‘The Fabelmans’: Spielberg in the factory of dreams

I know what you’re thinking. Another movie about how great and fantastic “the movies” are? We get it, we know directors think they’re amazing. But trust me, “The Fabelmans,” despite playing on this overused trope, manages to combine innovative and moving elements with grace and ease. It is Steven Spielberg’s most personal movie, and maybe one of his best. It is a collage of its director’s memories that becomes a beautiful celebration of the playful spirit and power of cinema in our imagination.

While none of the characters actually exist, Spielberg has already made it pretty clear that “The Fabelmans” is about his relationship with cinema. But more than just showing how a young Jewish boy was enchanted by the big screen and its power to make us dream, he demonstrates this power by also examining the fragility of his own family. For this very reason, more than Sam (Gabriel LaBelle) himself, the Fabelman family is the main protagonist of the film.

Art is fundamental in the relationship between Bart (Paul Dano) and Mitzi (Michelle Williams), the heads of the Fabelman family. Despite the almost devotional love they have for each other, father and mother see the world in diametrically opposed ways. Bart is that pragmatic figure, the man of science who believes that everything should be taken literally and rationally, which makes any and all explanations he gives seem like an endless lecture. On the other hand, Mitzi is a pianist who has given up music to become a housewife, but never abandoned her magical and fantastic lens for looking at life. This opposition between the parents’ worldviews is fundamental for Sam as he find his own path. And this starts from his first trip to the cinema, when he learns, in one of the most beautiful scenes of the film, that cinema is nothing more than the ability to put dreams in the palm of your hand.

Producing dreams is an outlet for creatives and an exercise in control. That second aspect is what Sam has in common with his father, whose hope of a happy family makes him want to control it. Sam is the sole ruler of his dream world, and his mother recognizes how art becomes his psychological crutch early on in his childhood.

One of the greatest feats of “The Fabelmans” is that it uses the memories of its screenwriter and director without feeling corny or overbearing. Although it is a film made entirely about Spielberg himself, it is not an egocentric work by an artist who sees himself as bigger than it. On the contrary, the feature is made from pure heart. Still, there’s no bigger star in “The Fabelmans” than Spielberg. For decades, he has been a master artist in Hollywood, demonstrating perfect control of form in the service of mainstream narrative. His dreams are precisely produced, which is what makes them wonderful, and that craft is very much present here, in everything from the composition of the frames to the immaculate sound.

“The Fabelmans” highlights the essential role of art in human life. It is a treatise on what cinema does, what it is for and what it requires from those who create it. There is poetry, of course, but there is also technique that is considered beautiful for its obvious perfection. There is mystery, that transcendence that occurs when a film ceases to belong to its creator and becomes the public’s, the images unfolding at 24 frames per second coming to life by themselves. 

Above all, it is a film about the search for control as a guideline of the human experience and the maximum expression of the work to which the director dedicates himself. Drawing inspiration from the truth of his past, Spielberg celebrates the “lie in 35mm film,” turns memory into a myth and shares his most intimate reflections with all of us. Inspiring from start to finish, “The Fabelmans” is a beautiful reminder of why we love this factory of dreams so dearly.

Contact Marcelle Cuoto at


New University program promotes educational initiatives for the incarcerated

In August, leaders of the major college-in-prison initiatives within the tri-campus community gathered to create the Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison (NDPEP) housed within the Center for Social Concerns (CSC). The program offers a liberal arts education in prisons as well as expanding research geared toward improving prison education initiatives. NDPEP aids participants as they “re-enter their home communities and provide faculty and student opportunities for education and research on issues related to incarceration”, according to a University press release.

“The goal of bringing all these pieces together into NDPEP is to ensure that all the pieces doing similar work can communicate more easily and learn from each other by being housed in one place and being in regular communication,” James Shortall, associate director of the Center for Social Concerns said in an interview with The Observer.

He continued by talking about how the program represents the University’s mission.

“It contributes to the mission of the Center and Notre Dame by doing justice education and by increasing opportunities for justice education and research for the common good, where the idea would be to build up research efforts around all these elements that have just come together under the umbrella of NDPEP,” he said.  

Managing director Michael Hebbeler described how once different project directors decided their roles within the new program, the work was simple.

“It was, frankly, fairly easy, because each of the programs in existence is strong and robust and have been running well, and so it was a matter of understanding how they fit together,” he said.

For instance, assistant regional director for alumni and reentry services Justin McDevitt and research program manager Lindsay Paturalski were brought onto the initiative because of their respective skill sets, according to McDevitt.

