The season may end, but the show is far from over

Headshot by Kody Kahle

Headshot by Kody Kahle

I can write a story about another person. I can write a long, passionate piece about why a television show shouldn’t have killed off my favorite character. Actually I can basically write about TV shows better than anything else. But writing a goodbye is not my forte. I’ve been dreading writing this piece for weeks, not just because I suck at goodbyes, but because I am really going to miss this place and writing this means it’s really over.

I got into journalism instantly when I started at NKU, because unsurprisingly I was inspired by a television character to follow my career aspiration. But I was lazy for my first year and half, I was having too much fun and didn’t have enough drive to work for a weekly publication. Then a dear friend, and our former designer, talked me into joining The Northerner. It was because of her I fell in love with this place and stuck with it.

The past two and half years have been some of the best of my life, my most Emmy award worthy years to date. From contributor to staff reporter to Arts & Life Editor to Editor-In-Chief it’s been one hell of a journey. That Arts & Life year was probably my favorite, no offense to this killer senior year I’ve had. Arts & Life is where my heart is (hence the TV love), it’s where I thrive so that year really gave me a lot of inspiration for the future.

I don’t know what I’m going to do next, which is both terrifying and freeing, graduating is essentially my season finale cliffhanger that you have to wait until the fall to see what happens. All I do know is whatever happens next I’ll take with me all the things I’ve learned here in our crazy little corner basement newsroom.

I can’t choose favorite moments. Partly because there are so many, mostly because they are either too inappropriate or too much of an inside joke to keep this PG,  we’re more CW than HBO here on our website. The people who were there for those moments know how great they were though and the friendships I’ve made here are irreplaceable.

It’s been a wild ride that I’ll never forget so I have to thank all the amazing friends, past and present, that I’ve had the pleasure of working with here at The Northerner and the best advisor a publication could ask for for making these past couple years a fun, sometimes stressful, time of my life I’ll always love.

So to keep it up in my true style of writing about TV shows, let’s not think of graduating as a series finale, just a season finale of a show that will carry on without me as I spin-off into my own groundbreaking dramedy which with any luck will feature Chris Evans as my love interest one day.
Maybe I’ll see you in the next episode NKU, but for now let’s just say to be continued…

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Nostalgic for ‘Mud Nostalgia’

High in the Appalachian Mountains, a young, holy woman and snake handler struggles to understand her life and her faith in the wake of an unexpected betrayal. That was the story that Sue Ott Rowlands, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, brought to life for audiences in the Corbett Theatre. Rowlands, a professional actress, captivated audiences in a limited run showing of “Mud Nostalgia” March 26 – 28.

The Provost speaks at a Six @ Six Lecture in February previewing her play ‘Mud Nostalgia.’

“Mud Nostalgia” was the latest in a long-run of solo works Rowlands has performed around the world, it marks the first time she has taken the stage at NKU and the third time she’s performed this particular piece for audiences. The Northerner sat down with Rowlands to see how she felt about the show, talk future shows she might do with the department and look at the experience that was “Mud Nostalgia.”

Q: How you felt about the success of the show?

A: “I felt it went very well. The audiences were very appreciative, they were good audiences. They listened very carefully which is incredibly important when you have a solo show that is very text based… it’s really more about the language. You can always tell if an audience is really listening or if they’re not. Because I talk directly to the audience, it’s great if they’re engaged and this audience was.”

Q: What did it mean to you to be able to work with the theatre department here?

A: “It was fantastic! That’s my home department as a faculty member and I rarely get to engage with them. I’ve been in as a guest in a couple of classes, which I love. So the whole week was really spent over there and it was great to get to know people. It was great to talk to the students in class. The director [Bruce Hermann] and I talked about creating theatre and collaboration to a combined class of students in acting and directing. The playwright [Mark Evans Bryan] talked to a playwriting class as well. So, the students were just fantastic. They were really intrigued by the play, I think they don’t often get to see someone doing solo work and it opened their imaginations as to how they might devise works of theatre… they became co-collaborators with us, it was just a week of filling my artistic soul.”

Q: So the support from the department was something you enjoyed a lot?

A: “Yes, the department of theatre did a super job in terms of support for the production. They provided terrific lighting and costume design, stage management and makeup support. That was really great because a lot of times when you are doing solo work you’re just traveling by yourself . . . There’s generally very little technical support, which on the one hand is great because it makes it very portable, but on the other hand it’s just nice to have a real support team and be back in a theatre space.”

Q: Any challenges experienced, maybe because students had never really seen solo work like this before?

A: “No I don’t think so, I think if anything it made them more curious and more open because of what they saw.”

Q: You were very passionate about doing this particular play, so what was it about it that made you want to do this specific piece?

A: “In talking with Ken [Jones, chair of the theatre department] I gave him some options of the different pieces that I have, I have about three right now that I can brush up and do… He just felt and I agreed that the snake handling play, which is set in Appalachia, just seemed so relevant. Also because I devised it with the playwright there was a personal sense to it.”

Q: What did you learn from the particular piece?

A: “I learn every time I do it, because every time you do live theatre it’s different. I think this time I realized how the meaningfulness of the play is enhanced for the audience when you add some of the design elements. An audience has an imagination, they hear the story and get caught up in it. When you add atmosphere and tone and mood through lighting, when you increase the authenticity with a good wig or costuming… this was also the first time I used a wireless mic, so I could have those quiet moments and still be heard. So I think for me this time it was about the value added from the full production experience and how that illuminated, for both the audience and me, nuances in the play that might otherwise not have been as powerful.”

Q: Do you feel it was well received by the audience?

A: “Since I’m talking right to them I can tell if they’re fidgeting, sleeping, reading their program or going to the bathroom and coming back. And there was very little of that. Mostly it was people listening, nodding, laughing, if I smiled at them they smiled back. There was interaction happening. Also a remarkable number of people stayed for the discussions afterward each night.”

Q: What past experiences as a trained actress helped you with this particular piece?

