Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something special...

During my visit to Pittsburgh/Latrobe, PA last year for the Fred Forward Conference, people kept asking me, "What is happening at Tufts University?" They asked this question because 2 out of 3 scholarship winners in 2010 were from Tufts, Rachel Schechter and me. They then found out that Sabrina Connell, a 2008 recipient of the award, is also attending Tufts to receive her Masters. Later, they might have heard that Michael Robb, another 2008 recipient, was an undergraduate at Tufts before receiving his award. We all have/are completing a degree in the child development program there, and I think Tufts is the most represented institution amongst the scholarship winners.

Something special is happening at Tufts University. Actually, somethingS special are happening. It's why I chose Tufts over other media and human development programs. Some of my reasons were:
1. It's a child development specific program
2. I'd complete the program in two years providing me with a lot of time to really learn and exercise all the theory I was digesting
3. It's attached to 2 lab schools were I could teach, observe, and test my practice
4. Amazing faculty including Julie Dobrow who is an incredible leader and very well-versed in the world of media and media education
5. The amazing faculty is full-time and not just makes a difference
6. Freedom to create!

In addition to these reasons, there is one that is particularly important. The children's media folks at Tufts are few in number but mighty! Under the leadership of Julie Dobrow, we meet on a monthly basis to share our projects, get peer feedback, trade information about events and jobs, and meet with visiting guests and speakers. Monday night was our first meeting of the year, and there was so much fantastic energy in the room! There were about 10 people of various ages and degrees with interests ranging from research to production to marketing. We have the opportunity to do something(s) really amazing this year!

I'm so glad to see that the number of students interested in children's media is growing. I think it says something very positive about the professional field of creating work for children. What do you think?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Open House!

A while back, my friend recommended I check out the work of FableVision. Please visit their website! They are a fantastic example of a for-profit company that is able to live and work by its mission: which apparently is a 200 year goal to change the world using media. Bravo! At the helm of the FableVision boat is Peter Reynolds. It seems as if Reynolds has his hand in all aspects of children's media but is most successful, I think, in his pursuit of quality visual art for children. His books are beautifully illustrated, the company's website designs are fun to play with and look at, and their software Animation-ish is a great tool to teach visual art and, more specifically, animation to children.

I was able to visit their studio this evening at an open house they hosted. It was such a fun environment and seemed to foster fantastic creative energy amongst the staff. Artwork and recording are done in-house, which I LOVE. It made me start to think about my studio; what will it look like? I'd love to develop a company of creative, mission-driven artists just as Reynolds has done.

My favorite part of the open house was experimenting with the company's educational software Animation-ish. I got to design my own characters and bring them to life using a simple, directed format. The company seems to be using it primarily in classrooms, but I have a feeling this will be tops on my Christmas list and will most likely be the gift I purchase for my younger cousins (ages 6 and 9).

When I received the open house invite (which I got simply from being on the listserve), I was unsure about it. Head into Boston to check out someone's office? Meh. I was encouraged by one of my classmates who came with me. I really learned appreciate this opportunity. Particularly as someone who will be looking for employment in 9 months, I now realize how valuable it is to get a feel for a work environment and know more about a company before sending in a resume or completely writing them off.

Please check out the company's site and experiment with Animation-ish! You won't regret it...

Friday, September 24, 2010

In the News...

