All posts by adotharvey

The Basement: A Mockumentary Sitcom of Collegiate Proportions 

The scene is utterly innocuous—a normal picture of life on a college campus. The camera tracks smoothly through the dormitory halls, passing students going about their days—some are yawning, sporting bathrobes and rumpled hair, while others rush outside with backpacks and books in tow. The camera enters a room and the motion-sensor lights come on, illuminating the space. The room is painfully average, with its maybe-blue carpet and cinderblock walls, faux-wood paneling and colorful accents interspersed throughout in an attempt at aestheticism. A smiling voice crackles in:

“This is the group study lounge in the basement of Wayland Hall. It’s not much to look at, is it? It could be any such room in any university anywhere in the world. But it’s not just any study lounge. It’s ours.”

In a flash, the empty room is full of teenagers, talking and dancing and studying as raucous rock music blares behind the bold title screen—this is The Basement.

This mockumentary sitcom follows an eclectic group of intrepid college freshmen (and one sophomore—the RA) as they adapt to college in the curious community of Wayland Hall, a dorm offering a specially tailored experience for students in the fine and performing arts. The titular basement becomes the locus of life for this tight-knit group as they rapidly establish dominance over the large basement study lounge, occasionally venturing out to the performance or art studios down the hall, upstairs to individual dorm rooms, or out back onto the patio or railroad tracks. Follow along as these crazy kids share their story, interspersing sitcom-esque action scenes with interview-style asides in which the ensemble cast offers frank commentary on their hijinks.

Picture of five girls with photobooth props and frame.
Photoshoots were par for the course in the arts dorm.

One often hears that all fiction is just creative autobiography—and this story is no different, based on my freshman year experiences in Wayland Hall. When first posed the question “if you had a TV show, what would it be,” my mind flew to a dozen different things—a time-hopping period piece, a travel show, a historical docu-drama—but none seemed quite right. Then I checked my phone, catching sight of a message in the still-active group chat from my freshman dorm, and it hit me—the basement. 

My entire wonderful, wild freshman year was centered around this one room in the basement of my dorm, where my friends and I spent most of our time. We did everything you can imagine in that room—studying, talking, crafting, watching movies on a TV we dragged down from someone’s room, and, for a while, even having sleepovers (though our Hall Director soon put a stop to that). We kept strange hours, often finding each other working or creating at three in the morning on a school night, or sitting in a dark performance studio playing piano into the wee hours of the morning.

Six students sit underneath some trees near a sunflower patch
We didn’t spend all of our time in the basement– sunflower picking was a favorite excursion.

It was not without its downs, of course—freshman year is, for many, about experimentation and pushing limits, after all. Some of us grappled with heartbreak, substance abuse, academic struggles, or mental health problems, but we all pulled through because we had each other. The ups far outweighed the downs as we learned to be independent and encouraged each other to grow as artists. Told through the sleep-deprived eyes of college freshmen, The Basement is a story about life—wild, rocky, beautiful, and full of surprises—and triumph—because everyone gets their happy ending.

Friendship Without Limits

I’m a difficult person. Introverted, hyperactive, pedantic, anxious, and chronically ill, I’m neither easily likeable nor particularly dependable. Chances are, I’m that kid in class or at a party who makes you grit your teeth and roll your eyes in irritation—a relentless know-it-all who doesn’t know when to shut up. Social anxiety and ADHD ensure that I’m usually off-balance in social situations, and my conversation topics of choice tend to be more scholastic than casual. That’s not to say I have no good qualities—I’m open-minded, loyal, and fiercely protective—but it can be challenging to be my friend, especially if you aren’t equally nerdy.

After taking a year off of school to recover from a traumatic brain injury, I switched schools for my junior year. Nearly an hour away from my house, I knew absolutely no one at the new school. I was uncertain about the return of my intellectual abilities after my head trauma, so I decided to take regular physics instead of honors. Though it turned out to be a mistake academically (physics is actually the one science I’m skilled in, and I was mostly bored), I can’t regret taking that class—it’s where I met Munkhjin.

