Arts and Culture

A closer look: The inspirational works of playwright Charlotte Meehan

Resident playwright and professor Charlotte Meehan, with the aid of her students, will witness their hard work coming to fruition with this weekend’s showings of the spring main stage production, What Happens When.

What Happens When has been in production since January 2013, when Wheaton was first awarded a grant from the Department of Justice to address sexual assault on campus. The writing of the play took place in a course Meehan was teaching at the time. She had students come up with scenarios of what could happen before and after sexual encounters. “I taught the course in spring semester of 2013. With a group of nine students, we devised scenes on the spot,” says Meehan. This in-class work resulted in three hundred pages of script that Meehan reduced to one forty-five minute play. Eighty to ninety percent of the play’s script as it is now was taken straight from the words of Wheaton students. Meehan has worked closely with director Stephanie Burlington Daniels to bring these words to the stage.

What Happens When is also a multi-media performance — it incorporates monologues by students shot by senior film student, Carolyn Hauk, along with Patrick Johnson’s film students. Meehan worked closely with several of Wheaton’s academic departments to create the production. “Sociologist Kersti Yllo and anthropologist Gabriela Torres have been instrumental in giving feedback on the script over the past two years,” says Meehan.

As a child, Meehan loved seeing and analyzing theatrical productions. One of her first encounters with theater was with her mother, who took her to see Broadway plays such as Hugh Leonard’s Da. “When the play was over, I couldn’t get out of my seat. That was it for me. I was hooked,” she says of the experience.

Her love for theater inspired her career as a playwright and she has since established her own theater company, Sleeping Weazel, which recently showed 27 Tips for Banishing the Blues. Meehan says this production differed from other plays produced with Sleeping Weazel in that the dialogue is very natural. “What’s similar to my other plays is the Expressionistic landscape the characters inhabit — the not-quite-real-world environment of the set and costumes. The large-scale video, another aspect of skewing the scale of the world, shares something with the kind of work Sleeping Weazel produces,” says Meehan.

Meehan plans to continue her playwriting career after What Happens When finishes. “I’m now working on a new play, Cleanliness, Godliness, and Madness: A User’s Guide, which I call a multimedia hootenanny, satirizing Christian fundamentalism at its extreme, and taking a serious look at the violence to which bigotry can lead.” Meehan’s commitment to theater shows in her work, which always aims to be honest while maintaining artistic license and creativity.