Welcome to the official blog for Villanova's Graduate English Program! Come back often for updates on conference opportunities, guest speakers, student accomplishments, alumni news, and more. Also be sure to check out our Facebook page for more updates.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dr. Alice Dailey's Account of Her Trip to Cambridge and London

Dr. Dailey in front of Fellows' Hall, where John Milton
 lived when he was a student at 
Christ's College, Cambridge.
Over the fall break, I traveled to England to give a scholarly talk and to pursue new research. My first
stop was Christ’s College, Cambridge, where I shared my current work on corporeality and real presence with the Medieval-Renaissance Faculty Colloquium of Cambridge University. I was treated to a wonderful tour of Christ’s College, alma mater of John Milton and Charles Darwin. There I saw the hall where Milton lived and sat in the beautiful room in which senior fellows of the college, like Darwin, have for centuries drunk wine, talked, made friendly wagers, and kept hand-written accounts of their consumption. These bound ledgers, some including Darwin’s hand writing, are still stored in the room and brought out for nightly record-keeping.

After my time in Cambridge, I spent three days in London studying Michael Landy’s Saints Alive, an exhibit of contemporary collage and sculpture at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibit features 14-foot-tall automata of well-known Christian saints and martyrs that Landy has constructed from old machinery and from body parts copied out of the National Gallery's vast collection of
Michael Landy, Doubting Thomas (2013). 
Mixed Media.  National Gallery of Art, London.
Renaissance religious paintings. When set into motion, these mechanized sculptures enact their own persecutions repeatedly, some of them gradually deteriorating as the exhibit has progressed. Landy’s sculptures are complimented by a stunning group of collages that reconfigure heads, hands, wounds, and weapons out of saint and martyr art into fantastical contraptions of penitential suffering. My favorite piece in Saints Alive was a large pencil and paper drawing called Saint Catherine Wheels found dumped outside the National Gallery, drawn from a collage of the Gallery’s 36 partial images of Saint Catherine’s emblem, a spiked torture wheel.

Michael Landy, Saint Jerome Beats himself 
while contemplating Christ's Suffering (2012).  
Photographic paper and watercolor pencil on 
paper.  National Gallery of Art, London. 
My research concluded with two other exhibits. I saw the life-sized wax and wood funeral effigies of English monarchs collected in the Westminster Abbey museum. The effigies date from the 14th to the 18th century and include both the original 1603 effigy of Queen Elizabeth I and the ornate wax remake dating from 1760. Lastly, I visited the recently opened exhibit on Elizabeth I and Her People at the National Portrait Gallery, which features royal portraits; Elizabethan coins, jewelry, and artifacts; and paintings of aristocrats and subjects from Sir Walter Raleigh to John Donne. The exhibit included three fascinating portraits that my Elizabethan Literature students have studied this semester: the full-length Ditchley Portrait, the Ermine Portrait, and the Procession Portrait.

Funeral effigies of Queen Elizabeth I, 1603 (left) and 1760 
(right).  Westminster Abbey Museum.

While in London, I saw the new theatrical production by Punchdrunk, the company who created Sleep No More, which several students in the English grad program have seen. Sleep No More is a wildly successful immersive theatre experience that spans six floors of a warehouse space in New York City. The production borrows elements from Macbeth and several Hitchcock films to create a labyrinthine, nightmarish meditation on guilt, madness, and witchcraft. Punchdrunk’s new production, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, is inspired by Georg B├╝chner’s play, Woyzeck. Like Sleep No More, it is a self-guided, walk-through theatre/dance/art installation experience in which audience members are masked. However, The Drowned Man occupies twice the physical space of Sleep No More—200,000 square feet of the old post office next to Piccadilly Station—and is even more ambitious in its vision and set design. One full floor of the space is a sand-covered desert, and another floor features pools of water and a working movie house. The sprawling size of the production makes it difficult to follow narrative or character threads, but The Drowned Man is nonetheless an eerie, unsettling, and captivating cautionary tale about what happens when our identities are effaced by the masks we wear and the roles we play.
The ledger of the Senior Combination Room, Christ's College, Cambridge.  
A wager between Charles Darwin and a Mr. Baines is noted on February
 23, 1837.  The two men bet a bottle of wine over the height of the room's 
ceiling, and Darwin lost.  His name was crossed out when he settled the bet.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

National Science Foundation Awards Villanova Grant for CAVE System

This summer, the National Science foundation decided to award Villanova a grant of $1.67 million to build a CAVE system in Old Falvey. The CAVE is a room-like enclosure which has walls, floor and in some cases a ceiling made of rear-projection screens, allowing viewers inside the room to experience and interact with 3D immersive environments. The CAVE will be able to hold 10-15 students for research and classroom experiences and will be integrated with a mobile robot platform which will be developed at Villanova for telepresence experiences.

