Identity and Expression: Takeaways from SUNY Oswego’s Visit from Winston Duke

With the end of my senior year of college creeping up and with 3 years at college behind me, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing a lot of incredible things at college. However, an unexpected highlight came a few weeks ago at this year’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. 

SUNY Oswego brought in “Black Panther” and “Us” actor Winston Duke. Duke is widely known for his portrayal of M’baku in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the student excitement over his appearance was palpable. I remember last spring semester when tickets to “Avengers: Endgame” went on sale, I bought opening night tickets with 15 of my friends. We all watched the film in the sold out Oswego Cinema until 2am. Watching the climax of that film, with a whole theater full of college students cheering and crying, was one of my favorite memories of the last four years. When my university brought in one of the actors from that film series, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to cover it. 

Winston Duke was unlike any other guest speaker I have ever witnessed. The energy he harnessed from the student body was palpable. As he entered the stage, he was greeted by the cheer of the crowd all yelling his name, while he continuously hyped them up. That energy continued throughout his time onstage, as the students were exceedingly responsive to his presence. This was exemplified in his proclamation of “You guys cheer at the most random things. PANCAKES.” Cue tremendous applause.

Having grown up in Trinidad and later having been raised in Rochester, NY, Duke spoke so closely to the experiences of the students at SUNY Oswego. In the discussion led by Theatre Department faculty member Mya Brown, the crowd listened in as Duke talked about the impact of being an immigrant and finding your identity as a young adult with those circumstances. As a college student, you assume that those that have found success have always had their path laid out or figured out. It was so moving to hear from an acclaimed actor that not only did he go to a SUNY undergrad like ourselves, but he also changed majors numerous times before he landed on acting. “There is no answer. I never knew this is what I wanted to do.”

At this point in our lives as college students, we are all so closely in search of who we are and who we want to be in this life. The concept of identity is such a clouded thing at this point in my own life and the lives of my peers. The heart of the MLK event is the celebration of identities and the diversity that encompasses the numerous identities of our student body. Duke discussed his struggles with racism early in his life, sexualization following his fame, as well as the struggle that he faced when breaking into the film industry with casting agents labelling him certain ways based on his appearance. He encouraged us to “be aware of the narrative your body tells and take control of that.” Things like masculinity and femininity don’t need to be displayed in specific ways.

Thoughts from Abroad: What Defines A City?

When you think of any city in the world, what comes to mind? Is it the physical buildings themselves, the architecture, or do you think of the people and the culture itself that surrounds it?

I’m spending this semester living and studying abroad as a part of CAPA London’s global education program. If you asked me a few weeks ago what immediately came to mind when I think of London, I’d probably have said Big Ben, the London Eye, or the London Bridge (which I have since realized that I’ve been envisioning the Tower Bridge and not at all the London Bridge). I chose to study here mainly for the vast arts culture that exists within the city, so of course it was art that made me start asking my previously stated questions.

As I visited the Tate Modern last week, the exhibit that had tremendous impact on me personally was Naoya Hatakeyama’s ‘Living Cities’. The focus of the exhibit was structures and how the human occupancy can completely change the perspective of a city. Do the buildings in these places still carry the same meaning if the city is completely vacant? Are older buildings that people don’t use anymore worth preserving if society gains no use from them? Hatakeyama stressed how millennials seem to believe that older buildings have less functionality than the newer ones, therefore making them worth less.

As I walk amongst the 19th century buildings next to sleek modern architecture, I notice how the stress on older buildings comes as a testament to the people who lived before. We continue preserving these works in an attempt to keep alive the spirit of those that came before. Those who created the structures and lived in them. It reminds us as human beings that there were people before and there will be people after. That those who previously occupied these spaces were not so dissimilar to us. As I wandered through Bath last week and stood on the edge of the Roman Baths where the Romans used to undergo hygiene treatments, I couldn’t help but think about the modern spa that was built not too far away.

And then there are the testaments to modern culture. The locals who walk the streets, the street performers that frequent tube stations, the bustling markets in Camden and Greenwich, the chatter in the pubs near my home. London’s people are passionate about causes close to home. Whether that be the lives they lead day by day, or in larger issues like Brexit or climate change. Being a city that had to almost completely rebuild after the bombings of World War 2, London is a city that isn’t afraid of fighting for a better world. While this can be seen radically during protests outside parliment or around global oil companies, its also seen in the art seen on the streets made by names like Banksy and Bambi.

