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New Academic Year, New Faces, New Roles: Part One

This year, Emerson welcomes nine new full-time faculty members, and nine faculty members who are returning in new roles.

Each Fall, we introduce them to the community and ask them to answer a handful of (totally optional) questions. Here, in no particular order, are the first nine:

New Faces

Tushar Mathew in plaid shirt with mountains in background

Tushar Mathew
Assistant Professor
Performing Arts

Tushar Mathew is a theatre maker, teacher, and actor, whose teaching focuses on the intersection between movement and our relationship to the environment. He is also deeply interested in how the playing of games acts as a portal towards physical awareness, ensemble-building, listening, conflict resolution, and storytelling.

From 2017-2019, he worked at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre as faculty and marketing director, and was part of the Dell’Arte Company. In 2017, he co-founded the Otherland Theatre Ensemble, a physical theatre devising company that tells stories of underdogs and outcasts who inhabit outrageous worlds and are moved by universal struggles. Their play, Forgive Us, Gustavito, won Best of Fringe at the Charm City Fringe Festival in Baltimore in 2018. From 2020-2022, he taught at the Drama School Mumbai as faculty and associate course leader, and was a facilitator with the non-profit Paani Foundation, where he conducted workshops for primary school students about water conservation and climate change.

Mathew has a bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from Mumbai University, a PG Diploma in Acting and Theatre Making from the Drama School Mumbai, and an MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?

There are a handful of things that are bringing me excitement at this moment in time: I’m noticing that many of us are reevaluating and questioning pedagogical paradigms that were once set in stone. There are voices and perspectives that are heard in classrooms that weren’t heard before. The pandemic confirmed that it is indeed possible (even necessary) for our artistic practices to embody environmental appreciation, and actions towards sustainability.

What was the last thing you learned?

I actually learned this a few months ago, but it gave me pause and I’m going to use this opportunity to share this information. While reading a book called The Bird Way by Jennifer Ackerman, I learned that kea (a species of parrot found in New Zealand) “use cavorting, clowning, wrestling, and horsing around as substitutes for hierarchical fighting.” Their ability to play together creates tolerance within their groups. Isn’t that INCREDIBLE?!!

What are you currently reading?

Upstream by Mary Oliver and Wheel of Time (Book 4) by Robert Jordan

What do you most want students to take away from your classes?

A renewed appreciation for the environments we inhabit, ourselves, and each other. The ability to make discoveries through playing. Ensemble values.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Consume stories in its various forms (film, TV, audio, books, graphic novels, etc.), cook, find new places to eat at, hike or just walk around, watch football (soccer), smother a cat named Roland with love, give in to or fight off existential dread (depending on the day).

Catherine Nguyen in blue and black top in front of small tree

Catherine Nguyen
Assistant Professor
Writing, Literature and Publishing

Catherine Nguyen is a comparative literature scholar of the Vietnamese diaspora. Her scholarship encompasses Asian American studies, global Asias, critical refugee studies, and critical adoption studies. Her book project, Children Born of War, Adoptees Made by War, examines Vietnamese diasporic literature in French and English, and focuses on the mixed-race child and the transracial adoptee from the longe durée of the Indochina Wars to their refugee aftermaths. Her teaching spans Asian diasporic literatures, narratives of war and displacement, and global graphic novels.

At Emerson, Nguyen will offer courses on the Vietnam War, refugee and migrant narratives, and literatures of the Asian diaspora. She earned a master’s degree from the Université de Provence as a Fulbright scholar, and a doctorate from UCLA. She previously was a lecturer in History and Literature at Harvard, and most recently was a postdoctoral fellow with the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard and the ACLS Fellowship Program.

What are you currently reading?

My work reading bleeds into my fun time reading because I am definitely a book lover. I read Asian American studies, contemporary Asian and postcolonial literature for work. For fun, I turn to Nordic and Scandinavian murder mysteries, random titles that spark my interest, and I try to keep pace with the different prize long lists and best-of lists.

Currently, I have Joo Ok Kim’s Warring Genealogies and Y-Dang Troeung’s Refugee Lifeworlds on my office desk. I’m in the middle of Claire Stanford’s novel, Happy for You, and have May-Lee Chai’s Useful Phrases for Immigrants and Mieko Kawakami’s All the Lovers in the Night on my bedside table.

What do you most want students to take away from your classes?

As a literary scholar, I want to impart to students the skills of close reading. While the courses locate this work in analyzing literature and works of cultural production, these are skills that are applicable to any field and to everyday life, and I find it so much more important with the current climate around disinformation and misinformation.

