Tag Archive: Interview

  1. Silhouette E18: Will Walker on bubble science, building community and nurturing your inner child

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    Will Walker ’26 is best known around campus as the “Bubble Guy” for his regular bubbling sessions on Cross Campus. Join us for a special on-site episode where host Joanne Lee ’26 and Will discuss the behind-the-scenes process behind making bubbles, his potential plans for expanding his bubbling endeavors and what inspires Will to bubble so frequently.

    Producers: Joanne Lee ’26 and Xavier Guaracha ’25
    Music: Blue Dot Sessions

  2. The Yalie Ep 23: Inside Yale’s presidential search

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    In this episode, Andre Fa’aoso ’27 is joined by Yale College Council (YCC) President Julian Suh-Toma ’25 to discuss the role of students in the search for Yale’s next University President, as incumbent Peter Salovey intends to step down at the end of the 2023-24 academic year. Also, Diego Alderete ’25 joins Fa’aoso for an exclusive on-the-street interview segment where Yale students share their perspectives on the presidential search and how it affects campus life.

    Guests: Julian Suh-Toma ‘25
    Producers: Andre Fa’aoso ‘27, Diego Alderete ‘25, Alyssa Michel ‘24
    Music: Blue Dot Sessions

  3. In the shadow of Bouchet: an interview with Ferentz Lafargue

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    On the tall walls of Saybrook College’s dining hall hangs the portrait of Edward A. Bouchet, class of 1874. The portrait, first displayed to the Saybrook community on Oct. 9, 2020, is the first of a person of color to hang in the dining hall in the college’s 89-year history and comes after the Saybrook renovation in 2001 that created a new entry named for the Yale alum. 

    Bouchet was the College’s first Black student and the first African American to earn a doctorate in the United States. Bouchet was also among the first 20 Americans to receive a doctorate in physics, the sixth to earn a doctorate in physics at Yale and for his academic achievements, was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1874.

    The legacy of Bouchet lives beyond just a portrait and entryway through the dean of Saybrook College, Ferentz Lafargue. Lafargue is Yale College’s only currently serving Black residential college dean and director of the Mellon Mays and Edward A. Bouchet Undergraduate Fellowship Program. Last week, I sat down with him to discuss the aims of the program, his role in its operation and his reflections on the last three years. 

    Q. How does the legacy of Edward A. Bouchet live on at Yale?

    A.The Bouchet legacy lives on in a couple of different ways. The entryway in which the dean’s office at Saybrook College is located is the Bouchet entryway. There is the Edward A. Bouchet Society, a graduate society run out of the Office of Graduate Student Diversity. And then there is the program that I administer, the Edward A. Bouchet Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which provides support for students from underrepresented backgrounds who are considering PhDs primarily, but features in higher ed. The goal is to diversify the professoriate, so underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, as well as first-gen, low-income students and students from a variety of different backgrounds end up applying for the program. So there, there are a few different ways that the legacy of Bouchet lives on. 

    Q. Why does Saybrook College memorialize Bouchet?

    A. The Bouchet Portrait is a project that was steered and completely driven by Head of College [Thomas] Near. One of the things that he noticed both as a fellow of Saybrook and eventually as a head of college was that pictures in the dining hall did not align with the diversity that is now represented at Yale. Head of College Near knew about the legacy of Bouchet, saw the Bouchet entryway and thought that Dr. Bouchet would be a great addition to the portraits in the Saybrook dining hall as a way of modernizing what the artwork can look like in the Saybrook dining hall.

    Q. When was the Undergraduate Fellowship Program founded, and how has it remained after all these years? 

    A. The Bouchet Program is in its 20th year and is connected to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship here at Yale, which is in its 38th year. The Mellon Mays Program is a national program. It serves about 40 different college campuses. Ours is one of the few that has a partner program with the Bouchet Program. It’s supported by generous donors, primarily the Robinson family, and it’s their gift that allows the fellowship to continue to live on.

    Q. When did you take the program over?

    A. I became co-director first in my second year here in the 2019 academic year. And my co-director, professor Renee Barnes, who was the dean of Pierson, left to take a role as a chair of women and gender Studies at Smith College. And so, I’ve been director since spring 2020.

    Q. As Yale’s only currently serving Black residential college dean, what does it mean to you to head the program?

    A. It means quite a few different things. One, I was drawn to the program because of my own experience with the Mellon Mays Minority Undergraduate Fellowship at Queens College. I’ve actually been involved with the program for over 20 years. I was a graduate assistant for the Queens College Program, helped serve as a graduate assistant at the Wesleyan program and worked with the Williams program when I was at Williams, so I’ve been involved with Mellon since 1996. So, when I arrived at Yale, I knew the program really well and when the service opportunity to work with Bouchet Program opened up, it was something that I knew that I was completely interested in. It aligned with my values and it aligned with my long-term academic and professional interests. It’s a unique opportunity to work with students who are incredibly driven, who are coming from a variety of research backgrounds, so I’ve learned much more from the students than I could have ever imagined instructing them.

    Q. You mentioned that the program aligns with your values, could you speak on what those values are?

    A. One of the things that we strive to do in the program is give the students as clear a sense of what it means to give back and be part of a community in higher education. The program is a cohort model. They get a chance to interact with fellows who have a couple of similar programs throughout the Northeast. It’s an opportunity to promote research and scholarship, and it’s an opportunity to work with students on things that they are passionate about. So it’s also an opportunity for me to both learn in terms of being a lifelong learner and also helping someone else to achieve a goal that they have defined and devised for themselves.

    Q. I really like the idea that you, the director of the program, are learning from the students who are part of it. What sort of things have you learned from students over the years?

    A. Everything. I’m always inspired by the drive students have. They’re conceptualizing and thinking through things that I was not when I was their age. Now more than ever, students are doing transnational or international work, so projects that initially seemed to be very domestically based, students are applying for the [International Study Award] taking part of their summer stipend through the program, when travel was permitted, to do language study to sort of advance their language skills and do research abroad, for example.

    There’s also the maturity our students have. They’re able to just live on their own in far-flung parts of the world for two or three months at a time, at the end of the summer. I often think to myself when I was in college, I was just focused on making it through the term so I could maybe earn some money over the summer at some local summer job or get an internship, and these are students who are taking on or pursuing these fairly ambitious research projects. 

    I’m also learning a lot from the students about how to have faith. They don’t always know where they will ultimately end up on a project, but they still have enough faith to pursue it. A lot of them are anxious about their projects because they think that what they produce will be their only gateway to graduate school or work outside of higher ed before returning to grad school. So, there’s a certain level of pressure the students apply to their projects, but they maintain faith that they’re going to complete it. And I’m always inspired by that because there are plenty of things that I’ve started in my own life and don’t always follow through on. It’s just amazing being surrounded by plenty of people who have the time and who are on their own time working to make these things happen. 

