Sophia “Phern” Brown debuts her senior comps project

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Sophia Brown (senior) at Occidental College. Matt Howard/The Occidental

Students and staff gathered at Oxy Arts on York Boulevard Feb. 28th and 29th to view Sophia “Phern” Brown’s (senior) senior comprehensive project. Brown is a singer, actress and comedian, as well as a theater major with a public health minor. Her comps focused on two years of research about her family history, according to theater professor and Brown’s advisor Sarah Kozinn.

“She began by getting a summer research fellowship and used that time to conduct interviews with her family in Chicago, and go to the archives in Chicago, to look at the history of her great-great-grandmother, Omega King,” Kozinn said. “Through that research, she got to know her family members and started to create an album.”

Brown said she gathered material from interviews with King’s remaining children.

“I started with the album in the summer. The [Undergraduate Research Center] helped me facilitate paying for that. I did research in Southside Chicago with one of the sisters,” Brown said. “She’s the only one that’s still alive today. She gave me pretty much all of the information. She’s my primary source for this play and the album.”

According to Susan Gratch, theater department chair, the scope of Brown’s vision was very large and combined music, multimedia, humor and naturalistic characters to create an encompassing theater experience.

Brown said she wanted to inspire others to look into their family history and learn from the people that make us who we are today.

“We lose a lot from what we don’t learn and what we don’t ask,” Brown said. “We need to understand what the world has already been through, what we’ve come from and how we’re trying to move forward, because we can’t move forward without looking back at what happened in the past.”

According to Brown, she felt that keeping these stories alive brings families closer together.

Brown said she tried to make the performance more positive than negative and at the same time focus on all parts of the sisters.

“There were so many tears of joy instead of tears of sadness,” Brown said.

According to Brown, we should all be able to learn from different forms of comprehensive projects, including, music, acting, dancing, singing or reading 25-page papers.

“Your comps project is a chance to incubate an idea that maybe is going to change in a future iteration,” Kozinn said. “But it’s your opportunity to take a chance with a lot of support from your faculty and peers and to move an idea into something that’s performed and expressed.”

Kozinn said Brown took on directing, producing, publicity and writing to create a live performance for her theater comps.

“I got really amazing actors to play each character that I thought would correlate the best with each personality,” Brown said. “I wanted the personalities to mesh really well on stage.”

According to Kozinn, Brown was successful in creating a vision that she developed over two years into a completed project.

“Through her vision and the way that she is just a force that attracts people, she was able to pull together an amazing team who could get on board with her vision and helped her achieve this project,” Kozinn said. “She was able to craft these seven songs into a story that celebrates the legacy of her family.”

Kozinn said that it was exciting to see Brown grow as a leader and see the project unfold.

“To see Sofia become this really effective director, who doesn’t have a top-down approach, but really brings everyone into the process where everyone’s voices matter,” Kozinn said.

According to Kozinn, a senior comprehensive project should be about your personal areas of interest.

“If you’re not excited about it, no one else is going to be excited about it,” Kozinn said. “Don’t do a comps project to prove anything to someone else. It should really be about what you want to do.”

Brown said that when she was writing, she wanted to write about what she knew and was passionate about, and that was her family.

“I really put my passion into learning about who I was and my family,” Brown said. “If there’s no passion, then what’s the point?”