Behind the scenes of Final Words, one of the
independent films that Amanda Presmyk worked on this summer; photo by Shawn
Meadows Scholars Spend Summer Exploring the World
Ezra Bookman headed to Ecuador to live in a village he’d
never seen with a man he’d never met. With the help of a
Meadows Scholars grant, Bookman had the inspiration
and the means to explore how Shamanic rituals might
inform acting. Bookman earned a B.F.A. in theatre studies
in May as a member of the first Meadows Scholars
“In my junior year I took two classes that spoke to each
other,” Bookman said. “The material moved me.” The
first class was an honors primal religions class that
explored Shamanism. The second was an independent
study that explored how to instinctually develop the
physical life of characters. Bookman found synergies between
the two classes and decided to immerse himself in
Shamanic communities to mine their techniques for use
in original theatre work. He was particularly interested
in methods of possession, visualization and communication
with the “natural spirit,” as well as the ritual and
the spectacle of the process. Bookman’s goal is to create
a brand new system for training actors and for devising
new styles of performance.
“I want to develop new techniques in which actors can
connect to their characters in a more profound and fully
embodied way, and also to develop new avenues for the
creation and development of experimental theatre,”
Bookman says. “This is a big ‘we’ll see.’ It could be a big
failure, but if you want to be a leader it takes a lot of risk.”
After living in Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia for
more than two months, Bookman is convinced that his
research is far from over. “Shamanic work is something
that takes years, not months; in reality it’s a continual
process of learning that lasts your whole life,” he says.
Bookman says he learned many lessons from his experiences.
“I am a stronger person. I encountered an energy
I didn’t know I had. I learned humility in the face of my
mistakes and failures. And my relationship with God and
the spiritual and natural world has changed dramatically.”
Bookman was immersed in a Spanish-speaking world,
but since he doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, he says he
had to learn to listen and observe more and to communicate
nonverbally. “I discovered that silence doesn’t have
to feel awkward,” he says. “And the experience of being
an outsider taught me the importance of welcoming
newcomers and valuing their opinions.” These are all
lessons he wants to share in workshops with actors.
Bookman hopes to return to South America in a couple
of years to work with the Q’ero tribe in the Peruvian
Andes and with a practitioner of Espiritism in Venezuela.
He says his newly acquired network of friends and
contacts will be extremely helpful for his future travels.
“In the sense of a preliminary investigation, the trip was
very successful,” Bookman concluded. “I now have a
much clearer understanding of the different traditions
practiced in South America, and a much more focused
direction for the research.”
Senior and Martie Cuellar Meadows Scholar Julie Kaye
went on an investigation of her own. A double major in dance
performance and business management, Kaye traveled to
England with the hope of applying the theories she had
studied in class to the world she was about to experience.
She visited London with a new study-abroad program
called London Arts, which explored performance theory
and performance art throughout the city. However, Kaye
discovered as much about herself and her cultural heritage
as she did about the arts and London.
Kaye’s father is English, so the trip also helped her
explore the places where her father grew up and understand
more about him. In addition, she spent a great deal
of time with family friends who live in England. “This
was a huge growing experience for me,” Kaye says. “I
grew up in Dallas. I go to college in Dallas. This was the
first time I was away from home, and it opened my eyes
to different viewpoints and opinions.”
Shelley Berg, director of the new London Arts program,
believes that London is the perfect place to expose students
to new experiences and new cultures. She says
London is a multicultural city that is constantly changing.
“The summer of the Queen’s Jubilee and the 2012
Olympics was an excellent time to initiate the program
and invite students to learn about the world through
aspects of performance in everyday life,” says Berg.
One of the experiences that stood out for Kaye was attending
the Queen’s Jubilee flotilla at Battersea Park,
where a wide variety of performances were showcased
like a county fair. She explored the vintage clothing
booths where attendants were dressed in costumes of
every decade of the Queen’s reign. “It was like a walk
back in time,” she says. “It reminded me of childhood,
the feeling of innocence and the freedom to imagine.”
The rich sights, sounds and experiences gave Kaye new
inspiration for her creativity as an artist.
The history and theory Kaye learned inside the classroom
also enriched her experiences. At Borough Market,
Kaye was able to appreciate the performance aspects
of food. “The market features vendors from all over the
world who prepare food on site and slice, chop and grill
with amazing artistic flourish.” Using the performance
theory she studied inside the classroom and her Borough
Market experience, she did an analysis for class on how
her aunt’s imaginative preparation of Persian food might
be considered “performance.”
