Tag: interview

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

After a previously sold-out run off-Broadway, Lynn Nottage’s breathtaking play, Sweat, opened recently at the Studio 54 theater. The show, based in Reading, PA, focuses on deindustrialization and its lasting ramifications. In our current political climate, Sweat’s arrival could not be more timely. The show forces its audience to fully delve into the lives of blue-collar workers in America. In a country becoming increasingly divided, as evidenced through the 2016 Presidential Elections, Sweat explores and explains with breathtaking eloquence and clarity the malaise that has spread through many segments of the nation.

For those who have not seen the show, it focuses on the lives of friends working together at a local steel mill. Slowly, as jealousy flares and the workers realize their jobs–and the cultural status that came with them–are dwindling, they each begin to turn on each other. In trying so hard to save themselves and clinging to the work ideals many of their past family members have learned to expect, they are forced to find new work as the impacts of globalization and deindustrialization affect their town.

The show’s strong text is paired with skilled actors and a mundane yet detailed set. The play is primarily set in the local bar, where audience members watch the lives of these workers unfurl as if they were flies on the wall. In each interaction, one can see the close friendships of the characters. In particular, the show focuses on the close bond between two friends: Tracey (played by Johanna Day) and Cynthia (played by Michelle Wilson). In initial scenes, the two characters laugh and drink, jovially sharing stories about their students and their factory jobs, just like normal close friends do. However, after Cynthia is promoted to a role off the factory floor, jealousy flares as Tracey copes with not getting the promotion she truly wanted. As this jealously increases, tensions rise with conversations about race (as Tracey becomes convinced Cynthia was promoted solely for being Black) and the responsibilities of friendships.

To learn more about the show and how it came to be, we sat down with its playwright Lynn Nottage who–in addition to playwriting–is a Professor at Columbia’s School of the Arts. Nottage, originally from Brooklyn, studied at Brown University for her undergraduate degree and later studied and taught at the Yale School of Drama. She has won two Pultizer Prizes and received both the Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Grant.

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Image courtesy of Meghna Gorrela, CC’20

Dear Evan Hansen, TIME magazine’s “#1 New Musical on Broadway,” is at once a sentimental coming-of-age story and a powerful deliberation of social media and mental health. The musical follows the tumultuous life of a high-schooler named Evan Hansen, played by General Studies student Ben Platt, who must navigate his social anxiety in the painful aftermath of a fellow student’s death.

The Lion had the privilege to ask two Dear Evan Hansen stars about their theatrical lives and their thoughts on the musical. Here is what Kristolyn Lloyd (who plays Alana) and Mike Faist (who plays Connor) had to say:

Question: Many of Columbia’s Drama and Theatre Arts majors dream to make it to Broadway someday. Given that you studied drama at another top university (Carnegie Mellon), before becoming a Broadway star, what advice can you personally offer to these particular students?

Lloyd: One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that being an artist is more than just knowing every play that’s ever been written. You can know the whole history of theater and still be lacking as an artist. In terms of people who I really admire and their successes, part of what I really admire about them is that they’re human beings with so much life experience. I took a year off of acting in 2009 and did missionary work in Southeast Asia, and afterward my agent said to me, “This was the best decision you’ve ever made as an artist, to go do missionary work.” One thing I always encourage young people who want to go into theater to do is, after high school, go take a year off before going to conservatory doing aid work somewhere, or travelling the world, or just doing something big and scary and adventurous so you can learn more about who you are. That’s going to influence you as an artist.

Question: According to your bio on the musical’s website, your theatrical career actually began offstage, when, at the young age of 17, you sold Broadway tickets on the streets of Manhattan to make a living. What kept you going through those harder times, and allowed you to make it to where you are now?

