arts & culture

Q & A with Author Abbey Lenzie

Q & A with Author Abbey Lenzie

On November the 8th at 3:30 in Harbert Auditorium, Birmingham-Southern (BSC) graduate will be speaking about her recently published, award-winning novella, In the Desert. Abbey Lenzie (class of 2013) majored in Media and Film Studies and minored in creative writing. Her novella recently won the 2018 Plaza Literary Prize. Before coming to her event on Thursday, Bagheera asked her a few questions.

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Looking Forward

BSC senior Art gallery opens

The Durbin art gallery opened March 3rd, featuring the senior exhibition. Each artist’s body of work occupied a single white wall, two walls adjacent, a generous amount of floor space, or a spot on ceiling from which it could hang, allowing the art room to breathe. As a symbol of ownership and accomplishment, above or nearby their artwork in light grey, the artists’ names proudly stuck to the walls: Anna Eggers, Hailey Kirkley, Jane Gleissner, Brooke Akins, Savannah Bullard, Katie Cleveland, Emma Knapp, Ali Sadler, and Timothy McOmber.

Photo of art by Emma Knapp

Photo of art by Emma Knapp

Photo of art by Katie Cleveland

Photo of art by Katie Cleveland

Kirkley and Gleissner stood by their sculptures and their cyanotypes that glowed blue as a result of the photographic process, Eggers by her photographs of public restrooms, and Akins near her monumental sculptures based on the aesthetics of African tribal masks. Knapp maneuvered through her sculptures of elegant dresses, her motion as organic as the work itself, and Bullard stood near her colorful arrangement of two-dimensional, mixed media works. McOmber set the figures in his playful ink drawings free from their frames to dawdle around the ceiling of the gallery, and Sadler reminisced with sentimental photos and paintings of her siblings, mother, and late father. Cleveland stood by her lithographic prints of General Patten, her emotional support rabbit, that hopped around his mobile throughout the entirety of the reception of her show.

Surrounded by friends, family, and autonomous admirers, the artists answered questions, gave statements, socialized, and enjoyed their moments in the spotlight.

These activities all transpired on the night of March 3 and again, over a month later, on April 7. The first exhibition, featuring Kirkley, Eggers, Gleissner, and Akins, lasted until March 23. With an intermediary of two weeks for the installation of the second show, the two Bachelor of Fine Arts exhibitions took place almost continuously. Two receptions were hosted for two incomparable groups of artists. This 2017 BFA senior class fit together like an already fixed, nine-piece puzzle.

Photo of art by Savannah Bullard

Photo of art by Savannah Bullard

Behind every beautiful, professionally presented work of art in the BFA Senior Exhibitions are months of hard work and sacrifice. “A lot of people don’t understand how much work goes into making everything for the show,” says Cleveland, a double major in Art and Psychology. “What many people don’t think about when looking in the gallery is that everything is typically made by the art student, not just the work hanging on the walls. We cut down the plexi-glass; we make the frames; we hang everything.” As a matter of fact, the BSC art faculty imposed this independence onto these soon-to-be college graduates in a deliberate effort to allow them the educational experience of a professional artist.

“The week of spring break, I spent probably forty-seven hours working on the show in the studio,” says Cleveland. She admits to spending around a thousand dollars on materials exclusively for her senior exhibition. Similarly, Eggers recalls spending many late nights working in the studio sometimes staring at a white wall until three o’ clock in the morning. Nevertheless, she says that she would be nothing if it weren’t for this program and credits BSC for her current strength as an artist.

The combined strength of Eggers and her fellow seniors manifested in the BFA exhibitions as they reached the summit of their artistic careers at BSC. “I’ve been anticipating this my whole college career but could never fathom what it would be like,” says Eggers. “You know that it’s going to happen but have no idea what work you’ll be doing in four years. So finally realizing that I have a body of work that I am proud of, that I can successfully present, is great.”

Feature photo of art by Ali Sadler

Where is the Best Coffee Shop in Birmingham?

