On the Fringe

"Because I like rap and I like musicals."

That's how actress Chelsea Dygan paraphrased Orlando hip hop artist Isaac Knox's interest in writing the music for the new musical, Lil' Women, inspired by the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott (and/or the 1994 movie). 

Lil' Woman Chelsea Dygan with Lil' Men Max Hilend & Jim Doyle
Chelsea plays beloved Beth March in the new musical, which is currently showing at the Orlando Fringe Festival. She said she was impressed by first time writer/director/producer Lindsay M. Taylor's ability to bring it all together 

Lindsay (my friend & former college roomie) said the idea came to her at 2011's Fringe:

Two Jersey gals who went to school in Delaware and now live in FL.
It's a small, lovely world. 
I got the idea for the "rapsical" as I like to call it, when leaving Chase Padgett's show last year.  I felt so inspired after watching it, I turned to my friend and declared that she would see me here next year, and with a rap musical. 
Over the summer I did tons of research on rap artists, songs, the history but then I had to focus my attention onto what the show would be about.  My favorite book of all time is Little Women, and it just popped into my brain and I haven't looked back since. It's different, it's heartfelt, it's two different worlds that in every sense of the way do not belong together, but when you leave the show it's such a natural mixing of the two that you almost don't realize that the characters are performing these very complicated songs. 
None of my cast are rap artists, they are simply people who wanted to step out of their comfort zone, be challenged and really go for it. As with me. I've never produced, directed or written a show in my life, but the opportunity was there and I thought, if I ask the right people, and the right questions and put my ego to the side if I need help, this really could be a unique project. 
Luckily I have a great team co-writing Sara Stock and Rebecca Siegel, and of course this show would not exist without the amazing writing of Isaac Knox.
As of this past January Lindsay still didn't have the music done for her musical, so she went to hip hop night at Austin's Coffee in Winter Haven for insight:  
Isaac's biggest fans: dad Pete, sis Tessa & mom Lisa at opening night

The mission in going was to watch how they freestyle rap, watch the performance aspect, talk to people about what the music means to them. 
Lindsay with Isaac
Isaac literally walked up to Rebecca and I, introduced himself and mentioned that he had never seen us there before. We said we were writing a rap musical and wanted to come for inspiration.
After explaining the concept of the show, Isaac immediately said that he loved theatre and obviously loves to rap so if we needed any help to let him know.  
The rest is history, unfortunately he is on tour with his group The King's Offspring, but he's with us in spirit.  I think the most common misconception about this show is that people think it's going to be jokey and the raps are going to be something simple and flatlined, but it's not. It's real and endearing and even heartbreaking at times. 

On a slightly related note, there's an excellent conversation on Bill Moyers' website with Jeff Chang on his new book Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.   I can't say that I'm a big fan of hip hop, but I am a fan of learning about what life is all about, from beauty to beastly injustices, and hip hop, like most honest art, embodies the spectrum. 
The interview with Jeff, the executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts + Committee on Black Performing Arts at Stanford University, ties together some of my favorite things: media reform & consolidation, and art & media as vehicles for social change:
One story that’s well known in certain hip hop circles, but it’s not as well known in the general public, is the story of this artist named Hamada Ben AmorJust after the shopkeeper in Tunisia set himself on fire, Amor began making a bunch of underground mix tapes and songs, and one of them was called “Head of State.” The lyric literally went, “President, your people are dying,” and it was a huge protest against the regime. This song passed hand to hand all through the cities around Tunisia and became one of the fires that lit the Arab Spring...It may sound stunning, but this is, again, the power of culture, and another lesson in the virality of music, that something can catch fire so quickly and lead to this dramatic turn of events that’s earth shattering. 


Hail to Another Chief

France got a new president today, but even between my hyperconsumption of news & avid Francophile-ness, I only mildly paid attention to the French election. 

Most Americans I've spoken to are completely unconcerned and unaware. I've noticed that political disinterest starts at home, and the further away a place or culture the less passion it generates. 

Yet I aspire to be a woman & (working) journalist who's seasoned in politics, locally and otherwise. At this point though I feel like the newbie in Primary Colors waiting to get burned.  