“So rather than each program hiring its own independent person to do these things, we thought we could all work together and support the greater group of programs,” he explained.

The innovative aspect of NDPEP also lies in the capacity for the tri-campus students to become involved in the program, McDevitt noted.

“Both Lindsay and I are making it available for students to intern with NDPEP, both with research help for Lindsay and alumni reentry support for me,” McDevitt said. “We’ve had more than a handful of students already serve as interns and there are opportunities for Notre Dame students to get involved in helping in the Moreau College Initiative (MCI) office at Holy Cross.”

However, McDevitt explained such opportunities for undergraduate engagement through MCI specifically are “really limited” because the program encourages students inside the prison to mentor each other.

Nevertheless, Hebbeler noted there will be more opportunities for undergraduates to engage with the project, specifically in the “Inside-Out” program, a three-credit course offered in the spring.

“It is a course inside Westville Correctional Facility, where half the students are incarcerated and half of the students are traditional Notre Dame undergraduates. So we take vehicles out from campus to do class once a week inside a facility.”

The class requires an application which is still available for interested students.

McDevitt summarized the goal of the program by is “exposing undergraduates to inequities in our system and introducing them to the possibility of going inside a space where more marginalized people are compared to the campus.”

McDevitt also described how NDPEP addresses issues of equity and empowerment.

“What Lindsay and I have been doing for years is teaching college in prison as if it were college outside of prison,” he said. “So it’s less about opening people’s eyes to inequity and more of empowering people who wouldn’t normally get a chance to be educated.”

Hebbeler also described how the initiative benefits faculty.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for faculty, at Holy Cross College and at Notre Dame who are teaching the courses — in total about 40 — so it’s a robust college degree program, and many faculty will name it not only a rewarding experience but arguably the most powerful teaching experience they’ve had.”

Paturalski shared some of the research efforts to improve the program, emphasizing the ethics involved in the process.

“Our research is about program evaluation,” she said. “I think that’s really important, again for the equity aspect, that students feel empowered and that they do not think we are there possibly with some alternative motive.”

Paturalski noted the goal is to “make sure that they’re getting a quality education that is valuable to them as returning citizens, so we look at a lot of variables related to student success and academic quality and community-building.”

While NDPEP has focused its study on the all-male Westville Correctional Facility, the program hopes to expand its reach to imprisoned women because of the limited research on that demographic, according to Paturalski.

“While mass incarceration numbers have slowly been going down, the numbers of women being incarcerated have slowly gone up, even though men still are by far the highest number of people being incarcerated,” she said. “The fact that we’re going to be able to engage with and support women who are reentering society and getting their education is another really important aspect of what we’re doing and are only possible through the partnership, because Notre Dame can’t take our faculty down to Indianapolis to work with the Women’s College Partnership, together with Marian University and the Bard Prison Initiative.”

Shortall summarized the impact of NDPEP as forming “more and deeper opportunities both for justice education and for research for the common good around education in prison.”

McDevitt added that “even though our students in prison can’t come to campus while they’re incarcerated and our Notre Dame students, except for ‘Inside Out,’ can’t go inside the prison, we are very much the same in this goal.”

In addition, McDevitt stated the program will be a leader among newly emerging programs with similar missions.

“From a historical context, our programs have been around for ten years, in partnership with Holy Cross College, which houses the MCI program, and that’s pretty long compared to a lot of programs in the state,” McDevitt said. “A lot of programs are going to be starting, so NDPEP poises Notre Dame to be a leader in the field, both state-wide and beyond so it’s a really exciting time.”

McDevitt commended the collaboration between all three tri-campus schools.

“Holy Cross College is fundamental to this operation, and without Holy Cross, this does not happen,” he said. And we are excited about the possibility of the Saint Mary’s campus getting more involved. Faculty from all three campuses teach out there.”

James finalized by saying the work of the center, “serves Notre Dame’s mission to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice”. He concluded, “That’s part of the mission that we refer to all the time here, and NDPEP bringing together these programs at the center really does everything that sentence says and more”.

Contact Marcelle Couto at


de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture holds annual fall conference

Last weekend, Notre Dame held its twenty-second Ethics and Culture Fall Conference.

The de Nicola Center’s website described the conference as an event that brings together “the world’s leading Catholic thinkers, as well as those from other traditions, in fruitful discourse and exchange on the most pressing and vexed questions of ethics, culture, and public policy today.”

The theme of this year’s conference, “And It Was Good: On Creation,” featured daylong programs with several presentations, colloquiums, discussion panels and plenary keynote lectures. Many explored the questions of whether it was plausible to believe in a created universe, the theological implications of creation or the role of humans within the created world. As such, the theological discussion centered mostly around the first three chapters of the book of Genesis.

