A New Chapter

Today is the last day of classes for me at University of Michigan.  I’m feeling more reminiscent and sentimental than usual.  Recently, I’ll be doing fine one minute–excited as I print headshots for our Musical Theatre showcase in New York city or as I make reservations at restaurants for graduation.  But, the next minute, I’m standing on State Street weeping like a baby because the sunset is so beautiful over the Michigan Theatre.  I realize that everything is becoming a last…my last sandwich at Zingerman’s, last Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market, last welcome Wednesday, last dance class, last blog post.

So, right now I’m hungering for  things that I can hold onto.  I found that this portfolio, this project became one of those things.  It’s a tangible, lasting, public documentation of my growth here over the past four years.  It tells of my evolution as a writer and as a human being.  And my project speaks about one of the most important experiences of my time here.  I find comfort in the fact that I had this time to reflect and to document this beautiful, crazy journey.   So, maybe I can’t have a loco frita from Frita Batidos anytime I want or sit in the law quad in the summer sun drinking a bubble tea or sit on the roof of my apartment early in the morning to watch the sunrise over Ann Arbor.  But I have a way that I can look back on that chapter once I’ve moved into the next one.  And I can remind myself that change is a good thing, that the journey is winding and uncertain and often full of chaos…but it is beautiful.  And I’m thankful for that.

Link to final portfolio and project:

http://crmax6.wix.com/miwportfolio

 

 

http://crmax6.wix.com/miwportfolio

JUST DO IT! – Getting over writer’s block

Hey friends!

As the Minor in Writing Portfolio and Capstone Project deadline draws spookily close, I am feeling a bit of anxiety. I imagine that I’m not the only one! There is this sense of pressure for perfection that I’m feeling, especially with graduation looming. I’m feeling like, in a small way, this final portfolio and project are a summation of my experience at Michigan, my growth as a writer and my potential as I’m leaving this place. I think that pressure is what’s making me feel a little tense every time I sit down to work on my project or papers. I get this feeling often with writing. I’ll put off writing an essay, application or even business email because I want it to be great. I’m worried that what I’ll write won’t be what it needs to be or could be, so I just keep putting it off. Then the task looms larger and larger until it becomes this big insurmountable and daunting task. But, I’m sitting here in Starbucks thinking, I love this project! I love to write! I love the work I’m putting on my portfolio! So, I’ve been working on ways to get past the stress of this and focus on the joy of it. I found this cool article about how to get past writer’s block. The article focuses on silencing the inner critic, which is something I think each of us struggle with.

 

http://learningfundamentals.com.au/blog/overcoming-writers-block-how-to-outsmart-your-inner-critic/

 

It suggests some creative ways to get your writing groove back. One is a method that our professor shared earlier this semester-free writing for a set amount of time. You set a time and just write whatever comes to mind without worry of sentences or structure or productivity. Take the pressure off. Another is to get your cursor set up on your computer and turn the brightness down until the screen goes black. Then just write. Apparently this can decrease the anxiety over how much you’ve written so far.

 

I’ve also been working on some different tactics of my own. Recently, I’ve been scheduling times to sit down and write different parts of my project and portfolio so that I don’t put it off until later. I pick a chunk of time and write it down in pen in my planner like I would a meeting or class so that I can’t schedule anything else during that time. I’ve been experimenting with different coffee shops (and coffee drinks!) and fun music playlists.  Recently, Imagine Dragons and Stevie Wonder have been really doing it for me.  There’s also a new DJ series at the State Street Starbucks!  The DJ himself is slightly distracting as he really gets into spinning the tracks at the center bar, but the music variety is helpful and entertaining.  Most of all, I’ve been trying to step back and remind myself that I love doing this. I think in the crunch of end-of-semester, graduation, exams and projects, we can forget this. I don’t want to lose the joy in this journey! I hope some of these ideas can help you too!

Instagram Your Way Into a Job

Hi Minor in Writing Friends!

I’ve had social media on the brain a lot recently, and Instagram in particular.. I’ve got some recent musings on Instagram I’d like to share. Instagram seems to be the hot mode of social media. As a member of the Facebook generation, I’m trying to wrap my mind around the mammoth force that Instagram has become. As part of my recent internship with University Musical Society, they asked me to take over the University of Michigan account for the week. The University of Michigan has 99.3 k followers, which meant that almost a million people were probably seeing what I was posting. What?!?

