George Mason University
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George Mason University

Young Alumni Commissioning Project Award Recipients

Meet the 2019 Award Recipients

George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) is pleased to announce its inaugural Young Alumni Commissioning Project Award Recipients. The recipients were chosen based on artistic excellence, career impact, and feasibility and will receive financial, marketing, and production support to have their projects presented at a Mason venue during the 2019-20 season. 

Zachary Wilcox ('15)  has received the inaugural Young Alumni Commissioning Award and $5,000 in commissioning support for the new play, Tangier Island is Sinking.

Valerie McKenna (’18) and Andrew Jorgensen (’17) are the inaugural recipients of the Young Alumni Creative Development Award and will each receive  $2,500 in commissioning support. The award will support the development of Jorgensen’s film The Sun and the Medicine Man based on a family legend brought to life, and a landscape photography exhibit by McKenna.   

In addition to the commission, the awardees will also receive production, marketing and venue support for a public showing of their work in the 19-20 academic year. 

Emerging artists always have more ideas than resources; they need the precious gifts of time, materials, and space to explore their work. We were thrilled with the number and quality of proposals for this inaugural round of the Project, and when the multi-disciplinary faculty panel recommended three finalists for what was to have been one award, it was clear that all deserved support. The supported projects span a range of disciplines from theater to photography to film, and involve both single artists and collaborative teams. I can't wait to see what these artists bring us, and look forward to the next round of proposals.

Rick Davis, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts

Zachary WIlcox

Young Alumni Commissioning Award winner.

Young Alumni Commissioning Award

Zachary Wilcox

B.A., Theater, ‘15
$5,000 Commissioning Fee
Tangier Island is Sinking

Tangier Island is, for lack of a better word, sinking into the Chesapeake Bay. Along with it, an isolated waterman's culture and a rare dialect of American English will vanish. The island has lost two thirds of its land mass in less than 170 years. The Tangiermen cry erosion, others cry climate change. Regardless, the island may only have a few decades left. The dwindling island population has scored national media attention in recent years but is no closer to being saved. Zachary Wilcox and the team from Who What Where Theater Collective intend to tell the stories of the people of Tangier through filmed interviews and dramatic expression, in The Waning Island of Tangier, and why it maybe should be saved. 

A staged reading of Tangier Island is Sinking will take place on April 4 at 7pm on Mason’s Arlington Campus and April 5 at 5pm on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

The Creative Team:

Zachary Wilcox  (Project Writer) is a playwright and actor. His most recently produced work is an audio play, Midnight Tracks, available on the Who What Where Theater Collective app. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He has a B.A. in Theater from George Mason University.

Rebecca Wahls (Director) is a freelance director and arts administrator. She recently directed Pippin for Monumental Theatre Company and has produced and directed all Who What Where shows, including Spillsby fellow Mason alum Ruthie Rado and audio play Midnight Tracks. Rebecca works at Studio Theatre as Executive Assistant and Artistic Coordinator and is Artistic Associate for Acting for Young People. She has a B.F.A. in Theater from George Mason University.

Andrew Reid (Director of Photography) is a local playwright and theater educator. Two of his plays, We Found the Wild Things and Saudade; the one where I miss you, have been produced by Who What Where Theater Collective and at the Capital Fringe Festival ('16) respectively. He is the drama teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. He has a B.A. in Theater from George Mason University ('16). 

Wilcox, Wahls, and Reid are co-founders of the Who What Where Theater Collective. Who What Where is dedicated to producing new works by new playwrights, unleashing the communal power of the theater, and creating experiences that bring the actor and the audience together.  

Valerie McKenna

Valerie McKenna

Young Alumni Creative Development Awards

Valerie McKenna

B.F.A., Art and Visual Technology, ‘18
$2,500 Commissioning Fee
Photography Project: Albright (exhibition was in 2019)

For this project, McKenna is exploring what it means to take a portrait of a landscape. Due to film photography’s malleability, she is interested in integrating the subject to observe its effect on the emulsion. Her work will include burying developed film negatives in the location they are depicting. The intention is to let the landscape further inform the photograph through the emulsion’s deterioration.  

This project was exhibited in Mason’s Buchanan Hall Atrium Gallery August 26 – October 26, 2019.

