In celebration of Women’s History month, various events have been planned to commemorate women’s achievements, as well as to raise awareness of women’s experiences in various fields. On March 7, students and faculty learned firsthand about women’s experiences as playwrights, in a talk titled “Playwrights on the Ground: Women in Action.” Three playwrights joined Charlotte Meehan, Associate Professor of English and Playwright-in-Residence, in sharing their experiences.
Ruth Madra, Kari Upstrich and Lisa Schlesinger each had unique styles and material, yet it was interesting to see hear similarities as they spoke. Madra, Upstrich and Schlesinger had all addressed political activism in one form or another, and each had a unique field of focus.
Madra helped write a play titled “7,” along with seven other playwrights. They interviewed seven leaders from the Organization of Women Leaders and used the interviews to create monologues, which were woven into the narrative.
Upstrich has a vested interest in the Latina community, and helped to create a collective called No Passport. The group evolved as a creative method to build text together in a way she described as “curatorial, as well as editorial.” Her goal is to nurture the next generation of creativity and help artists find funding. She also works within theater to challenge larger cultural practices. Upstrich writes bilingual pieces that feature a combination of English and Spanish.
Schlesinger’s work is heavily influenced by her Jewish-American identity. She cited collaboration with a Palestinian playwright as a transformative event in her career. She was especially inspired by the Palestinian wall, which led her to question what “an artful action within the wall in which we could transform it, transcend it” would be. Schlesinger said her work is driven by questions such as these that arise as she interacts with cultural events.
All playwrights expressed an interest in writing outside the dominant form. Madra considers “form more political than content, because if you’re still working within the system you’re mirroring the dominant form.” Schlesinger agreed, adding, “I don’t perceive the narrative as it has been given to me.”
The event also awarded theater students the unique opportunity to interact with a playwright whose work they had performed. Upstrich wrote a play about the health concerns associated with the rising water in the Gulf region and offered it up for performance at colleges and universities. The play was performed at Wheaton and students who had participated in the production shared their thoughts on the piece with Upstrich. She thanked them for “teaching me about the play and how it worked.”
Lara Geis ’13 noticed the common theme of addressing political issues in the playwrights’ works, and asked why they considered theater the best mode to explore these issues. Madra explained that she considered theater an “out of body yet very present experience in which you transform.” Professor Meehan stressed the collective experience of theater: “we are alone in our seats but we are together in the room.”
While Madra, Upstrich and Schlesinger all shared their unique experiences with theater, their insight shared several common themes. They stressed the power of collaboration, activism and experimentation with form. These innovative women inspired the audience to follow Professor Meehan’s closing advice, which goes far beyond the world of playwriting: “You just have to keep going.”