An investigative report on which coffee shops are best to study or just chill in

I have taken coffee shops for granted up until this point in my life. As a college student, coffee shops are the best places to study and hangout with your friends. Luckily for me I go to school in an area where there are a lot of coffee shops. Here is a list of the top coffee shops in Birmingham. They are rated based on coffee and food quality, location, and ambiance.

6. Revelator Coffee
Located: 1826 3rd Avenue North, Unit 101 Birmingham, AL 35203

Photo via revelatorcoffee.com

Photo via revelatorcoffee.com

I feel like too much of an adult in here. This coffee shop is the mecca for people who think that they are too cool for Octane; they are probably looking to start a farm to table delivery service, so this is where they decide to meet. Plus, the last time I went they did not serve a chai tea latte, and it hurt my feelings.

5. Seeds Coffee Co.
Located: 174 Oxmoor Rd, Birmingham, AL 35209

Alright so, the first time I ever heard of Seeds Coffee Co. was at Pepper Place Market this past October. They had a small stand, and I ordered a chai tea latte - it was alright. But I did buy a sticker to put on my laptop because aesthetic. This past January, my best friends and I went to their actual shop to get some work done for school. I ordered a caramel latte with almond milk, but I do not know if I actually enjoyed it. I was far too distracted by the latte art.

The shop itself is pretty big; there are various mismatched tables scattered throughout. There is a large range of patrons there, from college kids to real life adults to parents with their young children. Unfortunately, when I was last at Seeds, there were far too many unruly children that distracted me from my work. Even though I personally am not a huge fan of Seeds, Clare Mills, a fellow Birmingham-Southern College student loves it. “Seeds is even more simplistic in their approach and target market; customers at Seeds expect well made coffee, fast internet, and a quiet, quirky place to work,” said Mills. Maybe I should give it another chance, but I would much rather spend my studying time elsewhere.

4. Octane Coffee
Located: Homewood: 2821 Central Av Ste 105 Homewood, AL 35209
               Uptown: 2221 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd N 320Birmingham, AL 35203

Octane is a pretty cool place. Their coffee is out of this world, but their food and ambiance is just alright. It is not meant for studying purposes, but for hanging out with friends. “The Uptown location is my favorite. The atmosphere is great, the coffee is delicious, the people that work there are so kind. I tend to judge coffee shops by how long I can sit in one without feeling like I should leave, and I feel like I can waste an entire day sitting in the Uptown Octane. They also have the habit of playing really great music at a volume that isn't too soft or too loud” said Liz Dial, a college student. Apparently, this is a popular opinion. “For studying, no. Hanging out, it's fine. The beverage selection isn't awesome, the chairs aren't comfy, and it's usually loud but I like to meet people there occasionally”, said Mary Nix Robertson a college junior.

What really draws me in to Octane is that they sell We Have Donuts, and that is great.

Photo via Alyson Maye

Photo via Alyson Maye

 3. Urban Standard
Located: 2320 2nd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203

Urban Standard has grits with Conecuh sausage and that is really all that matters. But besides having amazing grits, I find that it is a great place for college kids to study. They have an endless menu, plus their chai tea latte is amazing. But not all agree with me. “Urban Standard has yet to find its identity; Urban Standard attempts to be a coffee shop, quiet study hole, family restaurant, and hipster hangout scene all at the same time. Whenever I go to Urban Standard, although their grilled cheese is fantastic, I am never happy with my experience and blame [it on] their undecided atmosphere," said Clare Mills.

2. Red Cat
Located: Railroad Park: 1701 1st Ave S Birmingham, AL 35233
               Pepper Place: 2901 2nd Ave S. Birmingham, AL 35233

Red Cat is one of the quirkiest places that I have ever been to. They have an extensive menu of quirky drinks and food choices. Red Cat has never disappointed me. My favorite thing to get is the Gouda Grits with bacon and a Chai Tea Latte. But it is not really a place to go study, it's more of a “lets hangout with friends and talk about life” kind of place.

