Throwing the Nazis an Artistic Middle Finger: The Story of Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe

Review of Jeffery Jackson: The Artists Who Risked Their Lives Using Art to Defy the Nazis from Town Hall Seattle

Written by Teen Writer Bayla Cohen-Knott and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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There are a lot of things wrong with the world right now. I don’t even have to list them; just saying ‘wrong’ and ‘world’ makes my stomach clench and a multitude of problems rush to my head. When I get these feelings and thoughts I feel overwhelmed and anxious. I feel like I have no power and I’m jealous of those who’ve figured out their plan.

It is in these times of feeling lost in what to do that it’s useful to learn about people who found creative ways to support causes they found important. A lesser-known, but striking example is the story of Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe. Their story is told by author and historian Jeffrey H. Jackson in his new book Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis. I was lucky to hear Jackson tell part of this story at an event hosted by Town Hall Seattle. His reading of a few select excerpts from his book and continued talk put me directly in the lives of Lucy and Suzanne and made me notably curious as to what was going on in their heads.

Lucy and Suzanne are better known by their artistic aliases Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. They lived in Paris in the 1920s where they immersed themselves in the thriving arts scene. Lucy was a writer and Suzanne was an illustrator. Together, though, they produced hundreds of photographs, often with Lucy in the male persona of Claude Cahun, that confronted traditional ideas about gender and sexual identity. Photo courtesy of Town Hall Seattle

In 1937, Lucy and Suzanne moved to the island of Jersey to lead a more quiet life. That quiet life was disrupted, however, when WWII began. The Nazis saw Jersey as a strategic spot to hold and quickly took it over. Lucy and Suzanne now lived in occupied territory. This was dangerous for many reasons, but because of a few specifically. First, Lucy and Suzanne were in love. Secondly, Lucy had Jewish heritage. And thirdly, the two were communists. All three of these things made them targets of the Nazis, so they kept their lives secret, living very privately as “sisters.” These things could have scared them into submission, but instead, they motivated Lucy and Suzanne into action.

That action was passing notes. Well, not like in math class, more like to German soldiers. Lucy and Suzanne wrote hundreds of notes on little slips of paper that they then left on tables, under windshield wipers, and even in the pockets of soldiers themselves. The notes were meant to demoralize German troops. They signed the notes “The Soldier With No Name.” This gave the Nazis the idea that the notes were coming from the inside, a worrying notion. In case they were caught, they carried with them a powerful sedative to use to end their lives, instead of being killed by the Nazis. For four years Lucy and Suzanne left these notes for the soldiers and risked their lives every day to do so.

Their action was halted, however, when German police arrived on their doorstep. The Germans searched their home, uncovering incriminating evidence that they were, in fact, both “The Soldier With No Name.” Lucy and Suzanne were arrested, interrogated, put on trial, sent to prison, and sentenced to death.

Against the odds, they survived the war after nearly a year of suffering in prison. Jeffrey Jackson, the author of Paper Bullets, was able to piece together this complex history and show the reader a real look into the turmoil of wartime resistance. As Jackson said at the closing of his talk, Lucy and Suzanne show us how “small acts of protest have significance.” This story of their protest against the Nazis is one that is important to tell, especially in a time like ours where many people’s values are threatened by those in power. Learning about Lucy and Suzanne can show us how to draw on our own experiences to make change. They were motivated by their love for one another, their heritage, and their politics. They drew on their creativity as multidisciplinary artists and their experimentation with gender and sexual identity. And with that, they put together a personal rebellion to do their part in defeating the Nazis.

Lead photo credit: Jeffrey H. Jackson, photo courtesy of Town Hall Seattle

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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The 2020 (Virtual) Teeny Awards: The Results!

Teen Tix Teeny Awards Website Banner

On Saturday, November 21, teens, parents, artists, and arts leaders tuned in for a YouTube viewing of the The 2020 (Virtual) Teeny Awards to celebrate the resilience and creativity of TeenTix’s 70+ Arts Partners from all corners of the region. This event marked TeenTix’s Sweet 16th Birthday and the 13th annual Teeny Awards Ceremony.

Although the audience couldn’t gather in the same space together, the excitement was palpable as attendees exclaimed and cheered in the comments section throughout the evening. Co-hosted by David Rue and Randy Ford, the dancer duo also known as Dandy, the ceremony featured musical performances from local playwright and theater superstar, Sara Porkalob, as well as teen folk artist, Mirabai Kukathas. Teens continued to take the spotlight with a reading from 2020 Youth Poet Laureate cohort member, Helena Goos, and a presentation by young artists of color from the Summer Mentorship Program in partnership with The Colorization Collective. TeenTix’s New Guard youth advisory council presented a steady stream of unique, Sweet 16-inspired awards: squishy fake cupcakes with a toy car, candle, and teen-made tag affixed to the top. Here are the results of The 2020 (Virtual) Teeny Awards:

TEENS RUN THE WORLD AWARD – for the work that best showcased the work of young artists or engaged topics related to youth: The Winner: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, Young Americans’ Theatre Company

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Twisted Flicks: Jet City Conquers the Pandemic

Review of Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians presented by Jet City Improv

Written by Teen Writer Kyle Gerstel and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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Laughter is contagious. Unfortunately, another (much less enjoyable) thing called COVID-19 is too, which has forced theaters across the country to shut down for the majority of 2020. Luckily, the theatermakers at Jet City Improv are masters at saying “yes, and” and have invented new, creative ways to share their art in quarantine. I had the opportunity to watch their most recent venture, Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and I’m happy to report that they are on their way to conquering this pandemic with laughter, the best medicine (note: TeenTix does not endorse laughter as a replacement for vaccines).

Since 1997, Jet City’s Twisted Flicks have entertained audiences by irreverently voicing new dialogue and sound effects for the scum de la scum of cinema. Now, they’re utilizing Twitch to perform with a similar format from their homes, screen-sharing the film on a live-streamed Zoom meeting and receiving audience suggestions via a virtual chatbox. The bridge between audience and performer is one of the things I cherish most about theater, so this replication of that interaction felt refreshing and rare in quarantine. I hope non-improv theaters borrow this device for their productions as well to inject some of the energy of live theater that is lost online.

As for the actual show, improv either whisks you away or it doesn’t—this, unfortunately, didn’t. The performers were sensationally silly and Art Koshi’s improvised score seamlessly blended in with the emotions of the scenes, but I wasn’t captivated by the show’s structure. In the post-show Q+A, improviser Daryl Ducharme commented, “We’re still figuring out virtual improv. It’s okay to experiment and even fail a little bit because that’s how improv became what it is now.” While I believe it was a worthwhile experiment, the long form’s confinement to planned visuals as well as the lack of audience participation for the bulk of the production made it less engaging online. Behind the scenes of Jet City Improv's Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Photo courtesy of Jet City Improv.

The scenes worked best when the actors were fully committed to their characters, impressively mimicking the emotions portrayed on-screen while supplying the story with much-needed emotional weight. Incorporating flourishes such as sound effects and pop culture references added splashes of entertainment value, but they only succeeded when held together by strong characters. There were quite a few moments that caused me to laugh aloud, from anti-humor one-liners such as “be there or come later and be there then” to inevitable quips about COVID, but the improvisers often didn’t build upon the situations for maximum comedic synergy, which made the piece no greater than the sum of its one-liners.

