Down to business: Playwright Rebecca Gilman

Megan Patsavas

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Playwright and Northwestern Prof. Rebecca Gilman was so influenced by her own college experience that she wrote a play about it.

Named one of the best plays of the year by Time more than a decade ago, Spinning Into Butter’s portrayal of a college dealing with an incidence of racial hatred brings to light issues that are still relevant today.

The Current sat down with Gilman to talk about the inspiration for her masterpiece and its upcoming performances at NU.

The Current: Spinning Into Butter is now being performed on campus. What can you tell me about it?

Gilman: The play takes place on a college campus in Vermont, and it starts when an African-American student there receives threatening notes. It focuses on the administration and some of his fellow students and their reactions to the incident. The incident itself prompts the main character, a dean on the campus, to examine her own attitudes about race.

The Current: Did the themes of Spinning Into Butter come out of your college experience at all?

Gilman: I went to Middlebury College, which is a small college in Vermont, and when I was an undergrad there, there was an incident like that one that was in the play.

Everything else after that is fictionalized, but it was that experience and the ways in which the campus and the faculty responded to it that inspired the play.

The Current: Does it relate at all to campuses today or Northwestern? Has the social and racial atmosphere changed much since then?

Gilman: Things have changed … (but) unfortunately, we have a long way to go still. You always hope when you write about a social ill that that ill will be cured, but I think you find that it just starts to manifest itself in different ways.

The Current: How involved were you in the Northwestern production?

Gilman: There’s a point at which, as a playwright, you kind of have to let it go and see what people make of your work. It’s always the same story -­ it’s always my play. But you sort of get an idea of different artists and their outlook on it, so I’m excited to see it.

The Current: As an accomplished writer and playwright, do you have any advice for students that are trying to hone their skills?

Gilman: You need to always write about the things that get you worked up the most…. This play is an example of that: It was something that happened to me in my twenties, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so 15 years later I wrote a play about it.

Spinning Into Butter opened on campus last weekend and runs through Sunday, Feb. 6. Tickets are available at the Theater and Interpretation Center Box Office: $25 for the general public, $22 for NU faculty, staff, area educators and seniors and $10 for full-time students and recent alumni.