A: “Doing solo work is one of the more challenging types of theatre… because you really have to be present in the moment and be honest, it demands a tremendous amount of honesty. If you start performing it or doing actor schtick it just rings so false. I think it’s really powerful for young actors to try their hand at solo work… but having the ensemble work before is important to have the confidence to stand alone on stage. I think that anything you’re doing at any given moment is a product of what you’ve done in your lifetime before.”

Q: Did you have any favorite moments in the performance?

A: “I have a good time doing these things. I don’t know if I have a favorite moment, in fact it’s kind of dangerous to let a moment become a favorite moment because then you will treat it like it’s precious. And then it becomes really bad because it’s no longer genuine. Sometimes if you feel you’re falling in love with a section of a play, you really need to talk yourself out of it or try not to think of it that way.”

Q: Would you want to do something like this again with the NKU theatre department?

A: “Yeah I told Ken [Jones] I’ve got many more where that came from. I don’t imagine I’ll be doing anything again like this anytime soon, but maybe in a couple of years, maybe the next time the Y.E.S. Festival comes around we’ll want to put up another solo piece… I try to do several performances a year just to keep my hand in it.”

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Oscars conclude with unexpected results

Awards season officially came to a close on Sunday night. The big winners took home golden awards during the 87th Annual Academy Awards and I said goodbye to the 2015 edition of my favorite season of the year: awards season. For me the Oscars are like the Super Bowl, each award winner is a touchdown, each bad joke done by the host is a missed tackle. Benedict Cumberbatch is my quarterback, Meryl Streep my star receiver.

Last week I made my predictions, along with some other NKU folks, as to who the winners of the night would be. I picked the big five categories: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Director. I ended up going three for five, not exactly a perfect score, but I was actually happy to be wrong.

“Birdman” took home the top honors of best picture and it’s director Alejandro G. Inarritu took home the honor of Best Director. I had predicted “Boyhood,” which was filmed over the course of 12 years, would win, along with its director Richard Linklater. 12 years is no small feat, I never thought they’d choose anything over it. The Golden Globes had awarded “Boyhood” and Linklater even.

I thought it was a shoe-in, I was happily wrong. I absolutely loved “Birdman,” from the first viewing I was hooked. Everything about the movie was incredible. The continuous shots were breathtaking and seamless. The story was intriguing, thought-provoking, whimsical and realistic all at the same time. The cast was out of this world, especially Edward Norton, who is always golden, and Emma Stone, a personal favorite of mine.

So when Ben Affleck said “and the Oscar goes to Alejandro G. Inarritu,” I was thrilled. And later I’d be thrilled again when the show, which went over time by 40 minutes, came to a close and awarded “Birdman” with Best Picture. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong about my picks for an awards show.

“Boyhood” was great, a story that seemed like Oscar-bait that was also incredibly relatable, but it was no “Birdman.”

The acting categories were fairly predictable, I called each of them right, and I believed each to be well-deserved. Eddie Redmayne did a total transformation to play famed physicist Stephen Hawking, though I was totally rooting for Michael Keaton to win Best Actor. We should all be more like Michael Keaton. And you wouldn’t have heard a single complaint from me if British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who I have a bit of an obsession with, had won for his incredible turn in “The Imitation Game.”

Patricia Arquette, who won Best Supporting Actress, and Julianne Moore, who won Best Actress, were astounding in their films “Boyhood” and “Still Alice” respectively. Beyond that, both women have had incredible careers and have hit it out of the park in nearly every film they’ve appeared.

J.K. Simmons took home Best Supporting Actor, after sweeping the entire awards seasons. Aside from his State Farm Insurance commercials, he’s also an incredibly respected character actor and “Whiplash” was a prime example of his talent.
Last year I had a perfect Oscar roundup 5 for 5. This year I wasn’t so lucky, but I’m glad my luck ran out so “Birdman” could get some well-deserved recognition. Maybe next year I’ll regain my 5 for 5 title and possibly even hear the words “And the Oscar goes to… Benedict Cumberbatch.”

NKU weighs in on 2015 Oscar nominees

Beloved actors, long time favorites, a current British phenomenon and even a battle between the two men who’ve portrayed the Incredible Hulk on the big screen. These are just a few of the plethora of talents nominated for Oscars this year. As awards season winds down, the biggest honor of the year is close at hand. This Sunday the 87th Annual Academy Awards will be held. The Northerner gathered the perspectives of an editor, theatre student, English professor and cinema studies director to see what actors and movies they’ll be rooting for and expect to win this year!

Nancy Curtis, editor-in-chief at The Northerner

Best Picture:

  • Should Win: “Birdman” – “‘Birdman’ was extraordinary all around. The continuous shots, the acting, easily my favorite movie of the year.”
  • Will Win: “Boyhood”- “It’s been sweeping awards season and the 12 year incredible feat of the project can’t be denied.”

Best Actor:

  • Should Win: Michael Keaton – “Birdman” – “Forget the comeback, this was simply an intriguing and career defining performance. Keaton is beloved and has totally earned this honor.”
  • Will Win: Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything” – “It’s essentially a given at this point. Keaton would be an upset, an upset I’m rooting for, but Redmayne hits all the points that Oscar voters love.”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Should Win: Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood” – “His honest performance of a father was compelling to watch and totally matched Patricia Arquette’s tear jerking turn in the movie.”
  • Will Win: J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash” – “He’s a long-standing character actor who’s paid his dues and is sweeping award season. His intensity has earned him this one.”

Best Actress

  • Should Win & Will Win: Julianne Moore – “Still Alice” – “This one’s a long time coming and the performance is heartbreakingly beautiful.”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Should Win & Will Win: Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood” – “Much like Moore, this one is a long time coming. Tell me someone who doesn’t love Arquette? ‘Boyhood’ brought a performance that was raw and emotional, she’s just plain amazing.”

