Out and About

Students in Nicaragua

Winter break may feel like just a distant memory for most students by now, but for one group of Southern students, this year’s break created memories that will last a lifetime.

Members of a university club called Global Brigades traveled to Nicaragua from January 5-13 to work on a project to help improve water access and sanitation for a remote village. The students did all of the planning and fundraising for the trip and did not receive course credit for their work; their efforts were all volunteer. “I think this level of volunteerism abroad is a first for SCSU,” says Michael Schindel, assistant director of the Office of International Education and the club’s adviser.

The Southern group is a chapter of the national nonprofit organization Global Brigades, the largest student-led international community service group. Global Brigades operates in four countries — Ghana, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama — and provides ongoing support within the countries. Essentially, different college chapters fundraise to pay for airfare, accommodation, and funds to support the projects in these countries for periods of one week to 10 days, with the option of going for longer. One university chapter joins a project after another leaves, so that the projects can remain continuous. The projects focus on different community needs relating to public health, medical and dental needs, engineering, microfinance, water access, and human rights.

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

The Southern chapter has been on campus for two years, and this was the group’s first time conducting a “brigade” abroad. Students Sleman Hussein and Amanda Saslow and a core group of other students started the chapter; they drafted the constitution, made all the connections with the national organization, and recruited members. For the trip to Nicaragua, the executive board oversaw all of the travel arrangements, as well as fundraising, planning the “Charla” (a community public health lesson that was presented to a group of children, entirely in Spanish), and designing the t-shirts.

Hussain praises the dedication of the students who joined Global Brigades. “We went through many hurdles and obstacles to build the club,” he says. “We have 14 devoted people who spent the last couple years fundraising money, not for a vacation, or to donate to a church or soup kitchen. No, we have 14 devoted people who took time out of their busy college schedules to go to a third world country and break their backs for a week.”

Saslow agrees, adding, “I am so beyond proud of not only the 14 individuals joining us on the brigade but the entire Global Brigades family that we’ve established at Southern. It has been incredible seeing students support each other and stand by each other in an environment where it’s very easy to feel alone. Working with these 14 people has been a life-changing experience and I’m definitely walking out of here with a heck of a lot more than just a degree.”

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

Student Emily Gersz, a member of the club who went to Nicaragua, says she found the experience “life-changing.” She admits the trip “was a ton of hard work . . . but I’d do it 100 times over to see the gratitude in the eyes of the families we helped.”

According to Paul Nicholas, a member of the club’s e-board, the students did manual labor each day for five days, waking up at 6 a.m., taking a two-hour bus ride to Jinotega, the community where they worked, and then working side-by-side with the families they were helping. Together, they built concrete floors, sanitary stations, and septic tanks for homes that were typically made out of cinderblocks and wood branches, with dirt floors.

“The families were so welcoming and humble; letting us (complete strangers) work in and outside their homes,” Nicholas says. He explains that the group worked on building sanitary stations because many families don’t have toilets or showers at all. Because the women have back problems from always bending down to scrub clothes when doing laundry, the wash stations in the sanitary stations were raised to a higher level.

Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

Nicholas says the conditions some of the families live in helped him realize that “there are so many more important things to worry about in this world . . . as opposed to all the small things we worry about here in the U.S.” He learned that the men in Jinotega make about two dollars a day, while the women have to walk miles carrying clean water from a clean source. Before Global Brigades became involved in helping Jinotega, the village’s water had a high concentration of fecal matter, causing parasites and disease. The solution Global Brigades is providing is to build an irrigation system directly connecting clean water from the mountains to many communities.

Part of the Global Brigades model is to have the community receiving assistance also participate in the work and provide some funding, so that the community is helping itself and taking ownership of the improvement projects.

Student Annie Kaczmarczyk’s outlook on life was transformed by her experience on the trip. “My perspective on what I take for granted has been drastically changed after seeing people live without basic life necessities,” she says. “What impacted me most on the trip is truly how much compassion and joy the people of Nicaragua have, even in such a dire state.”

