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November 20, 2013 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-11-20

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 7A

First Lady is'Scandals
true gladiator

Making theater
out of 'Thin Air'

he following column
contains spoilers for the
most recent episode of
"Scandal" as well as discussion
of potentially triggering topics
such as rape
and sexual
Over the
past two
years, Mellie
Grant, the
fictional first
lady played KAYA
by Bellamy UPADHYAYA
Young on
ABC's "Scan-
dal," has
steadily become the best writ-
ten and most fascinating female
character on television.
Thursday's episode, tragically
titled "Everything's Coming
Up Mellie," begins with Mellie
giving a tour of the East Wing
for an upcoming TV special
meant to serve as an apology for
discussing her husband's affair
on live television. Because,
* somehow, Fitz's infidelities
are her fault. "It's not fair; it's
America," Cyrus remarks with
what should be this show's new
tagline. Mellie turns on her
sweet Southern charm, forc-
ing laughter and chatting about
parties and art collections and
china sets and all the other
"First Lady things" we know
she hates.
Then, the show pulls us back
to 15 years prior in Santa Bar-
bara, Calif., where Fitz's guber-
natorial election and political
career are just in their soft-
focus-filter-covered beginnings.
But the spotlight for these
flashbacks shines on a young
Mellie Grant, who, together
with Fitz's father Big Jerry and
a bearded Cyrus, pushes Fitz
to run for governor a few years
earlier than he expected. The
flashbacks reveal Big Jerry for
the controlling, demeaning,
oppressive monster he is. One
night, after lamenting to Mellie
how he's not as bad of a father
as everyone makes him out to
be, he rapes her.
The harrowing scene has
been met with objection, with
many critics accusing the show
of hollowly insinuating that
the Mellie we know today -
the calculating, frigid politi-
cal mastermind - was borne
from her horrific experience.
During the episode, my Twit-
ter timeline broke out in com-
plaints over how strong, smart,
powerful women shouldn't
have to have that strength,
intelligence and power come
from first being broken.
Using rape for character
development is problematic
more often than not. Showing
sexual violence in film and
television poses a whole set of
complications. All too often,
rape is used merely as a plot
device, or worse, as voyeuristic
torture-porn, stripped entirely
of significance or discourse.
The scene in "Scandal" isn't
gratuitous - horrifying and
indelible, yes, but not indulgent
nor out-of-sync with "Scandal"
's tone. This is a series full of
torture and murder and all the
ugliness that dictates Ameri-
can politics and social power.

Even though it's tricky to do
well, I'd rather TV acknowl-
edge that rape and sexual
violence exist than ignore it
completely. And Mellie's expe-
rience reveals many tragic
truths of sexual violence: It
oftentimes is perpetrated by
someone the victim knows and
regularly goes unreported.
According to EW, the epi-
sode "helped humanize" Mel-
lie. Bethonie Butler over at the
Washington Post says the writ-
ers have been trying to make

son, an
Up Me
nacle t
TV cla
the vil
I do
rape in
do tak
the res
and cr
able or
port. T
a dyna
to a me
day, li
for mo
that Bi
I trust
write i
has lon
isn't al
were a:
love ab
ity, he;
- born
have a
vibe th
is still
ing wit
gets it.
She gi:
she gel
than F
know t
she car

