By Cerina R. Leone
This semester, Seminole State welcomed Dr. Michele Cuomo as she assumed the role of dean of Arts and Communication.
Cuomo most recently served as the dean of arts and humanities at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. She follows longtime Seminole State dean Paul Luby, who recently retired after 30 years with the college.
The new dean said she enjoys the research that goes into preparing for productions. With each play, she said, she strives to make it relevant for today in whatever form it takes. Understanding the concept and approach being taken by a play is challenging, she said.
“Whenever you endeavor in something that’s really challenging and you’re challenging yourself, it’s always rewarding,” Cuomo said.
One such rewarding project, she said, was a production of Euripides’ “The Trojan Women,” performed in the Japanese dance art form called Butoh. She directed the performance at the University of Mississippi early in her 20-plus-year career.
She initially viewed “The Trojan Women” as an anti-war piece, however, she soon learned that wasn’t the case.
Instead, in an interview with The Seminole Scribe, she compared the production to Meghan McCain’s recent speech at the funeral of her late father, U.S. Sen. John McCain.
McCain’s speech reminded Cuomo of “The Trojan Women” because she described the glory of serving and how her father, grandfather, and great grandfather all served in the military. McCain was almost the voice of the main character, Hecuba, Cuomo said. The play, written thousands of years ago, she said, “still speaks today.”
Another performance in which she incorporated dance was the play written by Ntozake Shange and titled, “For Colored Girls Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.” Cuomo described this production as a series of poems delivered by African-American women. Cuomo said the production was a satisfying collaboration between dancers and actors.
She also mentioned her enjoyment of directing productions such as “Julius Ceasar” and other Shakespeare works as well as “The Laramie Project,” a play about the reaction to the 1998 murder of a gay University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard.
This piece about Shepard was important to her, she said, because it shed light on a devastating topic.
“I felt like I understood more about humanity when I was done, and again, it reached a lot of people and got a lot of people thinking,” Cuomo said.
She also mentioned that Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother, is scheduled to visit Seminole State College as part of this year’s speaker series. Judy will address the legacy of her son during a presentation on March 27 at 7 p.m., in the concert hall on the Sanford/Lake Mary campus.
During her interview, the final play Cuomo touched upon was more recent, “A Bright Room Called Day” by Tony Kushner. She first encountered this play when it was written in the 1980s. The play is about a small group of artists and politicians in Germany as Adolf Hitler gained ascendency. She found relevance in this play because of the difficult time the United States faces from violence and racism in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the ongoing immigration debate. Doing this play at the time was important for her because “human beings are doing the same things over and over again. …”
“Human beings don’t change,” she said. “We advanced in our technology but we’re human beings and we’re going to do the same things.”
As dean of arts, Cuomo said she firmly believes arts education prepares students for anything and everything in life.
She said she sees it as good preparation to “be a good collaborator, be a creative thinker, to solve problems really well, to express and communicate very well, to understand oneself. … Those outcomes make peoples lives richer and more meaningful.”
Cuomo currently serves as chairperson-elect of the American Association of University Administrators, a group of higher education administrators who come together to voice concerns and challenges they face.
She also serves on the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Institute on High Impact Practices, which provides higher education teams with resources to help students have a better college experience.
Over her career, Cuomo said she has seen that students today have an increased understanding of what’s happening in the classroom. They understand how the classroom is relevant to their education. She said she has put an emphasis on student success because “students are the reason we’re here.”
Cuomo said she is looking forward to the full arts schedule at Seminole State.
The theater season includes a series on remembering the gay rights protests at Stonewall from 1968. The full slate of theater performances, including “The Diviners” by Jim Leonard set for Oct. 4-7; “Uncommon Women and Others” by Wendy Wasserstein November 9, 10, 11, 15-18; “Tell Me A Story” Dec. 7-9; “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” by Moisés Kaufman, Feb. 8-10 and 14-17; “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, April 5-7 and 11-14; and the “Spring Dance Concert” April 26-28. For ticket information, visit https://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/events/boxoffice.
For information on art events, including gallery events, visit https://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/art/.
For information on music performances at Seminole State, visit https://www.seminolestate.edu/arts/events/music.