ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre announces 2017-2018 season


August 7, 2017

The ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s upcoming season offers something for everyone, from dance concerts and film screenings to cutting-edge theatre and collaborative productions between different art forms. 

A highlight of this year’s season is “Six Stories Tall” — a joint theater and dance production. ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre 2017-18 Season Download Full Image

“One of the goals of this collaboration is to explore interdisciplinary forms that move beyond traditional approaches to art making,” said Mary Fitzgerald, assistant director of dance in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

“Six Stories Tall” is a vibrant collection of hip-hop fairy tales that celebrates urban culture through dance, music and storytelling.

“The innovative practices that have emerged from urban dance (movement and spoken word) can take the production in entirely new directions, perhaps helping to blur the boundaries between the disciplines of dance and theatre,” Fitzgerald said.

Guests interested in dance also have the chance to see several dance concerts this season, including Fall Forward!, a dance showcase featuring new works that explore an exciting range of aesthetics, movement styles and new media platforms that redefine dance and live performance. Emerging Artists and Transition Projects put a spotlight on student work, and SpringDanceFest highlights some of the best pieces from the year.

Two theatre productions in the fall, Jennifer Haley’s “The Nether” and Herberger Institute Professor Michael Rohd’s “The Compass,” tackle sci-fi stories set in the near future. “The Compass” puts a teenager in serious trouble after she consults a decision-making app that tells users what they would do in any situation. The audience acts as the jury in this inventive work that promises a different ending each night.

The last two theatre productions of the season are Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Flick” and “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” both set within the film industry. The first follows the lives of three employees at an old movie theatre, and the second tells the story of an African American actress in 1930s Hollywood.

Film lovers should also check out the two Senior Film Showcases, one at the end of each semester. Audiences have the opportunity to screen a series of films selected by ASU film faculty and industry professionals. Produced by graduating student filmmakers, these works include short films and documentaries as well as cinematography and editing reels.

Purchase tickets at filmdancetheatre.asu.edu/events. In addition to these events, the School of Film, Dance and Theatre also presents a range of other performances and events, from student productions and faculty work to workshops and performances by guest artists. Some of those include the Performance in the Borderlands series, Sol Motion series, Scholarship Series and FilmSpark events. Visit filmdancetheatre.asu.edu for more information.

Fall 2017 schedule

Fall Forward!
7:30 p.m. Sept. 15–16; 2 p.m. Sept. 17
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse 
Fall Forward!, the kick-off event of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s 2017-2018 season, features new works created by ASU faculty and guests. Artists explore an exciting range of aesthetics, movement styles and new media platforms that redefine dance and live performance.

The Nether
Written by Jennifer Haley
Directed by William Partlan
7:30 p.m. Oct. 13–14, 19–21; 2 p.m. Oct. 15, 22
Lyceum Theatre
Welcome to the Nether — a network of virtual reality realms. Plug in. Choose an identity. Indulge your every whim. In this near-future, sci-fi thriller, a young detective faces off against the creator of a virtual world that offers a disturbing brand of entertainment. “The Nether” is a tense interrogation of the darkest corners of the human imagination. (Contains unsettling content and mature themes.)

The Compass
Written and Directed by Michael Rohd
7:30 p.m. Nov. 11, 16–18; 2 p.m. Nov. 12, 19 
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
A teenager finds herself in serious trouble after she consults a decision-making app that tells users what they would do in any situation. Should she be held responsible? Did the app make her do it? Do her motivations matter? You’re the jury in this inventive, near-future work of science fiction.

Emerging Artists I
7:30 p.m. Nov. 17–18; 2 p.m. Nov. 19
Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio Theatre
Featuring Michelle Marji and Rebecca Witt
The Emerging Artists series presents thesis and capstone projects created by MFA and BFA candidates in dance. Students investigate personal stories and thought-provoking issues through live performance, film and interactive media.  

Fall Senior Film Showcase
7 p.m. Dec. 1
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
Film faculty and industry professionals present a curated series of films produced by graduating student filmmakers. The culmination of more than a year’s work, these works include short films and documentaries as well as cinematography and editing reels.

