2019 Thesis Abstracts

Alex Daugherty
Aster
Directed by Steve Tomasula

“Aster” is a science-fiction novel concerned with cultivating a conversation about ethics in science and research, especially as it relates to human testing, mental illness, and disability. The story is told in a dual narrative, the threads woven around one another to draw out the intergenerational and emotional parallels between the two points of trauma.

There are certainly specific influences from stories such as city organization and social testing from Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, formal concerns regarding intellectual disabilities from Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, and the horrifying ways that in-group individuals treat each other from N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Michael Clune’s Gamelife to name just a few. Ultimately, my concerns with science ethics and prejudice would lie flat on the page without the element of the emotional trauma. For that, I have Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black.

In writing with this woven narrative, I attempt to portray a shared traumatic history and its effects on the individuals that suffer it together. In this way, Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane are quite proximal to my project. Jemisin’s continental government and culturally embedded prejudice is informative for the ways in which I wrote both sectional tension in Brynn’s timeline as well as the ways the doctors, staff, and fellow patients treat Aster. The conflicts in “Aster” center around ability in Aster herself and the tensions of class and shared trauma for Brynn and her grandmother, Aster. I believe these are important conflicts to address because, especially in the context of science ethics, the balance between the value of an individual’s dignity and the individual’s value to the nation is at stake. Countries that devalue their citizens in the name of the remaining citizens are challenging for readers to confront when the value provided by those sacrificed citizens are undeniable and, in some cases such as experimental medicine, have the potential to not very harmful at all.

 

Madeline Del Medico
Neighborhood
Directed by Steve Tomasula

 

Hayley Flynn
The Legend of Robin Hood

Directed by Joyelle McSweeney

The two major components of this thesis are the Robin Hood legend and the screenplay.  The Robin Hood legend has been retold countless times, and this project will engage primarily with versions produced by American authors and for the screen.  Many “feminist” retellings of the story focus on an existing female character (usually Marian) or take a supporting male character and rewrite him as female.  However, there is no (openly) female Robin Hood, despite the fact that writers have not hesitated to fictionalize any other aspect of what is known of the original Robin Hood legend.  This thesis will also engage more broadly with the fairytale genre, particularly by focusing on the woods as a transformative space. My decision to write this story as a screenplay arose from my desire to give it the most “2019” feel as possible, despite of the medieval setting.  Accordingly, the screenplay includes “music video” scenes set to contemporary songs, sexual content, explicit language, and general “partying.”  The depiction of the group of outlaws as exhibiting similar behavior and desires to the youth of today will hopefully invite the reader to examine his own priorities and values, assisted by the sharp contrast of life inside and outside of the woods. 
 

Angela Lim
Dream Bluer 
Directed by Orlando Menes


“Dream Bluer” is a poetry collection that communicates different aspects of self-identity by exploring various water motifs and environments. This collection is further divided into four segments of the water cycle (precipitation, run-off, evaporation, and condensation) which serve as bookmarks for emotional shifts. The poems lie on a spectrum of lyrical and narrative, childhood and adulthood, religious and scientific, in order to demonstrate the complexity of the ocean and the self as entities that are tidal and continuously explored. The thesis is centered around water because of the dynamism that water embodies-- at once familiar and strange with both surface and depth.   
 

Patrick McGavick
Every Living Thing Here
Directed by Azareen Vander Vliet Oloomi

Pax and Rocco are two brothers, twenty-three and twenty-five respectively, both of their parents having passed away. After some time apart, they reunite and travel together to a large plot of undeveloped family land in central Idaho. The purpose of their trip is ostensibly a pleasant one, to pay their respects to the experiences they had on the land growing up. However, they soon realize that differences in their now-adult personalities—as well as differing views towards their father, whose specter looms large throughout the piece—render them often at odds with one another. Their reunion is further complicated by the appearance of a disgraced family friend, Lance, who has his own emotional stake in what remains of the family and their land. Lance’s erratic, dangerous behavior forces both brothers to display their strengths and weaknesses in their interactions with him. This piece tries to integrate elements of auto-fiction, realist modernism, and neo-Westernism; writers drawn on include Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, and Denis Johnson.

