Dickens Day and Night - Press Release

Bringing Down the House (of Dombey)!: Dickens Day & Night Comes to South LA!

Los Angeles, June 14, 2016

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Mauricio Garcia (17) wed Kimberly Mejia (17) for their AP English Literature final. The nuptials (theatrical) cinched their A, given their leading roles in House of Dombey, a performance-art showcase based on Charles Dickens’s novel, Dombey and Son. As Mr. Dombey and Edith Granger, Garcia, Mejia and their peers, seniors at Foshay Learning Center and many scholars with the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program, presented the novel’s story (the doomed marriage of a Victorian patriarch and his redemption through the love of his daughter) in an evening of scenes, literary themed fashion shows and art projects. The showcase culminated Foshay’s annual Dickens Day & Night this spring, when seniors invited their campus and community to their “final examination”: teaching eight graders about the notion of the domestic sphere with origami art, asking eleventh graders to create a chalk “track” to symbolize mobility-themed quotes, inciting multiple guests to challenge gender norms for ideal “husbands and wives” by proposing the qualities of an ideal “partner.”

Seniors also served cups of Earl Grey and English Breakfast to over two hundred visitors at a Grand Victorian Tea, where guests’ service included personalized doilies inscribed with Victorian slang (Skilamalink – shady or dubious; “Sling a slobber” – “To kiss) and excerpts from Victorian etiquette books (“Ladies do not expect visitors before two, nor after five”). A glittering collaborative mural invited visitors to respond to one of the novel’s resonant questions: What is money? A live twitter feed brought Dickensian learning to the world wide web, while a roving podcast-er recorded as many Foshay students and staff reading sentences from the first chapter of the novel for their blog.

All seniors also created mixed-media sculptures, reassembling miniature chairs to represent characters, quotes or themes, and some of the most creative ones (artfully distressed, a seat of thumbtacks, a hybrid train-chair) were snapped up by guest bidders. Student projects continually referenced chairs and doilies tohighlight the novel’s genre. As an example of domestic fiction, these reconstructed symbols provoked guests to think through simple household objects and reimagine the messages encoded within them. The evening showcase featured four fashion shows which incorporated student stilters and “bricolage” outfits, students satirizing the concept of “marriage market” by staging an auction of vibrantly imagined “animals” in original face paint and formal wear; dramatized materialism in frozen tableaus of a moneyed and disaffected modern-aristocracy, contrasted competing models of femininity: “angel of the house” brides facing off with their creatively-shod and black bouquet wielding “new woman” counterparts.

An army of “managers” representing the novel’s villain, James Carker (played by Jose Sandoval, 17), alternately marched and convulsed while sporting elaborate hyperbolized boutonnières representing his repressed ambitions. A cast of students brought Dickens’ famously eccentric characters to life, from the conniving Major Bagstock (played by Ashley Navarro, 16) to the aging but determined flirt, Cleopatra Skewton (played by Angela Juarez, 17). Student musicians composed music and arranged versions of eclectic songs from Mendelssohn’s Wedding March to Pink Floyd’s Money. It was a remixed, recycled and revolutionary twenty-first century take on, well, reading a novel. As a senior said, I never thought a final, well, learning, could be this much fun.”

“I wonder what Dickens would make of your clever 21st century take on his story if he was sitting in the Foshay Grand Theatre as I was on the night of May 24th 2016? I think he would wowed as I was by the weaving in and out of dance, costume, music, and selections of dialogue that brought essence of his novel to life. I found the whole production thrilling. It went by so fast andI didn’t want it to end. Choreography…drove the point home of how wealth and power can corrupt human beings. The vacuous and mean expressions….the carnival-like way they pranced pathetically…I couldn’t resist bidding and winning two fantastically decorated chairs! Your production will live on in my memory for a long time. It left much to ponder about the universal implications of the story….so true today as it was when Dickens wrote it.” Read the rest of the wonderfully detailed review about the show and individual actors by one of our lovely guests.

….After all this I now see a different side of things and the real message Dickens was trying to get across. Initially I had thought the novel was a conservative, but now I see the radical side of it, whether it’s from the scenes performed for the show or the different takes my classmates used to design their chairs….I enjoyed the experience…I never thought a final, well, learning, could be this much fun.” Student Reflection

View footage of the show!

Jacqueline Jean Barrios
Foshay Learning Center
Neighborhood Academic Initiative

This project was supported by an Exploring the Arts grant.

Previous media on our work on Dickens and the Dickens Project: Los Angeles Times, NPR , Dickens Project-NAI Mini Documentary

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