Having Her Cake and Eating It Too: A Black Entrepreneur’s Path to Success

By Zayna Palmer
Luquana McGriff. Photo courtesy of A Cake Baked in Brooklyn.

Luquana McGriff. Photo courtesy of A Cake Baked in Brooklyn.

“My grandma used to always bake, she would make cakes and create different kinds of designs. I thought this was fabulous and it inspired me to bake as well,” recalls 35-year-old Luquana McGriff, now CEO of her own company, A Cake Baked in Brooklyn.  Inspired by her grandmother, McGriff founded the business in Jan. 2016, in Brooklyn, where she was born and raised. 

It is a now a well-known boutique- and dessert-catering company that creates the most original and delicious desserts for any event. McGriff, who has no formal culinary training, has been baking since she was a child and likewise taught herself new techniques that would help to make her company successful. She says, “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and I had the drive for it. I didn’t know what business I wanted to start at first, but I knew I wanted to work for myself and become a CEO for my own company.” With a B.A. in social work, McGriff has a passion to help others, to work with people and satisfy their needs. 

She was encouraged to start her business through the positive feedback from her family. “I love baking and I began to make cupcakes for family events,” she explains. “My family said that I could turn my baking into a business. I started to go to business classes and tried to learn what will be the next step of selling my products.” 

Now amazed to have her own store, McGriff knew that one day this would happen. “I always wanted to be successful,” she says.  McGriff used many strategies to build her brand, from hiring help to seeking a competitive position. “In my store, red velvet is a top seller and I didn’t know what would go best with red velvet. I tried to find my niche in this competitive market. I found out more about my products through my customers. I promoted my business on social media and on my website. I received a ton of feedback from my clients and customers.” She is still branding herself and working to gain many more customers. 

Her mission is to make original desserts, “something that you can’t get anywhere else,” and she adds items and flavors into her baking that she hopes would make her customers happy, declaring, “You are your biggest critic. I always strive to have the best products and make people happy when they taste my desserts. I knew in order to do better, I have to be better. I refine my craft and find different things to do that would make my business grow.” 

Her advice to other budding entrepreneurs is to actively seek knowledge. “Research what business that you want to get into and find a mentor or volunteer in that field. Get someone to teach you the way before you spend money on something that you don’t want to do. Go after your dreams and your passions and everything will fall into place,” she says. For her the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur are the drive to work hard, a clear goal, and doing something new every day. “You have to want it more than anything else. When you get knocked down, you have to get back up. Have the passion to never give up and no one will have your vision, only you will.”

A New Conversation about an Old Problem: Lehman Students Push Back Against Sexual Harassment

By Shaiann Frazier

Lehman students took a public part in this conversation on Oct. 19, when post-it notes were displayed on a board outside the Lehman bookstore along with the message “Keep Moving Forward.” Photo by Shaiann Frazier.

“Catcalling makes you question your worth,” said Kuiana Prince, 23, a senior and multimedia performing arts major. Catcallers, she said, should “Try a different approach in going about it instead of going after a lady or guy like some kind of pet.”

Prince’s experience of harassment is all too common, as a groundswell in media and social attention to the topic has proven. Lehman students took a public part in this conversation on Oct. 19, when pink, purple, and blue post-it notes were displayed on a white board outside the Lehman bookstore along with the message, “Keep Moving Forward.” Dozens of Lehman students wrote and posted notes expressing their thoughts about being victims of violence and sexual harassment. 

Sponsored by the Counseling Center, the “Go Purple” event was inspired by the recent Twitter #metoo. Originally created in 2007 by Tarana Burke, founder of youth organization Just Be Inc., the campaign was revived this October by actress Alyssa Milano, for victims of sexual assault and harassment. The Lehman event aimed to bring supportive attention to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and street harassment. Members of the Counseling Center created the board titled “Messages of Hope” where any Lehman student could write a personal note to someone who had been a victim of violence in which they a received a note in return. 

Keeauna Jacobs, 22, a senior and student engagement coordinator at the Counseling Center said, “Girls come to the Counseling Center far more often than you think whether it be harassment in their neighborhood or in the Lehman neighborhood.”

“Catcalling,” defined as whistling, shouting, or otherwise sexualizing a woman passing by, is evidently common in New York. “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” a 2014 short documentary directed by Rob Bliss and created by anti-harassment organization Hollaback!, shows a montage of ten hours of footage of Shoshana Roberts silently walking the streets alone while being harassed. The video was viewed over 40 million times. 

Hollaback!, the company that distributed the video, also conducted a study in which they found that over 84 percent of women will experience some form of street harassment before the age of 17. This harassment does not only occur on the streets but also happens on public transportation. According to a 2016 report released by the Wall Street Journal, sexual offenses on New York City subways had gone up 50 percent compared to the previous year. 

Lehman students who spoke to the Meridian said they’ve changed their behavior in an effort to avoid catcalling. Leda Obergh, 19, a sophomore and film major said, “I don’t want to dress up as I want to because I may appear sexually attractive to men but that’s not my intention.” She added, “I usually wear my headphones, so I don’t have to listen to what men say to me on the street.”

Shanel Spence, 22, a senior and biology major, also actively avoids men on the street. “One thing that I do for sure is that I cross the street when I see a group of guys or I walk in the opposite direction.”

Leticia Hernandez, 24, a junior and recreational major also took a similar stance. “Usually I start walking faster just so they don’t get close to me,” she said. “Or sometimes I give them a look to back away.”

Women are not the only victims of harassment, a 2012 study released by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the percentage of males who experienced sexual harassment had increased from 16.1 percent to 17.8 percent. Although the findings could not conclude why the number of reports had increased in men, a possible contributing factor was that more men began to come forward and speak out. Numerous studies have shown that men don’t report incidents of sexual harassment due to shame and embarrassment.

Gregory Reyes, 18, a Lehman student who works at the front desk in the APEX said, “When a guy gets catcalled people just look at him like it’s a joke and it’s not as derogatory as when it happens to a woman.”

Lian Kizner, 19, a junior, dance and sociology major agreed. “I have experienced it and it’s really annoying,” she said. “Guys don’t have the authority to make a girl feel [bad] like that when they’re just walking down the street trying to get home.”

Michael Buckley, associate professor of the philosophy department at Lehman, advocated for more training for all Lehman students. “I am glad to know that Lehman requires some of its students to take workshops or online courses [about sexual harassment],” he said, “but I think the policy should be extended to every student and given several times throughout their time at Lehman like it is for faculty and staff.”

Lehman Students Hack Their Way Toward Success

By Zayna Palmer

“We want to hire CUNY grads and undergrads to become full-time interns or employees in the near future,” said Buzzfeed Tech Recruiter Nicolette Nelson, 29. Buzzfeed is just one of the prospective employers that came to Lehman’s fourth annual Hackathon on the lookout for diverse interns among future CUNY grads. Nelson explained that Buzzfeed, which participated in the Hackathon as both mentor and judge, has a mission to offer opportunities to more diverse people and get more women working in top management positions. The goal for this Hackathon, she added, is “to find out what students need from employers and what employers need from students. We’re here to find out how the market is changing for students of diversity.”

