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Bolster ’19 writes subversive animations for the screen

September 7, 2018

Callye Bolster ’19 spent her summer following four young recent college graduates as they travel in a van across the country—from Maine to Los Angeles—through the vehicle of her imagination. In her eight-episode animated series, “Vanity,” Bolster brings to life four protagonists who are traveling to a Hollywood audition, engaging with themes of fame, politics and gender.

With the help of a Surdna Foundation Research Fellowship, Bolster wrote seven episodes, each between 20 and 25 pages, and is currently working on the finale of the series. Throughout the summer, she worked with Sarah Bay-Cheng, chair and professor of theater and dance, who read her work and provided feedback.

“It’s not about my tastes and what I like and don’t like,” Bay-Cheng said. “It’s about, ‘Is this effective? Is Callye getting the structure? How are these characters developing?’ And then a lot of it is, ‘This is what I see here; this is what I see here. Is this what you intended?’”

Although Bolster has always loved animation, she had the idea for “Vanity” last fall, when she watched “BoJack Horseman” and realized how much potential there is for animation to advance political causes and beliefs.

“It can be artistic, and you can instill your values in it,” said Bolster. “There’s a long tradition in animation, screenwriting rooms especially being all males … and jokes that are all [messed] up, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.”

The title itself plays with both a key theme of the series—the obsession with fame—and references the young adults traveling in a van.

“Our generation has this fascination and obsession with fame, I think. That’s not just like Hollywood fame in particular. We have to have names that stick,” said Bolster. “That’s a huge drive for the main character.”

The show also touches on issues surrounding liberal elitism and how the well-to-do characters deflect blame off themselves and onto the working class concerning issues like racism and homophobia.

“The show, as these very liberal kids are moving across America, is about their absolute inability to be a part of what’s there or to see what’s there,” said Bolster. “We are seeing America through their eyes, but a lot of their humor comes from their understanding while also PC policing the whole country.”

“Vanity” also delves into the idea of gender, featuring a non-binary character, a character who exhibits “gentle” masculinity and another whose femininity plays a key role in her identity. With these characters, Bolster wants to start a dialogue surrounding gender.

“I’m hoping to expand the gender conversation outside the more binary conversation that’s happening on television,” said Bolster.

Following the tradition of road trip movies rooted in the 1960s and 1970s, each episode has a psychedelic trip built into it.

“It’s an exaggerated trip. The tension builds up beforehand, and then [someone] is in a trip, and it becomes like magical realism and fantasy,” said Bolster.

While drawing on the common themes of youth, mobility and the transition to adulthood, Bolster nonetheless presents the material in a new and unique way.

“What Callye does is take these elements and put them in a form that feels incredibly fresh and updated for what I would call the Instagram era or the social media generation,” said Bay-Cheng.

As of right now, the series does not have an animator, and Bolster has no serious expectations of finding one, but she dreams of going on the road trip portrayed in the show herself after college and hopefully finding work as a screenwriter.

“I’m going to try to strip down my bias more and go on this road trip and hopefully make fun of myself in the process through the characters,” said Bolster. “It would be amazing if someone just picked up the pilot for it and wanted me to keep writing, but realistically, this show will be how I learn to screen write.”

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