What’s In A Name? (A Lot, Actually!)

Last night, the CLASS Scholars gathered in the Janet Ayers Academic Center to hear from Dr. Marcia McDonald, grad student Alyssa Wynans, and Santiago Sosa, who directed the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Winter Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet the scholars attended last week.

Dr. Marcia McDonald answers questions.

Dr. McDonald began the seminar by answering questions Scholars had written down the previous week during the production. She read from books from the 1580s that described the rigid social structure and family relationships of Shakespeare’s London, explaining some of the actions of the Montagues and Capulets. Then she asked the Scholars “to think about how Romeo and Juliet runs counter to all of these assumptions.”

Dr. McDonald also discussed our perception of the play vs. how it was marketed at the time. The examination of a title page of an early paperback version of the play advertised it as “An Excellent, conceited Tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet.” We don’t think of tragedies as being funny, but the word “Conceited” indicated to contemporary audiences that there were humorous elements in the play, as well as excellent wordplay.

Santiago Sosa, director of Romeo and Juliet.

Santiago Sosa spoke next, discussing how he came to Shakespeare as a Hispanic actor when all other kinds of roles in contemporary American plays seemed closed off to him. After getting his start in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Texas State University, he attended workshops and acted with a traveling company before completing an M.F.A. at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He has worked with Shakespeare Festivals in Illinois and Pennsylvania, among other places, before landing here in Nashville, where he had performed in several plays before being asked to direct Romeo and Juliet.

Santiago Sosa creates a sketch of Brutus based on the X-Men.

He answered Scholars’ questions on a variety of topics, from how he found and directed the very diverse cast of this play to how his background in Art helped him as a director. Prompted by one of the Scholars to “Draw something!”, he demonstrated how he might develop concept art for Julius Caesar, based on X-Men comics from the 1990s but reflecting our immersive media environment today. (Sosa’s concept art for Romeo and Juliet is available here.)

Draft Concept for Julius Caesar

Speaking of our media environments, Belmont M.A. student Alyssa Wynans discussed her current project investigating social media performances of Shakespeare plays across a number of cultures and platforms. Shakespeare’s works, it seems, are endlessly adaptable, ensuring the enduring reputation of the man and his plays.

Alyssa Wynans on Social Media and Shakespeare

To close out the evening, some Scholars tried their hand at being directed in the famous balcony scene. After the scholars read their lines, Santiago Sosa explained how a director would find direction for actors actually within the lines of the play. An actor playing Romeo has to figure out how to make “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven” real for an audience, and Juliet’s “O” in one of her most famous lines has to forcefully express the emotion of the young girl in love, in order to give context and clarity to the rest: “Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Sosa coaches “Juliet” and “Romeo” on their performances.

Some of the CLASS Scholars lingered to talk Shakespeare with our guests after the seminars, reminding us of those famous lines of the bard:

“Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

CLASS Scholars Graduate!

On December 15, the inaugural group of CLASS Scholars (Class of 2017) celebrated completion of the program with a graduation ceremony. After remarks from College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean Bryce Sullivan and Professor David Curtis, the Scholars received their cords and certificates. A photo session and reception followed. Thanks, Class of 2017 (and families), for getting the CLASS Seminars off to such a great start!

CLASS Seminars

CLASS Seminars

CLASS Seminars

Making a Case for Communication

by Ashley Sanders

On December 1st, forensics team sponsor, Jason Stahl, and students from the Belmont forensics team came to give performances for CLASS scholars. Mr. Stahl began the seminar by explaining what a forensics team does. Forensics, he explained, stems from the idea “to build a case.” So the forensics team works to argue and persuade using a wide variety of communication methods. He explained that there are many different ways to make an argument. One less commonly known way is through performance.

Forensics Team Director Jason Stahl

Madison Kendrick demonstrated this with her performance combining all different kinds of literature to make an argument regarding the way society treats older women. Madison “built her case” by showing various stories that all spoke to the same theme. She used poetry, drama, prose, and even news headlines to demonstrate that women are frequently mistreated in the last third of their lives.