The Lehman Hackathon, which was held November 10-11, exists to foster just such opportunities. “We understand that the proximity between job locations and where students live can be quite difficult, so we implement these events for local students to attend and network with sponsors and mentor that can hire students for jobs and internships,” said Rosemarie Encarnacion, a Lehman junior. She is also a help desk analyst and Civic Technology Fellow at Lehman. The National Society of Black Engineers primary mission, she added, is to “make sure that every student in the community has the opportunity to exercise their skills with teammates so they could fully integrate themselves into building product software, hardware, and mobile programs.” 

The Hackathon helps disadvantaged students as well as those with disabilities to find the right path towards their careers by providing them with professional advice, assistance and employment opportunities in the tech industry. The event, co-sponsored by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) is open to CUNY and SUNY students. Its focus is to highlight, support and encourage talent from all backgrounds and to help strengthen the community. Encarnacion states that it also aims to “Bring students to an environment where they connect with the sponsors, teams and fellow students with similar and/or different skills to build projects using hardware. The Hackathon is for Blacks and Hispanics, but anyone who is a student or graduate from CUNY schools is invited.”  

Rafael Gonzalez, 21, a Lehman mathematics Professor and a participant in this year’s Hackathon, said his mission is to “train and expose students to the industry of computer science and engineering for minority groups for many of our Lehman graduates.” He believes that through it, every student can get the opportunity to be mentored and to network in the industry as well as get internships and full-time jobs in fields they enjoy. Rafael wants every student to have fun and test their skills because the Hackathon is also very competitive. “It is a great way to ask questions and find out what jobs you are looking for” he said. This year, NSBE and SHPE were able to increase diversity to bring in more sponsors for the Hackathon. 

Rodney Perez, a full-time technology analyst for JPMorgan Chase, “The challenge is about bringing students in, [to] increase the capabilities and capacity to invent new ideas for the company.” Perez added that the company, which participated in the Hackathon, believes in giving back to the community.

Students agreed that the Hackathon is a good opportunity to network and get projects completed, along with having a team to provide mutual growth, learn technical skills, and build community between employers and students. Daniel Encarnacion a Lehman sophomore studying computer science and Hackathon treasurer said that it is a great chance “to have everyone demo their projects to sponsors that could offer employment in the tech industry and promote a program that speaks on diversity and reach out to those who are disadvantaged.” 

Lehman Students Challenge Colorism in the Entertainment Industry

By Deirra Francis

Rutina Wesley speaking at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con International. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Colorism limits opportunities for women of color in film and TV, and Lehman students won’t stand for it. “Roles for younger women of lighter skin tone typecast [them] as this sex symbol,” Lehman student, filmmaker and actress Valerie Baptist told the Meridian, while darker-skinned women, are “strategically” sidelined as “the handy-dandy sidekick, a darker-toned woman dumbed down in her beauty by the makeup artist in order not to outshine.”

Dr. Mark Christian, chair of Africana studies and cultural theorist, agreed. “There is a double standard within the entertainment industry. Black men are sex symbols while black women of darker skin tone aren’t.” On the other hand, he added, “Black women of lighter skin tone are portrayed as the top of the pyramid hierarchy of the group--high-class, sexy and smart.”

“The only way to represent people of color is to have more directors of color.” 

- Octavia Maybabk, Lehman sociology major

In the face of this discrimination, Lehman students who aspire to make their careers in the entertainment industry feel frustrated. Denied the opportunity to show their talent on the basis of their skin color, many now aspire to change these double standards. 

Christian noted that colorism is nothing new. “The prejudices people have attached to skin tones stem from the deep-rooted racism in our history. On top of the after-effects of slavery, we have been bombarded with images on television and film of this stereotype.” 

These racist portrayals date back to the beginning of mass advertising--and they haven’t changed much. In the 1920s, an ad for the N.K. Fairbank Company featured a white child asking a black child, “why doesn’t your mamma wash you with Fairy soap?” Almost a hundred years later, a Dove ad released Oct. 9, 2017 showed a black woman removing her brown shirt to reveal a white woman underneath in a lighter shirt. Likewise, SheaMoisture commercials supposedly celebrate diversity but manage to exclude representation of a big part of their darker-skinned base clientele who have “kinky” hair texture, featuring mainly women with straight or fine hair. 

Christian pointed out that within the entertainment industry, this discrimination has privileged women who look “ethnically ambiguous--people with an off-white skin tone who appear to be of mixed race. The more we tune into our favorite shows and movies,” he said, “the more variety of black women we see. However, the ugly face of colorism continues to resurface.” 

This shows up in the way that many productions cast ethnically ambiguous women in the role of black women, perpetuating a stereotype. Notoriously, in 2012, Zoe Saldana was casted as Nina Simone in the movie “Nina.” A prosthetic nose and dark makeup were applied to Saldana, but the Latina actress still failed to resemble the appearance of the legend. This distortion shows how black women are excluded even from playing themselves.

In mid-July, the star of the hit TV show “Everybody Hates Chris,” Iman Hakim, tweeted “so I’m not even being considered to audition for a role because I am ‘too dark.’” 

This chronic discrimination has drawn widespread demands for a change from viewers and actors alike. Many Lehman students told the Meridian they see a shift in social values taking place. “I definitely think people are talking about it more,” said Lehman alumna Nadia Floyd ’17. “I do think progress is being made, not only in the entertainment industry. On television we’re seeing the emergence of dark-skinned black girls. This discourse is occurring in classrooms even more, not only amongst black students but Latino (non-gender specific) students have spoken up about it as well.” Floyd, who wrote her English honors thesis on colorism and patriarchy, said, “It’s refreshing to see this! We still have a way to go, of course, but yeah, there has been a growing cultural awareness towards colorism.” 

A Lehman panel on “Colorism in Africa and the African Diaspora” that took place on Nov. 9 in the Lovinger Theatre inspired many in the audience to demand change. 

Lehman student Erachie Brown pointed out that access to social media can also help anti-racist messages reach millions of people, so the tools now exist to debunk the negative connotations assigned to darker-skinned African-American women. “The knowledge we’ve gained in production helps us to create our own platform of film and series that we are interested in watching,” Brown explained. “Our position is to cast the Taraji P. Hensons, Tiffany Hadishes, Nicole Beharies, and Rutina Wesleys of the world.”

Other Lehman students noted that some directors are already making waves in the entertainment industry with their positive representations of black women, citing Ava Duvernay, Shonda Rhimes, and Issa Raye as examples. Duvernay is the first Black woman both to win the Best Director Prize at the 2012 Sundance for her featured film “Middle of Nowhere” and to be nominated for an Academy Award for the documentary “13th.” She was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for best Director for the movie “Selma” in 2014. Rhimes is best known as the creator, head writer, executive producer for shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” Raye follows in their footsteps as a director, writer, and actress creating the webseries “Awkward Black Girl’ which later turned into the hit HBO show “Insecure.” 

Octavia Maybabk, an African sociology student at Lehman said change is needed and a new generation of directors is key. “The only way to represent people of color is to have more directors of color,” she said. 

Lehman Students Are Spellbound by Magic: The Gathering

By Juan Vasquez

A game of Magic: The Gathering. Photo by Juan Vasquez.

“I didn’t know what Magic was, I only ever heard about it in passing,” said Kat Anne Fornier, a novice player and Lehman student. “Then one day I watched a chaos match, which was really confusing and I wasn’t feeling it.” Though she felt intimidated at first, after other players guided her, she said, “it was actually really fun...I don’t even remember if I won or lost but by the end of it I wanted to enter the Magic community and have my own deck.”