Best Director

  • Should Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu – “Birdman” – “Those continuous shots in ‘Birdman’ are flawless, and I’m just plain obsessed with the movie as a whole.”
  • Will Win: Richard Linklater – “Boyhood” – “The man made a movie over the course of 12 years, it’s never really been done before, that’s Oscar worthy.”

Overall: “It’s been a great year in movies. They missed out on the diversity with nominations, especially with everything ‘Selma.’ But Benedict Cumberbatch was in lots of movies so I totally can’t complain.”


Carissa Gandenberger, senior majoring in theatre arts stage management —

Best Picture:

  • Should Win: “The Theory of Everything” – “I would love to see it win, for me personally watching that movie it was the most well-done. I felt something watching it, I thought it was the best movie this year.”
  • Will Win: “Boyhood” – “It’s been in the indie circuit and the scale is amazing. ‘Birdman’ and it both have the acting and the visual look, but ‘Boyhood’ seems like the most Oscar worthy.”

Best Actor:

  • Should Win & Will Win: Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything” – “By far Eddie was the strongest performance. It’s such a transformative role, it’s physical, it’s visual and it’s emotional.”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Should Win: Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood” – “He was just so good. He had such a growth in that performance.”
  • Will Win: J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash” – “It think it’s really predictable, but he is just killing that category everywhere.”

Best Actress

  • Should Win: Felicity Jones – “The Theory of Everything” –  “I would absolutely love to see her win, but she’s got strong competition.”
  • Will Win: Julianne Moore – “Still Alice” – “The role is just so intense, I think this one is hers.”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Should Win & Will Win: Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood” – “It’s another predictable one, but I just don’t think the other roles stack up to hers.”

Best Director

  • Should Win: Richard Linklater – “Boyhood” – “He’s been getting a lot of recognition and it’s one of those movies where being the director was the most important role.”
  • Will Win: Wes Anderson – “Grand Budapest Hotel” – “He and Linklater both were so integral to the look of their films, but Oscar-wise I think it’s Anderson.”

Overall: “This has been the year I’ve enjoyed movies most in a while. There was so much good stuff, there was a great balance of special effects and also new things like ‘Boyhood.’ There were bio-pics and just really honest scripts. There was just a lot of good variety.”


John Alberti, director of graduate studies and cinema studies —  

Best Picture:

  • Should Win: “Birdman” – “It was a real tour de force. There’s nothing like it, those extended takes and the great visual narrative.”
  • Will Win: “Boyhood” – “Not just because of the historical significance of filming over 12 years, but it’s just effective storytelling. It’s beautifully told.”

Best Actor:

  • Should Win: Michael Keaton – “Birdman” – “It’s a career performance. I really like that he’s avoided the likability issue and can play an unlikable character, making that character very human.”
  • Will Win: Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything” – “It’s an amazing performance in terms of craft…it falls into those Academy “rules” of playing someone real.”

Best Supporting Actor

  • Should Win: Ethan Hawke – “Boyhood” – “He’s an underrated actor. He plays such a good character and he maintains it over 12 years… it’s a very un-showy performance.”
  • Will Win: J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash” – “He could play the role in his sleep. He’s been doing great work for a long time.”

Best Actress

  • Should Win & Will Win: Julianne Moore – “Still Alice” – “Based on clips and reviews alone it’s a subtle performance. She has a long and distinguished career of taking on roles without vanity.”

Best Supporting Actress

  • Should Win & Will Win: Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood” – “She’s so good and another very well liked actress. It’s a very subtle and moving performance, it’s a great role. And of course there’s that incredible speech at the end.”

Best Director

  • Should Win & Will Win: Richard Linklater – “Boyhood” – “It is set up for a spoiler, I feel like a lot of the votes will come down between him and Alejandro G. Inarritu for ‘Birdman.’ Both are unique, tour de force projects.”

Overall: “The industry see’s it as a down year, it hasn’t been as jam packed as previous years. That being said there’s always interesting work being done. Interesting work was getting done this year.”


Andrea Gazzaniga, professor of English —

*Editors Note: Dr. Gazzaniga has only seen two of the best picture nominees, her picks have been made and her unique perspectives are based on trends and biases seen in Hollywood.

Best Picture


  • Will Win: “Birdman” – “‘Birdman’ is about showbiz and Hollywood loves a film about show business. ‘Boyhood’ could win for the sheer factor of it being made over 12 years and the effort that went into it…Hollywood does love British movies though so one of those could sneak in.”


Best Actor


  • Will Win: Michael Keaton – “Birdman” – “Keaton is a solid lock. Hollywood loves comeback actors… Also he plays a tortured actor and that appeals to the tortured actors voting.”


Best Supporting Actor


  • Will Win: J.K. Simmons – “Whiplash” – “He did a kick-a** job and nobody comes close to his performance but Edward Norton. He’s just a well-respected character actor.”


Best Actress


  • Will Win: Julianne Moore – “Still Alice” – “Hollywood feels really bad snubbing someone for so many years and Julianne has been snubbed multiple times. They owe it to her.”


Best Supporting Actress


  • Will Win: Patricia Arquette – “Boyhood” – “Emma Stone was brilliant and Hollywood likes to give awards to young ingenues, but this one will be Patricia Arquette. She put in 12 years of work… and I’ve always loved her.”


Best Director


  • Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu – “Birdman” – “Richard Linklater has been around a long time and really should be awarded for 12 years of work, but I don’t think he’ll win. Alejandro Inarritu will win, it’s an original idea and he won the Director’s Guild Award with is a strong identifier of who will win the Oscar generally.”

Overall: “There seems to be a trend in pictures based on true people… Keaton is the only actor not playing someone real. So, I would like to see more original stories from Hollywood. Which is why ‘Birdman’ is such a standout because it is original. I’d like to see more originals stories than just biopics.”


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‘Failure’ finds a balance between tragedy and fun in latest theatre production

It’s 1928, and before year’s end Nelly, June and Gerty, the three Fail sisters, will all tragically lose their lives. But just because there’s tragedy doesn’t mean there isn’t some whimsical fun along the way.