Matthew Fraser
Still, the idea that international politics would benefit all Americans is in my head. So I reached out to a Facebook friend, Professor Matthew Fraser, a former journalist who teaches in the global communications department at the American University of Paris. (Not to be confused with my future alma mater AU in DC). Edited for brevity & the American attention span. 

Tampa Do-Gooder: Please explain the significance of foreign politics to Americans (who may or may not pay attention to politics in their own country)? 
Matthew Fraser: Following the Second World War, the United States was unquestionably the main global power, facing a rival only in the Soviet Union. Since the 1940s, the world has been an “American” one. The pervasive influence of American culture — from Mickey Mouse to McDonald’s — is a sign of American dominance. Americans are the Romans of the modern world.

Oscar on the banks of the Seine, from Fraser's blog This Much I Know

TDG: To me it seems that it's not so much that Americans don't care, but that they are overwhelmed or intimidated by learning about (including traveling to) other countries. I'd like your input on that thought, as a professor who's lived in multiple countries.
MF: One of the drawbacks to being “Romans” is that Americans are primarily focused on their own concerns and interests, their global dominance has paradoxically engendered an indifference to the world beyond America — at least to the nuances of other countries and cultures. America tends to regard the world in terms of its interests. This causes resentment in other countries, and often leads to the regrettable stereotype that Americans are ignorant and uncultured about the world. 
It’s the curse of all dominant nations. The French even today are relatively indifferent to the world beyond France. The French, like Americans, are notorious for their poor foreign linguistic skills. This doubtless can be explained by the fact that France, like the United States, was once a great empire and dominant culture.  

TDG: Does the media (both American and foreign press) have a role in educating Americans on global politics?
MF: The American media are largely regarded as being oriented towards “American” stories, and when they turn their attention to the international sphere they tend to see things through an “American” prism. This can irritate people in other countries. CNN was for a long  time accused of this Americanization of global news. That has changed to some degree. 
Americans are also consumers of American movies, TV shows, newspapers and magazines. The percentage of foreign news and cultural products consumed by Americans is tiny, especially compared with other countries. Again, this is comes with global dominance. It’s very different for American expats living in other countries, of course, but Americans in the  United States don’t generally have a large appetite for foreign sources of information and distraction, with the possible exception of elites in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. 
TDG: What do people living in France think of their new president? Is it a comparable pendulum swing like Barack Obama after 2 terms of George Bush?
MF: The French are romantic about leftist political victories because they evoke France’s historical rupture with the French Revolution in 1789. Since then there have been two Frances: conservative Catholic France, and revolutionary Jacobine France. It’s much more acceptable in France to claim allegiance to the the Jacobine tradition because of the historic importance of the French Revolution and the Jacobine system of republican government France has had for most of the past two centuries. 
French Catholic France was discredited during the Second World War after the Vichy episode and Nazi collaboration. This explains why far-right parties like the Front National are considered to be a threat in France, while far-left parties, even Communist, are considered to be a legitimate part of the French political system. [Outgoing French president] Nicolas Sarkozy’s party is between the two, largely Gaullist but also representing the “bourgeoisie” in France, in other words a coalition of conservative nationalists and economic elites. In America, Sarkozy would be a Republican.  
In that sense, one cannot compare [new president] Hollande with Obama. In France, Obama would not be a particularly “left” politician. He would be at the center, even a little to the right of center. Francois Hollande enjoyed the support of the Communists and far-left movement. Those kinds of political parties would not even have a voice in American politics. 
France and America, historically, are great friends and allies because they were the two great nations born of the Enlightenment philosophy of the 18th century based on universal values about individual rights and democratic institutions. They are also two great nations born of violent revolutions. At the same time,  this linkage has also made France and America great rivals, because both nations have aspired to grandeur. France was a powerful nation for centuries, and French the language of international diplomacy, until the 19th century. Since then, the British and Americans have dominated the world. This has not always sat well with the French, hence the familiar resentment in France towards all things “Anglo-Saxons”. These sentiments have deep historical roots. France and America are “freres ennemis” -- brother enemies. It’s an amicable rivalry, but a rivalry nonetheless.  