Created in 1994 by Richard Garfield, Ph.D., Magic: The Gathering is a pastime that has drawn many Lehman students into a world of dueling wizards attempting to do each other in. The rules are simple--reduce your opponent’s life total from 20 to 0. Players use 60-card decks filled with monsters, spells, and lands that aid the player and hinder their opponent. While there are more ways to win--reducing an opponent’s deck to zero cards, using cards that create certain win conditions when activated, etc.--this is the most common win condition. 

Players find the game helps them get away from the rigors of college life and regain a sense of calm. Fornier notes that playing is “extremely stress reducing…a lot of laughter comes out of the games, and…all the laughter means dopamine, which is kinda like a runner’s high without the exercise.”

Many players credit the Magic: The Gathering community as being a safe and supportive community. Andrew Negron, an avid Magic player and Lehman student says, “I enjoy the community...how players help each other get better by assisting new players with getting cards and learning new skills, which makes the game even more enjoyable.” Negron adds “It is very fun so I believe it’s a very relaxing game that helps you make new friends and strengthen bonds with current friends that also play.” 

Yet to most Magic players, the real enjoyment is going to victory with a deck that they put hours of research, development, and construction into. Frederick Kemeh, a Lehman Student and longtime Magic player, said, “It’s always rewarding, making a successful deck and winning with said deck, but it takes time of planning and preparation. That, however, is fun for its own right.” 

Return of ‘Stranger Things’ Lives Up to the Hype

By Zoe Fanzo

Logo of the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Last summer’s finale of the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things” left audiences with many unanswered questions. Where did Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the Demogorgon go after their final confrontation? What happened to Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) after his return from the Upside Down? Would the simple town of Hawkins ever be the same? 

In the sequel, “Stranger Things 2,” released in its entirety on Oct. 27, these questions are answered, but greater conflicts arise. A new supernatural villain, the Mind Flayer, is introduced, and his presence tortures Will. The portal to the Upside Down, opened by Eleven in the first season, has grown immeasurably. Eleven must struggle to come to terms with the implications of her upbringing and decide how she wants to use her abilities. 

Ultimately, the return of “Stranger Things” satisfied fans who yearned for more of its captivating science fiction, synthesized soundtrack, and homage to 1980s genre films. After its first season premiered in the summer of 2016, the show quickly developed a cult following. Creators Matt and Ross Duffer, known as the Duffer Brothers, drew inspiration from Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and 1980s pop culture; their first season premiered to critical acclaim. 

In the behind-the-scenes special, “Beyond Stranger Things,” the Duffer Brothers describe the challenge of continuing the story. “It was kind of freaky figuring out, how do we make this story continue on in a way that it doesn’t feel forced? And we want to make sure that it can sustain at least a few more years,” said Ross. Matt echoed this adding, “In season one, you have the dramatic tension of Will being gone which ties it all together, so we lost that, but at the same time we had all these characters that we actually knew a lot better now.”

The strength of this season ultimately lies in the character growth, particularly Eleven’s coming-of-age story in standout episode “Chapter Seven: The Lost Sister.” The season allows for further character development and exploration, and skillfully groups characters into unlikely pairings. The emotional climax of the season finally arrives with the long-awaited reunion of Eleven and Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard).

New characters also join the award-winning cast, including Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), a sociopathic human antagonist, and Bob Newby (Sean Astin), a love interest for Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder). New addition Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), also known as Madmax, introduces conflict when she beats Dustin’s high-score on an arcade game. Tensions deepen when Max finds her way into a love triangle between friends Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). 

Though the Duffer Brothers plan to end the show after four or five seasons, fans can rest easy knowing that this trek into the Upside Down was not the last. 

On Their Comeback Album, The Cool Kids Live up to Their Name

By Jorel Lonesome
Sir Michael Rocks performing at Southbound Festival in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Michael Rocks performing at Southbound Festival in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When Antoine “Sir Michael Rocks” Reed and Evan “Chuck Inglish” Ingersol announced their duo was splitting up shortly after releasing their hit album “When Fish Ride Bicycles” in July 2011, it seemed as though we might never hear from them again.

But, The Cool Kids are back with their new sophomore album, “Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe.” Released in September 2017, the 16-track LP features artists such as Jeremih, Syd, Smoke DZA as well as collaborations with artists such as Drake, Maroon 5, Lil Wayne and Travis Barker. The album does a great job at sounding both modern and nostalgic. It’s like a classic Cool Kids album but with noticeable artistic progression. In rap music today, it’s increasingly difficult to make an album that sticks for an extended period of time, but The Cool Kids serve their purpose once again.

Many of the tracks were produced entirely by Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish, with a plethora of drums, samples, disco tunes, synth, strings, horns, guitars, bass, and more synthetic sounds such as “Westside Connections,” “Get Out the Bowl,” “Checkout,” “Gr8Full,” “Jean Jacket,” and “Too Smooth.” 

The first track, “The Moonlanding,” comes in hot with a gust of intensity. This really sets the stage for the production style of the album--energetic beats, futuristic synths, and layered horns. The track features actor/comedian Hannibal Buress, as he begins with a Black Sabbath tribute. “The Moonlanding” shifts into a banger that includes a dynamic horn sample applied by Sir Michael Rocks’ slick fashion talk in the hook that is produced by tag team partner Chuck Inglish. Their lyrics relinquish their most savvy wordplay and also reference “The Purple Tape” and Pokémon.

Arguably one of the coolest tracks is “20/20 Vision,” which features great beat characteristics for Chuck’s production. According to Urban Dictionary “20/20” means “Completely seeing the truth of a situation.” Therefore, we may suggest that the theme of the track is about how The Cool Kids are also The Real Kids. When we delve into tracks such as “TV Dinner,” to name a few, it’s as if your head is inside a hornet’s nest, but with a rhythmic sound of a robotic alarm that blends perfectly with the dominant pounding of drums beating in an even pattern to entice you to bop your head.  

“Break Your Legs,” features drummer Travis Barker from blink-182. The song is edgy compared to their smoother sounds. You can definitely compare it to N.E.R.D.’s 2001 smash hit “Lap Dance,” which sets this particular track apart from the others. 

“On the Set,” produced by Chuck Inglish perfectly shows the dark and 90s atmosphere beat that both Boldy James (Detroit native and Mass Appeal signee) and Smoke DZA (Harlem underground representative) are known for. Inglish’s distinctive use of vocals and instruments is inventively cognizant. The base is layered on top of the smooth sounding vocals that follow and will make you feel as cool. They create unforgettable funky bass lines and 808 hits that fall in the line of new- and old-school Hip Hop. 

Overall, with its creative production, this album lives up to the anticipatory hype of the duo’s cult fans, and will be regarded as a good reference point for future experimental MCs.

‘Dark and Stormy Night’ Puts a Gothic Twist on Contemporary Art

By Deirdre Fanzo

From left to right, the portraits “Yoko Sato, 1968-1999;” “Tasia Brown 1982-2012;” and “James Otis Purdy, 1914-2009” by Heide Hatry. Photo by Deirdre Fanzo.

