From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
The Elephant In The Room
Preview of LMU's production of "The Elephant Man."

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Thursday, September 29, 2005

"It's like food," Dr. Ron Marasco waxes metaphorically. "Every once in a while, you really want a gooey piece of pie. And then, after a while, you've had so much junk food that a potato and a glass of water taste good. And that's theatre to me-you want a mix of those things."

Did he really just compare the LMU Theatre Department's first play of the season to "a potato and a glass of water"? Who in the world thinks that sounds good?

Marasco sure did, and after hearing what he has to say about the upcoming play, "The Elephant Man," it sounds pretty delicious to me.

"Most people know the story of the hideously deformed man who worked in a freak show but ended up becoming known throughout upper class society," Marasco states plainly. "Though he was deformed, he was also quite an extraordinary person, and there was a tremendous beauty inside of somebody who had such a broken physicality. The message was that society shouldn't shun people who are deformed or handicapped or in any way physically challenged."

Marasco quickly veers in a different direction. "In 1979, when the play was written, this was a very important message, but I don't think this is a big problem now. There are many bad things about America, but I don't think this is one of them," he admits.

Throughout the conversation, Marasco points out several of these "bad things," including admissions policies on counting high school theatre courses for college credit, the degenerating health of the environment, and Republicans. And while his musings are often serious in a whimsical sort of way, one can easily tell that his passion, at least for the last month, has been updating Bernard Pomerance's play and creating a piece of pure theatre in the modern retelling of a somewhat classic story.

"There's another aspect of the play, though," he further explains. "This man is somebody who is ugly, broken, malformed and has a tremendous cross to bear from the get-go, and yet he struggles to create some sort of beauty. So to me, the story of the play is the quest to create beauty out of grotesque situations."

Marasco interlaces commentary on beauty and what it should mean to us in between talking about the specifics of the play. "You cannot carve up the earth and not expect to have it change beauty; you cannot gut artistic programs and expect people to still be artists. So the story of the elephant man and how it relates to our time is that-it's very hard for you to make something beautiful in this country at this time. There are a lot of forces against it. Alexis De Tocqueville said, 'America will always prefer the useful to the beautiful,' and a lot of times he's right. But the problem with the useful is that it often creates a lot of smog, and I think you see that."

Anyone can tell Ron Marasco loves this story and all the directions it can take, but he makes it clear that it's the theatre itself that has his heart, particularly the creative process that involves the actors, the director, and all those who collaborate on a work such as this.

"It's a marvelous cast of actors. Great plays humble you and make you work hard, and I think if I locked these actors in that room with this play alone, they would make something absolutely beautiful. They know they are telling a special story and when that happens, you bring your best self."

The decision to stage the first main theatre production of the season in the tiny black box theater formerly known as "The Wine Cellar" also seems strange at first, but not to Marasco. "The level of intimacy there is really amazing. I wanted people to have the simple experience of an actor telling and living a story in front of an audience so close the audience could touch him, because a lot of the play is about being repelled by the human form and then learning to move closer to it. That kind of electricity of live human beings in a room close together in an intimate setting with an interesting story to tell is the magic of the theatre, and I wanted people to have that experience in a pure, raw and direct way.

"There are times in rehearsal where you can really feel the performance in your skin," he continued, "and it's absolutely thrilling. I just love that vibe. Everything else is boring."

Among all the beauty and the ugliness in the world, Marasco feels that "what draws people to the theater is desire for a lot of different experiences, so I like things to be eclectic." In just one month of rehearsal and preparation, it seems as though he has achieved this quality in his creation. And like a true lover of beauty, he knows that although audiences will enjoy the play, the road leading up to this is truly one of the best parts. "If we never opened the play," he declares contentedly, "it still would have been the most worthwhile experience."
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.400066]

Drum Roll Please: Preview of the World Festival of Sacred Music

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my Arts & Entertainment articles.
Drum Roll Please
Preview of the World Festival of Sacred Music

Mark J. Lehman
A & E Editor

Originally Published: Monday, September 26, 2005

I take two steps into the office, and there my journey ends abruptly. There is literally no more space to walk into, and the only direction I would be able to move would be back toward the door from which I entered. Luckily, I know my purpose, so I take a seat and get comfortable.

The man behind the desk in this office/closet hybrid-so called due to both its infinitesimal size and seemingly infinite amount of clutter-greets me warmly and enthusiastically. Dr. Paul Humphreys is a busy man, especially since last February when he got the ball rolling on arranging to have LMU's Sacred Heart Chapel play host to one of the 43 events of this year's World Festival of Sacred Music.

"The festival is a tri-annual event started in 1999 to observe the millennium as a suggestion of the Dalai Lama as a way of affirming our common humanity through music," Humphreys explains carefully. "I've had the privilege of performing in the other two festivals, but this time LMU will be hosting, and we're very excited to be sharing our performance with the LMU community and with the larger community as part of the festival."

Humphreys grins widely and speaks excitedly, like a child telling Santa what he wants for Christmas. He knows he has been a good boy and worked hard all year, and he's pretty sure he's going to get what he has been wanting and waiting for. Even so, he knows it might be a hard sell at the beginning of the concert this Friday.

