worked as an electrician and gaffer for the lighting department during filming. She plans to move to Los Angeles when she graduates this December to pursue a career in the film industry. The experience she gained while working on “Postmarked” has been invaluable.

“Not many kids still in film school have a feature-length film on their resume,” she said. “It’s a very practical application of all the things I have learned.”

That’s the whole point, said LaMont: “As a university, it’s important for us to give our students the biggest opportunities that they can to learn.”

Half of all proceeds from the film will go to fund ALS research.

“I like to call it a comedy for a cause,” said Ganssle.

“Postmarked” will hold an invited preview locally in January 2016.

To learn more about “Postmarked,” and to stay up-to-date on premiere info, visit the film’s website here, or its Facebook page here.

To help fund the film, visit its gofundme page, here.

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'Brooklyn Bridge' an atmosphere of experimentation

"Brooklyn Bridge" explores immigration, growing up through eyes of child.
ASU MainStage production "Brooklyn Bridge" mixes whimsy and music.
November 13, 2015

ASU MainStage production explores issues of immigration and growing up through prism of a child

Ten-year-old Sasha is poised to write an essay. The only thing missing? A pen.

In Melissa James Gibson’s “Brooklyn Bridge,” the latest show in the ASU School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.’s MainStage season, Sasha’s quest for a small writing utensil turns into something much bigger.

“This is an enormous show,” said Ricky Araiza, a graduate student in directing and theater for youth, who is helming this production. “It’s going to be a visual spectacle, and it’s hilarious — delightfully clever and witty.”

To set the stage, Araiza has been working with ASU alum and set designer Brunella Provvidente to create an interactive backdrop for the story.

“The initial design concept for set was that I wanted it to feel like a project,” Araiza said. “We will have essentially the feel of a diorama on stage of this world created by Sasha and the people who inhabit this building. You’ll essentially get to see the set talk back to the actors — it moves, it’s alive.”

For the actors in this production, Araiza’s approach has created an atmosphere of experimentation.

“My favorite part of working on the production is that I get to play again,” said Andre Johnson, an undergraduate theater exploratory student who plays Sam. “I guess sometimes you kind of feel a little bit dull when it comes to theater, you kind of forget what it’s all about or why you’re doing it. And then you come into a play like this where it’s aimed towards children and it’s about education, and it’s so much fun.”

Though “Brooklyn Bridge” is a Theatre for Youth production, Araiza explains that the appeal of the show is not at all limited to children alone.

“I think the themes are universal,” Araiza said. “It’s this want for us to connect with each other; there’s the fear of the unknown and how we choose to handle that; this story touches a lot on immigrant issues right now.”

Olga Bezpaltchikova is an undergraduate theater student playing the title role of Sasha. Like her character in the show, Bezpaltchikova is the daughter of Russian immigrants.

“The more I work on it and the more we rehearse, the more I discover scary similarities [between us],” Bezpaltchikova said. “We are both first-generation Americans. Our parents moved here from the Soviet Union. My parents work pretty hard and definitely had to struggle to make their way in this country.”

In the play, Sasha’s own struggle for a pen is a metaphor for a more adult struggle to find a sense of belonging. Two musicians in the show, played by undergraduate theater students Emily Adams and Audrey Pfeifer, manifest Sasha’s challenges through song.

Though the musicians are technically characters in the script, Adams and Pfeifer really did work together to compose an original piece for ASU's production of the show.

”As Sasha is searching for a pen, we are coming up with the ending song, which is actually a song that we wrote together,” said Pfeifer. “So throughout the show, you’ll hear us trying out the song, getting frustrated, rewriting some things. And it kind of works as background for what Sasha is going through.”

“As Sasha begins to come out of her shell and develop throughout the play, so does the song,” Adams said. “While we’re both characters in the play, we both almost act like these narrators for Sasha’s life, a little bit all-knowing.”

“It does truly take a village to raise a child, and we really do get to see that village coming together in this show,” Araiza said. “When that happens, it’s a really touching moment. All the elements in the show — set, costume, media, music — everything coming together at once is really touching to see and hear and experience.”

“Brooklyn Bridge” is playing at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, 51 E. 10th St., on ASU’s Tempe campus on these dates:

7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-14
2 p.m. Nov. 15
7:30 p.m. Nov. 19-21
2 p.m. Nov. 22

Tickets are $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for senior citizens; and $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call 480.965.6447.