“Gothic sensibility sends shivers down the spine,” reads the text at the entrance to the latest exhibit at Lehman’s art gallery. “It is the essence of foreboding, never going out of style, just as it unveils the eternal moments of human dread.” The exhibit, “Dark and Stormy Night, Gothic Influence in Contemporary Art,” opened on Oct. 28 and features 34 artists who skillfully manage to capture the Gothic essence in contemporary works of art. 

The show foregrounds several prominent Gothic themes. The idea of a dark and stormy night is well represented in four photographs from a series entitled “I’m Made of Rain” by Isabelle Menin. These photos present an eerie, almost surreal, Gothic atmosphere. So do statues and paintings of tall, ornate, angular towers and cathedrals found throughout the exhibit, along with depictions of women shrouded in mystery. 

Among these conventional Gothic themes are a few surprising works of art. A series of portraits in black and white by Heide Hatry entitled “Yoko Sato, 1968-1999,” “Tasia Brown 1982-2012,” and “James Otis Purdy, 1914-2009” appears, on the surface, to be nothing more than a few paintings of smiling people. Another painting featured in the gallery, “Poe Crossing the Concourse,” by Daniel Hauben, portrays an urban cityscape in bright and beautiful colors. Both of these installations require a careful eye to find the Gothic within them. According to the label beside the portraits, the materials used to create them were the human ashes of the very people being depicted. The urban cityscape reveals a scene outside Poe Park in the Bronx, and in the corner of the painting, a rendering of Edgar Allan Poe himself can be seen crossing the street. The pieces are incredibly macabre and suggest the notion of life--or perhaps still-life--after death. 

The only installation that truly feels out of place is a three-dimensional tower installed as the centerpiece in one section of the gallery. It is pink and frilly, and while it could be interpreted as a Gothic commentary on the notion of contemporary femininity, this reading is difficult to determine and is one I am not entirely confident about. 

Overall, the most interesting thing about “Dark and Stormy Night” is the presence of many different interpretations of what contemporary Gothic looks like. Several pieces depict Gothic themes in highly contemporary mediums, like digital photography, while others show contemporary scenes with the addition of Gothic elements. This exhibit is stunning, absorbing, and in some instances, morbid. I would highly recommend viewing ‘Dark and Stormy Night’ before it closes on Feb. 10, 2018. 

Bronx Residents Disagree on Amazon HQ Bid

By Zoe Fanzo

An entrance at Amazon’s 185-acre Seattle headquarters. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

“An Amazon headquarters in the Bronx will drive out native Bronxites,” Bronx resident and Hunter College freshman Andrew Shkreli told the Meridian. Shkreli opposes the call from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and several other elected officials for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to select the Bronx as the location of the company’s next headquarters. 

“If you look back at pictures of the Bronx in the 70s, it’s like war-torn Europe.” 

- Bronx resident Mary F. Smith

In an open letter published on Oct. 15, officials advocating for a Bronx headquarters boasted of the borough’s central location, noting, “We are six miles from LaGuardia Airport, [and] 20 minutes from Kennedy Airport…The Bronx is the only borough attached to the mainland United States, and we offer easy connections to Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey by car. In addition, we are in the midst of constructing a new Metro North commuter rail spur in the East Bronx.” The letter also documents the borough’s recent economic growth, citing $3.27 billion in total development in 2016. Diaz asserts that since 2009, unemployment in the Bronx has been reduced by more than half, making it a prime location for corporate investment.  

Some Bronxites, though, dread the consequences of corporate influence, and fear that Diaz is accelerating gentrification in their communities. “I think the main issue is that Diaz cares more about people coming into the Bronx and improving the Bronx’s image rather than those who already reside here,” Shkreli said. “There is a blatant attempt to facilitate gentrification because the main people who will benefit from this are college-educated professionals, which the majority of the Bronx is not. Consequently, Diaz isn’t looking out for the Bronx now, as it is, he is looking out for what it could be. An Amazon headquarters in the Bronx will drive out native Bronxites.” 

However, Diaz’ plea has some Bronxites celebrating urban renewal and economic stimulation. “I think it would be a cool idea. It would bring more jobs to the Bronx, and also more publicity to the borough,” said Lehman sophomore Ngozi Fisher. 

Bronx resident Mary F. Smith, 63, who grew up during the era of burning buildings and urban decay, praised the potential headquarters. “I looked into it, and I found that at Amazon, even the entry-level jobs pay $12 an hour, which is more than the minimum wage. You can work your way up, and we don’t have those kinds of jobs here; they’re full-time and they’re benefit jobs. I do think the Bronx economy is transforming, there are more and more positive things happening. If you look back at pictures of the Bronx in the 70s, it’s like war-torn Europe,” said Smith. 

While Bronxites are divided about the placement of the headquarters, plans for its location remain undetermined. Some New Yorkers believe that, regardless of economic consequence, the city is not equipped for an Amazon headquarters. Veronica Vanterpool, board member of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, rejected the plea to make New York the home of the next headquarters in her recent Daily News opinion piece, “Mayor, get behind progressive congestion pricing,” citing Amazon’s preference for “proximity to major highways and arterial roads,” and “access to mass transits.” The city, according to Vanterpool, “has traffic-choked streets and an imploding transit network--both of which will remain that way until we make a long-overdue fix.” 

“It will definitely inject a lot of growth into the Bronx, but it will also bring a lot of traffic,” agreed Lehman graduate student Jeldin Colberg. 

Ultimately, as many cities attempt to make a case for Amazon’s next headquarters, it remains unclear as to whether or not the Bronx will be chosen by the corporate giant, or if the borough is even in the right condition for such development. Regardless of the outcome, Ruben Diaz Jr. insists, “Amazon belongs in New York.”

New Yorkers Re-elect Mayor, Reject Constitutional Convention

By Thomas Behnke

New Yorkers voted to reject a proposal for a constitutional convention. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

“I knew de Blasio was going to win, but I think the convention vote was a missed opportunity. Lehman freshman Jasmin Delgado said when asked about the recent mayoral election results. The vote on the Constitutional Convention, known as Proposition 1 on the ballot, asked New Yorkers if they wanted the opportunity to amend New York’s constitution. While Delgado saw it as “a chance to change things” and voted for it, her mother voted against. 

“My mom thinks that any changes politicians would make would be better for them and worse for us,” Delgado said. “We went to vote together, [and] we fought up until we entered the school.” Delgado laughed. “We are a very political family.” 

Most New Yorkers voted with Delgado’s mother on the constitutional convention. The proposal, which appears on the ballot every 20 years, was rejected by a margin of 86 percent to 16 percent,  according to the New York Times. The last time New Yorkers voted for a constitutional convention was in 1938. According to nyconstitution.org, delegates debated issues such as social security, expanding the rapid transit system, and education. The next time a convention proposal will be on the ballot is 2037. 

A yes vote would have resulted in a convention in which delegates could voice concerns and propose changes to the state constitution.  Any changes coming out of the convention would then need to be voted on by the public before being implemented. Nysaysyes.org, a website advocating a convention, listed important issues that might be addressed, such as election reform, the environment, and court and criminal justice reform. 

Delgado saw it as a way to protect something closer to home--her own education.  “You see the signs that Trump’s education secretary doesn’t like public schools,” she said.  “A convention could have helped our focus on free public education even stronger.” Critics of the proposition point to the special interests, and the money they would pour into lobbying the delegates for changes.  “My father is in the ironworker’s union.  They were against it, because they’re scared the bosses could weaken the unions.  I guess it is complicated, but we can’t change if we don’t try something.  The system is broken.” 