While some of the humor was lost in translation online, the charisma and communal values of Jet City weren’t. From the preshow to the Q+A, the cast made me feel more in touch with the local arts community than I have for months, effortlessly creating a collaborative environment despite the challenges of performing virtually. One actor even dressed in a Santa suit and performed the show as Santa performing the role of Santa in the film (“so meta,” as one improviser cheekily commented). However, this casualness was a double-edged sword, causing many performers to not act with a straight face, which snapped my sense of escapism and detracted from the jokes.

Despite the foundation not succeeding for me as an audience member, the show was a pleasant change of pace for quarantine entertainment. I look forward to seeing how Jet City improvisers continue to refine their craft and provide laughter to our community at this time when all we have is each other.

Check out Jet City Improv’s improvised romps from now till the end of time, on their website.

Lead photo credit: Screenshot from Jet City Improv's Twisted Flicks: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Photo courtesy of Jet City Improv.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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2021… A New Beginning?

Teen Editorial Staff January 2021 Editorial

Written by Teen Editorial Staff Members Anya Shukla and Eleanor Cenname

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For many of us, 2021 has been the light at the end of the tunnel as we begin to envision a pandemic-free future. We do not see a return to normal on the horizon — and maybe that is a good thing— but we can see the inklings of hope. As we continue to social distance and meet with each other over Zoom, we can let art fuel this desire for a better future.

Maybe you will find hope in the future leaders and art creators… if so, be sure to look into KEXP’s 90.Teen, a radio program created by Seattle teens. (For those interested in audio-based storytelling, be sure to check out our next TeenTix Arts Podcast!) Or you may want to learn about history’s arts activists through Jeffrey Jackson’s livestream, The Artists Who Risked Their Lives Using Art to Defy the Nazis, hosted by Town Hall Seattle.

MOHAI’s Fabulous Footwear program will guide you in an exploration of the history and stories of shoes, one garment that we might be wearing less of from behind our computer screens. And if, during this gloomy month, you would like to stay inside and watch a movie, Northwest Film Forum’s screening of Film About a Father Who will transport you through three decades during which filmmaker Lynne Sachs researched, filmed, and explored the life of her father. On the flip side, for those who doubt whether any of this is even real, Whim W'Him’s Season 11 of their Choreographic Shindig is based on the idea that we are all living in simulated reality.

While we continue to live in this new normal, let art be your guiding light, helping you maintain your equilibrium amidst the uncertainties of the pandemic. And hopefully, we will be back to seeing artwork in-person soon.

Lead photo credit: Photo by Edwin Hooper for Unsplash.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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14/48:HS: Adapting Youth Theater to a Modern Pandemic

Feature on 14/48:HS

Written by Teen Writer Audrey Liepsna Gray and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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Back in March, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced challenges that no one could have predicted just a few months earlier. For artistic communities nationwide, these hardships took shape in the accessibility of art; venues for creative exhibition and exploration closed, groups could no longer meet safely, and artists began to struggle under the challenges of just staying afloat. Organizations like 14/48:HS, a local community-oriented youth theatre group, were pushed into a virtual platform, their resources and activities stifled by quarantine. Even inspiration suffered under the toll of the pandemic. Days began to blend together into a surreal quarantine landscape, and the sudden depression of social distancing pushed many artists’ creativity into a background hum. Financial instability, social isolation, and the stress of self-sufficiency in a country that seemed to be collapsing were common issues among adults. But what about teens?

For teenagers all across the country, school and extracurriculars spelled out an escape from tumultuous relationships and home lives. Now, home life is all we know. Even school, something that used to be a welcome time for stimulation and friendships, is one hundred percent virtual and isolated. Most extracurriculars were postponed indefinitely or forced to move to an online format, including groups that promoted artistic expression through their activities. One such group is 14/48:HS. They’re dedicated to producing their student theater festival and being a supportive artistic community that fosters the creative growth of members in various artistic mediums. Their community is so strong, they’ve won the Teeny Award for Best Youth Engagement Program— twice. Since quarantine began, they’ve been trying to continue their group online. Finding solutions to the challenges that plague artistic communities during the pandemic hasn’t been easy. The inability to come back to a physical theater space has left a 2020 14/48:HS festival impossible, and they’ve struggled with engagement and creative work over a virtual medium. But 14/48:HS is overcoming these challenges, and they’re doing it in a fashion befitting their mission as a youth-led, directed, and produced organization.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, organizations have had to adapt to online meetings and employ creative problem-solving. 14/48:HS is a great example of how groups of young artists can use online tools at their disposal to explore their creativity and serve their community. I attended one of the 14/48:HS meetings and found an open, friendly community. Creative ideas seemed to bounce off every member and the atmosphere was relaxed. During the quarantine, they’ve been unable to meet in person and do many of the things that they normally do as a theater group, so they’ve changed up their mission and began focusing more on their community. Being a safe space to let members focus more on themselves and the social issues plaguing our community was important for them. However, they’re now beginning to get back to the artistic aspect of their organization and planning to use the internet, the one reliable tool at their disposal, for creating. Photo courtesy of 14/48:HS.

Social media may serve to be the most important tool in 14/48:HS’s shift back into theater during the pandemic. Community engagement has always been an important aspect of their organization, but during the quarantine, their artistic endeavors have suffered. A way to get back to creation whilst honoring these values may be through TikTok, an app with an overwhelmingly young user base. 14/48:HS plans on using the platform to create short musicals and skits, all recorded through the ideas of the members and from the safety of a home recording. The idea seems perfect for a modern theatrical response to a modern pandemic. The engaging, youthful peer-to-peer nature of 14/48:HS reveals just how well they’re making their group work even in these difficult times. They’re peers, and they’re a community; they know each other’s struggles, conveniences, and the trends of their generation. Because of this, they know how they can help each other through the dark tunnel of quarantine. Through this intrinsic connection, they’re able to more effectively understand their platform, their peers, and the world of virtual theater. Their use of other virtual sources than the more obvious video-chatting services shows their mindfulness, as it's an excellent way to combat the widespread phenomena known as Zoom fatigue.

These times may be rough and isolation may run rampant, but communities are still very much alive. The empathetic and engaging work of 14/48:HS proves this. Although creativity may take a backseat for many young artists in these times of strife and discord, nothing shows the strength of community and togetherness like knowing that that’s okay. Even a group as artistically oriented as 14/48:HS recognizes this. Their theater is made by and made for today’s youth. They use the internet mindfully to make a powerful point as they transition back to art. After all the fatigue and challenge of functioning solo in quarantine, the 14/48:HS community is a breath of fresh air and a sign of more creative youth theater to come in the future. It shows just how far a community can go towards making an event as universally stressful and isolating as a pandemic a little bit more bearable, and a little bit more creative. No other organization shows an intrinsic understanding of this better than the exemplary 14/48:HS.

More information about 14:48/HS can be found on their website.

Lead Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of 14/48:HS. Spring 2019 Festival.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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An Auditory Exploration: The Canterville Ghost

Review of The Canterville Ghost presented by Book-It Repertory Theatre

Written by Teen Writer Nour Gajial and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

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As we approach the holiday season, who doesn’t love getting cozy and watching a performance? Even during a time where we cannot enjoy an in-person play, Book-It Repertory Theatre continues to bring the arts community together through broadcasting Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, converting the play into an auditory performance. Although viewing this production online is not the same as viewing it live, I had the opportunity to enjoy it in the comfort of my own home, and given that it was pre-recorded, I had the flexibility to view it at my own time.

