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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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Watergate's lesson: History becomes 'bogus' with bad information

John Dean: “History becomes bogus when you’re dealing with bad information.”
Watergate whistle-blower says future reporters shouldn't forget the past.
October 16, 2015

John Dean, who served as President Richard Nixon’s legal counsel, and then as a witness for prosecutors during Watergate, one of the 20th century's most notorious scandals, told Arizona State University journalism students he wants future reporters not to forget the past.

“There’s a group of people out there who want to revise history and are making money off of the Watergate scandal,” Dean said. “History becomes bogus when you’re dealing with bad information.”

The historical context of Watergate came to life Thursday evening in Dean’s discussion, “Uncovering Watergate’s Legacy and Impact on Journalism,” which took place in the First Amendment Forum in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

Dean’s lecture explored his four decades of reflection on the scandal, the lessons he learned and how time has given him a much better perspective.

“I didn’t look at it (Watergate) in a historical context at the time,” Dean told an audience of about 125 people, comprised mostly of journalism students who were born a quarter-century after Watergate unfolded.

“I was in the fight of my life taking on the President of the United States. My colleagues wanted me to fall on the sword as per their orders, and I didn’t take well to that. I’m still living with that stigma, but it doesn’t trouble me because I told the truth.”

man giving lecture at podium

Reporting on a scandal


John Dean, regarded as the main whistleblower
in the Watergate scandal, told ASU journalism
students, that he doesn't live with regret
because he told the truth.

Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The scandal unfolded on June 17, 1972, with the arrest of five burglars dressed in business suits, sporting surgical gloves, their pockets stuffed with crisp $100 bills and carrying suitcases filled with wiretapping equipment. Their intent was to bug the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C. The five men were arrested and Nixon hastily constructed a cover-up.

Dean depicted the operatives as fumbling idiots and gave an even harsher assessment to the man who hired them, G. Gordon Liddy, a former FBI agent who served in several positions under Nixon.

“Liddy has often portrayed himself as a James Bond-type character,” Dean said. “He was not even in the Maxwell Smart category because he bungled so many operations.”

Dean also took time to praise the dogged efforts of The Washington Post in its relentless coverage of the case and cover-up, noting that it changed the face of modern-day journalism.

Dean served as counsel to Nixon from 1970-73. At the Senate Watergate Committee in June 1973, Dean implicated Nixon, administration officials and himself in the cover-up. During his testimony, he also mentioned the existence of Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List,” which included major political opponents of the president, labor organizations, media, academics, business people and celebrities.

“The White House was basically a cesspool,” Dean said of Nixon's tenure, noting his second term as especially vengeful.

He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and later testified during the trial of several of Nixon’s White House aides. Dean served four months in federal prison for his role in the cover-up.

Following his prison stint, Dean went on to become an investment banker, lecturer and author of 14 books, most recently “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.”

Dean said though the Watergate saga changed the face of journalism one of its negative impacts is its lasting “aura of cynicism” the press has toward standing presidents. He believes their attitudes have shifted from trusting to distrustful, and should move back toward the middle.

“Before Watergate there was too much leniency given to presidents,” Dean said. “Now there’s not enough benefit of the doubt to the let the president do what he needs to do.”

man speaking at podium
John Dean, former counsel for President Richard Nixon, shows a video of Nixon at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Oct. 15.


Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School, said the discussion was a teaching moment for students. 

“This is a fantastic opportunity for our students to hear from one of the key figures of Watergate, which was not just a watershed moment for American politics, but for journalism as well,” Callahan said.

For Megan Janetsky, a 19-year-old journalism student, the night was an opportunity to understand Watergate’s history first-hand.

“I knew a lot about the story and I love American history, so hearing an insider’s perspective and seeing the other side of the story and the extent in which Nixon went in order to cover this up was interesting,” Janetsky said.

Dean’s lecture was also of great interest to 18-year-old Mitchell Atencio, a freshman at the Cronkite School.

“Growing up, Nixon was painted as one of the most shady presidents in history and his famous line ‘I am not a crook’ meant the opposite was actually true. He was a crook, and so I grew up with this distaste for him. That started to shift a few years ago after I started to learn more about politics,” Atencio said. “I thought Mr. Dean did a good job of explaining Watergate to those who weren’t around for it and a lot of us might not know what actually happened.”

This won’t be the last students will hear from Dean, who has been appointed to ASU’s Barry Goldwater Chair of American Institutions for the fall and spring semesters.

The Goldwater Chair supports the appointment of scholars who have distinguished themselves in the fields of political science, history, economics, law or public policy. Dean will give several classroom and public lectures throughout the fall and teach courses in philosophy and law at ASU this spring.