USC hosts West Coast premiere of Monica Bill Barnes & Company: The Running Show

Renowned choreographer and dancer Monica Bill Barnes and writer Robbie Saenz de Viteri are bringing their latest high-energy performance to Los Angeles with the help of students at the USC Kaufman School of Dance.

With just four days between auditions and the final show to learn the choreography and the creators’ vision, USC Kaufman students — most of whom are freshmen — have been working tirelessly to bring the vision of Barnes and di Viterbi’s New York City-based dance company vision to life.

“Dancers are some of the few artists that will sign up for something kind of insane,” Barnes said. “The invitation is in five days to learn an entire show, and then perform it on a big stage, and that’s a lot to ask of people.”

The show, Monica Bill Barnes & Company: The Running Show, makes its West Coast premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday in USC’s Bovard Auditorium. The performance — presented by USC’s Visions and Voices series — will feature 13 dance students from USC Kaufman and provides an authentic look into the life of a dancer as a new kind of sports hero.

‘You don’t really know the outcome’

“It came out of a real desire to steal something from sports, which is that you don’t really know the outcome,” Saenz di Viteri said of the show using new performers in each city. “It’s the thing that I think sports really has over theater in a lot of ways.”

Freshman Simone Peterson admits that she doesn’t know much about sports, but as a USC Kaufman dance student, she said she understands movement and pushing her body to the limit, which is what prompted her to audition for the show.

“I think I actually understood sports a little bit better because this dance is heavily geared towards sports,” Peterson said. “Hopefully people will see dance more through a sports lens instead of the opposite.”

The performance made its debut in July at the American Dance Festival. Each performance teams with local artists ranging in age from 12 to 80 years old to develop a new version of The Running Show in each city.

“It both sort of celebrates dance and it really questions what it is to commit your life to something physical that you know has an expiration date,” Barnes said. “This week is about challenging students but also really supporting and encouraging them and bringing them along in this process.”

Though there are differences among the performances, the show always features rigorous athletic movement from Barnes and the students accompanied by witty play-by-play commentary and narration delivered by Saenz de Viteri from his “press box” on stage. Through the course of the rehearsals leading up to the performance, Saenz di Viteri will interview the cast and then incorporate their stories and voices into the show.

The Running Show: ‘A physical live documentary’

“I call it a physical live documentary about the life of a dancer,” Saenz di Viteri said. “It takes audiences through what it means to like fall in love with dance when you’re 7 years old … and then what it means to decide to pursue that as a career in college, and then what that means 20 years after that when you’ve dedicated your life to this physical thing.”

The quick turnaround between auditions and performance was part of the appeal to USC sophomore Avery Zerr.

“That’s the fun thing about it,” Zerr said. “It’s almost like a little game of seeing how quickly you can pick up things and how detailed you can be with the work that you’ve been given.”

Both Barnes and Saenz di Viteri said that the intense atmosphere brings the performers closer. The four-day process provides both dancers and choreographers with a new way of looking at their craft. The hope is that this approach can offer a fresh perspective for the audience.

“I think it’s almost an appreciation of athletics and the tedious work that goes into that,” Zerr said, “and how it’s almost a little bit hilarious how much time we spend doing these things, and how hard we work at them and how much we push our bodies, which is the same for dance.”

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K-pop takes center stage at USC concert, dance competition and academic forum

More than 3,500 USC students and community members on Friday attended the university’s first K-Pop Festa. The day’s events featured a free concert by Korean mega-star Sejeong Kim and chart-topping boy group Kingdom, an international K-pop cover dance contest and an academic forum analyzing the global phenomenon of K-pop with USC faculty, graduate students and a leading entertainment industry executive.




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Julia M. Ritter installed as dean of the USC Kaufman School of Dance

The USC Town and Gown ballroom was abuzz with excitement — especially in the back two rows. There, dozens of USC Kaufman School of Dance students, seated with perfect posture, joined university faculty and staff to enthusiastically welcome the school’s new dean, Julia M. Ritter.

“She sees interdisciplinary collaboration as the ultimate dance expression, and she’s worked with professional dancers, students of all ages and self-described non-dancers, including people who are unhoused or incarcerated,” said USC President Carol L. Folt, who hosted Monday’s installation ceremony.

Addressing the lively crowd, Ritter — an acclaimed public artist and academic leader — discussed the undeniable and unforgettable power of movement.

I view dance as an immersive way of being in the world.

Julia M. Ritter, USC Kaufman dean

“I view dance as an immersive way of being in the world,” Ritter said. “To paraphrase performance studies scholar Rebekah Kowal, ‘dance does things,’ and I’ll add to that — that dance does things that matter.”