So to answer my previous question, I believe the value we place in cities comes hand in hand with the value we place in the human spirit. The cities themselves are testiments of those who live there now and those from the past. Even as my experience in London continues to unfold, I am happy to developing my own meaning of this city through these experiences and the incredible people I’ve met so far.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Love Letter to Who We Are and Who We Have Been

In the theatrical world, the human experience can be defined by complexities and details. How people act, how they live, is often dependant upon their given circumstances pertaining to physical and emotional factors that impact people at any given point in time. These small details are what have fueled the production research in this semester’s production of Fun Home. We, as the dramaturgy team, understand that the human perspective is dependant upon experiences, relationships, and significant things that impact people’s lives. With a story that chronicles life from childhood to adulthood, these factors are crucial to our understanding of Alison Bechdel’s life.

Fun Home’s dramaturgy team began pre-production work back in December 2018, with all assigned dramaturgy team members having read both the play and the graphic novel. From January to April 2019, the group of 6 students met once weekly to discuss topics of research, outreach, and concepts that needed expanding upon on the resource website called the Dramaturgy Hub. Online resource page building as a part of the Dramaturgy process began with the appointment of Dr. Toby Malone as the Theatre History/Criticism professor in Summer 2017. By using online pages for information dissemination, it creates an interactive and accessible platform for actors and production personnel to find the information they need to aid their creative process as opposed to the traditional method of making a physical binder. Dramaturgy works together to generate source pages about different topics or references that are found directly in the text, or topics that can be assessed through subtext. These ideas that we pull are oftentimes to aid the understanding of the show as a whole.

Among the concepts that we kept running into was memory. As human beings, all perceptions and opinions we have about things are based upon previous experiences and the lessons that we took away from them. These core memories that we draw on become the basis of how we as people react to situations. However, the human brain can only retain so much information, so naturally memories become less detailed with age. People often fill in those gaps what they assume to be the truth based on what they perceive. As this is a narrative piece, every character found in Alison Bechdel’s memories is in some way shaped by how she thought of them during the time she knew them. Underlying factors that may have also impacted how she recalled the memory. A factor the dramaturgy team considered was mental illness, and how that could’ve played a roll how the different characters were acting. The trauma Alison went through as a result of her father’s death is going to impact how she views every memory she had with him following his suicide.

Memory creates the framework for many aspects of how a person lives and how they perceive the world. How they perceive themself is seen in identity, another concept that the research team tackled. A key part of identity highlighted in the play was sexual identity, and how Alison grew to understand her sexuality throughout her life. Personal identities are not only defined by self perceptions, but how people portray themselves to the rest of the world. It becomes very apparent that while a person maintains who they are throughout their life, their identity can change many times throughout life. Alison had authenticity as a child that she carried through the rest of her life, seen when a young Bechdel refused dresses and had fixation on a prominent masculine woman. Who Alison always was and was meant to be remained inside her throughout her life. However, her outward identity evolved with how she saw the world and how the world saw her. Studies of the society that existed at that time, including chronicles of historical events taking place and details about the world at a glance, are a necessity to understand not only what a person would have access to but also how they would present themselves.

Alison Bechdel’s focus as a writer is always on self reflection and understanding more about her life. As the Fun Home audience experiences her story, creators can only hope that they will see a woman growing to understand not only who she is, but who she was and how she got there. When you think about your childhood, what memories impact you the most? How do you recall feeling when those things were happening? How do you feel about those events now? These small moments are the backbone of how we as human beings are now. What we believe, how we behave, these are the things that define the essence of who we are. As we grow older, memories can not only be changed with time, but through added understanding and context that we gain as adults. At a glance, a dramaturg’s job is to fill in that context that people use to find meaning. Fun Home acts as a reminder to all that each person’s experiences and past are all a part of who we are now, and should be embraced as fragments of existence.

How Artists Work: My Summer Interning at the Biggest Contemporary Art Museum in the U.S.

Throughout my life, I’ve always dreamed about the prospect of working with creative people in the performing arts industry. As a Theatre major, live performance and the process of creation have always been huge parts of my life. However, I’ve also leaned towards the more scholarly and detail-oriented side of everything, which is where my Public Relations degree has come in handy. It wasn’t until my time as a Performing Arts Administration Intern at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (more commonly known as MASS MoCA) that I was finally able to put a name on what I wanted to do; company management.