more likeable this sea- have to place his needs above
td "Everything's Coming her own, the moment Cyrus
'lie" represents the pin- informs her Fitz is her new
f those efforts. Yahoo "full-time job."
ims "Mellie is no longer Whereas the writers have
lain." become increasingly detached
n't take issue with the from their lead (very few of
s' decision to include the Olivia's choices lately seem to
Mellie's backstory; I make any sense), they seem to
e very strong issue with know exactly who Mellie is,
ponse from viewers and it shows. As a result, Mel-
itics that this somehow lie has also become the most
the character more like- captivating facet of "Scandal,"
deserving of our sup- evidenced by the stark imbal-
hat mentality reduces ance in strength between the
mic, complex woman (too) many plotlines at play in
onolithically powerless "Everything's Coming Up Mel-
t. lie." B316 recruits Quinn, Olivia
ead, "Scandal" accom- and the Gladiators try to solve
s something much more her mother's murder, James is
ed, much more pro- fired, Cyrus and Mellie attempt
ve. The experience cer- to bait Sally's husband with a
informs some of Mellie's hooker, Fitz learns Rowan's
oral traits in the present true identity and approxi-
ke her reluctance to trust mately a million other things
and her obvious disdain happen. I never thought I'd say
therhood (the disclosure it, but this time, Shonda really
g Jerry could be her has outdone herself. Three-epi-
s father is an unfortu- sodes-worth of plot is packed
melodramatic twist, but into these 40-some minutes.
this show enough to not The reveal that Olivia's mother
t off yet). Her trauma is alive is a juicy twist straight
ag-term effects, but it from the "Alias" playbook, but
1 that defines her. Nor to shoehorn it into an already
ny of the qualities we overflowing episode strips it
tout Mellie - her feroc- of its power. Mellie's narrative,
r ambition, her resilience driven by the flashbacks and
from that one moment. creatively framed by the TV
flashback-Mellie does special being made about her,
slightly more innocent provides the backbone for the
an the ice queen we episode. Unfortunately, that
now, that same power- backbone is nearly crushed by
y, wicked smart woman everything thrown atop.
there. It's Fitz who "Scandal" has a lot of parts
out of the initial meet- moving (and clashing and
th Cyrus doe-eyed and spinning and exploding) right
ling to catch up. Mellie now, but it's getting harder and
Mellie always gets it. harder for me to be invested
ves up her career as a in anything or anyone other
r at a law firm, because than Mellie. The show wants
s it. She sacrifices more so desperately for us to care
itz can even compre- about Operation Remington
And while we still don't (Borington? Remingyawn?), but
he specifics of her end- like the mole story last season,
I sincerely hope she's the arc lacks emotion and has
ag within the system so reached the point where there
n bring it all tumbling are so many twists that we
can't muster an ounce of shock
for any added revelation.
Who cares about the "truth"
*e s i of Operation Remington when
ellie s stories "Everything's Coming Up Mel-
what bring lie" confronts a much more
poignant, painful truth: Even
e back week the most privileged and power-
ful women can be oppressed
fter w eek. by systemic sexism, reduced to
nothing more than an object.
When Cyrus first meets the
Grants, he circles them like he's
weren't witnessing inspecting a new car, calls Mel-
igin story" or a lazy lie "the wife," "Snow White,"
t on the writers' part to treating her like a pawn in his
nize" her. Her experi- strategy. Big Jerry literally
oesn't make her more or refers to her as an asset the
eable, but that's also not morning after he rapes her.
hat it's No Big Deal that And Big Dumb Fitz marches
s raped. It's a huge deal, around, oblivious to it all. Mel-
till can't scrub the look lie's far from powerless though;
amy Young's face from she wields agency, leverages
s (nor will I ever rewatch Big Jerry into telling Fitz what
ne). But it shouldn't he needs to hear to move for-
our relationship to the ward with the campaign.
ter, because that ignores After the rape scene, we cut
lliant, visceral character to present day: an aerial shot
he writers have doled out of the Oval Office, Mellie in
.e course of the series. red, walking barefoot along the
man who at first played Presidential seal with a drink
role - one that bordered in hand. She's the first lady of
akespearean "scorned the United States now, and yet
" cliche at times - has she still has to fight against
y become the most rampant sexism. When she sits
out and intricate char- down with Fitz for an inter-

n the show. She deserved view as part of the TV special,
pathy long before this the host informs her that a
e, and if you thought third of Americans question
was just a bitchy mega- her sanity and emotional sta-
ac before, you haven't bility. Americans seem to have
atching or listening no issue with lying, cheating
osely. I wouldn't even Fitz on the other hand. To Fitz,
s the origin point for she's ornamental. To Cyrus,
erioration of the Grants' she's "the wife." To America,
ge. Though the Mellie she's crazy. It's not fair; it's the
:z of 15 years ago appear patriarchy.

