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ASU photographs inspire poems by Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Ríos.
February 16, 2017

Project to celebrate National Poetry Month combines the words of Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Ríos and images by ASU Now

In anticipation of National Poetry Month in April, Arizona Poet Laureate and Regents' Professor Alberto Ríos and ASU Now photographers Charlie Leight and Deanna Dent are collaborating to create a "visual sonnet." Each week we share a new image and poem on our @asunow Instagram account. When completed, the entire project - 14 images and poems, reflecting the number of lines in a sonnet - will be found on this page, culminating on April 27.

All images were captured not for "work," but as images that stood out to each photographer. Ríos then wrote short poems adapted to the images without knowing their initial context.

This isn't the first team project for Ríos, who often collaborates with community members and artists from different parts of Arizona. He knows the power that can come from combining ideas. 

"The best of collaboration suggests two or more people working not in service to each other, but to the idea they envision, differently," he said. "This seems an awkward assumption, but let me say it this way: I can say 'blue' to you and I will mean what I mean, but you will hear 'blue' and think what you think it means.

"Through our different understandings, though, together we create a third blue, a blue of difference, a blue that suddenly makes three blues where only two began. Something magical and transformative happens in that moment. Putting our blues together makes something happen, something palpably more."  

Ríos suggested the name Ekphrasis for the project, a Greek word summed up in a "verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined." 

A Sonnet of Images 
Ekphrasis.  Translation.  Conversation.

Click on the words below to jump down to that week's photo and poem:

1. In you I have the future...    2. Orange...    3. I play the game...    4. I stretch...  5. I was something...   6. In the great oculus...   7. World, I see you.   8. Great stone comb... 9. A caterpillar... 10. Sometimes I think...




In you, I hug the future.
I hold to me the arms of what is going to happen.

I embrace the next edge of civilization,
The farthest forward we as human beings have ventured.

These robes we are wearing are not clothing—
They are the gift-wrapping of everything we know. 

I hold you tight.  I smile through the beautifully curled hair 
Of you.  I put my two hands

On the back of you.  Future,
I want to hold you like there’s no tomorrow— 

Which means, of course, that this tight hug,
Even if I cannot say it, is all tomorrow.

-Back to Top-


orange splatter 

In the dictionaries the earliest uses of the word in English refer to the fruit, that the

Color was later named after the fruit. Before the English-speaking world was exposed to the
Fruit, the color was referred to as “yellow-red” (geoluread in Old English) or “red-yellow.”

The word comes to us from late Middle English: from Old French orenge (in the phrase
Pomme d'orenge), based on Arabic naranj, from Persian narang.

So what, I say.
Do you dance? I ask, but I don’t wait— 

I spin you on the dance floor and watch your dress
Make the brilliant mark of the hard tango turn,

The scribbled signature of urgency made with the body,
The mark left that says I was here, in this moment, in this place.

I was here, that orange says, loudly and so much that to say anything more
We must turn to a next page.  This page, this moment—it is done.

-Back to Top- 


 child on carpet

I play the game and am the game.  I play chess
And am the knight.  I play the cube

And turn, somehow, yellow into red,
Dream orange into green.  I am the game

Right now and yesterday, right now
And tomorrow.  I am the player and the board both

Trying everything to win.
Winning is a candy in my mouth. 

I lie on the bed of the game.
I am the game of me.

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yoga in the museum 

I stretch among the museum’s images,
Bend my body to their inclinations,

Try out orange and precipice,
Hold the sun and poke the eye of green. 

I stretch.  I grow among the images
And in answer to my lean 

They move themselves for me.  These paintings
And me, we are in this place together.

 -Back to Top-


Poetry photo

I was something and now I am something else—
I have played the game of tag with myself, 

Standing up a little more with each incarnation
Through the centuries, standing up a little more 

And leaning a little farther forward.  I crouched
For so long, I stooped for so long, 

I ached through it all, all of it, all of me,
Unfolding, all in order to stand today, 

And more.  I am moving so that
I will fly tomorrow, unlikely as it may seem.

I will fly.  And then,
Wherever this trajectory takes me, I will go.

- Back to Top - 




In the great oculus I see the fingernail moon,
The opal in the rafters, 

The worn space helmet,
The eye of the weatherless hurricane, 

The adjusting telescope allowing me
A view outward, but, simultaneously, 

The microscope of what can only be called
The gods, the greatness, the Out There, 

Its lens bearing down on me.  In this moment,
I have seen it and it has seen me.

