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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.

Editor Assistant and Media Relations Specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the School of Film, Dance and Theatre


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Collaboration, creativity craft ASU Hispanic Heritage mural

October 16, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of stories to mark Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15-Oct. 15. 

Above: Students pass by the Hispanic Heritage Month mural on ASU's West campus on Sept. 30. The theme of the fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Month mural is South America’s cultural heritage represented with icons as well as visual elements for each of the countries.

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YA author and ASU alum on online bullying, writing for teens

Tom Leveen uses his books to address topics like online bullying
ASU grad becomes YA fiction star, despite not trying to be
October 15, 2015

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

Young adult novelist Tom Leveen stumbled upon the genre quite by accident.

"When I wrote my first real full-length novel, it was my first year of college, so I was writing about things that were happening to me and my friends. When I got my first agent with that novel, I was told it was ‘young adult,’ ” said the recent Arizona State University graduate, who lives in Scottsdale. “I didn't plan it that way; it just sort of happened.”

Leveen also didn’t plan on majoring in family and human dynamics in ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, but that’s where he found himself after considering how closely the school’s subject matter aligned with his own fictional work. He graduated in May.

Leveen is a frequent speaker at teacher and librarian conferences and conventions, bringing 22 years of theater experience to his presentations. Most recently, he traveled to Germany in September to speak on the dangers of online bullying, the subject of his book “Random.” The book is based the real-life story of a teenage girl who committed suicide, with the district attorney arguing that her classmates had bullied her to death.

Leveen also serves as faculty for the “Your Novel Year” certificate course through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing Family at ASU. You can catch him Oct. 16 and 18 at the Comic & Media Expo in Mesa, where he will speak on several panels. He will also be teaching a writing class at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Peregrine Book Company in Prescott.

Leveen took some time to discuss his work, his opinions on online bullying and what it’s like to live the young adult novelist’s dream.

Q: You recently graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s in family and human development, yet you are a writer by profession. Was there a specific reason you chose to major in family and human development instead of writing?

A: I was accepted into ASU’s creative writing bachelor program, but then switched to family and human development for a few reasons. One of which was I felt it might be more attractive to schools and social-service-type conferences and organizations because one of my favorite parts of my job is speaking to students, particularly high school and junior high students. Also, I felt like I had a lot more to learn from sort of a psychology and sociology perspective about adolescence, since that was my target audience for most of my novels.

I definitely enjoyed and got a lot out of the creative writing program while I was there, and I think it’s fantastic that ASU has a four-year offering in it, but my career was starting to grow in directions other than just writing, so that helped me change my mind.

Q: In what ways has your time studying at ASU influenced your work?

A: Tough question because there are so many. I enjoyed the upper-division work I got to do in my sociology classes for sure; studying adolescence in a more scientific or clinical manner than merely by anecdote has helped inform my work, I think. Then there are the contacts I’ve made, such as learning under Dr. Jim Blasingame, who is one of, if not the, top minds in young adult literature. Knowing him and getting to walk among some of the biggest and best writers of YA lit today has given me a new appreciation for the craft of writing as well as the responsibility we have as writers of and to young adults.

Q: Online bullying is the focus of your book “Random,” which is based on a real-life story. What about it inspired you to write the book?

A: The real-life story was inspired by the tragic and very public events surrounding the suicide death of a teenager in Massachusetts back in 2010. The website did a long series of articles about the case, written by Emily Bazelon, which followed the story of how several students were accused of essentially “bullying her to death.” It became a national story because at the time, the prosecutor seemed to want to make an example of these students. Well, unsurprisingly, those students in turn got bullied by people angry at them, so this vicious anger cycle just went on and on. I was curious about what might make an otherwise normal kid suddenly end up on the front page of newspapers for being a bully.

Q: Do you have any personal experience with online bullying?

A: I don’t have a lot of personal experience with online bullies, though I’ve certainly seen them at the worst on a number of sites. Reputable places, too, not those “dark web” sites. The things people feel they can type on a message board are just disgusting sometimes. I wonder if we as a species were ready for the Internet, because it often doesn't feel like it. Many years ago I got into an online exchange with someone where I spouted off “common knowledge” designed to shut down his argument. And I got “schooled” by (gasp!) actual facts. I made my apologies and slunk away, and since then have not made it a habit to engage on message boards or comments sections.

Q: Do you think online bullying is worse than in-person bullying?

A: The question of whether online or in-person bullying is worse I think underscores the basic problem with both: People who do it online don't seem to think it “counts,” or that typing is somehow less damaging than speaking (or hitting, etc.).

It’s a flawed logic to say there is a difference between something happening online and something happening in real life. I’m on the computer, I’m thinking of things to say, I’m typing them, I’m reading people’s responses … that’s all very real. Just because someone is an [expletive] on a comment section or social-media site doesn’t mean they’re not an [expletive] “IRL” (in real life). So I don't personally see a distinction between the two. Both are dangerous, and both need to stop.

Q: Why is spreading awareness about the dangers of online bullying important?