In terms of my WLP topics class Literatures of the Vietnam War, I want to introduce students to the wealth, depth, and breadth of literature on and around the Vietnam War. As a second-generation Vietnamese American who never had a chance to take a Vietnam War class that spoke to my family’s history and experiences, I wanted to design a course that put front and center the Vietnamese experience – the opposing sides, soldiers and civilians, and the refugee resettlements in the United States, France, and Australia – as well as the larger Southeast Asian diaspora. In offering this course, I hope that students take away insight into the complexity of the Vietnam War and its legacies.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Outside of books and reading, I swing dance – mostly lindy and east coast – and [do] archery. I love drinking tea and often visit Mem Tea in Davis Square and seek out bakeries for teatime treats. On weekends, I like to stroll the different neighborhoods and explore the (non)squares of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

Indira Pensado head shot in black and white

Indira Pensado
Assistant Professor
Performing Arts

Actor, director, and voice teacher Indira Pensado trained with Kozanna Lucca and Jonathan Hart from the Roy Hart Theater, with whom she has also developed a methodology for offering voice work. She has been a Designated Linklater Teacher since 2012, trained by Antonio Ocampo, Andrea Haring, and Kristin Linklater. As an actor and director, she’s known for the powerful use of voice and body for stage. Since 2000, she has conducted voice workshops around Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Singapore, and the United States.

Pensado has taught at National School of Theater (ENAT) in Mexico City, and has collaborated with the Intercultural Theater Institute (ITI), Singapore, and the University of Costa Rica. She is a founding member of Médula Teatro company, and was awarded by the Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes as a scenic creator in 2008 and 2016.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?

Training Linklater Teachers at Designation Workshop in Orkney, Scotland! Planning, rehearsing, designing a performance solo with an extended vocal range.

What was the last thing (piece of knowledge or life lesson) you learned?

My family is my true support.

What do you most want students to take away from your class?

Joy and a sense of identity and freedom from their own voice/bodies capacities.

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

Hearing amazing new music, cooking, and drinking a glass of wine.

Ilana Ransom Toeplitz head shot

Ilana Ransom Toeplitz
Assistant Professor
Performing Arts

Ilana Ransom Toeplitz is a director, choreographer, writer, and educator specializing in new musicals, thoughtful revivals, comedy, and stories amplifying marginalized voices. Her pedagogy celebrates musical theatre directing, dramaturgy, structure, inclusivity, and new musical development.

On Broadway, Toeplitz worked on the creative teams of The Prom (Tony nomination), Violet (starring Sutton Foster, Tony nomination), and Crazy for You at Lincoln Center with Susan Stroman. She has directed world premieres at the Drama League, NYMF, the Arsht, Berkshire Theatre Group, York Theatre Company, 54 Below, Boston’s Calderwood Pavilion, and Lincoln Center.

Some of her favorite director/choreographer credits include Reefer Madness (featuring Alan Cumming), Chicago, Drowsy Chaperone, The Rocky Horror Show, …Spelling Bee, Legally Blonde, Singin’ in the Rain, and the world premiere of Drew Gasparini’s We Aren’t Kids Anymore. Toeplitz holds credits with Leigh Silverman, Casey Nicholaw, Baayork Lee, New York City Center, Huntington Theatre, Signature Theatre, Pittsburgh CLO, and Stephen Sondheim. She is an SDC Foundation Mike Ockrent Fellow and a Drama League Directors Project alum.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?

A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson is currently on Broadway, and all of the thought-provoking conversations are orbiting around this original Tony- and Pulitzer-Prize-winning musical. It’s the first musical on Broadway about being unapologetically big, Black, and queer, and it’s raising interesting conversations about form, musical structure, and expectations. As always, everyone has an opinion!

What was the last thing you learned?

I was today years old when I learned about the puncture-holders on the side of the tin foil box that keep the roll in place.

What are you currently reading?

Reframing the Musical: Race, Culture and Identity, by Sarah Whitfield. It’s a great book about decolonizing what has traditionally been white-centric American musical theatre.

What do you most want students to take away from your classes?

My greatest hope is that my students will leave my class unafraid to fail: creatively, socially — in life. I want them to know how to make a strong, bold choice without worrying if it’s “the right choice,” because failure is just a learning step on the road to something better. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

If I’m not seeing musicals or hanging out with my partner or friends, then I’m probably getting dressed up for an event. I love clothes and fashion. I am also an amateur flower arranger, which especially brings me great joy during the long winter months! Otherwise, I’m probably camped out on the lawn with a picnic at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the Berkshires. If you haven’t been, you’ve gotta go!