-Back to Top-



World, I see you.  Earth, I see you.
Do you see me?

I am here.  I bring with me my child.
I give this child to you 

As I was given.  I give this child
To this great world, unafraid,

Fierce, sturdy, with a ferociousness for good,
I give this child who is me.

-Back to Top-



Great stone comb of the four directions—
It is nothing like that.  Don’t be fooled. 

I wear the chicken hat.
I am a man and a beast both. 

I speak and I cluck, I howl and I whisper,
I live in the sunflowers under the sky. 

I am the translation of man to animal,
Hummingbird to ant, lizard to moth. 

I direct the bees and elicit the breeze—
I am the crossroads.  I am the moment 

Oxygen moves into blood, I am when
Peahen screet moves from need into word.

-Back to Top-



A caterpillar sometimes does not move forward,
Does not follow the centuries-old map of work-to-be-done. 

One Tuesday, it looks up.
One Thursday, it looks up again— 

These risings to the air are not much in their movement,
But in the history of things, everything has happened. 

This explains how cactus once moved through the desert,
Starting out as a caterpillar looking to the stars.

-Back to Top-




Sometimes I think.  And when I do,
Thought lifts off me as if it were a mist. 

It makes me think: perhaps when mist lifts off
The ground, the ground itself, like me, is thinking. 

I am focused, and that focus makes sweat on my brow,
Finds water almost magically in the desert. 

Whatever I am thinking, in that moment when thought comes to me,
I move one step ahead, even as I am standing still.

-Back to Top-

SILC student merges disciplines, explores sustainability through language

February 15, 2017

Vera Coleman has a strong interest in environmental and social debates. Coleman also loves studying Spanish culture, literature and language. Through her PhD dissertation and the School of International Letters and Culture, she has found a way to bring the disciplines together.

Her dissertation is titled “Beyond the Anthropocene: Multispecies Encounters in Contemporary Latin American Literature, Art, and Film.” Quote by Vera Coleman Quote by Vera Coleman Download Full Image

Coleman has looked at how Latin American artists pull nature into their work, and applying those findings to environmental solutions.

In an explanation of her research, Coleman wrote, “Writers, filmmakers and artists of Latin America today verge away from pessimistic images of environmental destruction and instead look to mutually beneficial interactions among members of different species as a beacon of hope lighting up a better future for our shared planet.”

“I’m interested in the ways that contemporary 21st-century Latin American writers, filmmakers and artists are confronting this notion of the Anthropocene, which is still being hotly debated,” Coleman said, speaking to SILC from the Modern Language Association Convention in Philadelphia.

The Anthropocene, as Coleman describes it, is a label used by some scientists and cultural theorists to describe the current age in terms of global human impact.

“I was a biology major for two years and took courses in genetics and evolution and chemistry and physics, and then became really passionate about Spanish literature,” Coleman said. “I kind of thought that those two years were wonderful, but I don’t know what I’d end up doing with them.”

“I became very interested in SILC and ASU. I was very drawn to the fact that it’s a multi-language school,” she continued. “There’s not just a Spanish department, but a school that has multiple languages working and collaborating together”.

Obviously, merging language and environmental study is complex, but Coleman found support for her many interests at the School of International Letters and Culture. Faculty support and guidance helped her find ways to meld different fields together.

“All the professors have been so welcoming of my ideas and so supportive of me wanting to take these risks and take these new perspectives and draw connections with other disciplines,” Coleman said.

Coleman started studying different art forms that comment on the environment in countries like Uruguay, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Argentina. She even learned about indigenous communities in some of those countries.

Coleman has enjoyed exploring discussions about the environment outside of the English-speaking world and has enjoyed merging different areas of study at ASU.

“Cultural study looks at film and art and journalism and performance, digital media. So it’s the very broad focus on the notion of text,” Coleman explained. “So we can analyze whole different forms of cultural expression to get a sense of what’s going in these countries. Those are the things that I really liked, that really drew me to SILC.”

Gabriel Sandler

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Industry group says graphic novel format tops $1 billion in annual sales.
Award-winning author, illustrator Mark Siegel presents lecture on Tempe campus.
February 14, 2017

Award-winning author and illustrator Mark Siegel to lead discussion on format, facilitate storytelling event with artists, ASU scientists

Print book sales have been on the decline since the Great Recession with one exception: graphic novels.