Spring 2018 schedule

Transition Projects I
7:30 p.m. Jan. 26–27; 2 p.m. Jan. 28
Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio Theatre
BFA candidates present an eclectic evening of work, showcasing the culmination of their undergraduate artistic experiences. Spanning the aesthetics of postmodern, urban and hybrid dance styles, this show features original pieces made for the stage, alternative spaces and film. 

Six Stories Tall
Written by Marco Ramirez
Directed by Chris Weise
Choreographed by Melissa Britt
7:30 p.m. Feb. 9–10, 15–17; 2 p.m. Feb. 11, 18
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
“Six Stories Tall” is a vibrant collection of hip-hop fairy tales, from mermaids and monsters to Batman and a world painted purple. This production celebrates urban culture through dance, music and storytelling.

The Flick
Written by Annie Baker
7:30 p.m. Feb. 16–17, 22–24; 2 p.m. Feb. 18, 25
Nelson Fine Arts Center 133
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, “The Flick” peers behind the scenes of a rundown Massachusetts movie theatre where three employees struggle with friendship, heartbreak and betrayal. “The Flickis a hilarious and moving parable for our times.

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Written by Lynn Nottage
7:30 p.m. April 13–14, 19–21; 2 p.m. April 15, 22
Lyceum Theatre
Vera Stark, an African-American maid and aspiring actress in 1930s Hollywood, sets out to land a role in a southern epic alongside her white starlet employer. Several years and several films later, Stark disappears, leaving scholars to debate her legacy, mine old interview footage for clues and examine her tangled relationships behind-the-scenes of the film that made her famous. Discover Stark’s story in this comedy that takes an irreverent look at race in Hollywood.

SpringDanceFest
7:30 p.m. April 20–21; 2 p.m. April 22
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
SpringDanceFest showcases the breadth of creativity in the dance program, featuring student choreographers and performers in some of the most innovative work of the 2017-2018 season. The concert also includes pieces created by faculty, visiting artists and alumni.

Spring Senior Film Showcase
7 p.m., April 27
Paul V. Galvin Playhouse
Film faculty and industry professionals present a curated series of films produced by graduating student filmmakers. The culmination of more than a year’s work, these works include short films and documentaries as well as cinematography and editing reels. 

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

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ASU grad students’ lab skills help earn funding for cutting-edge biomedical research


August 8, 2017

While clues to treating diseases that ravage the body and mind later in life sometimes appear in early stages of human development, studying a subject’s entire lifespan is neither efficient nor practical.

So how can researchers study these early stages to combat diseases that manifest themselves later on? The stem cell wizards of ASU’s Brafman Lab. Left to right: Sreedevi Raman, Josh Cutts, Nick Brookhouser and Christopher Potts. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

If you guessed through the use of pluripotent stem cells — so named because they have the ability to turn into other types of cells — then you’re right on the money.

ASU’s Brafman Lab is on the cutting edge of this branch of research, recently earning a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the mechanisms of early human neurodevelopment, and $225,000 from the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission to study the effects of aging and other risk factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Biomedical engineering Assistant Professor David Brafman, who heads the laboratory, credits his graduate students as crucial in securing these grants

“The graduate students’ hard work, creativity and dedication were critically important for generating the data to convince the reviewers that our approach was feasible and worth funding,” Brafman says of his students. “Too often the success of a lab is attributed to the [principal investigator] when it is the postdocs, grad students and research technicians who are down in the trenches doing the work.”

Not all heroes wear capes, some wear lab coats

The students working in the Brafman Lab often labor late into the night and sometimes on the weekend. They possess a special mix of a passion for their work and the knowledge that achieving potentially life-altering outcomes don’t come with a simple nine-to-five job.

The laboratory they work in combines developmental biology, genetic engineering and bioinformatics to investigate the various factors that can govern a stem cell’s fate. If they can figure out the mechanisms behind the stem cells’ multipotential futures, they could use that information to design targeted therapies for ailments like idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, heart failure and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Take Josh Cutts, who is pursuing his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering. He knows a thing or three about working in the Brafman Lab. He’s addicted to the thrill of discovery, regardless of any challenges or obstacles that may come his way.