With the Kony explosion and the continued Occupy Movement and North Carolina's celebration of a slew of people's inability to get married, Jobsite Theater's Race is a very timely play

It encompasses gender equality and classism as well as racial disparity & discrimination. 
Jobsite co-founder & Race's director David M. Jenkins looks on during a recent rehearsal.

Written by David Mamet in
2009, it has a similar ring to 1960's To Kill a Mockingbird, but with significantly more four-letter words.

Doesn't anything move forward? 
Actors Ned Averill-Snell"ranney", Paul Potenza and Tia Jemison

Race opens Thursday, May 10 and runs until May 27th, with a preview on Wednesday, May 9. 

On Sunday May 13, there's a panel following the show. From the Jobsite website:
 This panel on race relations in America will include Dr. Abraham Khan (USF Depts. of Communication, Africana Studies), noted author and professor Dr. Roy Kaplan, Alisha Menzies (USF Dept. of Communication) and director David M. Jenkins. 


Beating Back a Curse with Knowledge

Nightingale receiving the Wounded at Scutari, by Jerry Barrett 

In the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856, according to Wikipedia) more British soldiers died from preventable diseases than of battle wounds. The mortality rate was 42.7%

Florence Nightingale, a highly educated young nurse from a wealthy family, was sent to the front to observe and improve conditions in the military camps and hospitals. Within just a few months, the mortality rate was drastically lowered to 2.7%

According to a 2003 article in the British Medical Journal's publication Quality & Safety, she was a terrific (and underrated) statistician: 
"In her detailed statistical report she said the causes of the Scutari mortality were fivefold: frightful overcrowding, want of ventilation, drainage, cleanliness, and hospital comforts. She quantified and measured these problems and remedies." 
Nightingale was one of the few women I learned about this semester in my epidemiology class (which I loved but totally bombed due to my lack of basic math skills). But her story is great inspiration to try harder & smarter next time. 

I read it and read it and still algebra & statistics frighten me. 

For these last two semesters I've taken 4 public health courses, hoping to remedy my math fear and improve my research skills. Jumping into grad level classes, however, was obviously not the right approach for me. 

Especially when I'd been strenuously ignoring my first love - making media, especially documentaries. I'm very happy to say that  I'm finally on the path back to film & video this fall, when I start as a grad student at American University's School of Communication

I aim to become a social justice documentary filmmaker specializing in health issues. So maybe a career with the CDC isn't in my cards. But perhaps producing their next set of zombie preparedness videos is? 

I'll be retiring this little blog by August as I prepare to relocate. But there's tons to cover before that time comes. 


Human Rights in Our Own Backyard

I often rave about the great stuff going on at Eckerd College. But last weekend after all my years here (seven to be exact), I finally found my way to the University of Tampa

I caught the tale end of Human Rights Day, which featured UT instructors Chioke I'anson (also a Free Skooler, fellow WMNF'er & friend), and Drs. Bruce Friesen & Marcus Arvan.

Dr. Friesen covered the Kony 2012 video drama, highlighting its major problems. He ultimately, however, gave credit to the process, saying “as long as we get students exposed," he could get behind the work. 

Dr. Arvan disagreed. "We’re making our judgements from afar. It’s the people on the ground that know the needs.” 

Citing a lack of accountability and white savior complex of the organization behind the Kony video, Adjunct Prof I'anson, who has spent several summers in Uganda, argued that “Everything about Invisible Children is bad,”  

Last month he sat on an NYU panel with the IC and said they avoided answering all of his questions. He added, "Their videos do not transcend race but plays up racist predisposition." 

One solution I'anson offered was alternative narratives, that is, letting the Ugandans speak for themselves. 

UT senior Jasmine Eggestein, majoring in criminology, specifically human trafficking & cyber security, and junior Shelly Santos, a criminology major focusing on child protection attended the day's events. 

Giselle Rodriguez of the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking spoke earlier in the day about child exploitation. 

During Friesen's Kony 2012 discussion, she said “A lot of what they talked about has happened here in the US," in terms of gang initiations and other forms of violence and exploitation. 

Friesen added that human rights definitely starts at home.