Schindel says, “I am so proud of and impressed by this group of students. They took all of this on, set a goal, and worked all year towards achieving it.” Schindel applauds the students for volunteering their winter breaks “to spend it digging trenches for water pipes, laying concrete foundations in people’s homes, building sanitation stations with access to potable water and waste removal, and teaching children about proper hygiene.”

See an album of students’ photos from the Global Brigades trip.
Nicaragua, students, Global Brigade

A new year always brings thoughts of self-improvement or changing one’s life course, but making life changes are not always as simple as they may seem.

This month, Creative Writing Professor Michele Merlo is making a fresh start in a familiar place. Merlo had a long career as an actor in New York City before she began teaching English at Southern in 2011, and because of her love for the stage, she is now returning to that career, marking a new chapter in her professional life.

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Michele Merlo (Photograph by Julia Gerace)

From January 25 to February 11, Merlo will appear in Schreiber Shorts, this year’s 10-minute play festival – an annual tradition — at the renowned T. Schreiber Studio in New York City. Established in 1969, the T. Schreiber Studio is recognized as one of the foremost professional theater studios in New York City.

Terry Schreiber himself is Merlo’s former acting coach; she was first a student of his over 20 years ago. “The studio has a great history,” Merlo says, adding that Schreiber has been in the business for 45 years.

Merlo, who grew up in New Haven, fell in love with the theater after high school, when she worked in the box office at Long Wharf Theatre. A friend had moved to New York to become an actress and encouraged Merlo to join her and give the stage a try. Merlo found success, and acted professionally in New York for 20 years, in off- and off-off-Broadway theater. Some favorite theater credits include La Ronde, The Miser, Miss Julie, and The Wild Duck. She also appeared on television, in principal roles on NBC’s Another World.

“I love the rehearsal, the process, the frustration, the discoveries” of acting, Merlo says.

Then around 1999, Merlo’s parents back in New Haven became ill. “I came home to look after them,” she says. She moved back to Connecticut, got a job at a New Haven law firm, and decided to pursue her second love – writing and English literature. She earned her B.A. in English at Albertus Magnus College, where she was valedictorian of her graduating class, and then came to Southern for the M.A. in English, with the creative writing concentration. She was accepted to become a graduate teaching assistant under the mentorship of English Professor Will Hochman, for whose guidance she is grateful, and she has been teaching composition and creative writing to Southern undergraduates ever since.

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Michele Merlo and Kevin O’Connor in Moliere’s “The Miser” (Photograph by Joseph Clementi)

Merlo says she took the M.A. program for her own enrichment and “didn’t ever think about teaching, but it presented itself to me,” and she found she loved it. “Teaching is something like acting,” she says: both require preparation and performance. Although she’s very happy teaching English at Southern, she decided over the past two years that her love for the stage had not left her and she wanted to get back into acting.

Although she missed acting “with every bone in [her] body,” she says she was “scared because I knew how hard it would be.”

She called Schreiber – “whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years” – and “he said ‘welcome back,’ like I’d never left.” To prepare herself to audition, she worked with SCSU theatre alumnus Raphael Massie, ‘99, resident artist and curriculum supervisor of Elm Shakespeare Company.

To cast Schreiber Shorts, the studio held three days of auditions for people who had studied there. Merlo auditioned, and a few days later, got a callback. She was thrilled to be cast in the show.

“I’m having so much fun,” she says, admitting that in this new chapter of her life, she’s lucky to have the best of both worlds: acting in New York and continuing to teach at Southern.

For more information about Schreiber Shorts and tickets, visit the T. Schreiber Studio website. 

TEN QUESTIONS FOR: DEANNA SCOTTO, ’18

Italian major Deanna Scotto was recently selected for a prestigious internship with the U.S. headquarters of the National Organization of Italian American Women. Scotto has been working this semester in their Manhattan office, doing social media marketing for them, and her knowledge of Italian language was instrumental in her selection for this valuable experience. Erin Larkin, associate professor of Italian, says that Scotto “is the kind of student we would all like to have and would be an excellent representative for SCSU.”