    Q. What are some of the challenges that you face in running the program?

    A. The only challenges that are faced are the challenges that we’re all facing. It’s the restrictions and the upheaval caused by COVID. 

    So the biggest challenge really has been for two years now, watching the students having to reel back. They’ve done a masterful job in a number of ways to kind of meet the moment and kind of reconfigure their projects based on whatever constraints that they have. But when we select the students, and they join the program, I’m as excited about what they’re planning to do as they are sometimes, and it’s painful sometimes to know that the student who had a really great project idea that involves relocating to a particular community to interview members of that community is not going to be able to do it. 

    Q. How do you feel about the current state of the program, and where do you see it in the next 20 years?

    A. I think the program is in really good shape. We’ve been able to do a lot. We have a really good team. We’re now able to offer a half-credit seminar and that additional structure allows us to create deeper partnerships with other campus offices. We get a chance to do a lot of research and development with the Poorvu Center, and we’re able to bring in program alums for work in progress talks or keynote talks. 

    Ideally, over time, one of the things that I would like to eventually work on is a Summer Institute for the new students in the program so that we’re able to form the cohort bond sooner. That way, they’re able to kind of pick up some of the key concepts of developing a research project and working with a mentor, so we’re able to do even more during the course of the year.

    This interview was edited for clarity and flow.

  4. Sex, Food and Ulysses: Dan Chiasson

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    Q: Many writers, poets and novelists alike, espouse a life of “difficulty.” Do you find yourself cultivating a difficult life for art’s sake?


    Difficulty is so resonant of modernism to me. That whole idea, the value of all things difficult, is kinda throw-backy and retro. It was the ambition of a generation 100 years in the past, and it’s no longer as persuasive for me by argument. Poetry isn’t just writing about all the problems we have. It’s what I think about things. What I feel about things. When I write a poem, there are surprises and shocks. The poem itself is on the border of intelligibility, and I don’t want to understand too much. That’s the reader’s job. Part candor, part mystery. Poems are meant to be read (hopefully) hundreds of times, and they have to hold your attention


    Q: Zadie Smith was here recently, speaking about writing and creativity. She suggests that creativity necessitates a “refusal.” What does the word mean to you?


    Yeah, creativity is having a particularly bad stretch, because business and industry have taken it up. Now it’s fashionable to invite writers and artists to the corporate dinners. What Zadie said is just right: There has to be some desire to upset the existing idea of a poem, say, or an essay. Literature, or on a more ambitious level, culture, too. I remember Robert Frost said something about poetry … it involves “getting into danger legitimately so that we may be genuinely rescued.” I’m going to use a horrible phrase now, but our “comfort zone” should be challenged by poetry. The novel directs its mimesis toward social life. The poem — the kind I write — directs itself at the inner life and private speech. It depends on what you write. Either way, the content should challenge.


    Q: Your work shows your reverence for Joyce’s “Ulysses.” Tom McCarthy in the London Review of Books recently suggested that writing after “Ulysses” can never be the same. How does “Ulysses” make writing different?


    I feel exempted from it’s long shadow because I’m not a fiction writer, but here comes along a book which represents every last aspect of being human, and it comes close, it comes very close, to being right. Being final. He’s made one of the most approachable — on its terms — books you can imagine.

    It’s trying to figure out how to represent emotion and experience in language — what writing, in essence, is. As a poet, I feel despair when I read Wallace Stevens. He does it so well that I don’t want to pick up a pen.


    Q: Does nostalgia and reading the greats make it harder for you to write?


    It makes me despair of doing anything as good, but I’m too stupid to be intimidated by Stevens because I was teaching myself things. My family wasn’t highly literary or indulgent of literary stuff. I had to introduce myself to most poetry and literature. Ultimately I feel alone with my work. I’m 43, almost 44, an age where you start to think about the arc of your career, and I don’t think there is any arc as triumphant as that of Stevens. In terms of career — the production of individual poems, a book — Stevens is the model.

    Q: On your Wellesley bio page, you say, “I like to give advice about food.” Can we talk about food?


    That’s a great question. Let me give you an anecdote — I think you can print this — yeah, it’s fine. Anyway, I once introduced John Ashbery, and someone asked him, “would you tell me the influence upon your work of food”. He gave an amazing, eloquent and extensive response of all the great meals he’d eaten. Turns out the guy asking the question actually said “Proust.” On another note, my form of cosmopolitanism when I was in high school was to eat. I hung out at a restaurant run by University of Vermont students, where I ate food that wasn’t available at home. I always associated it with expanding my horizons.

    Now, my ritual at home involves making dinner. It’s important to cultivate rituals around writing, which accommodate days where the writing hasn’t gone well. Food is great, because my wife will tell me I’ve done a good job, even when I haven’t.

    When I think about food, I think about why I’m a critic: I have strong enthusiasm, strong opinions and strong aversions. They need to be communicated, and shared.

    I need to share, persuade. Advice about food is continuous with advice about poetry.


    Q: You claim you weren’t much of an intellectual in high school. How did you develop a passion for culture?


    I owe a lot to Joyce. I started Greek in college, and I had some Latin, but not as much as the kids from Groton, Andover and Exeter. I did Greek because of Ellman’s biography of Joyce, where he mentioned that Joyce scribbled the first few lines of the Odyssey, in Ancient Greek, on a piece of scrap paper. I thought that was pretty cool. In high school, I used to walk around with a copy of Ulysses. I now have a copy from 1922, which has uncut pages. That’s ironic, because here’s one of the original copies of a book that people fought so hard to make public after its ban, and it went unread. To some extent it’s still an unread book. I never really sat down to read it until recently. I think it’s unfortunate the way it opens; the first three episodes are the hardest – the Telemechiad, as they’re called. The book is a compound self-portrait — Joyce was involved in relationships, being a father, grieving: All the things that happen to you whether you plan or not, and these processes work their way into book, which changes as he does. He’s showing his earlier blindness [Joyce’s sight deteriorated as he wrote Ulysses] in the first real character we meet, Stephen Dedalus, before we shift to Bloom.

    Bloom has his own lapses, but the main framing lapse is Molly’s. He’s a person who makes mistakes but he’s a person who comprehends lapses.


    Q: As a man who makes his living in words, how do you feel about the spread of the word “like”?


    It’s funny, one of the hallmarks of being an English professor is that people become self-conscious about their speech around you.

    Of course there’s a difference between spoken English versus written English.

    The word “like,” in spoken English, specifically in spoken American English, can be used to real expressive purpose. Terry Gross, the NPR host, has this wonderful way, part of her modesty, that she’ll frame a question with a number of “likes,” tics and quirks that seem very expressive and continuous of colloquial English.

