At Fordham, Aspiring Student Playwrights Flourish


Found throughout the halls of FCLC, a poster for Pascale Smith’s play, Oh My Darling. In the same night, Visions of Valerie will be presented, which was written by Torii Pasternak. (Sri Stewart/The Observer)


Aspiring playwrights at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) are given an opportunity that most artists only dream of and only a few ever get: the chance to see their work fully produced, on stage and in front of an audience.

Found throughout the halls of FCLC, a poster for Pascale Smith's play, Oh My Darling. In the same night, Visions of Valerie will be presented, which was written by Torii Pasternak. (Sri Stewart/The Observer)
Found throughout the halls of FCLC, a poster for Pascale Smith’s play, “Oh My Darling.” In the same night, “Visions of Valerie” will be presented, which was written by Torii Pasternack. (Sri Stewart/The Observer)

“Unlike any other form of writing, a play that lives on the page is radically different than a play that lives on stage,” Associate Professor of Theater Daniel A. Jones, who is also head of the playwriting track, said.  “Playwrights need to be able to experience their words in performance.” Student playwrights here at Fordham are afforded the opportunity to do so.

“Oh My Darling” is an example of the results of the program: a new play written by Pascale Smith, FCLC ’16, which will premiere at the Veronica Kelly Kehoe Studio at FCLC on Nov. 11 and run through Nov. 13. The play will be double-billed with “Visions of Valerie,” a new play by Torii Pasternack, FCLC ’16.

“One of the things we intentionally do is make space for them as writers to work with their outside director so they have a distinct experience from the experience they have with me as a teacher in the classroom,” Jones said, commenting on his involvement with the production. “You need to be free from all poking so you can learn on your own by doing.”

“Oh My Darling” explores  “different themes of patriarchal family structure, young peer relationships, relationships between women and just the gold rush itself,” Smith said. The play follows a New England patriarch who “drags his family, his wife and daughter to California during the gold rush with the idea they are going to strike it rich.”  While the play focuses on family, Smith looks forward to having the audience take away different elements. “One of the things that I really love about theater is that it can mean so many different things to different people,” Smith said.

Smith, whose plays have been produced outside FCLC, is part of the playwriting track in the theater program, which is an intimate program: there are currently only seven students. “Each of the majors is a afforded three production opportunities during their four years here,” Jones said, a “rarity, even for many graduate programs.”

The inspiration for the play came from a source close to home for Smith: the popular folk song, “Oh My Darling, Clementine” that her grandmother had sung to her when she was a child. “It always struck me as being this sad, horrible song,” Smith said, until she delved deeper into the song, realizing how satirical it is. The song, which at first appears to be a sad ballad, is in fact a tongue-in-cheek parody of a sad ballad typical of the era.

Smith’s involvement in the upcoming studio production has been an integral part of the learning process of the playwriting track. Since completing the play last May, Smith has been through three drafts, implementing a new scene just recently during rehearsals. “It’s a really, really wonderful space for a playwright to work with actors and directors and a full design team but still allow them to develop the piece,” Smith said. Being able to see her work up on its feet is a plus. “Nothing really quite helps you grow as a writer as working with other people and seeing your work fully realized at that stage,” Smith said.“I do think its an unusual program in terms of both the attention that the writers receive and the kind of infrastructure that is there to support them growing in many directions,” Jones said. Playwriting became an official track in 2000, but there had been festivals and productions since 1993, when current Director of the Theatre Program Matthew Maguire joined the Fordham faculty in 1993. Last year, an MFA program in playwriting was started in collaboration with Primary Stages, an off-Broadway theater company with the mission to produce new plays.

Collaboration is a key part of Fordham University’s Theatre Program. Plays written by students get a full production, featuring a cast of actors and a full design team, including lighting, sound and costume design.

For Smith, having her own peers put on her play is “really wonderful and amazing.”

“I wrote the script, but this is not my production. It’s just as much mine as it is the sound designers or the actors.” Smith said. “[To] hear them talk about this world and these people, that had only existed in my head and bring them to life was just a beautiful and amazing thing.”