The Broadway cast recording of the Tony Award–winning musical Dear Evan Hansen earned a Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theater Album on Nov. 28. Produced with Atlantic Record’s President of A&R (artists and repertoire) Pete Ganbarg ’88, along with music supervisor and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, creators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Broadway producer Stacey Mindich, the album had debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 when it came out last February.
by Himeka Curiel •
Earth and Environmental Sciences faculty and senior seminar students have identified a potentially fast and inexpensive method for collecting and measuring Saharan dust in the Caribbean.
E&ES faculty members Dana Royer, Tim Ku, Suzanne O’Connell, and Phil Resor, and students Kylen Moynihan ’17, Carolyn Ariori ’09, Gavin Bodkin ’09, Gabriela Doria MA’09, Katherine Enright ’15, Rémy Hatfield-Gardner ’17, Emma Kravet ’09, C. Miller Nuttle ’09, and Lisa Shepard ’17 have coauthored an article published in the January 2018 issue of Atmospheric Environment. The paper, titled “Tank Bromeliads capture Saharan dust in El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico,” summarizes student research performed in three senior seminar capstone projects conducted over an eight-year period starting in January 2009.
Saharan Africa produces approximately 800 billion kilograms of dust each year, a significant portion of which is carried via wind across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. These dust particles provide critical components for Caribbean ecosystems, including viable fungi and bacteria, but current methods for measuring the dust can be either expensive or limited in the amount and purity of samples collected.
Royer and his team sought to test whether Saharan dust could be detected within the bromeliad tanks of the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, and “to test how well tank bromeliads serve as a natural vessel for distinguishing the regional sources of atmospheric deposition.”
The team theorized that the overlapping structure of the bromeliad’s leaves, which is used to capture rainwater and nutrient-rich debris, could provide a feasible way to measure and trace Saharan dust in the Caribbean. Over the course of three field campaigns, the team sampled the bromeliad tanks, soil, and bedrock at three different sites in the El Yunque dwarf forest. Their findings confirmed that the contents of the tested tanks could be analyzed to identify the source of atmospheric dust inputs, thus providing a potentially simpler and lower-cost alternative to existing methods of collection and measurement.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
On Dec. 4, This Podcast Has Fleas, a partnership between WNYC Studios and kids’ television veterans Adam Peltzman ’96 and Koyalee Chanda ’96, joined that studio’s roster of innovative audio programming and signaled its foray into children’s podcasting.
This Podcast Has Fleas is six-episode scripted comedy series about a dog, Waffles (Emily Lynne), and a cat, Jones (Jay Pharoah), who live in the same house, each hosting their own competing podcasts. Additional household pets are a goldfish played by Alec Baldwin and a gerbil played by Eugene Mirman.
Chanda and Peltzman, whose television credits include Blue’s Clues, Wallykazam! and the Emmy-winning Odd Squad, The Electric Company and The Backyardigans spoke with The Wesleyan Connection about their path from Wesleyan into children’s television programming, and now into their newest audio project.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
This year the list of Grammy nominations includes work by Gail Marowitz ’81. Founder of The Visual Strategist, a company devoted to designing for music, Marowitz is not a first-timer on the coveted list. Her work has garnered her three nominations in the Best Recording Package category, with a win in 2006.
Now in the running is Marowitz’s work on Jonathan Coulton’s Solid State.
Marowitz, who claims “a misspent youth, looking at albums in record stores” and sends e-mails under the name “childorock,” says that her fascination with album covers began when she was 6 and her older brother brought home the Beatles’ Revolver. “There was so much to look at—drawings and collage. I remember staring at it for long periods of time.”
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, the Pulitzer Prize winner, MacArthur Genius, and Tony Award winner for Hamilton and In the Heights was honored with the Latin Recording Academy President’s Merit Award at the 18th annual Latin Grammy Awards on Nov. 16. This is a special award, not given annually, and it was presented to the well known composer, lyricist, and performer by Latin Recording Academy President/CEO Gabriel Abaro to honor Miranda’s many outstanding contributions to the Latin community.
