‘The Play’s the Thing’ for Dyson Students and an Alumnus

New York City is the hub of the theater community, a seat of immense creativity cast onto the world in venues large and small, and encompassing genres to suit all tastes. It is also the home of Pace’s highly ranked programs in both the undergraduate School of Performing Arts and graduate Actors Studio Drama School. Recently, performing arts stages in New York City—and beyond—have been lit up by prominent new works from Dyson playwrights telling stories on themes ranging from social justice to the inspiration behind the creation of America’s favorite canine character, Snoopy.

Wesley Goodrich ’20

In A Good Place to Raise a Boy, Wesley Goodrich, Directing and Political Science, used his playwriting skills to spotlight a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement in the United States. It’s the story of Emmett Till, an African American teen from Chicago who was murdered by a band of white men while visiting relatives in a small town in Mississippi. Although it happened in 1955, Till’s story left a profound mark on Goodrich from the time his mother first shared it with him when he was a boy.

A Good Place to Raise a Boy outlines the events leading to Till’s death, as well as the multiple repercussions to his family, and raises awareness about the shadows of the past and the importance of history not repeating itself. Goodrich wrote it while at the Pace School of Performing Arts after a police shooting involving a young man of color made today’s headlines.

Goodrich, who is African American, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I remember feeling powerless and feeling like, if it was happening to other people who looked like me, it would eventually happen to me.”

After an initial reading in New York City, the play was featured in the inaugural New Works Festival at Lionheart Theatre outside of Atlanta, Georgia, an experimental theater experience that Goodrich cofounded with classmate Sam Casey ’19.

Harold Hodge ’18

Harold Hodge, Directing, was also inspired by today’s social justice movements, although he got his start as a playwright before he even knew what the term meant.

That was in third grade, when he penned a play that his class performed for their school. In high school, he started a theater company that staged several productions and raised funds for a nearby children’s hospice.

 “By the time I came to Pace, I felt I had a strong sense of [myself as] an artist,” Hodge says. “I knew what I wanted to say, and I hoped to learn how to say it.” 

One of his most recent pieces was inspired partially by the #MeToo movement. Fancy Maids is a look at the experience of black women in the pre-abolition North through the eyes of four women living in a Delaware brothel, and it was named the 2019 Rave Theater Festival’s selection for “Outstanding Play.”

“I found myself asking, ‘how do we move past our anger and heal from the permanent scars left from slavery?’ From that question, the premise of Fancy Maids was born,” said Hodge, who began experimenting with the concept as an undergraduate at Pace.

Hodge himself directed the Rave Theater Festival production, which included six other Pace School of Performing Arts students: the four leading actresses, the stage manager, and lighting designer. “Outstanding Performance” awards were received by Madeline Grey DeFreece ’19, BFA Acting for Film, Television, Voice-overs and Commercials, and Kayland Jordan ’19, BFA Acting.

“All of us were driven by a passion for the project and the story we were telling, driving everyone to go above and beyond the line of duty,” he says.

The awards and reviews received at the Rave Theater Festival have opened the doors for the production of Fancy Maids and will allow Hodge to continue to tell such critical stories. Hodge has written more than 20 plays, eleven of which have been produced.

Erica Magrin ’19

If Pace enabled Erica Magrin, BA in English Language and Literature/MS in Publishing, to establish a strong foundation for her burgeoning literary career, playwriting has helped her to find her voice.

As an undergraduate, Magrin was coeditor of Aphros, Pace’s undergraduate literary magazine, worked as a student aide for Pace University Press, the University’s academic press, and held several prestigious internships including one at the Gotham Writers Workshop.

Her first-ever full-length play, Make Believe, is about an imaginary friend. It premiered in March 2017 at the Bridge Theatre and transferred to the American Theatre of Actors following a sold-out run. Her second play, Conversion, is a survivor’s story. Chronicling a fictional court case surrounding gay conversion therapy, it ran successfully at Theater 54 in December 2017.

“For Make Believe, I worked on the idea at first in prose, but decided it would be better as a play,” says Magrin. “The writing took about three months, and the editing—a lot of which was done in rehearsal—took about another three months. Conversion took much longer to create; a lot of the work was research-based.”

Margin worked with playwriting professor Crystal Skillman to develop both pieces, and says that as a writer, these dramatic pieces have helped sharpen her dialogue, exposition skills, and use of symbolism.

Now a marketing assistant at Simon and Schuster, a top employer for Pace’s MS in Publishing Program, Magrin next hopes to publish a manuscript based on her undergraduate thesis work with English Professor Helane Levine-Keating.

Jack McManus ’21

Jack McManus, Directing, has been writing short, comical plays since his early days. In high school, he collaborated with Ryan Cook ’20, Acting, and another friend on Mom, I Want to Be a Chemist, about the value of arts education. Their work won The Theater Project’s 2016 Young Playwright’s Competition and was performed in amateur productions throughout New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

More recently, McManus authored Sparky, a musical based on the life of Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. Director Brendan Stackhouse had pitched McManus on the idea while they were working together at a children’s summer camp, and asked McManus if he would be interested in writing the book and lyrics.  McManus was initially nervous, but Sparky came together in just under six months, the length of time it took Schultz to create the iconic Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It premiered at New York City’s Hudson Guild Theater in January 2019.

McManus plans to continue honing his skills as a writer and director by taking advantage of all that Pace has to offer, including opportunities to work with and learn from industry professionals.

“Watching the work of Zi Alikhan, who I assistant-directed under when he did Les Miserables, and Haruna Lee, who leads the performance ensemble in an original work called Paranormals that I am a part of, has been immensely helpful to my growth as an artist and as a person,” he says.