    When I started lecturing at Harvard, I began to listen to my lectures when they were recorded, and I was appalled by how many “ums” there were in my sentences. One of the most powerful things you can do as a public speaker is pause. You appear to be framing your sentences silently. Even if you have no idea.


    Q: You’re fond of the word “fuck,” and as a Joyce fan, you clearly value the power of obscenities. Can a work of art ever be obscene?


    Obscene? No. Obscenity can’t apply. You have to imagine that if we have a legal quality for obscenity, it means “having no social value,” which cannot apply to great art. Nabokov’s Lolita is more transgressive a novel than Ulysses and, with some trepidation, I’ve taught it to all-female classrooms. It’s a rare person who can see that it’s value as art trumps all potentiality to offend. In fact, it’s hard to even imagine a work more transgressive than Lolita. To some desensitized individuals it might be mild now, but in the 1950s it was anything but.


    Q: Let’s talk a little about your work as a critic. What are your criteria for a good poem?


    I think my failure and strength as a critic is that I have no set criteria. I want to be surprised. I’ve read a lot of contemporary poetry, so if I’m surprised and compelled, it’s a sign that something is working. Linguistic imagination is something I appreciate. I start with a blank slate every time I take up a new poem. But poetry is what’s in your ear. Which poems do you have in your ear when you look at a new poem? Which poets? Which ideas?


    Q: Many of your poems contain a great emotional intensity, and deal with“love’s sincerity.” What do you think of the culture of casual sex that goes on at a lot of colleges?


    I feel like a dinosaur in relationship to casual sex now. I came from the AIDS generation, so I can’t ever really take sex that lightly. The line you brought up is taken from an idea Donne comes up with: You can block out the universe doing certain things — by closing your eyes for example — but you block out forms of verification, like seeing your lover’s face, when you shut down. I’ve always thought that it’s hard for a straight white guy to write about sex.


    Q: Why?


    I’m not entirely sure. Most writing about sex feels sentimental. I think it borders on the identification of woman as aesthetic, as sexual object. It can be done well; sex is another sensory experience, albeit a more intense one. It’s tactile. It seems that Joyce is always on the side of the tactile — taste, smell, touch.


    Q: Are you on the side of the tactile?


    I think you have to be. You still can maintain temperament, you can be ironic and intellectual, but there needs to be the tactile part in there. You have to be.

    Contact Ivan Kirwan-Taylor at 

    ivan.kirwan-taylor@yale.edu .

  5. Finest Actor in All the Land: Bradley Whitford

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    Famous for his role as Josh Lyman on “The West Wing,” Bradley Whitford is an Emmy-award winning actor with a career spanning decades. He made his appearance on campus last week thanks to Pierson College and the dedicated fans at student organization West Wing Weekly. After attending Wesleyan as an undergraduate, he received training in the Juilliard School’s Drama Department. Whitford’s career began with “The Equalizer” in 1985, and he has since appeared in “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” “Saving Mr Banks,” “Trophy Wife” and more. He is currently filming “Transparent,” a new show produced by Amazon. In addition to his career in the entertainment industry, Whitford has been recognized for his political involvement, which includes campaigning in response to Propositions 30 and 32 in California and to Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill. Naturally, WEEKEND gave him a call to learn about Wisconsin, civic vegetables, screenwriting — and to find out if a West Wing reunion is in the cards.


    Q. You are probably most famous on this campus for your work as Josh Lyman in “The West Wing.” What was the highlight of working on a show with such social and political impact?

    A. I love that there was a show that didn’t portray politicians as either crooks or idiots, and that the message that, as ugly as the process is, government matters, and that politics matter. The fact that we got that message out was not our intention. Aaron [Sorkin]’s intention was never to serve civic vegetables, but it did do that, and that means the most to me.

    Q. Do you think the show had a genuine impact on the way your audiences thought about politics?

    A. I hear all the time, and people will tell me, that the show got them interested in politics. Often in Washington, [D.C.], I’ll run into people who claim they are doing it because of the show, [chuckle] which is a huge compliment. 

    Q. You’ve been involved in campaigning in response to a number of political movements including Propositions 30 and 32 in California and Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill, and Josh Lyman is obviously portrayed as having strong political views. How did your work on “The West Wing” inform your political involvement and vice versa?

    A. “The West Wing” was way beyond any of my expectations. Creatively, as an actor, it was amazing actors and amazing writers, and then on top of that, it was about something that has always been personally discussed in my home.

    And, I think the thing that got me the most involved in politics (which is hard for me to separate) was right around when the show was really coming along — having children. The point when you have children, you think urgently of the future your children are going to inherit. It came at a time where I felt, in light of 9/11 and the U.S. going into Iraq, I felt strongly about ensuring politics was even more a part of my life. Also, at the same time, you’re in the public eye, people ask you [about politics]. You get a bigger platform than you’re used to, which I have very mixed feelings about, but I made a decision early on that this was going to be part of my life and I’m not going to shut up about politics just because it makes other people (and me) queasy when actors start talking about politics. When I’m talking about politics though, I make it clear that I am not speaking as an expert; I’m speaking as a father and a citizen.

    Q. Now, backtracking a little bit: How did your experiences at Wesleyan shape you as an actor? 

    A. I feel incredibly strongly that my time at Wesleyan was very important, and I worry now that people interested in going into the arts, especially your generations, for a variety of reasons, are panicked about specializing and aiming toward a career when you should be sniffing around and becoming a more interesting person. I was really glad that I got a liberal arts education before I got to go to Juilliard, which was a great privilige. A conservatory is a trade school, and what we need in the arts, certainly in acting, is interesting people more than we need technical execution. I always tell people interested in film to not go into a production-heavy undergrad film program because the hard part about making movies is not just executing them. You can learn that pretty easily actually. What’s difficult is making a good, interesting movie. So, all the potential artists that are studying at Yale wondering if they’re wasting their time not being in rigorous performance training, they’re doing the right thing.

    Q. In an interview for one of your recent projects, “Saving Mr. Banks,” you said that Disney was a “joyous and unavoidable” part of childhood. What would you say is a “joyous and unavoidable” part of college?

    A. I don’t know how to answer that without sounding incredibly corny. I would say, becoming close with people who had radically different backgrounds and interests than I had. I came from Wisconsin, and coming to Wesleyan from Wisconsin, I felt like I was going to Mars. I was not from a prep school. I was not from the East Coast or the West Coast, so it was fascinating to meet people from a radically different place.

    Q. Your acting career began with “The Equalizer” in 1985. How has the industry changed since then, and what would you say are the biggest challenges facing people in the entertainment industry today?