Abaroa told Billboard, “Lin-Manuel’s urban and social poetry have provided strength and encouragement to every Latino motivated to get ahead. He has brought pride to our community by reminding us of the resilience and fortitude we demonstrate on a daily basis.”
Most recently he composed and released “Almost Like Praying—Relief Single for Puerto Rico,“ (Atlantic Records, Oct. 6, 2017). Miranda, who performed the song with various artists, donated all proceeds to The Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS Disaster Relief Fund to help the survivors of Hurricane Maria
Additionally, when the Grammy nominations were released on Nov. 28, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work appeared in two categories, both related to his work on the soundtrack for Moana, Disney’s animated adventure-comedy. Moana: The Songs, a compilation of works by various artists, including Miranda as singer and performer, appears in the category of Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media. Additionally, a song he wrote for that film, “How Far I’ll Go” (performed by Auli’i Cravalho), appears in the Best Song Written For Visual Media category.
In an interview with Hollywood Reporter Melinda Newman, Miranda explained that the insight into creating “How Far..” for the title character of the film came in recalling his own teenage years:
Where she [Moana] and I met was having a calling — not necessarily even understanding the calling, but knowing that it’s there inside. I knew I wanted a life in some creative endeavor for as long as I can remember. For me, I think the song took the final turn it needed when I realized it’s not a song about a young woman who hates where she is and needs to get out, it’s a song about a woman who loves where she lives and her family and her culture and still has this feeling. So what do you do with it? I related to that as well and so that was the final insight we needed to get that moment to really strike a chord because it’s messier, it’s complicated.
by Michael O'Brien •
(By Karl Ortegon ’18)
Gretchen Millspaugh Cooney ’83, who played field hockey and swam at Wesleyan in the late ’70s and early ’80s, recently returned home to Philadelphia after competing at the Ironman World Championships in Hawai’i. The race is synonymous with a super triathlon: swim 2.4 miles, hop on your bike and cycle through 112 miles of terrain, and finish it off with a 26.2-mile marathon. No breaks.
For the World Championships, one can only compete by first racing in a qualifying Ironman prior, and going fast enough at the qualifier to secure one of a few slots designated for one’s age group and gender. Cooney claimed her spot at the Ironman Maryland in 2016 to punch her ticket to Kona for this fall’s World Championship.
by Laurie Kenney •
This fall, singer-musician-writer Amanda Palmer ’98 and award-winning independent filmmaker Michael Pope teamed up to teach The Art of Doing: Creative Project Production and Making It Happen. On Saturday, Dec. 9, at 8 p.m., Palmer, Pope and their students will screen the class’s final project—a music video for an original song by Palmer, inspired by a free-writing exercise with the students—at the Goldsmith Family Cinema at Wesleyan, followed by a short performance by Palmer. Seating for the free event is limited. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
In this Q&A, Palmer and Pope reflect on their experience this semester.
by Andrew Logan ’18 •
Adam Abel ’98 has been a frequent traveler from New York City to Qalquilya, Palestine, in the past six years to join his colleague and friend, Mohammed Othman, in reimagining what “normal” might mean in Palestine. Their vision involves helmets, skateboards and a whole lot of concrete.
They call it SkateQilya, as a reference to the city in which their program began. And as its name might suggest, it’s an organization that offers skateboarding instruction. But Abel and Othman see skateboarding as much more than a recreational activity. SkateQilya teaches community building and art: it’s a way to transform perspectives, galvanize communities and teach children to express themselves.
To run these various aspects of the organization, Abel has leveraged his own individual skills and those of others. An installation artist and filmmaker, Abel teaches photography and video and serves as the program’s development director. Othman is the executive director and uses his talents to offer lessons in building community trust. To teach skateboarding they recruited Kenny Reed, a former professional skater, who has taught his skills worldwide.
Their curriculum is also coeducational, which is unusual in Palestine today. In fact, parents don’t hesitate to enroll their kids, especially their daughters. This is because SkateQilya provides a much-needed service in Qalqilya—structured and productive activity for youth.