However, this was not the only topic, as presenters also explored matters of philosophy, physics, mathematics and artistic, literary or creative expression.

Regarding this year’s theme, the de Nicola Center wrote, “In the created world, Pope Francis writes, we are able to perceive ‘a grammar written by the hand of God’ (Lumen Fidei). If creation is a language, what can we discern regarding the creator?” The conference explored “the many facets of the created world and the act of creation, including questions of cosmology, teleology, natural ends, natural law, the Imago Dei, creaturely status, ecology, stewardship, cocreation, recreation, redemption and more.”

Notre Dame students and faculty as well as guests from all over the country enjoyed a complimentary reception on all the days of the conference, meals and daily mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

“I think in particular for me it was a gift to be able to speak to the speakers and ask them questions,” said Aviva Lund, a Notre Dame senior who attended the conference. “One of my favorite talks was ‘Creating the Beloved Community,’ and it was really cool to see how they incorporated Catholic Social Teaching as well as the philosophy of agape to then go back to our communities and be present both on an individual and group level.”

She added, “With that, it was really exciting afterward to be able to talk to the speakers directly one on one and ask them for their advice on how I could incorporate that into my own life as a student here.” Lund said she was also grateful for the opportunity to listen to other students and scholars.

Marcelle Couto | The Observer

“Since the first conference in 2000, this annual event has become the most important academic forum for wide-ranging conversations that engage the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition from a variety of disciplinary points of departure,” the de Nicola Center wrote.

According to the website, past conference speakers have included Nobel Laureates and this year, speakers included Robert Pogue Harrison, Simon Conway Morris, Jacqueline Rivers, Kristin Collier and Alasdair MacIntyre, discussing subjects ranging from “Creating the Beloved Community” to “Neural Organoids and Chimeras.”

MacIntyre, of the de Nicola Center itself, has been a continual lecturer throughout all 22 years of the conference. He has made contributions to moral and political philosophy and is especially known for his book, “After Virtue,” in which he examines the historical roots of the concept of virtue.

This year, he presented on “The Apparent Oddness of the Universe: How to Account for It?,” which poses an argument against the notion that the universe is odd and unpredictable. Through what MacIntyre calls “singularities,” “humans are able to think, speak and act in an unpredictable manner.” Singularities are “unpredictable utterances; whoever predicts it is the author.”

According to MacIntyre, because we believe there is “no place for oddities within a law-governed, determined and probabilistic universe,” we tend to assume the universe is no such thing. However, because “God created humans in His image,” this therefore involves the “possibility for humans to act creatively,” and creativity itself can be either benign or malignant as Macyntyre defines. This includes, as MacIntyre boldly suggests, the ability to act in ways God cannot predict.

Because God’s omniscience involves knowing everything there is to be known, and singularities are necessarily expressions of thought and not physical occurrences in themselves, “God must respond to them as they happen,” MacIntyre said.

In addition, MacIntyre posits singularities are concurrent with the recent discoveries of quantum physics as well as the theory of “emergent properties of the universe.”

MacIntyre also argues against a strictly dualistic view of minds and bodies, claiming that the physical is constantly taking on new forms; “human beings are bodies informed by the soul, and not bodies containing souls,” he said. He added, “We are all the outcomes of decisions that could have been otherwise.”

Other prominent lectures examined the question of how mathematics came to exist in the universe, the role of the arts, lessons from C.S. Lewis for modern society, a new manifesto for contemplative realism and the question of whether there was a cosmic plan for the universe.

The closing plenary lecture by Elizabeth Lev, an art historian at Duquesne University, was titled “Creation, Complementarity and Saint John Paul II in Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling” and explored the masterpieces of the Sistine Chapel, revealing a detailed analysis of their surprises and mysteries.

Additionally, the de Nicola Center partnered with Stanford University’s “Boundaries of Humanity” project this year, which seeks to advance the dialogue on “human place and purpose in the cosmos, particularly with respect to conceptions of human uniqueness and choices around biotechnological enhancement.” 

The speakers, schedule and recordings for this year’s lectures can be found on the conference website.

You can reach Marcelle Couto at


Not-so-Royal Shakespeare Co. gives incredible performance

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Not-So-Royal (NSR) Shakespeare Co. performed an only slightly abridged “The Winter’s Tale” (circa 1609-1611), which, with its almost symmetrical split into two halves of dark tragedy and comic romance, illustrates — perhaps more clearly than any other Shakespearean play — the genre of tragicomedy.