Faist: I had friends in similar shoes similar shoes as me, who were also scrambling trying to make ends meet. I wasn’t even auditioning; I was too nervous going through whatever I decided I was going through at the time to really put myself out there. But, I had friends who were, and luckily they dragged me places kicking and screaming. They kept saying, “Just shut up and do it!” Those people took me to those auditions and motivated me, and I now feel like you just need to book that first thing. You need to get a confidence boost, essentially. I booked a dinner theater in Springboro, Ohio — it was nothing, and I got paid like $250 a week, but I was a professional performer and that gave me enough of a confidence boost at that age to say, “Well, if I can do this, why can’t I do that?” This led to more regional non-union theaters, which led to me eventually having enough confidence to go in and audition for a Broadway show.

Question: What is it like to be a person of color on Broadway, in a space where people of your background have traditionally faced underrepresentation? How has your identity shaped and affected your experience?

Lloyd: What a huge question. It’s a very convoluted answer because, you know, I can speak from being a black person, but it’s going to be different for someone who is asian, and different for someone who is middle eastern. But as a black woman I’ve found that there are things that you’re going to come head-to-head with that are frustrating. I’ve found that with African American women in theatre, especially in musical theater, our biggest struggle is being seen outside of character roles, or the antagonist. What does it look like to have a black woman on stage who’s a hero? We see that musicals like The Great Comet and Hamilton are allowing women of color to be seen as heroines. The social stance that theater is going to be able to take to communities– and the world– is saying that women of color can be heroes, and that they don’t always have to be the sidekicks. And I’ve found that as an artist it’s only made me more interested in the types of writers, playwrights, and composers who are interested in stories like that, who are interested in complex characters like that. It has inspired me as a writer as well.

Question: What is your favorite scene involving your respective character, and what did you personally add to the scene to make it “uniquely yours?”

Faist: Luckily, I’ve been with the show since the very beginning stages of it, so I’ve been with the show for 3 years. The creative team gave me the maps for these characters, and as writers got more specific about what they wanted, I was able to get more specific — so we were all feeding off of one another. So all of my character is mine, in a way, and that’s something I can say that you do when you’re originating a role or a character: you end up tricking yourself into thinking “I am this person.” And that’s when unique, cool things come alive — when you are able to fool yourself and say “what if?” But, my fave scene is the computer lab scene at the very beginning, before Connor passes away. You get to see Connor and Evan in two parallels and you actually see the similarities more than the differences.

Question: What do you think is the most important lesson we, as students and also world citizens, can learn from the respective character you played?

Faist: When I was doing research for the role, I looked through this website called livethroughthis.org. Basically, it’s a series of interviews with people who are suicide attemptees. They’re all in recovery, and they talk about it. The biggest thing they talk about is stigma, and how they’re portrayed and looked at by society, and how they’re shamed for having those thoughts, and how they’re diminished and marginalized in a way that’s in some ways different — but also not — from others who feel marginalized. What I’ve noticed in how people look at Connor is that they immediately put him in a box as well, because they see a guy wearing all black, and he says “fuck you” a lot, so they think he must be a bad guy or he must be a bully — or he shoves the main character so he must be a bully. But that’s not the case at all. He’s a kid who’s really hurting, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned: we’re all similar and we’re all closer than I think we realize.

Question: Part of the significance of Dear Evan Hansen is its candidness about the issue of mental health. Currently, around the nation and especially on college campuses, many people want to see a greater effort to destigmatize mental illnesses. Do you have any suggestions about how we can collectively achieve this goal?

Faist: The first thing you can do is start talking about it. The minute you start regularly talking about bipolar disorder or suicidal thoughts or depression, it becomes something that everyone can relate to or listen to or empathize with, and it becomes less of a taboo issue. That’s the biggest thing: a lot of these ppl who’ve attempted suicide want to talk about it because they don’t want other people who might be going through what they went thought to not feel like they’re able to talk about it — because that’s when bad things happen. The minute you start talking about it, you start to see connections with other people. Everyone can empathize with feeling sad or lonely from time to time; that’s just a part of life and some people just feel too deeply. And that’s okay, but we just need to talk about it. That’s really where you need to start: having conversations and dialogue.

Question: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the Columbia community?

Faist: Go check out livethroughthis.org.