The new dean discussed the rich history of dance in Los Angeles and Southern California.

“Within the Los Angeles area, almost any kind of dance can be found doing things that matter: connecting past to present, generating cultural presence, supporting spiritual experiences, producing economic benefits, fostering democracy, improving health and staving off decline, researching the possibilities of movement, discovery and expression, and of course, excelling in artistry,” Ritter said.

USC Kaufman dean sees school’s unique positioning

“Thus, the [USC Kaufman] School of Dance is distinctly positioned as a central intersection of this creative city and global hub. I’m thrilled to join this very special school to build upon foundations that honor diverse heritages and techniques.”

Ritter also emphasized myriad benefits of dance, including its ability to reinforce the human connection and champion greater diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Dance supports the cultivation of identity and autonomy, as well as a communal sense of belonging. For these reasons, dance is a productive realm for biopsychosocial research toward health and human development,” Ritter said. “This means that dancing generates both diversity and connection as a methodology for empathy for all participants: performers, audiences and passersby.”

New USC Kaufman dean: a history of accomplishments

The new dean comes to USC from the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, where she served as chair and artistic director of the department of dance for more than a decade. There, she launched a wide range of academic initiatives, established two new graduate degrees, created multiple study abroad programsand implemented numerous community engagement projects.

Her many accolades include the inaugural Rutgers Presidential Outstanding Faculty Scholar Award in 2021 and three Fulbright Scholar awards for choreographic research.

Ritter also thanked the USC dance school’s founder, Glorya Kaufman, “for envisioning a school where dancers are supported to be risk-takers and adventurers.”

She continued, “I’m excited for Kaufman’s future as it grows in eminence as a global leader of artistic achievement and exemplar of intercultural dance education, and I look forward to the possibility of engaging each of you as a partner in dance to do things that matter.”

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Title IX contributed to gains in entertainment fields, USC School of Cinematic Arts dean says

Title IX logoEditor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the year.

As USC’s longest serving dean, Elizabeth M. Daley of the USC School of Cinematic Arts has had to tackle some university practices we now take for granted, including prioritizing equity issues.

“When I came to USC, there was only one woman on the cinema production faculty,” said Daley, who joined the school in 1989 as chair of the film and television production program before assuming the deanship in 1991.

“I went to my first faculty meeting, and I was the only woman in the room besides my assistant. Coming out of the industry, I had been used to at least pitching to women — even if I knew they had to go sell it to a male boss.”

Today, 40% of the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ tenured faculty members are women. The school’s student body is also gender-balanced — even in areas like feature-film directing and game design, where the professional fields are still lagging.

Daley said these gains would not have occurred without the spotlight of Title IX.

“What’s been wonderful about the law is the recognition that it gave to the very fact that discrimination was occurring,” she said. “Fifty years ago, there were a lot of people who felt that discrimination didn’t exist, and if it did, it didn’t matter. It was endorsement at the federal level that indeed something had to be done.”

Title IX trailblazer sees lessons in team sports

She pointed out that Title IX provided more opportunities for girls to participate on team sports, allowing them to “learn critical skills of collaboration and cooperation, which are important to success in the cinematic arts, where development of creative work and scholarship are highly collaborative.”

Before coming to USC, Daley was director of Taper Media Enterprises and a producer for MGM Television. She’s also worked as an independent producer and media consultant.

When Title IX was signed into law in 1972, prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational program receiving funding from the federal government, Daley was already embarking on her professional career. She had earned a doctorate in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theater from Tulane University in addition to building her resume as a producer.

Possibilities offered to Title IX trailblazer

Still, she remembered feeling overjoyed at the possibilities Title IX would afford women.

“It was a first step against the misogyny that still lives with us every day,” Daley said of the landmark legislation, noting that women of her mother’s generation could not pursue the education or careers they desired.

“My mother wanted to be a lawyer, but there was no chance of that,” she said, adding that her mother instead went to college to become a teacher. “She was the first person who ever talked about pay discrimination in front of me, when I was very young, and I became aware of the unfairness.”

Daley said she has experienced gender discrimination firsthand, an experience she shares with working women everywhere.

“I don’t believe anybody who tells me, if they are female, that they have not experienced discrimination,” she said. During one project she was producing, Daley remembered a male line producer saying he didn’t care who she hired as first assistant director as long they weren’t female, because being responsible for safety on set would be too dangerous for a woman. Daley did a double take, causing the man to say, “Don’t take it personally.”

The incident cemented her resolve to succeed.

