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.
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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.
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.”
Author Daniel Handler ’92 enjoys a prolific career as a celebrated novelist, best known for using the pseudonym Lemony Snicket to publish A Series of Unfortunate Events. This 13-book series about three orphaned children and their increasingly tumultuous lives—which has been adapted for film, video games and, most recently, a Netflix series—established Handler as an appealingly sinister storyteller, a writer with a penchant for narratives without happy endings. The first episode of Articulate on PBS delves into some of Handler’s inspirations and how he came to develop his dark approach to children’s writing.
In the clip, titled “The Very Fortunate Daniel Handler,” he points out that one goal of his writing is to create worlds more exciting than the one we are offered. But while his stories teeter on the absurd and fantastical, they largely operate by exploring the tragic realities of the world we already inhabit—the kind of grim truths that children are already catching onto and, Handler argues, deserve to have addressed. As a young kid, with a father who had escaped Nazi Germany and a family that discussed war as a standard topic of conversation, it was made clear that the human experience could be dark and disastrous. A reflection of his upbringing, Handler refuses to sugarcoat misfortune or grief for his readers, regardless of their age.
As a woman of color in STEM, Najwa Anasse ’18 represents a minority in a field known for its lack of gender and racial diversity. Recognizing that the low interest among women and youth of color is largely the result of barriers to access, an increasing number of organizations and programs have been created to direct underrepresented youth towards science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Anasse, who is double majoring in Neuroscience & Behavior and Biology, credits one such program, the University of California San Francisco’s Science Camp, for sparking her interest in STEM and inspiring her continued commitment to the sciences. Jay A. Levy ’60, UCSF Professor of Medicine, has been serving as the camp’s faculty advisor since its inception in 2007, when a pharmacy student in his lab founded the program.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
When CNN en Español journalist Maria Santana arrived on the island of Puerto Rico on Sept. 25, five days after category 4 Hurricane Maria tore over the land, she was eager to do her work—tell the stories of those in the center of the devastation and report on the efforts to support the victims and rebuild. But the situation was not what she expected, and—though her job has taken her to many places in the United States that had been ravaged by natural disasters—this was nothing like what she’d seen before.
While she and the crew stayed at a hotel in San Juan—with internet accessibility to transmit her reports—even short trips into the countryside showed massive devastation, but little aid reaching the people.
by Cynthia Rockwell •
“My sister’s cancer might have been diagnosed sooner — if doctors could have seen beyond her weight,” wrote Laura Fraser ’82, in an article that detailed how medical personnel ignored her sister Jan’s serious symptoms as the whinings of “a fat, complaining older woman.”
The article, published on Statnews, a site focused on medicine, health, and science journalism and produced by the Boston Globe Media, received more social media shares, Fraser said, than anything else she has written.
Fraser’s first book Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It (Random House, 1997) had given her a background knowledge of the biases that work against those with obesity and what she saw in her sister’s quest for help. “Sometimes I think fatness is the last bastion of acceptable prejudice in the United States,” she reflects.