Lloyd: Come see Dear Evan Hansen! Be a part of the conversation, be a part of the theater community, and see stuff that’s Off-Broadway and stuff that’s on Broadway. That’s where art and ideals are cultivated: within the theater. Let’s see how we can take these wonderful pieces that are being shown in New York City and get them to places where people don’t get to see these kinds of controversial pieces of art!


For tickets and more information about Dear Evan Hansen, visit dearevanhansen.com.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Currently out on Broadway is August Wilson’s Jitney. This play is an intricate, multidimensional story about cab (jitney) drivers in 1977 and their worlds colliding after their jobs are threatened. Jitney encompasses the human struggle to deal with family, success, and love. Through extremely complex characters, Wilson creates a narrative that highlights themes of generational differences, failing your parents, and creating a better life for yourself. Below is an interview with cast member and actor Keith Randolph Smith, who plays Doub in the show. 

Photo Courtesy of jitneybroadway.com.

Photo Courtesy of jitneybroadway.com.

What is the role of August Wilson’s work in today’s society? Especially since Jitney is on Broadway now and Fences is in theaters.

This is an opinion, but August plays a part in expressing culture. He is a storyteller and poet. He has a poet’s ear for language and distilling feelings and thought into a rhythmic miracle language that is truly showing the dignity that these characters have. It allows people in the culture to recognize themselves and their parents, uncles, etc. It also allows people not within the culture to witness conversations and modes of behavior and topics that they wouldn’t be privy to. His work is a chance to share the culture of African Americans. Wilson had love for his characters and gave them such dignity in going about their daily lives.

This is the first time Jitney is on Broadway – why is now a good time?

You know how old folks say how things always happen in the right time? I could never understand it or explain it. There is a reason it is happening now – I don’t know why, but economics, theater availability, interest, etc come into play as well. It works right now because of the political landscape, where people are being marginalized, though they are part of the mosaic of the United States. Workers, these drivers in the play, create an industry for themselves. In this time, 1977, yellow cabs wouldn’t go everywhere, so these jitneys came into being in Pittsburg to get people to get groceries and get rides when you needed them.

Do you have a favorite line from the play?

The exchange between Doub and Sheila:

“Becker’s boy is getting out of the penitentiary today.”

“No kiddin’. Time goes along and comes around. It goes and never stops.”

There is a scene in the play that discusses two wrongs not making a right and how that statement loses meaning when you are continuously wronged. What do you think about this statement? How does it apply to today?

Booster and Becker have a discussion of just epic proportions, spiritual matters, moral, and ethical matters. Booster comes out of a place after killing this girl by thinking more with his heart than his head. He tells his father he was wrong and that he did it. He’s debating morals and ethics and says there’s a reason he did it. They have a point of view and both feel they are right. It’s the definition of a tragedy. On one hand, Becker believes Booster is wrong for taking a life — that it’s not in your realm of power — but Booster thought he was right, he didn’t want to go to prison for something he didn’t do. He would rather go to prison for something he did do, rather than a lie. August gets you to understand the other side and presents it to you. It’s tough because many people are spiritual, philosophical, ethical, etc, but you can’t justify it even with telling me your thought process. So, August isn’t getting into that – but is highlighting the relationships both of these men had and that they both lost the women they love and blame each other for that loss.

What is the message you think families should take away from this show?

Family was big for August. I try to talk to people after the show. They say they’re are going to call their father on the train. The past couple of weeks, people have lost people, and it was felt at the theatre. There was an actor who just saw it, and he died. So, that’s why people want to do that. Generational differences have been around forever. The parent’s job is to teach you things so you can live on your own. Then, when they get older, the circle of life comes around, and you take care of them. The young have to help them with technology. The people in the play in the station make a family. You are born into a family, and then there is the family that you choose. We all play various roles like that with each other. There are so many levels to it — generational and familial. I love the play, not just because I’m in it.

Do you have any advice for the Columbia community?