Communications Program Coordinator , ASU Art Museum


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A new view of the classic 'Streetcar'

ASU MFA student puts contemporary design spin on classic "Streetcar" story.
October 16, 2015

Wyatt Kent is quite aware of the difficulties in producing a classic play and the expectations that follow, especially one that also made it big in Hollywood.

But this master's in directing student in ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Even when that classic work is the iconic “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

The play, which opens Friday as part of the school’s 2015-2016 MainStage season, tells the story of Blanche DuBois, a southern belle who moves in with her sister and brother-in-law in a small New Orleans apartment to escape financial ruin. Conflict ensues as the three characters navigate their individual dramas and the physically restricting space of the apartment.

Written by Tennessee Williams in the 1940s, the play is considered an essential piece of the American literary canon.

“One of the things I find exciting is taking plays that people feel like they know and engaging with them from the ground up,” said Kent, who is directing “Streetcar.”

actors rehearsing for ASU Streetcar Named Desire performance

Directing a classic

Director Wyatt Kent checks with a stage hand
during a rehearsal of Tennessee Williams’
“A Streetcar Named Desire” at ASU's Lyceum
Theatre, on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Charlie Leight/ASU Now

For this production, that meant finding new ways to incorporate contemporary theater practices into the show, particularly media design, while still honoring Williams’ timeless story.

Michael Bateman, a master's in interdisciplinary digital media and performance student and the show’s media designer, took an understated approach to the design, which will primarily involve projecting imagery onto set pieces, while taking cues from Williams’ original words.

“When you hear about ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ you might think about standard American drama in a box set sort of space, but Tennessee Williams really writes poetry in his script,” said Bateman. “He talks about these lurid shadowy reflections on the wall that engulf Blanche in their horror, and that’s all in the script. These very vivid images written by Williams typically don’t get addressed in most productions, where her psyche is fracturing and reality around her is breaking. We are using media to show that reality fracturing around her, especially later in the script when she is really breaking down.”

For Vickie Hall, the master's in performance student who plays Blanche, the media design is an exciting element, but the story itself still has a very real relevance today.

“Theater is a living, breathing thing,” said Hall. “What’s amazing about our craft is that you can reach back and find a play from the ’40s and there are still themes and situations in the play that are just as relevant to us now.”

Hall mentions universal concerns, like identity and societal pressures, as keys to this work, but she says that the text retains importance on a more literal level as well.

“Blanche is a bit of a racist so there is that element of the culture that is in her; that’s how she grew up, that’s how she knows how to interact with the world. And I think that’s still absolutely going on today, and it’s something that needs to be addressed,” Hall said. “Theater can address those things through story form. Sometimes I think that’s how we learn best.”

Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theater and creative director of the MainStage theater season, says that the impulse to do this work really came from the student body. The cast, director and designers for the show are all current students at ASU.

“I was hearing from a lot of students a desire (if you will) to wrestle with a big, important, monumental work, a classic that has endured the tests of time,” Gharavi said. “There are few U.S. playwrights, very few works of U.S. theatre that carry more gravity than Williams or ‘Streetcar.’ I was excited by the prospect of opening a season with this work. And, of course, we’re closing our season with the world premiere of a new play. The old and the new bookend our season. I’m thrilled to give audiences a glimpse into the brutal, sexy and unforgettable world that Williams created. There’s a reason it’s a classic. “

“ ‘Streetcar’ is terrifying, it’s a monster,” Kent said. “It’s a long play full of complicated questions and no simple answers. I feel really lucky to get to engage with those things at ASU.”

“A Streetcar Named Desire” will be on view at the Lyceum Theatre, 901 S. Forest Mall on ASU’s Tempe campus:

7:30 p.m., Oct. 16-17
2 p.m., Oct. 18
7:30 p.m., Oct. 22-24
2 p.m., Oct. 25

Tickets cost $16, $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni, $12 for senior citizens or $8 for students. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 480.965.6447.

