English Majors Share Capstone Projects at Symposium

UMF recently hosted its annual Symposium Day, a day where students across different majors can present work they have been spending anywhere from a semester to a whole year working on.

Symposium presentations run the gambit from creative endeavors to scientific research. Symposium allows students to present their research and their projects, as well as take questions from fellow students, faculty members, and other audience members.

For English majors, Symposium Day consisted of various presentations across a variety of topics. Some presentations included analyses of adaptation, such as Richard Southard’s presentation on Music as Adaptation, how novels and authors brought about the birth of a new genre, such as Jessica Casey’s presentation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein being attributed to the birth of science-fiction, and reflecting on the lives and works of influential authors and writers, such as Anthony Lewis’s presentation on the life and music of Bob Dylan. English seniors also presented their Capstone projects in the Landing.

Capstone is the last class in every major in which students pursue a topic of interest in a project unique to the major, such as portfolios for creative writing majors, an art show for art majors, and for English majors, research papers. Capstone classes are a semester long and are almost entirely dedicated to research, which culminates in a presentation on the topic (usually Symposium, though there are other events depending on the semester and the class, such as the Senior Reading for Creative Writing majors).

The senior presenters consisted of Ciara Keene, Justine Walp, Anthony Lewis, Allison Turtlott, Jessica Casey, and Rosemary Penny, all sponsored by English professor Kristen Case.

Symposium presentations also include two one year-long Research Fellow award winners, one of which was held by English major Curtis Cole. Cole’s presentation, titled Enchanted Assemblages: Creative Pedagogy and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, was sponsored by English professor Dan Gunn. There were also many Wilson Scholar awards, which are dedicated to shorter semester long, but still more in depth projects. These projects included Hannah Calkin’s poetry book and the process of creating and publishing it and Lauren Stetson’s practicum in intensive nonfiction.

Symposium Day is overseen and organized by the University Culture Committee. English professor Misty Krueger serves as the chair, with professors Paul Stancioff, Patti Bailie, and Olivia Donaldson serving as the other members.

Symposium Day is named for UMF alumni Michael D. Wilson, who graduated UMF in 1976 and was killed in an accident shortly before beginning a teaching position in Aroostook County. Presentations are made possible by Wilson Research Fellow Awards, Wilson Scholarships, and the students and faculty advisors.
For this year’s symposium program of events, visit http://www2.umf.maine.edu/symposium/wp-content/uploads/sites/107/2018/04/Symposium-Book-2018-1.pdf.  

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Journalist Dr. Ann Jones Talks Investigative Reporting and Democracy at UMF

Investigative journalist Dr. Ann Jones was recently met with a large crowd of students, faculty, and community members in Lincoln Auditorium for her discussion on investigative reporting.

Author of the book They Were Soldiers, which details sexual abuse and homicide in the U.S. military,  Jones was introduced to the audience as “the voice for women and men in the #metoo movement, the military, and domestic violence.”

Jones briefly detailed her time in Afghanistan; she initially went to help the citizens rebuild their communities long before she began her investigative reporting within the military.

“I knew more about Afghan culture than the American soldiers,” Jones said. “It was a strange situation.”

Jones reminded the audience that wartime reporting is just one kind of investigative reporting. She then stated that the core of investigative journalism is that when someone persists on an inconsistent or incorrect narrative, it is the journalist’s job to expose its flaws, disrupt the narrative, or straight up break it.

Jones walked the audience through a brief history of democracy and explained how it and journalism walk hand in hand. Democracy is a relatively modern concept, conceived by the Athenians and meaning “rule by the people.” Dating back to the birth of the United States, “it was the citizens’ duty to participate, to allow [democracy] to survive,” Jones said. “People were free to participate in governing for the common good.”

Jones noted that the United States Constitution uses the phrase that “men are created equal,” specifically white, property owning men, excluding women of all kinds and men of color.

“Democracy must work for everyone,” Jones said in criticism of how the U.S. employs democracy.

