Vanguard University Professor’s Original Play Reaches New York Stages

LWPKarahGravattPremiering on the East Coast, Vanguard University professor Warren Doody’s play, “Life Without Parole”, performed at the New York International Fringe Festival for three weeks in August.

With multiple festival showings, “Life Without Parole” received positive reviews from various publications. One publication, “The Baffler”, an online art and criticism magazine headquartered in Massachusetts, featured an article summarizing the play’s plot and its role in discussing the issue of domestic violence. In her review, Elaine Yu wrote, “The criminal justice system has never been fully prepared to handle cases of domestic abuse, nor is it a pioneer of interventions any more transformative than prison time, which is precisely what Life Without Parole demonstrates.” In another review, Roark Littlefield, writing for “Stage Buddy,” a New York based theater magazine, wrote that “Life Without Parole” is “as powerful as any new play I have seen in years.”

Written in 2003, “Life Without Parole” is Doody’s adaptation of Dr. Elizabeth Dermody Leonard’s research on women incarcerated for killing their abusive partner. Dr. Leonard, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Vanguard before retiring in 2011, died earlier this year. The Fringe Festival’s “Life Without Parole” performances were dedicated to her memory and work .LWPGroup1

Through her research, Dr. Leonard compiled an analysis filled with testimonies from incarcerated women she interviewed at the California Institution for Women at Chino. Her book, “Convicted Survivors: The Imprisonment of Battered Women Who Kill”, provided the inspiration, content and many of the monologues in “Life Without Parole.”

In 2001, following the last faculty meeting of the academic year, Dr. Leonard approached Professor Doody to see if he would be interested in making her book into a play. “I almost fell out of my chair,” Professor Doody said. He was thrilled by the offer and excited to invest his time in something so meaningful. Dr. Leonard assured Doody that she would not interfere with his creative process. “She was true to her word; by far the best collaborator I’ve ever had,” he added.

Since its first staged reading in 2003 at Northern Arizona University, the play has appeared on many stages and in many settings.  In 2008, Vanguard’s department of theatre arts chair, Susan K. Berkompas, directed performances at Vanguard’s Lyceum Theater and the California Institution for Women at Chino.  Under her direction, the play was selected in 2009 as a finalist for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

LWPHelen1In January 2014, it made the coast-to-coast jump from California to New York and appeared at the Winterfest play festival at Manhattan Repertory Theatre. Facilitated by Vanguard theater alumna Karah Gravatt ’11, the East Coast premiere sold out every show. Gravatt, who played one of the “convicted survivors” in the Vanguard production, contacted Doody a couple of years ago about pitching “Life Without Parole” to theater groups, directors and producers. With his blessing, she submitted the play first to the Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s festival, then to the New York International Fringe Festival. Gravatt, who performed in both runs, also served as the co-producer for the Fringe Festival production.

Reflecting on the play’s journey, Professor Doody said that when Dr. Leonard had first presented him with the adaptation project, he never would have imagined that 13 years later, he would be discussing its success in an interview. “It was a cause I was ready to fight for, take up and run with,” he said. “Domestic violence is an issue that is often swept under the rug because its victims end up feeling ashamed, which is so backwards.” Excited about the play’s growing reach and looking to its future, Professor Doody said, “I think it’s got another level to get to, and I believe it will get there.”

To learn more about “Life Without Parole”, visit the play’s website by clicking here.


Audiences Buckle Up for a Rock ‘n’ Roll Road Trip at Vanguard University’s Lyceum Theater

rsz_the-beat-goes-on_finalPlaying from September 19 to October 5, The Beat Goes On journeyed through the decades of rock ‘n’ roll on Vanguard University’s Lyceum stage.

Vanguard’s box office phone lines buzzed with calls of praise for The Beat Goes On, box office attendant and student Serene Shahoud said. Written and directed by Vanguard’s Vanda Eggington, The Beat Goes On features chart-topping tunes from the 50s to the 90s. Travelling across time on a musical journey, the play highlights the changes and growth of rock ‘n’ roll through the decades while summarizing major historical events from each decade

From 50s malt shops to 90s coffee houses, The Beat Goes On explores some of the most memorable music from each decade while giving a snapshot of life at that time. The play is also an educational experience that previews the changes in rock ‘n’ roll along with the major events of each decade. Events like landing on the moon and the John F. Kennedy assassination are featured.