1. Church Street Coffee & Books
Located: 81 Church St, Mountain Brook, AL 35213

Photo via Alyson Maye

Photo via Alyson Maye

I am incredibly passionate about Church Street. They have the best cookies in the entire world, the Break-Up Cookie. They taste like if God baked cookies in heaven and then sent them to this earth. They use Octane coffee for their drinks, so it is very cool that they are supporting fellow local businesses. Plus, it is an amazing place to study or hangout with friends, “Church Street is a really great place for good coffee, excellent pastries, and has the option of either sitting upstairs to do work or sit downstairs to do work or socialize," said Mills. 

Feature photo via StockSnap.io

Trojan Women

Trojan Women Take the Stage to Tell a Story with Modern Parallels

Trojan Women, written in 415 BC by Euripides, focuses on the trials of the women left behind in Troy during the Trojan War. Hecuba, queen of Troy, Cassandra, her daughter and a tribe of other women have lost their husbands, homes and luxuries, only to become slaves of an opposing Greek force. Filled with themes of death, loss and mourning, the Greek tragedy strikes an uncanny parallel with worldly tragedies occurring today, such as the Syrian refugee crisis.

For the past five years, bans of terrorists have spread throughout Syria, destroying homes, murdering citizens and enslaving women of their liking. This past October, there was a feature on 60 Minutes, during which Bill Whitacre informed his audience on the Syrian crisis. The information that Whitacre shared helps shed light on the connection between Trojan Women and this international crisis.

“The war in Syria has taken the lives of almost a half-million people, leveled entire cities and created the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II,” Whitacre reported. Those that flee to neighboring countries, like Jordan, to register for the UN to gain passage to the United States endure harsh questioning and discrimination. Whitacre continued, “[Their] irises are scanned to establish their identity. Less than one percent will get that chance.” A mass genocide is happening before our very eyes, and in Trojan Women, that destructive, violent, 'necessary' genocide is literally manifesting itself before you.

Much like Syrian immigrant women, Hecuba and her newly found sisters create art together to express their emotions, purge their fears and anxieties and bond with one another to make life somewhat more pleasurable. Kelly Vaghenas, an artist, often observes refugee women sketching and engaging in other forms of visual art. Cassandra, Hecuba and even Helen use movement, dance, music and spoken word to communicate their sorrows, wants, needs and concerns.

As Vaghenas powerfully explained, “What can humans cling to in such desolation? The things that make us human. We have the ability to feel and express and create.”

Trojan Women will open Thursday, April 27th on the main stage in the theater on BSC's campus. If you would like to hear more about the play, there will be a Provost Forum Tuesday, April 25th during common hour in the theater auditorium.

Feature photo via Stephanie Lee

Splash Into SOCO

Escaping Finals with a Weekend Filled with Music and Fun

Our school’s annual SOCO concert will be held May 5th and 6th and will continue the two day event format that was tested out last year. This year, Residence Life and the Interfraternity Council (IFC) have planned a small change to add to the event. SOCO Splash, a daytime event centered on waterslides, will be held on the fraternity row to help make all of the activities of the day more fluid.

“Previously, SOCO Splash, which was introduced last year, was on the Residence Quad,” Allen Doyle, the IFC president, said. “[We thought that] the attendance of both would go up if it was at the same location. We didn’t want to split up the crowd.”

By adding the location of fraternity row to the event, there is now the opportunity to have band parties with live music to help amp up the atmosphere. Residence Life and IFC hope to bring the two interests in music and outdoor water activities together to appeal to more students.

“I’m super into water, slides, music, friends, [and] food,” Doyle said. “It’s my five favorite things all in the same place.”

Photo via Avery Bottom

Photo via Avery Bottom

The concert itself is being put on by the Quest II director of concerts Clayton Crawford and assistant director Divya Desai. Beyond the responsibilities of logistics and budgeting, the well-known role of director is choosing the artists that will perform.