The Canterville Ghost is a short story by Oscar Wilde about the Otis family, who move to an English country house which they soon find out is haunted. The Otis family, who are from America, do not find the eeriness of their house intimidating. In fact, they decide not to mention it at all. We soon discover that in their basement lives a ghost with a troubled past. Although we do not know the name of the ghost, we know that he was the first owner of this country house and was looked down upon in his past life since he killed his wife. Every morning he leaves a bloodstain in the living room near the fireplace to prove his existence and to scare the family, but the Otis family is unphased. Every night, the ghost attempts to scare the family, but instead, the young Otis twins ridicule him and play tricks on him instead. Even Mr. and Ms. Otis offer him medicines and supplies to help him instead of reacting to his tricks. By this point, the ghost feels offended and decides to stop scaring the family. However, it soon becomes evident that the elder daughter of the Otis family, Virginia, has some fear building up around living in the haunted house. One day she comes across the ghost and he confides in her. They both share vulnerable stories and the ghost confesses that he wants to die officially and doesn’t want to continue his presence as a ghost. Virginia is destined to help the ghost and as she helps him confront death, she learns an important lesson that love is stronger than death.

One of the most exciting features about this performance is that it can only be viewed as an audiobook. Personally, I thought this fit perfectly with the theme of the Canterville Ghost since it is a fantasy story and it gave me an opportunity to create my own image for the performance. However, given that there were no visuals, the story was heavily dominated by the voice of the narrator, which created continuity between the scenes. I could tell that the audio was high quality since it was extremely clear and had many dimensions (background noise, character noise, and narrator voice). Often the narrator would lead the plot with the characters in the scene talking in the background. In this audiobook style, it was extremely helpful that I was able to distinguish each character by their unique voices and tones. Just by hearing their voices, I was able to track character development throughout the storyline which added depth to my understanding of the plot. Even though there were no formal transitions between scenes, I relied on the background sounds and pauses to establish a change in time in my head which strongly imitated a set change on a stage in real life. Although I have not listened to very many audiobooks, I had a great experience listening to the Canterville Ghost and am inspired to check out more auditory performances.

Overall, I was very satisfied with viewing this performance. Even though I didn’t see the production in person, or have visuals to aid my understanding, I had the freedom to create my own fantastical visuals in my mind which was equally enjoyable. The Canterville Ghost was humorous, exciting, and kept me on my toes even in the comfort of my own house. Although audiobooks are not the most conventional method of viewing a performance, Book-It Repertory Theatre did a very effective job in conveying the story while keeping the viewer entertained. During this time in quarantine, it can be difficult to view live performances, however, I had an awesome experience listening to this audiobook and encourage others to check it out!

This event is streaming from December 8th, 2020 through June 30th, 2021. For more information see here.

Lead Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Book-It Repertory Theatre

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Una manera única de celebrar: ¡Navidad!

Review of ¡Navidad! presented by Pacific MusicWorks

Written by Teen Writer Jaiden Borowski and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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I began ¡Navidad!, Pacific MusicWorks’ most recent show, with a certain sense of anticipation. I have been desperate for the holiday spirit this year and was eager to experience holiday cheer in any form. Without the usual winter activities and just a light sprinkle of snow in Seattle, the only Christmas spirit that I have found this year has been through time-tired songs and classic movies. In ¡Navidad! I hoped to find a fresh way to celebrate the holiday season. The impressive vocals by Danielle Sampson and Tess Altiveros, combined with creative instruments, gave me the sense of newness I craved.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the tone of the music, which, with its Cuban, Mexican, Guatemalan, Bolivian, and Peruvian origins, was completely distinct from the style of classic European and Western Christmas music that I had anticipated. As a member of the Latinx community, it was wonderful to experience and learn more about music from Latin America and its intricacies. Although the words (translated to English through subtitles on the bottom of the screen) were centered around the usual religious stories of Jesus’s birth, the tone of the music was refreshingly original to me. As opposed to Western holiday songs, ¡Navidad! provided a new way to enjoy the season through music. Pacific MusicWorks' ¡Navidad!. Photo by Philip Tschopp.

While the instrumentalists wore matching masks, the two sopranos stood maskless, (six or more feet apart), and artfully conveyed the emotions of the songs through their voices and facial expressions. Sampson and Altiveros’ voices were at once powerfully distinguished from each other and beautifully combined. One did not have to understand the words to fully appreciate the impressive, clear, and strong notes of the singers. Distinct drums and various other percussion instruments, played by Antonio Gomez, added to the unique and layered sounds.

The intermission provided a short film shot during this past summer in 2020, with the piece Sonata Seconda for Violin and Continuo as its audio. With the simple scene of a group of friends coming together for a feast, it evoked in me, and I’m sure many of the other audience members, a certain sense of nostalgia for pre-COVID times. At once both a feast for the eyes and ears, the bright tableau contrasted with the lonely and darker times of 2020’s version of the holidays.

Tekla Cunningham, the piece’s co-artistic director, shared a thought during the intermission about the power of the audience which resonated deeply with me: “Concerts have always been a kind of sacred space, outside of the demands of day-to-day life. A shared moment when time can truly stand still… One in which you as a listener play an equal and essential part.” Even during quarantine, when in-person performances and audiences are impossible, shows like these can still bring us together in some manner. The enjoyment of these songs unifies us even beyond the screen, as art always has the potential to do. The novelty of ¡Navidad! specifically accomplished this because it felt like a new experience that the audience could discover together. Both a relaxing and powerful take on Christmas music, ¡Navidad! is sure to add cheer to your holiday season!

This event streamed online on December 12th. For more information see here.

Lead photo credit: Pacific MusicWorks' ¡Navidad!. Photo by Philip Tschopp.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Revisiting Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels

Review of Fallen Angels

Written by Teen Writer Owen Chilcote and edited by Teen Editor Eleanor Cenname

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Few filmmakers are able to highlight the longings of modern people as stylishly as Wong Kar-wai.

The Chinese-born director has made a name for himself with an exceptionally consistent filmography. Ranging from the hyperactive and kaleidoscopic Chungking Express to the internationally renowned In the Mood For Love, each of his films manages to accomplish the astonishing balancing act of being both stylistically unique and emotionally resonant. However, of all of his exceptional work (most of which are playing in a glorious new 4K restoration at SIFF), no film is a sharper distillation of his signature hyper-kinetic melancholy than his 1995 masterpiece, Fallen Angels.

Fallen Angels was originally conceived as the third part of 1994’s Chungking Express—a movie divided into two distinct stories linked together primarily through motifs—and an observant viewer could find the traces of that film in this one. The fragmented structure, based upon two different relationships, is certainly familiar, and symbols of blond hair and cans of expired pineapple (which feature prominently in Chungking Express) reappear and gain new meaning in Fallen Angels. But the movie really works much better as a darker foil to Chungking Express than as a direct sequel. Brigitte Lin and Faye Wong in Chungking Express (1994).

Take, for example, the brooding contract killer and his “partner,” whose character dynamic—along with some John Woo-style shootout sequences—make up the first half of the movie. While the primary conflict in Chungking Express was the characters’ inability to express their feelings to each other, in Fallen Angels it is their unwillingness to allow themselves to be emotionally connected to another person. The film lets us know this fact almost immediately during the opening monologue: “We’ve been business partners for 155 weeks now. We’re sitting next to each other for the first time today. We seldom see each other because it is hard to control one's emotions. Partners should never get emotionally involved.”

Interior monologues like the one quoted above appear regularly throughout the film. Along with well-placed pop song selections, they take up the majority of the soundtrack, replacing conventional dialogue. And for good reason, as they act as the glue that holds this film together, connecting each of the deeply atmospheric vignettes into a whole.