Munkhjin did not like me at first. My interest in the subject and general desire for knowledge meant I constantly asked questions that made the concepts we were learning more complicated, and my incessant Hermione-Granger-ing did nothing to endear me to my classmates. Eventually, through a mutual friend, we ended up sitting at the same lab table, and she gradually warmed up to me. We were on amicable terms by the end of junior year, but not close.

Then, senior year, we both ended up in a special magnet program for digital photography; though we initially stuck together from familiarity, we quickly became fast friends, bonding over photo excursions. We spent countless hours positioning lights and playing with props, exploring the surrounding areas, and peering over each other’s shoulders making edits. It easily could have been a school-friendship like any other—you see each other in class, and when class is over, you go your separate ways—but then she did something that changed the way I saw myself forever.

Me and Munkjihn, senior year.

As I said before, my know-it-all-ness makes me a hard person to get along with. I know it, accept it, and don’t really expect others to ignore it. So, when Munkhjin relayed a story to me about our mutual friend bashing me at lunch, calling me “pretentious,” it stung, but I was prepared to accept it. But Munkhjin? She was furious. She ranted and raved about the unfairness of it, saying it wasn’t my fault that I was smart, or that I liked school, or didn’t know how to talk to people. To her, it was so obvious and simple, an innocuous occurrence, but to me, it felt like absolution.

For all the years of adults praising my intellect, I’d never had a peer tell me that it was okay to be me—that loving knowledge didn’t make me a bad person, that I shouldn’t have to watch what I say to avoid being labeled strange or condescending, that I could have real friends, true friends who weren’t like me. In that moment, I realized that Munkhjin may well be the best friend I’ve ever had.

I’ve had friends in the past who were willing to overlook it, of course, as well as friends who were similarly bookish, but she was neither of those. (To be clear, that’s not to say that she isn’t smart. She is, much more than she gives herself credit for.)  But for the first time in my life, someone was looking at me and all of my flaws and saying that they cared about me for and with them, not in spite of them. Something changed for me that day—I didn’t know that I’d been waiting my whole life for acceptance until I had it.

The Ghost of 44 Russell Avenue

According to my mother, I wasn’t exactly the kind of kid you could trick with ghost stories. Precocious, shrewd, and more than a little bit of a skeptic, I asked too many questions to be fooled for long. Or I asked too many questions for any adult to successfully stick to the story for long.

Despite being an analytical child, I avidly engaged in fantasy. Playing pretend wasn’t enough, oh no—I quickly branched out into making up fantastical tales and sharing them as fact. (This tendency would get me into trouble numerous times as a child.) I found myself stumped when trying to think of scary stories I believed as a kid for this blog, so I turned to my mom. Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of any either. She did, however, share that “I used to believe many of your tales, but inevitably, a unicorn would appear in the story and that was when I knew we were in fantasy land.”

Spinning scary stories was never my favorite pastime, but my house at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey (I’m an Army brat) was ripe with opportunities for ghost stories. Built in the early 1920’s, it was a large brick home with a roomy attic and plaster walls. It had tall, slender wooden doors with small, brass knobs that creaked in the winter, and a spooky basement with an old-fashioned cellar door that pulled open from the outside.

The last house on the right is 44 Russell Avenue.

The attic had obviously once been used as a bedroom, and the exposed pipes and supports that crisscrossed the room had been painted in bright bands of red, white, and blue. The ceiling leaked in one spot near the dormer windows, and an old tin bucket was already in place collecting errant rainwater when we moved in. The steady metallic “plink” of water into the bucket, the sound of wind around uninsulated walls, and the creaking and settling of the old wood were the soundtrack of the room. Long rectangles of light streamed in from the dormer windows, but the sloping corners of the rooms were constantly in shadow. Though I found it rather charming overall, it was all too easy to twist the generally cheery ambiance of the room into something sinister.

