Alumni newsmakers

June 6, 2016

Behind the scenes on Broadway

On a January afternoon, in the otherwise deserted offices of Broadway producer Jeffrey Finn, Jamie Kaye-Phillips ’10 has called to pitch a former classmate on a $10,000 investment in the West Coast touring production of An Act of God.

But Marshall Plumlee is doing numbers against Virginia Tech, so first things first. “Duke is up twenty-eight...if he can even turn into a [Brian] Zoubek 2.0, even 50 percent of a Zoubek...,” Kaye-Phillips says of the center on Duke’s 2010 championship team, to the potential investor over speaker phone.

In just a few weeks, the play, written by an Emmy-winning Daily Show scribe and midwifed by Finn, a veteran producer who is Kaye-Phillips’ boss, goes on the road. The twenty-seven-year-old Kaye-Phillips talks during the call with a precision and a poise acquired through his experience performing in high-school and community-stage productions, a bravado that suggests an oldschool showman, and the fluidity you might expect of someone working in finance. He seamlessly transitions from extolling the production’s commercial success to noting its artistic and market appeal. He then rattles off box-office figures from the New York run, pay-out schedules, and amortization.

There’s a lot to know, and the job keeps him busy. “I do so much during the week, but it’s hard for me to find as much time as I would like to, then do everything for my investors as well,” he says.

Kaye-Phillips had long nurtured a passion, if not professional ambitions, for the stage. At first, he minored in theater studies, studying with Jay O’berski (his academic adviser), Jody McAuliffe, and Jeff Storer, among others, while majoring in political science and pursuing a second minor in African and African-American studies.

He flirted with pursuing an executive- track position at a Fortune 500 company, as well as a leadership program in the National Basketball Association. But after an epiphany during junior year, Kaye-Phillips switched his major to theater studies. He earned a company-manager assistantship as a student, and after graduating, landed an interview with Finn, who was then in need of a personal assistant.

“He’s worked with me now for five years since he graduated and is one of the most supportive people I’ve worked with,” says Finn. “He really cares about the business of Broadway and really involves himself on every level.”

Half a decade on, Kaye-Phillips is an associate producer with above-the-mast credits to his name.

Back on the phone, the potential investor runs returns estimates for various attendance figures and ultimately sounds diffident but impressed. He and Kaye-Phillips agree to speak again after he has given the prospectus more thought and the numbers another look.

Plumlee would go on to score twenty-one points in the 82-58 trouncing of Tech, but Kaye-Phillips would have to wait until the end of the week for his Saturday to pay off—the potential investor bit and became an actual one. –Asher Brown-Pinsky ’10

Handwritten, with a little help

Because he had two sisters who attended Duke, Sonny Caberwal ’01 met a mélange of people; his circle pulled from different class years, different fraternities, and different races. The self-described “turban-wearing Sikh guy” says because he was neither black nor white, “that gave me the opportunity to see both sides of the equation.” In fact, he worked with dean of students Sue Wasiolek ’76, A.M. ’78, J.D. ’93 on several diversity initiatives.

By graduation, he had a broad range of interesting friends with whom he valued keeping in touch. From that desire eventually came the idea for Bond, Caberwal’s technology company, which allows users to send handwritten correspondence, with the help of robots.

“We want to spend more time with people, not less,” he says. “That’s why we use social media. That’s why we take vacations with people. I wanted to see if I could use technology to further that idea.”

After users choose the premium stationery and the recipient, a robot writes the message with a real pen in a facsimile of the sender’s handwriting (or a choice of five other handwriting options), puts it in an envelope, seals it with wax, and puts a stamp on it.

If using a robot to write a personal note sounds cold, think again. The users compose the message, making the Bond app a tool to communicate, not unlike a pen, says Caberwal. “The medium isn’t what makes it personal; it’s the content.”

And as Bond grows (in April, it was acquired by Newell Rubbermade), Caberwal says the company will focus on another simple idea: kindness. “How can we help you to remember to do nice things for people?” he says.

Helping museums thrive

Yes, Elizabeth Merritt A.M. ’84 is a futurist. No, she cannot predict the future.

“A futurist’s job is to help people understand that any given view of the future is provisional …and to explore the forces that might nudge the world in any number of directions,” she says.

As vice president of Strategic Foresight and founding director for the Center for the Future of Museums, she advises those institutions on new ways to thrive.

It’s a job grounded in an Ohio childhood spent visiting museums. As a “tweenager,” she volunteered at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History after school and on weekends, helping care for the animal collection and doing demonstrations.

At Duke, she switched from studying animal behavior to cell biology. Then she re-examined her goals. “I found that during my time at CMNH I also had ‘imprinted’ on the staff (to borrow a term from animal behavior), unconsciously coming to believe I would grow up to be a curator or a collections manager, doing the cool stuff they did behind the scenes.”

Now she takes note of what’s happening in the world and how it might affect museums. “Recently I’ve been tracking the rise of what some call ‘ethical consumerism’—a broad concern about the social and environmental impacts of the entire supply chain behind a product or service,” she says.

“Every purchase is a moral decision now—is that fish sustainably farmed? Were the workers who picked that tomato paid a fair wage?

“I came to the topic thinking museums, as educational nonprofits, were bulletproof. We are the good guys! But it turns out museums could be very vulnerable to this trend—if anything, people hold museums to a higher standard. So museums have to proactively address questions such as ‘why is it morally justifiable to kill an animal to put it in a collection?’ Or (this is a hot topic now), ‘do unpaid museum internships perpetuate economic injustice?’ ”

Merritt says the biggest challenge for museums is identifying the core business that defines them, a journey, she notes, that may not be easy. As someone who made a few career turns before landing happily, she can relate. “I hope my work helps them in that search.”

Other newsmakers

Trade magazine Nation’s Restaurant News named Tava Indian Kitchen, founded by Vijay Brihmadesam ’07, Jason Pate ’09, and Hasnain Zaidi ’08, to its list of ten “Breakout Brands of 2016.”

Trajan Langdon ’99, Alaska’s first NBA player, was named the new assistant general manager for the Brooklyn Nets.

Ashwani Bhagat M.I.D.P. ’12 was appointed chairman and managing director of Jaipur Metro Rail Corporation.

President Barack Obama appointed Susan Coppedge ’88 ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons and as senior adviser to the Secretary of State.

Nathalie Corredor ’01 was named senior vice president, corporate strategy, at Hilton Worldwide.

Diana Holland A.M. ’99, Ph.D. ’99 became the first woman selected to serve as commandant of the U.S. Corps of Cadets. She was the sole female general in the history of the 10th Mountain Division at the Army’s Fort Drum.

Another Kind of Girl, a short documentary produced by Laura Doggett M.F.A. ’13, was shown at the 2016 Sundance Film and SXSW 2016 festivals. The ten-minute film also can be found on The New York Times’ website.

Melissa-Evelyn Libertus A.M. ’06, Ph.D. ’10 won the Association for Psychological Science’s Rising Star designation, which honors early-career psychology researchers who have produced work that has advanced the field.

Eric Oberstein ’07 won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition as producer of Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra’s “Cuba: The Conversation Continues.”

Jacob Tobia ’14 was featured on MTV’s True Life: I’m Genderqueer.