‘We spent a lot of time making choices’

“Women of my generation, we spent a lot of time making choices,” Daley said. “Sometimes we had to just ignore comments because you needed to get on with your work. You had to decide whether or not it was strategic to fight about it at that moment. Many of us got to the point where we thought, ‘They can say what they want; I’m not going to let them deter me from moving ahead.'”

Daley said that her goal now is to make sure that the young women at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and those of future generations, are fully able to reap the promise of Title IX and grow their opportunities in whatever professional avenues they dream of pursuing.

“What Title IX did is put women in visible roles you hadn’t seen them in before,” she said. “Title IX was a cornerstone to begin to fight these other battles. It was a huge, huge building block.”

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Teaching students to engage with L.A.’s diverse cultures

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New director of the master’s in specialized journalism (the arts) prioritizes emphasis on culture
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As Oscar Garza begins his role as director of the master’s program this Fall, his goal is to teach students how to engage with the diverse cultures of Los Angeles and beyond.

After attending the University of Texas at Austin, Garza started his career with the hopes of becoming a documentary filmmaker. He worked at PBS stations in Sacramento and San Antonio, TX., but was introduced to print journalism as another storytelling medium and changed directions. Garza worked for the Los Angeles Times for nearly 15 years before becoming editor-in-chief of “Tu Ciudad,” a monthly magazine for Los Angeles Latinos that covered entertainment, lifestyle and current events. Most recently, he was a senior producer of the daily arts and entertainment program, The Frame, and senior editor at Southern California public radio station KPCC overseeing coverage of homelessness, health and emerging communities.

“Almost all of my career in journalism has been spent in the cultural journalism sphere and I hope to expose students to the intersection between arts, food and the social issues pertinent to life in Southern California,” Garza said.

After a robust career outside of higher education, what made you pursue this director opportunity at USC?
I've known Sasha Anawalt, the co-founder of the SJA program, for a long time. I guest lectured in a few of her classes and she would bring students to KPCC every year. I even hired USC Annenberggraduates, so I was familiar with the program. When she decided to retire, she encouraged me to apply. Similar to how a theatre or music producer puts elements together to create the final piece, I wanted to be able to use my skill of connecting people and expose students to new opportunities and people who are going about their careers in non-traditional ways because I understand that not everybody in the program enters with the intention to only work in journalism. My new role as the director gives me the opportunity to create an academic setting where students can learn more about how they can make their passions into a career. I am excited about the potential impact this can have on others.

What are your priorities for the program?
The Specialized Journalism (the Arts) program is about more than food, art and music — it’s about understanding culture. When new communities get established in new areas, the thing that roots them there is culture. Usually, restaurants, music and art are at the root of all that and the reason why this degree program is so necessary to study as communicators and journalists. When we know the communities around us, we learn the issues that are most important to them. My priority is to build more links for students so they can learn how to approach and experience new cultures and become storytellers and advocates no matter what they do after graduation.

The country is going to continue to be more diverse and it should also be the mission of this program to reflect that and contribute to the conversations from a cultural perspective. It is important to me that not only will the faculty and guest lecturers be representative of the melting pot that we live in, but I want to make sure students from all backgrounds feel at home and know about the opportunities this program can give them. That includes putting more emphasis on what culture is outside of food and arts and possibly expanding to courses that look at the culture of politics and sports.

What do you think are some of the challenges for future specialized journalists in the arts?
Well, if people are pursuing or want to pursue any sort of a traditional path in journalism, there aren't a lot of newspaper jobs anymore. There aren't a lot of magazine jobs either, but the digital space continues to grow and become more sophisticated and part of the landscape. So, there are careers that can be made and there is room for creatives to figure out their way and make a new path. We can help students develop their future and help them meet these challenges.

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USC drama students premiere original work at Edinburgh Fringe Festival


SDA Students premiere original work at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

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SDA Students premiere original work at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
The student work revives a beloved tradition linking the USC School of Dramatic Arts and the largest arts festival in the world.
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A scrappy team of SDA students premiered an original play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this month, earning rave notices and reviving a beloved tradition linking the USC School of Dramatic Arts and the largest arts festival in the world.

The play is The Fire at the Edge of the Earth, written by Zack Rocklin-Walch BFA Acting ’23, directed by Audrey Forman BFA Acting ’23, starring Rocklin-Walch and Michael MacLeod BFA Acting ’23, and produced by Wendy Hui BFA Design ’21, with lighting design by Jade Wolff BA ’23.

The team earned almost $4,000 for production and travel expenses through an online Indigogo campaign and a May “funrager” performance in Los Angeles. In the tradition of most Fringe productions, the creative team attracted audiences by passing out flyers on Edinburgh streets and networking with the array of performing artists from around the globe drawn to the annual festival.

