Fordham Off-Stage Spotlight: The Only Freshman Playwriting Major


Vivian Brown, FCLC ’22, is writing the wrongs of the male-dominated playwriting scene. (JOE ROVEGNO/THE OBSERVER)


When she entered high school, Vivian Brown did not know she wanted to be a playwright. At that point, she had only ever acted and was tired of doing “the same kitschy, campy musicals over and over again.” Little did Brown know, she — the high-schooler who was close to giving up theater entirely — would go on to become the only playwriting major in Fordham’s Theatre Program for the Class of ’22.

When she was in her freshman year of high school, Brown took a theater class that changed her life. It was the first time she had been exposed to theater, as she describes, as “an intellectual art.” She read “Uncle Vanya” by Anton Chekhov and “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, among other classics, for the first time, and learned there was so much more to theater than she previously thought. When she realized how quickly plays read, Brown began consuming them like after-school snacks.

Her affinity for plays grew and finally, in her junior year of high school, she had an epiphany. As an icebreaker for one of her classes, a teacher asked the students where they saw themselves in 10 years. Before she could even ponder, Brown’s answer came to her: a successful playwright in New York City.

“It was the first time,” she said, “that I thought of playwriting — because I’ve always loved English, I’ve always been a pretty okay writer and I’ve always loved reading and theater, obviously, and that was the first time all those things intersected and I realized: there’s a thing for this.”

With this realization, the trajectory of Brown’s life changed. She went to her local Barnes & Noble, opened up Stella Adler’s “America’s Master Playwrights” and, angered by the fact that every single playwright featured was a man, dedicated herself to finding her voice as a playwright. Her first step was attending NYU Tisch’s Dramatic Writing Summer Program the summer before her senior year.

At this four-week intensive, Brown solidified her love for playwriting and witnessed firsthand the power of a well-written play. She spent six hours each day taking playwriting and screenwriting classes and in the evenings saw multiple Broadway shows with her classmates. Among them, Brown cites Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” as the show that changed her life.

She explains, “Going to see ‘Indecent’ live in that theater — Paula Vogel has always been my hero— but seeing ‘Indecent’ and, like, feeling the way I felt … You know you’ve seen good art when you go home and feel like: this is why I want to create art … It was just so incredible.” As she watched the show, she was moved by its representations of women loving women, written by a woman (who loves women), and felt not only her desire to be a playwright grow but also felt its possibility and accessibility.

When she returned to her hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Brown focused on applying to playwriting programs based in New York City and Chicago. She ultimately chose Fordham because of its playwriting program, which allows her to write three full-length plays produced by the school. Brown has already begun working on her first play, which (in its current state) will feature an all-female cast playing 15th-century figures of the Catholic Church.

She laughed as she said she doesn’t know if she will ever write about male characters, which seems valid in a world full of male playwrights writing exclusively about men. Those men, who occupied the list that angered Brown so deeply years ago, are the very men she plans to usurp — and so, the budding playwrights of tomorrow may see a woman as one of America’s master playwrights. And her name may well be Vivian Brown.