    A. Well, it has changed radically and it’s changing as different platforms arise, as the technology changes faster and faster. There are more and more platforms that this material can appear on. The reason why Yale kids are at all interested in “The West Wing” is Netflix, which was beyond our imaginations when we started the show. We couldn’t see anything beyond a network re-run, and suddenly opportunities for cable series just exploded, and the kind of things you could do on television exploded. At the same time, opportunities in movies just became less and less interesting from a storytelling, acting, character point of view because everyone’s interests shifted toward this international audience, because it’s easier to translate action movies and cartoons than it is to translate two people talking or dealing with each other with any kind of complexity. Now, I’m doing a show on Amazon, and I think it makes sense for your generation. It makes so much sense in a culture of being able to listen to any song whenever you want and watch any movie you want. The whole idea of waiting for a network schedule is totally anachronistic, and the business model doesn’t exist anymore. The worst thing that has happened is that I used to close my trailer on “The West Wing” and think “Oh my God, we’re all getting an incredible amount of high quality material.” I would even say that in a year, everyone of us on the show were getting better writing than Meryl Streep was in her movies, and we had this long-term culture and relationship with an audience. And, I remember thinking “Don’t tell the feature people.” Unfortunately, or actually fortunately, they’ve figured it out. Television is a much more interesting place to work because it’s driven by writers. The writers’ control happened a lot more when we went on cable, and even more so now, when you’re on this other streaming devices.

    Q. You wrote two episodes of “The West Wing.” Did writing episodes change the way you approach television?

    A. I can tell you that it was incredibly challenging and incredibly satisfying. It made me feel that Aaron [Sorkin]’s achievement in the four years that he wrote twenty-two episodes is even more mind-boggling than I thought it was. I don’t know how you do that. It is interesting because you realize there’s something about screenwriting that is incredibly technical. There is a certain mechanic to this storytelling. I remember being surprised because I guess I was afraid of “can I write dialogue?” That’s not the problem. The problem is structuring the story, and that’s particular to screenwriting much more so than writing prose. It makes you appreciate good writing so much more. It’s brutal.

    Q. What would you say the proudest moment of your career has been, and what are you most excited about?

    A. Honestly, I think one of the proudest moments was the first year that we won that first Emmy, and I realized that this wonderful experience was going to be accepted and supported and going to continue. We had this privilege of doing this show that was not only going to be commercially successful, but it also wasn’t insulting and it had something complicated and positive to say. Just being part of that was an amazing thing, and I’ll never be ungrateful for it. What am I looking for? I have no idea. I am really excited about the arc I’m playing in this show, “Transparent.” It’s another show that has something culturally interesting to say, but it is extremely well crafted and well acted. So, I’m looking forward to that, and I’m looking forward to some other writing projects that I’m working on.

    Q. And, sorry, but we have to ask … any chance of a West Wing reunion anytime soon?

    A. I’m looking forward to a reunion. It is going to happen, but it’s going to happen in my backyard when we’re going to have a barbecue and just hang out.

  6. A Teaspoon Full of Folk

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    Recently, WEEKEND sat down with the coolest of cool Tangled Up in Blue side project: The Teaspoons. Set to release their last and latest album this summer, title open for debate but most likely “Teaspoons/EP/thealbum/all my pets are dead,” the group gave WEEKEND a dollop of perspective on the recording process, the pleasure of folk music and the art of collaboration. With Tommy Bazarian ’15, Lauren Tronick ’15, Jenner Fox ’14, and Jacob Paul ’13, Hans Bilger ’16 and Ethan Schneider ’14, the group exudes a grounded, substantive spirit. And, in interview with two of the members, WEEKEND got to hear about the joys of recording, songwriting and going on tour.

    Q. So what’s the story behind your band name, The Teaspoons?

    Tommy Bazarian. Want to do it?

    Lauren Tronick. You can do it.

    TB. So the Teaspoons were founded two summers ago when Lauren, Jenner, Jacob Paul, a former member of the group who just graduated, wanted to go on a summer tour and play some folk music out west — so, we did! And we needed a name and we’re all in Tangled Up in Blue together. Our friend, Rav Shapiro (also a TUIB alum) observed that we, the Teaspoons, were a TUIB side project. He abbreviated that to TSP, so, the Teaspoons. Really a very clear story! And it stuck.


    Q. So you all really came together through TUIB?

    LT. Yes. We all met through TUIB and then the band just really happened because we wanted to go on tour and play originals. We played up and down the coast of California and went to the Grand Canyon and Vegas, which was hilarious … and then it kind of stuck when we got back to campus.

    TB. Before our sophomore year, it was really just a bluegrass/folk quartet. Then we added Ethan Schneider and Hans Bilger on drums and bass that spring.

    LT. And then Jacob left, so now it’s just the five of us. But then it was so special because he came back and recorded with us. So, all six of us are on the album. Jacob even also helped produce and plays trumpet.


    Q. What are the other most exciting places you guys have performed? 

    TB. California was the only big tour we’ve done.

    LT. We literally were on the Vegas strip and it was nighttime and everyone around us was doing crazy things and we just kind of stopped in the middle of the street and sang, which was really so neat.

    TB. We sang a cappella.

    LT. We also played with this awesome family in Stamford. We do their Christmas parties. The Yale Farm? That’s pretty exotic!


    Q. When did you guys perform at the Yale Farm?

    TB. At the pig roast last spring!

    LT. We did Koffee?…

    TB. Lauren and I also played at Chocolate Maya…

    LT. Oh and we did the block party and at the beginning of this year had an awesome show in the backyard of 28 Lynwood, which is kind of our home base because Jenner and Tommy live there and sometimes we rehearse there.


    Q. Is there one place on campus where you’d want to perform but haven’t?

    LT. Woolsey!

    TB. Yeah, Woolsey!

    LT. Battell…


    Q. What about your dream place to go on tour again?

    LT. Anywhere!


    Q. How about your recent recording process? What has that been like?

    TB. We recorded in a very short amount of time. It’s really hard to get everybody together. We decided to block off two days: this past Saturday and Sunday.

    LT. This has basically been two years in the making. We’ve been trying to record for so long and finally at the beginning of the semester we just thought, “All right! We’re doing this. We’re going to raise money and we’re going to have something to record once we’re done. Ethan and Jenner are graduating and I think that’s probably going to be the grand finale for the group. We wanted to celebrate with something concrete that we could keep.

    TB. We did an [Indiegogo fundraiser]. Our amazing friends and family contributed.

    LT. You know how you have to do those promo videos? Ours was fantastically awkward. But so many people donated. It was so unreal.

    TB. We broke our goal and got even more money, which we ended up needing. We ended up using the extra money to book the place we recorded, Dimension Sound Studios in Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts, for two ten-hour days. It was a crazy short timeframe. We were planning to do a six or seven song EP, but we ended up getting thirteen songs totally done in two days. We were also planning on coming back to campus to touch it up and do vocals, but we finished the whole thing. It was crazy! A magical whirlwind of stuff.