Jones explained how several Nordic countries such as Scandinavia and Finland, mistakenly labeled as socialist, are actually utilizing capitalism fairly. People are taxed as individuals, the majority of women in the country work, and necessities such as food and medicine are more easily accessible. These are the results many Americans marched for during the Civil Rights Movement.

“I wore out many pairs of boots walking the streets of this country to make sure our voices were heard,” Jones said.

When it comes to journalism, these differences in how the U.S. government runs compared to other socialist countries have been investigated worldwide. Journalists have helped to project the voices of those marching and reported the facts on what was going on with the government. Journalists fought to preserve democracy during these times.

Jones also commented that many mainstream media reporters do not fully or truly investigate matters, which contributes to audiences being unable to distinguish real news from fake news. She noted that “so much time is spent on speculation,” which is not true reporting.

“People argue about things that just don’t matter; they spend too much time asking each other ‘what do you think?’ and they get confused and don’t know what they’re fighting about,” Jones said. “If the reporters don’t know what they’re fighting about, then neither do we.”

Jones recounted the experiences of her colleagues who were invited on news shows to discuss stories they had been reporting on. They are always asked, “what do you think will happen next?” which is not the role of the journalist.

“There is no room for opinions,” Jones said. “Journalists want to know what is really going on, not what we think is going on or what will go on.”

In closing, Jones believes that the U.S. has work to do to become a true representation of all the voices that live here.

“We’ve come a long way from Athens,” she said.

Writer Lewis Hyde talks Ownership, Intellectual Property, and the Cultural Commons at UMF

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Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air, defends the idea of a cultural commons at UMF

In wake of the final 12 New Commons Project nominations being selected, poet, essayist, and author of the book Common as Air Lewis Hyde visited UMF to speak in defense of the cultural commons and discuss the question of “who exactly owns what?” Hyde was met with a full house of students and faculty members, as well as a livestream of the event on Facebook.

English professor Kristen Case introduced Hyde and discussed his book, noting that the core of his discussion would be centered around the battle of intellectual property and the entertainment industry.

“If you haven’t bought it, you stole it,” Case said when quoting Hyde’s book.

As a scholar who served as a writing professor at both Harvard and Kenyon College, Hyde began his discussion on the concept of ownership and copyright laws with an example from his university experiences.

“We get emails from the entertainment industry to remind us how harsh the law is when it comes to pirating movies and music,” Hyde said. “‘Theft is a harsh word,’ they said, and while that is true, is there more to it?”

Hyde continued with an analysis of the rise of digital media and how internet platforms have confused the rules of “who owns what.” He posed one of the core questions, “what is property?” which can be defined as having the ability to give the “right to exclude,” meaning you can prevent people from using or interacting with said piece of property.

“A commons is defined as a wealth of resources that can be used by the whole community, which therefore means you can’t exclude people from using it,” Hyde pointed out when drawing this argument back to the New Commons.

Given the definition of a regular commons, a cultural commons can be defined as a wealth of artistic resources, culturally significant ideas and works, and the management of ideas.

“Given that definition and logic, the only way to keep people from using art and ideas is to keep it all in your head,” Hyde said.

This led to the “tragedy of the commons,” the idea that only so much grass can grow, meaning that the resources can be limited and run out if not monitored. Can too many people “own” one idea?

“Some of the copyrighted [New Commons] nominations may have some problems and zones of conflict,” Hyde said. “How should we manage the fruits of human creativity?”

Hyde then noted founding father Benjamin Franklin and his refusal to copyright or patent his works and inventions. The fact that he had help with every element, from concepts to how things should work, came from someone else.

“What am I? My works have been nourished by countless individuals,” Franklin said in regards to this matter. “My work is the work of a collective.”

This led to the “thesis” of Hyde’s argument; sharing ideas is how we improve them. Creative work belongs in the commons because it circulates knowledge for future generations. Although the issue becomes more complicated when you mix labor into the idea, the fact that someone interacted with the art and the idea means that new ideas are born, whether you want that result or not.

“What is the self that comes into being in the presence of someone else’s art?” Hyde questioned.