Trade group ICv2 says the novel-in-comic-strip format has gone over $1 billion in annual sales, with top sellers moving up to 150,000 units a week. Taking advantage of the momentum, ASU is bringing a leading industry voice to deliver a lecture and communication workshop on the rising popularity of the visual art form.

Award-winning author and illustrator Mark Siegel is the founder, editorial and creative director of First Second Books, the Macmillan publisher of graphic novels in every age category.

Siegel’s lecture, “The Great American Graphic Novel” on Thursday afternoon in Payne Hall on the Tempe campus, will cover the history of comics and graphic novels, the creative process, and the importance of the medium as a tool for literacy in an increasingly visual culture. The lecture is free and guests are asked to RSVP online.

And on Friday, ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination and the Institute for Humanities Research are hosting a workshop with Siegel that pairs local comic artists with ASU faculty to create an original, visual narrative of their research.

ASU Now reached out to Siegel in advance of his Tempe visit.

Question: What do you account for the rise of the graphic novel in the past decade?

Answer: Comics have deep roots in America whether it’s the newspaper strip or the superhero comics. They have a deep place in the American psyche, and it’s an American form of storytelling, even though it’s all over the world.

A decade ago the sounds coming out of the comic book industry were really grim and looked hopeless. Then a couple of things happened: Hollywood began basing movies on graphic novels coupled with the emergence of manga, which has been popular in Japan since the 1960s.

Suddenly, there were millions of dollars changing hands, huge sections of graphic novels appearing at bookstores. Publishers began asking, “What is this? And why are we missing out on these millions of dollars?”

It’s the fastest growing category in publishing, and America is the leading in this new graphic novel form.

Q: What is the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel?

A: If you ask different people, you’ll get slightly different answers. Some people are super militant about the differences.

For me, comics are a medium. So when you say comic, it’s generally the comic form, paneled and has word balloons.

A graphic novel has become a publishing category. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a novel, but it includes fiction, non-fiction and memoirs. It uses the comic form, but it has a spine like a book, not a pamphlet. Typically, when you say comic, that’s usually a pamphlet. That’s how I gauge it in a very practical way.

Comic book

Mark Siegel wrote "To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel" with his wife, Siena Cherson Siegel, in 2006.

Q: What is the power of the graphic novel?

A: We’re moving into an age where there’s a visual literacy that can go as deep and as substantive as prose literacy. People are being raised to think both visually and verbally. The graphic novel does those two things, and the dance of those two produces an experience.

There’s an interesting thing that cartoonist Art Spiegelman said about word balloons. That is, if they’re done well, they’re not like chunks of paragraphs or texts of words, but rather they’re puffs of thought. Brain scientists say that’s how your brain actually works.

We don’t really think in paragraphs or full sentences, but more like phrases that kind of clump together. The really good comics authors do that really well. There’s a pacing of thought that they establish. It can reach deeply, and it’s an active mental act.

Q: Let’s talk numbers. How big is this industry?

A: It’s huge numbers. Between comics, manga and graphic novels, it’s a big industry.

A title like “The Olympians,” a retelling of the Greek myths, we’ve sold well over 350,000 copies. So while that sounds like a lot of copies, there’s a lot of time that’s involved and you have to be a little nuts to do one of these things.

What’s interesting about the other book models is that it’s like the Hollywood blockbuster: it’s either huge or it dies on the spot. Graphic novels aren’t like that. If they stick, they can keep selling and selling and selling. They have this really long tail. But it’s not a quick money scheme; it’s more of a long-term investment.

Q: What do you hope to convey in your upcoming Feb. 16 lecture and Feb. 17 workshop?

A: The lecture will be a fun and lighthearted history of comics in America to see where we are today.

The presentation the following day is a behind-the-scenes of making a comics project. We’ll team scientists with local comic book artists and develop a rough mockup of a non-fiction comic.

It’s an event that may be even bigger than we had anticipated. Something wants to happen here.


Top photo: A panel from Sin City, a neo-noir comic by writer Frank Miller. The 2005 movie adaptation and a subsequent sequel helped propel the popularity of the graphic novel. Courtesy of

ASU's Herberger Institute helps shape the future of the arts

January 25, 2017

What does the future of the arts look like?