(Philip Krinsky)

(Philip Krinsky)

“I really think it’s a true tragic comedy in the sense that I’m looking through this with a comedic lens and a tragic lens at the exact same time,” Corrie Danieley, the director of NKU’s final show of the semester “Failure: A Love Story,” said. “You’ll find when one of the sisters dies it’s humorous and tragic at the same time. And I think that’s just life, you have to find that balance of those things.”

“Failure” is a fairly new play. Written by Chicago native Philip Dawkins, the play follows the Fail sisters and their family, a family that happens to include a few talking animals and clocks.

“The story itself is just so whimsical, it’s kind of magical. It’s just really, really fun,” Victoria Hawley, who plays eldest sister Gerty, said. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing any other show this semester.”

Danieley discovered the show in the summer of 2013 after a friend working at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival produced it. She read the script and immediately knew it was a play she needed to produce.

“When I got the script I fell in love with the story, I just thought it was so sweet and charming,” Danieley said. “It’s quirky and whimsical, there’s a little bit of everything. Plus I just love that time period, the romanticism of it.”

Danieley also loved the play, which features some music, because of the freedom the script granted her. The script of “Failure,” which takes place largely in the two-story Fail home and clock shop, gives no specifics on the look of the set. Since there was no detail on the look, Danieley credits the creative team with really taking on the challenge of dealing with what she calls “magical realism” like making the animals talk.

(Philip Krinsky)

(Philip Krinsky)

“It’s been fun, it’s definitely challenging when you’re in magical realism where there’s so many options,” Danieley said.

The other aspect of the play that the playwright left out was the use of narration. In the piece it’s not specified who the narrator is. For this interpretation Danieley chose to use three characters she calls ‘the three graces’ named Beauty, Charm and Creativity. Each of those graces represent an important aspect of the sisters’ personalities as they guide the audience through the story.

“They’re super cool characters and they kind of represent little parts of each of the sisters,” Hawley said. “It’s the way they tell the story, but also the way we as an ensemble tell the story.”

(Philip Krinsky)

(Philip Krinsky)

The ensemble, which consists of 16 cast members, five of whom change character multiple times throughout the story, have been giving it their all in rehearsals, according to Danieley.

“I’m really proud of my cast because I’ve approached this show in a new way as a director,” Danieley said. “I’m trying something new, I’m risking. We’ve done a lot of improv and exploration to create a tight ensemble. And the cast seems to really enjoy it.”

Danieley has also been impressed by the ‘heart on his sleeve’ performance that male lead Hunter Henrickson has been giving. According to Danieley he’s been leaving it all out on the stage emotionally.

“Emotionally he’s all over the place,” Henrickson said of his character. “He really takes on a strong range of the emotional spectrum and human spectrum. To get that effect I’ve used a lot of the techniques that Corrie has implemented into rehearsals.”

While working on his own performance Henrickson has also loved watching the ensemble.

“Everyone wears multiple hats literally and figuratively; we really form an environment together,” Henrickson said.

Aside from the many choices it provided, Danieley was also drawn to the piece because of the whimsical qualities. Danieley has a five-year-old son who has remained her inspiration to keep those magical qualities strong in the play.

“His worldview right now, he’s so curious and I think that’s a big part of what theatre is – curiosity,” Danieley said. “Also that so many mundane things in life are magical to him; he’s been inspiring me throughout.”

Hawley was also inspired by people in her life to take on the role of Gerty, the longest living sister. Hawley has two younger brothers, whereas Gerty has her two younger sisters. Much like Gerty though, Hawley sees herself as the caretaker for her brothers.

(Philip Krinsky)

(Philip Krinsky)

“And I love my two younger brothers and I felt like I could infuse that love for them into Gerti’s love for her two sisters,” Hawley said.

The show opens this week and both Danieley and Hawley are ready to share the tale with an audience.

“I’m just super excited to share it with everybody. We’ve been working so hard and Corrie has presented us with so many cool ideas,” Hawley said. “I think it’s going to be something really special for people to see.

Danieley is looking forward to seeing the audience connect with the story and its themes.

“I feel like so many of us can relate to love and the fact that time is so fleeting and death and grieving,” Danieley said. “I just hope that the audience comes with an open mind and are eager to see something new.”

For Henrickson it’s been a joy watching the cast grow together and he can’t wait to share that growth with the audience.

“Watching everybody kind of come into their own. There isn’t one person in our cast that hasn’t grown exponentially since day one,” Henrickson said. “From day one we’ve been excited to open…it’s really been our baby.”

“Failure: A Love Story opens in The Corbett Theatre on Nov. 20 and runs through Dec. 7 with a break in shows during the Thanksgiving holiday extended weekend.

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Romantic comedy classic takes NKU’s stage (with photo gallery)

The theatre department’s second show of the season is bringing a comedy classic to the stage. “The Wedding Singer,” based on the film starring Adam Sandler, takes the comedy and puts it to original songs and dance.

“This is the big show of the semester,” Taylor Greatbatch, a sophomore musical theatre major and cast member, said.

Photo by Philip Krinsky Senior Noah Berry as Robbie Hart with freshman Xander Wells as Sammy and sophomore Taylor Greatbatch.

Photo by Philip Krinsky
Senior Noah Berry as Robbie Hart with freshman Xander Wells as Sammy and sophomore Taylor Greatbatch.

80s dance crazes revived

The biggest part of the show may just be the dance numbers and choreographer Tracey Bonner is putting her own high energy spin on each number.

“I like a lot of high energy,” Bonner said. “So it’s not everyone all doing the same dance steps at the same time. You might see the same dance step, but five different times, in five different places, by five different people.”

The cast has recognized that high energy and intensity of the numbers Bonner has created.

“The music is great, the dancing is insanely intense,” Greatbatch said.

Even though they find it insanely intense, Bonner sees them working hard and perfecting each number.