    LT. It was one of the best musical experiences I’ve ever had.


    Q. What made the recording session particularly special? 

    LT. It’s so rare that you spend ten straight hours intensely focusing on one thing. You spend all this energy but you’re just so focused. You’re just in this headspace that continues for ten hours. It’s also something that you love doing. You just want it to be better and improve and play with everyone. We were all so well rehearsed.

    TB. We just tried to bring the best energy we could. There are a lot of different ways to record. You can do tracking-based recording where everyone records his or her part individually and then you later them. What we tried to do, since we’re a live band and that’s what we’ve always played and we weren’t really used to recording, was do as much as we could live at the same time. The first day we did a lot live since the studio had amazing capabilities to record that. The second day we did a “second wave” of overdubs and violin. Then for the last three hours we did a ton of vocals. It was kind of three “waves” of live performance.

    LT. I would listen and I would hear what had been recorded so far. It would guitar maybe or drums or bass or sometimes mandolin and then I would either play fiddle over it or sing over it. Sometimes it’s hard to record a song since we’re so used to playing live. It was so funny because say for a song Tommy or Jenner sings, they can’t sing their part while they play guitar, so I would be in a different room singing their songs so they could play along with it.


    Q. What are the other differences between live performance and recording? 

    LT. Well, you can hear everyone! It’s so amazing! You think, “Whoa, you play that part?” It’s incredible. You can be a lot more detailed and nit-picky.


    Q. After this experience, do you prefer recording or live? 

    LT. I don’t think recording would’ve been so magical and amazing if we hadn’t played so much together live already.

    TB. Recording can be hard when you walk into the studio and start from nothing and try to build it. It’s so much better and different when you’re recording a live band that’s already played so much together. It’s like taming this animal.

    LT. We’re also releasing this album online for free. We’re not going to ask for money. It’s not like we’re trying to promote ourselves. This is kind of the end, so it was really just for us and our friends and family. It was just a different energy. It was more about creating this thing that we were happy about.

    TB. So that’s the plan for now. Dan Cardinal, our engineer, is going to mix and master it at the end of this month or next month. We’ll hopefully put the tracks up online. And they’re free! All thirteen songs are also originals. We even had seven more that got cut.


    Q. Who does most of the writing? 

    LT. Mainly Tommy, Jenner and I do the writing. Sometimes we write together. Sometimes we write part of a song and then pass it on to the next person. We’ll have a vague idea and make it more whole as a group. Other times Tommy will have these incredible parts to the trill. It’s so different for every song.

    TB. Lauren, Jenner and I play for the band but Hans is also an amazing songwriter. And we all sing. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen.

    LT. It’s much easier to get everybody doing anything when live. In an album, you have to pare it down, which we did.


    Q. Which song on the album kind of speaks to you the most? 

    LT. It’s different playing it versus what it means as a song. Tommy wrote this song that I love singing because it’s such a challenge for me called “Amity.” I love it.

    TB. I’d say that’s my favorite, too, because it’s so awesome to hear Lauren. I have this vivid memory of watching Lauren record. I was two rooms away and she was in her little singing booth when she did this amazing vocal take at the end of our session. I got such goosebumps.

    LT. Aw! I didn’t know that!

    TB. The other highlight recording moment was I have this song inspired by the California tour. It’s mostly pretty bare bones, just me with the guitar, but then at the end everyone usually just sings along. We wanted the sound of a group of people singing, so we got everyone in the studio signing. So the band, plus Jacob, plus Jacob’s girlfriend, plus the engineer, and then our friend stopped by, and he had a child with him, so Alex and his small cousin are on it. There’s this little kid giggling. Twelve people gathered around this microphone — afterwards we were all so happy.


    Q. What is it about folk music that you think makes it so special?

    TB. Before I came to school I never was really into folk music. I was into everything that wasn’t folk and beating around the bush. Then I got here and joined TUIB and saw where all the music I really loved was coming from. I think it’s good to get back to the source. If you listen to this album, though, it’s probably more of a pop/rock album.

    LT. It’s really evolved. It’s so clear, though, that our inspirations come from folk. I think that folk music and TUIB and the Teaspoons has a way of being really simple and raw and there’s no shame in hearing a very clear inspiration from another song because that’s how folk music works. Another kind of sounds like one and it’s this beautiful, giant catalog of collaboration in a way.


    Q. When can we catch your next live performance?

    LT. Stay tuned — if you’re around for Commencement we’ll definitely be doing a show and bidding it all farewell.

  7. Buzzwords with backing

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    If you chat with Matt Brimer ’09, Jake Schwartz ’00 and Brad Hargreaves ’08 for a bit, you’re likely to hear some business jargon. Reference might be made to the “digital ecosystem” — networking, itself jargon, might become “connectivity.” But given the way General Assembly has taken off since the trio founded it in 2011, it seems there just might be something behind all that mumbo jumbo. General Assembly, or “GA,” as its three founders call it, is a New York educator and incubator for other tech start-ups. From simply providing the physical space and amenities necessary for start-ups to grow — office space, in other words — General Assembly has expanded to offer a host of courses for aspiring entrepreneurs at locations across the globe, winning over $4 million in seed funding and a spot among Forbes’ “Top 30 Under 30” in the process. The company reports that 96 percent of students enrolled in the most immersive programs go on to find jobs within three months. WEEKEND gave the three Yalies behind GA a call to find out how they made it all happen.

    Q. Jake Schwartz was quoted in a Yahoo! News article about you guys saying that in today’s job market, it’s not enough to “write and think and figure out what you need to do.” How does what you learn at General Assembly relate to traditional higher education?

    Brad: We look at General Assembly as a complement to liberal arts education, not as a replacement. Liberal arts has an incredibly important role in the American education system, and that’s not one we’re looking to replace, but 98 percent of our current and previous students already have a college degree. Our audience is not coming to GA as an alternative to traditional education. Many of these are students who went to really good schools. I’m sure we could find Yale alums who have been through our program. It’s really students who are looking for a very specific skill set, whether they want to become a user experience designer, they want to become a good web developer like .net maui developers, they want to get into digital marketing: Those are the profiles of the students we’re seeing.

    Jake: I almost think of [GA] like the last mile. I loved my Yale experience. It was a great education, but I didn’t come out with any way to just create economic value for my employer. So I really had to hustle and leverage whatever else I could find to even get someone to hire me. If you want to go off the beaten path, you need to be able to hit the ground running. All these companies aren’t just looking for people who are smart — they’re looking for people who can do things.