A: The so-called “digital natives” don't get a break. I read somewhere that back in the good old days, if you were being pushed around at school, at least you got a break from it when you went home. Now we can carry our bullies around in our pocket. They can reach us 24 hours a day, if we let them. Advice to young people to “just turn off your phone" is absurd. How many adults can and do turn theirs off? Exactly.

Furthermore, why punish the victim and take away his smartphone when it's someone else being antagonistic? Bringing the consequences of online bullying to the table is crucial because it’s one more piece of the puzzle that is leading to suicide and other violent acts. They are not “just words.” Words are always, always, always the first step toward physical violence. The good news is, they are also the first step toward peace. That’s why the conversation is important, to me anyway.

Q: What drew you to want to write for the “young adult” genre?

A: I like to tell people that my adolescence had its fair share of drama — heartache, loneliness, fear of the future, all the usual stuff. But the truth is, I had a great experience in high school. I think of junior high and high school as our “origin story,” like how Peter Parker became Spider-Man. In those years, we are learning our powers. We’re learning our weaknesses. We’re becoming who we’re going to be, and that’s interesting to me.

I don’t write about things that happened to me, but I do write around them. I might use a detail or two that is true, or base a scene off an emotional memory, but nothing that's flat-out autobiographical.

… I found out that being a YA author means meeting a lot of young adult readers, at school visits or libraries, that kind of thing. And you know what? All these years later, teens are asking the exact same questions we did when we were their age. “Does she like me? Does anyone care? Am I alone? When will I see Mom/Dad again?” And suddenly, the bad stuff — the real, legitimate bad stuff me and my friends faced back then, not the fun drama stuff — all came back, and I wanted to help. I wanted to make sure no teenager ever had to feel the way I felt or be treated the way I was treated at home, or school, or church or anywhere. That’s my heart now. Our kids deserve better than a lot of them are getting.

Q: How does your background in theater inform your roles in life as an author, a man, a father, a teacher?

A: I started acting in eighth grade, was very into drama in high school, and by a couple years after graduation, had started my own company in my backyard. That company, Is What It Is Theatre, lasted for thirteen seasons. Then we opened up Chyro Arts Venue in Scottsdale for three years. Then it was time to step back and raise a family!

I've been in about 30 productions over 22 years, and directed more than 30 shows on top of that. I encourage all fiction writers to spend a season with a theater company, because watching how actors and directors build characters with words only really helps add to the writer's tool kit. You learn a lot about dialogue, which is my strong suit as an author. You learn new ways to build characters and structure plots. I never made a living doing theater, but I never set out to. I was more interested in telling good stories and working with good people, which I did. Theater folks are a close family (sometimes too close, in all fairness), and there’s a shared history and work ethic among them that is first-rate.

Q: What is it like being a faculty member for the Your Novel Year certificate course? What is your favorite part?

A: The best part of being on the YNY faculty is reading manuscripts from unpublished writers who are learning faster than I ever did. There have been a few already that I've read and thought, “Well, in a perfect world, this one’ll sell quickly.” And it's a pleasure to be a part of that.

Dr. Paul Cook, who also teaches at ASU as well as for Your Novel Year (his science-fiction class is excellent, by the way) says that new or younger writers are apprentices. He’s absolutely right. The YNY students are always hungry, always anxious to take their craft to the next level, and serious about this art and this business. So being able to share the things I’ve learned is not only fun, but I end up learning more about my own craft while doing it. Like they say, there’s no better way to learn something than to teach it.

Leveen’s sixth and seventh novels, “Shackled,” and “Violent Ends” (an anthology), were just released. His eighth novel, “Hellworld,” will be coming out in 2017. For more information, check in with him on Facebook at or on his website,

The deadline to apply for the 2016 "Your Novel Year" certificate program is Oct. 31. Find out more information here.

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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Of dreams referred: 'Holding it Down' mixes veterans' war stories with music, poetry

"Holding it Down" shares experience of lived war via music, poetry
War veterans use poetry, music to share their dreams - and nightmares
Multi-media performance sends war experience through prism of dreams
October 15, 2015

Whether it’s flashbacks to war’s nightmares or the lingering pain of battle injuries, the stories of soldiers bringing their trauma home with them are numerous.

We see these sad tales as regular reports in the nightly news, or building the narrative thread through documentaries highlighting the dark side of war’s other casualties — the walking wounded.

It’s easy to feel sympathy for these veterans. But empathy? That’s not always as simple.

“There’s a notion about soldiers in this country by non-military and civilians — ‘I can’t understand your trauma. I can’t understand your pain,’ ” said Maurice Emerson Decaul, a Marine veteran, poet, essayist and playwright.

That’s where the play “Holding it Down: The Veterans' Dream Project” can help.

A multimedia performance that combines music with the spoken-word poetry/testimonials of minority veterans, “Holding it Down” shares the lived experience of war through the prism of dreams — or nightmares.

“You might not be able to understand how to feel about the way someone feels, but everyone, whether you’re a soldier or not, can relate to dreams,” Decaul said.

Vijay Iyer and Michael C. Ladd

Vijay Iyer and Michael C. Ladd

The performance starts at 7 p.m. Friday at ASU Gammage and serves as a buildup to the university’s Salute to Service, which runs from late October through Veterans Day.