"In the first hearing, you might turn your head a little bit and wonder 'Whose idea of music is that?'" Humphreys continues calmly and confidently, "As the Dalai Lama says, music is a vehicle that reaffirms our common humanity. We can make sense of other people's music without even having grown up with it. It's this realization that we're all interconnected, that we're all in this together, and that we all share in the well-being of one another."

Throughout our chat, Humphreys is caught in a whirlwind of interruptions, but he handles them with the fluidity of someone who is accustomed to not being able to accomplish anything without a number of intrusions. In the short 20 minutes of my visit, he had at least three visitors and a phone call, and gave each enough time to solve the most immediate issue while hardly skipping a beat in answering my questions about his pet project.

"I've had the good fortune to have a department and a university that have supported my efforts," he conveys graciously. "We've been laying the groundwork for this since last February, getting the clearance for the Chapel, and contacting the musicians involved."

Even with such an early start, a concert of this magnitude can take much more work than anticipated. "We rehearsed this summer for eight solid days with the student gamelan group. We're used to performing at the end of the semester, but the timing of the festival was such that we had to be ready by the end of September.

"We held summer performance intensives co-taught by Jeffrey Dent, the guest director for this performance. They were very successful, and we learned a lot of music-a nine movement work, in fact. So we had a very productive month in August."

The Balinese-influenced student gamelan group, called Gamelan Kembang Atangi-gamelan being the percussion instrument used and Kembang Atangi meaning "flower of awakening"-will perform with a Western vocal group called Zephyr: Voices Unbound, "an ensemble that dates back to the 18th century. The two styles are being juxtaposed and woven together in the performance, and it embodies a sort of reconciliation between East and West. It's a wonderful thread of shared purpose." Humphreys promises that all performers are "fabulous musicians, and when you put them all together it makes for an experience you won't forget."

The event at LMU-entitled "Visions of Conflict & Reconciliation"-was born out of reactions to major events of the past few years. "The piece really has its motivation in the big calamities of the early 21st century. We had 9/11 in America, and then in Bali a year, a month, and a day later on Oct. 12 (there was another terrorist attack). Bali is a very small island, so it really shook them on a large scale the way 9/11 shook us. With my experience as an American in this country in 2001 and as a friend to the Balinese in 2002, it almost seemed inevitable that a piece like this would come about."

Though it may seem heavy, Humphreys has high hopes for the kind of effect the concert will have on those who attend.

"I'm certain that students will come away with a sense of discovery, particularly of the gamelan since most students have not heard traditional Indonesian orchestra music, so that will be an ear-opener for them. They'll also realize the notion that this music is compatible with music with which they are more familiar."

Perhaps most importantly, Humphreys knows that those in attendance "will be witnesses to an intercultural dialogue, and I'll be very interested to know what they make of that."

I leave the tiny walk-in closet known as Dr. Paul Humphreys' office knowing that I, for one, will be one of those witnesses.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/entertainment/1.400127]

One Hot Date

From spring of 2003 until my graduation in May 2006, I wrote many articles for several sections of my college newspaper, the Los Angeles Loyolan. Here's one of my articles from the now-defunct humor section, Tangent.
One Hot Date

Mark J. Lehman
A&E Editor

Originally Published: Friday, September 2, 2005

The tangent knows that living on campus without a car can be a frustrating experience, especially in terms of dating. With that in mind, we'd like to help you out. The following is a dating scenario specifically designed for those poor car-less souls stranded on campus.

This one is perfect for you lovers of all things Italian. Start out by taping a sign to your bike that says "Vespa," then head over to your date's dorm to pick them up. Sure, it's nerdy, but with the right amount of confidence and charm, they'll get a kick out of your quirky sense of humor and be willing to go along for the ride of their life.

Next, pedal your way to a romantic Italian dinner for two at the Lair. I'm thinking fettucini alfredo, but you're welcome to improvise with tortellini or ravioli. Grab one of the booths in the corner where the lighting isn't too harsh, and set fire to a few sugar packets to "set the mood." By the final slurps of pasta, your date will be giddy with anticipation of what else you have in store.

Your after-dinner moves require some advance preparation. Get a hold of a plain white t-shirt and some red magic markers, and color in some horizontal stripes so you get a "Where's Waldo" effect going. Then, call up your local canoe dealership and rent a canoe for an hour (Don't worry-they deliver. I checked). Lead your date by the hand to Foley Pond, where you'll have already set up your boat. Next, strip off your shirt and tie to reveal the Waldo shirt. You both will know what comes next: a romantic boat ride accompanied by you belting out tunes such as "That's Amore" and "Libiamo, Libiamo."

Once your date is sufficiently "swooned," seal the deal in true Italian fashion-more eating. Bring your date back to your room, and blindfold him or her with the promise of a "delightful surprise." Grab some Haagen Dazs from your fridge (bought earlier that day from the Lair), spoon a few scoops out into two bowls, place one in front of your date, and shout an exclamatory ("Kablow" or "Booyaka" perhaps) while pulling off the blindfold. Fake like it's homemade gelato (learn how to make it off the internet in case they want an explanation.)

You are sure to score big with this last feat. That, combined with the rest of the well-planned and perfectly-executed date, and you'll have him or her exclaiming "Mamma mia!" in no time.
[via Los Angeles Loyolan: http://www.laloyolan.com/2.4416/1.400416]
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