“We’re working on things that haven’t been done before so it’s challenging — sometimes frustrating — to complete certain experiments or understand the results,” he said.

The shapeshifting nature of the stem cells can make working with them seem like biological wizardry. In the lab the research team has made stem cells into brain cells, heart cells, lung cells and more.

“Now we are working with cutting-edge brain organoids known colloquially as mini brains, which sounds a little eerie, to address many different research questions,” said Cutts, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biomedical engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. “It’s miraculous to work with these every day.”

Cutts’ work generated the preliminary data that helped the lab secure the NIH grant. After finishing his graduate work, this pluripotent scholar plans to earn a post doctorate degree to expand his knowledge and expertise. Long term, he hopes to contribute to translating stem cell technology to patients, in academia or industry.

Graduate students from the Brafman Lab reviewing data. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Researcher Nick Brookhouser is working toward his doctorate in clinical translational sciences at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Phoenix. His research in the Brafman Lab is focused on Alzheimer’s Disease and investigating the contribution of the Apolipoprotein E gene, or APOE, towards the disease’s progression.

He has successfully generated a set of stem cell lines from Alzheimer’s patients as well as other stem cell lines that serve as the control group in his research. He is currently working with gene editing techniques to investigate APOE’s relationship to Alzheimer’s.

Brookhouser’s work is also supported by an Arizona Biomedical Research Commission grant. He developed patient-specific pluripotent stem cell lines and brain cell lines, and with those lines he created a 3-D neural culture system that models a brain for study. He has also been involved in testing and optimizing gene editing technologies.

In the future, he hopes to transition to more clinical-based research in the biotechnology industry. Long term he hopes to contribute to the development of cell-based therapies and work in clinical trials.

Doctoral student Sreedevi Raman has also been working on research related to Alzheimer’s Disease. Instead of experimenting with stem cells at their genesis, Raman is trying to make them old. She is intentionally accelerating the aging process of cells in a dish so that they may be used to model various age-related disorders.

Her work with induced pluripotent stem cells specifically has helped the Brafman Lab attain the ABRC grant. Raman can take adult stem cells and program them back into state where their fate is not yet assigned.

Christopher Potts, a research specialist with a professional science master’s degree from ASU, works with gene editing. His contribution to the team is comparable to using copy and paste for genes, but a bit more complicated. He’s using technologies like CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) to edit stem cell genomes.

“I am changing the DNA of stem cells. That’s pretty cool, right?” Potts said. “I think one of the coolest things about our lab is how each student has their own project and functions basically independently, but we all help each other and are able to do much more than we could on our own.”

He’s enjoying his research, but also looks forward to teaching a new generation of students in the future. He has a master’s degree in science education and taught high school for four years before joining the lab.

Potts has aspirations of starting a “new line” of scientists through a, “career in outreach or other high-level science education.”

The cells he works on use signaling pathways to regulate what they will become — like his multiple career options. “Right now, I am just hoping for some signals to help me differentiate,” he said.

A ‘close knit,’ supportive group

Just as Brafman relies on the hard work of his students, the entire lab team relies on one another to succeed.

“Our lab is pretty close-knit. We like to hang out together to socialize and I think that support system makes our lab more effective,” Cutts said. “If any of us are having a hard time with experiments or anything at all, you can rely on your lab members and especially [Brafman] to help you work it out.”

Like Cutts, Brookhouser values the highly collaborative environment in the lab that “has fostered strong professional relationships as well as lasting friendships.”

“Just as patient somatic cells can be reprogrammed to a pluripotent state, I feel that the skills and mentorship I have gained in this lab have allowed me to reach a ‘pluripotent’ state and primed me to differentiate down many different career paths in the future,” Brookhouser said.

Raman credits her positive collaborative learning experiences in the lab with helping her to make advances in research as well as open career possibilities for her future. Since she just started her doctoral work, she’s got a lot of research ahead of her. Luckily, she found a good place to start.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering