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ASHES of Fate: An All-Original, Student-Led Musical with a Twist

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More than 35 students from an array of academic disciplines contributed to and earned course credit for the all-original musical ASHES of Fate, including the actors at this March 19 rehearsal. Photo by Vaidehee Durgude '25.

Anastasia Lewis ’24 and the Department of Film & Media Studies are presenting an all-original musical, ASHES of Fate, to the College community this weekend.

It’s a project several years in the making — at once deeply collaborative and DIY.

Lewis, who wrote and produced the musical, built a cast and crew of more than 35 students who managed aspects like lighting and sound design, AI-based projection tapestries, sword-fighting choreography, and so much more. They represent an array of disciplines, from art and history to film & media studies and computer science, and will receive academic credit for their efforts.

“It’s one of the most ambitious interdisciplinary student-led projects Swarthmore has ever seen,” says Sunka Simon, chair of Film & Media Studies and professor of German, and primary faculty advisor for the production. “A venture that integrates academic inquiries and expands them into practice.”

Lewis describes the story, which she began writing in 2021, as “your fantasy book dreams come to light.”

“Bring your Harry Potter and Divergent and [The] Hunger Games and your mythologies and just sprinkle them all together,” says Lewis, a film & media studies and global studies major from Richboro, Pa.

Quite a hook, but the piece didn’t come alive until Lewis talked to Mark Reyes ’24 about turning her “crazy idea” into a musical.

“He started playing, and it was ‘Ah, good Lord — now we actually have to make this into a show,” Lewis says, laughing. “Because it’s the music that’s telling the story here. It’s not just my words anymore.”

Adds Reyes, a music major from Mooresville, N.C., and composer and musical director for the production: “I wrote the main idea and melody in about five minutes … and the rest is history.

“The biggest satisfaction is knowing that my music will enhance the emotions and sentiments in the script,” he adds. “I love that I can finally use my musical ear to draw that out.”

ASHES can be viewed as the culmination of four years of “creative, critical, organizational, and technological skills fostered by a true liberal arts environment,” says Simon, pointing to aspects ranging from theater production and stage management to scene and costume design.

“The most rewarding aspect is working with so many other talented students from all across the College,” says Jenna Takach ’24, a psychology major from San Antonio, Texas, who served as a choreographer and movement director. “The most challenging aspect is figuring out how to use everyone's unique strengths to create a cohesive final product.”

“I feel the magic really starts happening when the lighting, music, choreography, acting, and everything else come together,” adds Reyes.

The entire production is original, Lewis notes. It features a mixture of set builds and designs and artistry such as Olivia Medeiros-Sakimoto ’25’s AI-based projections, which coincides with this year's Film & Media Studies capstone.

“We’re bringing the digital into analog live performance,” says Lewis, “and exploring the realms of new technology.” 

Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of the project and the countless hours it would require, Lewis felt strongly that the students should receive academic credit. That’s an unusual situation for a student production, but one that provides support and recognition, she says.

Lewis broached the idea with her professors and staff from the Registrar’s Office, Provost Office, and the Division of Student Affairs. Then she got the opportunity to share her vision with President Valerie Smith.

“I wrote up a syllabus for the course, and there were proposals and emails — lots and lots of emails,” says Lewis, who gained approval for a student-led class through Film & Media Studies.

“It was important to build that framework not just for this show, but other multimedia productions and labs in the future,” she says. “I’m not going to be the last person who wants to do something like this.”

Adding an academic component to the production is just one example of the careful planning and patience from Lewis and her cast and crew, says Simon.  

“That a creative dream became a reality on the main stage of LPAC was only possible because of all parties embracing a joyous creativity under constraints, pragmatic on-your-feet thinking, mutual respect for each other's skills and academic schedules, and a good dose of resilience for clearing some tough hurdles,” adds Simon, who expressed appreciation for President Smith and LPAC Director James Murphy “trusting the professionalism of the students."

In the days leading up to the ASHES premiere, the cast and crew raced the clock to apply finishing touches. But they also took time to reflect on what they’ve been able to achieve together.

“I’m trying to work in some moments to celebrate, especially at the end of opening night,” says Lewis. “It’ll be, ‘Hey, guys, we did it. Take a deep breath. Take it all in.’ 

“But I think the joy will just come from being there, together, and seeing the crowd's reaction.”

ASHES of Fate will be performed in the Lang Performing Arts Center main stage (Pearson-Hall Theatre) on Friday, March 22 and Saturday, March 23 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 24 at 2 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Please use the following links to reserve your tickets.

Swarthmore College encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its community. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact Anastasia Lewis at in advance of your visit.  Please refer to the following map for how to get to the theater.





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