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Summer Spectacular: An Incredible 2 Months in Theatre Education

I costumed 132 children this summer. All the pin pricks, hot glue burns, and carpal tunnel syndrome are worth the level of adorableness. I heard so many people praise our shows for Summer Spectacular, the education program at the Hippodrome Theatre. Campers love their costumes, props, and music, and so do Hippsters! I heard patrons in the hall saying these were some of the highest quality productions they’ve seen for Summer Spec! That is to say, my costumes were a part of it. Of course, Roald Dahl is great source material, and our kids are ROCK STARS! I was very grateful for the opportunity to design costumes for this shows as well as teach costuming and costume history, and super pleased that several kids told me I was their favorite teacher / the best costume designer they’ve ever had. Truly a proud moment for me—I felt that my training, knowledge, and skill in costuming had finally coalesced, and I could have a positive impact on kids’ theatre education.

Our kids were very lucky this year to have incredible directors (Niall McGinty andMatthew Lindsay), incredible teachers in creative writing (Rachel Abrams), film (Eric Martin), acting (Pablo J. Milla), great workshop leaders (Daniel,Marionne, Kelli, Elizabeth, Mariama, and many more), amazing tech by Jed Daniels and Amanda Yanes, props by Karen Arnold, videography and stage management by Ed, and all under the leadership of Gabby Byam. This is how you do summer!

A little moment of theatre magic took place during camp:

I had been working hard to exceed expectations and complete amazing costumes for all my kids, but had been met with multiple challenges both situational and personal. At times I felt very distressed and disappointed. In an improv game today, I had a student curl up into a ball of despair, moaning that he didn’t know where he fit in and felt disrespected and ignored. I pulled him aside and told him that I sometimes felt that way too. I begged him to participate in the game, telling him he would never know if his ideas would be heard and his personhood acknowledged until he tried. At the same time, I was feeling ambivalent about my words, wondering if there was any hope for those of us who are hypersensitive to others, or perhaps a little too strange for most of our peers. All the same, I asked him to take a moment to gather himself so we could play the game. He responded by hiding even more in the corner and shrinking into a ball. He was still upset when the game began and each team was building a story together. My kids were not all on the same page and the scene, which was supposed to have an inspirational message, was not going anywhere. Suddenly, the sad kid burst out of nowhere and sealed the story with this quote: “when you think lovely thoughts, the sun will shine upon you and you will look lovely.” We could all see the happiness take over his face as he realized the truth of what he was saying. He then came and hugged me. And I remembered why I was in theatre, to witness moments like this. This is why we do art…where platitudes and empty promises fall short, the catharsis of performance reminds us that it’s not all bad.

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Nailed the Interactive Art Show!!

Friday was an incredible night. I have run a combined variety/art show and an interactive art show at the Civic Media Center in the past year. I was striving for a perfect blend of art showing, performances, interaction, and donation. I wanted to give artists an opportunity to show their work in a rich environment. I named this event The MageArt Experience, in acknowledgement of the real magic that art provides, both in its production and perception.

I finally got the right formula for this show, and brewed up a delicious artistic blend. We benefited from Gainesville’s Artwalk crowd, and our participating artists brought incredible energy and beauty. We had guests contributing to the collaborative canvas, purchasing art, and watching the performers with full attention.

With this show under my belt, I think that CerridwenWorks is well on its way to nonprofit status.

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Publication of Bullying News Media Analysis [ABIBS Research Update]

Exciting news: My semantic analysis of news articles on bullying, that I presented at the IASESP conference in April, was accepted for publication in the Journal of Contemporary Anthropology Vol. 4! The title of the article, “The Social Construction of Bullying in U.S. News Media,” describes my contextualizing research for my upcoming documentary. I am thrilled to have this validation and exposure for an anthropological approach to bullying, and the boost it will give to the future stages of my research.

Some highlights from the reviews:

The author has provided a thought-provoking and well-written paper on the topic of bullying and the application of folklore and media studies methodologies in the study and prevention of the phenomenon. I think that the paper adds much to the discipline with respect to its multidisciplinary scope. The author does an excellent job of backing up the use of the folklore/media studies approach. The paper is also an important addition to applied anthropology and can serve as a catalyst for further studies related to  bullying and other social phenomena.

This article discusses an interesting topic relevant to our contemporary society, cleverly set
against the backdrop of folklore studies and media culture. Overall the article has a strong potential and
displays a good understanding of related theoretical and contextual framework.