Conceived in 2009 by Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer and poet Michael C. Ladd, “Holding It Down” is an amalgam of approximately 35 post-9/11 veterans’ stories, dreams and aspirations told through an 18-song set of music and poetry.

The themes, imagery, sights and smells summon the horrors of the two wars with muzzle flashes and tracers, burning diesel and open sewers, suicide bombers and insurgents and sand and melting tar.

“Some of the dreams are dark — they just are — but you can’t talk about war and not have troubling images,” said Decaul, who served from 1997 to 2002, including a stint in Iraq. “War is always complex, and I saw some pretty tragic things.”

One of those incidents is recalled in Decaul’s “Shush,” a poem about a 60-ton M1 Abrams tank that accidentally veered through a bridge guardrail and into the Euphrates River, drowning the entire crew.

Former Air Force pilot Lynn Hill adds some levity at the end of the show with her hopeful poem “Dreams In Color,” which mirrors her personal experience as a veteran and drone pilot.

“The subject of drones are such a hypersensitive and complicated topic that I didn’t want to tell anyone I was in the military for a few years,” said Hill, who moved to New York after her stint in the military to pursue an entertainment career.

“I just wanted to be normal and blend in with the masses, and be invisible. I wanted my roses to be red, my violets to be blue, my grass to be green and to see trees. I don’t want life to be black and white or green, which is what the military wants you to see. I want it to be full of colors and hues.”

Aiding in the construction of that bridge of understanding between veterans and civilians is a Q&A session following the “Holding it Down” performance.

“While it’s true that only a very small part of the population serve in the military, we know there are many who are attached to those people,” Decaul said. “We don’t care if the audience is military or civilian. Our hope is to simply connect with people and open up lanes of conversation.”

ASU News

A horse of many scholars: ASU enlivens Arizona Opera production of lost equine musical

October 15, 2015

It took a 60-year journey from Europe to the United States and back to bring Emmerich Kálmán’s musical comedy "Arizona Lady" to the main stage, and it would not be debuting without the discovery, translation and performances of Arizona State University scholars, alumni and students.

Arizona Opera’s production of the operetta — the tale of Arizona Lady, a horse attempting to win the Kentucky Derby – premiered in Tucson on Oct. 10. It opens Friday in Phoenix. A photo from the Arizona Lady opera Kálmán’s western-influenced musical comedy "Arizona Lady" faced obscurity before Arizona Opera partnered with scholars and musicians to bring it to the main stage. Photo by: Arizona Opera Download Full Image

It is a story that almost never was: Kálmán, a prolific Jewish composer from Hungary, was forced to flee his home in Vienna in 1938 at the onset of Nazi occupation in Austria. He first immigrated to Paris before moving to California and New York, where he became enamored with American musical theater and western movies.

Kálmán eventually returned to Austria but died before the completion of his last work, "Arizona Lady." Its manuscript was completed by his son but was largely left untouched before members of Arizona Opera, together with two-time ASU grad, former director at the Vienna State Opera and conductor Kathleen Kelly, revitalized it for audiences familiar with the Wild West — if not with the musician who made it.

“The Arizona Opera is to be congratulated for bringing ‘Arizona Lady’ to the attention of music lovers in Arizona,” said Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, ASU professor of history and director of the Center for Jewish Studies. She has been part of a collaboration to recover and restore the forgotten repertoire of Jewish composers whose work was banned by the Nazis. The music and stories of those composers are being presented by ASU experts and others at the Rediscovered Voices Festival leading up to “Arizona Lady” performances.

Kálmán’s personal journey is reflected in the operetta. It features a Hungarian immigrant aspiring to succeed in the Southwest, and was originally written in German with select lines in Spanish. To increase accessibility, Kelly and ASU University Professor of English and Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios translated the show into English. It will be performed in all three languages with supertitles projected above the stage.

“What I tried to find was some language that might find its way, language that would make its mark in the heart as much as the mind,” Rios said. “We don’t simply understand it — we must feel it. This is opera, after all.”

“They really tried to make this production as multicultural as possible,” said Dale Dreyfoos, professor of opera and music theater and resident stage director for ASU’s Lyric Opera Theatre. He plays “Arizona Lady’s” drunken jailer, Peligreen. “Musically, some of it sounds very much like Hungarian-influenced Viennese operetta, which is what Kálmán wrote. Some of the music sounds like it's straight out of ‘Oklahoma’; some of it sounds like it’s out of 'The Lawrence Welk Show' because it was written in the early 1950s. It’s very tuneful. It’s funny. It’s corny. But it’s touching, too.”

Dreyfoos noted that most theater companies in Phoenix involve ASU alums or students in nearly all of their productions — and that includes “Arizona Lady.”

Miriam Schildkret is one of those students. She completed her master’s degree in opera performance at ASU in 2014 and is now working toward her doctorate in voice performance. She is a member of the show’s chorus and will also appear in Arizona Opera’s productions of “Carmen” and “Falstaff.”

Though she’s been singing since before she could talk, Schildkret was new to the work of Kálmán, and said getting to know it was a pleasant surprise.

