The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community


Shane Harris (’98) moves to Foreign Policy

Words Awake! maestro and professor Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78) shared the news this week that Shane Harris (’98) has left his senior writer position at Washingtonian magazine to move to Foreign Policy magazine as a senior writer.

Shane Harris ('98), author, senior writer, analyst

Shane Harris (’98), author, senior writer, analyst

In a note to Phillips and friends, Harris wrote, “I wanted to let you know about an exciting new chapter in my career. … I’ll be a senior writer at Foreign Policy magazine, where I will cover intelligence and cyber security. And of course, in light of recent events, surveillance!”

Harris no doubt will be blogging and writing nonstop about Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked news of classified intelligence about domestic surveillance to The Guardian and The Washington Post. “Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency’s system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like,” Harris wrote on Monday in a blog post. “The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.”

Harris is the author of “The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State,” which The Economist named as one of the best books of 2010. He was a star panelist at the Words Awake! conference at Wake Forest in March 2012. Spy-120x100Congratulations to Shane on his new job, a timely posting for commenting on the latest in ‘watching.’


Gaye Taylor Upchurch (’96) on theatre, “Escape,” and the creative process

Opening at La MaMa on East Fourth Street in New York City this weekend is “Escape,” Susan Mosakowski’s play in which three dramas occur simultaneously in adjacent rooms on the same stage. You’ll find an actress held hostage by a terrorist, an elevator repairman and the chained grandson of Harry Houdini, all seeking liberation. As The New York Times said this week, “The director, Gaye Taylor Upchurch, has her work cut out for her.”

Gaye Taylor Upchurch ('96)

That’s nothing new or daunting for Upchurch, a 1996 alumna from Jackson, Miss., whose maiden name was Hederman and artistic passion was dance at Wake Forest. She came late to drama — “my life took a left turn” — but she has been on a luge ride ever since with accomplishments galore. I sat down with her over Indian food in Midtown recently to discuss her journey from Wake Forest to Manhattan.

Typically, her memories of Wake Forest center on small class sizes and professors who took the time to know her, feed her dinner at their houses and teach her how to ask probing questions about literature. “But (Wake Forest) also had a sense of fun,” says the S.O.P.H. Society member. She camped and hiked in nearby mountains and “spent a ton of time in the Scales Fine Arts Center when I wasn’t researching English papers.” She majored in English but took courses across the curriculum, from Italian and economics to painting and art history, “which helps me all the time with design” for theatre productions. Barry Maine, Jim Barefield, Ed Wilson, Page Laughlin, Dillon Johnston, Jennifer Sault — these are professors (the latter two have departed for other jobs) whom she recalls with gratitude.

Wake Forest taught her an appreciation for a breadth of knowledge and the ability to talk about story. “I have a massive curiosity,” she says, “and for each show I work on I get to have a whole new experience of research and learning, and it changes each time, which I love. In that way, it’s not unlike a liberal arts education.”

What does that look like in her day-to-day life? Before her heralded production last summer of “Bluebird” at the Atlantic Theater Company that starred famed British actor Simon Russell Beale, she traveled by cab all over London to photograph scenes and neighborhoods. (Bluebird is the taxi, Beale the driver in the play Upchurch directed). Upchurch tacked the photos all over the walls back in New York to help the American actors imagine the places the Bluebird would travel.

Simon Russell Beale

Her path from Wake Forest led her a stone’s throw across Reynolda Road, first to Summit School, where she taught seventh-grade English. Missing the performing arts, she sought inspiration by observing what was happening at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. It was there that Drama Dean Gerald Freedman began guiding her as she studied for her B.F.A. in directing. And it was in these early days that Christopher Shinn’s play “Four” and Tom Stoppard’s play “The Invention of Love” inspired her vision “to tell a story that is beautiful and moving but also has this other quality than can only be realized in theatre.”

The leap from English literature and dance to drama makes more sense to her now: “With dance I was very interested in bodies in space. Theatre is really the synthesis of storytelling from a text plus the choreography in the way of dance…. In retrospect I can see that those were the elements I was most interested in.”

From UNCSA she landed in New York with a prized Kenan Foundation Fellowship at the Lincoln Center Institute, where she learned “a very particular method” of teaching schoolchildren about the arts and gained exposure to all manner of actors and artists. Because it was a fellowship that paid her, it also allowed her time to knock on doors, keep her ear to the ground about opportunities and volunteer to assist other directors for free.

In the lean years like so many artists in New York, she did her late-night  share of cocktail waitressing mixed with early-morning hours of concentrated work toward her career. “That time was really brutal,” she says, “but I think … in New York you come here and you have to do that. You end up running yourself ragged, but there’s no other way to get a foot hold and figure out who your collaborators are going to be.”

