Senior Year Through the Eyes of a Playwright: A Profile on Vivian Brown

Fordham’s only senior playwright opens up about the return to in-person theater, directing, her artistic lineage and future plans



Vivian Brown, FCLC ’22, is currently in the process of her senior thesis project, “Savonarola: A Pseudohistory in Puppets.”


As a senior in college, one is expected to be “done” with school. The notion is that once you are in your senior year, there is little to do and learn, but for senior playwright Vivian Brown — a theater and medieval studies double major and Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’22 — there is little to be “done” with. 

After more than a year of executing her plays virtually, Brown found herself finally staging her first in-person production entitled “Accidental Murder Mystery,” diving back into her final thesis and experiencing the post-quarantine college world. 

Rooted in a terrible case of writer’s block, a love of mystery and a ghost-themed playwriting workshop taken during quarantine, “Accidental Murder Mystery” has now become Brown’s first in-person studio show not only as a playwright but also as a director.

“It was more out of intention to write something that I would enjoy the process of writing than even thinking ‘I want to have something fun and comedic for the studio season,’” Brown said. “I think it’s a really funny play, but I’m also the person that it was specifically written to amuse.”

Brown’s show is, in a way, a love letter to herself, but even when working on a show like this, building a production from the ground up is a difficult and challenging experience.

“I could not have done it without Will Rossiter (FCLC ’23), our production manager, and Janae Beaver, (FCLC ’23), our production stage manager … but it was a lot more work than usual, I think, because the institutional knowledge has kind of graduated so really my class is the only class that has had a full in-person year here.”

Today, after trying everything there is to try, it is safe to say that Brown is “a playwright first and always.”

Besides playwriting, Brown has dabbled in acting, directing, design and production, and even though she has directed two of her own pieces — one virtually and one in person — she is now sure that she is not “a director,” at least for the time being.

“I have taken the direction classes that you need to take to direct in the studio, but I just don’t love it,” she said. Even so, she is happy to have ventured into directing because without trying, she would have never known whether she enjoyed it or not. 

Working on different disciplines and understanding the ins and outs of each one created a space where she could learn to appreciate every single facet of theater while trying things out in a safe environment. “It gives you so much respect for other disciplines because every discipline is its own abyss of work,” Brown said. “I was able to do this in an educational space where there was a safety net and where there were mentors, and I was able to fail if I needed to.”

Today, after trying everything there is to try, it is safe to say that Brown is “a playwright first and always.”

Now, months away from graduating, Brown’s gaze is set on her thesis project — “Savonarola, A Pseudohistory in Puppets” which has been in the works since her sophomore year. 

“It’s about this 15th-century Dominican friar named Girolamo Savonarola, who is a real historical person, and it’s about his rise and fall historically, but it’s called a pseudo history because I’ve taken the finer points and changed them a little bit to my own liking,” Brown said.

“Medieval studies is so intrinsic to the way we view our society, and I think it’s a really interesting lens to examine our world now.”Vivian Brown, FCLC ’22

A narrative about queerness and Catholicism, but also about what it is to exist in a power structure that you can’t escape, “Savonarola, A Pseudohistory in Puppets” mixes the power of theater with history and ends up asking the age-old question, “Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?” Brown said, “Everybody is gonna have to come see it to see what the answer is.”

With her artistic lineage stemming from playwrights Peggy Shaw straight through Paula Vogel and The Five Lesbian Brothers, and detouring into Eugène Ionesco and María Irene Fornés, Brown is nothing short of astounding. As an eager soon-to-be-graduate with a quenchless thirst for knowledge, she plans on getting her masters degree in medieval studies in the hopes of expanding the knowledge she has developed during her studies at Fordham. According to Brown, “Medieval studies is so intrinsic to the way we view our society, and I think it’s a really interesting lens to examine our world now, especially when you think of the plague, religious unrest and cataclysmic climate events: All of that was happening in the Middle Ages as well.” 

It has been a hectic semester for Brown, but now that it’s all simmering down, she is excited to read new plays and dive back into some old favorites like “Brave Smiles…Another Lesbian Tragedy” and “The Secretaries” by The Five Lesbian Brothers and “Indecent” by Paula Vogel.

Listening to Brown was like a breath of fresh air, and just like “Accidental Murder Mystery” opened up the doors to a new studio season, she will open the doors to a new side of theater.