We asked Scotto a series of questions about her internship, and her experiences as a student at Southern, and her career goals:

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a Junior Italian major (B.A.) with a minor in Communication. My hometown is Meriden, CT, and I attended high school at Mercy in Middletown, CT. At Southern I’m a member of the Honors College, Newman Society, Italianissimi Italian Club and I’m a tour guide!

Tell us about your internship.

I am a digital marketing intern with the National Organization of Italian American Women. While the organization is represented across the country, I work out of the main office in Manhattan, NY. I take the train into the city two days a week.

I first discovered the organization and internship during an assignment for one of my Communication classes, and this semester everything worked out really well with my class schedule so I applied! The internship lasts the semester, with is perfect because I am going abroad for the spring. Most of my work involves keeping our many lanes of communication updated: the website, mailing lists, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

How do you balance school and your internship?

I am very fortunate that three out of my five classes only meet once a week, and that all of my classes meet in the beginning of the week. I do most of my homework on the train rides. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes each way, so I’ve got plenty of time to get things done.

What was it about this internship that made you want to apply for it?

I am of Italian descent, and I attended an all-girls high school, so I can really identify with the values of the  National Organization of Italian American. It also was a great way to bring together skills I’ve learned in my Italian major and in my Communication minor.

deanna-scotto-crop

What was your experience with social media before applying for the internship?

Being the former president of the Italian Club on campus, Italianissimi, probably prepared me the most for this internship. Many of the goals of the Club and Organization are the same (although scale is pretty different). Through the club I already had practice engaging our followers and members on platforms like Instagram, Twitter and OwlConnect.

What do you enjoy most about your academic experience at Southern?

The Honors College has really enriched my experience at Southern. My favorite professors have been Honors College faculty, and I really enjoy being part of a tight-knit group of students. I also lived in the Honors College Living Learning Community my freshman year, and it made the transition to college really special.

Have you done any other internships or had any other professional experiences during your time at Southern?

I haven’t had any other internships, but I would definitely be open to more opportunities later on. Right now, I’m focused on preparing to study abroad next semester, and beginning my thesis when I return.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your internship?

The most valuable thing I’ve learned through this internship is all of the resources focused on preserving Italian and Italian American culture. There are so many opportunities to connect with Italian heritage, particularly in the Northeast.  I also have really appreciated the overall professional experience and being the New York City environment.

How is doing social media professionally different from doing it in your personal accounts?

I’ve found that the primary difference is what type of response you’re trying to get. In my personal accounts, it’s more of a one-way communication. Professional accounts focus more on getting a response from followers and members and engaging them in comments, retweeting, etc. Your goal is to build a loyal community that with potential of becoming active members in the organization.

What is your ultimate career goal?

Ideally my dream job would be working for an Italian or Italian American cultural organization. I’m open to a lot of different things, maybe in the translation or tourism industries. At the end of the day, my passion is sharing my heritage and promoting Italian American culture.

Thuan Vu, art professor, exhibit

As a Vietnamese-American whose family came to the United States as refugees when he was very young, Art Professor Thuan Vu knows what it means to be an outsider looking in. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Vu settled with his family in New Orleans, La., when he was just two years old, and the thematic core of his work as an artist has always been the exploration of his identity.

“As a Vietnamese refugee, I grew up in New Orleans wanting to be a model American citizen,” he says, adding that his “misplaced strategy” as a teenager was to absorb all things Western and American. “I was the surely the only 15 year old who was thrilled to learn about the art of Currier and Ives and Thomas Cole . . . and who could happily sing the Great American Songbook by 17 years of age,” he says. His interest in the American canon, he says, reveals a love for tradition and its development, and he grew into his Vietnamese-American identity “through the acquisition of cultural knowledge: adopt the tradition, adapt it to my life, and use it to grow.”

Vu’s latest body of work – a series of paintings called “The New World” — is now on display at the New Haven Lawn Club, 193 Whitney Avenue, New Haven. The opening artist’s reception took place at the Lawn Club on Tuesday, November 15. The exhibit is on display and open to the public through December 21.

The recipient of numerous awards and grants, Vu exhibits and lectures nationally. His research has taken him to Vietnam and Paris, where he studies Vietnamese communities worldwide.