Students to perform
in an entirely
improvised show
Daily Arts Writer
Imagine getting on stage
in front of an audience of 80
people and not knowing any of
the lines for
the play. For Thin Air
five students
spanning a Thursday at7
wide range of p.m., Friday at
experience, 7 and 11 p.m.,
this nightmare and Saturday
is the basis of at7 p.m.
their show,
"Thin Air." Walgreen
They have four Drama Center
for which they
will make up an entire 50-min-
ute play on the spot.
The idea for "Thin Air" came
from graduate student Mat-
thew Flickinger. Though he is
studying biostatistics as a Ph.D.
candidate in the School of Pub-
lic Health, Flickinger's favor-
ite hobby since high school has
been the art of improvisation.
"Thin Air," as Flickinger
pitched it to Basement Arts, is
an entirely improvised one-act
play, made to look as much like
a planned performance as pos-
sible, including scene changes,
lighting, sound and more.
"More and more people
are familiar with improv and
improvisation," Flickinger said.
"Maybe they've seen stuff like
'Whose Line is it Anyway?'
but there are a lot of different
styles of improv out there, and
when you get a group of people
together, there are a lot of dif-
ferent kinds of shows that you
can create."

"Thin Air" aims to go back
to the roots of improvisation,
inspired by such great impro-
visers as Keith Johnstone, Viola
Spolin and Kenn Adams, who
wrote "How to Improvise a
Full-Length Play: The Art of
Spontaneous Theater."
"I just thought that this was
another type of improv that I
hadn't had direct experience
with before," Flickinger said,
"and I thought it might be pos-
sible to bring that to life and
to try something again that
wasn't purely short-form jokes,
but maybe told an interesting
"Thin Air" found its home
in Studio One, after receiving
four allotted show dates from
Basement Arts. The cast of the
show didn't have to recite lines,
monologue or read sides from a
script to get the part - instead,
they played improvisational
games and learned to interact
and react to other characters,
all the while creating character
depth for themselves.
"I had a great time at audi-
tions," said LSA sophomore and
cast member Clare Brennan. "I
wasn't nervous, because I think
what usually makes me ner-
vous is, 'Oh my God, am I going
to remember anything? Am I
going to crack or something?'
But with this one, there were no
expectations because I hadn't
prepared a single thing, so I get
to go in and do whatever they
tell me to do."
The handpicked improv
group practices in the Walgreen
Drama Center five days a week,
clocking 15 hours of rehearsal
in which multiple plays are
created on the spot, never to
be repeated again. Rehearsals
aren't for memorizing lines and
blocking - they're for practic-
ing improvisational techniques

and learning how to properly
time and craft a storyline.
"We don't have one script
to work toward," Flickinger
explained. "So what we do is a
bunch of directed improvisa-
tional exercises. There are cer-
tain skills I want my team to
feel comfortable with, I want
them to have a lot of experience
with, so that it comes naturally
to them. We work on things
like, how do you make stories
more dramatic? How do you
raise the stakes in a scene natu-
rally? How do we create a world
that is believable?"
Though the five players
all come from different back-
grounds, they have grown over
time to show a camaraderie that
can only be compared to friend-
ship, and a close one at that.
They are not afraid to make
themselves look ridiculous by
crawling on the ground as a uni-
corn, being an elderly lady, giv-
ing each other piggy-back rides
and saying yes to whatever is
asked of them while trying to
maintain a straight face.
"It's totally terrifying," Bren-
nan said, "but really fun at the
same time because I know that
I'm in it with four other people
that are in the same position,
and an audience who came in
not paying anything and knows
exactly what they're getting out
of this. So I think we're all in it
for the ride, and I think we're
ready to see what this iscapable
"Thin Air" is one of the only
plays that can boast that audi-
ence members will see a com-
pletely different performance
every night the show runs.
The actors are not only being
characters in a play; they are
writers, directors and, most
importantly, improvisers, cre-
ating a show out of thin air.