There’s really very little tangible narrative structure to Fallen Angels. Even as someone who’s seen the movie multiple times, it’s hard to pin down a concrete plot. Each scene gives way to the next at such a quick pace that all that’s left are images and snatches of dialogue. It’s hard to make a great argument for the overall value of these structural choices (or lack of such), but this high a density of memorable moments is incredibly hard to find in any other film.

Fallen Angels is ultimately defined by its late-night neon-soaked atmosphere, not its story. Much of the credit for this atmosphere is owed to Wong’s go-to cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, who assembles a stunning collage of seductive pop-art imagery. Shot primarily at night using only extreme wide-angle lenses, the film's visuals are kinetic and propulsive, each shot more exciting than the last.

The movie is a barrage of seductive images: a motorcycle ride, a woman's face reflecting onto a jukebox, a ride in an ice cream truck, a digital video ode to a father, the best shot of someone eating noodles I have ever seen on film. Each image gives way to the next in a rapid-fire montage of gleeful improvisation. Every moment, however mundane, manages to be funny or moving or cool or even all of those at once.

This is why Fallen Angels works so well. Even though the movie is loose, goofy, and sometimes more ambitious than it needs to be, Wong’s ultra-romantic sensibilities and clever writing add a surprising amount of emotional depth and technical savvy to an exhilarating romance movie destined to be a future cult classic.

Lead Photo Credit: Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels (1995).

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Being Kazakh, Watching Borat 2, and Being Kazakh While Watching Borat 2

Review of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Written by Teen Writer Isabelle Nurzhanov and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

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From the Kazakh paper Karavan, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is "... certainly not anti-Kazakh, anti-Romani or anti-Semitic… It is a cruelly anti-American movie.”

Pardon the melodrama, but Borat has always been a bit of a specter hanging over my head. Thankfully, most people my age have not seen the film, or at least don’t recall it if I say my ethnicity. For a certain section of movie-goers aged around 25 to 50, however, the Kazakhstani character Borat is usually what first comes to their minds when I answer some variation of, “What are you?”

With the sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, being released this past October, I was curious to see how exactly the Borat films portrayed Kazakhstan, and what the years of “my wife” jokes were all about. The sequel to the 2006 film, a mockumentary based upon a fictional Kazakhstani reporter visiting America, follows the same titular character as he attempts to give his daughter as a diplomatic gift to Vice President Mike Pence.

The movie is…fine. It fulfills its purpose of satirizing the American culture and, more specifically, a particular strain of American patriotism. But the political satire moments are not surprising, nor do they ever seem to go further than the same kind of humor that has propped up SNL for the past four years. This film isn’t doing anything groundbreaking by documenting bigotry or complacency, even if they are being expressed in absurd ways. Yes, we shouldn’t let ourselves get desensitized to that absurdity, but it’s what we’ve been seeing for a while now. The escalating absurdity of COVID and politics is the set-up and punchline to joke about 2020. And with the election already over and bigger systemic problems still existing and causing harm, the satire here feels insubstantial. Is this it? Do we really need scenes of Borat dressing as President Trump to go to the Republican National Convention, or convincing anti-maskers at a rally to sing a song about the “Wuhan Flu”?

As good as the intentions are in exposing the ugly racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and sexism (and tolerance of that discrimination) beneath the veneer of old-fashioned Americana, these issues seem obvious to anyone who is Jewish, nonwhite, female, LGBTQ+. Of course, it can be cathartic to see your experiences on screen, but it can also just be frustrating to have a movie be what validates your oppression as truthful. It’s exhausting to know that people will believe a movie over what minorities are actually telling them.

The comedy is a toss-up; since the film is so heavily reliant on uncomfortable scenarios, it’s truly dependent on whether you’re a fan of cringe comedy or not. I admittedly had to pause multiple times throughout the movie to catch a break. In addition, the emotional throughline of Borat and his daughter’s relationship falls flat, with the ridiculous and unscripted nature of the premise barring any kind of big character development between the two. Tulebaev Steet, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo by Nurgissa Ussen on Unsplash.

Beyond the content of the film, I question the usage of Kazakhstan, specifically. The screenwriters could’ve easily used a fictional country. But then again, it is darkly humorous to see American’s perceptions of “strange foreigners” from a real, albeit obscure, country. Even funnier is the idea that some people may think the country portrayed does not exist at all. (Note: True story. After I had told someone I was from Kazakhstan, they informed me that they “thought Borat had made it up.”) Despite this, the usage of Cyrillic and vague Slavic accents does make it seem as though Russian culture is all there is and all there ever was in Kazakhstan, which is slightly worrying with the context of Russian imperialism in Central Asia and the knowledge that most Westerners are unaware of the region.

The character of Borat didn’t intend to portray the real-life experiences of being Kazakh, but he has become a part of those real-life experiences. Despite Cohen’s intention of using Kazakhstan as a commentary on American’s ignorance of foreign nations, Borat seems to be the first thing Americans mention to any Central Asian person they meet. From the other Central Asian folks I know, online and in my family, most of them have had Borat references and jokes directed towards them. Do the films’ benefits outweigh those jokes towards Kazakhs and Central Asians? In the age of asking for more representation in American film and television, is it okay that this is what we get? I can’t speak on any kinds of anti-Semitism or anti-Romani sentiment, but I don’t think Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is anti-Kazakh, and I largely agree with the quotation from Karavan above. Despite these concessions, I’m still left wondering: is this the best filmmakers, comedians, and celebrities can do?

Lead photo credit: Sascha Baron Cohen in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Amazon Studios/TNS

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Sweet Six Teenys in Quarantine

Feature about the 2020 Virtual Teeny Awards

Written by Teen Writer Sumeya Block and edited by Teen Editor Mila Borowski

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In this day and age of 2020, any chance to dress up, socialize, and enjoy a party drink or two is a Zoom call worth attending. Full of glitter, ball gowns, fun crazy wigs, bright makeup, and a red-carpet, this annual celebration really is the heart of TeenTix, and a sweet ode to its beloved pass program.

Last year, I went to the TeenTix Gala and Teeny Awards as a representative of the Newsroom. The Teeny Awards celebrated Arts Partners, and the TeenTix Gala celebrated TeenTix’s supporters. At the gala there were lots of crowns, masks, and references to the TeenTix board members’ teenage selves, whose photos accompanied lively centerpieces on each table. The Teeny Gala was just a week after the Teeny Awards, and many of the arts organizations who were nominated for awards were now present at the gala. Through the connections formed at these events, communities grow and opportunities unfold. What is so special about the TeenTix Gala is that it provides a space to meet others who crave creativity and serves as the jumping off point for us to grow in our love for the arts together. This year, TeenTix has split up the two events and the TeenTix Gala will be held in April 2021, while the Teeny Awards were hosted this November.

When I joined TeenTix New Guard this past January, I was most excited to help plan the Teeny Awards. When the planning committee started brainstorming back in June, we realized that this year would be different from the 2019 awards show. This year, we had to harness the same community-building atmosphere of our annual event onto a virtual stage; no longer would we be mingling at the SIFF cinema, now it would be set in people’s living rooms. We included different aspects from The Teeny Awards and the TeenTix Gala and combined them into the 2020 Virtual Teeny Awards. Initially, everyone was split into breakout rooms, which functioned as proxies for the round tables at the previous gala. The workshops and awards show was like the Teeny Awards part of the evening. For me, what was perhaps the hardest to say goodbye to this year was the infamous TeenTix snack table. The double stuffed Oreos and unlimited access to Rachel’s Ginger Beer were certainly missed, but it was cool to enjoy the signature drink of this virtual evening: a Sweet Sixteeny (YUM!).