 

Sierra Rainey
Black Girl, Lilac Pain
Directed by Orlando Menes

“Black Girl, Lilac Pain” is a manifestation of black womanhood that positions itself at the core of American history and society. The project relies heavily on a distinctive narrative voice to detail both the trauma and the triumph of black womanhood. Both the private and the public identity of the African-American woman are revealed through a series of lyrical, narrative and formal poems that recognize the individualized and universal natures of  the human plights embedded in such issues as mental health, beauty ideals, racism and violence. The body, intellect, mind and spirituality are approached as historical and social artifacts that must first find freedom in themselves before worldly freedom can be achieved. The project serves as a revelation that mental, physical and emotional consciousness is integral to the African-American transcendence of historical circumstances. 
 

Matthew Rusin
Waddellin
Directed by Roy Scranton

Waddellin is a novel regarding the dissociative and mind-altering effects of psychoactive drugs, specifically concerned with the place of prescription drugs in American society. It is narrated in the third-person omniscient and documents the worsening of Dan Gravis’ mental health with a new treatment technology called MyLife. MyLife creates dreams of an alternate, hyperbolized reality in the user’s mind. This is meant to reflect the way in which prescription drugs of abuse like Adderall, Xanax, and OxyContin have the potential to steal an individual’s mind away from reality and lock it in a false and skewed perception of the world. The narrative is harsh and biting but also has moments of satire and heart wrenching trauma. It was a goal of mine to write a story about drug abuse that would have underlying shimmers of hope. Dan’s relationship with his wife, Nancy, was severely damaged by his alcoholism. Then, the use of the MyLife treatment for his anxiety and depression created different problems. The only constant in Dan’s experiences is Nancy’s love and constant care for him. It is singularly her hope for a brighter future that saves Dan from falling into mental oblivion. Through living in an alternate reality, Dan learns that his life has inherent meaning regardless of worldly approval. Upon reflection, I hope readers come to realize that drug addicts are very much still people in need of help and that major changes must be made to a pharmaceutical system that draws a very ambiguous line between treatment and assisted self-destruction.
 

Kaitlin Scherzinger
The Star Swallower
Directed by Joyelle McSweeney


When a sky-reader escaping a catastrophic job interview accidentally teams up with a love artist, an eternal being, and a boy who chronically sells his soul, she’s pulled into the boy’s quest to win his soul back from several witches while freeing his roommates from their curses.

In a YA fantasy world inspired by the works of Hayao Miyazaki, The Star Swallower takes on subplots of depression, recovery, and platonic love as the characters battle witches, magical curses, and international law designed to keep them down. To me, Miyazaki’s work exhibits a unique aesthetic, soft and kind character relationships, and a vibe of comfort and goodness despite dealing with heavy concepts like loss and grief. I draw on the lightness of all these qualities in my narrative and include a similar natural, beautiful, weird aesthetic. I follow the main character’s early experience moving from deep depression into manageable mental health, using the soft aesthetic to keep the portrayal light and compelling while also accurately representing what depression can look like.    
 

Isabella Simon
Amelia's Waltz & Other Stories
Directed by Valerie Sayers

Two main concepts unify the four short stories that comprise my thesis: the presence of music, and a focus on female relationships. Each story interacts with and responds to music differently, using it as a complex metaphor through which to understand the emotional development of the protagonists, all of whom are teenaged girls. The choice of music as the lens through which this topic can be better understood is largely personal, but my experience has been that music is ultimately universal. It has incredible power to connect people, to build community, and to generate emotion. 
The primary arc that binds the collection is the rejection of a traditional “happy ending” defined by a romantic relationship, usually heterosexual. Instead, the characters in these stories most often navigate interpersonal relationships between women, and all of the protagonists conclude their stories without romantic partners. They face the struggle to balance independence and investment in relationships and the challenges of developing healthy self-esteem during adolescence, particularly given the tremendous pressures society places on young girls. This collection is meant to be a celebration of love, and an examination of ways in which love fails. And it is a celebration of music – and perhaps an assertion that the two are the same.   
 