The final 12 New Commons nominations have been selected; to find out what they are, or to learn more about the New Commons Project, visit the website at http://newcommons.umf.maine.edu/.

American Dreams: Immigration Stories Promotes Reflection on What it Means to Be an Immigrant in the United States

In response to recent rhetoric surrounding immigration, professor Linda Britt wrote the play American Dreams: Immigration Stories, a collection of stories from the perspective of immigrants currently living in the United States. Britt took inspiration from such incidents as the immigration ban and the jeopardization of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to represent people from multiple countries across several generations.

“This play was sparked by the news that we see everyday about immigrants and where they’re from and the rhetoric that’s coming out about there being ‘bad’ immigrants,” Britt said.

The characters in Britt’s stories had mixed viewpoints on living in America. Some did not actually want to be here, such as a 53-year-old homesick Bosnian woman whose daughter lived in the States and a 22-year-old Iranian student who was trapped in the U.S. after her student visa expired. Others worked hard to make a living here and wished to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” such as a gay man from Egypt escaping persecution and a young woman from South America whose parents were deported after living in the U.S. legally for over 20 years.

“I wanted people to think about that question, ‘what would you do if you were me?’” Britt said.

English professor Misty Krueger portrayed 42-year-old Emily, an immigrant from England. In an email interview, she expressed her interest in Emily’s character comes from the fact that even though she is considered charming, she is still viewed at as a “porcelain doll” and “pretty actress” because of her accent.

“I liked Emily’s story because I could imagine someone like her really enjoying her life in the States and feeling somewhat guilty about being that ‘good immigrant’ type–the one that people forget is actually an immigrant,” Krueger said. “I could imagine Emily’s empathy, and her questioning of what makes her any different than anyone else.”

Junior English major Aurora Bartley played a French immigrant named Celeste, whose character also managed to find success in the U.S. When preparing for the role, Bartley expressed difficulties in putting herself in the shoes of a new mother getting her green card.

“When we had our first small group rehearsal, I got to hear a bunch of other monologues and other immigrant experiences. After hearing the connection other people had with their stories, I was able to feel mine more,” Bartley said. “I was able to put more emotion into mine. I was able to put myself there emotionally because other people in the room were doing that too.”

Britt described the first meetings when she was first conceptualizing the play. After an initial meeting with Anthropology professor Nicole Kellett, Director of International and Global Studies (IGS) Linda Beck, and various IGS students, they determined that the usual lecture style was too academic for the message they wanted to convey.

“One of the students who was in this meeting said, ‘it’s always the same people who come to the roundtable discussions. The people that need to hear about these aren’t going to come to a roundtable, where people are talking at you.’ So I offered to write a play,” Britt said. “It would be different because it’s entertainment, but at the same time it deals with the issues, and maybe people who don’t normally come would come to this.”

Bartley and Krueger both agreed that their backgrounds in English helped them prepare for the play.

“Being an English major helped me with performing the monologue, and having an understanding of the words and the sentence structure,” Bartley said. “Linda wrote it as though a French person was trying to translate it from French to English so some of the sentences were flip flopped and it was a different structure, but it was interesting.”

For Krueger, her additional background in theatre was an important factor in her preparation for the play, including a dissertation on drama, directing plays of her own, and studying literature in England, the homeland of her character.

“I feel really comfortable in a theater. My background in English literature helped too because I have spent a lot time in England, as well, studying drama and fiction,” Krueger said. “But my background in linguistics also helped because linguistics asks you to think about every sound you make and to differentiate between sounds.”

Bartley and Krueger also agreed that participating in this play gave them a new perspective on immigration issues in the United States. For Bartley, the play made her think about why people choose to leave their homes and how they came to America.

“[The play] got me thinking about why people are so discriminative; maybe it’s because they’re different, maybe it’s because ‘they’re taking our jobs,’ but those are just silly reasons,” Bartley said. “This play felt a bit sad but they’re stories that need to be heard and I’m thankful I heard them.”

Krueger noted that the stories made the issue feel more personal. The cast spent time reflecting on the stories and the fact that there are real people experiencing these situations.