Expressing her enjoyment of the show, junior Glory Stewart said “young or old, there’s something in it for everyone.” It features songs and artists that every generation represented in the audience recognized and loved. The play showed that even in a generation as separated as the 90s, with headphones in and faces glued to computer screens, “people are connecting through music, and that’s why I’m a music major,” she said.

On the production side, Stewart praised the cast and crew for their ability to put together a show with so many musical numbers in such a short amount of time. The casting of students who could sing and dance to such a wide range of music was very impressive, she said. She also commended director Eggington’s cleverness in inserting icons and quips from each decade that various generations in the audience understood. Multiple times the older generations would laugh at a small comment from the narrator that the younger generations did not catch, or visa versa.

Overall, The Beat Goes On was a witty, high-energy play that captured the audiences’ hearts and imaginations through rock ‘n’ roll.

Starting on October 24, Vanguard’s Lyceum Theater will perform Mary Zimmerman’s contemporary drama Metamorphoses. To find out more about this upcoming show and to purchase tickets, click here.

Rhonda Sciortino

Domestic Violence Survivor Advocate Shares Personal Story of Overcoming at Global Center for Women and Justice Event

IG RhondaOn October 6 at 10 a.m., Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice (GCWJ) hosted guest speaker Rhonda Sciortino for the first of many events for domestic violence awareness month.

Held in Heath 109, Sciortino’s lecture, Too Broken to Be Fixed?, focused on her story as a survivor of domestic violence and how she made it to where she is today. In her lecture, Sciortino empowered students by showing them that no matter what their past involved, they can be successful. In addition, she encouraged students to be part of the effort against this prevalent issue. “I want every single one of you today to leave this room as a spokesperson for the abused,” she said.

Throughout the lecture, Sciortino shared her story. She detailed the habitual pain and hostility she experienced growing up with her grandparents abusing her mentally and physically. When she was little, Sciortino’s mother lied to a neighbor saying she needed a babysitter for a few hours. After dropping Sciortino off with the sitter, she never came back. After losing her mother, Sciortino’s living situation became even worse. She was sent to live with her grandparents where she faced extreme poverty, homelessness, neglect and worst of all, abuse. “I was nobody,” she said as she described the loss of identity that came with losing her mother and living with her abusive grandparents.

In all of her struggles and loss, Sciortino attributes her success to what she says is the one true cure for domestic violence, Jesus. “I love that at Vanguard I can be straight out with the cure,” she said. After describing her path to Christ, Sciortino shared multiple examples of what she learned from the many difficulties in her past. For example, she said that poverty, aloneness and abandonment taught her gratitude, independence and self-reliance.

At the lecture, nearly all the seats filled by the lecture’s start and students continued to trickle in finding space to sit on the steps or stand at the back. One student, junior Mellica Harris said after the lecture: “It was very encouraging to see how someone could come from that rough of a background and be so successful… It was very inspiring.”

Continuing in their mission to bring awareness and an end to domestic violence, the GCWJ will be hosting other events during October for domestic violence awareness month. To find out about these upcoming events, click here.


Students Slide on Ice in Annual Broomball Games

Broomball2014Sneakers slid on ice September 23 as juniors and seniors competed in the annual broomball games at the Westminster Ice Rink.

Vanguard University’s recreations team hosted the annual broomball games. At Tuesday’s games, juniors and seniors faced off, and on September 25, the freshmen and sophomores slapped sticks at the rink.

Hot chocolate, helmets and hockey sticks greeted students as they entered the arena on Tuesday. For the event, juniors and seniors sported their class colors. Juniors wore blue and seniors wore red.

At the junior/senior night, many students came bundled up and ready to skate. Because of the great turnout the referees added a second ball to the games to give everyone on the ice a chance at the action. The night ended with group pictures and some brief socializing as Tuesday night became Wednesday morning.

Find out about upcoming VU Rec events by clicking here!