However, the substantial showing for de Blasio, who was re-elected by nearly 40 points, shows that some New Yorkers still have faith in his abilities--or else less in all the other candidates. Many Lehman students affirmed this preference to the Meridian. “I like de Blasio,” Hector Mucheca, a sophomore, said.  “He has his own mind, I think.  He doesn’t get pushed around, and we need that with the way things are in the rest of the country.”

President Cruz Starts Campus Renovation

By Leonel Henriquez

Artist’s rendering of the proposed construction of new Nursing Building. 

When Lehman President José Luis Cruz cut the ribbon at the Lehman Performing Arts Center renovation last week, it marked the start of a host of capital improvements slated for 2018.  Next year will see the campus bookstore moved to the old gym building to make way for a new 50,000 square foot building to house the nursing program. A 350-bed residence hall/dorm and phase II of the Science Hall will further change the campus skyline, at an estimated cost of $ 282.8 million dollars. 

Cruz laid out these plans to students at a lunch with the student government association (SGA) and the general student body in the Student Life Building on Oct. 25. At this event, the president also noted that Gillet Hall auditorium and the Lovinger Theatre would be renovated, with the latter to have its seats re-upholstered and reconfigured to provide greater wheelchair access. 

Senior, biology major, and SGA member Kimberly Pereyra was excited about the announcement, telling the Meridian, “I think it’s really great that they will fixing some of the auditoriums that are run down like the one in Gillet.” 

President José Luis Cruz speaks with students during lunch. Photo by Leonel Henriquez.

Chris Higgins, technical director for Lehman Stages, is impressed with Cruz’ efforts so far. “I think it’s great that the new president has been able to raise so much money in such a short time that he’s been on the job,” he said. But Higgins added that rather than prioritizing new construction, “I would really prefer to see more money going into repairs and renovation, particularly here in the theatre building, where there are so many leaky pipes in the basement.”

Most Lehman Students Back #TakeaKnee, but Some Call Disrespect

By Jorel Lonesome

Members of the Washington Redskins kneel during national anthem before football game. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On Sept. 1, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, instead choosing to kneel. Following this, NFL protests gradually began to spread among different football teams and other leagues such as the NBA and MLB, and starting a national controversy. Most Lehman students and staff who spoke to the Meridian voiced support for the protests as part of a necessary conversation about racism in America.

“We need a larger voice,” said Samantha Anglero, 26, theatre major at Lehman. She added, “It’s centered around people of color tired of oppression. It’s a safe way of protesting where athletes are doing the right thing when America fails to do something about its flaws.”

Other Lehman students and staff concurred. “The protest now has nothing to do with Colin. This derived from the police brutality against people of color,” said Christopher Milton, director of pathways to student STEM success at Lehman. 

“Racial injustice, most definitely,” agreed David Williams, 27, a junior and recreational therapy student at Lehman.

The Oakland Raiders take a knee. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Kevin Rivera, a graphic designer and part time computer graphics and imaging major at Lehman, views it as a shift in historical perspective, “For one, it’s [about] inequality,” he said. “The pledge was written and took place during a time when it doesn’t apply to us now, especially people of color. More people are starting to see it as a serious issue. It went from pro athletes to people kneeling at work or at school. That is why it’s a mass attack by the whole NFL league.”

Indeed, since the protests took off, the NFL is now considered the least popular sports league in America. According to a zerohedge.com article dated Oct. 8, from the end of August to the end of September, the NFL’s popularity ratings dropped from 57 to 44 percent, and it has the highest unfavorable rating---40 percent---of any big sport, according to the Winston Group survey. The same research found that the attitude of those fans went from 73 percent favorable and 19 percent unfavorable to 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, a remarkably sudden turn against the sport.

But while the majority shifted to disapproval, some feel that outright protest is going too far. In particular, a number of army veterans feel disrespected by recent protests.

“I understand that players like Colin Kaepernick is  standing up for racial injustice and violence against blacks by the police. I get that, but this is the American flag. They need to understand, you’re disrespecting those that served in the armed forces,” said Jerry Giles, 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran.  He added, “We’ve put our lives on the line to protect this country and kneeling sort of feels like a slap in the face.”

“You have young men and young women dying overseas for America,” said Annette Wyss, 21, a marine recruiter. “I don’t think kneeling during the anthem is appropriate.”

However, U.S. Navy veteran Kevin O’Carrol from Queens, New York disagreed and felt it’s okay for people to express their freedom of speech. “As a navy vet, I fought for their rights to protest against racial discrimination and our frustrations of inequality in the U.S.,” he said. “America isn’t perfect like any other country. It needs to be critiqued. There’s more things besides racism that is dividing us, but these are one of those that has lasted for so long and doesn’t seem to die out anytime soon.”

Milton echoed O’Carroll’s stance. “No man or woman has to stand for the flag if they don’t want to, because it’s a free country. I think it’s a travesty. The First Amendment allows us to express freedom of speech here in America, but when people of color do it, and it doesn’t agree with the mainstream, we’re shunned upon for it.”

Anglero agreed. “I think pro athletes should represent their rights for the U.S. constitution to express themselves when they feel they need to,” she said. “It’s not dishonorable at all to kneel or raise your fist when the national anthem plays, if you feel your country does not seem to treat you equally for the color of your skin.”

“This is their right to peaceful protest,” Rivera said. “I think there’s a form of injustice that should be voiced. Colin Kaepernick has been protesting for a while and he’s not on a team now. The NFL says they’ll support the players, but they still aren’t having him play in the games. That just shows us how much they care about colored people.”

For Mouro Sow, 26, entrepreneur and Lehman graduate said, “The protests are necessary and is a conversation that needs to be discussed.” Yes, he said, players are protesting “due to racial divide. But it’s not to disrespect America and the soldiers that have fought for this country. I think you’re even more patriotic by standing up for injustice and police brutality no matter what your skin color or background is.”

 

Lehman Students Favor Costumes That Go Against Predicted Trends

By Leah Liceaga

Comic book superheroes and villians remain popular Halloween costumes. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

This Halloween, some Lehman students have different---and grimmer---costumes in mind than those trending nationally.  

Biology major Francisco Aquino Ramirez, for instance, said that while his favorite costume from past Halloweens is Batman, this year he plans to dress as a Catrin, a male version of the traditional Catrina, a figure associated with Día de los Muertos.

Senior, and English major Mariah Dwyer also wants a scarily powerful costume. “I’m either going to be Poison Ivy or the Red Queen this year,” said Dwyer, who plans to attend Oktoberfest this year and go trick-or-treating. In the past, Dwyer has dressed as a witch, a police officer, and a teacher. 

These choices diverge from mainstream tastes, which can be on the lighter side. “Princesses and superheroes are always popular,” said Wayne Baker, owner of Frank Bee Costume Center and Frankie’s Carnival Time, located on 3435 E. Tremont Ave. Baker added that movies create particular interests in costumes. “Captain America, Iron Man. ‘Game of Thrones’...surprisingly a lot of people want to be IT [the clown]. It’s a mix of what’s new in the movies and what’s classic.” Baker also noted that sexy costumes have become popular in the last decade; listing the sexy cop, sexy nurse, and sexy Batgirl.