“We’ve got a great cast; they work really hard and they’re really fun,” Bonner said. “They’re very dedicated to their craft.”

The numbers are all very different and very specific. Bonner has also incorporated many quick changes throughout the show.

“It really keeps us all on our toes,” Mary Kate Vanegas, a senior musical theatre major and cast member, said. “I mean the ensemble can go from a group of grandmas to strippers.”

Bonner believes in working with the cast to individualize each dance as much possible, while also putting her own ‘Tracey spin’ on the numbers.

“One of the things that’s very Tracey, that’s very who I am, is with dance I like to tell a story,” Bonner said. “So I work really hard to make sure that the movement that we create is generated by the character. So whatever the character would do that’s the action we’ll do.”

Making it unique wasn’t her only goal, Bonner also wanted to incorporate as many iconic 80s dances into her choreography as well.

“I’ve had a great time looking at iconic 80’s dance moves, we’ve got the moonwalk, the worm… there’s a Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ moment, there’s even a ‘Carlton’ in there,” Bonner said.  “So learning some of those iconic pieces are a fun part of our rehearsal process.”

The 80s were a big part of the show, according to Greatbatch the cast was asked to do background research on the decade to ensure authenticity.

“I feel like the 80s are a very overlooked time period, it was such a dynamic decade,” Greatbatch said.

Rethinking the Film

Senior Noah Berry as Robbie Hart singing “Somebody Kill Me.” (Philip Krinsky)

Senior Noah Berry as Robbie Hart singing “Somebody Kill Me.” (Philip Krinsky)

Though based on the 1998 film, the musical tells the story in it’s own way.

“I’m really enjoying having that sort of reference,” Bonner said. “Thing I’m doing as an artist is trying to use that as a resource not as an exact model, so that I can use it for inspiration and build on it.”

For Vanegas, who plays Rosie, the lead characters grandmother, she had a strong reference point from the film to play off of, but chose not to rewatch the film.

“I didn’t want to look at it and just end up copying that performance,” Vanegas said. “I did pull from other characters like the Golden Girls and the grandma in The Proposal, I like to take from multiple sources and then make things my own.”

Greatbatch didn’t have the same reference point as Vanegas for his character George. George is a flamboyant gay drag queen who isn’t heavily featured in the film. In the musical however he plays a much larger role. Greatbatch was given a unique opportunity to bring to life and underused character with the goal of being certain he didn’t stereotype George or make him into a caricature.

“I look like a 6 ½ foot basketball player and I’m playing an effeminate drag queen,” Greatbatch said. “It was almost like I got to create my own character.”

Opening Night

The whole cast and crew are ready for their opening night.

“Opening night is almost like Christmas to us, all the work for months and we finally get to show it off,” Greatbatch said.

Vanegas also is looking forward to an audience. She loves the musical and can’t wait to see other people love it. Since the cast consistently has her laughing, she thinks the audience will react the same.

Greatbatch believes the audience mean everything to any show.

Senior Mary Kate Vanegas as Rosie with senior Noah Berry as Robbie Hart. (Philip Krinsky)

Senior Mary Kate Vanegas as Rosie with senior Noah Berry as Robbie Hart. (Philip Krinsky)

“You never really know everything about the show till you have an audience, when they laugh or applaud you know you’ve done something right,” Greatbatch said. “It’s like a waiter getting a really good tip.”

For Bonner it’s about more than the audience enjoying it, she’s also hoping to invoke iconic memories in some of the older audiences.

“For our older audiences that lived through it to be like ‘oh my god I remember when I did my hair like that’ or ‘I remember when I wore scrunchies’,” Bonner said. “ They’ll get to relate our show to their own history.”

“The Wedding Singer” opens on Oct. 23 in The Corbett Theatre and runs through Nov. 2.

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‘Kill the Messenger’ captures the story of a former Northerner editor’s rich life and tragic death

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On Dec. 10, 2004, acclaimed and eventually disgraced journalist Gary Webb was found dead from two gunshots to the head. The death would be ruled a suicide. After a struggle with depression and what should have been a career making story in 1996, that ended up destroying his career, Webb was no longer actively working in journalism by the time of his death.

Kill the Messenger movie poster.

Kill the Messenger movie poster.

But long before the ‘Dark Alliance’ series that revealed a connection between the CIA and cocaine distribution, Webb was a young journalist with big dreams. He served as arts & entertainment editor at The Northerner, here at NKU, and spent the beginning of his professional career at the Kentucky Post, based in Covington. Webb’s life ended sadly, but friends, family, teachers and colleagues always remembered the man and journalist they all knew.

Gary Webb goes to NKU

Cheerleaders toting fake guns and wearing camo march out onto the field at halftime during a football game. Gary Webb, a high school student who’s never really written before, has something to say about it. Webb writes a column expressing his opinions on the cheer routine successfully angering a large portion of the student body.

From that moment on Gary Webb would be a journalist that ruffled feathers and made his mark.

Webb along with the rest of the team at The Northerner during his tenure.

Webb along with the rest of the team at The Northerner during his tenure.

In 1974, Webb’s father received a job in Cincinnati. Instead of staying behind to continue attending Indiana University/Purdue University (IUPUI), Webb and his brother transferred to Northern Kentucky University.

At NKU Webb would be given his first chance to truly venture into journalism at The Northerner.

“I remember Gary just walked in one day and wanted to be a music critic,” Tim Funk, The Northerner’s movie critic at the time, said. “He was ready to go. He had a very commanding presence and came in like a hurricane or a tornado.”

Webb, and Funk as well, were products of the Woodward and Bernstein age. Just as Webb had peaked his interest in journalism during high school, the entire Watergate scandal had occurred and the film, “All the President’s Men,” starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman would be released just before he began college. Suddenly the idea of being a reporter had become a romantic and cool notion, according to Funk.

Webb and Funk would become close, often working beside one another in their entertainment critic roles. Webb, just as he was in life, would write with strong opinions.

