Mark Maher

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In collaboration with Giselle Woo, we created a short documentary film for our final project. The subject matter of the piece was the state of musical theater. In particular, we chose to touch on the fact that musical theater producers today are reluctant to launch musicals based on new works, but instead chose to produce revivals of musicals that have been produced in the past. Revivals are seen as more of a safe bet financially, as audiences will be more likely to pay to see a musical with which they are already familiar.

We attempted to show empathy for the producers of revivals, by highlighting our realization that musicals are huge investments and it only takes a couple of misses for a producer to be out of the business. We proposed that producers should seek to produce adaptations of preexisting works in other forms (movies, books, poems, etc.) and turn them into new musicals. In this way, audiences will be familiar with the material and are thus more likely to pay to come see it. More importantly, a new work will be created, helping to keep the medium flourishing with new ideas. We hope that this film will be viewed by producers of musical theater so that they will consider our proposal.

To make this short documentary film a reality, we learned how to use iMovie. This was a great experience, for it was relatively simple process and will come in handy for future projects. At the same time, iMovie is a rather slow program and producing our 20 minute film took roughly 6 hours. This is not including all the time it took to conceive the project and gather the necessary images, footage, and statistics. The footage in the film is from the musical Giselle and I both stared and music directed this past semester at HLS (a description of that process would warrant another paper). To add weigh to our argument, we researched many facts and statistics about musical theater, as they are referenced in the dialog of the film.

In the process of making the film, I learned a great deal. First, collaboration can be very effective. It was fortuitous that Giselle and I both took CyberOne, had an interest in musical theater, and acted in the show together. It made the process extremely rich, for both of us were involved in most every part of the process in the same way, experiencing things at the same time. We were able to bounce ideas off each other continuously, which allowed us to not lose any time or thoughts in the honing of our ideas. When we decided to divide tasks, we were able to focus on the individual tasks with more intensity than if one of us tried to do everything. Thus, we were able to produce one really great project, as opposed to two mediocre projects. Since we believe this to be a successful collaboration, it strengthened our friendship; making this one of the few experiences from law school I will remember fondly.

The concept of using the case study of “The Wild Party” to illustrate our proposal proved more powerful than I originally hoped. The idea was to begin with just spoken words of the poem “The Wild Party” against a black screen. Then images from the passage being read from the Art Spiegelman illustrated version of the poem would appear on the screen, adding another layer to work, hopefully heightening the emotional impact of the scene. Finally, the section of the musical where the words of the poem were taken wholesale is shown in an attempt to completely draw the viewer into the emotional core of the piece. Adding the layers of music and real people acting out the words conveys a sensation of empathy, for one can imagine oneself as one of the actors. Theater and drama are forms of argument. When performed well, they are supposed to make you feel the as though you are watching real-life acted out on stage. By trying to act as realistically as possible, actors are trying to convey empathy to the audience in showing that they are in the same condition as they and the audience should then take the actors seriously, as real-life is being mimicked. There is great power in empathy, as I learned from CyberOne, and it takes on many different forms.

Along with empathy, recorded and broadcast media have great power. I was surprised that there was such a demand from the community outside of Harvard for CyberOne. I had the impression that most people with no relationship to law school would find the material either boring or too complex. But there is a real thirst for learning about the law and argument in the greater community. From the podcasts of the extension school students, I gathered that people found it empowering to participate in such a class and have their voices heard.

At the same time, CyberOne is not the typical law school course. We read no cases and conversed in Second Life. This concept is scary to many in the law school, for it breaks with tradition. Professors that teach in the more traditional law school style might argue that the technology introduced in CyberOne only distracts students from the crux of a solid legal education: cases and the Socratic Method. However, law school is designed to train students to become effective lawyers, and no professor has ever adequately explained to me how traditional legal education prepares students to become effective lawyers, for the practice of law is extremely diverse and constantly evolving. Furthermore, the practice of law is steeped in technology today. Every major law firm uses twice as much technology as it did ten years ago, and the technology continues to grow and expand. Legal education needs to learn how to use technology in the classroom in hopes to prepare students for the challenges they are likely to face in the practice of law. CyberOne was the first step in a long process to find the proper way to integrate technology into the classroom.

Additionally, I hope that Harvard and other universities will realize that technology should not only be used to benefit those within the classroom, but also used to bring learning to those outside the classroom. When I realized that people outside the classroom were watching our class and participating in our projects, it made me want to engage more with the class, as my output for the class would be viewed by the greater community, not only by the professor, as is the case with most law school courses. I understand that universities want to hold the premium on education and are afraid of “diluting” their brand. However, it is the best interests of our society that education become accessible to all, and the internet is primed for that purpose.