Noteworthy–Finding My Voice in Two Writing Communities

Hello!  My name is Christina Maxwell.  I’m from Asheville, North Carolina and am currently a senior majoring in Musical Theatre (singing, acting and dancing).  I’m so excited for this course.  In a semester that is all about reflecting about how I’ve changed and learned over the past seven semesters, I love that I get to trace how that change has been reflected in my voice as a writer.

I write for a variety of communities, all with quite different styles.  Most recently, I did a lot of writing for an internship and for a production.

This past summer, I worked for UMS as a 21st Century Artist Intern.  UMS (University of Michigan Musical Society) is responsible for bringing in all of the remarkable artist who perform here at University of Michigan from the New York Philharmonic to Audra McDonald.  They recently received the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama, the highest award given to performing arts organizations.  I was selected to work with Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, a world renowned Mariachi orchestra based out of Mexico.  I spent the summer traveling with the group and working with their US producers in all capacities…from performer to teacher to publicist to advertiser.  I immersed myself in the new culture and art form so that I can serve as a liaison and marketing and production intern when the group comes to perform in Hill Auditorium in April of this year.

One of the requirements of the internship was to write an interactive photo journal essay about my experiences.  It was informal in that it was supposed to be engaging, casual in tone, candid and appealing my generation.  So, I was able to share memories of celebrating performances with tequila and of gambling for the first time while traveling with my boss.  I had full free reign on what I wanted to include and how I wanted to present it, which was both exciting and daunting.  I was representing a performing arts organization that received the National Medal of the Arts!  Talk about high stakes.  I spent months perfecting the piece.  Every day of the internship, I took photos, videos and copious notes to document my experience and what I’d learned.  The essay had to include various media forms, so I embedded photos and videos to make it engaging.  My essay was edited multiple times by UMS, which was helpful in crafting a more focused and consistent piece.  The piece required quite a bit of vulnerability from me.  I also had to carefully toe the line between candid and engaging honesty and quirkiness and evident professionalism.

The piece is currently published on UMS Lobby at http://umslobby.org/index.php/2015/11/student-spotlight-embedded-with-mariachi-vargas-17400

I also do a lot of informal writing.  As a Musical Theatre Major, it seems I’m always reflecting on something.  Nearly all of my courses require keeping a journal to reflect on feelings and breakthroughs from acting and voice classes.  These vary greatly from the professional writing I did for the 21st Century Artist Internship.  For example, I recently played my dream role in The University of Michigan’s production of THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA.  I kept a journal throughout the six week rehearsal process.  For this type of writing, I always hunt down the perfect journal for the role or course.  For this show, I found a notebook that looked like creamy white and grey marble since the show, which took place in Florence, Italy, talked a lot about marble statues.  This writing was for my eyes only and took all types of forms.  I taped in photos of settings from the show, fortune cookies I got during the show and handouts from diction coaches.  I filled the notebook with quotes from the novel the show was based on, email correspondences with people I interviewed for research and feelings from rehearsals.  It was all about observation, venting, creativity and reflection.  It’s a notebook that reflects my journey from Christina Maxwell to the character of Clara Johnson.

It was vastly different from my writing for my internship in that it was not written for any audience.  I had no guidelines or requirements.  It took on a completely informal voice that blossomed in the total freedom of privacy and creativity.  Yet, it came from the same place of observation in a process of change.  During my summer internship, I was always in observation and learning mode, watching and listening to take in the people, colors, music and flavors around me.  I didn’t know what I was looking for or what would appeal to my audience for my interactive essay.  I simply was present in the moment, letting myself take in what was happening around me and how it was changing who I am and how I see the world.  In a way, that is what my production notebook was about as well.  Anything I observed during my day could somehow spur an inspiration for my character development and change the way I approached the character.  I had to constantly be listening and watching, attuned to how everything around me could help my process in becoming a different character.  Again, I didn’t know what would appeal to the people who would fill the theater seats, but it all became part of a beautiful and uninhibited process of taking observations of the world and allowing them to impact the work I do.

5 thoughts to “Noteworthy–Finding My Voice in Two Writing Communities”

  1. Christina,
    It sounds like your summer was an amazing experience, and I really enjoyed looking through your photo essay. I think you did a great job organizing, and I’m sure condensing, a whole summer’s worth of observations and events into a cohesive piece. It must be freeing in your other community to know that it is only for you, and you could document absolutely anything. I’m sure it was helpful for your internship already having experience doing this type of note taking and observation, but you had the extra stressful step of making it into something for a wide audience, great job!

  2. Christina,

    Your photo essay was engaging and dynamic, and I can appreciate the amount of work that must have gone into it. Listening to your performance of “Besame Mucho,” you’ve clearly got some pipes, too. Fantastic. As you described, there is a clear link between the writing you did for UMS and for your own personal benefit. Both were a kind of way to live in the moment and experience everything that was happening. And obviously now those things are catalogued and you can return, read them over once more and be transported back to that time and that mindset — one of the coolest things about observational/diary-like writing. I’ve kind of decided to be that guy who throws in quotes at the end of everything, so here’s one that seems relevant:

    “We just write down a bunch of words, and pray to God they make sense. And if they don’t, it doesn’t matter, we’re artists.” — Tom DeLonge

  3. Christina,

    I remember I took the Gateway course with you. It’s great to see how far you have taken your acting and writing since- so impressive. I really enjoyed reading about your informal writing as an actress. I thought looking at your writing as a form of journey from yourself to a character as a really interesting lens that I think can apply to one’s growth as a writer in general. I hope to do some reflection like this both through a writing journey and my future career journey. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Christina,
    I really enjoyed reading about your two different writing communities. I think that it’s really interesting that you had similar assignments, while one was for an audience and one was not. I wonder if you found yourself censoring yourself more for the one that was not for an audience, or using less time to perfect it? If not, that would definitely be an interesting comparison within your writing. The amount of freedom you were given with both projects sounds amazing, especially when thinking about such freedom in relation to its end product–for a professional environment versus yourself. When writing for your internship, I noticed that within the guidelines, supervisors wanted you to write something that would be relatable/appeal to our generation. I would be interested in how you did that and actually separated such generational ideas while still writing in a professional tone and having it be edited by those most likely older than you at UMS. Did you find multi-media to be a big indicator of the generational gap? I wonder how your writing experience would be different if the audience was in fact for an older UMS community–perhaps alumni, audience members, etc. Overall, it sounds like you have had two very unique writing experiences, which will undoubtedly be helpful to forming your own identity as a writer!

  5. Hi Christina,
    So cool to see another theatre person in the Writing Minor as I am a theatre major myself. Your internship sounds like it was both so much fun and definitely stressful to have all of that freedom! Being able to immerse yourself in so many fields within your UMS internship must have been very informative as a writer, as I am sure you were able to explore so much more beyond performance like your major as an MT. Your journal also seems like a space that you were able to conceptualize all that was happening during your performance in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA and further the depth of your and your characters’ experience with the show. I will definitely be borrowing that idea from you!

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