“We were the cool ones,” Funk joked.

Rich Boehne, a former Northerner staffer, wouldn’t work closely with Webb, but was well aware of who he was.

“He had one of those bigger than life personalities,” Boehne said.

Webb would write countless music reviews and be named arts and entertainment editor, but something beyond the music would catch Webb’s attention. Times were turbulent at The Northerner, Funk said. The paper essentially had a censor, who would read everything they intended to print to approve it. Often though editors, especially Webb and Funk, would print things unseen by the censor.

“We were very rebellious,” Funk, now a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, said.

Some of Gary Webb's work at The Northerner.

Some of Gary Webb’s work at The Northerner.

The rebellion would continue with the more controversy that occurred on campus. Funk recalls a time when the university raised parking fees and that was a moment that changed the two entertainment critics. From there they would be true reporters.

“I think Gary was always an investigative reporter at heart,” Funk said. “Gary was born to be a journalist.”

Webb and The Northerner team were unafraid to call then NKU president Frank Steely out on issues within the university.

“Their attitude was that if The Washington Post had gotten a president then they wanted to get a president too. That led to some real trouble between them and Frank Steely,” Michael Turney, a former NKU professor, said.

During that turbulence, a small fire would occur during a party at The Northerner. No major damage happened, the building wasn’t even closed down. Shortly after, however the university police would padlock the doors and essentially kick the staff out of the building.

“The administration tried to say it was for safety reasons, but we knew it was bunch of bologna,” Funk said. “They were trying to get us to recant.”

A reporter from the Louisville Courier Journal happened to be on campus reporting on the protests about parking and the turbulence. He then heard about the Northerner getting locked out and the next day they were on the front cover of the Louisville Courier Journal. Those events would solidify Webb, and Funk’s, love of investigative journalism.

“We were really into it all, we were like ‘forget music and movies let’s do the real newsy stuff’,” Funk said.

Even in those early days Webb was irreverent in his writing and Funk noticed.

“He was always working he was just a real prolific writer, he walked around with purpose all of the time,” Funk said. “His writing had such energy just like he did personally.”

While Funk got to know Webb at the newspaper, Turney got to know Webb as a student.

“Gary was very bright. He caught on very quickly, he was also very opinionated. He really loved doing things his way,” Turney said.

Just as he was in his music reviews and critiques, Webb was always willing to speak up in a class.

Jeremy Renner in 'Kill the Messenger.'

Jeremy Renner in ‘Kill the Messenger.’

“[His opinions] would get him in more than a little bit of trouble,” Turney said. “But Gary was smart enough to explain himself and not just go on a tangent.”

While Webb was a stand-out as a student and as a writer at The Northerner he would leave NKU in 1978 just shy of graduating. Even though he left, his then girlfriend and eventual wife Sue Bell-Stokes could always see how much Webb enjoyed his time at NKU.

“He really enjoyed working at the newspaper,” Bell-Stokes said.

Turney would lose contact with Webb only hearing about him through other students, while Funk would remain in contact for numerous years after Webb left NKU. The two would however lose touch as the years went by, but Funk has always remembered his friend.

“He was a great guy,” Funk said. “My life is richer from knowing him. He made The Northerner a better, more vital paper.”

Webb at the KY Post

“Gary just wanted to start being a news reporter,” Funk said.

Webb 2

Webb during his time at the KY Post.

Webb was ready to be in the field for real. So, in 1978, just shy of earning his bachelor’s degree, Webb stepped into the offices at the Kentucky Post. He was young and experiencing what was quite possibly the only case of slight nervousness any of his friends would ever see from him.

All he had in his hands was large folder of clips of his work, most of which were music reviews. Compared to other reporters it didn’t look as though Webb was qualified, but it seemed Vance Trimble, the Kentucky Post editor at the time, saw a bright young man. Trimble took a gamble, placing Webb on a few week trial period.

That gamble would pay off. The saga of Webb’s professional years would begin inside the humble walls of the Kentucky Post.

“He automatically struck me as a personable, friendly, just smart guy,” Tom Loftus, a former Kentucky Post staffer and friend of Webb’s, said.

Loftus, now the bureau chief of the Louisville Courier Journal, along with Bill Straub would become incredibly close with Webb during his tenure at the Post.

“As a person he was a lot of fun, we used to go to movies and just hang out and I feel like a lot of people don’t remember that aspect of him,” Straub said. “He was incredibly confident and brash, but he was always a good guy to hang around.”

While they were close friends they were also strong colleagues. Straub especially would work with Webb on numerous stories and in their work together he got to witness firsthand how Webb worked as a journalist.

“He was very aggressive. He was like a bulldog on your ankle once he started on something he wouldn’t quit,” Straub said.

Loftus saw that same relentless journalist in his days working with Webb.

“[He was] very smart and very aggressive in his pursuit of news and he was very good at it,” Loftus said. “He had the unique ability to find the news fast and understand it completely.”

Both Straub and Loftus would marvel at Webb’s ability to comb through pages and pages of records and be able to understand and interpret every bit he read.

“He was the kind of person that was never satisfied of an answer unless he knew how that answer came to be,” Dennis Repenning, a neighbor and friend of Webb’s, said.

Repenning got to know Webb and his wife at the time Sue Bell-Stokes in Covington where they both lived. According to Repenning, the 20-block radius of homes had a “rather extraordinary gathering of people.” There were lawyers, writers, reporters and judges and they would all gather together to discuss everything.

Outside of his work his wife, who knew him best, didn’t just see the hardworker, she saw a lot more.

“He was a really intelligent guy. He was a great father… He was funny, he had a good sense of humor,” Bell-Stokes said. “He was an interesting guy.”

Boehne, who worked at the Enquirer and would join the Post a year after Webb left, remembers the stories he’d hear of the fellow local

Jeremy Renner in 'Kill the Messenger.'

Jeremy Renner in ‘Kill the Messenger.’