TeenTix is 16 years old this year, and just like with any other sweet 16th birthday, there comes change: the mood might be different, the decorations more sophisticated, and there may be some new faces along with the appearance of the ones we know and love. I, like many other New Guardians and pass holders, share a birth year with TeenTix, and any birthday during a pandemic is no doubt bittersweet. The connection that all 16 year olds share, including TeenTix, is that during this pandemic, it is a weird and exciting time to turn 16. We are all trying new things, and making our way in a COVID-19 world. During social distancing, intimate times with friends and family can feel lonesome when their warm faces are just pixels projected from your TV. It might feel like the only benefit to all this is getting to have all that cake for yourself. So when it came to planning this year’s virtual event, our goal was to avoid that empty feeling and make the awards feel more personal, just like a birthday party where you finally get to see your friends after a month away at summer camp.

Since August, the Teeny Awards committee, Teeny Awards intern Daisy, and the adult TeenTix staff have been brainstorming how to make this a COVID friendly yet fun show. This year has been a time filled with a lot of new things, new routines, and new hobbies, and likewise we approached this with a new mindset. This year, the Teeny Awards stretched out over two days instead of one. We also combined what was previously the New Guard’s Teen Arts and Opportunities Fair and the many workshops we hold throughout the year into the Teeny Awards through Community Day, the second day of events. The TeenTix website is currently housing a virtual gallery displaying the works from a new mentorship program, and shares about what each teen accomplished in the mentorships. On the first day, before the Teeny Awards show, everyone played games over Zoom, socializing while coloring a TeenTix coloring sheet (drawn by a fellow New Guardian!).

This year, the Teeny Awards show was streamed on YouTube and a couple of us teens got to see the awards announced in a Zoom watch party, so we could all celebrate the winners and drink our Sweet Sixteenys! During quarantine, there aren't always a lot of chances to meet new people, so it was refreshing to have that during the two days of the Teeny Awards. People dressed up, (I wore a tiara in true Sweet Sixteen fashion), and we were treated to performances by Mirabai Kukathas, Helena Goos, and many more. The dance group DANDY hosted the show, bringing their lively and fresh performances to our screens. Teens and Teaching Artist Martin Douglas during a Music as Activism workshop at Community Day

The following morning, at Community Day, we were in for a treat with a workshop hosted by Martin Douglas, from KEXP, where we learned about rap and the cultural significance of the Black communities it is grounded in. We learned from Martin about many rap songs that discuss issues of incarceration and police brutality against Black people, and we discussed the role of music within activism and how that is presented. In the afternoon, I attended an Art as Activism panel where we got to share our own experiences and learn from the panelists, all local artist/activists about their work. It was exciting to have discussions with such talented artists and to learn about their creative process and intentions with their art. Just like last year, I feel so inspired by my experiences from the Teeny Awards. My own creativity has been refueled, and I feel like—for the first time in a long long time—I actually had fun on a Zoom call! And an extra bonus: I found a new artist to obsess over. The Teeny Awards always inspire me to write more, to use my TeenTix Pass frequently, and to make friends and engage in more art.

BRB, logging off to follow Mirabai Kukathas on Instagram!

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Exploring the Italian Identity Through Food and Film

Review of Bread, Love, and Cinema: Italian History Through Film and Food presented by SIFF

Written by Teen Writer Lily Parker and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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When someone says Italy, most people think of things like the Roman Empire, pizza, Catholicism, Mussolini, spaghetti, gelato, and pizza. Maybe I'm just hungry, but food is certainly a defining element of Italy. And so, argues Dr. Antonio Iannotta, is film, though that is an area fewer people consider. In his virtual SIFF class Bread, Love, and Cinema: Italian History Through Film and Food, Iannotta explores food scenes from nine Italian movies and connects them to the broad historical context in which they were created. Having visited Italy before, I have experience with Italian food and culture, but I have also seen exactly zero of these movies. With that said, looking at food through film was an eye-opening way to understand the Italian identity. I was especially impacted by the scenes from the films Bicycle Thieves, Rocco and His Brothers, and Big Night.

Ladri di biciclette, or Bicycle Thieves, is a 1948 movie that tells the story of Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani), a father who embarks on a wild goose chase with his son Bruno to find his stolen bike and save his job. The scene Iannotta played from this movie follows the pair at a restaurant. The dichotomy between Bruno and a rich girl at the other table is especially striking, as she continues getting dish after dish while the boy eats fried bread and mozzarella (a cheap peasant dish made from leftovers). After WWII, Italy was wracked by divisions and debt, as well as an unstable government and weak law enforcement. This made security uncertain, with life easy for thieves and difficult for decent people like Antonio as well as filmmakers. Director Vittorio De Sica funded the film out of his friends' pockets, shooting only on location and using amateur actors (Maggiorani was a factory worker). Despite this, the film was a huge success worldwide, and it had special meaning to Italians who saw Antonio's struggles mirrored in their own lives. Its appeal to all audiences comes through the compelling relationship between father and son who, like bread and mozzarella, are much better together.

Made and set in the sixties, Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and his Brothers) follows a family from southern Italy that moves to newly industrialized Milan. The story of moving North for opportunity related to many Italians at that time, as the country quickly gained economic power in the North while the agrarian South remained almost as poor as it had been during WWII. The core of this movie, however, is family. The selected scene focuses on their mother, clearly the glue of the household, feeding her boys coffee and bread before shoving them out the door to find work. Despite poor food and little means, the family works together to make life better, revealing the deep ties and perseverance of the Italian spirit.

Big Night is actually a 1996 American film starring Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, but Iannotta included it because it accurately represents the experiences of Italian immigrants. The stars play two brothers, Primo and Secondo, who open a restaurant in New Jersey in the fifties. The problem? Americans have a very different idea of Italian food than Italians. One scene shows a customer who asks for spaghetti and is appalled when no meatballs come with it. This is because southern Italy was much poorer—meat was almost never available, and diets consisted mostly of breads and vegetables. Spaghetti and meatballs is an authentic Italian dish, but one that originated in America, where meat was much more commonly accessible. It is here Iannotta emphasizes the diversity in Italian food, both within Italy and throughout the world. From city to city you will find different dishes, but each is grounded in a strong Italian identity.

I have never truly looked at Italy from an Italian point of view, only from textbooks and tour guides. Iannotta’s depth of knowledge and passion for the subject area revealed a side to Italian culture I had not seen before. The flow of the class worked well for an online setting. Iannotta would briefly introduce the movie, play a clip, and then dissect it, allowing people to first draw their own conclusions before adding his take. Though the films weren't played in exact chronological order, it was still easy to grasp the general arch of the stories and how they fit with one another. Zoom’s chat and Q&A functions are no replacement for in-person relations between teacher and student, but Iannotta made the content accessible and answered every question posed with grace and depth. Through this class, my eyes were opened to the Italian identity, capturing perfectly how food is inexplicably tied to culture, and to family. One thing is for certain. I am going to buy a vat of gelato and watch every single one of those movies.

Bicycle Thieves (Ladri di biciclette) | 1948, dir. Vittorio De Sica

Poverty and Nobility (Miseria e nobiltà) | 1954, dir. Mario Mattoli

An American in Rome (Un americano a Roma) | 1954, dir. Steno

The Gold of Naples (L’oro di Napoli) | 1954, dir. Vittorio De Sica

Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) | 1960, dir. Luchino Visconti

The Big Feast (La grande abbuffata) | 1973, dir. Marco Ferreri

We All Loved Each Other So Much (C’eravamo tanto amati) | 1974, dir. Ettore Scola

Big Night | 1996, dir. Campbell Scott, Stanley Tucci

Facing Windows (La finestra di fronte) | 2003, dir. Ferzan ÖzpetekLead photo credit: Courtesy of SIFF

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Dragon Mama: Are We the Same or Could We Not Be More Different?