I started constructing the story of the little boy who lived in the attic room not long after we moved in. Reginald, I thought, was a fine name for a little boy born in 1932. I imagined Reginald to be much like myself—prone to exaggeration and flights of fancy, fiercely patriotic, and convinced that his father could save the world.

A consummate history buff, I delighted in associating him with historical events. Reginald was nine years old when the US entered World War II, I decided. He would work in the family’s victory garden and volunteer with his mother and three older sisters, of course, but he wanted more. He wanted to fight. So, the intrepid Reginald snuck off base one day and enlisted. Apparently, my imminently practical eight-year-old brain did not find it difficult to believe that an Army recruiter could be fooled by a ten-year-old.

By the time I was this far along with my creation of Reginald’s life, we were approaching our first Halloween at Monmouth. I’d already gained a bit of a reputation for my storytelling, and more than once other children asked me to tell scary stories. I didn’t have any. One day, as my friend Emily pestered me for a spooky tale, it hit me— Reginald. Poor, poor Reginald, run-away-to-war Reginald—dead Reginald? And so, the ghost of 44 Russell Avenue was born.

The Harvey family ca. December 2003. Author is on the far right.

I told them of Reginald as though he was real, as if he still swung from the painted pipes and crowed with me over games of marbles. At first, it was benign. I’d created an image in my head of a boy who might have been my friend, and I was loathe to let go of it. But children are bloodthirsty, and my friends wanted something more frightening than a friendly ghost. Tales of ghostly heads popping out of walls or non-corporeal fingers dragging icily across a neck for a laugh only went so far.

Too proud to disappoint, I reluctantly turned my purported interactions with Reginald sinister. No longer did he appear to me bright-eyed and well-groomed, with a pressed uniform and a jauntily-angled hat; instead, he was dirty and bloodied, with ragged clothes and a thousand-yard stare. Reginald, you see, did not make it home from the European theatre alive. I started doing research on the second world war, looking at haunting images and reading frightening accounts of soldiers who were never the same.

My stories turned dark. Reginald no longer waited for me to come up to play, but haunted me at all hours of the day and night. I told my friends that sometimes he kept me awake with whispered pleas—to apologize to his mother, to watch out for his sisters, to bring them peace of mind—crying at my bedside, begging with tears in his eyes. Other nights, I said, he would scream—at the enemy, at his fellow soldiers, at God—angry and broken and desperate to move on.

At some point, even I started to forget that the stories weren’t true. A boy with haunted blue eyes and a torn uniform began to haunt my dreams. Every rush of water through the pipes or creak of the sighing house made me flinch, wincing in anticipation of a ragged voice that would never come. My friends were no longer so excited for ghost stories, the images of a boy destroyed by war a bit too close to home on a military base. Halloween passed, and they were happy to return to games of make-believe, no ghosts allowed. They forgot Reginald and my haunted attic.

I never did. Reginald would follow me for years, the embodiment of a story taken too far, a constant reminder not to forget the line between fantasy and reality. The attic, once the focus of my romantic notions of a garret hideaway on top of the world, never regained its appeal. My escape was irrevocably tainted with the specter of a little boy who never was.

The Best Disaster

I’m a distinctly unlucky person.

We all know someone who seems charmed—the perpetual lotto winner who finds large-denomination bills in the street on the reg—but I can assure you, I am not one of those people. Far from it.

By the time I reached high school, I’d resigned myself to this fact. Seemingly random, unpleasant occurrences were just something I learned to deal with. (Now I know that these “random” accidents were probably a result of impulsive or unobservant behavior courtesy of undiagnosed ADHD.) Usually these things were minor annoyances: a scrape here, a bruise there, a missing assignment or lost piece of jewelry. Then, in the tenth grade, I hit my head. And then I did it again. And again. Three hits to the back of the head, all within six months of each other, the last two within a week.