“It is always an incredible learning experience to rehearse in the same room with professional opera singers, directors and conductors, but this experience has been particularly great because everyone in the production is so welcoming and kind,” she said, noting how enjoyable it has been to work with Dreyfoos and Kelly.

During her time in Arizona, Kelly returned to her alma mater to teach two master classes to ASU students, including Schildkret.

“So many of us from those years are still living our lives as musicians, performing and teaching and creating,” Kelly wrote on her blog. “I was lucky to train here, and it’s a joy to come back.”

Kelly — like the operetta’s composer, scholars, students and musicians — has crossed the globe to pursue her art.

She’s not alone in being drawn to Arizona.

“Wild and strong and so inviting,” Kálmán wrote in the show’s finale, “Still untamed and still exciting — Arizona’s for me!”

Beth Giudicessi

associate director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU News

ASU uses digital storytelling to grapple with science and society

October 15, 2015

How can we come to terms with the complex social impact of new research in cutting-edge fields like synthetic biology, tissue engineering, robotics and artificial intelligence?

To manage the transformations driven by these innovations, people must understand science, technology and their social consequences while also mastering a new set of digital skills that enable them to share their ideas and shape our collective understanding of science and society. Download Full Image

Researchers at Arizona State University have received a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to use the interactive, engaging nature of digital narratives to invite deeper conversations about questions of scientific creativity and responsibility. The project “Increasing Learning and Efficacy about Emerging Technologies through Transmedia Engagement by the Public in Science-in-Society Activities,” unites the Center for Science and the Imagination, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in creating a set of integrated activities to help people explore the effects of scientific and technological change on societies and cultures in new hands-on, interactive ways.

“From 'Star Trek' to the ever-expanding Lego universe, we’ve come to expect our most exciting stories to unfold across novels, video games, the silver screen and a host of other media. This project asks if we can use that phenomenon — which we call ‘transmedia storytelling’ — to deepen public engagement on crucial questions at the intersection of science and society,” says Ed Finn, director of the Center for Science and the Imagination (CSI) and the lead investigator on the project.

The project, is funded through NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program. It will build on themes of human creativity, societal responsibility and scientific ethics as first presented in Mary Shelley’s classic novel "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus," which will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of its publication in 2018.

This project will be a major component of ASU’s Frankenstein Bicentennial Project that encompasses a diverse array of public events, research projects, scientific demonstrations, competitions, festivals, physical and digital exhibits and publications exploring Frankenstein’s colossal scientific, technological, artistic and cultural impacts. The bicentennial celebration will last from 2016—the 200th anniversary of the “dare” on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland that gave rise to the story—to 2018, the anniversary of the novel’s publication. ASU will act as a network hub for the global celebration of the bicentennial, encouraging and coordinating collaboration across institutions and among diverse groups worldwide.

“No work of literature has done more to shape the way people imagine science and its moral and social consequences than Frankenstein,” says Dave Guston, director of ASU’s new School for the Future of Innovation in Society (SFIS) and a co-investigator on the project. “The novel, along with its many adaptations in film, theatre and art, continues to influence the way we confront new technologies, imagine the motivations and ethical struggles of scientists, and weigh the benefits of innovation with its unforeseen pitfalls.”

Plans for the grant-funded project include:

  • A digital museum that will feature collections from a broad range of museums and science centers about Frankenstein and science-in-society topics, which will enable members of the public to create and share their own virtual exhibits.


  • “Frankenstein’s Footlocker,” a tabletop kit that will be distributed to museums and science centers that will contain experiments, crafting, problem-solving and storytelling activities that explore “Frankensteinian” emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, robotics and bioengineering and connect them to social and ethical issues.


  • “Frankenstein’s Workbench,” a set of hands-on maker challenges and competitions that encourage members of the public to build their own monsters with tools ranging from cutting-edge 3-D printers to traditional methods like sculpting, woodworking, drawing and painting.


The grant, part of NSF’s Advancing Informal Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Learning program, seeks to advance new approaches to the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments outside of traditional classrooms like museums, libraries, community centers, indoor and outdoor public spaces and digital spaces.

ASU’s research team, led by Finn, includes Ruth Wylie, assistant director of CSI and assistant research professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College; Rae Ostman, associate research professor at SFIS; Steve Gano, adjunct at SFIS and principal at Object Cult; Micah Lande, assistant professor in the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; and Guston as co-investigators. Other senior personnel include Darlene Cavalier, professor of practice at SFIS; Michael Simeone, director of ASU’s Nexus Lab; and Mark Tebeau, associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Current collaborators in the study include The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia and The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, along with the Museum of Science, Boston. The project will ultimately engage over 50 institutional partners, ranging from museums and science centers to libraries and archives. A diverse board of advisors includes representatives of top science and learning institutions such as the New York Public Library, the J. Craig Venter Institute, the Arizona Science Center, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and Princeton University.

In contributing to the digital museum, The Bakken Museum “will create an online space for citizen-curators to interact and build exhibits offering many different views on Frankenstein — from the literary to the scientific to the artistic — wherever imagination takes them," says Juliet Burba, chief curator. “We are very excited to partner with ASU in the study because of our rich Mary Shelley and Frankenstein-related collections.  We are equally excited that the public will be able to contribute to the project by offering their own unique perspectives on human creativity, societal responsibility and the challenges that come with scientific advancements and technological change.” 