Review of Dragon Mama by Sara Porkalob at American Repertory Theater

Written by Franklin High School student, Kalie Vo.

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Dragon Mama is a production that delivers emotional moments to create one life-changing experience. The story is unforgettable not only in the drama, but also in presentation. Regardless of the viewer’s perspective, this story holds the potential to leave an impact. Brought to life through the talent of solo actress—Sara Porkalob, this performance highlights being an anti-model-minority in a nonfiction approach unique to her mother’s life and demonstrates the events of what happened before and after Sara’s own birth.

The play focuses on Maria, with a complex family structure along with financial and emotional struggles while growing up. She is burdened in her childhood with the role of being a parental figure to her four siblings whose single mother is busy working to provide for them. The viewer spectates Maria as she grows from being an irresponsible teenager into an adult struggling to find her path in life. She also explores her sexual identity while raising her child and copes with mental issues. Maria’s coming of age is nothing like what most people imagine their life to become. This piece exists to let people know that the value of their experiences do not have to be measured by the common standard of success and that Maria, despite her bad choices in life, was able to strive for a fulfilling purpose and attain happiness, while moving the audience along the way.

One notable aspect of the play is the strong portrayal of family relationships. The one-sided connection between Maria and her mother, and Sara to her mother, is representative of many immigrant family dynamics. Maria’s mom was often too busy working to spend quality time with family as shown by a time where without notice, Maria and her younger siblings do not see their mom come home for over 24 hours. Not being able to spend time with family means not being able to guide them, not being able to give affection, and not being emotionally present while they grow up. This lack of guidance influences Maria into making many irresponsible choices later on. For some viewing her play, they might resonate with the experiences of feeling like their parents never loved them since they never showed up for them. Despite this, Maria still receives silent displays of support, like when her mom pays for her abortion or lets adult Maria leave the household to find herself. These events cause the audience to reflect on their own relationships and memories with their parents.

Part of what makes this performance unforgettable is how the play does not sugar-coat the reality of mental health. When Maria gives birth to Sara, she experiences depression and her whole family is there to see it happen. Her depressive episodes are uncomfortable to watch but remind us that Maria is a real human with flaws and she was never meant to be a role model. With that in mind, witnessing Maria’s life at her extremes can create a sense of relief for young people watching because it tells them that it’s okay to be doing terrible.

Whether the audience relates to, or could not be more different from Maria, watching this life-changing production offers the audience a new perception of life along with insight. It forces spectators to acknowledge stigmas and issues that often come with the reality of living in poverty as an immigrant. For those who have lived a privileged life, it brings awareness and growth. For those who resonate with Maria’s experiences, it brings healing and growth. Regardless of perspective, the personal story each audience member has to compare and contrast with Maria’s is what creates this special awakening.

Lead photo credit: Sara Porkalob in Dragon Mama at American Repertory Theater. Photo by GretjenHelene.com

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Roh's Asian American Literature class, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Omar Willey.

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Dragon Mama: The Trials and Tribulations of an Asian-American Woman

Review of Dragon Mama by Sara Porkalob at American Repertory Theater

Written by Franklin High School student, Veronica Bunnell.

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Late night karaoke, drama, humor, love, heartache and complex characters all in an hour-forty-five-minute show created by one person? Writer and creator, Sara Porkalob, makes it seem so effortless. The second story in the Dragon Cycle Trilogy, Dragon Mama, is an incredible one-woman show starring Porkalob herself. It details the story of her mother, Maria Porkalob Jr. before and after Sara was born. The actress shares her mother’s journey and the unfortunate, heart-wrenching situations their family experienced during the late 1970s to early-1990s living in America. Sara Porkalob’s play emphasizes that there is much more to a person’s life than meets the eye.

The show recreates two time periods within Maria Jr.’s life. The first act focuses on her early life with her mother and siblings in Hawaii, as well as their life in Bremerton, Washington after they move from Hawaii. There, Maria Sr. works tirelessly as both a waitress and a worker at a bingo hall while raising her children as a single mother. As a result, thirteen-year-old Maria Jr. is left to take care of her younger siblings. The second act deals with Maria Jr. as an adult living in Alaska. Throughout the story, the family faces financial challenges and food insecurity.

Sara Porkalob’s versatile portrayal of her mother’s family is fascinating and draws in the audience. Her storytelling is both humorous and emotional. The stage only has a chair accompanying Porkalob as she performs. It emphasizes that the story is not centered around the setting but rather the actions and the dialogue. By using various tones and expressions, Porkalob is able to differentiate the roles in a way that captures their unique personalities. With numerous characters being added, it is easy to lose sight of the situation that occurs on stage. But with the right body movement and lighting, the audience cannot take their eyes off the story that is unfolding as well the valuable lessons it holds. In addition to the lighting and movement, the music choice makes an impact on her performance. Each song sets the tone and energy of the scene, and the audience gets hooked. The variety of music Porkalob plays during nerve wracking scenes symbolizes that music is the gateway to release her emotions. However, the show has so many quick transitions which can confuse the audience. There are moments where Porkalob goes from an outdoor to an indoor setting or from a flashback to the present and it takes a while for the audience to realize the change.

The turbulent life of Maria Porkalob and her family allows others to comprehend the struggles that Asian Americans face in the United States. Both Maria Porkalob Sr. and Jr. sacrifice their time with their children to make ends meet and provide the family with necessities. Whether it is through working two jobs or consistently moving to secure jobs, such as going to Alaska to work on a fishing boat, these women have to fend for themselves and make difficult decisions to survive.The overarching theme of resilience continues to make itself known throughout the many scenes, particularly to those who may not understand and relate to their actions.

Dragon Mama is the depiction of fortitude of spirit and perseverance in the midst of adversity. Maria Porkalob Sr. and Jr. are matriarchs who undergo unpleasant experiences for self-preservation and choose what’s best for their children. Being Asian Americans in a society full of limited opportunities, they epitomize true grit and express what it really means to rise up against hardships.

Lead photo credit: Sara Porkalob in Dragon Mama at American Repertory Theater. Photo by GretjenHelene.com

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism 101 workshop at Franklin High School in Ms. Roh's Asian American Literature class, taught by Press Corps teaching artist Omar Willey.

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Written in Water: A Dance of Snakes and Ladders

Review of Written in Water by Ragamala Dance Company at Meany Center for the Performing Arts

Written by Teen Writer Linda Yan and edited by Teen Editor Anya Shukla

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Presented by the University of Washington’s Meany Center for the Performing Arts and performed by the internationally acclaimed Ragamala Dance Company, Written in Water is a stunning masterpiece for both the eyes and ears. Despite being only educated in Indian culture at the surface level, I was repeatedly touched by both the emotional and artistic qualities of the musicians and dancers.

Originally founded in 1992 in Minneapolis, the Ragamala Dance Company is today led by the mother-daughter duo Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy, who also serve as the directors and choreographers of the company’s productions. Both first-generation Indian-American artists, the two, in their own words, are driven by their mission to create productions “influenced by their cultural hybridity” that “explore the myth and spirituality of their Indian heritage.”