The tragedy of King Leontes seems, at first glance, irreversible and terrifying, like that of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic protagonists. He suffers from irrational jealousy, much like Othello, and tries to destroy the person on whom all his happiness depends. Like Othello, his jealousy stems from a characteristic perversion of the masculine and fear of inadequacy, founded on meager fantasies. Unlike Othello, however, Leontes does not need a diabolic tempter such as Iago to poison his mind against Queen Hermione. Leontes is annihilated by his own fantasies. 

Leontes confronts Hermione. The Observer | Emily Hannon

It is horribly frustrating for the audience to perceive such unjust conclusions come to fruition, and NSR nicely portrays the suddenness of Leontes’s speculations with a red light flashing and haloing around him as he broods with his thoughts. Dominic Keene, who plays Leontes, does a remarkable job of demonstrating his distraught and emphatic madness.

Although Hermione is graciously fond of Leontes’s dear friend Polixenes, urging him to stay longer in Sicily, she does so with just the cordiality necessary for the occasion and encouraged by her husband. In any case, Shakespeare removes from Leontes the motive and occasion of a plausible distrust of his wife. All observers in the court of Sicily are incredulous and shocked by the King’s accusations. Even so, Leontes is not an unsympathetic character. Like Othello, Leontes cherishes his wife and realizes with horrifying intensity the fearful cost they both must pay for his suspicions. They sacrifice not only his marriage but his enduring friendship with Polixenes, his sense of pride in his children and his delight in the warm consideration of his subjects. Whatever the psychological cause of this obsession, it manifests itself as a revulsion against his wife’s entire behavior. In contrast, Hermione, played by Nandini Sadagopan, stands proud with honor, glistening with the tears only an innocent sufferer could illume. 

Indeed, all of Shakespeare’s later plays feature journeys of separation, apparent deaths and tearful reconciliations. “The Winter’s Tale” uses a more formal structure to evoke the antithesis of tragedy and romance. It is sharply divided into contrasting halves by an interval of 16 years. The first tragic part takes place almost entirely in Sicily, while the action of the second half is mostly limited to Bohemia. In the court of Sicily, we see tyrannical jealousy producing a perpetually stormy winter spiritual climate; in Bohemia, we witness a pastoral landscape and the shearing of sheep evoking the sweetness of the year.

Leontes plays with his son. The Observer | Emily Hannon

The two halves of the play are intensified by parallels: both begin with Camillo (Sammy Kacius) on stage and proceed to scenes of confrontation and jealousy in which, ironically, the innocent cause of jealousy in the first half, Polixenes (Ryan Mantey), becomes the jealous tyrant of the second half. The parallelism reminds us of the cyclical nature of time and the hope it brings for renewal as we move from tragedy to romantic comedy.

The view of human depravity is pessimistic as if infected by the melancholy spirit of great tragedies. And because humanity is so bent on destroying itself, restoration is both more urgently needed and more miraculous than in the festive world of earlier comedies. Renewal is mythically associated with the seasonal cycle from winter to summer.

The cosmic order is never really challenged, however, even when human suffering is very tangible and injustice to women especially apparent. Leontes’s fantasies of the universal disorder are chimerical. His wife is indeed chaste, Polixenes true and the King’s courtiers loyal. Despite philosophical questions Camillo must endure in his conflict to either obey the king or murder a friend, NSR once more makes a brilliant staging decision, having Polinexes playfully scare Camillo with a teddy bear as their conversation exudes dramatic irony. Eventually, Camillo refuses to carry out Leontes’s order to assassinate Polixenes, not only because he knows the murder is wrong, but also because history offers not even one example of a man who attacked anointed kings with success.

The cosmos of this play is such that crimes are invariably and quickly punished. The Delphic oracle defends Hermione and gives Leontes a stern warning. When Leontes persists in his madness, the death of his son Mamillius follows as an immediate consequence. As Leontes simultaneously realizes his wife is dead, he paradoxically congratulates the long remorse he must submit to, as this confirms a pattern in the universe of just causes and effects. Although, as a tragic protagonist, he discovered the truth about Hermione too late and therefore had to pay for his mistake, Leontes has at least regained faith in Hermione’s transcendent goodness. His nightmare over, he accepts and embraces his wife’s suffering and death as necessary compensation.

Paulina scolds Leontes. The Observer | Emily Hannon

The transition to the novel is therefore anticipated to some extent by the first half of the play, even if the tone of the last two acts is noticeably different. The old Shepherd signals a very important change when he tells his son about a cataclysmic storm, and the ravenous bear is pitted against a child’s miraculous discovery. When Antigonus is ordered to consign Hermione’s newborn baby girl to the wilderness, NSR adds a perfect image of his helpless estate by having Leontes threaten him with a sword.