I mean, I was a theatre major. I just like the fact that you guys are in school. As corny as it sounds, you are the future and the world. It’s good to know that a lot of bright people are at Columbia getting prepared to change and love the world and help everyone else, no matter in what field. But, especially in politics. I saw a bit of what recently happened at UC Berkeley. It brings up a question of: do we shut down what we don’t want to hear? Should we present many viewpoints? We don’t want to be the ones on the wrong side of history where we could do something but we didn’t. I just hope that everyone at Columbia is living consciously about the world they live in, especially those in the arts. Your work and all of our art is a reflection of what we are going through and the world: that goes into all of your choices. I have less years ahead than you do, so I really want your peers to stand up. Like Bob Marley said, “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!”

August Wilson’s Jitney is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman theatre. Tickets can be purchased here, and $30 rush tickets are available for purchase on the same day of each performance.

Photo Courtesy of Barnard College.

To celebrate DSpar’s time at Barnard as we prepare to say farewell to her, we look back at the advice and personal stories she imparted during our interview with her.

As many people know, you have a doctorate degree in government, but you are also in the board of directors of Goldman Sachs and also a college president. So, those are two positions not normally associated with government majors. So what inspired and led you to pursue such a different career path than the one you actually studied for?

Story of my life! Uhm, you know, nothing specific. I’m always saying to students, based on my own experience, I think people’s lives move in zigzags rather than linearly. I certainly know mine did. I wound up getting a PhD in government largely because I always had thought when I was younger that I was going to be a diplomat or a spy, but then I actually decided not to pursue those paths, so I stayed in academia, even though that wasn’t really what my original intent had been. I’ve just been lucky, and I think, at some level, innately curious. So when interesting things come along, even if they are somewhat peripheral to where I am at the moment, I’m always intrigued to take a look.

On the subject of research, one thing that I was really surprised to read about was that you’re one of the first people to start researching and writing about the economics of alternate fertility, which I thought was kind of surprising. I’m interested to hear a little bit about that. What struggles did you face in the beginning when you decided to research this topic? Have you ever considered teaching a class at Barnard about that topic?

So this is a very specific, not all that interesting, story. Before I did that research, I read a book called “Rolling Waves,” which was on cycles of technological discovery. The book was really initially about trying to understand how the internet was likely to play out politically. My research has always looked to the intersection between business and politics.

So, I was working on the internet space, but the argument I made wound up having everything to do with these cycles of discovery, and when I was giving lectures about that book, which was in 2001-2002, inevitably, I would always get the same question, which was “Okay, what’s the next great technology that’s going to set off another wave of market creation?” And for about a year, I didn’t have an answer to that question, and then I figured I probably needed to get one, so I started looking around. I became increasingly convinced that the next sector that was going to have innovation big enough that was going to create a market, was going to be biotech. So, I spent about a year or so doing research about the biotech sector. This was early 2000s now, and I came to see that biotech wasn’t quite there yet; arguably, it probably is now, but it’s now 12 years later. 2003, it wasn’t, but almost by accident, I kind of discovered the world of assisted reproduction, and I was fascinated by it.

I hadn’t known anything about it, I didn’t go through it myself, but two things struck me as soon as I kind of saw what was happening. The first one was this was just inherently interesting, that people had been making babies the same way for millions of years, and all of a sudden, they are making babies a different way. That’s just cool! The second thing– and at this point I had been in Harvard Business School for 15 years–was that this was the first business I ever encountered where nobody was acknowledging that they were in a business. So generally, when you talk to business people, they brag about their business: “I’m making lots of money. You know, we have great market share.” In the fertility industry and years in the industry, everybody goes out of their way to tell you that they are not in business. The reporter in me that said somebody has to tell this story, and that’s how I winded up doing it. And I don’t teach a class, I teach a little piece of a class. There is a class here on science and public policy, and I do the fertility piece of that. I wish I had the time to teach a class because I’d really like to.

Would you want to? Do you think that you can have a class on this?

