For senior drama students at Kenyon, the senior thesis is a culmination of their experiences in drama either in acting, directing, designing, dramaturgy, or playwriting. However, it is when these different areas of theatre combine that things can get interesting. For playwright Christine Prevas ’15, this meant pairing with director, Matt Super 15’ and actress Rosie Ouellet ’15 for the premiere of her original show Principia Romantica. I had the pleasure to talk to Christine about the upcoming premiere.
- What can you tell us about what the show?
The show is about a girl named Allison, who is a PhD student in Physics, and she has just made a really cool discovery that is something that physicists have been trying to find for ages. But no one believes her, and so the show is about her attempts at finding recognition and getting people to believe her. The show also covers the sexism and prejudice she faces along the way.
- What inspired you to write this story?
When I started writing it in sophomore year, it was a love story, which is very different from what it is now. I’ve always loved physics, and I wanted to write a play that allowed me to play with physics and to come up with something I was excited about that made me keep writing. I started off with the idea that someone walks into a room and changes something written on a whiteboard. This originally was the first scene of the play, and I’ve kept it as the second scene, this image of something changing on a whiteboard. Also, I have a lot of friends who are women in math and science fields. My mom’s a doctor, and she’s faced a lot of sexism within that field, so I thought it would be interesting to write about sexism within these fields. This message didn’t come into play until a couple scenes in when I realized that was what I was writing about.
- Who are your biggest inspirations as playwrights?
My favorite playwrights are Annie Baker, Paula Vogel, and Tom Stoppard. My writing process is a sort of combination of what I like about those three: Stoppard’s use of science in plays, Baker’s pauses and use of silence, and Vogel has just always inspired me. In terms of other theatre, my own personal preference of theatre actually isn’t present in this play. I really like sort of weird, surrealist nonrealistic theatre, and so in some ways this play being more realistic was a challenge.
- Continuing with this idea of challenges, were there obstacles in writing the piece and getting it adapted for performance?
There were definitely a lot of challenges. Writing it was a challenge, as I wrote it for my independent study last semester and in early October I scrapped it completely and started it from scratch, which alone was a terrifying decision to make two months from the deadline. I also had trouble with the ending and figuring where I wanted the play to end up. However, working with Rosie, Matt, and the other actors I’ve come to an ending I’m very happy with and I am excited to get to see that on stage. I trust Matt, and so while handing the script to him was a big thing for me it also was an easy thing to do. Rosie and I have been planning to do our thesis together since our first year, and Rosie has been with the story and has always been in my mind as Allison. I think handing it over to two strangers would have been difficult, but with the two of them it was very natural to do.
- What are a few words to describe Allison?
Allison is me on my best days and me on my worst days. She is very bold, headstrong, and frustrated. She’s a bit of an asshole, which is funny because she initially started off as this hero and ended up with circumstances that make her unlikeable. She’s just a character who refuses to back down.
- Did you always know you were going to be a playwright?
When I started doing theatre, I started acting but then quickly realized I hated it. I still loved theatre, and my junior year of high school we did a student written one-act festival. I hadn’t connected writing and theatre before that, but I wrote this one act play and the experience of watching it go up was so great for me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I still do a lot of writing besides playwriting, as I very much believe that every story lends itself to a form, whether that is a short story, novel, play, or movie. Everything is different, so I try to keep myself flexible in what form I’m writing as a story comes to me. I particularly love playwriting though because I love the process of theatre in that it is such a collaborative process that adds more layers of interpretation.
- What do you think can be done to raise more awareness about female playwrights or female theatre artists in general?
I think we are at a very pivotal moment in terms of female playwrights, and for playwrights of color, or really any playwright who isn’t a straight white man. There are groups out there who are making lists of plays by women who are very much taking that stand. I think what is most important is going to be a shift to more female artistic directors. Statistically, so few artistic directors are female, and they are the ones who chose seasons, so I think a greater diversity will lend itself to more female work being produced. My big impossible dream is to be the artistic director of my own theatre company, which would focus on putting up work by people who aren’t straight white men. But I think we are on the edge of a tipping point where we will see a lot more diversity in playwriting, or more in terms of production since women have been writing but their shows are just not being produced.
Principia Romantica will be performed in the Hill Theater on Friday March 27 and Saturday March 28 at 8p.m. To get tickets, call the Bolton Box Office at (740) 427-5546, open 1-5PM Monday-Saturday, and one hour before performances.