Student News receives Amherst Media’s “Jean Haggerty Award”

On October 17, 2013 Amherst Media (ACTV) presented Joshua Wolfsun and the Student News team with the Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Change. Student News aired once a month on Amherst Media Channel 12 from 2009 to 2013.

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JESSICA (Press Release)

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October 30, 2013 – A group of Swarthmore College students is taking over an entire building on campus to create an ambitious, immersive theatre performance that combines Merchant of Venice, Fiddler on the Roof and stories from the Hebrew Bible. Entitled “Jessica,” this original show explores issues of faith, identity, love, and anti-Semitism. Performances will be held on November 23 and 24 at 6PM in Swarthmore College’s Bond Hall and are open to the public.

Inspired by PunchDrunk Theatre’s revolutionary “Sleep No More,” Jessica is constructed as an immersive theater experience. When they enter Bond Hall’s four-story “stage,” audience members will step into a theater experience unlike any other – they will be given masks and encouraged to move wherever they want to go throughout the building. Scenes will be happening simultaneously in different parts of the building, so audience members experience unique versions of the show depending on how they move through the space. More than 20 students are involved in the production – acting, directing, designing the sets and costumes, rigging a sound system, and composing a score to play throughout the entire building.

Jessica centers on the character of Shylock’s daughter from The Merchant of Venice. In Shakespeare’s original – and arguably anti-Semitic – play, Jessica falls in love with a Christian man, and decides to leave her Jewish father, take all of his money, and convert to Christianity. To Jessica co-writer/director Joshua Wolfsun (19), Shakespeare’s portrayal of Jessica was unrealistic. “Trying to abandon your identity is not easy,” he explains. “In Merchant, Jessica barely reflects on her decision to abandon her Jewish family, culture and religion. We wanted to give that decision process a harder look – what does it actually mean to try to excise central elements of who you are? I think we end up with a pretty dark result.” Continue reading

On the precipice of war

Hope that they will heed
your angelic, calm advice.
Hope that they kneel before the height
of your ivory intellect.

But do not act — oh, no, do not.
They are not your brothers.
They are wretched.
They are God’s responsibility…

Yet, now the knife is turned on Cain.
And that we cannot have.

Change them
with righteous fire.
Change them
with the sight of dying lovers.
Change them
with burning flesh of children,
with shattered mirrors,
with no end to death and violence.

Yes, we can restore America
as the beacon of the world
by charring all the rest of it.

Oh, say
can you see by the dawn’s early light
what so proudly we hailed?

Equality, America, and the Unique

I’ve been thinking a lot about equality lately.

And there are many reasons for that. On June 27, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional — a decision which made it so that my family is now recognized not only by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but my country’s government. (For anyone who is confused, I have two mothers.) After hearing the news and selecting a proper soundtrack for the moment — Macklemore’s “Same Love” seemed to do the trick — my mother and I were brought to the point of tears over the decision.

It might seem odd, but I didn’t expect this outpouring of emotion. Having stood at my mothers’ legal marriage almost ten years ago, this revolutionary accomplishment basically makes it so that they can file joint tax returns. Which is not usually something for which you take half a day off of work to bawl your eyes out. But in hindsight, it’s clear that for me the impact was more symbolic than anything else. The DOMA decision means that the U.S. government is no longer denying the legitimacy of lesbian and gay relationships. In the statements and ideas and language used during the gay rights fight, and for most civil rights fights, the issues are framed in terms of “equality.” We say, “we — a certain group of people — deserve to have the same treatment as this other group of people.”

The other reason I’ve been thinking about equality recently is because yesterday was “Independence Day.” The day in which the Second Continental Congress of the United States ratified the “Declaration of Independence,” which included among other things that famous line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This line has been marshaled in support of many fights to better the quality of life for all people — has motivated many struggles for justice. But there is something odd about the line, right? We’ve all heard it a million times, so it may not stick out. It’s the second clause: “all men are created equal.” Setting aside the God/creation question, do we really think all men, or perhaps better put, all people are created equal?

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Moment of Death

single-rose-petal-in-focus-f5Two weeks ago, I started watching Game of Thrones. I watched the first 28 episodes in five days, and then I watched my first live episode on June 2. For those of you who have not seen it, I will mention that there are spoilers ahead — though, judging by the media coverage, you’ve probably already heard everything. The episode ended with the ruthless, gruesome, unexpected murder of two relatively beloved main characters, and the pregnant wife of one of those two characters… and it happened at a wedding. It was shocking, saddening, and disturbing.

Watching the show was an odd experience for me, since the day before I started my marathon watching-session I’d just finished reading Muriel Barbery’s masterpiece The Elegance of the Hedgehog — a story that sits almost diametrically opposite Game of Thrones in style and subject matter.  It is a book that focuses on beauty and light in the little things, in the little moments. It is a book about philosophy and quiet heroes triumphing in their own lives. To think that the two pieces could be synchronous in any way is, at first glance, laughable.

But as I attended my friend’s high school graduation a couple days ago, I felt them slide into place. While I was sitting there at graduation, listening to everyone talk about “the future,” I remembered the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, and I was reminded that the future doesn’t exist. It is contingent on an ever-shifting present. There is no reason to expect “the future” will arrive. Sitting there at graduation, I was reminded of death.

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