“My drawings and paintings document how I grew into my Vietnamese-American identity,” Vu explains. “In my work, I reflect on themes of growth, integration, and reconciliation. These paintings combine Eastern and Western traditions of depicting nature to describe a space that is as much emotional as it is physical. These spaces, created through a combination of memories, photographic references, and my own imagination, mirrors the refugee experience of re-creating a sense of home.”

The New World (American Hymn 3), charcoal on paper, 18" diameter, 2016
The New World (American Hymn 3), charcoal on paper, 18″ diameter, 2016

“The New World” is a series of paintings that he began in 2011 and is the latest manifestation of his life as an individual, an American, and an artist.

Vu explains that over his career, his art has traced his process of growth and integration, especially in the exploration of his ethnic heritage since he visited Vietnam for the first time in 2002, 27 years after his family fled the country. In the various series of his work, he has used different visual languages to express the specific thematic content. “I use the languages of the many cultural traditions that I studied in order to express how I navigate my identity,” he says.

With The New World series, Vu says, he hopes to evoke the feelings involved in building a new life in a young and innocent America. “Contemplative and hopeful, these paintings share the emotive ethos of early 19th century American painters who went out to discover this new land. I correlate the American experience with that of my parents: Coming to America with seven of their eight children, I imagine their sense of awe, confusion, and hope. I feel their search for a ways to adopt, adapt, and grow. I can picture their appreciation for the opportunity that America represents.”

Visually, the work combines Eastern and Western traditions of depicting nature. Elements of Romanticism and abstraction are mixed with an Asian sensibility to create an image meant for Zen-like contemplation.

“In this series,” Vu says, “I chose to use nature as the universal constant, the one thing that affects all people, that can create a sense of awe, and that can inspire the mind to contemplation.”

The series’ name, “The New World,” echoes the Vietnamese term for “new world” – “doi moi” — a term coined to describe a Vietnamese age of optimism and open trading in the mid-1980s after the Vietnam War.

“The term recognizes a turbulent history yet optimistically accepts change,” Vu says. “In this series, I depict overlapping natural elements in ambiguous perspectives to create an unexpected space. This space — which is as much emotional as it is physical — can be at once thunderous, ethereal, and peaceful. It is the visual expression of the complicated, and often confusing task of building a new life faced by many refugees. Nature is used to mirror this journey and is depicted in numerous ways, from the sublime to the minute, from the literal to the abstract. In its variety, it expresses the non-linear task faced by us all in building a sincere sense of self and a true sense of home.”

Thuan Vu painting, The New World (Fall 2)
The New World (Fall 2), oil on canvas, 36″ x 48″, 2016

View an online gallery of Thuan Vu’s work

Frank Harris, journalism

Perhaps the most controversial word in the American lexicon is a word many do not speak. The word commonly known as “the n-word” has a longer history in the United States than many people realize, but what is behind its taboo nature and its loaded meanings?

“Everyone has an n-word story,” says Journalism Professor Frank Harris III, and a couple of years ago, he set out on a journey across America to get to the bottom of the word’s meanings and place in American culture. The product of his research, the film “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word,” combines interviews with diverse Americans, research through hundreds of newspaper archives, and surveys of today’s news media. In the film, Harris takes viewers on an informative, provocative journey that fosters discussion about “the word that persistently rattles the chain from our past to our present,” as he describes it.

On November 16, as part of Social Justice Week, Harris screened his film and led a discussion about it in the Adanti Student Center Theater.

Of his project, Harris says, “Frankly, I wasn’t sure what kind of response I would receive. After all, it’s not every day that a man with a camera walks up to people and asks them about the n-word and their first or most memorable experience with it.”

The film began with his research on the many racial names by which Americans of black African descent have been identified over the years. “My focus soon shifted toward the n-word and my desire to track its origins,” he says, “as well as the experiences that Americans of all backgrounds have had with this word.”

Harris says, “It is an interesting encounter when the interviewer and interviewee are of the same race. It becomes even more interesting when the two are of a different race. The stories told by the many people I interviewed, interspersed with the word’s usage in America’s news media, provided a compelling story that I wanted to share.”