    Q. How did Yale prepare you guys for what you are doing now?

    Brad: When I look at what I’m doing today, the biggest thing that Yale provided me is connections to my co-founders. Matt and I have known each other since he was a freshman at college and I was a sophomore. Matt met Jake through a Yale alumni event. The connectivity that Yale provides is incredibly important. Part of what we are trying to do at General Assembly is not just take the educational content and deliver it but also deliver that connectivity and that brand imprimatur that you get from going to an institution like Yale.

    Matt: I also think Yale provided a certain sense of magic to our undergraduate experience. When we think about what we’re creating at General Assembly, being able to surprise and delight and provide serendipity is important, because I think that’s what creates long-term success: when you can create very memorable but also impactful experiences for people. When we think about what learning means at GA, a lot of our experience originates from Yale.

    Jake: When I got out, I experienced firsthand the major letdown of getting into the real world and realizing that there were a million people just like me. Yale has this way of building you up to think that you’re special, and then I had that very long, hard letdown that, in a lot of ways, is what inspired me to start GA. I had a great experience at Yale in many ways, my best friends are from there, and I think Yale did a really great job with the way it approaches this idea of a big idea with a bunch of little details that make up the big idea. The interplay and the tension between those two levels of thought is really the same way I still think about strategy and tactics in a start-up, in a business.

    Q. That same Yahoo article had Jake saying that there was a sort of stigma in American education around purely vocational training. How do you guys hope to change that?

    Brad: It’s really about delivering a lot of the non-educational value that has traditionally been associated with, say, Ivy league schools — for instance, providing a strong alumni network and incredibly high job placement rates. Obviously, education and skills are a big part of it, but for us it’s really skills plus community equals opportunity, and that has not traditionally been part of the vocational school value proposition. That’s one of the ways we think what we’re doing is unique.

    Q. One of the things that makes GA stand out is its connections to the established tech industry: You have guys from Facebook and Google teaching classes, and then when people complete your class, you’re able to launch them off into the tech world. How have you guys managed that level of integration?

    Matt: In many ways, General Assembly began in a very community-oriented, grassroots way. It began with a series of conversations and ideas between myself, Brad and Jake, and a number of the members of the tech and start-up community in New York City. A lot of it was about not only getting interested but also involved, getting people who we wanted involved in our greater vision. A lot of it is about being out there in the community, going to events, creating goodwill, facilitating introductions and favors for other people in the tech community so that we can get great karma around us. Doing those favors eventually comes back to us. It’s about playing an active and participatory role in the communities we are in.

    Jake: A lot of that is that we’ve now been around for three years, and we’ve worked really, really hard. That’s the other thing: There are no shortcuts — there was no magic bullet that got us there other than hustle. We all went to as many events as we could, we met everybody, we probably gave hundreds of tours of the space before we launched the original GA. It was through all of that and having a mission and a set of values that people believe in, that allowed us to have that presence today. We’re still working on it — it’s not something that ever stops.

    Q. How daunting is it to start a company from scratch? What does it feel like when you realize, “This is going to work”?

    Jake: It’s the wildest ride of your life. It’s hard to describe. A friend of mine describes starting a business as one of the most psychedelic experiences in life because your reality is constantly shifting around you. I always liked that.

    Q. When someone walks into GA with an idea for a start-up, can you tell if they have what it takes to make their idea work?

    Jake: A lot of people think it’s about the quality of the idea, and they get very defensive about the idea, and one of the things that can help me know if an entrepreneur is going to be successful is how un-defensive and eager for all sorts of feedback they are. A good entrepreneur knows it’s not the idea — it’s the ability to get it done that matters, and they look for any kind of feedback or gaps or holes or vulnerabilities in how they’re thinking. Whereas somebody who is a little defensive and a little closed off to that, they may think that means they have a strong vision, but typically what it means is that they’re not open to the data that the world is providing, that could help them make their idea stronger.

    Q. Any brief, pithy advice you guys would give to a Yale student who wanted to found a start-up, tech or otherwise?

    Brad: I would say, failure is OK. Failure can be a learning experience. The start-up that Brad and I founded before General Assembly, it was in the social gaming space. We ran that for a couple years, and it never ended up working out in the long term. But the failure and the lessons learned from that company really allowed us to create General Assembly and allowed us to be a lot more successful the second time around. The first company you start as a Yale student very well might not work out, but getting that experience — getting that education — is absolutely paramount for being successful in the future.

    Jake: Well, I would say there’s no time like the present, right? Just do it. But I think, more importantly, don’t think that just because you’re smart you’ve got something to add. It’s going to take hard work and constant learning to really be a valuable member of a start-up team.

    Q. And maybe a class at GA to boot?

    Jake: Of course.

  8. Nearer, My Panda

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    Nero, My Panda is a student band at Yale that’s been together since the spring of 2012. Its members: drummer Andrew Goble ’15, guitarist and live vocalist Paul Hinkes ’15 , vocalist and lyricist Elliah Heifetz ’15, and keyboardist and lyricist Max Gordon ’15, just released their EP this Thursday. The band gathered in Heifetz’s home to talk about the year-and-a-half-long trajectory that has led them to this new release—starting with their crazy, esoteric band name.


    Q: First things first. Where did you guys get the band name?

    Elliah Heifetz: I was writing a paper on this painting in the art gallery for Nemirov’s class freshman year called “Hero and Leander.” I was talking to Max about the paper for some reason, and we really liked the name of the painting. We were just messing around with it and being stupid, and then came up with “Nero, My Panda.” It had nothing to do with the actual painting.


    Q: Had the band already formed by then?

    Max Gordon: That was spring of our freshman year. Elliah and I were regularly writing songs together. So I guess it was a project but we didn’t call it a band.


    Q: And then how did the others get involved?

    Paul Hinkes: I’m in the same singing group as Max … and we were hanging out one night, sort of swapping songs, talking, and I expressed my interest. Max also said that the band was still in need of a drummer. I was lucky enough to have been freshman year suitemates with Andrew, who I knew was a very talented drummer. We had our first rehearsal in the last month of our freshman year. The band was pretty much together by then.

    E.H.: Our first show was the fall of last year — parents’ weekend in the Baker’s Dozen house’s basement. And that was when we also put out our first demos.


    Q: Are you affiliated with a cappella?

    Andrew Goble: I’m not. My association is very vague. But the others are.

    M.G.: Paul and I are in the Baker’s Dozen.

    E.H.: And I’m in the Duke’s Men.


    Q: Do you think your style as a band has been influenced by a cappella?

    E.H.: Well, when we play live it helps that three of us sing regularly. If there are any parts of the song that need extra singers, we have just the guys in the group do them. We don’t need to seek outside singers.

    M.G.: We like harmonies.


    Q: What would you describe as your band’s sound?