In parallel, The Bakken is developing a physical exhibition titled "Mary and Her Monster: Mary Shelley and the World that Created Frankenstein," which will open in fall 2016 and is funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Visitors to the exhibition will explore Mary Shelley’s life and the many personal, literary and scientific influences she drew on when she wrote Frankenstein.

The Rosenbach is also developing programs and an exhibition under the title "Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Monster Within," funded separately by Philadelphia’s Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. With ASU’s collaboration, content from this exhibition will be digitized and contributed to the digital museum the project is creating.

“The Rosenbach will also host the 'Frankenstein’s Footlocker and Frankenstein’s Workbench' as hands-on activities for our audiences in conjunction with our exhibition,” says Judy Guston, curator and director of collections. “As a literary museum, we plan to present a mix of objects familiar to our audiences, plus participatory activities and technologies, and ask related science-in-society questions that connect the past to our lives in the present. We hope that this combination will engage our audiences, creating a more informed discussion of the scientific issues that were raised when Frankenstein and Dracula were written in the 19th century, and those issues that continue to challenge us today.”


This project is supported by the National Science Foundation, under grant number 1516684


A visualization of the project’s transmedia structure: participants will shuttle between a range of mediated experiences, including a digital museum, a tabletop activity kit, “Frankenstein’s Footlocker,” and a set of maker challenges, “Frankenstein’s Workbench.”

ASU News

ASU alumna expands Arizona's artistic frame

October 12, 2015

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

Xanthia Walker recommends those interested in pursuing a career in the arts to “kindly roll their eyes” at naysayers. portrait of woman standing behind picture frame Xanthia Walker, a 2010 graduate of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, is making an imprint on the Arizona artistic community. Download Full Image

“I believe that the arts are one of the most powerful tools on the planet for creating spaces where people can see and hear each other, who might not usually be inclined to see or hear each other,” she said.

Having always been inclined to view the world through a more artistic lens, Walker — who obtained her Master of Fine Arts in Theatre, Theatre for Youth in 2010, from ASU's School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — is very involved in the Phoenix community through initiatives like the Soul Justice Project, and Rising Youth Theatre, of which she is the co‐founder and artistic director.

She also serves as the theatre program chair for the Arizona School for the Arts, co‐edits the online publication Incite Insight for the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and is in the beginning stages of producing a pop‐up performance series around the Valley.

The artist recently took time from her full schedule to talk about her work with the arts.

Q: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

A: Looking back on my childhood, I have always processed the information of the world through an artistic lens – so I always knew I wanted to do something performative. When I was an undergrad at the University of Minnesota I had an opportunity to work with a group of young people at a local high school to create a piece of theatre about issues of justice at their school. I had no idea what I was doing and just jumped in because I thought it sounded exciting – and it was! I worked with three other facilitators who were all undergrads in the theatre program with me, and interestingly enough, all four of us are still making some kind of theatre that intersects with community and social change work.

Q: How has your experience at ASU helped to put you in the position you are in today?

A: The MFA program in Theatre for Youth is world‐class, and it was an honor to get to do the deep study work of grad school in this program. My professors helped me to pair my wild ideas with tangible skills. Not only did this program grow me immensely as an artist and scholar, it also connected me to the 

Q: You were recently featured in Phoenix New Times for your work with The Soul Justice Project, which was described as “an ongoing enterprise in promoting community awareness and dialogue.” How or why do you think the arts have the power to influence society?

A: I believe that the arts are one of the most powerful tools on the planet for creating spaces where people can see and hear each other, who might not usually be inclined to see or hear each other. As an artist, I am most excited by the opportunity to create work that is in collaboration with people and communities who maybe don't think theatre is for them, or whose stories do not currently appear very often in the dominant narrative – it is important to me to create pieces of theatre that invite people to see the world a little bit differently, but not to do that with “hammer-over-the-head justice issue plays” and instead with honesty, humor, love and hopefully really compelling work. I think the Soul Justice Project is an exciting manifestation of that. I am hugely honored to be a part of it. The arts get people talking because if you see something that is inspiring, compelling or even something that makes you angry, you have to talk about it.

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

A: Getting a bunch of "artists" and "non‐artists" in the room together, and getting to be a part of this group of people making something that can only exist because that specific group is in the room together. Rising Youth Theatre partners community experts with professional artists to create new works of theatre, and my favorite part is the moment when people first get in the room together and start to get excited about working together.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in the arts?

A: Don't let anybody tell you that a career in the arts is unsustainable or that a degree in the arts is a waste of money. There are a million ways to make a life in the arts. I recommend kindly rolling your eyes at anyone who tells you it is a stupid idea. Be prepared to work hard, advocate for yourself, take advantage of every opportunity possible to learn and grow and gain more skills in your area of expertise, and find someone who is already doing what you want to be doing and ask them to be your mentor. Also, learn how to be a teaching artist because not only is it vitally important work but there is always demand for awesome teaching artists.