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In Defense of the Social Science Majors

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the worth of anthropology in the education system and job market. First, let me just say that it is distressing that universities, once the sites of higher learning, have turned so swiftly into job mills that politicians fuss over the market value of majors. Gov. Rick Scott suggests the technical demands of the STEM fields should be subsidized by the less marketable non-STEM majors—leaving humanities and social sciences students with more debt when, as Scott notes, there’s less demand for them. In other words, they can sit in more student debt for longer, just so universities can encourage students into the already-saturated STEM fields. Besides, that strategy may not even work:

In a working paper, Xueli Wang, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has studied data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 to find that exposure and success to math at an early age is far more predictive of STEM enrollment than financial motivations. This makes sense: Waving money in front of a high school senior’s face does little if that student doesn’t feel that he or she has the skill set to succeed.   from Pitt News

Moreover, Scott has railed against anthropology, noting that Florida does not need more anthropologists. Besides a total lack of imagination for what anthropologists can actually do, Scott, as well as FL Senator Don Gaetz, are demeaning social sciences by ideologically linking academic study with job preparation. While the two can certainly dovetail, they need not be the same. I recall hearing the opinion generally expressed that trade or vocational school was for those who weren’t smart or motivated enough to attend university. But from the mouths of politicians came criticisms of the universities for being “out of touch,” “anti-American,” or even offensive. Somehow the political rhetoric has shifted from universities’ attacks on academic freedom to their capacity to get people jobs. Universities aren’t just for liberal geeks anymore; they’re for job-oriented real Americans! And where does that leave the vocational schools?

It makes sense to make universities as well-rounded as possible. Elective courses in the arts, dance, sports, computer skills, and other non-academic pursuits can flesh out an undergraduate’s experience. And for the accumulation of resources and networking opportunities, why shouldn’t folks interested in business, engineering, and other technical degrees be able to enjoy a university environment? However, the same extends to folks interested in the social sciences and humanities. And if we’re concerned about the applicability of these degrees, isn’t it better for an art major to attend a university where she can take education courses as well? Or for a poli sci major to be able to take computer courses, in an age when prominence in social media predicted the election results? Rather than dismissing the “soft” majors as useless, let’s foster a sense of interdisciplinarity. After all, when that lab coat wearing, superbly trained science major goes in for job interviews, there’s a couple of presentational techniques taught in introductory theatre courses that will be very helpful.

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Bullying in the Media

My primary research interest, and my intended career, is to work in and study film and theatre as means of social change. Obviously this is a broad area with many applications. One particular focus, and one that encompasses and requires the study of mass media as well, is on the phenomenon of and sociocultural response to bullying in schools.

Bullying has garnered much national attention in the past few years, in part due to the controversial anti-bullying laws passed in states such as Massachusetts and the increased reportage of suicide among young people who have been bullied, such as Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi. The media has even adopted a phrase for this horror: “bullycide.”

As many have noted, bullying was given new wings by the advent of social networks and an increased percentage of user-generated content. Current opinion in the field of child social psychology holds that bullies are not “kids being kids,” nor products of broken or lower-income homes, nor inspired by violent video games. Bullies bully because they can and want to. (See the writings of Barbara Coloroso and Jessie Klein for more information.)

Even the entertainment media reflects this change in attitude: no longer limited to childhood adventures in which the school or town bully (singular) is an obstacle or challenge to the protagonists, films like Mean Girls and Bacheloretteand TV shows like “Glee” and “30 Rock” address cruel behavior among teens and adults, in school, work, and social venues.

Thankfully, the same technology that empowered bullies can now be used to stop them, and, we hope, to dispel information and ideologies to cut bullying at the roots.

The media has a pivotal role in the campaign against bullying: by portraying the victims of bullying in a sensitive, if sometimes oversympathetic light, and reporting in full detail the nature of the incidents, they change what would have been a sad but pointless story into a piece of a larger story that is depressing enough to motivate action. Their real challenge, though, is not to demonize the bullies for the sake of a dramatic story, but to report them as people who made costly mistakes that, to an unbiased observer, are able to see how to prevent those mistakes from happening again:

The first step, however, is to dispense with the image of bullies as mere Scut Farkases waiting to be challenged and conquered. Bullies are not adverse object lessons for an educational system; they are the very antithesis of education. They are no more a natural part of learning than is parental abuse a natural part of growing up. (source)