Yeah! You know, I taught some things about it back at Harvard Business School. I’ve just decided I can do my job, and I can either write or teach, but I can’t do both. So, I’ve decided to just stick with the writing and just teach a little team, that’s for better or worse.

Photo Courtesy of Steven DeCanio.

Photo Courtesy of Steven DeCanio.

Okay, so now, going off that, in your most recent book, I believe, “Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection,” you addressed this idea that women still feel a pressure to strive for perfection and the problems resulting from that kind of thought. So, as president of an all-women’s college, how do you address what could be considered a vicious cycle of women trying to strive for this perfection among the student body here? And do you still feel like this challenge should be perfect, still?

Yeah, I think women in particular feel additional pressure to be perfect in lots and lots of different aspects of their lives. I see women today trying to be really successful in their careers, and at the same time, be wonderful wives, be wonderful mothers, be very sexy, look like models, be great athletes, and save the world. I think that pressure really winds up being a great obstacle for women because if your expectation is that you’re going to be perfect at everything, then by definition, you’re going to fail. And so I try to get that message out as best as I can without hitting my students over the head with it because I don’t see that as my role.

How have your experiences working at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Business School influenced your philosophy in leading Barnard, and how have those experiences impacted your development of The Athena Center for Leadership Studies?

Okay, I’m going to talk about HBS and not Goldman. You know, HBS is a complicated place, but it’s a well-run place, and I think I was very lucky to have spent such a large chunk of my career there and to have worked with older mentors who really went out of their way to give me a lot of experience. So, I worked for a dean who promoted me into a senior social dean position, pretty much right after I had tenure. And he was a great manager and a great dean, so I learned a lot from watching him. And of course, Barnard is a fundamentally different place from Harvard Business School, but managing a complicated enterprise is the same endeavor, regardless where it takes place, so I think I was lucky to be able to sort of watch management from a close place that doesn’t do everything right by every stretch of imagination, but it’s pretty well run: it has good policies, it’s transparent, people feel involved. So, that was a lucky thing for me.

What are some of your next long term goals for Barnard?

Well, we’re in an interesting moment right now because we’ve put a lot of initiatives. We completed the planning for a lot of initiatives last year, so we’re really in a sort of implementation moment right now. So, everything is ready for the new building, we just have to build it. We also spent lots of time last year thinking about transgender applications or transgender admissions, and now we have to figure out the fine details of that.

Photo Courtesy of Barnard College.

Photo Courtesy of Barnard College.

We wrote a strategic plan about 4-5 years ago, so no we’re implementing it. You know, I think in many ways, my greatest goal for Barnard is the one that the board laid out for me when I arrived, which was to elevate the college. Barnard is a wonderful place, it really is. But I see my role as being to make sure that anyone who might want to come here knows about the college, to make sure that if there is a smart young woman in Mississippi or Mumbai, Barnard is on her radar screen. So, we’re doing a lot to get the word out around Barnard. After that, it’s really to make Barnard the best Barnard it could possibly be, which I think means — we have a wonderful faculty, making sure that we retain that faculty, we have great students. We make sure we get exactly the students we want, and we do well by them. And then, as always, for any high rated institution these days, we have to make sure that we have the resources to do what we want to do, and that’s hard, but we’re getting there. I shouldn’t say we’re getting there, but we’ve had a lot of success in the past few years. Once people hear the Barnard story and understand it, they want to support it, so I just need to keep getting the word out.

So do you also plan to have more events? I think last year I remember seeing there was an event that happened for Barnard in Los Angeles. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Yes, it’s in the strategic plan which you can find on our website that we really want to expand the college’s reach and reputation. Part of that is doing Barnard events where there are interested Barnard people. We have the local symposium series now, so once a year we do a big event in another part of the world, which has been great for the college in many respects. We also experimented last year in LA, just having a fund raising gala in another part of the country, and it was terrific because the Barnard alumnae here in New York have a lot of opportunity to do Barnard things. The Barnard alumnae in LA don’t have that many opportunities, and they tend to be very devoted alumnae, and it’s just fun. People really had a good time at the gala, so we’re definitely going to repeat that. We’re doing more in the San Francisco Bay area, around Barnard in tech, building communities of our alumnae who are going into the tech fields. We’re really starting to look into some partnerships that will help us make sure that more young women stay in computer science, learn how to code, and those efforts probably will be entering in the Bay area.