    E.H.: Um, [laughs] pop music. We listen to a lot of Katy Perry, a lot of punk music too, and rock music, also a lot of ’60s classic old-school pop. It’s just girl American pop music with a wink, because we want everyone to have a good time.


    Q: I listened to your guys’ single, “I Just Want to Sleep in My Own Bed,” on your website. It sounded very smooth and well produced. How did you guys get that level of quality?

    M.G.: So, we’re working with a producer in the city, the Jedi Master. That’s what he goes by; Jeff Jones is his actual name.


    Q: How did you meet Jones?

    M.G.: I worked for him as an audio engineer the summer after my freshman year, and we’ve just developed a good working relationship since then.


    Q: Who composes the songs?

    M.G: Elliah and I write the songs. But in terms of recording, in terms of putting it all together, we’re all playing different parts.

    E.H.: The first songs we did we recorded first and then played live, but, with these songs, Max and I wrote them and then we played them live and then we recorded them. Playing them live with the band really informed what sounds worked and what we wanted to put on the record.

    P.H.: The single “I Just Wanna Sleep in My Own Bed” was, in its first iteration, played live. We played it in Brooklyn over the summer. It was a much grittier, much less clean song than the final product. Live performances really informed the recorded version.


    Q: What venues have you played in?

    A.G.: Mostly New Haven ones. Last year we played BDs, SigEp, Spring Fling. I feel like we played everywhere last summer. This fall we played at the BDs again.

    P.H.: We’ve had some crazy gigs too. We played at Jack Wills’ clothing store over on York. They reached out to us, and wanted us to play there.

    M.G.: We got some nice clothes from that.


    Q: Did you guys ever find it difficult to find venues?

    A.G.: I think one great advantage is that I’m president of SigEp so that’s a space I have. And those two guys live in the BD house, that’s a space we use, which isn’t that big. But I think an important thing is being willing to play in weird spaces. It ends up being a lot more fun. Even in the BD house we had it packed and there were 50 people who couldn’t fit in. It was just a fun atmosphere to play in.

    P.H.: There’s something incredible about being in a room with 100 people that’s meant for 25 and being so hot that you have to wipe your guitars down. We talked about being influenced by 60’s pop. A lot of these bands got their start playing in the small — incredibly small — spaces that are not necessarily fit for a rock band to play in.

    M.G.: And the nice thing is that everyone that’s staying there really wants to hear you play. (laughs) They’re overcoming a lot to listen to you play. When you’re in this big open space you can come because you have nothing to do, but these people know every single word. It feels like you’re just at a party and providing entertainment that everyone’s totally focused on.


    Q: It sounds like you guys have gotten a lot of experience doing live shows, and now you’re doing the EP. What do you see as the next step in your trajectory as a band?

    M.G.: We love making music that people can dance to, that people can have fun listening to, and we want as many people to enjoy that as possible.

    E.H.: Getting as many people to have fun is really the goal.

    A.G.: There are a lot of goals probably, but in terms of the day-to-day, the hope is of creating that experience, and I think if we’re good, if we do that correctly, the opportunities of showcasing our music to more people are there.


    Q: Are there any difficulties or obstacles that you’ve encountered in being a band at Yale? How do you let people know about your shows?

    E.H.: A lot of it is just making a Facebook event. If we put it on at a certain time of night, everyone’s going to go on their computers and everyone’s going be on Facebook and people are going see it. Another way is, if we’re [performing at] a house that has a party on, people are going to go there anyway for the party. It’s just taking advantage of that and trying to make the party our show — trying to game the system of being a college band.

    A.G.: I think our vibe as a band has lent itself well to big crowds, because it kind of feels like a collaborative experience. We’re feeding off their energy — we’re not playing with our heads down, like we’re recording. For the most part, I think the people who come to our first concerts are likely to come to our second and third concerts, and that has helped a lot in trying to create something that’s fun instead of something that’s more for us than for them.

    M.G.: There’s no point in making something if someone isn’t going to enjoy listening to it. I think that drives a lot of what we do, both in the literal music that we make and in how we present it. It’s all meant to be enjoyable, to be fun, to be exciting, and I think that if you can’t hit those, then I don’t see much point.


    Q: You guys are an eclectic-sounding bunch. Do you each have specific genres or styles that you identify with?

    P.H.: (nods to Andrew) Weezer.

    A.G.: I love alt-rock and classic rock and I just like how they are drum-wise. That and hip-hop for me come to the forefront. The drums’ purpose is to serve up the other parts of the music. If I tried to make every song a résumé of what I can do on the drum set, nobody would be happy except for maybe me. I think some hip-hop does that really well, where even the beat works with the rhythm of the rapper, as do some of my favorite rock bands, like Weezer. I learned to play the drums listening to their songs. They’re so easy and yet there’s so much detail as to why they’re doing each thing and why it works with the music.

    P.H.: My taste’s a little less refined. I don’t have a specific genre I truly identify with. I love when a form is done well, whether that be hood stuff, or you know, on the far end, Katy Perry. One of our favorite songs right now is “Timber” [the new Pitbull song featuring Ke$ha]. It’s an amazing song. Elliah and I are getting into this hard-rock band called Japandroids. They’re so good, they’re so different. Whatever the model is, when it’s done well I’ll want to listen to it.

    E.H.: I would say the one genre I try not to listen to is country pop.

    P.H.: I love country pop.

    M.G.: I think “Prism” [the new Katy Perry album] is fucking amazing.

    E.H.: The song “Birthday” on “Prism” is one of the best songs to come out of the past four years.

    P.H: Headline, headline!


    Q: Andrew, you mentioned that you were a high-school musician. What’d you play?

    A.G.: I played a lot of jazz, which was probably the most inspiring thing. Jazz is all about fitting in. It helps when I’m playing live, knowing how to create something that meshes and presents a uniform sound.


    Q: Were the rest of you previously in bands?

    P.H.: All of us were.

    M.G.: Just a high school band.

    A.G.: I wish I was in a high school band.

    P.H.: My high school band was pretty shitty. We dressed up as ridiculous as we could and covered top 40 songs.

    E.H.: I was in a really classic high school band. We listened to a lot of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin — a lot of guitar riffing and shredding.


    Q: How have you evolved since then?

    P.H.: I think there’s a real desire in the group to be a cohesive unit. Our songs our two-and-a-half minutes. There’s no need to spend 45 seconds on a guitar solo. It’s just the song, polished. Here’s the package and we’re very confident with it.

    E.H.: It’s not about us. It’s not about the person doing the guitar solo or showing off on his instrument. We’re playing for people to listen to it.

    P.H.: The best possible thing is for the song to end and for people to want it to continue.


    Q: How have you grown as a band?

    P.H.: There’s a great feeling of having done our songs so many times before and getting to do them again.