“When we read the news or only the headlines, we just see another sad story and then tend to move on with our days,” Krueger said. “These characters are based on actual people who are living in the US here and now. This is America now. We have to respond to the unethical treatment of people who have lived in this country and who have made it their homes. Telling these stories is only a small part of what we need to do, but it is a start.”

For Linda Britt, her aim was to get the audience to look at immigrants with empathy and to put themselves in the shoes of others.

“I had several people come up to me; this one fellow, elderly gentleman from Yugoslavia just wanted to thank me for telling the stories,” Britt said. “He wasn’t the only one; it meant something to the whole community. I hope people could just see these immigrants as humans.”

 

UMF Discusses Get Out and the Politics of the Oscars

Prior to the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony, UMF hosted a roundtable discussion on Jordan Peele’s debut film Get Out and the discourse the film would bring to the Oscars.

Get Out was nominated for “Best Picture,” “Best Original Screenplay,” “Best Actor,” and “Best Director.” The film ended up winning the “Best Original Screenplay” category, but the main focus of controversy was for its nomination as a comedy film for “Best Picture.”

Hosted by professors Michael Johnson, Ann Kennedy, Dawn Nye, and Sarah Maline, the panel immediately jumped into the controversy surrounding the Oscars and their treatment of Get Out. The comedy nomination sparked outrage among Twitter users, though this is not uncommon. Horror has been an overlooked genre in the Academy, with other horror films being entered in the drama category in years past. Although horror films have been nominated for “Best Picture” throughout the years, Silence of the Lambs was the last horror film to win this specific category in 1991.

Although the panel was met with a small crowd, every member of the audience had something to contribute to the discussion.

“Are you young people still watching the Oscars? Are you watching closely?” Nye asked the audience. Every person offered a response along the lines of “no,” with many opting to follow along on social media, namely Twitter.

“Who decides what is the ‘best picture?’ How do they decide? If my opinion doesn’t matter, why should I watch?” one student inquired when thinking about why younger audiences do not tune in.

Get Out is not the first film to generate this kind of discourse about what constitutes the “best picture;” foreign films have also inspired similar conversations.

“People try too hard to make blockbusters,” Maline said. “They often think to themselves, ‘what will the U.S. find charming about our culture?”

All of these elements lead us to the question at the center of this controversy: what do our Oscar nominations say about the U.S. as a society?

“I think it’s interesting that Hollywood is trying to remain neutral on industry politics,” Kennedy said. “Actors and actresses are chastised for standing up and making things political, but are they really speaking?”

Kennedy referenced the #metoo movement in this regard, noting that “the men stayed silent so women could have a chance to speak. The problem is, they lose nothing by staying silent.”

Johnson showcased a clip from the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony, in which a young woman named Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage in place of Marlon Brando after winning the award for “Best Actor” in The Godfather, to decline the award and instead give a speech on the unfair treatment of Indigenous people in the entertainment industry and in the United States in general as an example, calling it “one of the first instances of politicizing.”

Bringing the presentation back to Get Out, the panel and the audience analyzed various elements of the film that also contribute to this discourse and reflect the tumultuous political air surrounding the ceremony.

“White audiences don’t understand how uncomfortable the humor is,” an audience member said.

The overall consensus of the group’s analysis was that protagonist Chris Washington was an African-American man entering a white man’s world, and that world involved a sense of invasiveness, down to the way his girlfriend Rose’s family commented on his physical appearance and artistic abilities.

“Just the fact that Chris is a photographer, the white characters sort of look at that and assume art is a physical talent and not intellectual,” Johnson said while commenting on uncomfortable (and sometimes unconscious) attitudes the film forces viewers to confront.

“When this [controversy] started, Jordan Peele took to Twitter too,” Johnson said. “He tweeted, ‘Get Out is a documentary.’”

“Film is always political, whether it ignores it or embraces it, both are political statements,” Nye said at the end of the presentation.