Dr. Klassner has been spearheading this interdisciplinary project. The overall vision for the use of the CAVE includes technologically enhanced teaching and will allow Villanova to foray into the Digital Humanities.

See the figure for a cutaway schematic view of the proposed CAVE facility.

Villanova has invited professors from all disciplines to attend two luncheons to learn about the CAVE's capabilities and to develop ideas for using the facility in teaching and research on campus.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Interview with Emmy Winner, PhD Student, and Villanova Alumnus Alexandra Edwards

This past September, current PhD student and Villanova Alum Alexandra Edwards stood onstage to accept a Creative Arts Emmy® for Original Interactive Program. She and her teammates were recognized for their work on the multimedia online project, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. We were able to email Alex and ask about her experience with the show, her current studies and her time at Villanova.

The YAWP: Congratulations! Did you EVER envision yourself as an Emmy winner?
Alex: NEVER. Never ever. Not even when I was standing onstage getting the award. It's amazing, but it still hasn't sunk in. Probably because I'm still doing the same stuff I was before: reading, writing papers, procrastinating on writing papers, the whole grad student thing.

The YAWP: Lizzie Bennet Diaries is categorized as an "Interactive Media" project. What exactly does Interactive Media mean when it comes to entertainment?
Alex: Interactive Media a big catch-all term for any kind of entertainment property that encourages fans and viewers to interact—usually online. For The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, it meant that we didn't just produce a webseries; our characters also 'lived' online via various social media profiles, where they would interact with each other and with fans. We specifically call this kind of interactive, multi-platform storytelling "transmedia," a term that Henry Jenkins has made popular in the last 15 or so years. 

The YAWP: At what point (or in what role) did you get involved in the project? Did you have any specific sources of inspiration as far as the use of media, or the direction you went in adapting the story to center around a modern-day teenager?
Alex: I joined the LBD production staff in late July 2012, so the show had been running for about 4 months at that point. I was hired by Jay Bushman, the transmedia producer, to serve as his second-in-command with the totally made up title of "transmedia editor." That meant I handled a little more of the organizational side of the project—keeping track of storylines and accounts—but I also did a lot of the writing, especially as the show went on. Jay hired me specifically because I was already familiar with social media but also because I was closer to the age range of our characters (mid-20s), and therefore was easily able to channel their voices.

The YAWP: Did Villanova have anything to do with your development as a writer and transmedia editor, or your affection for Jane Austen novels?
Alex: It definitely did! I didn't get to study Austen while I was there, but so much of my understanding of narrative and how stories make meaning comes from my time at Villanova, studying under the incredible English department faculty. Beyond that, my graduate assistantship at Villanova involved writing and running social media campaigns for Falvey Library, so it was a great chance to develop and hone the skills that I used in a different way on LBD. I also got to serve as the show's unofficial grad school expert, since Lizzie Bennet was in the midst of getting her M.A. on the show and I had just finished getting mine!

The YAWP: What is the balance between PhD student and coordinator of online entertainment? Did your academic areas of interest inform the Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Do these roles interplay for you in other ways?
Alex: It's very tricky finding the balance, but I try to just focus on whatever task is right in front of me—so some weeks I'm concentrating on writing papers, and some weeks I'm concentrating on writing scripts. I'm still working out how to incorporate the experience of LBD into my academic work. Since I focus on early 20th century American literature, the links aren't readily apparent. But I've also been asked to speak about LBD in academic settings, so I'm working on figuring out how I can translate all this work into something that informs what I do academically.

The YAWP: At what point did your project go from "Let's see how this works" to "Oh wow, this might actually be big"? What was that moment like for you?
Alex: Well, coming in after 4 months meant we were already sure that we were going to keep making the show. I think for the rest of the crew, those first 2 months or so were more, "Let's see how this works." But we did have several moments on the show when our audience and the buzz about our project exploded. One of those was when Darcy finally appeared after 59 episodes; the other big one was the happy accident of Lizzie going to Pemberley during January 2013, the first month of the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. It's very surreal to work on something on my computer in a tiny college town and then suddenly see it featured in the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian. I still don't know that I've really wrapped my head around that.