Kaye hopes to dance professionally and apply her business
acumen to the entertainment field. She says she
now realizes that many artistic opportunities and diverse
areas of performance exist. “Studying performance
in London helped me realize how much I love entertainment
and art. I want to be surrounded by it even if I’m
not the one doing it!” she says. She believes the trip profoundly
changed her, making her less closed-minded and
more willing to try new things. “London is a spontaneous
city,” she says. “It taught me how to let go and let things
happen. I am so grateful for my experience, and for the
Meadows grant that gave me the opportunity.”
Welsh Meadows Scholar Amanda Presmyk knows all
about opportunity. She hopes to someday be an independent
film producer, and her Meadows Scholars grant has
gone a long way toward inspiring her to make that dream
come true. Presmyk spent last summer as an intern with
the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles.
Presmyk is a junior with a double major in film and
media arts and journalism as well as a minor in French.
She loves film and believes her journalism major will
enhance her storytelling ability. Her experiences at AFI
took her behind the scenes and showed her what it takes
to make movies.
Chair of Film and Media Arts Sean Griffin says, “Getting
an internship is competitive, and we only send out our
best students. Every student comes back with stories
about what a great experience it was, and how many
connections they have made for their future careers.”
Presmyk was able to work on three independent films in
a variety of capacities. As a production designer she was
responsible for designing sets, finding props and making
everything look realistic. As a second assistant director
her task was to ensure everyone was on set doing their
jobs and doing them on time.
“That was particularly challenging, because nothing ever
happens on schedule on a film set,” she says. Her duties
required her to work alongside the film’s producer as
well as the unit production manager, which gave her the
opportunity to learn from both of them. “You do what
you need to do to get the film made,” said Presmyk. Once,
that included not only finding a goat but loading the goat
into her car and driving it to the film set.
In addition to funding her expenses in Los Angeles,
Presmyk used part of her Meadows Scholars grant to buy
a camera to capture important moments and remember
the experiences that changed and inspired her. She says
she demands much more of herself now, after having the
opportunity to work with so many talented young filmmakers.
Because of the lessons she learned, the people
she met and the films she worked on, Presmyk is more
determined than ever to make films.
“The only way to learn film production is to be on set,”
Presmyk says. “The amount I learned can’t be measured
and the Meadows Scholars grant made it possible.”
Junior art history major and Phelan Meadows Scholar
Sarah Montonchaikul has an eye toward the past to find
her path for the future. Last summer, Montonchaikul spent
six weeks in Vicchio, about 20 miles north of Florence,
Italy, to work at the archaeological site of Poggio Colla.
After spending two years at SMU working as an assistant
for then-Associate Dean and University Distinguished
Professor Greg Warden digitally archiving images of
archaeological finds, Montonchaikul wanted to work
on an actual dig and turn her theoretical training into
a hands-on experience.
Warden, who has been working the archaeological site
for 17 years, says, “The dig is providing cutting-edge information
about the Etruscan civilization of pre-Roman
Italy. Their written record was lost and most of their
culture was assimilated by the Romans. This project
has changed the discipline of Etruscan studies.”
Poggio Colla serves as a field school and attracts top
students from all over the world. The SMU program
is on the leading edge because it has always enabled
undergraduates to do the research. Many schools
have only just begun to do what SMU has been doing
for nearly 20 years.
“More than sit in classrooms, students are involved
in the investigation and creation of new knowledge,”
Warden says. “Art conservation is more than just piecing
things together. It is science. It is research. There’s
a surprise every summer.” For Montonchaikul the first
surprise was the process itself.
“Everyone has seen Indiana Jones movies, but I had
no idea there was a really precise methodology behind
digging around in 7th century B.C. dirt!” she exclaims.
Besides actually working on the dig, Montonchaikul
had the opportunity to work in art conservation. The
experience had a definitive effect on her.
“I worked with pottery that was 2,500 years old!” she
says. “Three months ago I wanted to be a curator in an
art museum, but after this experience I’m considering
work in conservation. A new career option has opened
up for me, and with that, a whole new world.”
For more information on how you can support our
Meadows Scholars, please contact Kris Muñoz Vetter,
Assistant Dean for Development and External Affairs,
at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214.768.4153.