The Life of an Honors Playwright

Author: Morris Mclennan

At six a.m. every morning, I wake up, drink a tall glass of fair trade biodynamic keto coffee that’s been flown in from an independent New York coffee shop, and I go on a run while listening to audiobook readings of Bertolt Brecht’s full theoretical discography. I then go home, change into my black vintage trench coat, and spend the next eight hours chain smoking and writing plays on a typewriter and using my massive brain. 

That is, of course, not true at all. Sorry. Truthfully, I roll out of bed 30 minutes before my online classes and wear the same Full Sweatpant Outfit every day. I have to shake my brain around like an Etch-a-Sketch in order to generate the occasional intelligent thought. But I do write plays. 

What is a playwriting major? Sometimes when I tell people I’m a playwriting major they say “oh so you’re gonna write movies?” I am now going to use this opportunity to publicly state that no I am not going to write movies. I don’t like movies, I watch like three movies a year, and my visual processing abilities are about as developed as a toddler’s. Film is generally a visual medium and plays are generally an auditory medium. So what I actually do all day is, I think about how people talk and what that sounds like. And then I write it down. It’s a lot of fun. 

Figuring out what I was going to do with my life in high school was an interesting time. I have always been invested in a lot of different things. By senior year, I was deciding between majoring in physics, going to plane school to be a pilot, and majoring in playwriting. You might think playwriting would lead to the fewest number of post-college practical job opportunities, but uh……… all three are maybe not the best options for finding a linear path in life. But hey, does anybody have a linear path in life these days? 

The conclusion I came to was this: I am going to write plays for the rest of my life because I love it and it’s fun. So I may as well start there, and if I want to study or do something else later, I can. I’m going to live a very long life but the first thing I want to do is learn as much as I possibly can about plays! And now, three years into my epic playwriting studying adventure, I’m really glad that was the choice I made. I’ve made a bunch of friends and written a bunch of plays. I have a bunch of theatre knowledge in my brain now (but not the Bertolt Brecht full discography… yet). And, even though every day I wake up and there’s a new apocalypse to worry about, I’ve decided to be hopeful anyways. 

At some point, it will be safe to go to theaters again. The repurposed laundromats and cafes and churches that housed Chicago’s iconic theatre scene will fill up with new companies, new people, and new ideas. And it’s going to be so exciting to be there, figuring out the future. 

I think we’re actually really lucky to be young right now. Maybe nothing matters because the world’s ending. But that means the stakes are low. That means we can do anything. 


Blood Wedding Virtual Theatre Event

In this folk tragedy adapted by Maria Irene Fornes, a bride struggles with unresolved feelings for a former suitor. On the night of her wedding, a moonlit escape ignites a chain of events that will forever haunt the families of those involved. The women of Blood Wedding confront passions driven by love and vengeance while challenging Spanish traditions of marriage and honor. (By Federico García Lorca, adapted by Maria Irene Fornes, directed by Lisa Portes).

  • Access to the recording begins Friday, February 5th at noon for a 24 hour window and the link will be sent via email.
  • Tickets are first come, first-served.
  • RSVP via Eventbrite and visit the Honors Blog (www.dpuhonors.com) for more information.
  • Email a screenshot of the end of the performance to Elizabeth Woodruff (ewoodruf@depaul.edu) to earn one Honors Point.

Click on this link to register.


A Very Special Event: Chicago Manual Cinema’s A Christmas Carol

Author: Jade Ryerson

There are a lot of things we’ve all missed since the onset of the pandemic back in March. Luckily, the innovative team at Chicago’s Manual Cinema has ensured that live theater no longer has to be one of them. In a show suitable for all ages, Chicago Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol combines original music, live performance, and paper puppetry for a remarkably timely and relevant take on the Dickens classic. Although there have been countless adaptations over the years, Manual Cinema offers a night of entertainment like nothing you’ve ever seen.  Honors Program students were treated to a performance of the classic on Thursday, December 3rd. 

Besides Scrooge’s supernatural visitors, stunning visuals and a haunting original score contributed to Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol’s magical quality. Performed by a small yet masterful team, the show consists of seamless transitions between shadow puppetry, miniatures, and live acting. Complex layering of dramatic lighting, transparencies, and silhouettes add both visual and emotional depth to the scenery and story. Some of the best elements, though, are in the subtle details, including a tatted Christmas Present and Christmas Past’s cross-generational banter. 

Although the protagonist, Aunt Trudy, struggles to get into the Christmas spirit, Manual Cinema has no trouble adapting the tale to our time. With both the show’s plot and the audience firmly planted in a COVID-19 world, A Christmas Carol’s themes of gratitude, love, and family have perhaps never felt more relevant. Like other families during lockdown, Trudy reluctantly attempts to translate holiday traditions—namely her late husband Joe’s puppet rendition of A Christmas Show—over Zoom. Despite her initial cynicism, Trudy accompanies Scrooge on a transformational journey that ultimately reinforces the importance of connection in trying times. Even over livestream, Manual Cinema’s ability to speak to our current moment made the performance feel more personal and poignant. In addition to its creative presentation, I was most struck by the team’s thoughtfulness surrounding our collective fatigue, grief, empathy, and need for human connection.

After the performance, students joined Honors Program Director Dr. Jennifer Conary for a discussion about the enduring relevance of A Christmas Carol. With infectious enthusiasm, Professor Conary—DePaul’s resident Dickens-expert—shared her insights about the novella’s various film and stage adaptations and the dire financial circumstances in which Dickens wrote it. In addition to Dickens’ pursuits as a Victorian social reformer, this context enabled students to view A Christmas Carol and what we regard as ‘quintessential Christmas’ in a new light. As Professor Conary explained, A Christmas Carol was transformative, not only for Dickens’ career, but also the holiday festivities we know today. Even over a century and a half after its publication, Manual Cinema still found a way to put an inventive spin on this Christmas classic.
While we can’t gather with family and friends, Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol provides a new way to connect; it reminds us to pause and remember how meaningful those moments and relationships are. With the dawn of the new year comes the promise of a vaccine and hopefully the return of live, in-person theater. Until then, Manual Cinema is hosting live one-hour performances every night from through December 20. Be sure to stick around for a Q&A with the cast and tour of the set after the show.