The film examines the haunting, persistent link of the word and its variant forms with the words “kill” and “death” and violence against blacks. It includes painful stories from older black Americans about their experiences with the word, along with portrayals of the experiences of younger African Americans who use it as an acceptable and different term of endearment, never having felt its sting. Harris has also captured stories from whites, Asians, Hispanics and others in America about their experiences from parents who taught them the word or told them never to say it.

Among those who appear in the film are former Black Panther Party leader Ericka Huggins, discussing the n-word and the Panthers; journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, recalling her experience at the University of Georgia in the early 1960s; Yale child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer discussing the effects of the n-word; and Mississippi civil rights workers describing the physical pain of violence that often accompanied the word in their experiences.

In addition to interviews, Harris uses original newspaper clips in the film to illustrate the striking ways in which the word has been used. The clips dispel the myth that rappers and hip-hop artists created the variant form of the word that ends in “-a” rather than “-er.” The film shows that the word was in use freely during and after slavery in America and reveals that even then, blacks were referring to each other using the n-word. Among the discoveries Harris made in his research was that Abraham Lincoln used the word during his 1860 presidential campaign stop in Hartford, Conn.

The film has been an Official Selection in the 2016 Twin Cities Black Film Festival and the 2016 Baltimore International Black Film Festival. It will be screened at a festival in Texas in 2017. Harris says of the film’s reception, “It’s quite amazing, the impact it has had.”

In addition to teaching journalism at Southern, Harris is an award-winning Hartford Courant columnist.

Watch the trailer for “Journey to the Bottom of the n-Word”

Students building surfboards

The surfboard is such a part of American popular culture it is almost folkloric. Think “Surfin’ Safari,” The Beach Boys, “Beach Blanket Bingo,” Gidget, and, more recently, “Lilo and Stitch” and “Blue Crush.” Surfing has been romanticized in the American imagination for generations, but how much do any of us really know about the sport or the surfboard itself?

This spring semester, in an Honors College course entitled “Material and Meaning: Economic Geography and Sculpture,” students built their own surfboards from scratch. In doing so, they learned more about surfboards than most of us will ever know: what goes into the production of these manufactured objects or commodities; the production process’ impact on the environment and on workers; and cultural meanings of the object. The class visited beaches and studied wave dynamics to learn how they can affect the way a board surfs. They created a life cycle analysis of their boards, the purpose of which, student Hope Finch explains, “is to quantify a product’s impact on the environment, seek out potential improvements, and to clearly articulate the process through which a product is made.”

And in the end – they had surfboards!

Team taught by Patrick Heidkamp, associate professor of geography, and Jeff Slomba, professor of art, “Material and Meaning” is a hands-on practical learning experience that engages students on many levels. Heidkamp and Slomba decided to use surfboards as the object students would make in the course after encountering research about surfboards at a conference. The course’s goal is for students to create an object that teaches them about commodity chain analysis, or how to examine the process by which companies gather resources, transform them into goods or commodities, and distribute them to consumers. Heidkamp is a longtime surfer and Slomba a paddleboarder, so they also thought the finished products in the course would end up being fun for students. As Heidkamp says, “We hoped we might be able to approximate something that actually works.”

students building surfboards

The class was divided into small groups, each of which was assigned a particular kind of surfboard to study and build. One board was to be made of sustainably-grown wood; another of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), which is slightly better for the environment than other similar types of foam; and another of materials found on beaches, such as chunks of old foam buoys and docks that had washed up onto the shore. Slomba says these reclaimed materials had “living things inside them” — ants, ticks and other insects –when they were collected, and the creatures remained inside the materials while the students worked on their board. The proposed boards represented different levels of sustainability, says Heidkamp.

Before actually tackling the job of making the boards, students researched the materials they would be using, interviewing manufacturers and other companies that supplied them with the components of the boards. They traced the commodity chain, learned about the history of surfing and its cultural origins, and made demo boards — scale models of the full-size boards they would eventually create. In the process, they also learned how to use the tools that were necessary to build their boards, creating empathy for workers who build boards for a living.

students building surfboards

Student Emma Knauerhase, whose group built the board of reclaimed materials, says, “The most import thing I learned from this project was how to be innovative . . . we were able to do anything we wanted with our surfboard! My group was able to create the surfboard from recycled material and shape it ourselves! Whereas other groups had guidelines to follow, we did not.”