 

University of Michigan's Insta Account
University of Michigan’s Insta Account

A friend and Michigan graduate who recently played the lead role in the National Tour of Broadway’s NEWSIES reminded me a few weeks ago to get my Instagram followers up. She said that when Broadway directors come between two actresses for a role and can’t decide, they check out the number of Instagram followers and go with the actress who has the most followers. Yep. I’m serious. But it makes sense! If one actress has 987 followers and the other has 55k, the latter actress provides the Broadway show with free publicity to a preexisting fan base of 55k people! It’s smart. We’ve also talked about it a good deal recently in our Capstone course about linking our Instagram account to our online portfolios to give potential employers a way to connect with you on another level. Yesterday, Barry Ivan, a major force in film casting, came to talk to one of my classes. He told us that there is one professional tool at all our disposal that is an invaluable asset in getting into auditions and getting cast that we aren ‘t utilizing. Can you guess what it was? You got it. Instagram. But he had an interesting thought. It wasn’t so much about what we were posting, but about who we were following. He suggested that if we are about to go into an audition, figure out who is on the creative and casting team and follow them on Instagram before you go in to audition. Most importantly, start liking their photos. Why? Barry said that every time you light up that heart on Insta, your name pops up on the casting director or director’s phone. What if they’re on a break in a frustrating casting session and check their phone to see your name pop up? He said that more often than you’d think, that inspires the casting director to say, “Oh! Christina Maxwell just liked my photo…she would be great for this actually. Huh, we should call her in!” Just like that! And it makes sense for any type of job-not just performing! Check on this article I recently found online about how to use Instagram to get hired. I think you’ll find it quite insightful.

https://www.themuse.com/advice/how-instagram-can-get-you-ahead-of-the-competition-to-land-the-job

Happy Instagramming!

PS: You can follow me @cmax1993 😉

Beyond the Box

When people first meet me, they sometimes find it easy to put me in a neat little box. At first glance I’m a Southern Belle who people know as the face of Distinguished Young Women (learn more at http://distinguishedyw.org), as a well dressed and well behaved girl who follows the rules, loves to sing and values faith, family and service. My project pretty closely reflects what people expect from me—kindness, lighthearted humor, music and a love for little kids and all things magical or Disney. I’m literally wearing a tiara in one of the videos featured in my project. And this is a HUGE part of who I am and of what I value!

 

A photo of me working at Mott Children's Hospital--the foundation for my capstone project.
A photo of me working at Mott Children’s Hospital–the foundation for my capstone project.

But I am also so much more. A professor said to me last week, “You continue to surprise me. There is nothing you can’t do.” To me, this was one of the highest compliments I could ask for. I love surprising people. I love bringing an unexpected edge of sarcasm or experience or ballsiness to the table. I’ve backpacked 120 miles of the Appalachian Trail, pitching my own tent, cooking my own food and forgoing a shower for a week. Last year, I played a role in our fall production, CAROLINE, OR CHANGE, that is usually played by a very large African American woman. I have climbed the Great Wall of China, skinny dipped in the middle of the night in a random pond in the mountains and performed in Spanish with the world’s greatest Mariachi group, Mariachi Vargas. I love scotch, hate hot pink, am constantly trying to quit cursing and want to go to law school later in life. Yes, I want to play Cinderella and Christine (from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA). But I also want to play Harper in ANGELS IN AMERICA.

Some of my closest friends often tell me, “Christina, do not let people box you in because they think they know who you are. You have so much more depth than that. What’s exciting is when you allow yourself to be who you are, not who people expect you to be.” This year has actually been a huge awakening for me. I’ve finally let myself break out of the box that others, and in part I, have built for myself. My beliefs and my likes and my dreams have changed and morphed in ways the freshman me would have never imagined and, honestly, would have been afraid of. I’m just beginning to let myself be someone unexpected, someone I’m still learning how to embody without fear or question. To break out of that box and into the endless open spaces is empowering, exhilarating and sometimes scary. I want the writing, photos and moments I choose to feature on my portfolio to reflect that, to reflect the person that I’m just now allowing myself to become.

 

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.

A Story Worth Telling

A few years ago I heard Anna Deavere Smith speak in my hometown, Asheville, North Carolina. Smith is an acclaimed actress, playwright and professor and is featured on television shows like The West Wing and Nurse Jackie. When I saw her perform, she chose monologues from two of her plays, Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, both of which received Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding One-Person Show. She switched seamlessly from one diverse character to another, performing monologues based entirely on interviews she conducted. The result was one of the most hilarious, infuriating, heart wrenching and beautiful pieces of theatre I’ve ever witnessed. Since then, I’ve had a desire to tell stories like she did, to sift through the words and memories of a few people in my community and brings their stories to the surface. Amid an overflowing college schedule, that dream has slowly been pushed further and further down. I think this Minor in Writing Capstone project is the perfect opportunity to bring it to life.