That’s what a group of ASU students are puzzling out this month and the next, in a course called the Studio for the Future of Arts and Culture. Alexis Moore (ASU) and Emma Plotkin (Bennington College) at the Future Arts Forward Conference in California Alexis Moore of ASU (left) and Emma Plotkin of Bennington College traveled to the Future Arts Forward Conference in California as part of ASU's Studio for the Future of Arts and Culture. Download Full Image

Ten students from ASU and four students from Bennington College traveled to San Jose, California, as part of the studio, to participate in the Center for Cultural Innovation’s Future Arts Forward conference Jan. 23. There the students, together with 250 other young artists and art leaders, addressed such questions as whom the arts should serve, and how the arts sector might shift to serve a changing America.

While in California, the students also spent the day at Stanford University’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts.

The six-week studio course, which began Jan. 9 and continues through mid-February, is a collaboration among ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Bennington College and the Center for Cultural Innovation, and is funded in part by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

The goal of the studio is to work with students using futurist methods and design thinking and to expose them to a variety of artist innovators, like the members of Herberger Institute’s Ensemble Lab, in order to generate new ideas about how to organize and support cultural life and the work of artists and designers in the future. 

Students will each be coached in presenting a powerful three-minute talk that advances a radical idea for innovation in our cultural system and will become art and design’s ambassadors to the field. Their mission? To shake up existing thinking and spur change in our country’s cultural policy framework.  

More news of the future to come after the students give their final presentations in February.

Deborah Sussman Susser

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Stephani Etheridge Woodson named Herberger Institute Design and Arts Corps director

Corps aims to become national model for arts- and design-led community change

January 19, 2017

Stephani Etheridge Woodson, associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, has been named the director of the Design and Arts Corps (DAC) at Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The corps is one of the Herberger Institute signature initiatives that aims to become a national model for arts- and design-led community change.

Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper says Etheridge Woodson is the right person to lead the initiative, which will place designers, artists, scholars and educators at the center of public life and encourage them to use their creative capacities to advance culture and address challenges. Stephani Etheridge Woodson Stephani Etheridge Woodson Download Full Image

“Professor Etheridge Woodson has built an international reputation as one of the most thoughtful scholars and practitioners of arts- and design-driven community development,” Tepper said. “As director of the Design and Arts Corps, she will build upon existing deep relationships in the community to create the largest, most ambitious university-community partnership in the nation that deploys arts and design to transform neighborhoods and cities.”

Etheridge Woodson is excited to take the reins and says a pilot project for this semester is already in the works.

“The Design and Arts Corps bridges my creative and development passions, together offering the opportunity to ‘be the change I want to see,’” she said.

Etheridge Woodson emphasizes that the Design and the Arts Corps, which is inspired by the Works Progress Administration created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide relief during the Great Depression, is about more than just educating students.

“This is about a collaboration between the university that serves students’ learning but also leverages the human and creative capital of the university in order to build these assets for the community,” she said. 

The corps will deploy creative talent to the greater Phoenix area for a variety of programs, from embedding composers in a lab with researchers studying Alzheimer’s disease to public service projects, such as when Etheridge Woodson’s community-based theater class partnered with the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service last semester to produce videos highlighting the election and educating voters.

Etheridge Woodson says that the corps has the potential to change the perception of arts and design schools, and that she wants to work “to build stronger communities in which the arts and humanities are understood as a fundamental component of a healthy and democratic society.”

“The vision of the Design and Arts Corps is a transformed relationship between artists, designers and society,” she said. “That’s what we’re building — we’re innovating on the ground.”

Sarah A. McCarty

Communications and marketing coordinator, School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute


School of Music wins $85,000 grant for music education project

January 19, 2017

As part of the New American University, ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts aims to embed arts-based study throughout the communities it serves locally, nationally and internationally, including investing in K-12 education through community partnerships, initiatives and faculty research.

Within Herberger Institute, the School of Music’s Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education (CITME) not only invests in those communities by conducting research to help music educators and advance music education, but also hopes to broaden and deepen how music teaching and learning can impact society and contribute to positive social transformation. Current research includes supporting connected learning in music education.  Music Education ASU School of Music associate professor Evan Tobias (standing) collaborates with music education students and community members on beat making and jamming, two themes that will be addressed in the learning playlists. Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

In recent years, educational leaders and organizations such as the MacArthur Foundation have promoted the idea of connected learning, which uses digital media to engage students and to enhance their learning by connecting their interests with their education. A report published by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub said connected learning emphasizes issues of equity and capacity building to create opportunities for young people and encourages youth to learn with peers and adults by pursuing shared interests and goals. 