The play had eight performances, and the team was surprised and delighted to welcome SDA Dean Emily Roxworthy – and a group of enthusiastic SDA alum supporters – in the audience for the second show. Dean Roxworthy was in Edinburgh not only to take in the festival and support the students but to meet with potential partners to see how USC and the Los Angeles theatrical community can have a permanent presence in the festival.

“It was so incredible to have the support of the dean overseas in another country,” said director Forman. “She loved the show, thankfully. And the Alumni Association came through too. They stayed after to talk to us. It was heartwarming.”

Dean Roxworthy wasn’t the only one who was thrilled with the play. Reviews on the play’s festival website were glowing. “Mesmerizing play – superb acting and writing.” “This show was the best of all the shows I’ve seen at the Fringe.” “Poignant, hilarious, and beautifully paced.” “A fantastic Edinburgh debut.” “Touching performances and themes many can relate to. I highly recommend.”

SDA’s presence at the festival revived an important part of the School’s history. In 1966, USC became the first American university invited to the Fringe Festival. Professor John Blankenchip led USC productions to the festival during 23 seasons, through 2005. His companies often went on to perform in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Germany. Students and alumni often performed in repertory, and would switch from acting to technical roles from show to show.

It was a life-changing experience for its participants, providing fond and indelible memories for many SDA alums.

“Magical” was how playwright and actor Rocklin-Waltch called his Fringe experience. “The whole festival was so much bigger than I thought it would be. Edinburgh transforms into a whole new city, overflowing with performers. There are more than 3,000 shows!

“As a group of nobodies trying to carve out names for ourselves, we made so many creative connections and friendships.”

He noted that their efforts involved in producing and marketing the work was as invaluable as the creative challenges. “You have to be able to create jobs for yourself,” he said, “and the festival was about people doing just that.”

Rocklin-Waltch’s play is about a gay couple, Pluto and Vector, whose relationship is falling apart as they hike the very mountain where the Greek god Prometheus struggled. Using the Prometheus myth as a backdrop, the play deals with queer love and queer existence. Unlike many plays about gay relationships, it ends with hope, not tragedy.

The playwright and director both noted that audience members routinely were in tears at the performance’s end. High school students from producer Hui’s southern California alma mater were in the audience at one performance and were visibly moved, they both reported. “I think they were tears of joy and of seeing themselves represented on stage,” said Forman. “The reaction from so many was more than we could have hoped.”

There are early discussions about The Fire at the Edge of the Earth having a Los Angeles production, or touring or perhaps taking it to the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, the playwright said.

Being at the Fringe opened up his eyes to many possibilities, he said. “It was a fantastic opportunity for all of us to dip our toes into professional theatre.”

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From the forge to the field: The story (and the person) behind the Trojan sword and armor

As deafening as a packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum can be, there is one moment that can make even the most ardent USC fan go silent: The armor-clad drum major, the game day leader of the Trojan Marching Band, plunging his sword into the midfield logo.

What follows is an eruption of 78,000-plus cheers as the band begins to play “Tribute to Troy.” At a school with no shortage of iconic imagery, the sword stabbing into the turf reigns supreme because it can only mean one thing: The Trojans are about to take the field.

The Trojan armor and sword are as iconic as the band, Traveler the horse, and the football program itself. But where the armament is crafted couldn’t be any farther from the bright lights and boisterous crowd of the Coliseum.

Tucked in a side street off Victory Boulevard in Burbank sits Sword and the Stone, a small shop in a mundane building lost in a row of warehouses and lots. But don’t judge this shop by its modest outward appearance. Sword and the Stone has crafted some of the most iconic weapons in movie history — everything from Captain Hook’s namesake prosthetic to Jack Sparrow’s sword, and more recently Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet.

But for the past 30 years, owner Tony Swatton has branched outside of the entertainment industry for one university. For USC’s marching band, alumni association and even athletics programs, Swatton is USC’s go-to armorer.

“I honestly didn’t expect it to be for more than one season,” Swatton said. “When I initially made the sword, I spent a lot of time making it, and never thought I’d be making hundreds of them over the next 30 years.”

1991: USC marching band needs some armor

Swatton crafted his first blade for USC ahead of the 1991 season. The self-taught blacksmith and gem cutter was coming off his first major film project with 1991’s Hook when he was approached by then-Trojan Marching Band drum major Bijon Watson. Left over from decades-old productions at that time, the drum major armor was beginning to deteriorate, and Watson approached the band director about updating the outfit.

