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Leah Fondakowski 300

American playwright and director Leigh Fondakowski is coming to the U of M's Institute for Advanced Study this fall to teach a rare, six-week intensive course on how to create theatrical plays from researched material.

Playwright Leigh Fondakowski to teach rare, six-week course on creating theatrical plays at U of M this fall

Course will focus on Fondakowski’s new play "Casa Cushman," which explores the life and work of 19th century American actress Charlotte Cushman

Contacts: Kelly O'Brien, College of Liberal Arts,, (612) 624-4109
Jeff Falk, University News Service,, (612) 626-1720

September 30, 2010

American playwright and director Leigh Fondakowski, creator of “The People's Temple” and head writer for “The Laramie Project,” is coming to the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study this fall to teach a rare, six-week intensive course on how to create theatrical plays from researched material. The course is geared toward advanced undergraduate and graduate students and runs Nov. 1 through Dec. 6.

Using a process Fondakowski has created through her work with the Tectonic Theater Project, a New York City-based national theater company, students will be guided through the process of translating current events, history and interviews to the stage. Part discussion, part studio exploration, this step-by-step process teaches students how to think theatrically and how to create new work from real events.

In addition to in-class meetings, the course will include direct observation of the process in action while Fondakowski workshops her newest project, “Casa Cushman,” in Minneapolis in collaboration with the U of M College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, the Institute for Advanced Study and The Playwrights' Center, which, based in Minneapolis, is considered one of biggest and most innovative playwriting centers in the country.

“Casa Cushman” is an ensemble play that explores the life and work of 19th-century American actress Charlotte Cushman. One of the most important actresses of her time, Cushman was famous for her interpretation of the leading male roles in Shakespeare. Cushman continually challenged Victorian notions of gender in her stage portrayals of male characters and of strong, androgynous female characters.

Fondakowski's project is based on the collection in the Library of Congress of over 1,000 unpublished letters, written by Cushman to Emma Crow, the transcription of which has been a 10-year labor of love by scholar Lisa Merrill. Many of Cushman's letters to Crow include the directive: “burn this letter,” but they were not burned. Preserved, they chronicle a Victorian-era lesbian love story.

For more information about the course, including course number and credits, visit For a video of Fondakowski discussing "Casa Cushman," see

Tags: College of Liberal Arts, Institute for Advanced Study

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About Leigh Fondakowski's course

VIDEO: Fondakowski discusses "Casa Cushman"