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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.

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