Antigonus reflects on his quandary. The Observer | Emily Hannon

Time comes to the stage to remind us of the playwright’s conscious artifice. He can carry us 16 years as if we had only dreamed in the interim. Shakespeare exhibits the improbability of his story by giving Bohemia a sea coast and by bringing on stage a live bear or an actor dressed as a bear. NSR — thankfully — opts for the actor dressed as a bear, who chases Antigonus amid hilarious roars off the stage. The narrative uses many devices typical of the romantic novel: a baby abandoned and reared in the wilderness, a princess brought up by shepherds, a prince disguised as a young peasant, a voyage across the sea and a scene of reconnaissance. Love is threatened, not by the internal physical obstacle of jealousy, but by the external obstacles of parental opposition and an apparent social class disparity between lovers. A twinge of forbidden love and Camillo’s scheming dimension of his character haunts the atmosphere of the second half, but is obstructed by lovely scenes; at one point, for instance, NSR has Perdita distributing beautiful flowers all around the audience. Interconnectedly, Prince Florizel (Mike Hanisch) and Perdita (Christina Randazzo) do well in their ecstatic passion for one another.

Comedy easily finds the solutions to such difficulties, through the disentangling of illusion. This comic world also appropriately includes rustic shepherds, demure shepherdesses and Autolycus, the roguish traveling salesman, whose machinations contribute in an unforeseen way to the good outcome of the love story. Autolycus is, in many ways, the genius who presides over the second half of the play, a character as dominant as Leontes in the first half and one whose pleasurable function is to do good against his will. Sam Rush does a tremendous job of playing this humorous figure. In addition, Andrew Arcidiacono and Tony Perez provide fantastic comedic interpretations of the Clown and the Shepherd. In this paradox of trickery converted surprisingly into a benign ending, we see how the providence of Shakespeare’s tragicomic world uses the most implausible and extravagant events to achieve its own inscrutable design.

Autolycus tricks the Shepherd and Clown. The Observer | Emily Hannon

The conventional romantic ending is filled, however, with sadness and mystery that take the play far beyond what is usual in comedy. Mamillius and Antigonus are really dead, and this irredeemable fact is not forgotten in the play’s final happy moments. Hermione, though avenged by the gods, suffered public shame, the death of a child, separation from her other child and prolonged isolation from her husband; she had to bear the consequences of Leontas’s frailty and thus redeem her husband through his suffering. Her husband, putting her aside, must discover and learn to esteem the woman he once chose and who is now aged; he must reconfirm his marriage to her, even as he learns to accept his daughter’s marriage to a younger man.

All of these crucial twists hinge on Shakespeare’s most remarkable detachment from his source, Robert Greene’s “Pandosto”: Hermione is brought back to life. All observers regard this event, and Perdita’s rediscovery, as grossly implausible. The very title of the play, “The Winter’s Tale,” reinforces this sense of innocent improbability. Why does Shakespeare emphasize this enigmatic paradox of unbelievable reality, and why does he deliberately mislead his audience into believing that Hermione is, in fact, dead, using a kind of theatrical trick not found in any other Shakespeare play? The answer may well be that, in Paulina’s (Eliza Chaney) words: we need to reawaken our faith, accepting a narrative of death and return to life that cannot ultimately be understood by reason.

Rationally, we are told that Hermione was kept in hiding for 16 years, in order to satisfy the oracle’s condition, that Leontes must live without an heir (and therefore without a wife) until Perdita is found. We are drawn to an emblematic interpretation, keeping in mind that this is more of an evocative allusion than a complete truth. Throughout the play, Hermione was repeatedly associated with “Grace” and with the goddess Proserpine, whose return from the underworld after 13 months signaled the beginning of spring. Perdita, also associated with Proserpine, is received by her father as spring is received by the land. The emphasis on the father-daughter bond so characteristic of Shakespeare’s later plays explores familial relationships.

Paulina has a similarly emblematic role, that of Conscience, patiently guiding the King to a divinely appointed reconciliation. Paulina speaks of herself as an artistic figure, performing wonders of illusion despite rejecting assistance from evil powers. NSR has the characters playfully mime the scene as a servant tells of the reencounter between the families and the equal, leveling force of love eliminating class boundaries. These iconic allusions do not rob the story of its human drama but lend transcendent significance to this bittersweet story of sinful error, affliction and unexpected redemption. All of this to say, NSR did an absolutely fantastic job with yet another Shakespeare rendition.

