Two years ago, Recess covered StudioDuke, an application-based, year-long arts program where students work on a creative project with the help of a Duke alumni serving as their mentor. This year, twelve students participated in the program, several of whom presented their projects at the annual showcase. Here, in honor of several successful 2023 graduates and an incredible year for the University’s arts, I’ll talk about each project presented, the story behind it and what the students gained from the experience.
The first project was a partnership between two seniors: John Kang — a Neuroscience and Visual Media Studies double major — and Nicole Park — a Visual Media Studies major. The idea for their project came from a conversation they had about the lack of Asian-American representation on the screen, which inspired them to tell a story about Asian-Americans where the focus wasn’t their culture or background. Their initial plan was to create a web series about an unlikely friendship between two student actors navigating life’s challenges while a film is about to be filmed on campus. After some rewrites and modifications, the end product was a thirty-minute pilot episode for a dark comedy about a student journalist who finds himself embroiled in a scandal after running over the campus’s beloved cat. Both Kang and Park appreciated the program, as they hope to work in the entertainment industry, and their work gave them valuable experience while providing an idea of what their future may be like.
The second project was a book by sophomore Tyler King, an intended Biomedical Engineering and English double major. Just like Kang and Park, he felt there was a lack of Asian-American stories in the media and — inspired by authors like Ocean Vuong — wanted to write a book that provided an accessible story about Asian-American youth and Asian-American history. The result was his novel, “Ghost Speak.” A dual narrative, it follows an Asian-American child and his mother and their shared – albeit chronologically separated – struggle to establish a life in a place that doesn’t accept them. He too enjoyed participating in the program, as he received excellent feedback and guidance from his mentor Alyssa Wong (Trinity ‘13), while learning about the publishing industry and publication process.
The third project was a screenplay by senior Sascha Seinfeld, an English major. After watching “How To Build A Sex Room” — a show where people devoted entire rooms in their homes to roleplay — she wondered what would make someone take this even further, to the point where roleplay controlled their lives. Her thoughts inspired her to write a comedic screenplay about a pair of married and struggling screenwriters who take a stolen house on a road trip in an attempt to fix their writer’s block. Along the way, they reconnect with their neglected son and confront his invention, a screenwriting AI which threatens to make them obsolete. Seinfeld was drawn to the program’s mentoring system, as she was looking for a mentor to help her with the screenwriting process and provide general advice, and she enjoyed getting to learn about the screenplay pitching process and form connections with her mentor Amy Gravitt (Trinity ‘95).
The fourth project was a multimedia presentation by junior Ruby Wang, an English and Visual Arts double major. She was inspired by previous work about her mother that she did in an autofiction creative writing class, and devoted her project to expanding on that work and its themes. Over the course of the program, she worked across genres — such as writing and illustration — and put together an accordion book and an accompanying spoken word piece, both relating back to various topics focused around her family and its history. She also greatly appreciated her membership in the program, which gave her experience working on long-term projects and in new mediums and connected her with Justin Gilanyi (Trinity ‘04).
The fifth project was the first draft of a screenplay by senior Ally Lublin, a Visual Media Studies major. Inspired by her previous research and her father’s love of World War II history, she wanted to create a project about Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn Program. As part of Hitler’s attempt to grow the Aryan population, the program sought to boost birth rates by taking Polish children (from orphanages and from families) and giving them to German families to be raised as Nazi citizens. Lublin focused on a fictional young girl and her brother taken from their family and placed with a German family, hoping that creating a story about them would bring light to this under-discussed part of history. Through StudioDuke, she received helpful feedback from her mentor Chuck Adams and was able to network with him, letting her develop a strong relationship in the industry.
The sixth project was undertaken by senior Sibani Ram, an Evolutionary Anthropology major and pre-med student. She initially set out to write an article about Grace Li (Trinity ‘17), a published author and current medical student at Stanford University, and pitched the idea to several outlets without success. She pitched a similar article about Malavika Kannan — another young author — and found success, with her pitch being accepted by The LA Times (where the finished story will be published in June). Along the way, she also founded HuMed, a new club at Duke which hosts events where Duke alumni who majored or minored in English and went into the medical field talk to current students about the intersection of the humanities and medicine. She also appreciated her membership in StudioDuke, as the mentor it connected her with (Julia Livshin) provided excellent life advice and assisted her in the pitching process.
The seventh project was a play by sophomore Ondine Peck-Voll, a Visual Media Studies major. Inspired by “Brain On Fire,” she wanted to warn audiences about the dangers of high levels of THC on brain development, mental illness and suicide. At the same time, she wanted to tell a story about a rite of passage and a trippy journey that ultimately brings people together. The result of these dual motivations was a story which follows a woman who enters the criminal underworld to save her brother from a criminal organization, discovering her own hidden mafia ties along the way. Or at least that’s what she thinks is happening, as over the course of the story, the audience comes to realize that what the character thinks is happening isn’t what’s actually happening. Like the other participants in the program, she appreciated her membership in the program and enjoyed getting connected to her mentor Ben Epps (Trinity ‘00).
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Zev van Zanten is a Trinity sophomore and campus arts editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.