“I know a lot of people wonder why we get certain artists,” Crawford said. “It all depends on who is available, who fits our pretty-small-for-a-concert budget, and, probably worst of all, what administration will allow us to do.”

Even though this is a show for college-aged students, artists are still expected to do a clean show because they are being paid and sponsored by a Methodist-affiliated school. This, along with a modest budget, limits who can be brought to campus.

“We had an artist that I really wanted, and it seemed like a lot of people really wanted, but, when we floated [his] name past administration, there were reservations about some of the themes,” Crawford said. “The shows are supposed to be PG-13/radio friendly, and a lot of music that’s really popular with people at our school doesn’t fit that bill. That’s probably the hardest obstacle to overcome.”

This need to fit certain requirements already puts a strain on the possibility of musical acts that are allowed to come to campus. Beyond these limitations, the concert directors have to find artists that will please the majority of students. The new structure of making SOCO a two day event offers the ability to have two different groups to appease the musical tastes of those who prefer either DJ or live music.

“We are trying to book different genres and not just target one audience,” Desai said. “It’s really important to try to include everyone on campus.”

These two artists, along with the bands that will perform during SOCO Splash, will offer something for every student. While the artists themselves have not been released at this time, Quest II promises that they have been deliberate in choosing groups that will make this year’s event enjoyable to all.

“We’ve worked really hard,” Desai said. “It would be awesome if we could have a big turnout for SOCO.”

Feature photo via Trinity Kubassek

Full of Falafel

Exploring a Cultural Café

By 10:15 a.m. on Monday, I had learned a few things.  That morning my father and I walked into the Mediterranean restaurant only a few minutes after its 10 a.m. opening.  We were the only customers; the only employee we saw stood behind a glass counter, his hands a flurry of action — shaping scoops of a green mash into fritters about the size and shape of meatballs.  I watched him work for a few minutes before I realized I was seeing the restaurant’s namesake fare.

Before my first visit to the Falafel Café, on 19th Street South in Downtown Birmingham, I had no idea what a falafel was; I assumed it was some kind of French pastry.  That tells you how much I know about international cuisine.  I later found out that falafel is actually a deep-fried ball of mashed chickpeas— similar in texture to a hushpuppy.  Chickpeas are also found in hummus, however the ground chickpeas in falafel are green because they are picked from the vine early.  The falafel comes out tasting earthy, fresh and savory with a crisp layer on the outside.

My father and I introduced ourselves, and the man identified himself as Moses Hassan, the owner of the Falafel Café: a small restaurant with that serves delicious Mediterranean food.  The menu was loaded with different types of meats, dips, sides— and of course, falafel.  We watched him expertly strip the chicken and lamb meat away from a broiler and arrange it on our plates.  Every menu item was looking incredibly fresh and colorfully laid out behind the glass in front of us.  The first item we had to choose served as a base for the meat; it was the option of rice with lentils or rice without lentils.  I chose lentils because I did not even know what lentils were, and they looked delicious (plus one of my favorite songs is called “Lentil” by Sia).  As Moses loaded our plates, I asked if I could interview him briefly.  Moses was hesitant, but he complied.  I made it clear that I was not there to necessarily critique the food— just to give the story behind the food and the restaurant.  I asked him about the history of the restaurant and he said, “I was running the same exact restaurant in Bethlehem before I moved to America.”  He brought the authenticity of his Mediterranean food all the way to Birmingham.  Lucky us!  The restaurant quickly became a dining hotspot for workers at the nearby hospital and students at the local university.  He’s been in Birmingham for 20 years and loves owning a restaurant where he can serve quality food.

“What is the hardest part about owning a restaurant?” I asked.

Moses said, “Finding good help!  It’s hard to hire people and keep them here.”