    E.H.: When things start to become inside jokes and traditions, you know you’ve existed long enough and hung out long enough that you’ve become what people call a band. I think that’s the biggest growth — from freshman year to being people who know each other and hang out.

    M.G.: Yeah, we definitely shit on each other a lot more now.

    A.G.: It’s nice to have someone fuck something up and for Max to be like, “You fucked that up” and for the person not to take that harshly. It’s good that we communicate on a very open level.

    M.G.: We definitely have a more refined set of musical references that we can refer to, and that makes communication between all of us in rehearsals or when recording that much more efficient and that much more effective.

    P.H.: And now when Max makes weird noises Goble knows what to play on the drum.

    M.G.: I was making noise that I think a drum makes [Max makes a “boom boom shhh” sound] and Goble says, “Max, that’s not what I do.” But now —

    A.G.: Now he does the same thing but I translate. Sometimes he’ll say noises that just aren’t made by the drum. Usually I can guess what drum he’s looking for but sometimes … (laughs). We’re not as lost in translation as we were before.

  9. Meeting Harold: A Q&A with John Cho

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    Q. So, how do you like Yale so far?

    A. It’s very beautiful. I’m stunned by how clean it is. I went to a very dirty university … whenever I go back to the Bay Area, I want to say, “It’s okay to urinate in places that aren’t stairwells.” [Also], I’m stunned at the beauty here and the obvious history in every brick.

    Q. You’ve been in a few blockbuster hits and are pretty popular among the college students here. Which movie would you say has been your favorite to shoot thus far?

    A. That’s a tough one. I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways. I think maybe the second “Harold and Kumar” was the most enjoyable in the sense that the writers of [the first] “Harold and Kumar” ended up directing that. So it’s the first time I went to a movie just being friends with the director. I just had a longstanding friendship with them at that point … It was the most collaborative I’ve ever been.

    Q. Have people ever confused you for any of your characters?

    A. Oh, all the time. On a day-to-day basis. It’s the general state of things.

    Q. On that note, how similar are you to your character Harold Lee in “Harold & Kumar”?

    A. I don’t know, I’ve always said that I was more like Kumar than Harold. But Harold’s Korean and so I’ve found a lot of things to identify with him there.

    Q. You popularized the term “MILF” with your role in “American Pie.” What do you think about your role in shaping teenage America’s vocabulary?

    A. It’s a surprise to me. I mean, I stumbled into that not realizing what it would become. I think the movie popularized [the term MILF]; I didn’t popularize it. It’s one of those things. It was like a word that was in the air. It was used in a very popular movie and then it became part of the American vocabulary. But it’s cool with me. I was afraid, and I still think I might be, that it will be on my tombstone. People were calling me that every day … but now people call me Harold. I went from MILF to Harold.

    Q. Can you describe your experiences as an Asian-American actor in the entertainment industry, where Asian-Americans are typically underrepresented?

    A. It’s really a change. Asians are looking to conquer the entertainment industry in a way that Asians have excelled in so many of the other professions. And now I notice them a lot. And you know Asians are over-represented on the studio side and executive side. So it’s really progressed a lot in the last 15 years since I started acting, but I’m very encouraged by it, and I hope the trend continues upward.

    Q. Do you have any advice for any aspiring actors and actresses, particularly those in the Asian-American community?

    A. I should have an answer to that … Your path can take a variety of forms and you can be focused on a path to success or a path to steady work. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to find a path of self-satisfaction, happiness and pride in what you do. Those should be your goals. Look for parts that feed your soul. Look, and everything else will take care of itself. And try to have pride in what you do.

  10. Meeting my idol

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    Shahrukh Khan fanatics hardly ever just write fan mail. They mount his picture on their altars alongside images of holy deities. They wait outside his home for days hoping to see him. One particular fan, Vishal Singh, made it into various Indian news sources for creating a shrine to him, plastering over 22,000 pictures of Khan around his home. He even legally changed his name to “Visharukh Khan.” This vehement adoration is due to pure star power. To have been able to interview Shahrukh Khan, a man who has been equated with God by his admirers, was my dream come true.

    Bollywood has always been my safety blanket — a way to counteract the seriousness of darker days with color and flair. Shahrukh Khan, in particular, is the embodiment of Hindi cinema for me. His very first film, Deewana released when I was just shy of one year old, while his latest film Don 2 was in theaters this past December. I have grown up with Shahrukh Khan and have consistently fallen for his various cinematic incarnations.

    When I was 13, Shahrukh Khan released his biographical documentary “The Inner and Outer World of Shahrukh Khan.” I remember standing with my friends amongst hundreds waiting to meet him at a promotional event in New York City. I also remember returning home that night after only seeing the license plate of his car as he drove away.

    In response to my disappointment that evening, my grandmother tried to placate me, “Don’t strive be someone who stands in a line of a thousand people to meet Shahrukh Khan. Because I know you will be so hardworking, so good and so successful that one day Shahrukh Khan will push a thousand people aside just to meet you.”

    Sure. Easier said than done, I thought. The whole world lines up to see Shahrukh Khan and I did not have the audacity or the patience to simply sit by the sidelines.

    When I was first asked to interview Khan, my immediate reaction was a deafening affirmative. But few people know about my surprising second reaction — the feeling in the pit of my stomach telling me to turn it down because I foresaw myself inadvertently acting like a drooling fan rather than a journalist. But it also hit me that I would not be meeting the on-screen hero. After twenty years of getting to know his characters Raj, Rahul and Aman, I would have to meet the real Shahrukh Khan. I feared that the experience would be disenchanting. Would I have to come to terms with the fact that Raj, Rahul and Aman, the same characters to whom I turn when I need a dose of escapist Bollywood after a tough week at Yale, are exactly what I rationally know they are — fiction?

    Encouraged by my close friends who told me that an interview with King Khan is a once in a lifetime opportunity (and many who said they would fight to take my place if I dared turn it down), I of course kept my promise. Did I make a fool of myself? A little. Particularly when I was under the impression that it was safe to perform a little celebratory dance after our chat because he had already been escorted out of the room (he had not). But was I disenchanted? Not at all. He was humble, he was professional, but above all he was still a star. After speaking with him, however, I did come to terms with the fact that he is human, just a wildly successful human. I learned that he is successful because he is exceedingly intelligent, he is a hard worker, he is in a profession that he loves and he is motivated to work because he wants to improve the lives of those around him. In short, he is someone that we all hope to be.

    I hope that my grandmother will be proud that I took this opportunity. It would be wrong, however, to say that it transpired exactly how she said it would, that I had gotten this chance because I am successful. I had just gotten lucky. But at least I can tell her that she was partly right — Shahrukh Khan kept almost two thousand people waiting an extra seven minutes so that he could speak with me, and I cannot imagine asking for more than that.