Okay, that’s cool. So, it’s exciting to see Barnard expanding around the world.

Yeah, we’re getting there!

Kind of a vague question, but what advice would you give to women who are breaking into what is normally perceived as a male dominated field, like finance, government, or college presidencies?

That’s a good question. You know, I think the advice I’d give to young women is pretty much the same I’d give to any young person or any person. Anytime you’re going to be in a high-pressure environment, anytime you’re trying to make a way in a field–particularly if it’s a field that’s dominated by men or dominated by people who look different than you or dominated by people with different backgrounds–you got to be really good at what you do. I was on a panel last week with Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, and she was just describing how she’s constantly pushed into a corner and ignored. You could probably find it online because I don’t remember exactly what she said, and what she said was great. It was something like, “I just understood that I was going to be the best in the room, and at some point, they were going to have to come to me because I could do a better job than anyone else.” That’s a pretty good lesson to live by. So you don’t get by in anything by putting your hand up and saying, “Look at me, look at me, I’m the best.” Ultimately, success comes from actually being the best or being really good at what you do.

I like that. Okay, and then last question: what advice would you give to current students uncertain about what they want to do after college?

Don’t worry about it. I was supposed to be a spy; it didn’t work out. I have had a perfectly nice life. You know, life is going to throw you curve balls, so do not waste time in college worrying about what you’re going to do when you grow up. Most people I know my age don’t know what they’re going to do when they grow up, so take that off the worry buffet, as I say. You know, have a good time, learn stuff, have as many experiences as you can, and don’t spend too much time worrying about the next steps; they will happen.

I like it, it’s perfect. Thank you so much for sitting down with me. It’s just really exciting. I learnt a lot.

My pleasure!

Photo from The Daily Beast

The Lion recently sat down with Dean Baquet, the first black Executive Editor of the New York Times. He studied English at Columbia from 1974 to 1978. In 1988, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting on the Chicago City Council. He sat down with us to talk about how he became a journalist, what a typical day at the New York Times office is like, and more.

In the past, you’ve said that journalism was an accident for you. Can you tell us a little more about that?

First, I went to Columbia accidentally. I went to high school in New Orleans and I didn’t know where I wanted to go to college. One of my best friends applied to Columbia; I had never even heard of Columbia to be honest but he encruraged me to apply. So we both applied and I got in.

When I got to Columbia, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be an English major. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a professor, but I had a vague sense that I might want to be a writer and it stayed that way for the first couple years.

The summer between junior and senior year, I got an internship at an afternoon paper in New Orleans, because I was looking for a job. It was easy to get internships then, because there were a lot more newspapers and I just fell in love with it.I just thought it was so much fun. That’s how I got into journalism. It was an accident, and part of it was that I missed home and wanted to spend a longer time in New Orleans, but it wasn’t because I set out to become a journalist.

I noticed that you really seem to target corruption as a topic when you were a reporter. What drew you to that topic?

I think that I’m one of those people who’s always a little skeptical of powerful people. One of the big roles of news organizations is to protect the powerless in the face of unbridled power. And if you’re a reporter in a big city, then those powerful institutions besides business are big government. That’s why I was drawn to investigating government and power.

You’ve said that you’re a reporter at heart. How do you bring that passion to your editing?

I’m happiest when I’m thinking about stories, when I’m thinking about chasing stories, and when I’m thinking about how to do big stories. That’s the reporter’s sensibility in me. And when I walk around here thinking about stories and talking to reporters about coverage and I think that’s the reporter in me coming out. That’s the part of me I like best professionally. It influences the way I think about the news, coverage, and how to run the newsroom because I’m drawn to the stories like the reporters are.Continue Reading..