New Roles

Dan DeFraia in city, wearing tie and vest

Daniel DeFraia
Journalist-in-Residence
Journalism

Dan DeFraia is a freelance investigative reporter and PhD candidate at Boston University, where he is completing a book on the history of journalism independence. His fields of inquiry are journalism, U.S. political history, mass communication, and human rights.

Before coming to Boston, he was a Steiger Fellow at the Committee to Protect Journalists, and worked in the journalist assistance program. Before that, he reported for GlobalPost and other news outlets. He has been an affiliated faculty member at Emerson.

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your field right now?

Journalism history is in some ways still an emerging field. There is much terrain to discover.

What was the last thing you learned?

Children are geniuses at being happy.

What are you currently reading?

New Democracy: The Creation of the Modern American State, by William J. Novak

What do you most want students to take away from your classes?

Humility, compassion, a civic ethic, critical thinking, a few good stories to tell.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Garden with my two kids.

Stephen Glantz below small window

Stephen Glantz
Artist-in-Residence
Visual and Media Arts

Stephen Glantz is an award-winning screenwriter and author. His book, Clara’s War, published by Harper Collins, has been translated into 21 languages and was named a Sophie Brody Honor Book by the American Library Association.

For the past 20 years, most of his work has focused on race, genocide, politics, and young people in areas of conflict. Since 2000, he has worked extensively in Germany for Artur and Alice Brauner and their company, CCC Filmkunst. CCC has produced five of Glantz’s scripts: Babij Jar, The Last Train, Wunderkinder, To Life, and Crescendo, all award-winning. The Cinema for Peace Foundation honored Crescendo at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival.

His television movies include To Live Again, with Frances Sternhagen; While Justice Sleeps, with Cybil Shepard; and Poisoned by Love with Helen Shaver. He also wrote the Brandon Lee/Dolf Lundgren action film, Showdown in Little Tokyo. He has written for all the major studios and networks, and worked with such directors as Sidney Poitier, Bruce Beresford, Ivan Passer, Istvan Szabo, and Agnieszka Holland. His most recent TV movie, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, was nominated for five Black Reel Awards.

Alden Jones head shot, black background

Alden Jones
Writer-in-Residence
Writing, Literature and Publishing

Alden Jones is the author of the memoirs The Blind Masseuse and The Wanting Was a Wilderness, and the story collection Unaccompanied Minors. Her short works of fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the Boston Globe, The Rumpus, BOMB Magazine, New York Magazine, The Cut, The Believer, Agni, Post Road, The Barcelona Review, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, and Best American Travel Writing.

Her awards including a Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation Fellowship, the NYU Fellowship in Fiction, the New American Fiction Prize, two Independent Publisher Book Awards, and Emerson’s Alan L. Stanzler Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her books have been finalists for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award, two Lambda Literary awards, and the Edmund White Award for Debut LGBTQ Fiction.

Her research interests include creative practice, comparative prose genres, the literature of photography, and feminist studies. She has taught at Emerson as affiliated faculty since 2000.

Valerie Madden head shot

Valerie Madden
Artist-in-Residence
Performing Arts

Valerie Madden is an actor, theatre educator, and Designated Linklater Voice Teacher, designated by Kristin Linklater in 2019. She earned her MFA in Theatre Education from Emerson in 2020.

Madden currently teaches the Linklater Voice Method at Emerson and at the Kristin Linklater Voice Center in Orkney, Scotland. Previously, she taught at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Actor’s Shakespeare Project, and Shakespeare & Company. Madden worked as a facilitator for Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at the American Repertory Theater, engaging with audience members in conversations about the school-to-prison pipeline.

Her research interests center on how teachers’ voices affect student learning in the K-12 setting.

Madden answered Emerson Today’s questions in 2021.

Sharon Topper at desk with brick wall, cactus behind her

Sharon Topper
Executive-in-Residence
Marketing Communication

Sharon Topper is an MBA with more than 20 years of driving the go-to-market strategy, business development, and communications efforts of major public companies and start-up ventures. She started her career in global marketing and business development for Mercury Interactive (NASDAQ: MERQ, sold to HP in 2006). She has also worked in the areas of security, enterprise software, media, telephony, consumer tech, and food tech, among others.

Topper has created many large-scale programs aimed at getting more women and girls into technology and STEM, including the Smart Fifty Start Up Competition at Brandeis International Business School, addressing the socioeconomic problems of India; as well as hands-on STEM programs and make-a-thons in schools. She also co-founded a digital design agency offering strategic marketing services, branding, unique web design, and original illustration.

She earned her BS from Cornell and her MBA in International Marketing from Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College of the CUNY. 

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