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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Artist collective creates ambitious installation on US-Mexico border

October 7, 2015

This week, three members of an indigenous artist collective called Postcommodity will install the largest-ever bi-national land art piece on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The "Repellent Fence" is comprised of more than two dozen massive balloons — each 10 feet in diameter — that will float 50 feet above the desert landscape. Together, they will create a temporary two-mile-long sculpture that intersects the U.S.-Mexico border.

The installation is the product of over three years of work by Postcommodity members Raven Chacon, Cristóbal Martínez and Kade L. Twist, who have been in residence at the ASU Art Museum’s International Artist Residency Program several times as they worked to realize their vision for the installation.

Their fence, which the group calls the “continuation of an exploration of contested spaces,” will be installed through community action from Oct. 9-12, near Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Mexico.

The balloons are scaled-up replicas of “scare eye” spheres, a consumer product designed to repel birds. Postcommodity notes that the “scare eye,” which looks similar to a yellow and red bull’s-eye target, actually “utilizes iconography and traditional medicinal colors used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples from South America to Canada.”

Through appropriating that iconography in their project, the collective hopes to open a dialogue about indigenous cultural relationships to land, and to “demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Western Hemisphere by recognizing indigenous peoples and long-view histories that encapsulate migration, trade, relationships, communication and cultural exchange.”

Twist and Martinez are both ASU alums. Twist received a Master of Fine Arts from the ASU School of Art, and Martinez received a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and linguistics from the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2015, after completing a master’s in media arts and science and bachelor’s degrees in studio art and painting, in the Herberger Institute’s School of Arts, Media + Engineering and School of Art, respectively.

They’re also not strangers to international art fame. In 2012, they, along with the rest of Postcommodity, exhibited at the 18th Sydney Biennale. The project they presented, “Do You Remember When,” was commissioned by the ASU Art Museum and originally unveiled at the museum’s Ceramics Research Center in 2009.

To make “Repellent Fence” a reality, Postcommodity conducted dozens of meetings with individuals, communities and local organizations to acquire permission to stage the installation and to ensure safe public access for audiences viewing the project, which will be installed on public and private land in Mexico and Arizona. They chose to work outside the framework of arts institutions and galleries to emphasize the power of international collaboration and the desire of border cities to “redefine dialogue.”

Their involvement with the museum's residency program was also part of the installation's development.

“The residency program has been amazing — it’s comfortable, well-appointed, right in the middle of Phoenix, and surrounded by a generative and talented art community. It’s an ideal home base to realize a project,” says Twist. “All of the resources that the museum and its staff leverage on behalf of the artists have brought so much to the table. I can’t even begin to explain how important this residency has been in terms of realizing the ‘Repellent Fence.’”

"Repellent Fence" is just one part of a larger public engagement campaign that will include public programming, performances and the first-ever cross-border art walk in Douglas and Agua Prieta. Over the course of the weekend, the Arizona Commission on the Arts will present a series of artist workshops and artist-led community conversations featuring several artists local to Douglas, including ASU School of Art alumna M. Jenea Sanchez, as part of their new AZ ArtWorker Initiative. Visual and performance artist Ana Teresa Fernández will also be visiting Douglas as part of her residency with ASU’s Performance in the Borderlands, an initiative of the ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre.

With just days remaining before “Repellent Fence” is installed at the border, the group is excited. “The installation itself is significant, because it is a large-scale manifestation of intense bi-national dialogue, collaboration and diplomacy,” Martinez says. “This represents the self-determination of Douglas and Agua Prieta to collaborate with one another and unify their communities despite the border wall.”

“This act of re-inhabiting historically shared terrain and marking it with contemporary versions of ancient icons reveals the U.S./Mexico border to be what it is: the arbitrary and artificial overlay of power derived through coercion,” says Gordon Knox, ASU Art Museum director. “I am delighted that the museum’s residency program can serve as a springboard for artists of Postcommodity’s caliber and enable cross-disciplinary projects like ‘Repellent Fence.’”

“Repellent Fence” is presented in collaboration with the ASU Art Museum and is supported by Creative Capital, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation and Art Matters.

The public is invited to attend “Repellent Fence” and the surrounding programming, Oct. 9-12, in Douglas and Agua Prieta. A full schedule of events and more details on the project are available at

Juno Schaser

communications program coordinator , ASU Art Museum


ASU News

Powerful new opera 'Guadalupe' blends cultural perspectives

October 6, 2015

The School of Music strives to perform new works on a regular basis as part of its Lyric Opera Theatre season lineup, but it doesn’t often have the chance to present a brand-new show also written by a member of its own faculty.

This November, however, the school is fortunate to showcase the world premiere of “Guadalupe,” a multilingual opera in two acts composed by ASU’s own professor of composition and music theory, James DeMars. Photo by Sean Hoyer Download Full Image

"On behalf of the Lyric Opera Theatre, it is with great anticipation and excitement that we present this performance of ‘Guadalupe,’” says Brian DeMaris, director of the Lyric Opera Theatre. “We are preparing our students for careers in which most of their engagements will be with new works, and it is and will continue to be an integral part of our training. Providing students with opportunities to engage with living authors is an essential part of what we do.”