Traditional Catrina costumes, associated with Día de los Muertos. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Jasmine Monserret, an employee at the Party City on White Plains Road, concurred. “Adults costumes, for females it would be something sexy, short skirt, and something to show off their body,” Monserret said. “For males, it would be Michael Myers, Jason, or Freddy Krueger.”

Quartz magazine also predicted that the clown, Pennywise, from “IT,” Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” and the kid protagonists from “Stranger Things” would be the most popular costumes for Halloween this year. Also on its list were characters from “Game of Thrones” like Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen, “Wonder Woman,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” whose live-action films both came out this year. 

Yet Lehman students are leaning towards more sinister looks. Stefanie Nolli Gaspar, another Lehman student, with a double major in Latin American and Caribbean studies, and anthropology, said this year she plans to try something new, and dress as a dark angel. Her favorite costume ever, she added, is that of a schoolgirl since she’d never worn a uniform before then. 

Michelle Santillan, a senior and English major, plans to take it easier this year and just use face paint, though she hasn’t decided on what to go as yet. “I’ve done the Queen of Hearts, and I’ve done vampires,” she said. “The rest is just hair color change and make-up.”

Baker praised the versatility and diversity of today’s costumes, adding that he likes all costumes, including scary ones. “I like Jason, I like Michael Myers, I like Chuckie. I was a big fan of Freddy Krueger at one time. There’s such a variety today, of costumes, that you can be anything you want to be.” 

Starfinder: An Updated Pathfinder for the Stars

By Juan Vasquez
Explore the galaxy with Starfinder. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Explore the galaxy with Starfinder. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Published on Aug. 17, Starfinder is the latest, long-awaited role-playing game from Paizo Publishing. It mixes pulp-style fantasy and derring-do sci-fi. Think “Star Wars” with more fantasy influences. Perhaps the game’s greatest strength---and some will argue, its greatest weakness---is its similarities to Pathfinder. Despite a few minor changes, if you know the rules for Pathfinder, then you will have a much easier time learning Starfinder. This makes the game not only an enjoyable read, but an absolute blast to play. 

On the plus side, the game’s simple premise makes it very engaging. Much like Pathfinder, the core rules are divided into two parts, the player’s guide and the game master’s guide. This is great because you do not need three core books for players, game masters, and monsters as with Dungeons and Dragons. Players create spacefaring adventurers and romp around in a science fantasy setting akin to Spelljammer and Dragonstar.

Character creation is also very similar to Pathfinder’s; each character has a race and a class. There are there are six races in total, whose unique variety presents an amazing homage to the works that inspired the game. The character classes themselves are designed to be gaming staples and fit well within the setting---the envoy, mechanic, mystic, operative, solarian (a Jedi-style character), soldier, and technomancer. 

In addition to these classes are character themes, which seem to have some similarities to characters’ backgrounds in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. These include ace pilot, bounty hunter, icon, mercenary, outlaw, priest, scholar, spacefarer, and xenoseeker, and are supposed to add several customizable features to characters without being overwhelming to the player. Besides detailing a ton of gear that players can purchase, steal, etc., the book also covers rules for vehicle and space combat, which is a welcome addition.

However, its similarity to Pathfinder’s rules leads to one of the game’s biggest problems. Much like Pathfinder, Starfinder is very crunch heavy; mathematics and quick calculations play a hefty role in the game’s mechanics. For seasoned grognards, this brings very little concern, but for the uninitiated, this can easily be a baptism by fire, especially if this is their first attempt at role playing. 

In terms of presentation, however, the art is much better than the iconic masterpiece of the Pathfinder core rules cover art. With no disrespect to Wayne Reynolds (artist of the Pathfinder core rulebook), the art presented in Starfinder is sleek and modern. Given that the book’s artwork is full-color and presented throughout the book, Starfinder gets high marks for its production value. 

Overall, I am in love with Starfinder and I look forward to running a few games. Sure, it is a bit on the “Mathfinder” side, and some of the subtle rule changes may leave you scratching your head. Despite these details, the game is a welcome addition to any gamer’s library. 

Things I Don’t Say at Work

By Mariah Dwyer 

No, sir

I don’t care if the deal ends at 5 p.m.

And it’s 4:45 p.m.

No, madam

I’m not going to repeat the offer

For the fifth time

You don’t get it so go away

No, sir

This is not an attitude

The music is loud

And I know you can’t hear me

No, madam

I don’t like working here

I know you see me dancing

But that’s the only way I can keep myself awake

No, madam

We don’t take coupons on food

Go to McDonald’s

They will make food your way

No, sir

I will not not charge you for coat check

Sorry

I need to make money too

No, madam

I will not accommodate

You and your party of 25

Go have a damn cookout

No, sir

I don’t care if you’re mad

Go ahead take to the blogs

Anyone can take to the blogs

No, madam

I will walk away from here

Go in the back and talk to my coworkers

About getting drunk because of you

Day and Night Runner: Lehman Alum Hustles for Acting Career

By Jean Carlos Soto

Actor Angel Dillemuth working the control panel at the Lovinger Theater. Photo by Jean Carlos Soto.

Lehman alumnus Angel Dillemuth ’06 may not share the fate of the many gun-toting “thug” characters he plays, but the Bronx native has pursued acting with the spirit of a hustler.

“It really is a grind,” he says, sporting a black graphic T-shirt that reads “Night Runners” above an image of a claw. He has a tattoo on his right forearm---the comedy and tragedy masks, a known theater symbol he got during his MFA at the Actor’s Studio Drama school. Apparently, a gang in upstate Connecticut has also adopted the symbol.  

The working actor sacrifices financial stability to attend auditions and meet with a trusted acting coach throughout his busy week. Instead of full or part-time work, he juggles a number of per diem jobs---he works at a catering company, a hospitality company, as a substitute teacher, and puts up Christmas decorations throughout the city. He even serves as a senior house manager for Lehman’s Lovinger Theatre. Although challenging, he refers to it as “playing Tetris.”

“A lot of people think this is an overnight success kind of thing,” he says, “and it’s not. Even for the people who end up doing really well, there’s a lot of work you put into it. A lot of time.”

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists 22 films and television series featuring Dillemuth since 2007, including NBC’s “The Blacklist,” and the independent film “Dope Fiend.” In the spring of 2017, he completed his latest project, “Night Runners,” a sort horror film recently shown at the Nightmares Film Festival on Oct. 22 and nominated for best short thriller. 

Dillemuth grew up in the Soundview section of the Bronx during the crack epidemic of the 1980s, where he could walk from his Rosedale Avenue residence and find a nearby park strewn with crack vials and smokers. At home, he and his five siblings were raised by his aunt and uncle in lieu of his absent parents, who were addicts at the time. To avoid this harsh reality, he acted in the religious- and Disney-themed productions of the C.A.C. Christian Theatrical Program at the Blessed Sacrament Church. One of his earliest roles was as a dog in “The Little Mermaid.”

The “misguided clown,” as he says, was always getting into trouble until his senior year at Cardinal Spellman High School. While auditioning for the school’s production of the musical “Grease,” he realized that acting was what he had to do; he resolved to pull himself together and work harder. 