“It was a pretty funky little piece of armor,” Watson said with a laugh. “From my understanding that generation of drum major uniform was from, like, Ben Hur or something around that time.”

The band turned to Swatton, who came up with several concepts for the helmet, armor and sword based on his own research and historical records of Trojan armor. Unlike ancient weaponry, Swatton crafted the sword out of aircraft aluminum, which Watson vividly remembers seeing in action 30 years ago.

“I remember Tony saying, ‘Hey, watch this,’ and banging the sword against a metal trash can, cutting into it, and that sword didn’t even have a scratch on it,” said Watson, a professional musician and educator who has performed around the world since his time at USC.

“It was pretty awesome to see.”

From film to TV to the USC marching band

That youthful enthusiasm for the craft has kept Swatton in the game for this long. He started gem cutting around 7 years old, but it was a trip to a Renaissance fair at age 17 that led him to blacksmithing. By 26, he had his own shop in North Hollywood, and in 1991 he relocated to his current location in Burbank. Now, at almost 60 years old, he has roughly 150 total film and television credits to his name — and more uncredited — and has crafted items for collectors all over the world.

“I don’t really have a monopoly on weapons and armor, but I’m able to produce stuff fast,” Swatton said. “That makes my shop a little unique.”

But as fun as it is for Swatton to craft the swords and armor and showcase the final products, the process is equally as exciting for the drum majors who don the Trojan gear for every football game.

Earlier this summer, on a hot (and even hotter in the shop) June day, the current Trojan Marching Band drum major, Jacobo Herrera, had the chance to try on his chest plate ahead of the fall 2022 season. As Swatton clamped the chest and back plates together before handing him a prototype of this year’s sword, the junior — who is studying music industry at the USC Thornton School of Music — was all smiles.

“There’s nothing in this world that can describe what it is like to don the armor and sword,” Herrera said. “I can just feel that ‘spirit of Troy.'”

Herrera can stop and appreciate what is happening because he knows how rare of an opportunity it is. Where else can he be a part of Hollywood’s band and wear armor made by one of Hollywood’s top blacksmiths? It’s a perk that Watson also understood three decades ago.

“It’s all part of being in Hollywood, right?” Watson said. “Part of the USC experience is having access to these people that are involved in such iconic films and productions. There’s no place else on Earth where this could happen.”

During Watson’s tenure as drum major from 1990 through the 1992 season, USC football had a combined record of 17-17-2, which included two bowl losses.

“The early ’90s were rough, man,” Watson said with a laugh. “People were coming to see the band because that was what got them through it.”

Herrera’s first season happens to coincide with the beginning of the Lincoln Riley era, which has the Trojans as one of the most talked-about teams in the country. Though Herrera said that just being drum major is an honor, there is also something special about leading the Trojan Marching Band this season.

USC marching band drum major: ‘Ready to stab the field’

“I’ve never felt more ready to stab the field and welcome a new era of USC being on top once again,” Herrera said.

Swatton is admittedly not a huge sports fan, but as a master of his craft, he loves seeing his work in action and how it can extend beyond just a prop into an icon of film, television or college football.

“Some of the stuff I make, I expect a following because it’s something that is instantly recognizable, like the hook I did for Spielberg’s Hook,” Swatton said. “The Trojan sword is like that, but it’s also something I threw together 30 years ago to replace something that was beat up, and now it’s crazy to see how iconic it’s become.”

The Trojans kick off the 2022 season this Saturday at 3 p.m. against the Rice University Owls.

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USC drama professor leads with diversity in class and on screen

After a special screening of the recently released comedy Easter Sunday on Thursday, USC School of Dramatic Arts Assistant Professor Rodney To asked an audience of more than 200 students to raise their hand if they had ever seen a Filipino family at the center of a major studio-backed feature film before.

Not a single hand inside of the Ray Stark Family Theatre went up.

“This is why the movie was made,” said To, who has a supporting role in the film starring comic Jo Koy. “The reason Jo pitched this is because of that. He could have pitched a buddy comedy, he could have pitched something that was a little more studio friendly. I think that was really pretty heroic.”

To plays Tito Arthur in the Universal Pictures comedy set around a dysfunctional but loving Filipino family gathering to celebrate Easter. He moderated a post-screening panel that included fellow cast members Lydia Gaston and Melody Butiu, director Jay Chandrasekhar and writer Ken Cheng. (Koy made a brief appearance virtually when To called him on FaceTime.)