“Guadalupe” centers on the story of how the Virgin Mary appeared to peasant Juan Diego (Cuauhtlatohuac), near the Aztec Temple of Mother Earth (Tonantzin) near Mexico City between Dec. 9 and 12, 1531. According to Diego’s testimony, Mary was robed in a striking blue color, with rays of light radiating around her. This image of Mary, known as the Virgen de Guadalupe, is central to the traditions of the Mexican Catholic religion and is easily recognizable in art works as an important symbol of that faith. December 12 has since become a popular Catholic holiday to remember this story and celebrate Mexico’s patron saint, who promoted a message of hope and peace.

Other central themes of the opera include the first peace treaty of the Americas, and the revelation of the miraculous, blended portrait of the Aztec and Spanish Mother Mary that inspired peace throughout the Americas.

In May 2008, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mesa, two debut concerts of the “Guadalupe” musical score were performed as an opera-oratorio – without the costumes and sets that define a traditional opera. The performance was recorded and released by Canyon Records as a co-production with the School of Music. Reviews were glowing: “As the last notes faded I sat awestruck ... this opera was a milestone in the history of contemporary music,” wrote Ruben Hernandez for Latino Perspectives Magazine.

Known for works that explore intercultural collaborations, DeMars says, “Composing this opera provided me a remarkable opportunity to bring together the two sides of my career: the classical works, which include cantatas, concerti and a requiem, and the intercultural works, which feature Native American, Hispanic and African artists performing with traditional classical ensembles.” In 2010, he was honored with the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award for his efforts on this opera.

The November premiere of “Guadalupe” – the first time it will be performed as a full-length opera – also aligns itself with ASU’s mission of commitment to community engagement and connection to place, since it reflects stories and history that are integral to the identity of the borderlands of Arizona and Mexico. This world premiere will be the sixth co-production by the ASU School of Music and Canyon Records, which has been specializing in Native American music since 1951.

Following the final performance on Sunday, Nov. 22, at the Evelyn Smith Music Theater on ASU's Tempe campus, audience members will have the opportunity to participate in a talk-back session with the creators and cast members.

“Composing this opera provided me with a chance to bring together musicians from many cultures for this series of performances, including Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai (Navajo-Ute), and Mexican percussionist/flutist Xavier Quijas Yxayotl (Huichol), as well as the African percussion resources of my long-time colleague Mark Sunkett,” DeMars says.

The opera’s plot revolves around Juan Diego’s efforts to have his vision accepted as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church, but the deeper, underlying theme is the ever-relevant concept of reconciliation between warring cultures and achieving peace through non-violence.

In voices that blend English, Spanish and Aztec languages, the opera’s powerful notes and dramatic storyline don’t just weave together a fictional story, they address timeless issues that apply to today’s inter-cultural challenges, much as how they did when Juan Diego first saw the visions in 1531.

“The finale of the opera is my favorite part,” DeMars says. “Performers sing about coping with U.S.-Mexico immigration issues and the cultural differences that separate the two nations."

The themes of reconciliation and acceptance recur throughout the opera’s centuries-old storyline, yet audiences will come away feeling equally as awe-inspired and hopeful about the modern-day issues of our borderlands. “I open the opera with a euphoric epiphany, revealing the experience of hope, and close with a final prayer for peace,” says DeMars.

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19-21 and 2 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Evelyn Smith Music Theater on ASU's Tempe campus

Music composed by James DeMars
Libretto by James DeMars, Robert Esteva Doyle and Graham Whitehead
Sung in English and Spanish with English supertitles
Stage Director: Graham Whitehead
Music Director: William Reber
Choreographer: Lauren Margison
Production Designs: Alfredo Escarcega
Costumes, hair and makeup: Sharon Jones
Lighting Design: Jeff Jann

This opera contains mature themes and may not be appropriate for young children.

Ticket prices: $21 for adults; $15 for faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for senior citizens; $10 for group purchases (minimum of 10 tickets); $8 for students.

A $2 handling fee applies to all orders, and a web per ticket purchase fee will apply.

To order tickets, call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480.965.6447 or visit Box office hours are 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2-4 p.m. Saturdays

Heather Beaman School of Music Communications Liaison 480.727.6222

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ASU performance showcases human side of ‘big data’

ASU faculty members visualize bigdata through theater.
September 30, 2015

Ask people to picture what data looks like and they might envision something like the opening title sequence of “The Matrix,” where boxy green code rains down a static black background. Ask them to imagine what it sounds like and they might recall the scene in the movie where Neo is traced and his scream devolves into a chaotic jumble of metallic sounds.

Thankfully, a few Arizona State University faculty have come up with a decidedly less terrifying way to experience data somatically.

This Friday, Jacqueline Wernimont, Jessica Rajko and Eileen Standley will present “Vibrant Lives and Data Archives,” an atypical performance installation that aims to inform people about the concept of personal “data shed” by providing an experience in which their data can be seen, felt and heard.

Data shed refers to the nearly 3.5 million bytes of data produced per person, per day. That data is unique to each person because it comes from things like smartphone apps or wearable fitness devices that record a person’s behavior and actions.

But it doesn’t stop at "Bejeweled Blitz" and Fitbits. Everything from the Facebook ads you click on to pacifiers that tell a baby’s temperature produce data.

