Bates Creative Writers Tackle Memory, Isolation, and More in Module A Courses

As module A came to an end, students in Playwriting, taught by Lecturer in Theater Cliff Odle and the junior-senior Autofiction seminar, taught by Lecturer in English Jessica Anthony, presented readings of their work via Zoom on Oct. 13 and 15, respectively. The readings were open to the Bates community to celebrate student work — an even more impressive feat given the short timeline of the module system — as well as to spark conversations about creativity and writing.

For the playwriting readings, a group of 21 actors, including Odle, Vice President of Equity & Inclusion Noelle Chaddock, director of the Harward Center Darby Ray, and Associate Professor of Dance Brian Evans, traded off to read all fifteen plays aloud. While some members of the class were also a part of this pool, most did not read in their own plays so that each playwright could sit back and listen to their work read for an audience for the first time.

Over the course of the module, the playwrights wrote both monologues and ten-minute plays, the latter of which were shared. Ranging from 10-12 pages, ten-minute plays follow all the same rules as full-length plays in a fraction of the space and time. They traditionally have a small cast of characters and are one continuous scene, but there are always exceptions: “A Frozen Turkey” by Abigail Segal ‘23 was set at an extended family’s virtual Thanksgiving with nine characters spread across five Zoom screens, and “I Choose…” by Addy Armah ‘23 was divided into four scenes instead of honing in on one particular moment.

Each play had a research component tied to it, so many of the playwrights investigated subjects of interest to them. “Judgement Day” by Patrick Reilly ‘21 explored what happens when high-ranking members of a campaign staff find out their candidate may have sexually assaulted an intern, while “The Yom Kippur Play” by Katie Abramowitz ‘21 took a more light-hearted look at the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur and what it means to repent.

Odle has taught Playwriting at Bates for several years now, so translating his course into the module system took some adjusting. Several exercises were cut, and the theory of playwriting took more emphasis than the actual writing. For example, the final plays sometimes get three or more drafts, but he felt this year’s playwrights were lucky to get in two. He found some of his new innovations particularly helpful, though, and will continue them when transitioning back to the full semester system.

Meanwhile, five autofiction authors shared their work on Thursday: Mamta Saraogi ‘21, appearing via pre-recorded video from India; Sam Poulos ‘22; Ellie Boyle ‘22; Alex Burbelo ‘22; and Maria Gray ‘23.

Autofiction is a literary genre not dissimilar from creative nonfiction, in which authors investigate the memory of their own experiences (hence the prefix “auto”). Most are written in first-person and feature the author, or someone like the author, as narrator. Anthony introduced the genre at the top of the reading as one that “rewards collage” and is “the mosaic of observation, imagination, and cultural reporting.” Some embellishment was added to each piece as to how the events might have actually transpired, but as Gray shared, “factual inaccuracies are not necessarily incorrect” in autofiction.

The course was a brand new junior-senior seminar offered entirely remotely, described by Anthony as a “critical seminar which includes a creative writing component.” Over the length of module A, students wrote between 30-40 pages; the reading on Thursday only included a slice of what each writer had created.

The writers answered questions at the conclusion of their reading, discussing some of the theory they picked up and explaining rationale behind specific writing choices. Poulos, for example, divided his piece on vegetarianism into several scenes, since it’s a theme that has colored much of his life. Boyle, on the other hand, used a pseudonym for herself, picking a name that she had always wanted as a kid for her piece “Fake It ‘Til You Make It and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” Since she was writing about past experiences the way she wished they had happened, it made sense to her to transform herself into the person she wished she was.

Writing can be an incredibly cathartic experience. While a vast majority of students steered away from discussing the pandemic in their work, the effect of the past seven months certainly permeated the classes outside of just the mode of instruction. Odle felt his students were responding to the present day much more than previous classes, adding that “although only a few plays used Covid as a theme, most seemed to be in touch with the idea of isolation, wanting freedom, or trying to stay in touch with one’s own humanity.”

Creative writing classes at Bates provide students an opportunity to shake up their course schedules, dive into subjects of interest, and infuse time to create into their day-to-day lives. If this sounds of interest to you, be on the lookout for creative writing offerings in modules C and D, including a new screenwriting course taught by Odle. Even if you think creative writing isn’t for you, it never hurts to try; according to Odle, “the last thing you wrote may be crap, but the next draft will be better….and then that draft after that, and then the draft after that.”