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‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’: Disney’s most underrated masterpiece

After acquiring a copy of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” during fall break, I was suddenly in the mood to rewatch the Disney animated musical. Doing so made me realize, not for the first time, how criminally underrated this adaptation is. Not only was it not as successful as other Disney films, but it is also significantly inconspicuous compared to the more widely-acclaimed classics. I believe part of the reason may stem from the fact that many of us did not watch it in our childhood, and understandably so — the film’s darker themes might not have been favorable to parents. However, I would argue that “Hunchback” is not so much a movie for children as it is a wonderful work of artistry, and it should be revisited and appreciated today.

To start with, there is the incredible soundtrack, one of Disney’s best. Scored by Alan Menken, awarded for masterworks like “The Little Mermaid”  (1989), “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), “Aladdin” (1992) and “Pocahontas”  (1995), together with Stephen Schwartz, acclaimed for hits such as “Wicked” (2003), “The Prince of Egypt” (1998) and “Godspell” (1971), the music is glorious and breathtaking. Composed in the style of operatic musicals like “Les Misérables” — also inspired by a Victor Hugo novel — the style does just tribute to Hugo’s hauntingly beautiful work. From the longing “Out There”, the passionate “Heaven’s Light”, the tender “God Help the Outcasts” to the sinister “Hellfire”, the songs leave nothing amiss in terms of riveting melodies or establishment of a thematic, profound atmosphere. Even the post-credits special, “Someday”, captures the fervent thrill of the story, and it is only unfortunate that it was cut out from the movie.

The animation is also gorgeously detailed and picturesque. It is evident that the studio poured hefty amounts of craftsmanship into the work. Indeed, the film accentuated the greatness of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which would, once again, earn a nod of admiration from Victor Hugo. After all, the underlying motivator behind his novel was the depreciation of gothic architecture and the withering of magnificent buildings like Notre Dame. In fact, the work inspired a restoration of the medieval monolith in the mid-nineteenth century.

Then, of course, comes the story. While the film amassed criticism for its inclusion of mature themes for a Disney movie, I would argue that “Hunchback” is considerably more toned-down than Hugo’s heart-rending tragedy. The fact that the movie’s creators were able to make the tale of a, frankly, oftentimes horrifying novel accessible to children — albeit preferably slightly older children — is a major accomplishment in itself. Playful comedic interpolations break the unease of other, more eerie scenes and while the film has been criticized for a disorienting tone, I believe the humor aids in the presentation of such a complex story to a younger audience.

The moral force of the story is unmatched, with themes such as the rampant abuse of power, oppression of the disadvantaged, prejudice and the transformative power of gentleness and kindness. In short, it is a timeless tale, full of character, strength and beauty enough to provoke countless chills.

Nothing proves the unfortunate reception of “Hunchback” better than its stage musical adaptation, which premiered in the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California on Oct. 28, 2014, ran until Dec. 7, 2014, and subsequently went on to open on March 4, 2015, at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. As expected, the augmented soundtrack is gorgeous, and I recommend you listen to it on Spotify if you are a fan of show tunes. This rendition featured star actors like Michael Arden and Patrick Page as well as an incredible set. It also retained much of Hugo’s original writing, including the miserable yet impactful ending. However, the show closed all too early on April 5, 2015, after it was announced that it would not move to Broadway.

If you are an animation enthusiast, I hope to have convinced you by now to revive “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and give it the recognition it deserves.

Contact Marcelle at

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


Why you should visit more museums

To me, a museum is an incomparable location and it eludes precise description: it is a confluence of beauty, culture and history. One of my favorite activities is going to museums, and I immediately look for one whenever I am somewhere new. As such, I decided to argue this hobby should be actively cultivated. 

The term museum comes from the ancient Greek words “mousa” and “mouseion,” meaning muse and temple (of the nine muses), respectively. The muses were linked to different branches of the arts and sciences, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the deity of memory. They were also known for being the source of inspiration for great artists and intellectuals. Therefore, museums were sacred places, reserved for contemplation and study. The first museums contained libraries, gardens, observatories, reading rooms and other environments. 

For a long time, they were restricted to the elite, and only those with invitations to exhibitions could access museum works. Years later, they evolved into what we know today; that is, open to the general public and without distinction, a free space of an educational nature whose mission is to recover, preserve and disseminate collective memory through artifacts.

The museum has a role in informing and educating us about our shared human culture and experience through permanent exhibitions, recreational activities, multimedia, theater, video and laboratories. It is the ideal space to spark curiosity, stimulate reflection and debate, promote socialization, the principles of citizenship and collaboration for the sustainability of societal transformation.