Ultimately, the iconic surfboard came to represent much more to the students than a prop from a Beach Boys song. As Hope Finch says, after taking the course, she “can no longer think of the products you use everyday in the same way. When I look at my board I understand its potential to be detrimental to marine life, I am reminded of the chemicals embedded in the foam and the harm they pose to factory workers in foreign countries, and I am aware of the pollution created in order to ship and deliver the materials to Southern. The surfboard becomes so much more. The surfboard represents the countless repetitive shaping maneuvers needed to form the rails, it represents a fear of tools overcome, and ultimately it’s a physical manifestation of a deep respect for Surf Culture and those that work to keep its roots alive.”

Art for public good

The term “street art” might conjure images of graffiti splashed across the side of a building, but street art – works of art created in public spaces – actually encompasses many media and is often legal and permitted, says Noelle King, an adjunct professor of art. Many artists are doing street art now, says King – herself an artist — so she proposed a new course on street art to the Art Department, and it ran this semester as a beta, or experimental, course.

As a final project, after hearing from several invited guests on the topic of street art, King’s students completed two approved community service art projects: a large mural inside the Yale New Haven Hospital George Street Parking Garage, called “A Leaf History of New Haven,” and “A Friend for Life,” an image of dogs and cats painted on a door at the New Haven Animal Shelter, intended to encourage adoption of animals at the shelter.

Throughout the semester, leading up to these projects, King invited several guests to the class to discuss various aspects of street art. Detective Orlando Crespo of the New Haven Police Department, a specialist in gangs and graffiti, who explained to the students the nature of graffiti and the legal repercussions of street art that is done without permission.

Another guest, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is an artist based in Brooklyn, N.Y., whose “Stop Telling Women to Smile” campaign addresses gender-based street harassment. In 2015, Fazlalizadeh was named one of Forbes Magazine’s 40 Artists Under 40. In her project, she invites women to tell their stories of street harassment, does their portraits, and adds text from their stories to the portraits. She then pastes the portraits up on walls in public spaces. Fazlalizadeh’s project is universally lauded as being an important part of the dialogue concerning sexual harassment of women.

Other guest speakers in the class included artist and community organizer Alex White-Mazarella; Tina Re, curator of artists’ books and librarian in Buley Library; and Pairoj Pichetmetakul of The Positivity Scrolls Project in New York.

King describes the course as writing intensive, with writing assignments including everything from essays to poems, to letters to responses, and a project King calls indoor sky writing, that involved students writing messages with whipped cream.

Art for public good

To prepare for the mural they painted inside the Yale New Haven Hospital George Street Parking Garage, students researched plants native to the New Haven area from ancient days to the present and decided which leaves to depict. They then stenciled on the garage wall the mural of leaves, creating “a very calm and peaceful” feeling, says King.

Leaves depicted in the painting are from kelp, pin leaf cherry, tulip tree, birch, cinnamon fern, daimyo oak, fern, Franklin tree, white pine, sassafras, slippery elm, mulberry, chestnut oak, aquatic moss, red maple, willow, white oak, sycamore, northern red oak, apple, dandelion, white spruce, and two-leaf water fern.

Mural painted on door of New Haven Animal ShelterFor the animal shelter mural, the class responded to a request from the shelter. “A man from the shelter approached the Art Department about having someone come paint something to beautify the shelter,” says King. “They wanted to make the shelter feel more family-friendly and cheerful.” Students submitted designs for a painting, and student Traci Henri’s design, “A Friend for Life,” was chosen. The painted mural on an exterior door portrays a dog and cat and encourages adoption of animals.