All this was said before a young employee entered the restaurant to help Moses.  However, it looked like Moses was handling the job with such expertise that he did not need a second pair of hands behind the counter.  The rainbow of toppings behind the counter left us no choice but to inquire into the details of each.  The options included chopped salad, Jerusalem salad, red cabbage salad, sumac onions, tahini sauce, garlic sauce, shatta and pickles.  Each of the salad sides were similar but varied in spiciness.  I requested the most popular topping, and Moses graced my plate with the red cabbage salad.  We also could not pass up a plate of falafel and authentic hummus with pita bread.  When my father and I received our plates, we marveled at how colorful it looked and how fresh it smelled.  We had so many different foods in front of us; it was hard to know where to start.  Since the restaurant is called the Falafel Café, we insisted on beginning with our first ever taste of golden brown Mediterranean hushpuppies.  Our plate of falafel was served with a delicious dipping sauce called tahini which the owner described as sesame seed paste.  The outside of the falafel was perfectly crisp, and inside of the falafel was the ground and seasoned green chickpeas.  The dipping sauce was cool and complemented the warm falafel perfectly.  Both the chicken and lamb meat were presented beautifully on the rice and lentils; the meat was perfectly cooked.  Our plate of pita bread was decidedly the sweetest tasting pita bread we have ever tasted.  The bread came with hummus that was decadently placed on the plate and decorated with paprika and a garnish.

Moses continually checked to see if we were enjoying the food, and, of course, we were.  There is so much culture around us eating to be consumed and appreciated—  who knew this tiny foreign restaurant could cater so well to our cravings?

So What?

Visiting MFS Instructor Robert Corna Speaks about the Meaning of Movies

If you walk down the coffee-stained steps on the first floor of Berte Humanities Center, pass hackneyed beige sofas, and take a left by solitary vending machines, you may wind up near Humanities 127, the office of one of two visiting Media and Film Studies instructors, Robert Corna.

Corna moved to Birmingham from LA after BSC’s search for a production teacher for the 2016-17 school year. When BSC offered Corna the job, they also told him he had to be there in three weeks.

“I packed up my U-Haul, drove cross-country, and got [to Birmingam] the day before I started working,” Corna says.

He teaches Production II, Screenwriting, and a special class topic on Spielberg during the 2017 spring term.

Corna received his MFA from the School of Cinematic Arts at University of Southern California. Before USC, he received his BA from The College of Wooster in 1994--a small, private liberal arts college similar to BSC.

“After my undergraduate degree in film, I started as an intern in New York and worked my way up,” Corna says.

While his 17-year experience in the film industry includes working on feature films such as Gangs of New York as the Production Assistant and both The Avengers and Fast and Furious 8 as the Location Manager, some of Corna’s most rewarding projects have been documentaries.

A Smile for Bow, released in 2014 and directed by Corna, follows a Thai teenager with Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome (FAS) and HIV as she journeys to the United States for restorative treatment.

“Camp Dreamcatcher and I got together and found a place in America for her to have a surgery,” Corna says. “It changed her life. It meant so much to do a movie like that.”

Corna finds meaning not only edifying but also essential for making successful films. Thankfully, in a field revolving around storytelling, it is not difficult to make something, even out of nothing.

“My dad was a storyteller. He was great at exaggerating stories--that's what films are,” Corna says. “[Films can] take a true story and totally make it their own.”

One time his father took him to watch Alien, thinking it was like Star Wars. It didn’t take him long to realize his mistake.

“One of the scariest things in movies to this day is when that alien jumped out of the guy’s stomach and raced across the table,” Corna says. “We saw it just after eating pizza! I was freaking out.”

While he teaches the skills essential to filmmaking, such as communication, three-point lighting and goal setting, Corna wants his students to remember that sometimes the best films are ones like Alien that take a simple idea and convert it into a meaningful story.

In his office filled with posters from his documentaries, it is clear to see that Corna has taken his own advice.

“I’m here for a year,” says Corna. “I want my students to work hard, to be the best, [and] to change the world. That’s what movie making is all about.”