Danielle Conway Discusses the Importance of Compassion in the Rule of Law

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Dean Danielle Conway addressed a full auditorium on the rule of law and why it matters more than ever

Dean Danielle Conway from the University of Maine School of Law was recently welcomed to a full auditorium at UMF to discuss the rule of law and why law matters in society today.

Political Science professor Jim Melcher introduced Conway as “one of the most interesting lawyers I’ve ever met,” applauding her diverse experiences, including 27 years of service in the U.S. Army, Army Reserves, and the National Guard.

Standing before the attentive crowd in a dark red suit, Conway opened her talk by claiming, “one could call my belief in law religious.” Her eyes scanned the audience in momentary silence; “I hope I can convince you to also have strong beliefs by the time I’m done.”

Conway defined the rule of law as restricting arbitrary use of power by channeling it through well defined and established laws. Everyone, from individuals to institutions, are held accountable under rule of law.

“Laws should be enacted by democratically elected officials and enforced by independent judiciaries,” Conway said. “I believe in this process because it will help protect freedoms and rights.”

According to Conway, our society is facing its biggest challenge yet: widening inequality. This can be seen in our discourse and how it is riddled with tension and strife, from LGBTQIA rights to land disputes and indigenous rights. The core of Conway’s argument is that rule of law is ineffective if it does not serve everyone, including those who cannot defend themselves. This means that rule of law should consider both individual freedoms and peoples’ rights, as opposed to one or the other.

“Law drives our society and many facets of it,” Conway answered when asked how rule of law can protect both freedoms and rights without impeding on one another. “[Law determines] where we can be, what technology and resources we can use, etc. Laws use certainty and stability to help create an organized society. Law creates power, and we need to use that power with compassion and sentiment. By not embracing compassion in rule of law, you rob people of the 14th amendment.”

Conway’s interactions with audience questions opened discussion on this point further; the 14th amendment states that all people born and/or naturalized in the United States are thereby citizens of the country, and no state may deprive any citizen of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Conway shared an experience in which she was arrested in New York for no reason, and her lawyer was able to help her arrange a plea bargain that allowed her to avoid jail time. Such an outcome is rare, especially for an African-American woman.

“Am I protected because rule of law exists for someone who needs it? Yes I am,” Conway said. “Because I have privilege, I now put my money where my mouth is and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.”

“A lawyer’s value is in her power to make the law accessible to those not in the legal system,” Conway argued. “A lawyer who has seen injustice will stand up.”

Conway did acknowledge that it is difficult to view law objectively, and that very few benefit from viewing law as such.

“I’ve met Justices [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [Antonin] Scalia. Their belief systems are informed by their experiences, just like my own,” she noted.

Despite her criticisms of laws and their implementation (and law in general), Conway loves the law, going so far as to say that she “romanticizes” it. Law can be coercive and legitimize toxic behaviors such as racism, but when utilized with compassion and sentiment, it can be transformed and become protection for those who can’t protect themselves.

“I am a patriot,” Conway declared as she closed the discussion out. “I believe in what America has been and what it can be.”

UMF Student Inspires Mt. Blue High Schoolers to Deliver Unique Contributions to New Commons Project

The New Commons Project at UMF is a community wide effort to create a “cultural commons,” a collection of cultural works deemed important by the Farmington community that they will utilize for teaching and learning for the next five years. Anyone from the Farmington community can contribute, which recently includes students from Mt. Blue High School.

Heather Leet, a Secondary Ed. English major, completed her practicum unit at Mt. Blue under the tutelage of Travis Tierney, where she taught the New Commons Project to four out of his six classes.

“I started out by observing like most students do, then Travis and I talked about the New Commons. He already planned on teaching it, but he handed it over to me, let it be the thing I contributed to his classroom as a practicum student,” said Leet.

According to Leet, students were initially hesitant to participate in a project that did not originate at Mt. Blue.

“There was a good amount of confusion. I completely underestimated how challenging it would be to effectively explain the project; it does have so many aspects and possibilities, it is very open ended,” she said. “Once they figured out there were so  many things they could nominate, they got excited.”