“He was a wonderfully typical reporter complaining about how the editors were holding him back,” Boehne, now the Board Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer at E.W. Scripps, said. “And now I know some of those editors and they work for us at Scripps and I get to hear the other side and how much of a difficult reporter he could be.”

From Com-Air plane crashes to coroner races, Webb’s work at the Kentucky Post would pave the way to Webb earning a job at The Cleveland Plain Dealer. At the Plain Dealer, Webb would do what Loftus considered his finest work.

“A strong point to make about Gary is that he never had a fancy fellowship or internship,” Loftus said. “He started at the Post which was pretty low on the ladder and he climbed that ladder because he was so good at getting the story.”

Straub and Loftus would remain in contact with Webb after he left the Post, going on multiple family vacations where they fondly remember Webb’s love of body surfing and the experiencing the best vacations of their lives. Bell-Stokes remembers those trips and the good friends they made while he was at the Post. However, once Webb and his family moved to California they would mostly remain in contact via email.

Loftus would ask Webb for his journalistic advice from time to time and catch up, he’d even make one trip to Sacramento to see him. Beyond email, Straub would once encounter Webb during a book tour, passing through D.C.

“He was a great journalist and a great guy at the same time,” Straub said.

With his humble Kentucky Post beginnings and his stellar work at The Cleveland Plain Dealer behind him, Webb would begin working at the San Jose Mercury, where his career would be forever changed.

The Controversy

In July, 1995, while working at the San Jose Mercury, Webb received a voicemail from a woman named Coral Baca. She simply said she had a story for him, he could have ignored it because of the lack of information she provided.

Jeremy Renner in 'Kill the Messenger.'

Jeremy Renner in ‘Kill the Messenger.’

However, it wasn’t in Webb’s nature to ignore, he made a call to Baca, met with her to discuss her drug dealer boyfriend and so began the year long journey to write the story that would both make his career and inevitably break it.

“He would find stuff that other reporters would have a hard time finding,” Bell-Stokes said. “He was very tenacious at his work. When he found a story he was passionate and really threw himself into it.”

Gary would comb through hundreds of records and meet with dozens of sources before releasing the “Dark Alliance” series. The three-part story investigated the roots of the crack cocaine epidemic in the U.S. It would show how the crack market spread from Central America to the western world, revealing that the CIA aided the Nicaraguan Contras in introducing the drug to the West.

“I feel like that story fueled his passion he believed there was wrong-doing he needed to shine a light on it,” Funk said. “If I were someone who was doing something wrong I wouldn’t want Gary on my tail.”

On August 18, 1996 part one was released both in print and online. The online aspect would be attributed to a large part of why the story blew up the way it did; it would be one of the first stories to be released in the digital form.

“It didn’t surprise me that Gary would produce something like that, it was the kind of splash he wanted to make,” Loftus said.

Boehne wasn’t surprised either.

“It wasn’t a surprise, if someone was going to break a story like that it was Gary Webb,” Boehne said.

Boehne also recalls the dreams they had in college about breaking big scandals like Woodward and Bernstein did with Watergate.

“In the wake of Watergate, we all thought we were going to break that big secret the president had or something like that and as it turns out that’s actually what Gary did,” Boehne said.

The story was met with acclaim and then criticism came quickly. Major publications like The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times would accuse Webb of having multiple inaccuracies and sources that lacked credibility.

“[A former student doing something like] That comes with a sense of pride and satisfaction, but also a little bit of head shaking because of all the circumstances and the questions about the validity of some of the story,” Turney said.

Jeremy Renner and Michael Sheen in 'Kill the Messenger.'

Jeremy Renner and Michael Sheen in ‘Kill the Messenger.’

Webb’s story would eventually receive so much heat that his own publication would stop backing him. He was relocated to a smaller bureau, essentially starting from the bottom again. Then Jerry Ceppos, Webb’s executive editor at The San Jose Mercury, would announce he was writing a mea culpa that would admit to faults in Webb’s story. In December, 1997 Webb would leave the Mercury.

“I was very proud of him, he was doing what I know he wanted to do,” Straub said. “Some people get into journalism just because they like to write but Gary wanted to leave a mark and do something good”

Though the criticism was heavy, Webb would always stand behind his own story.

“The most important thing with that story [“Dark Alliance”] was his courage. He very easily could have decided to bail at any time, but he never did,” Repenning said.

In 1998 the CIA would release a 400-page report that would prove a number of Webb’s findings to be true. However, the report would be largely ignored due to media being consumed with the President Clinton, Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Webb would never work regularly in journalism again.

The Book

After Webb’s death in 2004, Nick Shou would pen the novel ‘Kill the Messenger’ chronicling Webb’s life and the story that would end his career. In the book, released in 2006, Shou would use first hand accounts from Webb’s family, former colleagues, critics and supporters.

Shou knew Webb and before even beginning he went to Bell-Stokes asking for her permission to write her former husband’s story. She trusted in Shou, knowing that he knew the “Dark Alliance” story, and she knew how fond of Shou Gary was.

Photo provided by Sue Bell-Stokes.

Photo provided by Sue Bell-Stokes.

“I knew Gary would be honored to have Nick write it,” Bell-Stokes said.

The book would also include first-hand accounts from Webb himself taken from his book “Dark Alliance” which included the three-part series as well as Webb’s account of the process that occurred while he worked on the series of stories.

Bell-Stokes found talking about the events difficult, especially so soon after Webb’s death, but knew it was important to tell the story.

“It was very emotional reading the book, but it also brought some smiles from when we were younger,” Bell-Stokes said.

The book “Kill the Messenger” along with Webb’s book “Dark Alliance” would be the inspiration for the upcoming film.

The Movie

In 2013 it was announced that a film documenting Webb’s “Dark Alliance” journey would be released starring Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker). The movie titled “Kill the Messenger”, sharing the title of Shou’s 2006 book, will be released this month.

“I wasn’t necessarily into news or journalism, but it’s one of the reasons I wanted to take on the role because journalism itself is interesting to me,” Renner, who plays Webb, said.