A Change in Leadership for BSC Bands

New band director takes on big role as she pushes forward with bands

Hill Music Building, the home of Birmingham-Southern’s music department, gained a new member of its faculty this year as Ginger Zingara took over as Director of Bands. Zingara directed the marching band this past fall and created a new half-time show performance. She also put on the first winter concert in the fall semester and is in the midst of working on a concert for the spring, too.

“I really love the students," Zingara said. "They’re very dedicated, very intelligent, and have a very positive attitude about everything.” She said these students were crucial in helping her overcome her biggest challenge with coming to the school: the liberal arts component. “I grew up in state schools and [only] taught at state schools," Zingara said. "So this was my first experience with liberal arts."

While adding the liberal arts component to her teaching was an adjustment, Zingara feels that she has found her place here at BSC and hopes to keep improving the school’s music programs. “[My] major goal is to recruit kids and be able to play all types of music,” Zingara said. “[I want to] increase numbers, increase abilities, go off campus more often, and get our name out there.”

Also, with such a wide appreciation for music, Zingara feels that any performance that she works on is enjoyable. Though Zingara often uses Herbie Hancock pieces with the jazz band, she has directed numerous romantic era pieces by Franz Schubert or Tchaikovsky with the Red Mountain Orchestra, a group that also rehearses on BSC's campus. “I love the marching stuff, [and] I love presenting concerts with the symphonic and jazz band. It's all good,” Zingara said. "It's like picking a [favorite] child."

Even though Zingara is working with a small band, she continues to push the envelope of what a band concert should look like. The symphonic band is currently working on its next concert, which will be preformed on May 1st in the Hill Amphitheater. The concert will feature a presentation of music from around the world, accompanied by pictures from the music’s home country. In addition, there will also be food trucks from the featured countries and a special performance of world instruments by a local musician. "I'm really looking forward to that," Zingara said. "It should bring in all types of people and all types of food.”

You can support the band in the Hill Amphitheater on May 1st for its world music spotlight, see the jazz band's performance at the Norton fountain on May 10th, and find them on Facebook to keep up year round.

Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World

Reviewing a BSC Underground Theatre Production

Julia Degnan, Salma Crank, Kirstin Quinn, Charity Furr, Tania Alverez, Jada Cato, and Sarah “Charlie” Freeman are all girls cast for BSC’s 2016 Fall Production of Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls around the World. This play, like many other productions at BSC, is designed to make viewers think. On opening night, Emotional Creature was introduced as having “mature content.” Not only did the play have mature content, but, being in the Underground Theater, it was also up close and personal.

This play came about from a book written by Eve Ensler: I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls around the World. Ensler wrote this book based on her experience when she asked girls if they liked being girls. Most of these girls did not, until one girl stood up and said, “I love being a girl. I’m an emotional creature.”

Emotional Creature is written in a way that not only forces you to think about the issues facing girls in today’s society but also encourages you to embrace your inner girl by using powerful lines such as: “Those feelings make me better. They make me present. They make me ready. They make me strong.”

The cast for Emotional Creature portrayed the unfortunately common struggles that girls in western society face, such as body image, sexual identity, pregnancy, suicide, and sex. The play also delves into issues that still face girls around the world, such as sex slavery, genital mutilation, factory work, and non-consensual surgeries to alter body image.

The opening act of Emotional Creature focuses on a girl trying to take the “perfect” selfie. It is a simple scene, but it portrays the complex expectations of social media, which demands girls put on an appealing façade to show the world. The talented cast transitioned between multiple characters portraying scenes of common subjects that affect girls in our society. In between those scenes, featured cast members performed monologues portraying severe issues that affect girls around the world.

In one scene, the characters play a rather grim game of “Would You Rather”, highlighting the harsh judgments of society if girls should somehow find themselves in these positions. This theater production was heartbreaking, and yet it provokes insight and empowerment as the cast resounds in unity, “I am an emotional. I am an emotional, irrotional*, devotional creature.”

*irrotional is a made up word for rhyming purposes and is thought to mean explosive.

Feature photo and photo via Creative Commons.