Allison Mahal also used performance to make a point. Allison’s performance, however, came from a single source. Allison performed a scene from a play that spoke to the nature of grief and how people cope.


Next, Janvi Shukla and Laura Durr gave speeches they wrote for public address.

Janvi gave an informative speech on the Sikh religion attempting to inform her audience about the religion’s history, beliefs, and the discrimination they are facing in post-9/11 America.

Laura gave a persuasive speech on dishonorable discharge from the military due to sexuality. She built her argument providing evidence of real cases and personal anecdotes. At the end of her speech, she gave her audience some action steps they could take and had a petition the students could (and many did) sign.

Finally, Finley Sehorn and Justice Sloan debated Blake Simmons and Noah Miller. They debated whether or not the United State should fund germ line editing. The persuasive tactics used by both sides included poking holes in the other side’s argument attempting to discredit them before launching into their own argument.


Each of the students on the team demonstrated different ways you can build a case and make an argument. They all used different persuasive tactics: evoking emotion, providing solid evidence, and attempting to discredit the opposition.

Scholars and speakers talk after the presentation.

Student Spotlight – Maggie

CLASS Scholars attend high schools all across Nashville and bring to the Seminars a variety of interests and experiences. In the Student Spotlight feature, we’ll be letting you know a little more about who the CLASS Scholars are and what they do besides attend Seminars.

Maggie – Nashville School for the Arts – Class of 2017

Maggie’s favorite subject in school is music. She loved the CLASS Seminar on Sociological Theory because she is fascinated by the way people act. Outside of school, she participates in multiple orchestras.

Maggie plays four instruments and really likes foxes for some reason.

Election Questions Answered

by Ashley Sanders

Two days after the election, political science professor Nathan Griffith came to answer questions about this insane election season. The seminar began with a (half) joking question: “Is there any way to reverse this?”

Griffith explained the Electoral College, explaining that it is highly unlikely that the electors would vote against their party. He said these electors are selected because they have shown they are incredibly loyal.

Dr. Nathan Griffith
Dr. Nathan Griffith

He then explained that although it may be flawed, this system is the most efficient. Direct democracy, by contrast, is incredibly inefficient. Limits were initially put on democracy so the people do not have too much power. Direct democracy requires putting a lot of trust in every citizen and we are afraid of “the tyranny of the masses.”

Griffith went on to discuss the post-election atmosphere that we are living in. He said, “right now it’s about fear.” People are afraid because they aren’t sure what to expect. The biggest issue with the election we just witness was “once you start dealing in fear, that’s all there is left.”

He assured the scholars that there is no need to be afraid – the president has a very small impact on our day-to-day lives. Griffith said, “The only thing they [the president] directly effect is what we talk about.”

Though this election seemed unlike anything we have seen before, Griffith suggested this is nothing new. He explained that candidates starting playing the “good vs. evil game” to get voters to the booths long ago. To get voters to show up on the Election Day, they had to incite some kind of passion. This manifested as a good vs. evil mentality. Candidates try to suggest that you have to vote for them not only because they are right but also because the other candidate is so wrong that they may actually be evil. This naturally breeds the kind of animosity we saw throughout the election season and in the events following the election.

Griffith promised that everything would calm down. He said that what is important now is how we handle this. Something is broken is our country. The question Griffith left the scholars with was “Will we listen to the people who can tell us how to fix it?”

Student Spotlight – Emily

CLASS Scholars attend high schools all across Nashville and bring to the Seminars a variety of interests and experiences. In the Student Spotlight feature, we’ll be letting you know a little more about who the CLASS Scholars are and what they do besides attend Seminars

Emily – Class of 2017

Emily’s favorite subject is literature, and she enjoys writing and singing songs, as well as playing music. She would like to be a school counselor after college. Her favorite CLASS Seminar was Dr. John’s “Feminism: Who Needs It?” because “the speaker was passionate about her subject” and everyone was “really engaged.”

Emily really loves dogs, and her favorite Pokémon is Snorlax.