The last one happened at school. It’s stupid, really—I was sitting out of gym (having sustained a sprained ligament in my knee during the fall that gave me the mild concussion of the week before). My friends came over to chat during a break in the game, and I threw my head back to laugh. Cue flash of blinding pain and a “sickening thud,” as my friend Maggie described it. I shook it off and went to my next class. Twenty minutes later, I was throwing up in a bathroom. Twenty minutes after that, I was horizontal on a bed in the nurse’s office, semi-conscious, arguing with another student who was bleeding profusely about who was going to take the ambulance.

You’re probably wondering how this could possibly be a lucky incident. And, to be quite frank, for a long while it wasn’t. I left school in an ambulance, went to the hospital, went into mild shock (which was completely ignored by the ER staff), given a CAT scan, cleared of any inter-cranial bleeding, and sent home. My mom made me go to school the next day to take my Algebra II midterm. (Fun fact: I got a 95% on that test, which, hilariously, was the best grade I made in that class all year.) It all went downhill from there.

By the end of the week, I was out of school and plagued with splitting headaches and blurred vision. It would be a while before I returned. A few weeks in, I was still suffering from blurred vision and sleeping twenty hours out of the day, with headaches during my waking hours. I was shuffled around to specialist after specialist—neurologist, ophthalmologist, neuropsychologist—to attempt to diagnose the root of the problems.

Six months post-concussive and I was still suffering migraine-type headaches and spending about 80% of my time asleep. I was having difficult remembering my friends’ names, classroom numbers, and other simple things. Unable to attend school, I was unenrolled from Fairfax County Public Schools. I spent what should have been my junior year mostly at home, sleeping and trying to take online classes (I failed, miserably). But two things happened during this period that have had far-reaching positive effects on my life.

First of all, I took up photography. I’d always been the academic type, but reading was difficult after my injury, and my memory and reasoning skills took a serious hit. After a few months, I started to worry I might never regain my previous cognitive abilities, and began searching for alternatives. I pursued a previously-ignored interest in photography with vigor, getting my own DSLR and starting to build a portfolio. By my senior year of high school, I was shooting dozens of headshots for fellow students, and getting paid to do so! For the first time, I realized that my cerebral tendencies had prevented me from exploring artistic interests beyond the music and theatre that had been part of my life since childhood.

Secondly, as I started to feel better, I took a role in a play. Steel Magnolias was one of the best things that ever happened to me. With a small cast of women (all of whom were more than twice my age), a dedicated crew, and a stellar script, it was a balm for my anxious mind. And then, at one of the shows, I met Mike Replogle. He approached me afterwards to congratulate me on my performance, thinking I was a local college student. When he discovered that I was still in high school (courtesy of some meddling by one of my castmates), he demanded to know why I wasn’t in his program. It turned out he was the director of the Musical Theatre and Actor’s Studio Academy program. Determined to return to school next year, my mother and I corresponded with Mr. Replogle, who helped me get pupil placed at Fairfax High School, where the academy was located.

Enter Repo (as we called him) and suddenly a vague, lifelong dream of being a performer was on the table for real. Repo’s professional experience and confidence in my abilities convinced my reluctant parents that I could actually make a living as an actress. I spent two years honing my skills at the academy, building close relationships with talented professionals-turned-teachers and like-minded students while finishing up my diploma. (And picked up a spot at the Professional Digital Photography academy while I was at it!) I graduated high school with honors, happier than I’d ever been and heading off to James Madison University to study my passion. I am indebted to Mr. Replogle more than I can say. He was my mentor, my friend, and my champion for two years while I built my new self after my injury, and I will never be able to thank him enough for it.

The changes in my confidence, personality, and relationship with my parents brought on by my injuries have vastly improved the quality of my life. If I was given the chance to do it over and avoid the months of pain, but potentially miss out on years of benefits, I’d take the injuries every time.

Remembrance: Film and Television

2016 was crazy. I think we can all agree on that.

It was a year of many and varied beginnings, but it was also a year of endings—a staggering number of famous, talented, beloved, and controversial figures were lost in 2016. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few of those who died and why they mattered.

