Playwright Heather McDonald looked out over a captive crowd to the Watson Forum Tuesday afternoon. When at home in the Greencastle apartment she is sharing with her dog, she looks out over a wall covered with images she hopes will spark creativity for her latest project.
McDonald is the author of eight plays, including "An Almost Holy Picture" and "Dream of a Common Language". Her plays have been performed on Broadway and at countless theatres across the globe. She has also written two screenplays and the libretto for an opera, and she is working on a project for television. She has received many nominations and awards, including a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize.
She is this year’s Mary Rogers Field and Marion Field-McKenna Distinguished University Professor of Creative Writing. This title was previously by Rick Bass during the spring 2015 semester. This professorship was created and funded in 2007 by J. David Field, Professor Emeritus of English, as the Mary Rogers Field Professorship in memory of his wife and was amended in January 2015 to honor the passing of his daughter Marion, a 2008 DePauw graduate.
This title means that in addition to giving this talk, she will call DePauw University her home this fall and teach a class, a 300-level English course entitled “Playwriting, Feel the Ache.”
“We’ve only had four classes together so far,” McDonald said Tuesday. “But I already have a good idea for my students’ personalities and what they might write their plays about.”
Addressing what she meant by the “ache” in a work, McDonald defined it as the reason it was written, or the drive to the action of the story. She emphasized that even comedic stories have an ache to them.
DePauw is not the only institution at which McDonald has taught. She called the Washington D.C. area her home for several years as she served as a professor at George Mason University.
The wall of images previously mentioned is serving as inspiration for work on a play that has been in progress for two years. Its title is “Masterpieces,” or fully, “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” taken from a museum exhibit of the same name
To close the presentation section of Tuesday’s event, McDonald read a section from “Masterpieces,” which included a unique passage. One of the characters speaks directly to the audience and asks them to obtain a pencil and piece of paper from the bag they were given as they entered the theatre (therefore “breaking the fourth wall” in stating that the character is aware she is in a play) and recommend masterpieces to be saved in the museum in which the play is set.
Following the reading, McDonald answered questions from students and faculty alike in the audience. She addressed whether she thinks about her audience when she writes, as well as her history in writing music-related works; both of her screenplays have musical titles, and it was based on that that she was asked to write her libretto. Professor Meg Kissinger also inquired as to how she “rights the ship” within herself after dealing with the heaviness of “the ache.”
“Do things other than write,” she said. “Directing, teaching, being a mother; all of these have helped me find that balance in my life.”
Her other mission for this semester is less professional and more personal. Two years ago, she and her father planned a trip on the Mississippi Blues Trail, but her father fell ill suddenly and passed away before the trip could happen. McDonald now plans to spend her fall break completing this journey.
As previously stated, McDonald, and her dog, will be here all semester. She welcomes visitors in her Asbury Hall office Monday and Wednesday afternoons, and is open to being invited to coffee and meals with her colleagues.
To wrap up her time spent in Greencastle, she will be presenting again on December 2, this time in the auditorium of Peeler.