Playwright Vogel returns to campus for Ph.D.

By: Sara Warner,  Associate Professor, Department of Performing and Media Arts
March 30, 2016

The Department of Performing and Media Arts will welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Paula Vogel to campus April 12-13 for a conversation and concert reading of her most recent play, “Indecent.”

Vogel’s visit, one of two marquee events celebrating the opening of Klarman Hall and the New Century for the Humanities at Cornell, will also include the awarding of Vogel’s doctoral degree, concluding an academic odyssey that began more than four decades ago. “Indecent” serves as her revised doctoral thesis.

“It is a pleasure to join my colleagues in Performing and Media Arts in celebrating Paula Vogel’s achievements – including her soon-to-be-awarded doctorate,” said Gretchen Ritter, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “What an amazing journey she has taken since her days here as a student in the 1970s.”

Vogel entered Cornell’s doctoral program in theater arts in 1974. In her first year as a graduate student, she won the Forbes Heerman and George McCalmon playwriting competition for “The Swan Song of Sir Henry.” Vogel took home the prize again her second year for “A Woman for All Reasons,” a feminist take on Robert Bolt’s “A Man For All Seasons.”

Expanding the play into a full-length script, retitled “Meg,” Vogel won the American College Theater Festival’s National Student Playwriting Award in 1977. In 2002, this honor was rechristened the Paula Vogel Prize.

While a graduate student at Cornell, Vogel taught courses on playwriting and dramatic literature. She also worked as an adjunct instructor in the fledgling Women’s Studies Program.

Paula Vogel on campus

On Tuesday, April 12, at 4:30 p.m. in Klarman Auditorium, PMA associate professor Sara Warner will host a conversation with playwright Paula Vogel and director Meghan Brodie, followed by a Q&A and a reception.
On Wednesday, April 13, at 5:00 p.m. in Klarman Auditorium, there will be a concert reading of Vogel’s most recent play and doctoral thesis, “Indecent,” directed by Meghan Brodie.

Animated by the emerging discourse of feminist dramatic criticism that she was helping forge, Vogel offered a revisionist approach to theater history in her dissertation, “Hiding Scenes in Restoration Comedy.” Her special committee evaporated when two members left the university. Their replacements were unfamiliar with and unsympathetic to her project. Unwilling to “start over on page one,” she said, Vogel left Cornell in 1981 having completed all the requirements for her degree but without a doctoral diploma.

Vogel earned accolades and critical acclaim for a 1992 comedy, “The Baltimore Waltz,” an AIDS play inspired by and dedicated to her brother Carl, which earned an OBIE Award, a Pulitzer Prize nomination and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Vogel’s reputation was firmly established with “How I Learned to Drive,” for which she was awarded the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, becoming the first out lesbian to garner this honor. She wrote that play in tandem with “The Mineola Twins,” a satire about sexual stereotypes featuring identical twins with diametrically opposed political views, which the Department of Performing and Media Arts staged at the Schwartz Center in 2014.

Currently professor-at-large at Brown University and playwright-in-residence at Yale Repertory Theatre, Vogel was the Eugene O'Neill Professor of Playwriting at the Yale School of Drama (2008-12). For more than two decades, she served as director of playwriting at Brown, where she helped establish the Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium and mentored scores of artists.

Vogel’s revised doctoral thesis, “Indecent,” is a play about a play that has haunted her since she first encountered it as a 22-year-old Cornell graduate student. “Indecent” tells the story about the making of “The God of Vengeance,” a 1906 lesbian-themed drama by Sholem Asch. The play was successfully staged in Yiddish and German in theaters across Europe and in Manhattan. In 1922, the play transferred to the Apollo Theater where the production was canceled when police arrested the producer and cast for presenting an “indecent” work of art.

“I am guided by one ruling passion,” notes Vogel. “How do we seduce the audience with a desire to know and love Sholem Asch’s play, ‘The God of Vengeance’? I want to impart my gratitude, love and mourning for the theater artists that have gone before us.”

Meghan Brodie, Ph.D. ’10, assistant professor of theater at the University of Southern Maine, will direct the concert reading. “Paula's plays have nourished me as an artist, scholar and professor,” Brodie said.

Sara Warner is an associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts and a 2016 Public Voices Fellow at the Op-Ed Project.

This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle

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