As part of this blog, I like to highlight important events in the news that are related to the field of children's media. Lately, I've gotten nervous about this. What if I insult someone? Will this have an impact on my job search in June? The answer to these questions is: most likely. However, i consider it my duty to continue informing my readers of what is happening...and how I feel about it. In the most diplomatic way possible, of course.
Recently, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood found their latest target: Skechers and Nickelodeon. Skechers has created a television show, Zevo-3, which is set to air on Nickelodeon's Nicktoons channel. CCFC claims that this violates the FCC law stating that television programs cannot be aired for the purpose of selling a product. After spending a summer with Nickelodeon, I actually find it somewhat surprising that they would even consider airing something of this nature. I have learned, though, that Nicktoons is very different from Nick, Jr. They make no promises about educational television, and I happen to think their content is not the strongest out there. The show is being defended by Nickelodeon and Skechers Entertainment. If you're wondering why Skechers has a branch for entertainment purposes, then we must be kindred spirits. Bravo to Susan Linn for speaking out and monitoring what the FCC has clearly overlooked. I encourage you to read the full NYTimes article and develop your own opinion on the matter. Comments welcomed!
Next up...Katy Perry. As Sesame Street launches it's 41st season (congrats!), a video of Perry singing with Elmo was posted online. According to the press, Sesame pulled the video because of the overwhelming complaints about Perry's ensemble.
Two things about this video:
1-I am so impressed that Sesame would pull a video because of overwhelming disdain. It's a smart choice for them to listen to parents (hopefully parents were actually the ones complaining).
2- It got pulled because of the outfit?! I saw the video before it was frowned upon. It sucks. It's just bad. Sorry, Sesame. I felt so sad for the poor, young writer who imagined the concept and thought the very "in" Perry would be a great guest for kids and their parents. After watching it again, though, I can't help but wonder what the heck they were thinking! Elmo doesn't want to play with you for a reason, Katy.

More about the controversy here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wanted: Staff Writing Position at SNL

Saturday Night Live has been one of my favorite shows since the early '90s. I would stay up late when having sleepovers at my grandparents' house and sneak out to watch it. Mike Myers is my comedy idol...which explains a great deal about my sense of humor. The show has taken on so many different roles in my life. I now like to call it Sunday Morning Syndication because I usually can't stay up late enough to watch it or am out and, instead, snuggle up on a Sunday morning and catch it on Hulu.
When I told Joe (my other) about my secret desire to audition if I didn't make grad school and my regret of not spending more time studying comedy at NYU, he recommended I take a class at a comedy theater in Boston. After a little research, I found Improv Boston. Although I was tempted, I just didn't have the time.
Much to my good fortune, I'm required to take on a hobby for an intellectual development class I started at Tufts. It's called the metahobby project; I enjoy partaking in the hobby all while journaling and tracking my cognitive processes. After a little bit of pushing, I was allowed to conduct my metahobby at Improv Boston in their Sketch Comedy Writing class. I am so thrilled to begin this process and see if I can suck out any humor that wasn't wasted on sly AIM away messages in the early part of my college education.
Wish me luck!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Costume Design

Rogers Project costumes REVEALED! (shock, awe)
I really loved designing and putting the costumes together for the two main characters. Unfortunately, my budget for costumes was very tight, and I didn't have the ability to sew or hire someone to bring my sketches to life. What resulted, however, I think is far better than my original idea.

Inspiration: It is no secret that my work at The New Victory Theater played a huge role in my creation of this work. It was at the New Vic where I first fell in love with circus arts and made friends with clowns. The characters are inspired by fictional acrobats that took center stage at our annual Family Benefit.
I knew I wanted my costumes to look similar. I also knew that I wanted to have a male and female in clothing that was generally gender ambiguous. Similarly to the original version of these characters, I thought about my characters (a male and female) wearing mustaches and creating comedy through the wearing of, switching of, falling off of these mustaches. I realized, however, that might take away from my original goal of physical movement. I needed to keep the story simple and create costumes that highlighted these movements.

Sketch: Once I confirmed my cast, I formally put my ideas on paper. Yes, that is crayon.

Styling: I realized that I couldn't just make this costume. I needed to style it. I needed to pull from stores and my own wardrobe to put it together. I immediately ran to Target to find the base. The women's fitness-wear section provided me with the shirt (which I then had tailored to the actor) and shorts.
I must have visited every athletic store in Northern New Jersey this summer. I could not find green sweatbands and knee-high socks. Even an online search was fruitless. Finally, it came to me! American Apparel! Who wears those things anymore, anyway? Hipsters! I found the socks and sweatbands there and discovered the amazing yellow suspenders while checking out. They provided me with the whimsy needed for a circus character.
Lastly came the shoes. I wanted to create a costume that was simple; something that a kid could put together from their clothes or borrowing parents' clothes. These simple pieces could transform the average kid viewer into the character with little trouble. I nearly fainted when I saw the new streamlined Converse sneakers with simple, flat bottoms. They remind me so much of the Cons they sell for youngsters.
I needed to make sure the costume worked. Also, it was too tempting not to try it on myself.