Now, with an $85,000 grant from the sixth Digital Media and Learning Competition, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, School of Music associate professor Evan Tobias and the CITME are using these ideas to create six connected music learning playlists for educating youth through musical inquiry and in the context of artistic problem solving.

“The competition was a great fit for the Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education and our work over the past several years in exploring the potential of arts inquiry, engagement and learning to make a positive impact on young people’s lives, communities and society at large,” Tobias said. “This project is an exciting opportunity to weave together strands of research and creative work around connected learning, participatory culture, digital culture, learning and teaching and the capacity of music as a medium for people to be creative and expressive.”

Connected learning playlists are a curated group of learning experiences and resources such as videos, websites, books, games, articles and more. The different experiences are connected together to create one playlist that focuses on a theme and combines online, in-school, out-of-school and employer-based learning. The idea is to create a network of learning experiences and collaborative playlists where multiple organizations and providers may contribute. As more and more playlists are built, the connections across all learning experiences will continue to grow that learning network.

“Just as iTunes or Spotify playlists allow users to easily remix content across albums, connected learning playlists offer similarly personalized learning experiences,” according to the Digital Media and Learning Competition website.

For this project, called “Sound Explorations: Creating, Expressing and Improving Communities,” playlists will feature multiple learning pathways around six themes:

  • Coding and programming music
  • Making beats
  • Building instruments and interfaces
  • Producing music
  • Connecting music and culture
  • Jamming (solo and groups)

Each playlist’s multiple pathways will guide youth along experiences addressing National Core Arts Standards of creating, performing, responding and connecting through interest-based musical practices. The goal of the playlist set is to provide rich musical contexts that connect formal learning environments such as school music programs with community or after-school programs and informal settings such as homes or libraries.

Changing communities 

Once the playlists are created, learners will use them to develop skills of inquiry, problem-solving and reflection from an artistic perspective relating to their interests. They will generate, develop, refine and share artistic ideas, and understand and evaluate music. In addition to emphasizing creativity and fostering musical inquiry, Tobias said the playlists will also encourage students to be change makers in society. 

The music learning playlists will show students how to relate music to personal meaning and socio-cultural contexts as well as strengthen the students’ sense of selves as musical people who make a difference in their communities and society. 

“While the focus of this initiative is curricular in nature, the goal of expanding access to music learning and supporting young people develop as creative expressive persons with potential to make a difference in their worlds serves as a driving force,” Tobias said.

Projecting all voices

“Sound Explorations” not only aims to inspire users to make a difference in their communities, but also plans to make sure those change makers include all voices.

“This project speaks to a key Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts aspiration of projecting all voices,” Tobias said. “The six music learning playlists will be designed to ensure that underrepresented people are featured so that all youth see places for themselves.”

The music learning playlists purposefully address aspects of musical engagement that are typically excluded from school music programs, according to Tobias.

“Our playlists will help music educators diversify opportunities for students in music programs and the approximate 78 percent of youth who lack access or opt out due to disinterest in the ensemble performance focus typical of most secondary programs,” he said.

Through the project partners, playlists will support after-school and community programs expanding access to musical engagement and learning opportunities, particularly in settings lacking access to experts or infrastructure.   


Collaboration is at the heart of this project. Approaching the design of the playlists with principles of digital culture and participatory culture in mind means developers are casting the widest net possible to inform the development of music learning playlists. They plan to use crowdsourcing to gain perspectives and resources from people who have a passion for the topics of the lists or identify as practitioners in these areas.

Other collaborators include Alex Ruthmann at NYU, who has expertise in developing large-scale community learning initiatives and interactive digital media for musical engagement; the local community music organization Rosie’s House, which provides youth with free music lessons; the non-profit music organization Today’s Future Sound, which supports after-school beatmaking programs; the small entrepreneurial venture Sew Bright, headed by Ryan Bledsoe, a current music education doctoral student who is developing e-textiles and related opportunities for youth; three-time GRAMMY Foundation Music Education Award nominee and local teacher Richard Maxwell, who developed Arcadia High School’s Creative Musical Arts and Sciences program; and other music educators, teaching artists, community organizations and young people.

“We are excited to work with so many stakeholders and connect across the multiple contexts where young people learn and do music,” Tobias said.

Sarah A. McCarty

Communications and marketing coordinator, School and Film, Dance and Theatre, Herberger Institute


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Q&A: 'La La Land' provides hope in a world of uncertainty

ASU professor: Musicals provide beauty, hope in a world of uncertainty.
January 9, 2017

ASU professor who starred in director Damien Chazelle's first film talks about her experience and the musical genre

Director Damien Chazelle’s hit musical “La La Land” has been nominated for 14 Oscars, tying the mark for the most in Academy Award history.  