It’s been a long journey to making the film. Sue Bell-Stokes, Webb’s ex, first met with the screenwriter in 2008. Bell-Stokes would be a consultant throughout the process of the film.

Jeremy Renner at the Kill the Messenger promotional tour in NYC.

Jeremy Renner at the Kill the Messenger promotional tour in NYC.

“I really like Michael Cuesta [the director], he knows the story really well,” Bell-Stokes said.

Renner, who is also a producer on the film, felt the story was important. He couldn’t believe that the events occurred only 70 miles from where he grew up.

“I investigated more and more and it just became too important,” Renner said. “It’s not a movie that I wanted to do anymore, it’s a movie that I had to do.”

Michael Cuesta, the director of the movie, felt it was a film he had to do as well and, unlike Renner, he remembered seeing Webb on talk shows when the story broke.

“I really resonated with the idea of believing in something so deeply, which he did, he had this amazing belief in truth and justice,” Cuesta said. “And to have that turn on you, to have your own belief turn on you, I’d never seen a story like that.”

Renner not only liked the story, but also the man.

“I liked Gary because he was flawed and he owned his flaws,” Renner said. “To me that’s what makes him a hero.”

For Renner, the family dynamic of the film was very important and playing a man who was real added something to his performance.

“There are limitations to playing a real life guy, but it makes it more important to get it right,” Renner said. “To make it right for Gary, his family and everyone.”

Michael K. Williams (The Wire), who plays drug dealer Ricky Ross, felt the same.

KK_3417_Web“When I first read the script and then spoke with him [Ricky Ross] I wanted to portray him right,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to portray him as one noted, I mean this is a man who wanted to be a tennis player.”

Williams was granted the opportunity to meet the man he portrays, Renner however will never have that chance. But if he did he’d love to talk to the man Gary Webb, not necessarily the journalist.

“What made him laugh, you know, the simplest little things that had nothing to do with his job or anything. Just very personal things, that’s what I’d ask him,” Renner said.

Though he didn’t get to know every little thing and Cuesta sees Renner and Webb as two very different men, Renner did find himself having commonalities with Webb.

“Yeah I guess, we’re very different but the parallels are the tenacity and perseverance and passion for what we do,” Renner said. “One is very selfless and ones very selfish. Unfortunately, I’m on the selfish side. He’s an amazing human, really smart and I have a lot to learn from him.”

Being based on a true story, Cuesta was posed with the challenge of both telling the story accurately and keeping the story entertaining.

“You know the basics of what Gary was like, he was a dogget, Doberman, pushy reporter and he kind of had a cockiness to him,” Cuesta said.

With the basics in place Cuesta did take some liberties with the story with the permission of Bell-Stokes.

“Things were changed, but heart the of the movie was correct,” Bell-Stokes said.

Bell-Stokes has now seen the film multiple times. The first time it was a viewing of the rough cut and she was left feeling numb. By her second viewing they had put the finishing touches on the film and this time she viewed it with her and Webb’s children. Bell-Stokes said they all loved it there were tears, but we they were all moved by it. The third time was at a friends and family screening which made Bell-Stokes feel happy being surrounded by all those people.

Jeremy Renner, Oliver Platt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 'Kill the Messenger.'

Jeremy Renner, Oliver Platt and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in ‘Kill the Messenger.’

“I felt a strange sense of relief because the kids were happy with it,” Bell-Stokes said. “We all felt content and at peace. I got a sense of closure in seeing it again.”

Cuesta sees the thriller tropes in the story and knows that as viewers watch Webb get deeper into the story they’ll see it become bigger than him and possibly become an unwinnable war.

“Our protagonist does not win in the end, he takes the brunt of everything,” Cuesta said.

Even though Webb didn’t win in the end, Renner sees Webb as a hero that was unafraid to go down roads to tell an important story.

“He was a warrior with his mind,” Renner said.

Kill the Messenger’s NKU Premiere

In 2013, when the film adaptation of Nick Schou’s “Kill the Messenger” was announced, Dennis Repenning, current chair of NKU’s Board of Regents, and Regent Richard Boehne caught wind of the adaptation. Both were personal friends of Webb, and he and Repenning were neighbors.

Their work, and the work of Katie Herschede, executive assistant to President Mearns, and The Owens Group, a local public relations firm, have led to a special screening on Oct. 2 at the AMC Theater at Newport on the Levee.

Director Michael Cuesta, Webb's former colleague Rich Boehne, Sue Bell-Stokes and NKU President Geoffrey Mearns sit at the NKU premiere panel.

Director Michael Cuesta, Webb’s former colleague Rich Boehne, Sue Bell-Stokes and NKU President Geoffrey Mearns sit at the NKU premiere panel.

“They’ve [Focus Features] given us two prints of the movie,” Herschede said, “So we’re going to have two theaters that are going simultaneously, so we’ll have the big opportunity for a large group of students to come and see the film.”

According to Herschede, after hearing about the movie, Repenning and Boehne began to write to Focus Features, the film’s production company, in order to explain the connection to NKU and the Northern Kentucky region, to ask permission for the special screening. According to Repenning, out the 11 board members, three knew Webb which is what truly “got the ball rolling” on the screening.

Herschede said that the university didn’t hear anything for several months, while the film was in production. However, Focus Features did end up sending a copy of the letter to The Owens Group.

NKU was contacted by Jessica Johnston, an NKU graduate who works for The Owens Group, saying that they were very interested in setting up the special screening.

Kill the Messenger movie poster.

Kill the Messenger movie poster.

“According to them [The Owens Group], it’s very unusual that anyone gets to do any kind of special screening like this,” Herschede said.

Michael Cuesta, the director of the film, will be attending screening, and will be holding a discussion afterwards. Sue Bell-Stokes, Webb’s ex-wife who helped as a consultant on the film, will also be attending, according to Herschede.

The film will be in wide release on Oct. 10.

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