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Playwright-in-residence tackles writer stereotypes in talk

If all of Wendy MacLeod ’81’s accomplishments were listed in a row, they would fill this entire article.

So, it comes as no surprise that more than 50 people crammed into Cheever Room in Finn House to hear MacLeod, the James Michael Playwright-in-Residence/Professor of Drama, speak yesterday as part of the Kenyon Review’s Writers-on-Writing series. The talk focused on what it takes to be a writer and what MacLeod’s writing process entails.

“What I am trying to be honest about is how difficult it is to find the time to write and the discipline that is required,” MacLeod said.

After an introduction that was, met with applause, cheers and even a whistle from someone near the back of the audience, MacLeod began her talk with a bit of humor.

“I know a lot of you are missing yoga class for this,” she said to the audience. “So thanks for that.”

She began by debunking the the archetypal image of a writer at work: typing away on a typewriter, surrounded by crumpled up papers, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. MacLeod said the typical writer spends the day staring at a computer screen and drinking from a water bottle.

Another myth she addressed in her talk concerned how much time a writer should spend writing each day. While most authors will say they spend hours a day writing, MacLeod argued that no one actually has the capacity to do that.

“I feel like we always read interviews with people who work 10 hours a day,” she said. “I want to explain that that’s not always true and that’s not always necessary. You just have to work steadily.”

Students and professors alike laughed when MacLeod said writers are just like “designated drivers” when it comes to expressing feelings and emotions: Not everyone is able to express feelings and experiences through writing, so it’s up to writers to express these feelings for everyone.

While most of MacLeod’s talk focused on her writing process and what it means to be a playwright compared to an author or a poet, she also fielded questions from the audience, often citing her own work as examples.

The only question that managed to throw MacLeod was an inquiry about what it is like to teach her own work in the Introduction to the Theater course, commonly known as “baby drama.”

After a moment of thought, MacLeod responded that it is a surreal experience for her to see a scene she wrote played out in different ways, back-to-back. Some students seemed to miss key information, she said, but others explored the scene in ways she did not expect them to.

“I’m sure it’s also nerve-wracking for [the students],” she said.

In addition to teaching two courses this semester — Introduction to the Theater and Play writing and Dramatic Theory — MacLeod is currently working on play that is a commission for ACT Theater in Seattle. It is going to be  about a female television writer working in the 1950s.

“I have a particular interest in writing interesting roles for women,” MacLeod said. “A lot of actresses talk about how they are often asked to play moms and girlfriends and wives, and they aren’t the engine of the story. So I often try to write plays where a women is the engine of the story.”


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