MASS MoCA’s internship program at times can be completely surreal. At no point have I ever felt like just another intern coming through to work temporarily. The staff at MoCA truly take the time to personalize your experience at the company and appreciate people for who they are. With a $150 stipend per week and provided intern housing with included utilities, the museum does the best they can to provide the interns with everything they need during their time working at the institution. This summer we have interns coming from all around the United States, so the benefits allow people from all over to take part in the experience. Located in the artistically saturated region of the Berkshire mountains, home of Williamstown Theatre Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Clark Institute, MASS MoCA is a non-profit that truly invests not in itself but in the development of the arts industry. I found myself in the process truly feeling like I was contributing to the creation of something.

I loved walking into work every day not knowing what my day would look like. I had a wide range of responsibilities including stocking green rooms, shopping for artist hospitality, transporting performers in company vehicles from the airport, writing programs for upcoming arts events, and acting as house manager for large-scale events. I learned so much about company management and event logistics. The first time I was able to read artist riders and contracts, I spent probably an hour just flipping through the binder. Them giving an intern those kinds of responsibilities and experiences was truly more than I could’ve hoped for. Not only that, but I got to interact with the educational aspect of the museum as well. As an intern at MASS MoCA, you are required to give museum tours to the public. The first few weeks were full of curatorial training with museum staff, where we were taught the fine details about the work of Sol LeWitt, Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, James Turrell, Anselm Kiefer, and so much more. While the beginning had me stressing about these public tours, by the end of the summer I was being asked if I was an art history major.

My absolute favorite part of the internship was working with the artists and getting to talk to various musicians about their work. I had the pleasure of meeting artists like Ray LaMontagne, Courtney Barnett, the guys from Grizzly Bear, and Debbie Harry as well as the rest of Blondie. Through Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, I developed not only professional relationships with renowned musicians but friendships as well. My work helping implement elements of the festival fostered a creative environment where art and compositions could be created. Watching it all come together during the Marathon, a whopping 6-hours of orchestral music, was the best reward.

Grizzly Bear playing live in the Hunter Center on June 16, 2018

Courtney Barnett playing live in Courtyard C on July 12, 2018

My summer at MASS MoCA will stay with me for the rest of my life. There are so many people in that organization I cannot thank enough. I highly recommend that intern experience for anyone that hopes to pursue a career in the arts. My biggest takeaway that can be passed along: Don’t be afraid to create new experiences. If the opportunity is allowing you to relocate for minimal cost, go for it and see what you find. During internship interviews, be the most authentic version of yourself you can present. I read in an instant that my future colleagues had a sense of humor and a genuine nature to the way they operated, so I reciprocated that. Not only did it prove to be a good interview, but I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day because of how the interview went. In the professional world, you shouldn’t be afraid to be who you are.

How You Know You’ve Found The Right College

Throughout the college search process, the one thing you hear the most often is “You get a feeling when you’ve found the right one”. For a high schooler who can’t figure out what that feeling is, and with a choice as severe as where to start the next journey in your life, it’s a frustrating process. I toured about 7 colleges before I decided on my home, and I didn’t believe in this “feeling” until I toured Oswego. It’s strange looking back at that acute yet defining moment in my life as a second-semester sophomore. It was November 2015. We were about ¾ of the way through the tour, walking through Shineman Science Center, and I just knew. I’m not even a science major, but regardless, at that moment I felt it. It was a feeling of ease and comfort, unlike any other than I’d felt on another campus. It was in this moment of peace, of knowing, where I knew I’d found the place where I belonged.

There were a lot of things that factored into my personal decision to attend Oswego. I knew I needed a place with accredited Communication and Theater programs. I was going in for PR but I knew my love for theater was still a prominent part of my life. Not only that, but I was looking for a school that had heart. At that point, I’d toured schools that heavily branded themselves as “prestigious”, but Oswego was the most genuine college I came across. They truly desire for their students to be the best versions of themselves, and they do that through kindness and connection with their students. Oswego helps you be the person you’re meant to be by truly fostering the interests of the students. My professors and mentors here genuinely believe in me, and because of that, I’ve found myself in the position of accepting awards, scholarships, and positions I never would’ve thought possible for myself at 18. You can go to many colleges and get a traditional academic experience, but at Oswego, you can make a life of your very own.