Museums are much more than places where objects are displayed and preserved. In addition to being a means of protecting our material and immaterial heritage, illustrating cultural and natural diversity and promoting and generating opportunities for research, museums play a very important role in stimulating a creative local and regional economy which act as platforms for discussion.

Preserving human history and consigning accomplishments to collective memory has always been a great challenge. Museums are relevant within this context. Many think that they are just a path towards the past, when in fact they connect the past, present and future. Learning from the past can inspire us with the great deeds of old; it also allows us to know what has been done in order to improve mechanisms that influence the present, as well as reserve knowledge and skills for the future. 

We know that culture is a broad and complex term that may be defined from different perspectives. Under the anthropological lens, culture is the set of customs, traditions, habits and manifestations of a population, which builds its identity and its way of life and is transmitted generationally. Museums provide a way of encountering one’s own culture or experiencing someone else’s. They are filled with incredible pieces, regardless of the topic addressed, and revisiting these cultural demarcations can thus be an enriching and pleasurable endeavor.

Further, going to a museum can be a relaxing and meditative experience. It is generally a quiet space, and the exhibitions invite you to take time and care with each piece, demanding slowness of pace and presence of mind. In an art museum, the aesthetic quality of the paintings may contribute to this restorative effect, evoking awe and wonder. It is also an interesting opportunity to contemplate the hands that have made the artwork, and how it has traversed time and space, maybe even centuries, to arrive at its final destination. You may even observe the brushstrokes and feel a certain sense of connection to another human being across time.

Museums are not lacking in diversity either. They may be historical, artistic, scientific, interactive, ethnographic, technological, military or thematic. In all variations, it disseminates valuable knowledge. They provide a form of tangible, observational learning that is not possible within the classroom.

I hope to have in some way inspired you to visit a museum sometime soon. Opportunities abound within our vicinity, such as the Snite and the soon-to-be-inaugurated Raclin Murphy Museum of Art. Perhaps you may even choose to partake in Art180, a semester-long challenge invite to spend 180 minutes with a single painting. In any case, I hope to have at least accentuated their great functional significance.

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FTT’s “Pippin” does remarkably well

“Pippin” revolutionized Broadway at the time of its debut in 1972. With a daring structure and an innovation of metalanguage, the musical won five Tony Awards for telling the tale of Prince Pippin, the heir to the throne of King Charlemagne, which follows a troubled existential journey in search of the meaning of life. Told by a theatrical troupe, the saga is led by a Leading Player and the music of Stephen Schwartz, author of “Godspell” (1971), “Wicked” (2003) and winner of Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe awards. 

A narrative ensemble invites the audience to immerse themselves in the magic of theater and accompany the vicissitudes of Pippin’s turbulent life. In a journey of self discovery, he faces battles, experiences power, simplicity and love.

It is a musical with a lot more substance and layers than one might originally assume. “Pippin” is a cynical comedy that features an absolutely modern protagonist, full of doubts and questions and with an existential void that can never be fulfilled. So much so, it has been dubbed the “Hamlet” of musicals. He rejects old cliches and breaks with some traditions of the genre. As if that were not enough, it takes up the idea of ​​the “theater of life within the theater of stage” and invites a theatrical group and the figure of the Leading Player to tell the story.

When I first saw this musical in high school, I must admit I did not love it as equally, as I had grown rapidly passionate about other musicals I encountered. The meta aspect of “Pippin” was its most creative and interesting development, and the ending related a sincere and profound moral. However, if I would have only reviewed my experience of the musical then, I would rate “Pippin” a moderate  3 out of 5 shamrocks. There were moments when I felt the story was dragging, and the writers inserted reflective songs without much narrative development to compensate. The jokes grew overused and crude, distracting from the uneventful plot.

I am glad, however, that Notre Dame students managed to make my second experience of the show considerably more enjoyable. Directed by senior Nick Buranicz, the department of Film, Television and Theatre developed a youthful and animating production. Although I had originally taken a more moderate liking of the play, Notre Dame’s “Pippin” earned 5 out of 5 shamrocks.

The actors were comical and idiosyncratic without being overbearing — except, of course, for the one character who is meant to be domineering, the brilliant and hilarious Charlemagne (Timothy Merkle). Pippin himself (Carlos Macias) perfectly captured the bright-eyed naivety of the character. His sweet and mellow rendition of “Corner of the Sky” was moving and ideal. Both the Leading Player (Evelyn Berry) and Fastrada (Olivia Seymour) superbly capture their characters’ scheming wiliness and oustanding charm. Grandma Berthe (Gavriella Aviva Lund) was especially vibrant as she led the audience through the chorus of “No Time at All,” and Catherine (Kate Turner) taught the audience the value of simple pleasures with her agreeable disposition. That is to say nothing of the fantastic vocals and each actor’s ingenious doubling as a member of the ensemble.