When I began searching the overwhelming University of Michigan databases, I expected to find a few interesting ideas or articles, but nothing particular compelling. Yet, what I found left me breathless. I chose to search through the American Culture database, since telling a community’s stories would explore just that. In that database, I searched for “storytelling” and found nothing. So, I went to the heart of what I want to do, the “interviews”. The first link that popped up was the Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, full of filmed interviews of survivors from everything from the Holocaust to Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. This foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg, tells the stories of survivors and witnesses. Today, they’ve gathered nearly 52,000 testimonies! As the interviewer asks questions to keep the dialogue moving, the survivors simply sit and tell their stories. Watching those interviews, I was covered in goose bumps and completely enraptured.

One particular interview stuck with me. A woman named Hanah Grinfild, a Holocaust survivor, spoke of starving in a concentration camp. Near death, she took a risk when she asked to leave the camp to use the restroom in the woods. She saw a small cabin with fire coming out of the chimney and decided to take the risk and knock on the door. A frightened older woman opened the door and asked quickly what she wanted. When she realized Grinfild was starving, she risked her and her husband’s life by bringing Grinfild in and quickly feeding her before she ran back to the camp. Grinfild returned to the home one more time. The older woman fed her again and gave her a pair of man’s shoes with brand new soles, which her husband had done just for Grinfild. Grinfild, whose feet were wrapped in newspaper and nearly frozen, ran back to camp with a pair of shoes that left her with hope that “there were still people in the world who were human beings”. She then said, “We never returned to that place. I could never thank them. But I will always remember the people, the kindness, the humanity”.

Her story, which I also found on Youtube, can be found here :

From the outside, she merely looked like a woman who had lived a full life, wrinkles etched into her paling skin and her gray hair pulled into a low bun. Yet, behind the everyday façade was a world of pain, unimaginable devastation and beautiful strength. There was a story that needed to be told.

How many people do I pass on the streets of Ann Arbor each day with a story that needs to be told? I don’t know the answer, but I know that it’s far too many people for me to not bring a few of their voices and stories to life.

My research solidified my topic for this project, but also raised several big questions. How will I find the right people to interview and will they want to tell me their stories? What do I do with their interviews? Do I compile a video series, write a series of poems inspired by them or turn them into dramatic monologues like Anna Deavere Smith? What story needs to be told in my community? After watching Hanah Grinfild’s story, these are questions I couldn’t be more excited, or obligated, to answer.

 

 

All’s Well That Ends Well

Hi friends,

It’s hard to believe that another year is over!  As I look back on this year and realize that I’m now halfway through my college career, I’m so grateful for the enriching and challenging experiences I’ve had.  I’ve grown so much as a person, student and specifically as a writer.  And it’s a pretty satisfying thing to have something to show for a semester of work and growth!  So, Im so excited to share my E-Portfolio with you.  You can click here to take a look at My Blog!  I’d of course love any feedback you may have.  I look forward to seeing your E-Portfolios as well and to continued growth and transformation.  Congrats on another semester down and hope everyone has a wonderful summer!  Happy writing!

 

 

Inevitable Words

I’m constantly amazed at how often the different areas of my studies and interests become interconnected.  In general, I’m the type of person who likes to compartmentalize my life into neat categories that I can deal with separately.  This semester, my Acting IV teacher has encouraged us to stop compartmentalizing our life and start looking for connections between our life and our art.  Since his challenge, I’ve started noticing just how much every area of my life has the potential to bleed into the others.  It makes life more exciting, diverse and colorful.

Along those observations, recent assignments and discussions we’ve had in my acting class have revolved around the concept of words.  Obviously writing is all about the words, isn’t it?  I mean, we spend hours agonizing over which words to use here or there, rewording sentences a zillion different ways until they sound just right and making sure our words are spelled and used correctly.  Yet, in my acting class, our teacher is trying to get us away from focusing on the words.  He wants us to see words as a vehicle for meaning, rather than meaning itself.  With my writing background and my obsession with perfecting words and knowing exactly what each one means, it’s difficult for me as an actress to not become too intellectually consumed with the words themselves, but rather the larger meaning behind them.  A quote he shared with us perfectly sums up this concept.  Playwright Harold Pinter once said, “My play isn’t about the words.  It’s about what’s going on that makes the words inevitable.”