Claire Turgeon
Red Sole, Laced Silver
Directed by Steve Tomasula

This project hopes to explore the complexity of disabled story telling, both in the sense that it will feature disabled characters and that it will be told with a fractured narration meant to disable the reader. This will be accomplished with a story in need of puzzling together and rich language welled inside the minds of the silenced. “Illness,” Virginia Woolf once wrote about poetry, “makes us disinclined for the long campaigns that prose extracts.” While this prose piece does not feature poetry, the poesy in structure and of it’s telling is fit for the long campaigns that single-lensed, chronological novels extract. Through this lens, I hope to further probe what it means to come to terms with certain perspectives and the value that these perspectives have. With the fractured narration, styled heavily off of similar narrative styles in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, and N.K. Jemison’s The Fifth Season, I will try to demonstrate the connectivity and complexity of the choices we all make in life by weaving two stories from the same thread into different patterns (a helpful analogy is a double-sided quilt with only one thread and very different designs on each side).

What started out as a coping mechanism for my coming to terms with why the odds of grown women with a stutter were not in my favor has now become a larger commentary on the beauty and richness of disability and ability—on a world that will always have both, even if we think we have “cured” one. Because exploring how character arcs/lives interact is crucial to the understanding in the story, deeper analysis of the vessels that shepherd characters through those arcs/lives will also be appreciated (literally (shoes) and spiritually (bodies)). Both motifs will feature heavily in the lives of each character.

Finally, the question of “home,” as in, where we belong or where we feel we are meant to be, likewise follows this exploration destination and journey because oftentimes, they are both dependent on when one believes to have “returned home,” especially as it relates to the tropes of story-telling. However, contemplating the melancholic yet peaceful resignation of the reality of our own perspectives often demands that we (and our characters) realize we (and they) were “home” all along, or rather, that “home” entirely depends on when we (and our characters) are ready to mentally accept our perspectives and be at peace with our situation. After further analysis of my final project, I noted uncanny resemblances in content, style, character, theme, and ultimately an updated genre between my thesis and The Wizard of Oz. These similarities will be noted and explored and perhaps drawn out in later edits to see what new meanings can be teased from the fabric of this double-sided quilt.

 

Christina Zobel
Scourge
Directed by Roy Scranton

My thesis, entitled Scourge, contains a workable excerpt of a novel in the fantasy genre, narrated through the third person limited perspective. Each chapter is told by a different character, with plotlines alternating between the past and the present in order to give a more complete picture of how the world changes as the result of a catastrophe known as the Scourge. While the focus will be on my protagonists’ personal journeys, the overarching conflict involves the evolution of the world they live in. Please note that the novel will not be stand-alone, but rather part of a larger series. 
In my critical essay, “Confronting the Unknowable: On Magic and World-Building in the Fantasy Genre,” I examine my sources of inspiration while crafting the world of Scourge, and explore the interactions between historical research and portrayals of magic in prominent works of fantasy. My primary concern in the creation of this thesis was to accurately portray a world based in historical research while retaining the mysticism inherent to time period where divine intervention is seen as a living, breathing force responsible for even the most ordinary of occurrences. For the past four years I have been studying Greek and Roman Civilization through my secondary major, and have integrated details from the ancient world in order to make the world of my novel come to life. As my characters interact with this world, they will also encounter the marginalization of groups in society, learn what truly makes the bonds of a family, and test the strength and resilience of the human spirit as the seek to survive and discover truth and purpose in a brutal world touched by magic. Some of the greatest influences on my work have been George RR Martin (A Game of Thrones), Jeff VanderMeer (Southern Reach Trilogy), NK Jemison (Broken Earth Trilogy), Neil Gaiman (American Gods), and Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver). Through the examination of historical research, portrayals of magic, and my own writing process, I seek to address the particular ability of the fantasy genre and speculative fiction in general to reflect on real-world contemporary issues.