January 14: Alan Rickman
An English actor perhaps best known for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Rickman’s career spanned some 42 years, during which he won numerous awards, including a BAFTA and a primetime Emmy.

Image Source: Everett Collection

February 3: Joe Alaskey
A voice actor best known for his iconic portrayals of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, he also voiced diverse characters such as Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzalez, and Porky Pig, among many others.

(c) Getty/Warner Bros.

February 28: George Kennedy
This American actor is best known for his Academy Award-winning performance as “Dragline” opposite Paul Newman in the classic Cool Hand Luke (1967), but his six-decade career also saw him play such recognizable characters as Joe Patroni in all four Airport movies, Police Captain Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun series, and tycoon Carter McKay in the original Dallas television show.

(c) AP

March 4: Tony Dyson
This British special effects designer is best known for designing and building R2-D2, the lovable droid from the Star Wars film series. He also created robotics and props for Superman II, Moonraker, Dragonslayer, James Bond, and Saturn 3, among others.

(c) DR

March 29: Patty Duke
This American stage and film actress rose to prominence at the age of 16, when she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, a role which she originated on Broadway. She went on to have her own show, The Patty Duke Show, and would win three Emmys and two Golden Globes over the course of her 65-year career.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

April 23: Madeleine Sherwood
A Canadian actress of stage and film, Sherwood originated some 18 roles on Broadway, including the primary antagonist of The Crucible, Abigail Williams. She reprised two of these roles on film, in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (also starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives) and Sweet Bird of Youth. She may be most recognizable, however, as the Reverend Mother Placido in The Flying Nun.


May 1: Madeleine Lebeau
This French film actress is best known, by far, for her role as Humphrey Bogart’s spurned mistress Yvonne in Casablanca— she was the last surviving cast member of this iconic film.


May 19: Alan Young
This actor played many roles over his 77-year career, but was most famous for delighting audiences in his role as Wilbur Post, the only human being that the titular talking horse will speak to in Mister Ed.

Image (C) CBS

May 24: Burt Kwouk
This British actor is most recognizable in his role in the Pink Panther film series as Cato, the ever-vigilant manservant whose constant attacks on Inspector Clouseau (to keep him alert) form the classic running gag of the films.


July 24: Marni Nixon
Dubbed by Time magazine as “the Ghostess with the Mostest,” Nixon was perhaps the most-heard and yet least-recognized voice of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Nixon was a voiceover actress who dubbed the singing voices of many of Hollywood’s leading ladies— including the voice of Maria in West Side Story (as well as Anita’s high notes), the voice of Eliza in My Fair Lady, and the voice of Anna in The King and I, among many others.


August 13: Kenny Baker
This actor is best recognized as a character without a face—he operated the lovable Star Wars droid, R2-D2, in all six of the original episodes.


August 19: Jack Riley
This American comedian and actor is best known to this generation as the voice of Stu Pickles on Rugrats, but also gained recognition as Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show.


August 29: Gene Wilder
This multitalented performer is readily recognizable as the titular character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but is also known for his long professional associations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor.

(c) Warner Bros.

September 17: Charmian Carr
This American actress is best known for playing the charmingly naïve Liesl von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

(c) 20th Century Fox, via Everett Collection

November 12: Lupita Tovar
This Mexican-American actress is best known for her starring role as Eva Seward in the 1931 Spanish-language version of Dracula.

Photo by Universal/REX/Shutterstock (5863812b)

November 24: Florence Henderson
The highlight of this American performer’s six-decade career was her role as Carol Brady, the matriarch of The Brady Bunch.

(c) AP

December 15: Craig Sager
This legendary CNN sportscaster covered an array of sports for the station for some 35 years, recognizable for his brightly-colored and flashily-patterned suits.

Credit: Fox Sports

December 18: Zsa Zsa Gabor
This Hungarian-American actress and socialite may be one of the earliest examples of “famous for being famous,” and though she gained some notoriety for her acting career, she is best known for her glamorous lifestyle and nine husbands.

