Theatre Arts Lecturer Explores Identity in Film

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A new short film by Lecturer Seraphina Nova (Theatre Arts) focuses on the search for identity by the lead character and the film’s writer-director.

Nova, in her first year at UT Arlington, has been busy, instructing students on acting and playwriting. Now, the novelist and academician is adding screenwriter and film director to her résumé.

Her new project, “Cyberdancing,” evolved from a short story in an online literary magazine. The film follows a young woman (played by Theatre Arts Lecturer Laurel Whitsett) who re-enters the dating scene following the loss of her job and husband. A recovering alcoholic, the woman is drawn back into the local bar scene while navigating an online romance.

“It’s about this phenomenon that no one really talks about: How do you date online when you’re over 40?” Nova said. “There are expectations that build up before you meet someone. You feel like you know them, you talk to them for a few weeks. You might know them intimately without having actually me them. So what does that say about our society? The lead character struggles with identity and loneliness. The film looks at how we identify ourselves with how we’re accepted by other people.”

Nova said she is used to writing novels and full-length plays, so the project presented its challenges.

“It was a challenge to make it short, 20 pages or so, and still get everything across that you want to communicate,” she said.

Work on the film began a few months ago, when Nova returned from Los Angeles over the holiday break. Darius Films recently optioned a television script by Nova – an hour-long drama titled “The Sycamores,” that finds a reformed convict in “a halfway house of sorts” – and some of her contacts encouraged her to make her own short film to develop her style and voice. As she considered her new project, she drew on indie films like “Barfly” and “Trees Lounge” to develop the tone for “Cyberdancing.”

“I like independent films, character-driven stories over blockbuster films,” she said. “[Those films] do a good job at showing how we’re broken and maybe one paycheck away from being a completely different person. I love those concepts in general. This [short film] follows my style: a little dark, a little open-ended at the end. Nothing ever gets tied up in a little bow or offered to you as a conclusion.”

To finish “Cyberdancing,” Nova has enlisted a host of UT Arlington faculty and students. Senior Lecturer Gyorgy Beck (Art & Art History) serves as cinematographer while Assistant Professor Anne Healy (Theatre Arts) is assistant director. Winston Daniels (’13) joined the project as a producer and a dozen students are contributing as production crew or on-screen extras. The production completed principal photography over five days this month at a location near Deep Ellum in Dallas.

Outside the production, Nova has received support from colleagues within all three fine arts departments (Art & Art History, Music and Theatre Arts) and has met with award-winning filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith (Art & Art History), the Morgan Woodward Distinguished Professor of Film. Working with a new process or production element – like the industry-standard Final Draft screenwriting software the department recently purchased to aid faculty and students alike – has enabled Nova to better guide her students.

“I feel like the experience I gain on these projects I can pass back to my students who want to go beyond the basics,” she said. “We have student actors and writers who want to work on stage and screen, and this helps me approach those different styles.”

Nova said she hopes “Cyberdancing” will be finished and ready to screen by early June.

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(By James Dunning/COLA Communications, jdunning@uta.edu)

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