The scenes balanced the humor and philosophical weight of the show. Despite its great comedic moments, this version of “Pippin” seemed less rough and more principled. The cast of “Pippin” gave the ending its proper meaning, which is, of course, memorable for its rejection of the desire for extraordinary pyrotechnics in life and the exaltation of the menial and familiar. 

Choreography was marvelously executed, with much color and vivacity. Further, the set was also innovative, using gymnastics mats to construct each fluid scene. The rapidness and large-scale transitions with these mats were nothing short of impressive. Finally, the costumes were well-suited, given the unique and lively nature of the show.

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South Bend Symphony Orchestra performs at Notre Dame

This past weekend, the South Bend Symphony Orchestra opened its 90th season with two stellar performances of “Mozart y Mambo” at the DeBartalo Performing Arts Center. Conductor Alastair Willis was greeted on stage with the presence of his sister, Sarah Willis, a member of the Berlin Philharmonic and French horn player.

The Symphony began its birthday celebrations with a diverse and animated program, as all of the pieces selected were exciting or compelling in some manner. The opening number, Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella Suite,” reflects the humorous nature of the Italian “comedia dell’arte,” the play which inspired  Stravinsky to compose his ballet. The piece is divided into eight movements, all of which convey particular happenings or emotions of a scene through different musical styles which quickly and effortlessly blend into each other (for example, a rapidly moving “scherzo” contrasts with a melodious “serenata”). The subject of the music, Pulcinella’s dashing escape from the envious boyfriends of the girls he woos, is colorful and lively; it even features an intriguing battle between instruments, designed to portray the struggles of wrestling characters on stage.

With Stravinsky completed, the orchestra welcomed the horn soloist Sarah Willis for a performance of Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 3. The composition was what could be usually expected of Mozart: divine, happy and full of light, with musical phrases that are simply “meant-to-be.” However, the piece was brought to its full potential by its interpreters, Alastair Willis as conductor and Sarah Willis as soloist. Sarah, for her part, performed with great skill and playfulness, teasing her brother at times in a typical sisterly fashion; she even added such humor to the music of her “cadenza,” or improvisational solo. Now, Alastair Willis’ personal touch and his prowess may be observed in all of the performances he conducts. I personally felt this was evident in the second movement of the horn concerto, the Romance. The lyrical, melodious character of the music was fully brought to light by Willis. Under the Maestro’s guidance, the orchestra almost seemed to visually swell under the soaring phrases and carefully executed crescendos. 

Then, Sarah Willis graced us with a work of her own design. She first related her experience of encountering Cuban music for the first time and being utterly enthralled by its beauty and power. Deciding to bring together composers for a bold and ambitious project, Willis transposed a number of Mozart’s pieces to the Mambo genre. Beyond this, her version of Mambo featured the addition of a full orchestra, traces of additional sources like the Brazilian samba and forró, bursts into song and solos for the horn, an instrument which she was told was too crass and cumbersome to be involved with Mambo. Indeed, she merged it all exceptionally. Her “Rondo a la Mambo,” inspired by the third movement of the horn concerto we had all just heard, was the most vivacious and unique moment in the program. As an encore, Willis later repeated the same piece and invited the audience to sing and clap along to the music. She also later shared a moving and elegant orchestration of a traditional Cuban song, “Dos gardenias.”

The evening progressed with a rendition of Bologne’s Overture to the opera “L’Amant Anonyme,” or The Anonymous Lover. This piece was a repose from the previous excitement, as its slow, beautiful, and passionate movements led the audience to bliss. It was a brilliant decision to incorporate Joseph de Bologne into the repertoire, who was not as widely known but has been recognized as the first great classical composer of African descent.

Lastly, the performance concluded with yet another unique and humorous piece, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” or “The Ox on the Roof” by Milhaud. In keeping with the style of the rest of the program, Milhaud’s music provided unceasing surprises, unexpected turns and playful melodic choices. When introducing the piece, conductor Alastair Willis called his audience to imagine or conjure up the wildest scenarios, for that was the intent of this intensively creative music.

I highly recommend you listen to these wonderful pieces, especially Sarah Willis’ “Mozart y Mambo” album, which may be found on Spotify. If you are interested, you may also stay attuned to the rest of the South Bend Symphony’s season program. Their feature in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s production of West Side Story will doubtless prove unmissable.

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