Via Creative Commons

December 27: Carrie Fisher
One of the most shocking deaths of the year, Fisher was the female star of the original Star Wars trilogy, and was in the process of filming the third trilogy at the time of her death.

(c) Universal

December 28: Debbie Reynolds
Dying just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, Reynolds was a popular star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, best known for her role as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain.

(c) MGM

An Ode to Practice Rooms: Wayland #101

To seek equilibrium
in lights and wings and
black board floors,
in red velvet curtains
and rows of seats
Seems strange to me

I am never quiet there.

It is here,
in the dark,
the chill of an empty room
stinging at my arms,
fingertips reading the ridges
that are the landscape of my release—

when wood and wire and ivory
cannot hold me any longer,
those monochrome intermediaries
for the riotous palette of my soul,
I look through to the stars,
A backdrop painted on plate-glass walls

And I am still.

— My voice rises with my song.
It seems my heart
should like to go too,
straining with the rest to rise with it
and fade into the silence beyond

I would let it,
but for the burn
in my throat

And the quiet
in my soul.

Harrisonburg Haunting: The Ghosts of Madison

At 108 years old, JMU is bound to have a few ghost stories and spooky traditions floating around, and this month, your TAD writing team has set out to find them!

Everyone at JMU has heard of the tunnels—forbidden, dangerous, and difficult to access. They’re the holy grail of trespassing for many a student thrill-seeker. But do you know their history? You might have heard that before they were closed off in the 1960’s, they were sometimes used by the students and staff at the State Normal School to move safely and unruffled between classes during inclement weather. You may not have heard that they’re haunted.

over103The State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, ca. 1929. Courtesy of JMU Special Collections.

There are many stories about the tunnels, but one in particular has endured the test of time.

First, a little history about the tunnels themselves. Originally, the tunnels funneled steam from the old heating plant to Jackson Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 1), Maury Hall (formerly Science Hall), Ashby Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 2), and Harrison Hall (formerly the Students’ Building). The tunnels were large and dimly lit, but provided easy access to various campus buildings. As more buildings were built and the student population grew, the tunnels became less important and more dangerous, and were eventually closed off sometime around 1969. A lively mythology about the tunnels and their ghostly denizens grew quickly once they were forbidden, and it is still very much alive today.

studentbody1929Student body of the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg on the Quad, 1929. JMU Special Collections.

As legend has it, our ghost was a student at the State Normal School (or, depending on the exact year, the State Teachers College) in the 1920’s. It was a time of rapidly increasing freedom for women, both socially and professionally, with a booming film industry pushing an image of romance and sexuality onto the young people. One can imagine that many of the liberated young ladies attending the College were taken in by the glitz and joie de vivre of the flapper lifestyle. So it’s understandable that when this girl began receiving little gifts and romantic letters from a secret admirer, she was swept off her feet. The notes kept coming, each longer than the last, the words more sweet, the gifts more lavish. And then, one day, the letter was an invitation—to meet her admirer in the tunnels after curfew. The campus had been on high alert for a Peeping Tom for some time, and her friends begged her not to go. A stranger, in the middle of the night? What sort of man refuses to show himself in the light of day? But, wrapped up in her romantic fantasy, she ignored them, slipped on her fanciest heels and spritzed on her nicest perfume before sneaking out to meet her unknown beau. When she arrived at their amorous rendezvous, her fantasy rapidly devolved into a nightmare—her secret admirer was a crazed killer who had been stalking the campus for weeks. He attacked and eventually killed her, leaving her body in the tunnels.

It’s said that if you listen closely, you can hear her heels clicking on the floor of the tunnels late at night. And if you catch a whiff of perfume on your midnight stroll? You’re standing on the spot she was murdered.


JMU’s Centennial Celebration Info Page

Encimine Blog post about the tunnels

Jollett Etc. Blog Post about the tunnels

Ashby Hall Blog Post about creepy stories

Breeze Article on JMU’s supernatural side

JMU Special Collections photos