MOIRAI, College fourth-year Giulia Chiappetta’s debut as a playwright, follows the classical Greek Fates Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis as they seek to reclaim Atropos’ scissors from a thief in the modern world. The project is Chiappetta’s playwriting debut, and was directed by College fourth-year Maddie Henke. MOIRAI is a dark comedy, exploring themes of mortality, sisterhood, and traveling. The production is being put on with support from the Oberlin Student Theater Association, and is entirely student-run.
MOIRAI reflects Chiappetta’s interest in humanizing legendary mythological characters.
“I was interested in expanding and giving these staple characters who are part of this canon … a voice,” she said. “It’s so often just the three of [the Fates], they’re the same and they dictate what’s going on. But what’s their story?”
This humanization and interest in individual stories brought genuine emotion to the play’s forefront, according to Henke.
“The most important thing was to bring out the relationships between the characters and the sisterhood that felt so honest,” she said.
To foster this naturalness in the performance, Henke encouraged the actors to experiment through improvisation.
“I made sure it was a welcoming and kind space where everyone could become friends and make the energy real,” she said. “We would go through scenes in different ways, like with whispering or [acting] very overdramatic, so that nothing stayed the same. That allowed the actors to create things that worked.”
Chiappetta encouraged the actors to adjust their lines, which Henke believes made the play more sincere.
“Giulia’s been super great about telling the actors that if something doesn’t feel natural to say, they can say it a different way,” she said. “We’re not working with copyright, […] we’re workshopping and creating this play on the spot.”
Although she was ready to tweak wording, Chiappetta said she steered clear from introducing narrative changes during the rehearsal process.
“Making changes would be stressful for the actors and stressful for Maddie,” she said. “But it has been challenging at points [to not make changes]. … I’ve had to step back and remove myself from it while being in it, which has been interesting.”
In participating in the evolution of the play, Chiappetta and Henke’s collaboration has also changed their previous impressions of theater and scripts as inflexible. For Henke, collaborating with the actors has made the experience of putting on a play more valuable.
“It all feels very level, like we’re creating this together,” she said.
For Chiappetta, seeing her work performed has increased her interest in scriptwriting.
“I do other forms of writing, but seeing it come to life is literally the coolest thing,” she said.
Henke was also excited about producing a student-written work.
“I’m really inspired by the act of putting on something that was written [by a student] rather than just letting it exist in a vacuum,” Henke said. “I would love to write and put on a show someday.”
The play’s success is particularly impressive considering that this play is both Henke’s first directing experience and Chiappetta’s first completed theatrical work, and that neither Chiappetta nor Henke went to any academic departments for support.
Students interested in formally learning to write for theater don’t have the most obvious formal avenues to learn the craft, but there are options. The College offers courses across multiple departments that are relevant to student playwrights, especially in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies. These departments have a history of supporting playwrights, such as B.J. Tindal, OC ’16, who authored What We Look Like, which was produced by the Theater department last semester, and work by the prolific playwright Rich Orloff, OC ’73.
Professor of English and Creative Writing David Walker had taught a playwriting class every other year for the past two decades. Following Walker’s retirement this spring, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program DeSales Harrison is determined to continue supporting the medium in partnership with other departments.
“We will always be open to working with Theater, English, Cinema, and [Comparative Literature], to name just a few of the relevant departments,” Harrison said. “Playwriting, like all writing for performance, requires interdisciplinary flexibility on the part of students and departments alike. In the past, the administration has worked with us to maintain this flexibility, and it’s our hope that it will continue to do so going forward.”
For students not interested in pursuing playwriting through an academic department, College fourth-year Emma Wehrman, OSTA’s previous playwriting production coordinator, has created a program that aids students to workshop and stage their pieces. Students only have to email OSTA to arrange a public reading of their work.
“One of the things that’s nice about doing a reading is that it’s a great way to get feedback on your work without taking a class,” said College fourth-year Annie Schoonover, OSTA’s current secretary.
OSTA also hosts a day-long playwriting festival over Reading Period, in which students have 12 hours to write a play and another 12 hours to organize a performance. This is another great entry point for beginning playwrights.
“It’s a whirlwind adventure, and a great way to dip your toes into playwriting,” Schoonover said. “Nobody’s expecting you to beat Chekhov in 24 hours; people will still be happy to see it.”
As Chiappetta and Henke have shown, OSTA provides enough resources to fully produce and perform a play. Furthermore, Schoonover reflects the organization’s eagerness to see more student playwrights come forward.
“I’m always really excited to see student playwrights put themselves out there,” she said. For playwrights and non-playwrights alike, this production promises to be inspiring.
The show runs Nov. 14–16 in South Studios, with performances at 8 p.m. Tickets are free.