“This is the first time I ever got to play a Filipino in a Filipino American story,” To said. “That’s what was so beautiful about working on something like this. As an actor, I’ve played every ethnicity under the sun. I’ve played Eskimo, I’ve played Native, I’ve played everything, and I’ve even had cultural consultants telling me this is how you eat.”

A breakthrough film for diversity in Hollywood

The screening, presented by the USC School of Dramatic Arts’ Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, was an opportunity to showcase the breakthrough film, which opened in theaters on Aug. 5 and grossed $5.5 million on opening weekend.

This is such an important film, such an important moment for the U.S. film industry.

Emily Roxworthy,
USC School of Dramatic Arts dean

“This is such an important film, such an important moment for the U.S. film industry in celebrating a Filipino American story,” the school’s dean, Emily Roxworthy, said as she introduced the movie. “And it is graced by the presence and the talent and glory of our wonderful professor Rodney To.”

For To, it was a unique occasion where his two professional worlds came together on a single stage.

The assistant professor of theater practice in acting juggles his teaching responsibilities with a thriving acting career, which included working on the set of The Brothers Sun starring Michelle Yeoh on the day of the Easter Sundayscreening. To has a long list of stage and screen credits including recurring roles on Parks and Recreation and Good Girls and guest spots on The Conners, NCIS, The Shrink Next Door and The Goldbergs, among many other television shows.

He said working on Easter Sunday was especially satisfying because he was part of a lead cast that was mainly composed of Filipino American actors.

“For me, it was really about how relatable a family like this is to the masses,” he said in a pre-screening interview. “I hope that the specificity of us being Filipino brings out the universality of a family like ours — we have the same values and problems and idiosyncrasies as any American family. It is a Filipino American family, but if we walked away and all people saw was a Filipino family then we did it wrong.”

Diversity in Hollywood is common topic for Rodney To

Whether he’s in the classroom or on the set, the topic of diversity is something that comes up often for To. A staunch advocate for the Asian American community, he often works with NBCUniversal’s Talent Infusion Programs to foster emerging diverse talent in the entertainment industry.

I can’t open my mouth and not talk about diversity. I mean, look at me.

Rodney To, USC School of Dramatic Arts

“I can’t open my mouth and not talk about diversity. I mean, look at me,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud to wear that badge — especially at a place like USC. It’s known as an ostensibly sort of privileged, predominantly white university. I felt like it was a responsibility for me to go where my skills were most needed — and my face and everything I stand for, whether it be LGBTQIA, whether it be diversity or being middle-aged.

“I wish that it wasn’t something that I have to wear on my sleeve every day, but I do,” To added. “I take it as a big responsibility and my students respond to that. I think they know that I’m not going to wash it off of me — I’m going to lead with it.”

He’s gratified that his students — no matter their background — don’t lose interest when the topic of diversity comes up in class.

“So far, I feel like it’s embraced,” To said. “A lot of the students are like, ‘OK, we get it.'”

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The voice of the Gilded Age: Why we can’t get enough of Henry James

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Why we can’t look away from Henry James
The acclaimed 19th-century writer — considered one of the greatest novelists ever — has become a staple of the Western canon and, perhaps unexpectedly, of the movies. What explains his continuing appeal?
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Some 150 (and counting) film and TV adaptations of Henry James novels have been produced. Even if you haven’t read his books, you’ve likely watched his plots.
Although he was published before movies were popularized, Henry James anticipated our viewing interests: aristocracy, romantic entanglements and psychological weirdness.
He was writing at a time of changing gender roles, and struggling with his own homosexuality.

James was an early expatriate writer, perhaps the first to glamorize writing about America from abroad, and influenced many subsequent expat writers.
You may not have read anything by Henry James, but you’ve likely seen his work on the silver screen. His writing has been adapted for film and television over 150 times, from miniseries to movies, starring luminaries like Marlon Brando, Cybill Shepherd and Nicole Kidman.

At first glance, his books, which follow the romantic entanglements and inner lives of turn-of-the-century aristocrats, seem like an odd fit for modern Hollywood.

A portrait of Henry James
John Rowe has written several books on Henry James, as well as books on American literature and culture. (Photo: Courtesy of John Rowe.)

Maybe not, says John Rowe, USC Associates Chair in Humanities and professor of English, American studies and ethnicity and comparative literature at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, who has been teaching students about James for nearly 50 years. He explores why James has remained so influential long into the new century, documenting his findings in his latest book, Our Henry James in Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture (Routledge, 2022).

Rowe was partially inspired by a USC Dornsife course he teaches on Henry James, in which he asks his students to examine the reasons for James’s popularity.

