Challenge: Pick a subculture, infiltrate it, and produce a short documentary on its members. In previous semesters, us strategists had learned video editing and filming skills and we were putting those to use with these documentaries. The assignment also got us out of our comfort zones and interacting with people who we would typically never speak with.
What I did: I chose barbershop singing, a genre that's hanging on by a thread but has a membership whose mission is to keep it alive. Younger people may only know barbershop singing from Jimmy Fallon's Ragtime Gals parody quartet or "The Music Man." I wanted to show that barbershop singing is much more than old-timey hats and red-and-white sport coats. I got in touch with The Virginians Barbershop Chorus in Richmond and they welcomed me with open arms.
What I discovered: These men are extremely passionate about what they do. Some of them drive hours to and from their homes for practice on Tuesday nights. It's a tremendous amount of dedication and their enthusiasm for what they do was contagious. Many of them have been singing for over 40 years - longer than they stayed at any job and longer than many of them had been married. That kind of devotion to their hobby was inspiring. What's special about barbershop goes beyond camaraderie between the members - they're able to make a unique sound with their voices that not many people can.
The assignment and empathy: I wanted to do a good job for the chorus, as I felt like they had entrusted me to tell their story. I felt like I had a responsibility to show them in a positive light. I learned to relate and empathize with people outside of my generation - I couldn't help but come to think of them as surrogate uncles or grandfathers by the time the project was completed.