Annual Warren Baird English Symposium author Sarah Ruhl, whose visit was previously scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, is now coming to KO on Tuesday, Feb. 25, due to scheduling conflicts. KO students were notified through an email from Symposium English teacher Michelle Caswell on Dec. 3, and the new date was announced at an assembly days later.
Ms. Ruhl’s winter schedule is packed tight with premieres, operas, and the publishing of new books; unfortunately, a conflict with the world premiere of her new play “Becky Nurse of Salem” at Berkeley Repertory Theater pushed back her visit to KO until February.
“I found out Monday morning,” Mrs. Caswell said. “Her tech crew coming out of New York got delayed driving to California because of the weather, so because of that the whole play got pushed back a week.” While Ms. Ruhl initially anticipated the play to be in dress rehearsals in time for her to come to KO, the snow moved it so that she is still in early tech rehearsals and needs to be there to make revisions. “She had originally planned to visit us before these world premieres, but, as they say in the theater, ‘the show must go on!’” Mrs. Caswell wrote in her email.
Despite the communitywide disappointment, Ms. Ruhl’s busy schedule is part of why she was Mrs. Caswell’s top choice for this year’s symposium author. “The reason why it was so difficult to find a date to reschedule is also why I wanted her to be the Symposium author,” she said, “because she is doing really cool stuff and is super busy and actively working on all these projects.”
Senior Juanita Asaphokai shared these sentiments. “Such is the life of an active playwright as Mrs. Caswell said, and I’m happy we have somebody who is so active. It’s not like her career is in retrospect; we get to watch it happen right now and meet her,” she said.
Aside from the world premiere of “Becky Nurse of Salem,” Ms. Ruhl is also staging “Eurydice,” which was read by all Upper School English classes, as an opera. This new adaptation is set to open on Dec. 19, in LA. She will also be releasing a memoir, “Smile,” on her experience with Bell’s palsy, and will publish her first book of poetry the week before her visit to KO. “I found snipits of her poetry in ‘Letters from Max’ and in random Google searches and places she’s been published in magazines,” Mrs. Caswell said. “But she doesn’t have a full collection until now so I’ll be super psyched about that.”
While the Symposium class students are especially eager to meet Ms. Ruhl, Mrs. Caswell expressed in her email that she hopes the community can be patient and continue to be excited for her visit. “By the time Ms. Ruhl is on campus in February, we’ll be able to engage her in dialogue not just about the plays we’ve read, but about her ongoing work in writing plays, poetry, and prose,” she wrote.
Symposium students said they agreed that the date change presents even more opportunities for discussion and study. “Our class was really anticipating her visit; the fact that she’s not coming puts a damper on the excitement,” Juanita said. “But I think now as a school we have more time to study her work more closely and us Symposium students have more time to build up the excitement as well.”
Senior Symposium student John McLaughlin said he agreed and is excited to be able to discuss more work with her. “Getting perspective from the creator of those works should be pretty special, especially since she will have even more brand new material released by the time she visits,” he said.
Mrs. Caswell said she plans to use the time to move onto their new unit and get the community more involved to keep up the anticipation. This next unit encompasses studies of both Sarah Ruhl and theater in general. “The Symposium class is moving beyond just her work and looking into some of her influences, large and small. They could go as far back as a traditional Greek tragedy and compare it to ‘Eurydice’ or they could look at a play written by her teacher at Brown, Paula Vogel,” Mrs. Caswell said.
Both Symposium classes have been planning ways to involve all of KO in their study of Ruhl, and this schedule change gives them all the more time to do so. “We’re kind of excited that we’re not as rushed in doing things that we wanted to do that we didn’t for times sake, like making announcements at assembly, more time to meet as two classes together in PLBs or lunches coming up,” Mrs. Caswell said.
This will also give time for students not in the Symposium class to showcase work they’ve done on “Eurydice.” “We always wanted to share some of the more creative stuff they’ve been doing in class,” Mrs. Caswell said. “So we imagine how can we share some of the creative work that we’ve done in class at assembly.” A staging of scenes from some of Ruhl’s plays may also be in the works.
Overall, the hope is that students and faculty continue to be interested Ruhl’s writing and get excited for her visit in February.