 

Checking to see how inevitable our words are is a good way to avoid word vomit. Image from: zeeoutlandishone.deviantart.com
Checking to see how inevitable our words are is a good way to avoid word vomit.
Image from: zeeoutlandishone.deviantart.com

Certainly, writing requires a great attention to the words we choose.  I find it hard to believe that Pinter didn’t agonize over his word choice every now and then while writing his plays.  Yet, the use of the word “inevitable” got me thinking about how we choose our words when writing.  For example, my writing has a tendency to get too wordy.  I like the way a word or phrase sounds, so I use it!  Sometimes I use something just because I like the way it sounds.  As a result, my writing becomes, muddied, superfluous and flowery.  Aren’t the places where I feel like it’s too wordy where I have beyond the “inevitable” words?  Perhaps a trick to making all of our writing meaningful, coherent and powerful is asking ourselves first and foremost what is going on in our minds, classes or daily lives that makes this writing we’re doing inevitable?  We must hold on to whatever that overarching meaning is and let the words all work as tools to express that meaning.  Then, we can go  back over our writing and ask ourselves if the words we’ve chosen are truly inevitable.  Certainly, I believe that there are times and places for richly descriptive, poetic, even indulgent or flowery, writing!  But there are also places where we need clean and clear writing, even in the midst of a poetic or descriptive piece.  Maybe this test of inevitability is a good place to start on the road to the most powerful writing.

Remediation PSA Rough Cut

Hey everyone!  Here is my rough cut of my remediation project!  I decided to take my Letter to A.J., an editorial in my city’s newspaper, and make it into a series of Public Service Announcements.  Two changes happened as I went from my proposal to the actual cuts.   First of all, I decided to do an audio PSA instead of a visual one.  I planned to have the PSAs be intended to air after the evening news on television.  However, between trying to film them with the equipment I had accessible and making them look as professional as the actual ones on television, I decided that I could make a more realistic audio PSA at this point.  I decided to do a radio PSA to air on a radio station serving my area, both after traffic or weather reports (which would likely draw similar audiences to the audiences of the newspaper) and as a commercial break on top hit music stations to draw a younger crowd in their high school and college ages.  I used my voice on one and had a classmate record the other two so that both genders were represented.  Second of all, I decided to not address both race and the issue of treating student athletes like students as well.  In a 30 second PSA, it was nearly impossible to address these two issues at the same time, both of which are substantial issues on their own.  I decided that the main issue of my main paper was that A.J. was seen as an athlete, not a student.  So, I decided to take the race factor out of the PSAs in order to get more at the central issue, which I see as how we view student-athletes (and even the fact that we use that term at all!)  Anyhow, I would love any feedback on this work in progress!

 

 

Remediation Proposal…Creating PSAs

For my remediation of my piece, “A Letter to A.J.”, I want to create a series of Public Service Announcements to run on the local news stations after the news ends.  My original audience was anyone who might read the Asheville Citizen-Times, my city’s newspaper.  One might assume that anyone who might read the newspaper, a major source of news and option, would likely also watch the news on television.  So, this will be a way of getting my argument out to the same audience of people in a different medium.  I think that a PSA would be a very effective medium for my personal story about A.J. and my argument that black youths must be viewed as students first and foremost, and then athletes.  My purpose is to make my audience think about black students in a different light.  That shift in thinking is what will inspire change.

A PSA is perfect for that purpose, because its purpose is to plant a seed to change the public’s thinking on a very specific issue.  In addition, since A.J.’s story is very personal, being able to use my own voice and for people to watch how his story affects me and changed my thinking, might be quite powerful.  Furthermore, PSAs often combine both ethos and logos, which is exactly what my argument needs.  I could incorporate my personal story about A.J., which most viewers in Asheville will likely be familiar with, and quick statistics or blurbs from the studies I read in my Politics of Education class.  To make my argument about black student athletes stick in viewers’ minds, I will also come up with a catchy slogan that will keep them thinking long after viewing the PSA.  Since PSAs are often 30 seconds or less, it may be a good idea to do a series of PSAs using the same slogan to really help engrain and reinforce my message.  This will require taking what I’ve written to A.J. and condensing it into a powerful and thought provoking short PSA with the purpose of making people see black students in a new light.  This will be a good challenge for me.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNnxDbLoZog

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEZLw4jBCec

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQDyKU1yrCQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npZXcUE57FA

These PSAs, all for “The More You Know”, are wonderful models.  They use the slogan “The More You Know” every time to create a constant reminder in the viewers’ minds, a slogan that’s a great example for what I need to think of.  They last about 30 seconds each, the length I want to use.  In addition, they use a jingle to increase familiarity between each PSA, something I should definitely consider doing.  The speakers use a casual and relatable tone, something I want to model.  Bill Cosby’s PSA is especially useful, since he talks about education.  He speaks directly to the viewers and gives lots of imagery so they can imagine themselves in a better world.   He then challenges them to make that better world possible, which, in essence, is exactly what I want to accomplish.