“There’s all this data that’s flying off of us all the time, but you can’t see it,” said Wernimont, assistant professor in the Department of English whose research focuses on alternative ways of understanding data.

And all of that data, that personal information, is being captured.

Captured by whom and for what purpose, you might ask?

Mostly by mobile-app developers, who often sell it to third-party users, who in turn use the data to develop a profile of an individual in order to create customized consumer experiences.

Wernimont calls them “the guys in the closet.”

“[They] are watching everything that you’re doing and gathering data about that,” she said.

Though that might sound creepy, don’t break out the torches and pitchforks just yet.

Even though there are instances like the one where a father whose daughter had been killed in an auto accident received junk mail from a company that forgot to delete the data they had used to target him — resulting in the phrase “daughter killed in car crash” printed below his address — there are also ways that sharing personal information can benefit us.

“There are lots of instances where (sharing information is) useful. Devices like Fitbits. Those kinds of things are advertised as self-empowering technologies, and for lots and lots of people they really are,” Wernimont said. “So it’s not that they’re good or bad. It’s that they are. And understanding how they work allows us to understand how they shape the world that we see.”

Translating data

One of the things Wernimont, Rajko and Standley hope to accomplish with “Vibrant Lives” is to give people a sense of the sheer amount of personal data they shed every day in a way that more effectively resonates with them.

“A lot of times data is represented in static form through visual presentations of graphs or charts, which is interesting, but doesn’t necessarily give an embodied experience of what that really means,” said Rajko, assistant professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Watch a video below of the performance in action Friday night.


Rajko met Wernimont after the latter had given a Nexus Lab presentation on her research. Intrigued, Rajko approached Wernimont and they got to talking. Later on, Standley — a clinical professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre — joined the mix.

The trio applied for and were awarded funding from a Herberger Institute seed grant as well as an Institute for Humanities Research seed grant to pursue the project that eventually became “Vibrant Lives,” and immediately got to work brainstorming how to illustrate their ideas.

With input from Jamie Winterton, director of strategy with ASU’s Global Security Initiative, they developed a mobile phone application to be used in conjunction with the performance installation.

Upon entering the performance space, attendees can download the app and, as they move through the space, their phones will vibrate or make sounds in direct relation to the amount of data they are producing, or “shedding.”

“How that works is we’re setting up an external server, or an external device, that’s basically capturing all the data in the space. It can identify whose data is being captured and then send that data amount back to the phone.

“So it’s almost sort of like this third-party system, which is sort of a redundant metaphor, I think, for some of the things we’ve been talking about,” Rajko said with a laugh.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to hook their phone up to a device called a woojer, which translates data into vibrations that can be felt.

Humanizing data

“Vibrant Lives” will also feature a group of 20-plus performers made up of ASU students and alumni who will, in a sense, be acting out data.

To describe what that might look like, Wernimont references Wendy Chun, a media theorist at Brown University who says that “devices are promiscuous,” because, Wernimont said, “essentially what they’re doing is saying, ‘Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!’ to the Internet. And the Internet is like, ‘Are you there? Are you there? Are you there? Are you there?’ ”

So attendees can expect a certain amount of interaction with the "Vibrant Lives" performers. They will be clad in costumes coated in colored cornstarch, which will shed particles as they move, reiterating the idea of data shed.

“There’ll be dancers talking to you, or offering you a kinesthetic experience, depending on the level of engagement that the audience wants to (engage in),” Standley said.

person looking at app on phone

She added that “the process becomes a teaching setting in many ways. As well as providing a bridge to the Arizona community and local professional arts setting, students learn from working with us and are also informed in deep ways about the concepts we are researching together.”

The fact that humans play a role in demonstrating what data might look is no accident.

“By having bodies in the room that are interacting with people, we’re making an active argument that this is about people,” Wernimont said. “What you’re feeling vibrate is a person.”

Rajko expounded on that, “Everybody has a body, and human-based data is not possible without humans. So ultimately, if we’re looking at a graph or a chart with data points … that’s not possible without people.

“And so how do we take the distraction of something that separates those two out and bring it back to this?” she asked, reaching out to Wernimont sitting next to her and placing her hands on Wernimont’s arm. “Because ultimately, this is what it’s about.”

Developing 'Data'

“Vibrant Lives and Data Archives” will premier at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, in ASU’s Galvin Playhouse. The installation is a “pre-show” that will begin 30 minutes before each performance of Fall Forward!, the kick-off event of Herberger’s dance season, featuring new works created by ASU faculty and guests.

Though this particular iteration of the performance installation focuses on animating a person’s individual data, plans are in the works for future performances that will look at aggregate data — data taken from a group of people.

“This is like a tiny little segment of the bigger project,” Wernimont said.

“Vibrant Lives” will travel this summer to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in Victoria, British Columbia, and later will showcase at Spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in March 2016, where it will feature an added sculptural element composed of what are basically giant woojers, called ButtKickers.

Each performance will build on and make changes to the previous one.

“It’s really important that this is a demonstration of the ways in which art performance is research. Creative and performative is the same as research. This is our lab,” said Wernimont.