Though now a nonprofit, the Skateqilya initiative actually began as something entirely different—an art installation. Back in 2011, Abel traveled to Palestine to research his project, Terra Infirma, which employed images from Google Earth to explore geographical, social and political divisions. Qalqilya, which the Israeli West Bank Barrier nearly encloses, became a subject of his project; from above it looks like a peninsula of dense concrete amidst a sea of Israeli farmland.
While visiting Qalqilya for his project, Abel learned that there was a skater there. This piqued his interest and he sought the help of a local guide. That guide was Othman. They traveled together to meet the skater and were stunned when the athlete showed them videos of himself and his fellow skateboarders “flying, [performing] hip-hop and beatboxing.” It was a unifying moment for Abel and Othman.
As an artist, Abel immediately felt the urge to document this unique collective of skaters. He posed the idea to Othman, but Othman felt hesitant at first. “[I was] an activist, not a filmmaker,” he remembers thinking. But Othman also was looking for a change of pace. Collaborating on the documentary project allowed him to improve his community while offering some relief from the tense politics.
However, as the two embarked on their documentary project, they became rapidly immersed in the lives of their subjects. They got to know the children and their families and it wasn’t long before they were constructing skate ramps out of plywood for the locals to use. Their documentary had begun to take a back seat to their community involvement and they quickly realized that building a skate park was not enough.
“If you just open up a skate park and leave it, how are kids going to get boards, how are they going to pay for boards?” asks Abel. “You can’t just build a facility; you have to do something more.”
From this vital question, SkateQilya was born.
Currently, with the help of their partners at Playgrounds for Palestine, an organization that has built playgrounds in Gaza and the West Bank for over 17 years, Abel and Othman are working on expanding their organization. They have just opened a second skate facility, in the village of Jayyous–just a few miles outside Qalqilya. This new skate park was built with the help of SkatePal, another organization that promotes skating in Palestine. Here, Othman and Abel plan to open a small computer center and expand their arts and community-building programs.
While Abel’s work has helped to strengthen the community of Qalqilya, it has also given him something in return—a close collaborator and a lifelong friend. “Mohammed and I have a very special relationship,” he remarks, “He is a son in my family and I am another son in his.”
Since graduating just last May, Jenny Fran Davis ’17 has become a published author with the fall release of her debut novel, Everything Must Go. The story revolves around Flora Goldwasser, a teenager from New York City who has just transferred to a rural, Quaker boarding school in her junior year. Through a collection of journal entries, e-mails and other archived materials, Flora pieces together her experience and lets readers into her tumultuous period of adjustment.
Davis wrote the book in her freshman year of college and spent the next few years editing, before landing a contract for two novels with St. Martin’s Press in 2016. In this Q&A, Davis discusses how it feels to be a published author, in what ways her time at Wesleyan has impacted her writing and what readers can expect from her next book.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
She Makes Comics, a documentary directed by Marisa Stotter ’13, and produced by Patrick Meaney ’07 and Stotter, won Best Documentary at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con International Film Festival, and was released on Netflix on Oct. 15. Also available on iTunes and Amazon Prime, the film tells the story of the women—artists, writers, executives, as well as ardent fans—in the comic book industry. The documentary has played at film festivals around the world since its release in December 2014.
Both a thoroughly researched history—featuring luminaries such as Karen Green, the comic librarian at Columbia University, as well as women who wrote and drew comics in the 1950s and ’60s—and a lively story for a general-audience, She Makes Comics is a collaboration between two Wesleyan alumni, one a film major and one an English major—whose years as undergraduates had no overlap.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Brimstone and Glory is the feature-length documentary produced by Benh Zeitlin ’04, Dan Janvey ’06, Kellen Quinn ’05 and others, on the annual festival in Tultepec, Mexico, where pyrotechnics are the major industry. The weeklong celebration honors San Juan de Dios, patron saint of firework makers, and celebrates the artisans who dedicate themselves to pyrotechnics. Directed by Viktor Jakovleski, and edited by Affonso Gonçalves, the film is scored by Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer, the two who collaborated on the Beasts of the Southern Wild score.