It comes just weeks after the film snagged a record seven Golden Globes, praise that keeps the spotlight on Chazelle and the often-overlooked musical genre. It also gives ASU Now an opportunity to return to our conversation with Desiree Garcia, director of film and media studies at ASU, and the star of Chazelle’s first film, 2009's “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.”

In the following Q&A, Garcia discusses what it was like to work with Chazelle, the history and function of the musical in American culture and why “La La Land” has resonated so strongly with audiences.

“We’re in a period where a lot of Americans feel very uncertain,” Garcia said, recently.

“‘La La Land’ speaks to this moment in a very unique way, in a way that only the musical can,” by providing “beauty, art, hope and social acceptance.” 

(Also, listen for her voice in the opening number of “La La Land.” A car is playing a song from “Guy and Madeline,” Garcia said.)

ASU prof

Desiree Garcia

Question: What was it like working with Damien Chazelle on his first film?

Answer: “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” is an original musical that he wrote and filmed.

His idea was to meld a Hollywood musical — the classic “Singin’ in the Rain”-style musical — with a grittier, black-and-white documentary approach, which is very nonmusical.

So the germ of the idea sounds very strange, but what he ended up producing was something that felt quite modern at the same time that it harkened back to an earlier era. We didn’t have script, so a lot of it was improvised on the fly. Both me and my co-star Jason Palmer were nonactors. I think Damien wanted nonprofessional actors in the film so that it felt documentary-like, yet still had these glorious moments of song and dance. And in the end, it works quite well.

I would basically kind of show up and play myself. Damien would call me in the evening or the morning and ask if he could follow me wherever I was going that day. So I’d be going to the graduate student office to read a book, or I’d be walking downtown the streets of Boston on my way to a fabric store, or to get coffee.

It felt very organic, except for the musical numbers, which were highly orchestrated. For one number, we spent all night shooting at a restaurant where we could only shoot after it had closed, so we went all the way to 5 or 6 in the morning.

One of the things I really appreciate about Damien is that he has this almost scholarly, intellectual position about musical film. He’s thought about it very seriously, how it functions in society. He merges his love for the genre with a very educated understanding of how musicals function and why they work or don’t work.

Q: “La La Land” and “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” are very different. What does it say about Chazelle’s abilities as a director that he’s capable of producing both?

A: They are remarkably different in style and tone but really quite similar in story.

The story lines have a lot of parallels. They’re basically these “boy and girl” stories where the girl is a waitress who’s aspiring to be a star, and the boy is a jazz musician who is struggling for his art. And the crux of the film is their relationship, whether or not they’ll be able to make it work in a modern, contemporary society.

Damien has said that he started thinking about “La La Land” about six years ago, which puts it right around the time “Guy and Madeline” was made. So the germ of “La La Land” was there.

He’s an incredibly risky filmmaker. He wants to be known for all kinds of film, beyond just the musical. I believe he’s working on a film about John Glenn, so that’s very nonmusical. When he first went to LA after “Guy and Madeline,” he was even working on some horror stories. So he’s very versatile.

Q: You’re the author of the 2014 book “The Migration of Musical Film: From Ethnic Margins to American Mainstream.” How did the role of the musical differ depending on the time period and the audience?

A: One of the things I was interested in with this book was why musicals appealed to audiences at specific times.

I was also interested in the relationship between what Hollywood was doing with the musical genre at the same time other filmmakers were making musicals outside of Hollywood.

There were Jewish filmmakers making Yiddish films and African-American filmmakers making films outside of Hollywood, largely because they had to at that time. And Mexican filmmakers were making musical films for Mexicans living in the U.S. — Spanish-language films that spoke to a diasporic Mexican population.

What I found is that all of those films were doing something quite different from what Hollywood was doing in the 1930s and '40s.

The former films were about community, and fostering tradition in the face of change. It makes sense because those communities were undergoing great transitions at that time, adjusting to new societies, new languages, etc.

So the musical served them very differently than the Hollywood musicals that featured Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in a boy-and-girl story. So this book was my attempt to historicize the musical. When we say “musical,” we’re talking about a very diverse group of films that have very different kinds of ideological problems depending on the time and the audience.

Q: Was there a golden age of musicals?

