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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.

 
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Eco awakening: Alumna leads sustainability efforts in the Big Apple

Why should you care about recycling? ASU alum has the answer.
October 16, 2015

Editor's note: Leading up to Homecoming, we'll be running several stories a week on ASU alumni. Find more alumni stories here.

Jessica Schreiber may have gotten a late start on recycling — she never heard of it until college — but you wouldn't know that by her profession today: overseeing recycling programs for the biggest city in the country.

Schreiber explains that she was so inspired by a lecture on climate change that she wanted to be able to teach what she had learned to the general public. She received degrees from both ASU’s School of Life Sciences and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in 2010, and she advocates for increased individual responsibility as the senior manager of apartments and outreach for New York City’s Department of Sanitation.

Despite an increasingly busy schedule due to NYC’s recent announcement of a Zero Waste goal, Schreiber took some time to share about her favorite part of the job and to tell us why we should care about recycling.

Question: What does your position with the New York City Department of Sanitation entail?

Answer: I work in the department’s Bureau of Recycling and Sustainability managing recycling programs for New York City apartment buildings. This includes textile, electronic and food-waste recycling, as well as recycling trainings for building staff and management on the mandated metal, glass, plastic and paper streams. I also coordinate public events for the bureau and help with our social-media channels.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in sustainability?

A: I was serving as a peer mentor in the education residential college, and one of the training sessions covered recycling in the dorms. That was the first time I heard anyone talk about recycling, and I became obsessed.

That year I set up a recycling program for my entire floor. Every week I collected recycling from each resident and paid them in Monopoly money for the items they recycled. At the end of each semester, I held an auction where residents could use their accumulated cash for small prizes, and I shared stats on what our floor had recycled. Some of the lessons I learned while completing that project — about convenience, motivation and scale — still inform my current work. It was when I fell completely in love with waste management.

Q: How did ASU help get you there?

A: My sophomore year, during a lecture devoted to climate change and resource use, a professor said, "Scientists have answers, but they are terrible communicators." I remember thinking, "I get that, but it's a solvable problem."

I immediately wanted to bridge that gap; I wanted to understand the science, but also communicate it in ways that mattered. That's when I added my second degree in education. I needed to learn how to take complex concepts and processes and break them into comprehensible pieces, without losing meaning.

ASU provided opportunities for me to explore and lead, and most importantly, supported the chances I wanted to take. The culture of "If you want to, and are willing to do the work, let's make it happen!" is something I have seldom encountered since leaving ASU.

Q: Why should people care about recycling?

A: How much time do you have? Economically, we're spending millions of dollars to bury things. Things that could be recycled or reused to prevent the further destruction of our natural world. It's nuts. Ecologically, the problems with landfills are numerous, and the resources we need to fuel our consumption are rapidly being diminished. Socially, items we are throwing out now will become part of the landscape of the future, and that is quite an obligation we have to humans to come.

At a recent seminar I attended, someone mentioned that future generations will be unable to mine resources from the ground or forest — we will have depleted them all. Instead, mining will happen in landfills, to recover things we currently consider invaluable. I think it's a powerful but sad image.

Ironically, I think our contemporary problem with waste management is actually how well we solved it in the past. We remove waste so effectively that people are not always aware of how much they are actually producing. I believe on a national scale it's an average of 4.5 pounds per person per day. Think of how differently we would go about buying and using items if we knew that, when we were ready to throw it away, it didn't go "away."

What if it stayed in your front yard? Think of how that might not only change your behavior, but by social comparison, change the behavior of a neighborhood? I wouldn't advocate for that, but the need to activate individual responsibility and personal engagement within a municipal management framework is something I find very interesting.

Q: What is your favorite part of the work you do today?

A: I really enjoy working in government on the local level. I get to be involved in designing and implementing programs and policies that directly influence my community. At the state or national level, I might not have such tangible evidence of the effects of my work. I can drive around any borough and point to buildings enrolled in e-cycleNYC, and it's awesome to meet a property manager and they have a re-fashioNYC bin in their building! I love that the programs include both systems management, data analysis and public interaction. It's the nexus I always hoped to be part of!

Q: What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in the renewable/sustainable field?

A: I think it helps to determine what aspect of sustainability you find most compelling. Is it air quality? Is it renewable energy? Is it water conservation? Is it public outreach? Once you find something you care about, any related work will be worthwhile in helping you refine your interests and grow in expertise. Your first job might not be your dream job, but you can use each role as a stepping-stone, and let your goals evolve. As a new manager I think all the time about advice my mother gave me: try to find ways to make your boss' job easier. It's not specific to sustainability, but it has always served me well.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: We're hiring! NYC recently announced a Zero Waste goal, which means our bureau is very busy and growing. Current job postings can be found at: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/dsny/about/inside-dsny/jobs.page.

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657