Ross School - Senior Projects 2012


Student: Chela Tree Novak

Mentor: Kenneth Sacks

Domain(s): Performing Arts

Faculty Grader: Alex Cromwell




Documentation of Product


Title: Underneath The Highway


Underneath The Highway is a series of written works focusing on how teenagers

in the Hamptons are impacted in the way they live, play, work and think

depending on which side of the economic scale they are on. All of the works are

based on a personal reflection about how the mind frame that stems from the

stereotypes of this disparity have directly impacted my life.



“Underneath The Highway” began as a play and eventually evolved into works of creative writing in the form of prose and poetry. Deciding what medium to focus on was very difficult, but the project sorted itself out on it’s own.



I decided to use font variation to let me explore my visual arts side as well as writing side.





These are just some excerpts from my written pieces.




Exhibition & Presentation Summary




For my senior project, I wrote creative writing pieces and songs that gave listeners a glimpse into a lifestyle that is not normally paid much attention to in the Hamptons, and when it is, it normally carries negative undertones.

I wanted to shed light on how this “redneck” life really goes. I didn’t want to alter the image of the activities that take place or the things that are said, for the good or the bad.


In May of last year when I started my senior project, I couldn’t really decide who I wanted as my mentor- I know myself and I know that my thought process can be hard to handle, but after spending some time with Dr. Sacks, I decided he would be perfect. I originally had the intention of making a mixed media piece that would focus on self expression. I’ve always been extremely interested in the self, and I wanted to express different parts of me. I thought this would be my senior project, but as summer rolled around I found myself spending an increased amount of time in the “redneck” life. I had always been in deep with this crowd, but I had never acknowledged the stereotypes that come from the richer side of the Hamptons. I had obviously been seriously ignorant and deaf because the second a friend of mine from the “wealthy” side made a comment to me that went somewhere along the lines of “why would you hang out with those rednecks?”, my “stereotype” sensors started tingling. 


So when I got back to Ross in September, my senior project ideas were all over the place. I had no idea what I wanted to focus on, but I felt the anger from the words I had heard over the summer in the back of my head. I started out the fall writing a play that was a conversation between three people who had different views on the life style that I was focusing on. I wrote the play, but I didn’t really like it, so I scratched that idea and wrote another play, which I also didn’t like. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t like the plays, and then I realized that they weren’t personal enough. I wasn’t connected enough to the words on the page. I became annoyed with my entire senior project and for a while I did not make much progress. I wasn’t worried about time management because I write quickly and perform better under pressure, but in the beginning of November I realized I needed to seriously step it up. A few weeks into November I went to the Young American Writers Program retreat and wrote a play about a teenage girl reading letters that her father had sent her from prison, called “Old Fashioned Letters.” The play examined why her father had abused her, and how she felt about it now. I was in love. I fell so deep in love with the play that I knew I had to somehow incorporate it into my senior project. 
After that experience, my senior project took off. I wrote three songs, “Underneath the Highway,”, “Little Girl”, and “Leaving for Chicago.” Each song represented me and a part of my life that I was dealing with, all conveniently linked to the the topic of the “redneck” stereotype. As soon as those songs were written, I began writing my creative pieces. I wrote a 10 page piece called “Infusion Of Revolution”, that combined different episodes from life in the Hampton’s with my personal feelings about my mind and the life I’m living, and a shorter piece called “Mentalities” that told a story about drugs and how they impact my friends.  As well as those two main pieces, I also wrote a piece called “They’ll Fly At You Like Poison, Wanna Here?”, “I’ve Been Thinking Lately On Cocaine.”, and “Heels, Jeans, and a Cigarette.”, all linked to the subject.

As the deadline for my senior project drew nearer, I was confident in my work, but a week before performance night my mentor and I decided that the play I had written at YAWP, “Old Fashioned Letters”, was to uncensored to be performed. It touched on a lot of upsetting topics, and because I don’t like to censor my words, I decided not to rewrite it.

This was defienetly a huge blow to my senior project because it was the one thing that I was seriously proud of and confident in, but I worked around it and continued preparing for performance night.

I normally like to be a little unprepared for performances so that things go spontaneously and I don’t hate myself if things go a different way, but the day of my performance I decided that I needed to thicken my project, so I wrote the song “Down The Beach Somewhere”. The song was seriously emotional to me, because it brought up my friends two year struggle with heroin and cocaine.  I think that’s what made my senior project so important to me. It resonated with me in a way that nothing else could have, and I hope that because it did impacted me so much that it impacted other people as well.


All in all I was very happy with how my performance went. I was nervous because the topics that I was talking about are a little “taboo”, I guess you could say, and I didn’t know how people would react.....But I personally like bringing up things that are not spoken about, and as I sat waiting for my turn I got excited. I absolute love performing music. I love expressing my thoughts in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing.

As I read my pieces, it seriously surprised me that people were giggling. I know that people laugh when they’re uncomfortable, and that’s good with me, I like when people express while I perform, but when a few people told me that what I wrote was actually funny, it made me feel a lot better about my writing. I felt that I could connect not only dramatically but also in a comical way.



One of my challenges was that I really did not have clear goals until the end. I knew that I wanted to say something but I had so many jumbled thoughts that I was not sure what it was I wanted to say. There were way too many meetings I had with Dr.Sacks that were just me jumbling up words and him sitting and nodding and somehow making sense of contorted thoughts. Now I know what my goal was- to let people into the life that I live, in what I hope was an unbiased way. I wanted to give a voice to people that normally do not get a fair one. Another thing that I had a challenge with was product selection. I write music, write in general, and do visual arts, so I was torn between all of those. In the end I used font variation and design to allow the visual arts side of me to show through.  Looking back I probably should have made a clearer plan, but I don’t really work very well with plans. I think that I do things better spontaneously, but I know that in college and in the professional world I will need to better plan my projects.


As I said before, this project was very personal. I was so stoked about it because I felt a part of me that is not normally displayed here at Ross, and as I put words on paper I learned about myself. My favorite thing about writing, both music and creative non fiction, is that I don’t think. I just feel the words come out of my lips and my fingers and I feel liberated. It’s the most incredible sensation to feel yourself creating something, but at the same time having no control over what I create.  I also found it extremely personal because these are my friends, and I’m a very protective person. I never felt like I was “exploiting” my experiences or their lives, but at times I felt like I was opening an intrusive window. Now though, I feel good about the window I opened.




 Looking back over high school I realized how many of my projects have been focused on the lifestyle that I portrayed in my senior project. In 11th grade, I created a short film about one woman’s use of heroin, and for my Modernity project I made a surrealist film using scenes of footage from this lifestyle. Looking back, it makes sense that I would choose this topic.


As far as research for my project goes, most of the knowledge I obtained about social disparities was learned from my self. I did talk to other teens about how they feel they’re lives have been impacted by the economics of the Hamptons, but never in a official, senior project setting.


I am so glad that I had the opportunity to do this project. I’ve learned to trust the thoughts in my head. I have the type of brain where one thought leads to five thousand others in all these different layers and sometimes it becomes too much, but I learned that if I let the thoughts fall they will make sense on their own. I’ve learned how to go from start to finish on a project- prior to my senior project I would come up with massive ideas and want to execute them immediately! Now I have a better perspective on my ideas, and I would never have gained that without my senior project.