Fitting: Finally, I fitted my actors to make sure everything looked right. I am so pleased with the final result! (actor J'nelle Bobb-Semple)

So far, the most exciting moment of this process has been seeing my actors in costume in front of the set. It literally took my breath away for a moment. From a simple sketch came this character brought to life! I look forward to sharing more...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mr. Potato Head Takes a Bath

While at Nickelodeon this summer, one of my favorite intern duties was bathing Mr. Potato Head. I felt so strongly about it that I actually wrote my final internship paper on that very topic. I've included, for your convenience, a page from my paper where I detail the process of bathing Mr. Potato Head. Enjoy!
You might be wondering why. I get it. It's strange. When out doing research on new episodes of Dora, we used Mr. Potato Heads as distracters (toys to distract the child from the show, which replicates a home environment). It was my job to clean these Mr. Potato Heads after we visited schools. It wasn't a challenging task at all. It was mostly weird and a little boring. I came to love it, though, because other people on the floor thought it was weird too! They would stop and ask me what I was doing. Through that, we began talking about children's television, television in general, their jobs, how they got there, my graduate work, and my goals. It was absolutely one of the best parts of my summer.
I write about Mr. Potato Head not only because he is near and dear to my heart now, but also because I want to remind the up and comers out there that sometimes you have to do boring, meaningless tasks. Greatness can come out of these tasks. When you prove that you can make a meaningless job important, people begin to take notice.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

From Story Time to Staff Meetings

I returned to my job as Graduate Teaching Assistant at a lab school of my department at Tufts. I really missed being a teacher this summer and all of my fantastic colleagues and students. These people know what they're doing! They've taught me that there's a reason for everything that happens at school and how important a school day is for a child, both socially/emotionally and intellectually. Essentially, schools are developed to socialize children for the world in which they live. Each country emphasizes specific parts of their curriculum, including rules and activities, to prepare children for the values and knowledge points that are needed in their society.
This year I will be moving from teaching kindergarten to preschool. I asked my head teacher if there was anything that I should be aware of during this transition. He emphasized how important the children's daily routine is. For some, this is the first time they are socializing with a large group of peers. Something as simple as story time could be a real challenge. I thought about that a bit. During story time, children listen to their teacher reading something he/she thinks is important or interesting to the group. Sometimes children may have questions about what is read or like to add something to what is being said. Often, teachers will debrief the story after it has been completed. The group discusses what they just learned. Does this remind you of anything? It strangely reminded me of a staff meeting.
What if children don't participate in story time with a large group of peers? Is this why some don't know how to conduct themselves in large-group meetings? Perhaps!
I want to highlight a storytelling program that I think is particularly fun and family-friendly. Barefoot Books, the Cambridge-based publisher, runs story hours throughout the week at their flagship store in Concord. I would volunteer to read there on Saturdays when they were based out of a Porter Square storefront. It was so fun for me, and I think the families felt like that had a special place to visit each Saturday morning. It also allowed children to socialize with others in the neighborhood. I urge you to check it out, take your kids, or volunteer!

P.S. This summer I learned how to clean a Mr. Potato Head. Step-by-step directions to follow!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Summer Explorations

I just arrived back in Medford this afternoon after a surprisingly quick bus ride back. Record time, actually! This summer I had the pleasure of interning with the Dora the Explorer research and production teams at Nickelodeon in New York. Although I think I mentioned it at some point in the blog, I was hesitant to publicly post anything because of the non-disclosure agreements Viacom/MTV made me sign. These scared the hell out of me the first time I saw them, but I slowly learned that they're fairly standard. I would want to protect my productions, too!
Now that it's over, I can say I had a great time and learned a lot. I feel like I have really tangible skills to bring back to Tufts with me as I begin my thesis and develop my data collection instruments for the Rogers project. I met some really wonderful people who LOVE their jobs and prove it through their hard work each day.
I was welcomed and sent off with pictures of Dora and Boots. It's something so simple but made me feel really special and part of the team! Adios, Dora y mis amigos!