University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Moment Work: Writing Performance, Fall 2010

TH 5950, section 1, Hist 5960, section 3, GWSS 5390, section 1; 1 credit
Mondays 7-9:30 p.m, November 1 – December 6
7-9:30 p.m., location TBD
Instructor: Leigh Fondakowski

Course Description

Do you have an event, current or historical, that you are burning to explore on stage? Are you interested in the creation of art from current events or history?

Playwright and director Leigh Fondakowski, creator of The People’s Temple and head writer for The Laramie Project, teaches a rare six-week intensive course on how to create riveting theatrical plays from researched material and/or found text. Using a highly evolved process she has created through her work with Tectonic Theater Project, students will be guided through the process of translating current events, history, and interviews to the stage. Part discussion, part studio exploration, this step-by-step process teaches students how to think theatrically and how to create new work from real events. In addition to in-class meetings, the course will include direct observation of the process in action while Fondakowski workshops her newest project in Minneapolis in collaboration with the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, The Institute for Advanced Study and The Playwrights’ Center. This course encourages participation from advanced undergraduate and graduate students interested in the creation, design or societal impact of theater.

Students will do writing exercises; they will also be evaluated on the basis of class participation.

The project that Fondakowski will workshop is her new play, Casa Cushman, about the life and work of 19th-century American actress Charlotte Cushman. One of the most important actresses of her time, Cushman was famous for her interpretation of the leading MALE roles in Shakespeare. Cushman continually challenged Victorian notions of gender in her stage portrayals of male characters and of strong, androgynous female characters. Cushman also played the man in every area of her life. She gathered around her an incredible circle of emancipated 19th-century women: painters, poets, sculptors and literary women, many of whom she financially supported.She had intense love affairs with several of them.

Fondakowski’s project is based on the collection in the Library of Congress of over 1,000 unpublished letters, written by Cushman to Emma Crow, the transcription of which has been a 10-year labor of love by scholar Lisa Merrill. Many of Cushman’s letters to Crow include the directive: “burn this letter,” but they were not burned. Preserved, they chronicle a passionate Victorian-era lesbian love story before such love was thought to exist.

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