Valerie McKenna lives and works in Northern Virginia. She is a Spring 2018 George Mason University alumna, where she received her Art and Visual Technology B.F.A. with a concentration in photography and a minor in environmental science. Her interests lie in the convergence of science and art and how they interact with each other. During her time at Mason she received two grants through the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. These projects led her to gain experience working with archival materials and collaborate with Friends of the Cheat, a non-profit environmental organization in West Virginia. She plans to continue onto a master’s degree in Fall 2020. 

Andrew Jorgensen

Andrew Jorgensen

Andrew Jorgensen

B.A., Film and Video Studies, ‘17
Prize: $2,500 Commissioning Fee
The Sun and the Medicine Man

The Sun and the Medicine Man is a short film that follows a Mexican-American family living in and managing a small suburban motel. When the family travels to seek the assistance of an old witch doctor, they are given a jar of mysterious liquid and with the healing power of the sun, they find not only are their old physical wounds healed but some internal ones are as well. The film, based on a family legend from filmmaker Andrew Jorgensen has been a work in progress for about 5 years. For more information.

There will be a work-in-progress screening of The Sun and The Medicine Man at George Mason University in Spring 2020.

Andrew Jorgensen (Writer/Director/Director of Photography) has worked in entertainment, media, and production for close to 10 years. He has worked as a technical director for a Helen Hayes Award Winning Theatre Company, as a freelance Gaffer, Best Boy and Cinematographer on numerous local film productions, that have gone on to numerous film festivals across the United States and around the world. The Sun and the Medicine Man is based on the life of Andrew's great grandfather, and he is very proud to have co-written the film with his wife Itzel Almazan. Andrew received his bachelor's degree in Film and Video Studies Concentrating on Cinematography at George Mason University in 2017. He currently works for the Film Program as the Technical Coordinator.

The Creative Team:

Ziad Foty (Producer) is an emerging independent director, educator and writer based in the DMV area. His films seek to highlight underrepresented stories in an effort to challenge the dominant representation in film. Winner of the Best Documentary Film at the Paul Robeson Howard Film Festival for his film Renaissance Man (2017), Ziad has recently completed short narrative film El Mahal (2019) and is in post-production on his debut feature documentary Return to Ramallah (2019).

Joel Morris (Producer) is a writer director based in Woodbridge VA. A graduate of the Film and Video Studies program at George Mason University. Joel Morris’s Films for the last 5 years have been produced under the name “The World Ends on A Monday.” My Judgement Day (2014), Dead Cells (2016), and his web series Woke in the Bridge (2018), have all garnered over 7,000 views via online distribution.

The Sun and the Medicine Man is Itzel Almazan's (Associate Producer/Co-Writer) first film, where she worked with spouse, Andrew Jorgensen, to help craft many of the intimate moments between the main characters of the film, and helped translate much of the script. She is also an advocate for the immigrants rights. Itzel, is an operations manager for the Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, and is passionate about criminal justice reform. Having majored in Criminology Law and Society, she graduated from George Mason University in 2018.

Paul L. Hugins (Co-Director/Editor) is an independent filmmaker based in Virginia known for his editing skills and dedication to pre-production and project management. Paul graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009 with a major in Photography & Film. Paul has written, produced and directed award winning films across various genres and mediums. Paul currently serves as a Post Production Coordinator at a Post House in Arlington VA.

Brittney Flores (Post-Production Coordinator/Asst. Editor) is a current student of the Film and Video Studies Program concentrating in Post Production. She has an immense passion for video editing and is interested in cutting music videos, film trailers, and eventually feature films. Within her editing, she wants to create a style that is noticeable but still discreet within film. Through that, she hopes to show how significant the process of editing is and the power it has in cinematic storytelling.

Thomas D. Vaughan (Sound Designer) graduated from the George Mason University Film and Video Studies program in the Fall of 2016 and has worked as a video freelancer ever since. He is very experienced as an editor and sound mixer for both film and video, as well as being experienced as a videographer for corporate video content. He also enjoys directing his own projects and generally loves contributing to the creative process of film and video in a myriad of ways.

Additional details about the Young Alumni Commission Award presentation dates and times will be shared at a later date.

The Young Alumni Commissioning Project is made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of  Linda E. Gramlich for the support of young artists, and by donors to Mason’s Giving Day, including Shugoll Research.

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