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


Haley Honeman

September 19, 2015

Haley Honeman, an Master of Fine Arts in theatre for youth student in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, partnered with international artist Karla Hernando Flores on her applied project “Healings, Integrations, Illuminations,” which took places in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, in September 2015. The project was part of Springboard for the Arts Lake Region’s Hinge Arts residency program, which positions artists in residence to develop cultural programming inspired by Fergus Falls State Hospital, the town’'s 124-year-old former mental institution.

“I am interested in studying portrayals of mental health in theatre,” says Honeman. “I wanted to facilitate an opportunity for my community to tell their own stories of illness, wellness, healing and transition in my applied project work.” Download Full Image

David Barker

September 1, 2015

David Barker, a professor of theatre in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, is directing the U.S. and Canadian tour of Childsplay's "The Cat in the Hat."

The 26-week tour started in California Sept. 27, and the show will play in 44 U.S. cities and 9 Canadian cities with a total of 165 performances. In addition to Barker's direction, the show features lighting design by Jennifer Setlow, associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. Download Full Image

Several of the actors in this production are ASU theatre alumni, including Nathan Delatorre, Kaleena Newman and Kate Haas.

Bringing urban culture into the ivory tower

August 13, 2015

Edson “House” Magaña was still in high school when he got his nickname. It came from his preference in music — a strain of electronic dance music that provided a heavy beat he could dance to.

The nickname stuck through the years and today, Magaña is known as one of the most accomplished breakers, or breakdancers, in the Southwest. A dancer is caught mid-move during last year's Urban Sol event. Download Full Image

He’s also an Arizona State University alumnus, having earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from ASU in the ’90s while simultaneously receiving another kind of education, off campus, in urban dance and hip-hop. He founded the Furious Styles Crew and is a member of the Mighty Zulu Kings, a legendary urban art crew that dates back to the early ’70s.

But for a long time, he didn’t see a place for his passion in academia.

“I would walk by the dance department all the time, looking, but I saw people doing weird things,” Magaña said of the modern dance classes. “I was like, what's going on in there?”

These days, if you walk by the dance building at ASU you might still see some modern dance. But you could also catch someone breaking, waacking, voguing or any number of the urban dance styles Magaña has studied for most of his life. The variety comes courtesy of a new program at the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Beginning in the fall 2015 semester, the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is introducing a new track in the Bachelor of Arts in Performance and Movement degree: urban performance practice. The program builds upon and unites an existing series of classes, clubs and events that have grown rapidly over the past several years in response to both student and community interest. The urban performance practice track offers a critical look at both the history and practice of urban dance and culture.

“It's the only program in the whole country where you can focus on urban dance, and it's really taken seriously,” said Sarah “Saza” Dimmick, who is pursuing her master's in dance. “We're able to examine it from an academic standpoint, looking at the social impact that it's had over the years, even re-examining the stereotypes and the things that are projected upon the culture. And it's really cool because we're kind of helping shape the direction that it's going to go. Creating thoughtful dancers, thoughtful artists within the urban forms that can take the culture to the next step.”

The roots of the program began with Urban Sol, a Herberger Institute initiative designed to support the existing community of urban artists in the Phoenix metro area, to welcome this community to ASU and to elevate the urban art movement in academic discussions. The highlight of Urban Sol is a yearly event (which shares the initiative’s name) that takes over Nelson Fine Arts Plaza, where students, faculty members and the wider community DJ, dance and create art together. This year, it will take place Oct. 19-24.

“We have this population that comes in and can’t find a home for themselves in the arts in a university setting, and we want to provide that home,” said Jacob Pinholster, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

Thanks to the urban performance practice track, Magaña returned to ASU and earned Master of Fine Arts in Dance this summer. He joined the program in 2013 precisely because of the opportunity to help shape the future of urban dance at ASU and in the greater Phoenix metro area at large.

“If you were to ask me 10 years ago if I’d be sitting here — no way,” Magaña says. “I still walk into the classroom and I’m like, OK, we really have turntables in the classroom. We really are sitting here reading and studying some guys that I've battled. This is incredible. … In general, ASU, I think, has done a great job so far of trying to respect the culture and respect the community that it’s going to represent.”

The performance-driven degree gives students the skills to practice urban art in its many forms, but it also instills in them a deep knowledge of and appreciation for the foundation of the urban arts movement.