“I asked them, ‘What about your nomination specifically can help the community?'”

The students sought out unique ideas that would make interesting contributions, and their nominations expanded beyond films and books. Nominations from Mt. Blue include the United States Air Force, a summer camp that helps grieving children who lost a parent, and rapper Logic’s recent hit single “1-800-273-8255.”

“One student ended up nominating the American Canoe; he talked about its history and how it’s important to our country and its overall contribution to our culture; the Native Americans created it, and now we have so many sports centered around it,” Leet commented when thinking about nominations that stood out to her. “Another student considered nominating her own poetry; I was so excited about her confidence in her own work! I don’t know anybody here or anywhere who has nominated their own work or has thought about it.”

Although Leet herself has not submitted a nomination, she applauded the Mt. Blue students for their originality and challenging her to think outside the box for her own choice.

“I’m thinking of nominating an album or musician for the project,” she said. “Music was a big theme and topic amongst the students because everyone is connected to music.”

Overall, Leet was thrilled with the Mt. Blue students’ work and is thankful to Tierney for the opportunity to bring the students out of their comfort zones.

“It was a privilege to work with Travis because he has such a great relationship with his students. They were respectful to me even though I was new and he’s been there for 15 years; his room is a safe zone, and I think that inspired a lot of creativity with current issues and their community,” she said.

“I made it as clear as possible that they are an enormous, important part of the community,” Leet said. “Their voices matter and are valuable. I wanted to give them an opportunity to contribute to this project; what they have to offer is going to be unique and influential.”

Beyond the University and Mt. Blue, Leet is also optimistic about what the New Commons will mean for the community at large.

“I really do believe that the special aspect of it is the amount of possibilities. It can be what the community makes it,” Leet said. “I believe in Kristen and her vision and I know whatever she puts together will be fantastic. I am optimistic and very hopeful for what it will eventually become.”

To find out more about the New Commons Project and/or watch some current nominations, please visit the website at http://newcommons.umf.maine.edu/.

 

 

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English major Belanna Morales

“Does inspiration exist? Is there some kind of guaranteed way to be inspired, to produce ‘good’ work?” Junior English major Belanna Morales aimed to answer these questions in her audio essay on what inspires writers.

“I was curious if it was random and luck, or if it was hard work or if there was something in the world that causes inspiration,” Morales said.

Throughout Misty Krueger’s English 201 class, “Public Writing,” students have learned what public writing is and how to become engaged with it. Public writing is exactly that: writing for the public, and more targeted audiences. The course emphasizes writing for the Web and public relations, and includes work in producing audio essays.

Morales, a member of the class, was unsure of where to begin. “I was stuck, so I thought to myself, what do I have in my toolbox? I study English/Creative Writing, I work as a writing tutor [at Mantor Library] and see people struggle, so I thought of ways I could help them write essays.”

From there, she delved into navigating between investigating her questions on inspiration and the software used to compile the finished product.

“One of the hardest things was figuring out how to use the software; the longest process was putting it together and making sure it sounded pretty flawless,” Morales said.

For her essay, Morales interviewed English professor Kristen Case and two students. They agreed that yes sometimes things do come to you, and especially things from your past can inspire you, but you have to make it work

“One quote I highlight is from Kristen Case, who actually quoted [Pablo] Picasso; ‘Inspiration has to find you when you’re working,’”

One quote that did not make it into the final essay from English/Creative Writing major Annie Moloney echoes this sentiment; “Writing is a ‘labor of love,’ and you need to put in the work to see your inspiration become reality.”

“For example, the more you read, the better you write,” Morales added.

For Morales personally, she revealed that inspiration comes to her from memories or images she encounters throughout the day. “I’ll be inspired by a series of events and think ‘oh I hadn’t thought of that before,’ and I’ll write about that.”

In addition to investigating inspiration, tackling such an interactive format allowed Morales to see the ways in which audio and spoken word can add to the written word.

