Smith’s First English Thesis in the Format of a Play Bridges English and Theatre Departments
Emily Ehrensperger ’21
Assistant Arts Editor
This year, English major Tanya Ritchie AC ’19 will be the first Smith student to complete an English creative thesis in the format of a play with her piece “Them What Brung You.” While it may not have always been the easiest process, her work to establish the option should open new doors for future Smith students who want to take this path.
Described as a “southern gothic thriller,” the play is about a “young couple [that] experiences a myriad of difficulties during the birth of their child.” The project has bridged the theatre and English departments, reflecting Ritchie’s belief that “playwriting isn’t just theatrical, it should be part of the English department.” Ritchie wrote her thesis with advisors from both disciplines to curate her work as both a play and a piece of literature.
Because she was the first English major to pursue an English thesis in the form of a play, there was uncertainty as to how the requirements for the honors project would actually be implemented. As the first student to pursue the project in the English department Smith’s history, Ritchie and her advisors had to create the guidelines for the project themselves, which Ritchie signaled led to confusion throughout the process as expectations were unclear for both Ritchie and her professors.
Despite these troubles, the play has been successfully produced. “Them What Brung You” was staged April 4 in Studio 1 of Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts as part of the “New Play Reading” series. Ritchie will later present a scene from the play and give a presentation to complete the process and earn honors in the major. She will soon begin submitting it for awards and other professional opportunities outside of Smith as well.
Ritchie credited her career before enrolling at Smith for allowing her to resolve any barriers that came up during the thesis process. “Coming from New York, I’ve been working in theatre for twenty years, so I’m uniquely used to the word no. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I want to hear yes. What are we gonna do until the answer is yes?”
Her advice to the next student to take on a playwriting thesis in the English department encouraged this same conviction. “You have to advocate for yourself,” she advised, “really ask for what you need.” She recommended that students encourage the English department to create clearer guidelines that will make the process more standardized and allow students and faculty alike to come in with clear expectations.
Luckily, they will have benefited from the work Ritchie has already put in to break the boundaries between English and theatre and create new opportunities for all future students interested in this kind of thesis.