“They always say you gotta know where you come from before you know where you're going,” says Tomas Stanton, a performance and movement student. “So to be able to learn the history, to be able to pass this history on to the next generation, especially in today’s climate where something like hip-hop has a very negative perception from a lot of people who don’t really truly understand it — developing that on an academic level, I think, is super important to preserving the culture, to moving it forward, and to making it more inclusive to everybody.”

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum


Asleif Willmer

July 13, 2015

Asleif Willmer, a Doctor of Musical Arts in music performance student, was chosen to sing leading opera roles at the Brevard Summer Music Festival in Brevard, North Carolina. She will perform as Gilda in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and as Baby Doe in “The Ballad of Baby Doe” by American composer Douglas Moore, which is based on the scandalous love affair between the “Silver King” Horace Tabor and Elizabeth (Baby) Doe at the end of the 19th century in Colorado.

"The first aria that I performed, as a 17-year-old freshman, was the ‘Willow Song’, which is the aria that introduces Baby Doe in the opera,”" says Willmer. "“It has been a dream ever since to sing the role of Baby Doe. I have also been wanting to attend Brevard Music Festival for many years, so I am excited that I am experiencing two of my dreams in the same summer.”" Download Full Image

In August, Willmer will also sing with the Mount Desert Summer Chorale for Mozart’s requiem “Vesperae Solennes de Confessore” at the Bar Harbor Music Festival in Maine. She was invited by David Schildkret, director of choral activities in the School of Music, to be the soprano soloist. Fellow School of Music students Miriam Schildkret and Ryan Downey, both Doctor of Musical Arts students in music performance, will also be soloists.

ASU play tackles comedy, realism and politics

April 21, 2015

Phil and Molly are best friends. Matt and Phil are in a relationship. Andres and Molly are in a relationship. Molly and Matt are legally married. When an immigration officer shows up unexpectedly on Phil and Matt’s sixth anniversary, hilarity and a good dose of drama ensues.

“Our Kiki: A Gay Farce,” a new play by Arizona State University alumnus Seth Tucker, is, yes, a farce ­– but it also incorporates serious tones by bringing a marginalized group to center stage. people acting on stage in play Download Full Image

“With laws like RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) still set into motion in places like Indiana, it is as important as ever to include story lines and characters from the underrepresented," said Tucker, who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in musical theatre and business marketing in 2009.

For show director Jake Jack Hylton, another ASU alum with a bachelor’s in theatre, that’s why this script stands out.

“The thing that makes me most excited is that not too often do you have a play where the main focus is a gay couple and it is about them and about their life,” Hylton said. “So what I’ve wanted to do, directorially, is give the audience a chance to look into the day in the life of a normal, everyday couple. We get to see their flaws, we get to see how they react in stressful situations and with their loved ones, and how they act when boundaries don’t exist.”

The ASU students involved in the production say they have benefited greatly from working with Hylton because of his passion for theater, but also because he possesses a unique sense of understanding as a recent alum (May 2013).

“As an alum coming back, I know exactly where they’re at,” Hylton said. “ … I’m able to gauge where they’re at in their knowledge with what classes they’ve taken and to implement that into the rehearsal process.”

Adam Mendez, an actor in “Our Kiki” pursuing a bachelor’s degree in theatre with a concentration in acting, says he has enjoyed learning from Hylton’s experiences.

“It’s very insightful to have alums come back again after they’ve been out for a while … because they come back with things they’ve learned out there that they can apply to us students,” Mendez said.

Parts of the script are in Spanish and Finnish, which has been a new experience for many of the cast.

“I’ve never spoken another language in a show before, so when I read the script initially, I knew that this was something I really wanted to do because of these challenges,” said Shannon Phelps, pursuing a bachelor’s in theatre with a concentration in acting. “I knew it would push me a little bit more.”

For Mendez, the real work of the show is to merge the comedic and the serious.

“The script is funny,” said Mendez. “It’s written as a farce, but I feel we’re trying to bring a real vivid life representation to the stage.”

“Our Kiki: A Gay Farce” runs through April 26 at the Lyceum Theatre on ASU’s Tempe campus. Tickets are $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff, alumni and seniors; and $8 for students. Purchase tickets at 480.965.6447 or online.

Media contact:
Katrina Montgomery, katrina.montgomery@asu.edu