“One friend commented that my essay sounded like a documentary because of the mix of me and clips of my interviews. My listeners can get a direct comparison of what they’re saying [out loud vs. on paper],” she said. “You can’t hear [people’s] voices when you write a paper. and you can’t always have three quotes in a row.”

In addition to adding more depth to the written word, Morales observed that audio and talking out loud can break down mental barriers.

“Normally I don’t enjoy talking to strangers. I find conversation difficult, but this time it wasn’t that way,” she said. “I was so interested, any barriers I would put on myself beforehand kind of disappeared.”

“Sometimes there’s a barrier between your mind and the screen,” she added. “[During tutoring], people will be like, ‘I don’t know what to say,’ and they’ll tell me what they want to say and I’ll be like, ‘that’s great! Write that down!’ It’s great to take down that barrier; people don’t feel so much pressure to phrase things a certain way when they’re talking.”

Although she is not sure when she’ll have the opportunity to do another project like this, Morales said that she would like to do more audio essays in the future.

“Everyone should take this class!” Morales exclaimed with a laugh.

UMF Student Theatre Celebrates Shakespeare with Performance of Hamlet

The lights dimmed as two guards, Bernardo and Marcellus, emerged on top of the ramparts of the castle Elsinore. Suddenly, the stage floor was blanketed in a bright green fog, as the sentries, now joined by Horatio, bore witness to the ghost of King Hamlet.

Hamlet was one of the UMF’s biggest shows ever produced, and the cast boasted several English majors and one professor. English major Julie Guerra portrayed Laertes, the brother of Ophelia, and Professor Dan Gunn took on the role of Polonius, a chief counsellor of the King and the father of Laertes and Ophelia.

Guerra has been in many shows during her time at UMF, including Wait Until Dark, Letters, and a student directed play called Home Free. Hamlet was her first Shakespeare performance, but she’s been a fan for years.

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English major Julie Guerra as Laertes

“It was senior year high school that I had a really great class with a teacher who loved Shakespeare,” Guerra remarked with a chuckle. “Since then, I’ve really loved Shakespeare too.”

A member of Student Theatre at UMF (STUMF), Guerra knew going into the auditions that she wanted to play the part of Laertes.

“I wanted to get involved with the sword fighting!” she exclaimed. “The combat was weird to learn because I’m not a very angry person, but [after] stepping into the character and learning, it became muscle memory and it was really fun.”

Guerra showcased this combat training particularly well during Laertes’s and Hamlet’s final duel before Claudius and Gertrude. She was also able to demonstrate her understanding of Laertes’s emotions and motives as the poison tipped blade was thrust into Hamlet’s chest, in order to avenge the deaths of Ophelia and Polonius.

Unlike Guerra, Gunn’s first theatre performance experience consisted of scenes from various Shakespeare works with the UMF honors program, directed by Jayne Decker, who also directed Hamlet.

“About 15-20 years ago, Jayne Decker wanted to do some scenes from Shakespeare with the honors program and she thought faculty involvement would be fun,” Gunn said. “[There were] three or four faculty members, the students. I played the part of Hamlet’s Ghost in those days.”

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Dan Gunn (second from right) as Polonius

In addition to playing Polonius, Gunn served as the dramaturge for the cast. The dramaturge is someone who knows about the play, teaches the cast about the play, and meets individually with actors to go over lines and reflect on their meanings.

“During rehearsal, I would talk to people about lines, or people would ask me questions,” Gunn said. “There was a funny moment; when we rehearsed the part where I die on stage, the actors were struggling with capturing the sense of madness. Jonas [Maines], who played Hamlet, stopped to ask a question. I got up to explain and then laid back down to keep playing dead,” he recalled with a fond smile.

Guerra and Gunn both agreed that performing Hamlet as opposed to simply reading it helped to further their understanding of Shakespeare and the art of theatre as a whole.

“Actually performing it is so much more emotional, less cerebral. Hamlet especially is full of emotional shifts and deep and complicated feelings,” Gunn said. “Teaching [Hamlet] as though it were a poem, I look at it more cerebrally, thinking about the cold art of it, whereas it just seems more connected to feeling in the body with me now since I’ve had the experience of acting some of these parts.”