A: In the context of Hollywood, there most certainly was. Music came in right around when sound came in to Hollywood, about the late 1920s.

Scholars have pointed to the golden years of the musical as being roughly the same time as the golden age of Hollywood. So about the 1930s through the 1940s and '50s, when you had “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “The Wizard of Oz,” and films like those.

Q: Why do you think “La La Land” resonates so well with audiences? Do you think it has the potential to breathe new life into the musical genre?

A: Most certainly. One of the things that makes it so remarkable is that it is an original film musical.

The musical has never really died. It comes in fits and starts. It’s never really been absent from the screen. In the 1960s, Hollywood became very conservative with the musical, where instead of making original musical films, they were borrowing musicals from Broadway and elsewhere, where they have already been proven successful. That’s why in the 1960s you see “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story,” which had already proved to be box office successes. …

That has largely remained the same up until now, with “La La Land” as an example. That’s one of the reasons it’s so exciting and why people are paying attention to it, because it’s been a very long time since original musicals have been made specifically for the screen.

“La La Land” is a very cinematic production. It’s the kind of film that would be hard to imagine moving to the stage because it’s so cinematic. There are things done with the camera, with editing, with sound, that just can’t be replicated onstage. So it’s a uniquely filmic product.

The musical has always done especially well in times of crisis in our society. It had its first moments of success during the Great Depression, where you had things like Warner Bros.’ “42nd Street.”

In the 1970s the musical did some interesting things, reflecting the darker moments of the recession with films like “Cabaret” and “Saturday Night Fever.”

Now, we’ve just gone through this horrific election cycle; we’re in a period where a lot of Americans feel very uncertain. “La La Land” speaks to this moment in a very unique way, in a way that only the musical can.

One of my pet peeves is that the musical is often referred to as an escape, as this highly unreal experience. My problem with that is it ignores the function of the musical, which is that it offers something to the audience that they’re lacking in their everyday lives.

It’s not what they’re running away from, it’s what they’re running toward: The musical provides beauty, art, hope, social acceptance.

In “La La Land,” there’s this great opening number, where everybody gets out of their car on an LA freeway and sings together, and they all feel as one for a moment.

That’s something that the musical provides that we’re not feeling right now. Some people are feeling alienated or marginalized, so the musical functions to provide us with something that fulfills us rather than allows us to escape reality.

Q: Do you have any favorite musicals from recent years, or can you point to any that have similarly resonated with contemporary audiences?

A: In recent years, I really like what John Carney is doing.

He made the film “Once,” which is an Irish musical, roughly around the same time as “Guy and Madeline,” which it is often compared to. It’s very bare-bones, low-budget feeling, and there are two people who come together and make music.

Carney has followed that theme with his second film, “Begin Again,” which is also about the process and joy of making music in a community. He also did “Sing Street” in 2016, which is set in the 1980s in Ireland, and it’s about a group of young boys who start a band and make music together.

He’s doing something very different than Damien; he’s exploring how people make music, and why, and what kinds of things come from it, what meaning it has in our lives.

I really appreciate what he’s doing, just as much as what Damien is doing, which is throwing all caution to the wind and making these musicals where you don’t need a stage, you don’t need to know where the music is coming from, you can just burst into song at the drop of a hat.

So they’re very different styles, but both are keeping musicals alive.

Q: You’re working on a book called “Show People: American Identities on the Musical Stage.” Tell me about it.            

A: I’ve been working on this book for about a year.

My interest in this book is the role of the musical stage, the role that it has played in American popular culture. Not just film but theater, television, literature and radio; to see where this idea about the musical stage as being the place where you can go and work hard and eventually become a star, where that idea came from.

It’s the idea behind “American Idol,” the idea that anyone can be discovered and become a star in American society. I want to trace that idea back as far as I can to find out why it developed and how it developed.

I’m also interested in who was allowed to access that success at specific historical moments. In the early 20th century, that narrative almost applied exclusively to young, white women. They could rise from the ranks of a chorus girl to be a star and marry a prince or something. Then after WWII, African-Americans began to be included in that rags-to-riches narrative onstage. So I’ll be exploring all of that.


Top photo: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dance in "La La Land." Photo by Dale Robinette

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

International theater project 'After Orlando' sheds light on national gun-violence debate

ASU associate professor helps bring project to Phoenix

January 9, 2017

When 49 people were killed this past summer at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, the theater world took action. OBIE (or Off-Broadway Theater Awards) award winner Caridad Svich created “After Orlando: An International Theatre Action” to explore the tragedy and issues surrounding it through art.