As a Western viewer, I did not have a lot of context for the dance form, nor the cultural and historical events it was inspired by. Lacking this information, I likely missed many of the subtle cues and symbols hidden in this performance. However, as a self-proclaimed board game enthusiast, the first thing that caught my eye was the artwork projected on the auditorium floor, which reminded me of the classic board game snakes and ladders. As it turns out, Written in Water was inspired by the second-century Indian board game Paramapadham, also known as the original snakes and ladders. Deeply rooted in Hindu mythology, the grid of this game is representative of a person’s life. The snakes represent sins such as theft and anger while the ladders are representative of virtues including honesty and humility. The Paramapadham board projected during this performance was designed by Keshav Venkataraghavan, a cartoonist and illustrator for The Hindu newspaper. Written in Water performed by Ragamala Dance Company, Photo credit: Bruce Palmer

Written in Water is performed in the style of Bharatanatyam, an ancient Indian classical dance form. It follows the epic Sufi Poem, “The Conference of the Birds,” in which the birds of the world meet to determine who their sovereign leader will be; as well as the Hindu creation story, “The Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” where the world, along with all its evil and good, is created by the churning of the Ocean of Milk. In doing so, Written in Water explores the journey each of us undergoes throughout life as we search for the answers to our personal identity, as well as our connections to the spiritual world. As the dancers travel up and down the game board, they tell stories of individual encounters with good and evil throughout their own game of life. Through delicate hand gestures and facial expressions, the dancers convey complex emotions such as sorrow, joy, and hope as they each navigate through life’s struggles and delights. For instance, melancholy sections of the dance were slow and labored as the performers used their hands to accentuate acts of crying, defeat, and hopelessness. In contrast, the joyous movements were energetic and filled with fast-paced footwork. In the unique Bharatanatyam-dance style, the torsos of the dancers remain upright throughout the performance while their body movements are concentrated in the arms and legs.

The score for this performance was written by Amir ElSaffar and is performed by the company’s own South Indian musical ensemble, which consists of vocalists, as well as musicians playing the nattuvangam, santur, mridangam, violin, and trumpet. Unfortunately, the recording did not provide translated English captioning, so I could only guess at the meaning of lyrics, but they were sung and spoken in a poignant mix of Arabic, Tamil, and other languages. While this language barrier detracted a bit from my experience, the music was truly mesmerizing and successfully accentuated the emotions and energy of the performance.

What I found especially intriguing about it was that each dancer has bells secured around their ankles which tinkled every time they moved. In other words, the music came from within the dancers. Because of this artistic choice, part of the music featured in this performance is actually improvised based on the movements and actions of the dancers.

Written in Water is a beautiful piece that weaves music, visual art, movement, and history to create a unique show that explores South Indian culture and dance. If you, like me, were completely amazed by this incredible production and just wish that you could see it live, then you are in luck! Next year the Ragamala Dance company has plans to come to Seattle live to perform their newest work, Fires of Varanasi.

Lead photo credit: Written in Water performed by Ragamala Dance Company, photographed by Bruce Palmer

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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Creativity Through COVID: How Some TeenTix Partners Have Managed the Crisis

Written by Teen Writer Josh Caplan and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, with it came a dark time for the arts. To halt the spread of the virus, our TeenTix partner organizations closed. Museums like Wing Luke, the Burke Museum, and MoPOP were closed to the public for what was then an unknown duration of time. However, this dark spot was not dark for ingenuity. Sparks of light appeared as our TeenTix partners found innovative ways to reopen safely. I visited these three museums with the initial intention of writing an article on the ways they had adapted to reopen during the pandemic. Unfortunately, we have recently seen a sharp uptake in cases, and with that, these museums have once again closed their doors. The state has issued a timeline that mandates museums to be closed until January 4, 2021. The museums continue their hard work through this lockdown, balancing the health of employees and patrons with their commitment to enthrall, inspire, entertain, and inform.

In my visits to these museums, this commitment became exceptionally clear. Photo courtesy of the MoPOP

When I walked into MoPOP, all groups stood over six feet apart and hand sanitizer was abundant. I was given a thoroughly cleaned stylus to use to touch screens throughout the museum. Small things like this immediately showed some of the adjustments MoPOP had made before they reopened. I strolled through an exhibit on Minecraft, walking past human sized endermen figures and mineshafts built into the walls. However, the most engaging part of the exhibit for me were videos focusing on how, to many, Minecraft is a world to explore one’s own ideas in any way they might like. That idea is very powerful during COVID times when some of us try to view this as a time to delve into new things. There were other fascinating exhibits I explored; they included an exhibit on the rich cultural history of tattoo, as well as exhibits on musicians from the Pacific Northwest area. All of the exhibits allowed me to do what for some, Minecraft does: reflect and explore.

As MoPOP has closed, they remain doing everything they can virtually. They have virtual live music events, with schedules online. You can find more information on their website.

The Wing Luke Museum is filled with a host of exhibits on Asian American history, art, and cultures. The Wing Luke had initially closed for six months. In March, when COVID hit, the Wing Luke and the Chinatown International District first felt the economic pains that came with COVID. The stigmatization of the pandemic originating in Wuhan, exacerbated by people’s prejudices, led to fewer people visiting the district and the museum. To add to this, the Wing Luke was at the peak of a fundraising season. They realized that these unprecedented times required unprecedented solutions and immediately took action on alternative fundraising and outreach. Chrissy Shimizu, director of individual giving at the Wing Luke, framed it this way, “We were seeing all of these long form videos that were scripted and didn’t come from the heart; all of the personal engagement that people get from being together did not translate. Instead, we encouraged our board of trustees to reach out to their friends who would usually attend fundraising events with them and ask how they were doing and hear what they would like from us as a museum.” Still from Wing Luke's safety protocols video. Courtesy of the Wing Luke Museum

This creativity and commitment to finding new ways to keep the Wing Luke vibrant during COVID continued as the museum re-opened. Rahul Gupta, Director of Education and Tours, and his team worked hard to develop a highly individualized and personal virtual tour system. “When people visit the Wing, we want them to connect deeply with their own story and how that connects with the story of the museum and the people who first built our building. We didn’t want to lose that exchange, our ability to talk with folks who are on our tours and be part of a co-learning experience,” Shimizu added. The virtual tour is a live Zoom call. Tour staff walks through the museum while being able to interact with the group and answer questions. The intimacy that might come with an in-person tour is maintained in a safe way. On the virtual tour you can explore the Yick Fung Chinese import store, the bedrooms of what was once the Freeman Hotel, and several other exhibits. Virtual tours are still happening now, and you can book one on the Wing’s website.

Now, in lockdown, the Wing is not losing ambition. They have also transitioned towards offering more online orders and their marketplace, separate from the museum, remains open for in-person visits.

The new building of the Burke Museum has been there for over a year now. From outside you can see a large fossil through a massive glass window, giving passers-by a taste of the wonders that are inside. When I visited the Burke, the experience was almost exactly how it would be if COVID had not happened, with the exception of social distance markers and mask wearing. Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum

Through the three floors of the Burke, I explored time periods, geology, plants, animals, the climate crisis, and the art and culture of Indigenous communities in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. The Burke has a massive treasure trove of fossils, art and information that is now not accessible in person. In response to the latest round of closures, the Burke, like MoPop has created an exciting virtual alternative. A lot of their artifacts and information is available on their website, in a section they call “Burke from Home.” They have videos, articles and image galleries on everything from identifying the plants of Washington to drawing our surroundings. They have periodic Q&As with their experts, drawing activities for kids and families, entire virtual exhibits, and cooking tutorials. The Burke’s response to this second lockdown has been to make their wonders available online and then some. You can learn and explore on their website just as much variety as you would in-person. Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum

Back at the Wing, Shimizu pointed out, “The International District is a more vibrant neighborhood ecosystem than any other neighborhood in Seattle. If [the historic businesses in the ID] were to close and go out of business, they might be replaced by something that doesn’t carry on the cultural memory and cultural significance of the neighborhood and AAPI culture and identity. The museum is a cultural and economic anchor... A lot of people who visit the museum will go shopping or eating in the neighborhood. We want to make sure that when we [make] adjustments to our business model, we also pass on the love to ensure the well being of businesses in the area.”

