Loading his tray up with eggs, potatoes, sausage, biscuits and gravy, Hank Boland followed Cassandra Rose — both returning participants to this year’s Kenyon Institute Playwrights Conference — into the Great Hall of Peirce.
“Last year we made fast friends,” Boland explained. “It made it an easy decision to come back.” The pair was soon joined by Kate Kramer and Griffin Horn, and the conversation turned to an impending assignment. Rose whipped out her iPhone and read the assignment, which called for writing a tragedy that was written as a comedy or a comedy that was written as a tragedy, inspired by an event in the life of the writer.
When Boland, Rose and Horn arrived in Lentz House a little later for their class with Gavin Witt, an associate artistic director and director of dramaturgy at Center Stage in Baltimore, there is a minor crisis. Witt had spilled his coffee, and it formed a small brown puddle on the Amish-made wood table.
“Now that’s tragedy,” Witt said.
“But write it as comedy and bring it this afternoon,” Boland rejoined.
The Playwrights Conference is one of the Kenyon Institute’s adult workshops where the jokes come easy and the work comes hard. In the weeklong program, three-hour seminars in the morning are followed by time set aside for writing and master classes. The seminars, led by Kenyon and guest faculty, offer a collaborative environment to improve one’s writing. That sort of give-and-take approach to theater appealed to Boland, an artistic director at Strawdog Theatre Company and faculty member at Columbia College Chicago.
“I think to be successful in theater, you have to learn pretty early how to say yes,” Boland said. “It’s just choosing the right things to say yes to, and this seemed like an opportunity to say yes to.”
And in many more areas, professionals and amateurs alike are saying yes to the Kenyon Institute’s approach to post-college education in the summer.
“Often I think the general public may think of writing as merely expressive writing,” said Sarah Kahrl, director of the Kenyon Institute, “but I think we stand alongside the College’s commitment to writing in all academic disciplines.”
That includes the sciences, where Professor of Biology Chris Gillen leads the Kenyon Institute Biomedical and Scientific Writing program.
“The participants in the workshop are very different than Kenyon students, the people that we interact with day in and day out, so we didn’t know how they were going to respond.” Gillen said. “And the good news is, folks loved it.”
Folks love it so much that about a quarter of participants returned to the Hill for their second year in all Kenyon Institute programs, according to Kahrl. And the Kenyon Summer Seminar — this year a range of explorations into “Great Books, Great Ideas” taught by Kenyon faculty — has doubled in size.
Peter Rutkoff, professor of American Studies who led the seminar “Movies That Changed the Movies,” believes the Summer Seminar is a great way to expand the Kenyon brand.
“It’s very much in keeping with the college’s mission,” Rutkoff said, “liberal arts teaching on the one hand and retaining close intellectual contact with the graduates on the other.”
“I think that the proliferation of programs and the expansion of the programs in size hold great promise for Kenyon,” Kahrl said. “That’s my aspiration, for it to be very busy during June and through July as we add programs. I really do envision this being a community of writers and learners that will have a chance to experience the Kenyon education, as well as devote time to their own learning and writing.”
By Henri Gendreau ’16