“After Orlando” is a collaboration featuring the work of more than 70 playwrights from around the world, and it has been produced and performed in more than 50 theaters and universities around the country. Now, this moving theater experience is set for Phoenix stages in January. After Orlando theatre production Download Full Image

The Phoenix edition of this international project will be under the direction and artistic guidance of Robert Harper, associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre, and Micha Espinosa, associate professor of voice and acting in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“As an institute of higher education, ASU is committed to forging strong community ties that enhance our ability to understand, question or investigate a person’s sorrow, anger or hopes in response to current events, in this case the Orlando tragedy,” Espinosa said.

The one-day theater event intends to provide a space where controversial topics, like gun control, can be facilitated through theater.

“‘After Orlando’ directly aligns with our mission, which aims to create an exceptional theatrical experience by using the arts to articulate messages that inspire hope and understanding,” Harper said.

The project will include the participation of more than 30 local artists and a keynote speech from State Rep.-Elect Daniel Hernandez, who gained national recognition for helping save the life of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011.

“It is especially exciting to work with a professional theater company like Phoenix Theatre and many local artists I have come to respect over the years,” Espinosa said.

"After Orlando" is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, in the Hormel Theatre at Phoenix Theatre.

ASU Gammage completes fundraising for Elevate and Alleviate Campaign

January 6, 2017

ASU Gammage, its donors and the community helped raise more than $9 million during the Elevate & Alleviate Campaign as part of the 50th Anniversary Golden Gammage Initiative, to sustain the performing arts center for future generations and make improvements to enhance patrons’ show experience.

Renovations include expanding the venue’s restroom facilities, improving accessibility by building elevators and revamping the theater’s sound system. ASU Gammage auditorium renovations ASU Gammage, its donors and the community raised more than $9 million to help renovate the auditorium and ensure its use by future generations. Download Full Image

Construction on the new restrooms and elevators began over the summer and is set to be completed in March 2017.

The campaign began in March 2015 with a $3 million lead gift from The Kemper & Ethel Marley Foundation, which was matched by Arizona State University.

Fundraising capped off in December 2016 with an additional personal gift from ASU Gammage 50th Anniversary Board members and local philanthropists Laurie and Chuck Goldstein. Laurie is also an ASU trustee.

Other major gift donors include Susan and William Ahearn, Pat Langlin-Brazil and George Brazil Plumbing & Electrical and the Margaret T. Morris Foundation.

Rendering of upgraded restrooms at ASU Gammage

ASU Gammage Elevate and Alleviate contributions helped fund the renovation and expansion of the venue's restrooms, which are expected to be completed in March.


More than 1,500 donors contributed to the project, including significant investments from ASU Gammage as a result of the success of its last two seasons.

“We are grateful to all of the supporters who have shared our vision on this project,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage and associate vice president cultural affairs for ASU. “Based on the extraordinary support and ticket sales the last few years, we’re able to turn this into a reality.”

Since 2006, ASU Gammage has created more than $500 million of economic impact for Arizona with its Broadway series, and provided nearly 5 million people with world-class arts experiences.

What started as former ASU President Grady Gammage’s idea to create a distinct university auditorium, is now a world-class presenting organization and a vital cultural and economic engine for Arizona.

The 50th Anniversary Leadership Board includes co-chairs Leslie and Jeff Rich, co-chair Mary Way, William Ahearn, Felice Appell, JO Finks, Grady Gammage Jr., Laurie and Chuck Goldstein, Pat Langlin-Brazil, Albert Leffler, Michael Manning, Sarah Nolan, Bill Way and the late Jerry Appell.

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage


Marvin Gonzalez and Yi-Hsuan Tseng

January 5, 2017

Marvin Gonzalez and Yi-Hsuan Tseng, both MFA students in dramatic writing, have been chosen to participate in the national competition for ten-minute plays sponsored by Theater Masters. They are first invited to Aspen, Colorado, for an initial workshop with actors and directors. They will then travel to New York City in April to have their plays actually produced.

The pair are among eight students chosen from MFA playwriting or dramatic writing programs across the country. Gonzalez was also chosen to participate last year, and the play he developed at Theater Masters last spring was subsequently published in "Theater Masters' Take Ten Volume 2" with Samuel French. Marvin Gonzalez and Yi-Hsuan Tseng Download Full Image