Dubbed “Best Documentary Feature” at the San Francisco Film Festival, Brimstone and Glory opens in theaters this fall. In preparation, Quinn spoke about this collaboration in this Q&A:
Q: What was the genesis of this project?
A: Viktor, the director, was shown some photographs of the festival by an artist who had recently been there. He was amazed but completely baffled by the images of people “raving in the fire”, as he puts it. Sometime later, during a Berlin techno party, the crowds and sensory experience reminded him of one of the images. He recognized a connection between the collective effervescence of the techno scene that is a big part of his life and the ritualistic elements of what he had seen in those pictures of Tultepec. His initial idea was a short film, but after doing an exploratory first shoot, it became clear that there was something bigger and more ambitious to be made. Ultimately, the film shot over three consecutive festivals.
Q: And what brought you in?
A: In 2014 I was just beginning to move into producing and I was eager to work with friends. Dan Janvey told me about the project and it was immediately intriguing. Also, my mother grew up in Mexico and I spent a lot of time there as a child visiting my grandmother. I felt that working on a documentary in Mexico would offer a really meaningful way of reconnecting with the country.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
Laura R. Walker ’79, P’21, president and CEO of New York Public Radio (NYPR), has an agenda: She wants at least half of the podcasts produced to be hosted or co-hosted by women. “We’re making progress,” she reported at Werk It 2017, an annual festival she helped to create in 2015 to give women the tools they need to become creative forces in podcasting.
Walker came up with the idea after she’d read a report on this new medium and discovered that of the top 100 podcasts on iTunes, only 20 percent were hosted or co-hosted by a woman.
“Podcasting was headed in the same direction as every other entertainment medium—flooded with men….the gender dynamics were the same old story,” she told the attendees at the this year’s festival, recounting its history. And after a conversation on those findings with Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Walker originated the first Werk It Festival, a gathering of women with the goal of creating a paradigm shift. The festival offers the tools of entrepreneurship, production, and broadcasting—and the confidence that comes with knowledge—in a women-helping-women model.
Now dubbed “The Woman Working to Make Podcasting More Diverse,” by Fast Company, Walker reported to this year’s festival that the most popular podcasts on iTunes are now nearly 35 percent women-hosted—and of those originating at her home station, WNYC, nine out of the 20 podcasts, or 45 percent, are created by women. “In podcasting, everyone in this room can create your own characters, tell your own stories. We don’t have to be relegated to fitting ourselves into the roles that a group of male decision makers deems to be appropriate, sellable or allowable,” she told the crowd.
Held this year in Los Angeles, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel with 600 attendees (last year’s festival in New York welcomed only 100), Werk It 2017 featured a number of notable participants including Death, Sex & Money‘s Anna Sale, Note to Self’s Manoush Zomorodi, and Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa, as well as Nina Jacobson (producer of The Hunger Games), EMMY award-winning actress Lena Waithe, Recode’s Kara Swisher, TV producer Ilene Chaiken, and podcasters Ester Perel, Nigel Poor, Nora McInerny, and Kelly Mcevers. Many of the sessions are available as podcasts at no cost on a site hosted by WNYC Studios.
Note: Walker will be on the Wesleyan campus for Homecoming/Family Weekend, speaking on “Journalism in The Trump Era: Public Media’s Role as a Trusted News Source and Convener of Public Discourse” at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, in a WESeminar to celebrate Wesleyan’s Koeppel Journalism Fellows. Anne Greene, University Professor of English and director of Wesleyan’s Writing Certificate, will serve as moderator. Walker holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in history, magna cum laude, from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.
Follow Laura Walker on Twitter: @lwalker; WNYC Studios: @WNYCStudios
And listen to her Careers by Design podcast interview, “Encore: Don’t be Scared by Ambiguity,” hosted by Sharon Belden Castonguay, director of Wesleyan’s Gordon Career Center.
In this 2016 conversation, Walker told Castonguay: “For me a lot of the fun of it, and the challenge of it, and the kind of stuff I love to do, is the mix of the creative and the business… I think that actually started at Wesleyan… There’s something about seeing connections and drawing them and reveling in them…and not being scared by the ambiguity, but being challenged by it.”