After graduating, he threw himself into auditioning, with no training, no guidance, and no luck.

“I think just being from the Bronx for me has just taught me a lot about survival and perseverance,” he says.

In the fall of 2002, he enrolled at Lehman as a theatre major and found a small crew as devoted as he was, including the current assistant director of Lehman Stages, Henry Ovalles ’06.

“The four big productions that the theatre program would put on every year were not enough for us,” Ovalles says. “So, we created a student repertory company, started doing shows in the summer, then later started doing shows in between the four shows.” They outdid their predecessors by doing “seven or eight shows” on a yearly basis and would take turns acting and directing one another. 

“We were strong,” Dillemuth says. He began doing one-act shows and one-act competitions, primarily using the Manhattan Repertory Theatre, a “great space for beginning playwrights and people that just want to put up their work.” 

Even though his focus now is on film and television, he finds theater training more beneficial to an actor than film training. “With theater training,” he says, “you’re training your whole body. With film training, you’re just learning to play angles, but you’re still not learning how to be yourself, how to react, how to listen appropriately, how to break down a scene. Because you can do a horrible job or you can do a brilliant job and the editing can make you look great or it can make you look horrible, [and] sometimes it’s not completely in your hands.”

“As far as the craft of it,” says Ovalles, who agrees, “I think any actor will tell you that it’s easier to make the transition from theater actor to film and screen actor, as opposed to the other way around.” 

Early on, Dillemuth stood out to the director of Lehman Stages, Dante Albertie, who had taught and directed the actor at Lehman for years. “He was the most serious of the serious,” Albertie says. Dillemuth, Albertie added, is “a raw nerve, and his journey is to get through life not feeling everything.”

“He was the most serious of the serious.” 

- Dante Albertie, director of Lehman Stages

“He’s an intense person,” Ovalles says. “We would be doing shows and if there was stuff going on in his personal life, he wouldn’t let it affect his performance. He was always gonna show up on time and bring his A-game, but he would be backstage punching walls in the hallway or by the bathrooms and the dressing rooms, and then he would come out to rehearsal with, you know, his knuckles all beat up.” As a senior house manager, the actor can also be hard on his ushers, “but if you know how to do your job, then he starts to respect you,” says Aleigi Dume, an office manager for Lehman Stages who has worked as an usher with Dillemuth for years.

Dume sees him as a good leader. “He knows how to teach an usher to eventually become a house manager,” she says. 

“I didn’t have that much support growing up,” says Dillemuth, so “if I can motivate and help people out now, sometimes that’s the difference.” 

Self-motivation fueled Dillemuth’s latest venture, his short film, “Night Runners.” It was his first finished project, which he wrote, produced, and co-directed. In the film, two thieves, Louie (Dillemuth) and Julio (Quincy Chad), botch a robbery and escape to a suburban house where they are haunted by the eponymous Night Runner (Morgane Ben-Ami), a vengeful, hooded woman from ancient times. It serves as a prologue to a feature-length film still unwritten. 

After writing it, Dillemuth held onto the script for a year before sending it to a producer-friend who told him it would cost more than he was willing to spend. Dillemuth decided to invest his own money, confident he could do it for cheaper, and did all the legwork to put the film on camera within five weeks.

“I felt I needed to just do something,” he says. Before he began filming, he had been searching for a house to use. He phoned Ovalles, who had just bought a house with his wife. Although reluctant at first, Ovalles finally agreed to support him. 

“He’s a go-getter,” says Ovalles, shrugging. “He’s gonna figure out a way to get what he needs to get done, done. Even if it means my wife being upset at me for a couple of months because I gave the house away.”

Dillemuth wrapped up “Night Runners” within five weeks, but went over budget and had little money left. Still wanting to push the film forward, he launched a Kickstarter project on July 9 to fund marketing and submit to film festivals throughout the country, including its first---the Nightmares Film Festival in Columbus, Ohio. As of Aug. 8, backers had pledged about $2,000 more than his initial goal.  

Including his role in “Night Runners,” Dillemuth has played many “thug” roles over the years, as a drug runner in the season three premiere of “The Blacklist,” and as a gangbanger in both “Dope Fiend” and a season 4 episode of “Person of Interest.” He believes he is often typecast for “thug” roles because he is ethnically ambiguous with a somewhat deep raspy voice; he actually does not mind as long as they do not fall into a certain stereotype, the loud, “Oh, I’m a thug!” type, as he puts it.  

He says doing “Night Runners” was an opportunity to combine his acting with his love of horror movies, and portray a “thug” character with a backstory.  “If it’s very much a tough character who has depth and there’s some sort of emotional involvement,” he says, “that’s something I can get into very easily. That’s something where I can mix my experiences with what’s written on the page.” 

Faith Directs Her Way onto Lehman Stage

By Leonel Henriquez

Faith D’Erasmo, currently directing her 16th show. Photo courtesy of Faith D’Erasmo. 

Macaulay Honors College junior, Faith D’Erasmo, is wasting no time growing into her craft, and pushing its boundaries while she’s at it. The 20-year-old theatre major made her directorial debut July 21-23 at Lehman’s Studio Theatre with a production of the musical “Spring Awakening” by Steven Sater, and said the opportunity came in the nick of time. 

“My friends and I really wanted to perform our favorite show, ‘Spring Awakening,’ which is quite risqué,” she explained.  So, D’Erasmo was thrilled at the opportunity to direct a show at Lehman.  “Since last year I began searching for a new venue to perform our summer show. We had been performing at a Catholic grammar school for years and the choice and content of our shows was very much hindered by the kids, priests, and other community members attending. We really wanted to perform more intense theatre. Last summer, we did not find a venue and had to do a different show.”

The search for a new venue brought her to Henry Ovalles, assistant director of Lehman Stages. “She told me she wanted to move on to a bigger location with the freedom of content, one of the things we want to do at Lehman Stages is foster creativity and new work, as long as there is no nudity.” Ovalles also said he was very impressed by how organized D’Erasmo and her staff were. “Usually people her age are still finding their way. I find her very mature…she and her staff had their stuff together, they had experience.” 

D’Erasmo’s passion for theatre began in 2013, with her first performance, in an ensemble of “Legally Blonde,” when she was just 15. “Right after I did my first show, I knew that theatre was what I wanted to do,” she said. “I actually gave up sports because theatre caused me to lose interest in those other things.” 

Though D’Erasmo has performed in eight shows, six of which she directed herself, she does not consider herself a natural performer. “I would love to [be a performer] but I know I’m not cut out for it. I typically struggle with anxiety,” she said. She prefers the comfort zone of the organized chaos backstage, and the director’s chair.  “I’m usually busy running around trying to make sure things are in place and everyone is doing what they’re supposed to,” she said with a grin. 

While she has her heart set on directing, D’Erasmo has also had success as a playwright. This past winter her play “Across the Yard” was directed by Stephanie Stowe at Lehman’s Studio Thearer for the Student’s Playwright Festival. Recently, she finished co-authoring her first musical with her boyfriend. D’Erasmo said she is very happy with her recent achievements. “I got a wonderful opportunity of putting on our dream at Lehman,” she said. 

‘When January Feels Like Summer’ Debuts at Lehman

By Leonel Henriquez

Devaun (Mark Robinson) and Indira (Erica Peña) discuss dating.  Photo by Leonel Henriquez.