Local arts organizations serve a role like this in their respective neighborhoods. They are in a way the keystone species of their neighborhood ecosystems. By supporting arts partners like the Wing Luke, the Burke, and MoPOP, we are a key part of this ecosystem. COVID cannot stop us from doing our part. For more information on ways to stay engaged with and support these museums, you can visit their respective websites.

For more information on MoPOP, see here.

For more information on The Wing Luke Museum, see here.

For more information on the Burke Museum, see here.

Lead Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the Museum of Pop Culture

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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NEWCOMER: The Best Thing

Review of NEWCOMER at NWFF

Written by Teen Writer Lauren Rohde and edited by Teen Editor Triona Suiter

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The week before we officially went into lockdown, I had one last hurrah at a Saint Motel concert. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I was in an enclosed space with so many people as a pandemic loomed on the horizon. Nine months in, loud throbs of music, air-sharing with strangers, and general feelings of exuberance are nowhere to be found, at least not in person. Enter NEWCOMER: A Seattle Hip-Hop Mixtape: a virtual look at Seattle’s vibrant hip-hop scene.

In a tour around Seattle’s small venues, NEWCOMER guides the viewer through black-and-white footage of various hip-hop concerts. Artists rap, sing, DJ, and in the case of Chong the Nomad, play the harmonica while beatboxing. Each clip is both fully immersive and beautifully shot; if it weren’t for the lack of sweaty crowds in my room, I’d believe I was actually there. The footage feels like a concert clip on your phone, but better, and the black-and-white cinematography serves to both clearly contrast the artist and audience as well as evoke a feeling of nostalgia. The past nine months have felt like a lifetime, and indeed, the cinematography emphasizes the fact that these events happened in the past. The presence of crowds is a shocking reminder of our pre-pandemic memories, when seeing live music wasn’t dangerous. Seeing people be able to be together and share an artistic experience is sad, yes, but a thought-provoking time capsule into the lives we once lived. In this sense, NEWCOMER is a perfect film for our time in that it allows us to immerse ourselves in the one thing there is no good online alternative for: the live concert experience. Film still from NEWCOMER. Shot and edited by filmmaker Gary Campbell.

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December, a Time For Expression

Teen Editorial Staff December 2020 Editorial

Written by Teen Editorial Staff Members Lucia McLaren and Mila Borowski

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When the weather outside is frightful, it’s the best time of the year to curl up with a hot drink and watch some socially-distanced entertainment! This December, we hope this wide variety of arts programs will have a treat for just about anyone.

To explore the realms of dance, Written in Water by the Ragamala Dance Company and presented by Meany Center for the Performing Arts, takes a refreshing, multimedia take on one’s journey to connect themself with their emotions and spirituality. If you’ve been craving a more comedic escape, take a look at Jet City Improv’s Twisted Flicks. Their improv-dialogue over classic movies of the past is sure to give you the laughter you need. When it comes to missing the experience of your favorite local restaurant, SIFF presents Bread, Love, and Cinema, a class on Italian food and how it’s interconnected with Italian film history.

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Announcing an Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP Dance Festival!

Join us for a FREE Arts Journalism Intensive in January 2021!

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Join us for a FREE Arts Journalism Intensive, hosted by TeenTix in collaboration with CHOP SHOP. In this four-week series, you’ll be mentored by a professional arts journalist, interview contemporary dance artists, and write an article about one of the artists featured in the 2021 CHOP SHOP Contemporary Dance Festival. You'll learn arts journalism skills that are applicable for all genres of art. All participants will have their writing published on both the TeenTix Blog and CHOP SHOP’s website and receive a stipend for their article!

Sign up RIGHT HERE! WORKSHOP SCHEDULE:

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Mustard Seeds: Writing Redemption, Not Excuses

Review of Mustard Seeds at Pork Filled Productions' Unleashed Festival

Written by Teen Writer Anabelle Dillard and edited by Teen Editor Lily Williamson

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In recent years, the worlds of film, theater, and television have seen a drastic increase in diversity, but with that diversity comes a tendency to follow the same tropes over and over again. Media with Black protagonists sometimes falls into Black pain or white savior narratives, media with LGBTQ+ protagonists often lands on the Bury Your Gays trope, and media with female protagonists often ends with vague declarations of girl power. Pork Filled Productions works to combat the stagnation of diverse media by providing a space for BIPOC voices in speculative genre fiction. Their most recent festival, Unleashed: New Pulp Stories for the 21st Century, featured staged readings from POC playwrights. The festival ended with Mustard Seeds, written by Michelle Tyrene Johnson and directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton, which follows two groups as their stories intertwine: four campers on the bank of the Missouri River and three spirits known as the Unborns. Over the course of a single night, the campers—Liz (Erika Fontana), Anna (Elisa Chavez), Ronnie (Vincent Orduña), and Mack (A. Fontana)—reveal personal truths and confront their own biases, while the Unborns—Taurus (Lauren DuPree), Gemini (Jose Ruffino), and Aries (Sarah Russell)—observe and comment on the behavior of the humans.

The Unborns are revealed to be the unborn children of the slaves who died while attempting to cross the Missouri River on the Underground Railroad. They each have a connection to different elements—Taurus with earth, Gemini with air, and Aries with fire—and learn important lessons from those elements: “listen,” “be patient,” and “burn what you think you know,” respectively. The Unborns also embody the elements they represent: Taurus is grounded and patient, Gemini is wise and spiritual, and Aries is passionate and impulsive. I found the way the Unborns evolved linguistically over the course of the play especially interesting. At first, they speak in mostly African-American Vernacular English and use antiquated vocabulary, hinting at the time period they came from, but as they spend more time listening to the campers, they adopt a more modern, academic dialect and use 21st-century slang. On the night the play takes place, under the light of the pink moon, the Unborns have a chance at life, and all they have to do is pick which of the campers they will be born to.

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Is LGBTQ+ A Genre?

Written by Teen Writers Kyle Gerstel and Anna Martin and edited by Teen Editor Lucia McLaren

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Well, what makes a film a western: the tone, or the cowboys? There is a specific procedure followed by most cowboy movies to effectively portray the (glorified) joys and hardships of cowboy life, with subject and style aligning to form the western genre. However, LGBTQ+ cinema has much broader potential, since a character’s gender and sexuality can be explored in multitudes of ways and don’t dictate every aspect of a story. This suggests that LGBTQ+ should not be considered a genre, but rather a categorization.

However, is that useful to queer people? Due to the inaccessibility of arthouse films, many young LGBTQ+ folks are forced to navigate mainstream entertainment giants like Netflix for crumbs of representation, which can be exhausting. According to GLAAD, a media organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ coverage, less than 20% of films from major studios in 2019 had a character that explicitly identified as LGBTQ+. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in popular media, so streaming platforms having a category to make finding such stories easier can make the experience much less isolating. One Day at a Time cast. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer - © 2018 Getty Images

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