King says she is proud of her students, who included Shannon Anderson, Ben Asbell, Nick DiDominicis, Alexis Dillon, Dannielle Gladu, Valerie Glibert, Tracy Henri, Ariel Herbert, Dan Holloway, DJ Johnson, Tessa Karmelowicz, Rahni Lawrence, Alexandra Marx, James Mastroni, Kelsey Page, Katie Pfeiffer, Rebecca Ramirez, Laura Salvatore, Jane Snaider, Nathan Tracy, Katie Verrastro, Roleen Bisaillon-Sheehan, Alyssa Fernandes, Kate O’Keefe, Melissa Urban, and Nina Zachary. King says, “They saw how they could make a relationship between themselves and the city of New Haven, and between the university and the city.” She wanted them to learn about doing street art for the public good, as, she says, “art has tremendous power and can change lives.”

At the recent John F. Kennedy Center American College Theater (KCACTF) Festival, Region I, the Theatre Department continued its long track record of producing award-winning students and productions. “We outdid ourselves” this year, says Sheila Hickey Garvey, professor of theatre. Students and their work received the following honors at the festival, held at Western Connecticut State University last month:

KCACTF Region I Invited Production
Almost, Maine

Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Auditions
Semi-Finalists:
Marcelle Morrisey – Candidate
Teddy Hall – Partner

National Institute for Journalism and Advocacy
Region 1 Award Winner:
Kiernan Norman

Dramaturgy Program Note Regional Award for Our Country’s Good
Kiernan Norman

National Award for Excellence in Lighting Design
First Runner-up:
Christine Parrella for Tempus Fugit

Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award
Christine Parrella for Tempus Fugit

Merit Awards

Presented to: The Ensemble Cast of Almost, Maine
For Outstanding Ensemble Acting

Presented to: The Ensemble Cast of Our Country’s Good
For Distinction in Multiple Dialects

Presented to: JT McLoughlin of RENT
For Sound Engineering/Mixing

Almost Maine, Theatre Department
Cast of “Almost, Maine”

Directed by Garvey, Almost, Maine was one of just six productions selected for presentation out of almost 150 submissions entered from colleges across New England and New York. Garvey describes the play as “a delightful comedy/romance with cosmic overtones” and says the invitation to perform at the festival was “a great honor.” Written by playwright and actor John Cariani, the play has a small cast of eight and a minimal set, designed for the SCSU production by Theatre Professor John Carver Sullivan, who also designed the costumes.

Started in 1969 by Roger L. Stevens, the Kennedy Center’s founding chairman, KCACTF is a national theater program involving 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide. The KCACTF honors excellence of overall production and offers student artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design. It has grown into a network of more than 600 academic institutions throughout the country that enables theater departments and student artists to showcase their work and receive outside assessment by KCACTF respondents.

In January and February of each year, regional festivals showcase the finest of each region’s entered productions and offer a variety of activities, including workshops, symposia, and regional-level award programs.

For a poet to be mentioned in the same breath as Wallace Stevens, the great American poet of the 20th century Modern period, is a rare honor. For poet Elizabeth Hamilton – a graduate of Southern’s MFA in creative writing program and an adjunct professor in the English Department – having her poems share the bill with Stevens’ work at a February 20 event at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford seems a bit surreal. At “Voices of Connecticut Poets: Wallace Stevens and Elizabeth Hamilton,” the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra (HICO) will perform a celebration of these two poets in in a concert of contemporary chamber orchestra music. Hailed as “an invaluable addition to the Hartford musical scene” by composer-critic Robert Carl, HICO will present the music of Thomas Albert and premiere a commission by composer Jessica Rudman. Albert’s music uses Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird,” and Rudman’s piece uses Hamilton’s poetry.

Poet Elizabeth Hamilton, MFA, '14
Elizabeth Hamilton, MFA, ’14

Hamilton graduated from the MFA program in 2014, and over the past year and half has collaborated with Rudman after the two met during a three-week artist residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna, Florida. Hamilton was chosen by the poet Richard Blanco to participate in that residency; Blanco is perhaps best known for reading his poem “One Today” at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.