Distinguished alum talks
real world of animation

her "or
ence do
less lik
to say t
she wa
and I s
on Bell
my eye
the sce
the brit
work tI
over th
The wo
a small
on a Sh
acter o
our em
been w
very cl
call thi
the det
and Fit
to be in
down t

Daily Arts Writer
Why do we go to college? We all
have different answers. Butsome-
thing that motivates most of us is
the prospect of a good job after
school, the idea of being a part of
the mystical "distinguished alum-
ni" and perhaps even one of the
coveted spots on the University's
alumni Wikipedia page.
On Nov. 19, one such alum,
Kip Lewis, class of 1994, is set to
release his latest cinematic work,
"Planes," to DVD.
Lewis, 41, is a Michigan native.
He attended Romeo High School
and graduated from the Univer-
sity with a B.A. in Screen Arts
and Culture. He now works for
Disney in California, serving most
recently as an associate producer
for "Planes," the spin-off from the
hugely successful "Cars" movie
So, what inspired this Michi-
gander to get into film?
"Honestly, this is going to be
totally cheesy," Lewis said in an
interview with The Michigan
Daily, "but when I was in high
school, I watched 'Dead Poets
Society.' I walked out of that
movie feeling like if I could have
a career that would allow me to do
something that might be as mean-
ingful to people as that movie was
to me at the time, then I would be
successful in my own eyes."
After graduating from the Uni-
versity, Lewis attended Califor-
nia Institute of the Arts (CIT),
where he received his MFA in
Experimental Animation. He said
that, while he originally moved

out we:
New Yt
him to
so man3
For I
tion as:
Wild T
sued w
I had h
in," Lev
A te
gig wit
how D
that he
ones lik
"I th

st for graduate school and to the characters because they
to leave Los Angeles for have hopes, they have dreams,
irk or Chicago, after grad- they have personalities," Lewis
he felt it was natural for said. "Even the characters that
stay in a city that offered run the risk, I feel, of being a
y animation opportunities. little bit more of a caricature, we
Lewis, these opportunities take a moment to give them some
sted in a job as a produc- depth."
sistant at Klasky Csupo, a To current students trying to
tion company popular for make it in the industry, Lewis
such as "Rugrats," "The stressed the need to remain open-
hornberrys" and "Rocket minded about where your career
'He has since worked for might take you.
more production com- "There are a lot of opportuni-
including Warner Bros., ties that come your way that you
committing to his current don't have a lot of control over,"
er, Disney. Lewis said. "I think making the
n though I always loved most of the opportunities and not
I hadn't necessarily pur- turning them down just because
orking at Disney because they don't fit with your vision for
eard it was difficult to get your future.
wis said. "What I've seen is a lot of
people are surprised where their
careers take them. And the degree
i Lto which they're surprised doesn't
Kip Lewis impact how happy they are."
Lewis cited a man he worked
discusses with early on in his career.
)isney and "One of the first directors I
worked with here, he actually had
torytelling been studying to be a priest, and
then he saw the 'The Little Mer-
maid' and left his course toward
priesthood," Lewis said.
Lewis said he believes that,
mporary job on a small along with an open mind and a
evolved into a permanent diligent work ethic, you must be
h Disney. Lewis discussed able to think for yourself to be
isney has given him the successful, a skill he developed at
unity to work on projects the University.
's truly passionate about. "There are a lot of practical
lling and character devel- skills that I was able to get eas-
, for him, distinguish ily just through work, but what
projects from remarkable has given me the longevity in my
e "Planes." career is that core of how to think
ink you really can connect for myself."

sugary sweet love, that
nship started breaking
he second Mellie fully
d she would always

Upadhyaya is launching Bellamy
Young's Emmy campaign. To
help, e-mail kaylau@umich.edu.

We're cool; we promise.

at michigandaily.com/blogs/the+filter.



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