“I think there is a difference between just reading Shakespeare and performing Shakespeare,” Guerra said. “It is a different view of the work, and you start to love the characters a bit more, especially when you work with them for such a long time.”

In addition to understanding the play on another level, Guerra also appreciated the opportunity to work with professor Gunn outside the classroom.

“Dan Gunn is great; I had a class with him. He would meet with us to learn lines, and then he played my character’s father on stage,” she said. “It was cool to interact with professors in a way that wasn’t super academic. There’s camaraderie in being cast mates as opposed to just seeing each other in class.”

Although Guerra and Gunn stated that their educations in English gave them tools to work with in regards to deciphering Shakespeare’s language, it was still a learning experience for both.

“A lot of [English] majors are into theatre, and I think Hamlet and Shakespeare is what drew them to participate,” Gunn said. “I feel it is an honor to perform Hamlet because of how crucial it has been to the English literature since the 17th century, and I think a lot of English students felt that importance as well.”

“There really isn’t a limit to what English majors can become involved in,” Guerra said. “English majors are pretty open to anything.”

Julian Saporiti encourages UMF students and faculty to reflect on stories of Japanese Internment during WWII

Julian

Julian Saporiti tuning his guitar after a performance of a song about Vietnam

Recently, UMF welcomed musician and phD student Julian Saporiti, who presented a multi-media presentation entitled “No-No Boy” on the history of Japanese internment camps across the United States during World War II, inspired by his doctoral research at Brown University. “No-No Boy” is a term used to define Japanese Americans who refused to pledge loyalty to the United States after World War II and refused to sign up for the draft.

The internment of Japanese Americans came after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly removed from their homes (especially in California and along the west coast) and relocated to internment camps across the west and midwestern United States.

“After Pearl Harbor, anti-Asian sentiment really began to grow,” Saporiti stated during a presentation to a UMF English class before his Emery Arts performance. “There was a lot of racial fear and economic competition.”

Saporiti’s work mainly focuses on the individual stories of Japanese Americans who lived in these internment camps. He has overall talked to 60 people and fully interviewed 30. For Saporiti, it is more important to get the details of these stories right and let them send a message on their own, rather than trying to push a political agenda.

“I don’t have much of a political message except ‘know your history,'” said Saporiti. “I go for these individual stories because for me, those have a bigger impact. It’s a lot easier to feel sympathy when you can actually put a face behind a label or a movement.”

To tell these stories, Saporiti employs another principle element of his work: music. Stating that he studies history through music, Saporiti has written several songs that describe the life and atmosphere of an internment camp, while also telling the stories of individual people he’s met there.

One of his most notable stories comes from a dear friend referred to only as “Joy,” a now 90-year-old woman who was sent from Los Angeles to the internment camp “Heart Mountain Relocation Center,” in Heart Mountain, Wyoming at age 15. When telling Joy’s story, Saporiti discussed an instrumental part of her time: her involvement in the George Igawa band, a jazz band made entirely of Japanese Americans who wanted to continue to pursue their passion and take their minds off of their situation.

“They were allowed to pursue this dream because jazz music was considered incredibly American,” Saporiti explained. This story led to a song about Joy and the George Igawa band called “The Best God Damn Band,” one of several pieces he performed during his presentation.

Saporiti also has a personal connection to these stories and this research as a result of being Vietnamese American and growing up in Nashville, Tennessee. Some of his works reflected his thoughts of Vietnam and immigration

The audience was engaged and thoroughly interested in what Saporiti had to say on many topics, including how the treatment of Japanese Americans is reflected in today’s modern racial and political climate, with the new target of fear and hate being the Muslim community.

“When I tell the people I interview that I do talks like this at colleges and perform these songs and tell their stories, I always ask them if they have a personal message they’d like me to tell you guys,” Saporiti said. “And they all say pretty much the same thing: don’t let this happen again.”

To find out more about Saporiti’s work, listen to more music, and learn more about Japanese internment, visit his website at nonoboymusic.tumblr.com.