The YAWP: Did you have a favorite moment or character in the show? Anything that worked out better than expected?
Alex: My favorite character was definitely Gigi Darcy. In our adaptation, she was a 22 year old girl who loved music and always posted the songs she was listening to online. Anytime I got to express Gigi's emotions through her song choices—those were my favorite moments. Trying to find modern pop songs that express how it feels to watch your brother's love interest's sister run off with your evil ex-boyfriend was an especially fun challenge.

The YAWP: What is next? I have heard whispers of Hamlet??

Alex: You have indeed heard whispers of Hamlet! Jay Bushman is developing a modern, multi-platform adaptation entitled Hashtag Hamlet, which is being workshopped at the Sundance Institute's New Frontiers Story Lab right now. The series will use social media to create a modern political thriller feel to the story. We're not in full-scale pre-production yet, but I am attached to the series as transmedia producer, and I'm really excited about it.

We do wish Alexandra Edwards all the best with whatever she turns her multi-talented hand to next.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Villanova Master's Alumna Alexandra Edwards ('12) Wins Emmy®

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Villanova Master's alumna Alexandra Edwards ('12) with a Primetime Emmy® for her work on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, an interactive, multi-platform adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Edwards and the other two members of the transmedia team took home the Emmy® for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media—Original Interactive Program. The team accepted their award live onstage at the 2013 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy® Awards and were featured in the cable broadcast version of the ceremony.

This fall, Edwards continues her work with Pemberley Digital, the production company behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. She serves as the transmedia producer for Emma Approved, the recently launched interactive adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. She is also attached as the transmedia producer for the upcoming interactive webseries Hashtag Hamlet. The project has been invited to the 2013 Sundance Institute New Frontiers Story Lab.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

English Department Hosts "Wildcat in the Rye" Workshop

On October 3, Dr. Kamran Javadizadeh and a group of Villanova English majors and MA candidates hosted the "Wildcat in the Rye" event, the English department's first book discussion geared toward an audience of freshmen. Close to eighty students gathered on the second floor of Good Counsel Hall (with some spillover on the overhanging balcony) to eat pizza and discuss J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Dr. Javadizadeh opened the evening by sharing his first experience with the book: an older friend read him a passage in which a speaker at protagonist Holden Caulfield's Pencey Prep (modeled on Valley Forge Military Academy, which Salinger attended) gave a speech and interrupted himself with a bout of flatulence. Dr. Javadizadeh then read one of his favorite passages, in which Caulfield discusses his attraction to the American Museum of Natural History and the way in which nothing there changes no matter how many times one visits. He then described how the book still speaks to him and reminded students that, depending on the circumstances of their lives, different aspects of the book will resonate with them at different points as well. He then turned the floor over to an enthusiastic team of graduate and undergraduate English students who presented a reading of chapter fifteen and then dispersed to facilitate lively discussions with the younger students in intimate groups. Despite some attendees having never read the book, they were willing to engage with the text, and most importantly, with each other, in meaningful ways.


Dr. Lauren Shohet's Essay Published as Part of Chelsea Art Show

Lauren Shohet's reflective essay "The Unruly Pearl" is included in the catalogue for the show Christopher Cook: A Sign of Things To Come," on exhibit at the Ryan Lee Gallery in Chelsea (527 W. 26th St) Oct 10-Nov 16. This English artist currently works mostly in graphite, a medium he describes as between painting and drawing. Dr. Shohet's essay considers relationships between Cook's work and the Baroque.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Thesis and Field Exam Workshop

On September 26th, second-year grad students as well as curious first-years gathered to go over the timeline of thesis deadlines, in order to get a feel for what the process will be like. Pizza was eaten and questions asked as the second year students started to get a picture of what the next few months will look like. Students also had plenty of time after Dr. Hicks' talk to chat, share experiences and stories, and laugh together about rising stress levels.

Class Trip to the Barnes Foundation

Megan Quigley's Modern British Novel course visited the Barnes Foundation at its new location downtown in Philadelphia on Saturday, Oct. 4th. Seeing works by Matisse, Picasso, Soutine, Modigliani and many others helped to bring home the parallel stylistic experimentalism in fiction in the early twentieth-century. What a great resource nearby!