Skin deep: Into the world of emblems

A UB graduate’s harrowing dramatization of assault couldn’t come at a better time

By David Chiodaroli
Staff Writer

In the world of Emblems, the powerful and emotionally charged screenplay by the recently graduated Rachel Jackson, victims of sexual and physical assault are branded by a telltale mark on their face. While the mark fades overtime, it remains a constant reminder of what the victim endured at the hands of his or her assailant. But when Esperanza, the victim of a workplace assault, takes her accused rapist Andrew Jenkins to court, something strange happens. A similar mark appears on Andrew’s face, almost identical to the one on Esperanza. When corresponding marks begin to appear on the faces of both victims and victimizers, Esperanza’s case is given renewed credibility, and her fight for justice receives the boost that it so desperately needs.

Originally conceived in professor Kimberly Lynne’s screenwriting class, Emblems was presented as a live reading by Spotlight, the University of Baltimore’s performance arts program, on October 12th. The play premiered at the tail end of a hectic week in the entertainment world, when fallout from Harvey Weinstein’s years of sexual misconduct lead his own production company to fire him. The allegations made against the media mobile sparked a debate about the issues many women face, especially when dealing with powerful, sexually domineering men, who use their positions of authority to do as they please with their female subordinates. The scandal also reignited arguments about rape culture and societal misogyny, made worse by the damning influence of Men’s Rights Activism, the Alt-Right, and the many deplorable views held by our current administration. In another ironic twist, Emblems premiered several weeks after it was announced that Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s education secretary, was invited to speak at Fall commencement. DeVos angered many last month when she amended Title IX restrictions, using a flawed ‘two sides’ logic, that would ultimately make it easier for rapists to get away with their crimes on college campuses.

For Jackson, this is an all too real circumstance. “So many of my friends all have their own stories about different assaults that they experienced,” Jackson told me in a phone interview that took place a week before the premier. “I was inspired by one friend in particular who was having a really rough time with what she had been through, and I was just struck by the fact that she would be dealing with the scars from that encounter.” Jackson felt that it wasn’t fair for victims of sexual violence to spend the rest of their lives with such pain, “so, I created a world where justice would happen, where whoever did an assault like that would have to wear the scars too.”

Jackson describes her protagonist, Esperanza, as a “reluctant hero, who is trying to come to terms with people looking at her as a leader.” Yet, as the story goes on, Esperanza is encouraged by her Abuela, who is also a victim, to embrace her newfound leadership, and lead the charge against relationship violence. Esperanza is also held up by her support group, all of who are victims themselves, who yearn for justice to be served. The performance is also significant for featuring a Latino lead, something that Jackson thinks is severely lacking in our modern entertainment world.

“It’s very important for me to have more Latinos in art,” Jackson tells me. “Coming from someone who is a mixed Latina, it’s very important for me to see more of that.”

While the subject matter of Emblems may come across as troubling or disturbing to some, the point of such pieces is to give audiences a new perspective on an issue that most would not like to discuss. As it is often the case, the ability to empathize with others is never easy, nor was it ever meant to make one feel good. In fact, empathy can often make us depressed or angry for those whose shoes we are stepping into. Yet, it is this disdain that can lead us to action, and make performances like Emblems so important in these troubled times.

To find out more on Spotlight UB, visit its webpage at www.ubalt.edu/spotlightub.

The birth, death and rebirth of Spotlight UB

The show must go on: Professor Kimberly Lynne discusses Spotlight’s fate in light of recent budget cuts

By David A. Chiodaroli

Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Lynne

After over a decade of steady operation, Spotlight, the University of Baltimore’s theater program, has had its budget yanked. The troubling news, which was announced earlier this semester, came as a shock to the school’s artistic community, but perhaps no one was more affected by it than Spotlight’s head, Kimberly Lynne. Since 2007, Lynne has overseen Spotlight, turning it from a primarily music-centric program into a multi-disciplinary institution, featuring everything from plays to live readings and, of course, music performances. Throughout her career at the crossroads of artistic life on campus, Lynne has continuously made the case for the importance of art in everyday life.

“I try to encourage my students to have some sort of artistic experience every day, that can help them process this incredibly complicated reality,” Lynne says. “And that’s what I was trying to do as the arts and theater manager of Spotlight UB.”

Over the years, the program, which operates out of the Wright Theater, has featured performances that have covered a variety of issues. On October 12th, in fact, Spotlight is set to feature a performance called Emblems, a live reading of a screenplay about sexual violence, which was written by one of Lynne’s students. However, despite the benefit that Spotlight provides, some members of the school’s budgetary office find it difficult to justify the program’s use of student fees to keep it in operation. Lynne explains that, despite the insistence that Spotlight be financed entirely through ticket sales, such methods contradict her ultimate goal for the organization.

“I always wanted to have the students see shows for free, or pay a minimum of five dollars,” Lynne says. Doing so would allow students, who may not be able to afford traditional theater performances, to see shows that could broaden their creative and artistic horizons.

Unfortunately, such instances of arts funding being slashed, are common in this day and age. As president Trump threatens to pull funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, non-profit arts organizations across the country, who rely on the NEA for funding, are seeing their budgets cut or eliminated entirely. The same goes for many school districts across the country, especially Baltimore city, which has seen its arts programs cut to the point of nonexistence. Thus, Spotlight’s problems are invective of a nation-wide epidemic of budget cutting and overall dismissal of the arts.

Yet, while the road ahead may be rough, Lynne is determined to keep Spotlight alive. In September, she managed to secure a UB Foundation grant to fund Spotlight for the rest of the semester. In addition, Lynne is attempting to find new avenues of funding, while helping to make Spotlight more accessible to the community outside of UB’s student body. In the meantime, future programming is currently in the works, including a performance that uses the classic works of Shakespeare to explain the complexities of the Trump administration. And Lynne is already looking to the spring, when Spotlight will host the week long annual African American Arts Festival. But at the end of the day However, Lynne says, if students want these performances to continue, they need to come and see the shows.

“If you want to have arts programming, attend the arts programming,” Lynne says, adding later, “I want to encourage our student population, and our faculty and staff, to put arts in their lives, because it can help them. It can help them process this reality, this incredibly complicated and terrifying reality.”

 

For more information on Spotlight, including their list of upcoming events, visit their website here

 

Upcoming play confronts issue of sexual assault

By Justin Johnson
Contributor

Now that the semester has started, it is time once again to continue serious conversations within the student body. And what better way to keep that going than a play about sexual awareness, with savvy use of language, compelling characters, and a captivating story. “But I Said No” by Doug Grissom and Margaret Baldwin will be directed by Kimberely Lynne, a UB alum and faculty member and theater director.
Lynne explained how “But I Said No” came into fruition. “I had a learning community with John Chapeman who works in the Deans office here, and for my class I would have my students read about social justice, and he suggested this piece.”

When asked how she believes the audience will respond to the content of the play, Lynne said, “I think that having people play roles such as the type of characters in the play, along with the story, will bring about emotion… because it is a play that tackles an important yet, rough problem that we face today.”

“But I Said No” is a play that brings attention to Title IX and sexual assault, however it is also grabs hold of the audience emotionally and intellectually, challenging the audience to wonder what they can do or how they can take action on the matter. Lynne wants the audience to reflect after the play. She stated, “I just want people to think. So next time they are in a position with their partner and they feel uncomfortable, saying no is completely fine. So that’s what I hope they end up thinking about after.”

“But I Said No” will be performed in the Wright Theater at the UB Student Center on March 31st at 6 p.m. University of Baltimore’s faculty and students are all invited with open arms.