Hamilton applied for a writing residency at The Center after finishing her MFA. She explains that the poet in residence at The Center chooses the poets for the three-week residency, and Blanco was poet in residence at the time. He chose Hamilton and a few other poets, and during her three weeks in residence, Hamilton worked on her writing with Blanco and says “he was such a help to me. I can’t say enough about him.” While in the MFA program at Southern, she worked closely with Jeff Mock and other members of the creative writing faculty, all of whom she says were great to work with.

While in residence at The Center, Hamilton explains, “I was there with other artists of various disciplines. We all hung out together and learned about what each other was doing with our work.” At the beginning of the three weeks, each artist had to present his or her work to the group. “This is instrumental in building relationships with other artists,” says Hamilton. For her presentation, she chose to read poems she had written for her MFA thesis. Afterward, a few of the artists approached her and asked if she would consider collaborating with them. Of these artists, composer Rudman was most persistent in following up with Hamilton. She, like Hamilton, is from Connecticut, and she has a relationship with the Hartford Chamber Orchestra.

Following the residency, after they had both returned to Connecticut, Rudman contacted Hamilton, and they began to meet to work out the details of their collaboration.

“She’s been busy composing and I’ve taken a full-time job,” says Hamilton, “so I haven’t yet had a chance to hear the work.” A vocalist will sing her poems verbatim, she says, and the piece will be performed for the first time alongside Albert’s piece based on Stevens’ famous poem. Hamilton says she still can’t quite believe it when she sees her name paired with Stevens’.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available by calling (860) 247-0998.

The university has entered into an exciting partnership with The Elm Shakespeare Company (ESC) that promises to bring new energy to the Theatre Department and the entire university community.

The Elm Shakespeare Company, recognized as the premiere Shakespeare company in Connecticut and one of the very best in New England, has been offering free professional outdoor Shakespeare performances in New Haven for 20 years. Southern and Elm Shakespeare recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that brings Elm Shakespeare onto campus and integrates it into Theatre Department activities and facilities.

Under the MOU, ESC is officially “in residence” at Southern Connecticut State University. For two decades, ESC has rehearsed its actors and built the sets for its productions at Lyman Center; the MOU formalizes this relationship. As part of the agreement, ESC will reserve three non-union acting or technical positions for Southern students in its summer season; provide a member of its artistic staff to teach a Shakespeare workshop (THR 228) every semester; and offer additional free workshops to SCSU theater students. In addition, when available, a member of the ESC artistic staff will direct agreed-upon Theatre Department productions, and the company will provide formal fieldwork opportunities for qualified Southern students interested in theater education. The university, for its part, will provide office, classroom, and rehearsal space for ESC; allow access to the costume shop and scene shop; and offer the opportunity for qualified ESC staff to teach, direct or design in Theatre Department courses or productions. Both organizations will acknowledge the partnership in their advertising literature and publications.

Steven Breese, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, says of the new partnership, “We are delighted that Elm Shakespeare will be taking up residency at Southern. Our artistic and educational missions are deeply interconnected and, like any good partnership, we strengthen one another by joining our forces.

“While SCSU has, for many years, had a strong relationship with Elm, having the company and its artistic staff ensconced on our campus and interacting with students and faculty every day will be a ‘shot’ of creative adrenaline — something that all artists need and welcome.”

Rebecca Goodheart, Elm Shakespeare’s new Producing Artistic Director, says, “We at Elm Shakespeare are so excited to solidify our long-time working relationship and become the theater company in residence at Southern Connecticut State University. This partnership is the best kind of collaboration. Together we will create more classical performance at the highest standards, and more opportunities for students than ever before. Together, we will ensure that everyone in this great community and beyond has access to world-class arts and education. Together, we will be the example of what is possible in New Haven.”

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Breese acknowledges the efforts of Goodheart and Kaia Monroe, Theatre Department Chair, for the work they have done to bring this partnership to fruition, adding, “It represents a giant step forward for our theater program, while offering a secure home for one the region’s most respected professional Shakespeare companies.”

An official signing of the MOU will take place on March 2, at 4:30 p.m. in the Lyman Center lobby. The signing will coincide with Elm Shakespeare’s announcement of its 2016 season. For more information about Elm Shakespeare, visit its website.