From Oct. 18-21, Lehman’s Studio Theatre showcased “When January Feels Like Summer” by award winning playwright Cori Thomas from Marymount Manhattan college. The play follows five characters as they evolve from the redundancy of their lives in Harlem, New York. The warm, funky January weather is a precursor to the changing elements of the characters as they externalize their turmoil and desires. Susan Watson-Turner brilliantly directed and masterfully staged the production.

The moment the lights go up the witty rapid-fire banter between two fast food workers is as electric as the third rail. The two Burger King employees, Devaun (Mark Robinson) and Jeron (Jahdiel Rodriguez), seek a greater purpose to their fast food lives. They set out on a crusade to rid the neighborhood of a sexual predator and prevent him from “homosexing” little kids. 

Joe (Eloy Rosario) is an awkward, reserved, and sincere sanitation worker who finds value in what others consider garbage. Joe has a crush on Nirmala, the sister of Ishan/Indira and the wife of an abusive bodega owner. Sara Rosado gives a phenomenal performance as Nirmala, who deals with a comatose husband. The somber hospital scenes are gut-wrenching as she addresses the monosyllabic response of a life support machine. At one point it feels like the audience wants to pull the plug to free her from her marital prison. Finally, Joe and Nirmala come together as they realize their mutual yearning for companionship.

Meanwhile center stage, shrouded in darkness, Ishan (Erica Peña) transforms to Indira. Peña’s performance is dynamic in the dual role. “I just want to look on the outside how I feel on the inside,” says Ishan of his desire to transition to a woman. Rounding out the cast, theatre major and senior Shawn Lackerson plays the newscaster. 

“People can only truly find themselves when they are themselves.” 

– playwright Cori Thomas

Playwright Cori Thomas wrote the play in 2007 after overhearing a conversation between two young men on the train. The language of the characters, how they speak and represent themselves, is at the heart of the play, she said. “People can only truly find themselves when they are themselves,” she told the Lehman audience.   

“I thought it was great. I loved it,” said senior and environmental science major Jeffrey Townsend. This play is a must-see that will both have the audience laughing and have them leave wanting just a little more of this fantastic production. 

‘Twin Peaks:’ Still a Damn Fine Cup of Joe---and Hot

By Deirdre Fanzo

Title card from “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

“I’ll see you again in 25 years,” said Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) to Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) in a bizarre dream shared between the two characters. The ominous phrase kept fans of “Twin Peaks,” David Lynch and Mark Frost’s cult television series, hoping she was right. 

Now Palmer’s words have proven true. The show returned in May of 2017, airing Sunday nights on Showtime at 9 p.m. Directed in its entirety by David Lynch, “The Return” has a far darker vibe than the original run. 

As computer science major Carlos Perez put it, “it’s a completely different show with a completely different tone.” 

When “Twin Peaks” originally ran on ABC on Thursday nights in 1990-91, it was a quirky combination of paranormal detective mystery and soap opera. The plot followed Special Agent Dale Cooper on his investigation into the murder of local sweetheart Laura Palmer. There were funny scenes, touching moments, bizarre happenings, and an abundance of donuts, black coffee, and cherry pie. But as Agent Cooper uncovered Palmer’s dark secrets, the darker side of the town was revealed as well. 

With the inclusion of alternate dimensions, malevolent spirits, and doppelgangers, the show presented to its audience something entirely new that paved the way for future programs like “The X-Files,” “Fringe,” and “Stranger Things.” But in 1991, network producers ordered Lynch and Frost to do what they had never intended---to reveal Palmer’s killer. Ratings plummeted after the big reveal and the show was cancelled, leaving angry viewers with a cliffhanger that seemed as though it would never be resolved. 

Then, in 2014, Lynch and Frost were picked up by Showtime and given a platform to bring back their cult sensation in the form of “Twin Peaks: The Return.” Running “The Return” on Showtime allowed Lynch and Frost to bring in darker and scarier elements this time around. MacLachlan returns to the series as the show’s forerunner, this time taking on two different roles---the separate sides of Cooper. The show follows both Cooper’s horrifying and evil doppelganger, known as Mr. C, and the good, but infantile, Dougie Jones, who, unbeknownst to him, is actually the benevolent Dale Cooper. 

There are moments where the show meanders. While Jones is funny, there are moments where his presence is excruciating. Cooper was the heart of “Twin Peaks” when it originally ran, and in “The Return,” the audience sits through roughly 15 hours of the clueless Jones before the true Cooper returns. When he does return, though, it is incredibly satisfying. This plot evolution makes it clear that the title “The Return” has two meanings---the return of the show itself and the return of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

True to the style of David Lynch, more questions are asked before the season comes to a close. “Part 17” can be considered the true ending of the season, while “Part 18” feels more like an epilogue, which ends on another confounding cliffhanger. Since a fourth season has not yet been confirmed, audiences can only hope that the show doesn’t end for good on yet another suspenseful shocker. 

New ‘American Horror Story’ Season Spins 2016 Elections as the Real Horror Show

By Eileen Sepulveda

Promotional image for “Cult,” the latest installment of FX’s anthology, “American Horror Story.” Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Although its sixth season turned out to be a major flop, the seventh season of “American Horror Story,” entitled “Cult,” has so far proven to be one of the best seasons ever. Created and produced by Ryan Murphy and writer Brad Falchuk, the psychological, gory dramatic thriller, which premiered Sept. 5, revolves around the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The show stands out for tackling issues that are detrimental to many U.S. citizens, such as discrimination against Mexican immigrants and the LGBT community, and the resurgence of white nationalism.

“AHS” fans will appreciate the writer’s careful approach. John Landgraf, the chief executive of FX told John Koblin of the New York Times via phone interview, “It’s a horror piece, so it’s a genre piece, but it’s trying somehow to locate and diagnose the essential craziness of the times in which we live.” 

Chaotic and terrifying, the first episode, “Election Night,” draws the viewer right in. It opens with the exhilarated soon to be cult leader, Kai Anderson played by Evan Peters---an “AHS” fan favorite who is also known for his role as X-Men’s Quicksilver---humping his TV screen and whispering, “The revolution has begun.” Along with his sister Winter (Billie Lourd) and their brother Dr. Rudy Vincent Anderson (Cheyenne Jackson), the three begin recruiting several members of the community into their strange and dangerous cult. By the end of episode 1, Kai’s evil cult has formed. 

Masked as hideous clowns, the cult begins to terrorize the town, going on violent killing sprees. Allyson Mayfair Richards (Sarah Paulson) is also tormented by the cult. Triggered by Trump’s victory, Allyson and her family deal with her many phobias, including coulrophobia. Her wife Ivy (Alison Pill) goes on her own psychological rollercoaster. It takes a toll on the couple’s relationship and inflicts traumatic stresses on their son, 10-year-old Oz---short for Ozymandias (Cooper Dodson), who we learn secretly loves to read “Twisty: The Clown Chronicles.” As some viewers might know, Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) also makes his appearance on “AHS Season 4: Freak Show.” 

As the plot unfolds many of the characters’ identities are revealed and the truths uncovered through many twists and turns will leave viewers dumbfounded right up till the season finale, “Great Again,” scheduled to air on Nov. 14. Beside the constant neck slicing and clown faces, the show brings to life the nightmare that’s become a reality in the U.S.