“My work with them has led me to a rather odd conclusion for a scholar who has spent much of his life celebrating James’s genius. James does not always rely on ambiguity as a strategic device to encourage the reader; he is often inconclusive because he does not know how to end his story,” writes Rowe. James’s hesitancy around cultural problems, rather than an ability to write universal truths, may best explain his enduring reputation.

He fuels our love of historical romance

The usual reason given for James’s continued relevance is our ongoing obsession with the grand historical ?poque the “Gilded Age.” Spanning 1870 to around 1900, it was an era marked by a booming, industrializing economy that made some families hugely wealthy. It saw the rise of the Astors, the Carnegies and the Vanderbilts, marked by their lavish parties and grand estates.

James’s novels were centered in this social milieu, one filled with elegant manners, parlor room romances and elaborate dresses. Many of James’ books, like The Bostonians, have been adapted into popular period films, with decadent sets and costuming. They continue to feed our seemingly endless appetite for historical romance, as exemplified by popular TV shows like Bridgerton, Downton Abby and, of course, The Gilded Age.

“James represents what many people want to be a part of: the high culture, drinking fine wine surrounded by oil paintings,” says Rowe. “He exemplifies a high-culture standard of taste, refinement and education for which people today are nostalgic.”

He was as confused about sexuality and changing gender roles as we are

During The Gilded Age, gender roles began to change. Women worked outside the home more and attended co-educational colleges, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement gained considerable steam. This left James, like many of his peers, rather confused.

“James didn’t really know how to cope with the changing sexual and gender codes of the era,” says Rowe. Also, James was probably same-sex attracted, a sexuality that was deeply frowned upon in his time. He was never married and likely never had an intimate relationship.

His uncertainty about changing social roles and his discomfort with his own homosexuality are expressed in his handling of intimate relationships. James’s novels, while exploring emotional entanglements, leave few clear moral lessons and plenty of space for conjecture.

In The Portrait of a Lady, the free-spirited Isabel Archer is charmed into marriage by a conman seeking her inheritance. When the marriage sours, Archer is given considerable opportunity to leave her husband and strike out with her fortune, but James leaves her fate uncertain. For readers who believe she leaves her husband, the book is a feminist rallying cry. For others, who see her returning to her loveless marriage, it’s a reconsideration of women’s liberation.

The uncertain ending was likely due to the fact that James himself wasn’t exactly sure in what direction to go — stick to tradition or embrace women’s liberation?

“There are lots of places where James just doesn’t have a clue how to end it. James doesn’t tell you what to think. The ambiguity prompts us to make our own decisions,” says Rowe.

Much for Hollywood to play with

A movie poster for ‘The Bostonians’
A 1984 adaptation of James’ The Bostonians received two Academy Award nominations. (Image Source: Wiki Commons.)

His uncertainty has allowed his writing to become a cipher through which we explore our own ongoing issues in coming to terms with sexuality, relationships between the sexes and gender roles. It’s a flexibility that has made it an excellent medium for Hollywood creativity.

James’ gothic ghost story The Turn of the Screw, in which a governess becomes convinced the children in her care are possessed, is perhaps his most famous tale. Like most of his work, it leaves much unsaid — including why one of the governess’ charges is sent away from his boarding school at the start of the story.

In a 1961 adaptation of the book, The Innocents, script writer Truman Capote used this ambiguity to imply that the boy was expelled for being gay.

“This is in the years leading up to the change of movie censorship rules, so writers slipped in coded expressions. Capote inserts the possibility that this young man knows that he’s gay by having him say [he was expelled] because he was ‘different,'” says Rowe.

A powerful influence on subsequent writers

James’ longevity in the canon has meant that each generation of American writers has felt compelled to respond to his work. This is particularly true for American expatriate writers who, like James, moved to Europe and contemplated the American experience from abroad.

James Baldwin, who moved to Paris from New York City, wrote his novel Another Country in many ways as a response to James. The book begins with an epigraph from James and, like James’s work, explores romantic passions and their ripple effects among a small circle of friends.

It’s a decidedly updated take, however: Its main character is Black, bisexual and involved in an interracial relationship. Baldwin’s book is both an appreciation of James and his way of calling James to task for his flaws. “Baldwin doesn’t reject James — he’s woven into the novel — but he’s also delivering a firm reproach to James for missing racial and sexual conflicts,” says Rowe.

James may have lingered long into the modern era, but Rowe isn’t sure he will live on indefinitely. Unlike Shakespeare’s universally appealing love sonnets, or Dante’s memorable depictions of hell, James’s appeal is rooted specifically in the social churn of our current era.