Eventually she scored big. In 2008 she became associate director for The Bridge Project, a joint venture between the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Old Vic Theatre in London. Sam Mendes was directing Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” and Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” The three-year project had a major international tour component. “Sam was looking for someone who could assist him in the rehearsal room, who could then take the shows on tour and help keep the shows together in his absence and tech them for new cities,” she says. That was her job. The cities she toured over two years: London; Singapore; Auckland; Madrid; Recklinghausen, Germany; Paris; Hong Kong; Amsterdam and Epidaurus, Greece, known for its ancient and acoustically perfect amphitheater. In the first year of touring, Simon Russell Beale played Leontes and and Lopahkin. That’s when he and Upchurch became friends, and he told her he wanted to work with her again. Simon Stephens’ “Bluebird” became the collaboration for the actor-director friends.

She will return to the Atlantic Theater Company in the fall to direct another Simon Stephens play, “Harper Regan,” an odyssey of self-discovery for a woman in London. And she has “site-specific pirate musical” on a harbor boat that is in the works.

“People fret about (theatre) being a dying art form. I question that,” Upchurch says. “I think it’s shifting and certainly everything has had to respond to the age of the Internet, but I think that this need to experience live storytelling as a community — I don’t know how that disappears. I don’t know why that would disappear.”

The afternoon of our lunch would find Upchurch off to her ever-changing routine of rehearsals, reading plays, working with lighting directors and meeting with costume designers. She has found her place in our country’s mecca for the performing arts.

“I love this city. It can be hard, but sometimes it can love you back,” she says. And for this emerging director, the career highs clearly show the affection is mutual.

Tim Duncan (’97): “I like who I am …. “

Any Demon Deacon worth his or her salt knows that if the San Antonio Spurs are winning, you will find an alumnus in the thick of the action. That’s the case this week with the Spurs leading the Western Conference series in the NBA playoffs with Tim Duncan (’97) doing what he was born to do: win. The Spurs had their 20th consecutive victory this week, an NBA record, with Duncan helping them continue a sizzling winning streak.

Tim Duncan holds his retired jersey at his last home game in 1997

The don’t-miss story about him this spring is Chris Ballard’s “21 Shades of Gray” in Sports Illustrated. Ballard calls Duncan the most successful player of his generation, “maybe even its best.” But he’s not flashy, publicity-minded or a fame craver. During his 15 years with the Spurs and in the company of 116 teammates, he has been so skilled and such a leader that Ballard writes “he could coach the team” if necessary.

“Throughout, Duncan has been the center around which all else orbited,” he adds.  In the piece Duncan takes his hits for anonymity in the NBA, with Ballard calling him “one of the squarest players in the League.” But the article pays its respects to the star seeking his fifth championship ring and allows him a clarion endorsement of his own. “I like who am, I like how I do things,” Duncan tells Ballard.

At Wake Forest, we second that emotion.

Carlton Ward Jr.: Extreme explorer with Pro Humanitate spirit

Biology Professor Bill Conner stopped me at TedxWakeForestU a few weeks ago to ask whether I’d heard what one of our graduates was doing in the Florida swamps. With an obvious hint of admiration — Bill has a fair measure of Florida wilderness experience himself as a scholar — he announced that environmental photojournalist Carlton Ward Jr. (’98) was slogging through swamps and into remote areas on the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1,000-mile trek up the Florida peninsula over 100 days.

Carlton Ward Jr.

The expedition began on Jan. 17 at the tip of Everglades National Park. Ever since, Ward, conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, bear biologist Joe Guthrie and filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus have been traversing swamps, ranches and the backwoods to demonstrate the need for a corridor that connects Florida’s natural lands, waters, working farms and ranches all the way to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Their goal is for the state to safeguard a functional ecological corridor for the health of people, wildlife and watersheds.

For Ward and his band of explorers, the trek is intermodal and includes miles of kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding to reach the 1,000-mile mark, not to mention camping under the stars. Stoltzfus’ film about the expedition will air on public television.

Blue Head Ranch in Florida

By email I caught up with Ward, and he managed to send The Deacon Blog a Q&A dispatch from his journey and give us permission to display some of the gorgeous images from the trip. You can follow the group’s progress here and see more examples of Ward’s photography at his site.

Maria Henson: What are the environmental challenges Florida faces?

Ward: Florida faces many environmental challenges — depletion of the freshwater aquifer, draining of wetlands, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are a few that come to mind.

Henson: How did you become involved in the expedition?

Ward: The expedition was my idea as a tool to raise awareness for the fleeting chance we have to keep Florida’s natural lands and waters connected. It was born out of my work photographing ranch lands in central Florida over the past seven years combined with expedition co-leader Joe Guthrie’s work on black bears and their wide ranging habitat needs (a story which was also my focus for several years).

I organized a steering committee in early 2010 to shape components of the Florida Ecological Greenways Network science by Tom Hoctor and colleagues into a more publicly accessible Florida Wildlife Corridor vision.

Henson: I love the notion that the journey is the destination, but I can’t help but ask what do you hope to achieve through this adventure, and will there be a book or documentary?

