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Teaching Homage, Creating Homage

The second act of The Goodman Theatre's production of By The Way, Meet Vera Stark features a clip from the great lost 1930s black-and-white classic melodrama, The Belle of New Orleans.

Actually, Belle is a fictional creation of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. The film clip was directed by F&V faculty member Vaun Monroe with a crew of alumni, current students, and colleagues in collaboration with the Goodman's production designers and actors to pay homage to 1930s classics like Baby Face, The Affairs of Cellini, and William Wyler's Jezebel.

The film was shot on 35mm black and white film with the help of the Film & Video Department's generous loan of the Panavision camera package. F&V Cinema Studies and Screenwriting instructor Jeffrey Jon Smith acted as a historical consultant, pulling reference clips and helping the cinematographer and designers remain true to the techniques and conventions of the period. One of the biggest changes from modern cinema? "More headroom!" Smith said. In the 1930s, cinematographers composing for the 1:33 aspect ratio relied on wider shots and longer takes and gave the actors much more headroom than they would today.

Monroe was drawn to the project, which portrays the struggles of the African American actresses who made their way playing mammies and maids in Old Hollywood, by the chance to "go back in time" and create a counter-narrative. "Over the years most minorities (and women) have had to play underdeveloped and even demeaning roles to pay the bills or to simply be present and have a voice," he said. "I've seen some very creative resistance strategies employed by artists previously but the idea of creating one from scratch was appealing."

Monroe met Smith and Line Producer Jennifer Peepas when they taught second semester Foundations courses together and mentored students in the creation of "homage films."

"It was fascinating to apply and model the same process we teach our students," said Peepas. Monroe's biggest challenge of the project was one often shared by the students, namely, walking the line between homage and parody. His advice to students making homage projects is "Do your homework. I studied the films of William Wyler for my homage film and I felt...triumphant when I looked at the fine cut and realized I had truly expressed myself while honoring Wyler's aesthetics."

By The Way, Meet Vera Stark, written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Chuck Smith, opens at the Goodman Theatre April 27 and runs through June 2, 2013.

Discounted tickets are available for students.

The Belle of New Orleans includes the work of numerous F&V faculty, alumni, and students:

  • F&V faculty member Vaun Monroe, Producer/Director
  • F&V adjunct faculty member Jennifer Peepas (MFA '10), Line Producer/First AD
  • Brian Levin (BA '05), Director of Photography
  • Tim Troy (BA '05), Gaffer
  • Dave Pawela (BA '08), Best Boy
  • Ekaterina Doldjeva (BA '12), Key Grip
  • Seth Oberle ('12), Dolly Grip
  • Chad Matthews (BA '11), First Assistant Camera
  • Alecia Denegar ('13), Second Assistant Camera
  • F&V adjunct faculty member Larry Kapson (BA '99), Location Sound Recordist
  • Jesse McAlpin ('08), Boom Operator
  • F&V adjunct faculty member Jeffrey Jon Smith (MFA '07), Film Historian
  • Lisa Anderson Sutton, Script Supervisor
  • Melissa Lawrenz (MFA '07), Editor
  • F&V adjunct faculty member Diego Trejo, Sound Design
  • Majidah Saleem ('16), Daniel Braden (BA'12), Marcus Martin ('14), Tavores Johnson ('15), Linda Wyatt ('15), Cari Smith ('16), Production Assistants