“Henry James’s enduring reputation has something to do with our inability to overcome the gender and sexual hierarchies, the class divisions and the racial stereotypes of nineteenth-century America and England,” writes Rowe. If we’re able to progress pass this, we’re likely to see James fade into the rearview mirror.

We don’t seem bored of him yet, however. In 2020, his work was yet again on the television screen, with the Netflix miniseries The Haunting of Bly Manor, an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw.

The post The voice of the Gilded Age: Why we can’t get enough of Henry James appeared first on USC News.

USC Thornton School to offer music teachers a master’s degree in teaching popular music

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Beyond Band, Choir and Orchestra: USC Thornton School of Music offers music teachers a master’s degree in teaching popular music
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For more than 100 years, music education programs have prepared elementary, middle and high school teachers to lead marching bands, choirs and orchestras. But in the past two decades, there’s been an explosion of new interest from students wanting to perform in pop groups and to learn other aspects of popular music such as songwriting, guitar and digital music production.
While K-12 schools around the country embrace this growing interest, universities have been slow to meet the new demand with a structured pedagogy focused on popular music. To fill that need, the USC Thornton School of Music, which pioneered a highly successful Popular Music Performance program for undergraduates 15 years ago, is offering a new master’s degree in popular music teaching and learning.
The new degree, which will begin enrolling students in fall 2023, is designed for working popular musicians wanting to transition into teaching, musicians with a bachelor’s degree in music performance or music education looking to expand into the popular music teaching arena, musicians seeking to emphasize this growing field as they advance into doctoral level work in education, as well as current K-12 teachers who want to immerse themselves in popular music pedagogy.
“It’s a cutting-edge field,” said Brian Head, associate dean for academic affairs at USC Thornton. “At USC Thornton, when we inaugurated the Popular Music Performance program, the faculty developed its own pedagogy from the ground up. There weren’t many schools out there doing it and certainly none in the university conservatory environment. Over the last 15 years, we have created a proof of concept with tremendously successful graduates and a highly competitive, vibrant program.
“Our faculty have assembled and refined a full pedagogical framework of how to teach songwriting, how to teach ensemble skills within popular band settings, how to train a voice to sing popular music styles, how to teach rhythm and groove in a variety of modern styles and how to integrate all of this into a comprehensive program.”
Beatriz Ilari, associate professor of music education who was chair of the Thornton Music Teaching and Learning program when the new degree took shape, said the demand from students in middle and high schools for popular music instruction has been evident for some time, but it took music educators a longer time to embrace it.
“There are students who love band or love choir, but there are students who want to be in rock bands or do mariachi or learn technology and DJ,” she said. Demographic research has shown that only about a fourth of U.S. high school students are actively involved in large school ensembles, she pointed out, “so this program will help teachers diversify to serve even more students.”
Associate Professor Chris Sampson, who was the architect of the undergraduate Popular Music Performance program, said that educational institutions at all levels are expanding their offerings and are looking for qualified teachers who understand popular music.
“Popular music is unique to music education,” he said. “It’s not the same approach that you would take in classical music.”
Popular music instruction blends informal and formal education, and honors experimentation, jam sessions, playing by ear or sitting down at a computer workstation and coming up with new sounds. Popular music education also breaks down the master-to-student dynamic common to traditional music instruction, Sampson said, and can put the teacher side-by-side with students.
“This takes tremendous courage on the teachers’ part not to present themselves as the 100 percent expert on everything,” he observed.
Sampson, who will teach in the new graduate program as well as continue to teach songwriting and entrepreneurship to undergraduates, successfully piloted a graduate course in popular music teaching this past year. As a final project, the students each produced an episode of a podcast. One student’s topic was using strings in popular music. Another compared teaching improv comedy to teaching songwriting. A third examined gender equity issues in popular music. A link to all eight podcasts is here.
The new Master of Music (MM) degree curriculum consists of 30 semester units, balancing professional practice, scholarship and research including academic courses in research methods, psychological, sociological and philosophical foundations blended with core courses in teaching popular songwriting, music technology and coaching popular music vocalists and ensembles. Elective courses include community engagement through music, world music pedagogy, cultural diversity in music teaching and learning and musicians’ health and wellness. The MM students will be able to closely observe Thornton’s undergraduate Popular Music Performance program, and all will author a capstone scholarly document and engage in supervised applied teaching.
Head said that while the canonic ensembles of marching band, choir and orchestra remain vitally important in music education, teachers now want to have resources and a comprehensive pedagogy to address the dynamic world of popular music teaching. USC Thornton is pioneering that effort.

The post USC Thornton School to offer music teachers a master’s degree in teaching popular music appeared first on USC News.

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