Ward: There will be a two-hour film for PBS for release this fall. My photography will be the basis for a traveling exhibit, online geostory and ultimately a book. These products are all part of the journey, tools to raise awareness for the importance of protecting connected habitat. The ultimate goal is for the Florida Wildlife Corridor to be protected.

Scrub Jay

Henson: What has been your most awe-inspiring moment so far?

Ward: The answer to that question changes every week. Paddling though the Everglades for a full week was definitely a highlight. We used push poles to push our way though the sawgrass for 3 days and nights without encountering another person. The wilderness experience was phenomenal. More recently, our team rode on horseback through ranches and conservation lands in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, all areas proposed for protection through the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

We were joined and hosted by nearly 20 cattle ranchers, many who I had known for years from my previous work and many from the newly formed Northern Everglades Alliance of which I am a member. It was a powerful and encouraging felling to traverse the piney flat woods with so many heroes who are taking the conservation of their land and heritage into their own hands.

Galloping Horses spotted on the expedition

When the ride ended at The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve, Rick Dantzler and LeeAnn Adams presented me with a limited-edition print of the Florida Wildlife Corridor map I had commissioned in early 2012 bearing (a) handwritten inscription from President Obama, which read, “Thank you for helping preserve our natural wonders! Barack Obama” Friends at the National Wildlife Refuge Association had arranged for (this from) President Obama at a White House conservation event the week prior.

Henson: What has been your most distressing moment?

Ward: We recently crossed Lake Kissimmee to Brahma Island facing a serious headwind. I had lent my Kayak to a visiting journalist and was making the crossing on a standup paddle board. When we emerged from the maiden cane fringe of the lake, the waves were 3-4 feet tall. Overall paddling was very difficult for all of us, and I realized that our guest was making little forward progress. Meanwhile the sun was dropping quickly and I had little control of how fast the wind was sweeping me and my paddle board away from the kayakers.

Before picking my own line across the waves for a nighttime arrival, I made a precautionary call to a friend with a powerboat. Our guest journalist was happy to accept a ride to shore. I would have considered it myself if I wasn’t so committed to the integrity of our continuous route.

Eastern Indigo Snake at Archbold Biological Station

Henson: I heard about your expedition when I saw biology professor Bill Conner at TEDx. It made me wonder how you chose Wake Forest for college? Who were your mentors? What’s your best Wake Forest memory?

Ward: I was attracted to the liberal arts education at Wake. Bill Conner was a mentor, though I didn’t have class with him. He and the bio department gave me a scholarship one summer that allowed me to study wildlife management in East Africa and marine ecology at the Duke Marine Lab.

Ned Woodall in anthropology was another mentor. His intro anthropology course really expanded my perspective about the course (of) humanity on the planet and instilled much of my concern for preservation of cultural and natural heritage. My intro to journalism course helped me earn my post-Wake internship in the photography department at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Henson: How has your liberal arts education helped you in your profession, assuming that it has?

Ward: As a journalist, I need broad understanding of a variety of fields and how they interconnect. The liberal arts base provided by Wake is the foundation for my more specialized ecological knowledge. The LA (liberal arts) education and many essay based tests also helped me develop writing skill essential to my work today. The LA philosophy allowed for my undergraduate education to be a process of discovery.

I came to Wake thinking I might major in physics and go on to grad school in engineering. I also considered majoring in business and going to law or business school. Then I discovered biology and anthropology, which led me down the career path I am following today.

Experience shooting for the Old Gold and Black and (Howler) was also very influential on my development as a photographer.

Henson: Tell me about your growing up.

Ward: I grew up on the Gulf coast in Clearwater, Fla. I was constantly in the water, swimming, fishing, diving, surfing, and still think I have salt water in my blood. I am also an eighth-generation Floridian with deep family roots in interior Florida. I was always connected to that world too and have been reconnecting to my heartland heritage through my work in recent years.

Scene from the expedition

Henson: What were your first camera and first shots that made you proud?

Ward: My first mechanical camera was a Pentax K1000 followed by a Pentax LX. One of my first successful landscape shots was on the Wake campus. I predicted a fiery sunset based on a growing cloud formation I had seen the previous September. I ran into position and created a number of intense sunset photographs of campus and the (chapel), which I ultimately sold to Wake as my first professional photography transaction. I think Wake bought nine photographs from that roll, and they were published regularly in campus and alumni literature.

Henson: You’re a world traveler. What’s on your list for future expeditions or adventures?

Ward: Well, I still have 45 days to go on this expedition! You know, I spent the first decade of my career traveling to the far corners of the globe to find stories of consequence that hadn’t been told in the U.S. media. Right now I am looking at another decade’s work focusing on untold stories of potential influence right here in Florida.

Highlands County ranch in wetlands reserve program

The pressing nature of conservation issues in Florida commands my attention and I am motivated to help foster a truer sense of place for the 18 million people (12 million who were born somewhere else) who call this place home. I still enjoy working abroad and will continue to do so when I have an opportunity and can make a difference. Continued work in Cuba and Latin America would be good fits for me.