No matter what college you choose, top choice or not, you are going to doubt yourself. With a choice as big as college, there’s always going to be that thought of “what if I made the wrong decision?” In the first few weeks of freshman year when you’re finding your new life, that’s when your choices will face the most scrutiny. In those times, I encourage you to see it through for just a little longer. Everywhere life takes you has a purpose for you. Every experience you have has something to teach you. Maybe your top choice college won’t be for the entire 4 years, and that’s okay. I have friends that have transferred to different schools and found themselves happy at different institutions later on, yet still don’t regret going to their first school. Don’t blame your choices, because it’s more than likely there was truth in your choice. Where you end up has something to show you. Take from that what you can and take it step by step after that.

Paul Leary and the Business of Music

Given the ways that the digital age has impacted a multitude of industries, it can be seen that the process of event and product promotion has shifted. Social media management has become a path of specialization within the workforce as it offers a direct and simple link between customer and company. Company and product promotion has become so much more about an image and reputation than about output.

SUNY Oswego is instilling these concepts within their students through classes like Paul Leary’s MUS397 class “The Business of Music.” The course is offered through the music department and is a staple of the university’s Arts Management minor. The Arts Management minor, offered as a generalist or business-heavy Pre-MBA track, prepares students with experience working within the arts industry. The class in itself focuses heavily on arts management promotion and affords students a hands-on opportunity to work with promoting live events. In order to give students a range of expertise, they are exposed to a variety of art forms in addition to music. Guest speakers that have come into the class include a composer of movie scores and the artistic director from the recent campus event “Feathers of Fire.” Students have been given insight on adjusting art to different mediums as well as starting an arts company.

The class’s main focus for the past few weeks has been promoting for the music department’s upcoming Collage Concert, taking place this Friday, March 2nd. The students are working with real deadlines, creating content, and making connections to get real-world experience with music advertising. The students have been broken into teams working on local promotion, print design team, social media/digital promotion, and media promotion. All materials seen around campus advertising for the event are student produced and conceptualized. So far they’ve produced posters to be distributed around campus, released free tickets to be given out to local schools, and have created video advertisements.

Overall, the class has much more of an open atmosphere than many lecture-based classes I’ve been a part of. The entire group of students was involved as the graphic design artists showed their different drafts for the final poster, giving constructive criticism and making helpful comments about things that were effective about each draft.The goal is to make content that was clean and organized while pleasing to the eye. The final design currently available around campus was completely student created. Other components of the curriculum include understanding music industry concepts, writing funding grants, designing websites, product marketing, business plan and label designs.

Professor Leary’s class teaches how to not only to succeed in the art industry but how to succeed as a professional. The main takeaway from his recent class: “Don’t use your album to make money. Develop audience first. There’s no money in albums, there’s money in the experience of you.”  This applies to both music promotion and professional development. The path to success is defined by never being afraid to be your most authentic self.

Thoughts from Thanksgiving Break

Not many family Thanksgivings pass where I have the opportunity to reflect on my life, my experiences, and my relationships enough to discern what exactly I’m thankful for. However, going to college is where all of that began to change. It wasn’t until then where there were drastic changes and challenges that came up where I really began to note all of the people in my life that remained consistent, as well as the type of relationships I hold the dearest.

Anyone that has grown up in a small town can tell you about the effects of predetermined expectations. People assume they know everything about you, given that so often they know you and your family as well as those you spend your time with. When you live in that kind of setting, people can often assume they know what you’re capable of without considering the resources available. When I was in high school, I considered myself fairly average. I wasn’t the top of my class, I wasn’t the most well-known person, and I certainly wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to do. I’ve always dreamed of working in the performing arts and being a part of the stage.There was a lot in my life I wanted to accomplish, but people assume they know you based on what they hear about. Ever since my oldest brother John went to college back in 2009, I knew that college would be where that would begin to change. Here at SUNY Oswego, I found those opportunities, and I learned that ambition can be a defining characteristic all in itself.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for every person in my life who has given me a chance to accomplish something bigger than myself. As a person, I define myself by the type and quality of work that I do, rather than the titles affiliated with them. Every responsibility I’ve been granted here at Oswego, every leadership position and opportunity, has all been provided by somebody who was willing to take a chance on me. It’s been because of those chances that I’ve been able to be a part of so many amazing projects here. I had an incredible experience on the Media Summit as the Event Promotions Director. I’m currently the PR Representative for the Shaun Cassidy Fan Club Improv troupe and am the Wardrobe Run Crew Chief for the student honors production of ‘Boeing, Boeing’. I’m also an intern with the Marketing and Communications Department and am going to be helping manage Dramafest next semester with the Oswego State Theatre Department. I’m so happy to be in a place that puts faith into my ambitions.

Most of all I’m thankful for the people in my life who believe in me and support me; friends, family, my mom and dad. I’m happy for the opportunities I have, but it’s all of the wonderful people in my life that remind me every day that it’s not about the things you can do, but the type of person you are. The people close to me in my life are genuine and help remind me what is important. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

The New Face of Dramaturgy at Oswego State Theatre

‘Clybourne Park’, written by Bruce Norris, notably takes place in the time periods 1959 and 2009. With racism being evident the world of the play, the audience witnesses prejudice in America during both the Civil Rights Movement as well as the modern setting of 2009. Racism isn’t always obviously spoken about in the show, as it’s often shown in the context of microaggression. These contrasting worlds, one historically familiar and one that we live in, are portrayed in order to prompt the questions, “What am I like?” and “Do I do that?” Its prevalence takes different forms depending on the time period.With historical significance playing such a key part in the production, an important piece of the process is ensuring historical accuracy as well as performing script analysis. That is where the role of dramaturgy comes in.

This semester has brought many changes within Oswego State’s Theatre department, one of which has come from the hire of the new theatre history and criticism professor Dr. Toby Malone. Malone, whose experiences originated in acting, got his Ph.D. in Theatre at the University of Toronto and there shifted into focus on Dramaturgy. He was attracted to dramaturgy as it bridged the gap between performance and the scholarly aspects of theatre. His early work focused on the structure of Shakespearean plays. Through his work in dramaturgy with theatres, he ensured that the necessary cuts made to the heightened language of Shakespearean plays wouldn’t detract from the overall comprehension of the shows. His thesis research included analyzing cuts made to 16 different productions of ‘Richard III’ and analyzing the cultural beliefs and values of the different time periods based upon the cuts that were made to the individual productions. Malone within his teaching very much stresses the importance of the study of the textual structures of the plays as well as the typical research-based approach to dramaturgy.

The department in the past has become accustomed to assigning one student to act as the dramaturgy for each individual production. This semester, Malone’s THT334 Dramaturgy class are doing dramaturgy for both “Clybourne Park” and “Boeing, Boeing”. Students within the class are immersed in research and interpretation of texts within the realm of the current theatre season. Malone is integrating a digital aspect into the program, having students build a website known as a “Dramaturgy Hub” for both ‘Clybourne Park’ and ‘Boeing, Boeing’. Over his professional career, he had noted that having a book created by the dramaturg containing reference material for the actors often went underused, as actors often don’t have the time to sift through it. He then decided to adopt those resources into a website format. SUNY Oswego’s dramaturgy hub contains facts about different elements of the plays, an “Ask The Dramaturgs” section where members of the production team can submit questions, a glossary for complex language within the text, and other focused research developed by the dramaturg team. Students of the Dramaturgy class have been currently shadowing rehearsals and performances of the ongoing production ‘Clybourne Park’, which premieres Thursday, October 19th, 2017. The students are focusing on reviewing the progress of the show, checking for inconsistencies that need further research, and ensuring that the story being communicated onstage will be understood by the audience.

To see what SUNY Oswego’s THT334 Dramaturgy class has been up to, check out the updated Dramaturgy Hub for ‘Clybourne Park’ at

Also, don’t forget to see ‘Clybourne Park’ at Waterman Theatre Thursday, Oct. 19th, and Friday, Oct. 20th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, Oct. 21st at 2pm. Next week the dates are Thursday, Oct. 26th and Friday, Oct. 27th at 7:30 pm and Saturday, Oct. 28th at 2pm with an ASL interpreter.

Introduction: Anna Chichester

Hello! My name is Anna Chichester, and I am one of the new student bloggers for SUNY Oswego. I am a sophomore Public Relations and Theatre major with a minor in Arts Management. I can be seen around campus as a performing member of the Shaun Cassidy Fan Club Improv troupe, the Event Promotions Director for this year’s Media Summit, an active member of Blackfriar’s Theatre Organization, as well as a social media intern with the Department of Marketing and Communication. I will be posting blogs relating to my current projects and about other things seen around campus.

As an involved member of Oswego State’s Theatre department, I will also be managing publicity for this semester’s mainstage production of Clybourne Park directed by Henry Shikongo as well as the student honors production of Boeing, Boeing directed by Megan Hickey. Be sure to follow SUNY Oswego Theatre on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates on the production process.