Northwestern student’s original play on terrorism to premiere at Northlight Theatre


Source: Janna Giacoppo

Selina Fillinger

Darby Hopper, Reporter


After seeing headlines in the news about Americans attempting to join the Islamic State terrorist group, Communication senior Selina Fillinger questioned the cause of the phenomenon.

“They can’t all be crazy,” Fillinger said. “What is lacking right now in young American lives that would cause someone to try and fill that hole with ISIS?”

In order to explore the issue, she wrote a play, “Faceless,” which will be performed as a staged reading on campus in April and premiere at Northlight Theatre in Skokie in 2017.

Fillinger was selected as one of two students in a playwriting class to be a part of working commission with a local theater. Though the project was supposed to end with a professional reading, Fillinger said BJ Jones, Northlight artistic director, decided to fully produce the play in January 2017.

“No one could have anticipated that. I mean, that’s crazy,” Fillinger said. “That doesn’t happen, and I was over the moon. I don’t think I’m going to sleep until next year.”

“Faceless” follows the trial of a 18-year-old white woman from the Chicago suburbs who is arrested for trying to join the Islamic State and the Muslim woman who is prosecuting her. Fillinger said she hopes it will impact the assumptions people hold about terrorism and the faces behind it.

“It’s a lot about fear and faith and what terrorism actually is,” she said.

For the play, Fillinger said she has been doing research “around the clock” to learn more about people who try to join the Islamic State. She added she spends hours studying news articles, reading about Islam and interviewing people in the legal profession.

“I’m pretty sure the government has a tab on my computer given how much I’ve Googled al-Qaida,” Fillinger said.

Fillinger said that through her years at Northwestern, Communication Prof. Laura Schellhardt has been one of her biggest mentors. Schellhardt said that Fillinger has been a cornerstone of NU’s playwriting program since her sophomore year.  

“She has an incredible imagination and she always grounds it in something she feels passionate about,” Schellhardt said. “She writes plays that demand to be staged.”  

Although this is the first time Fillinger’s work will be fully produced, she has been in the spotlight before for playwriting. Fillinger is a two-time winner of Northwestern’s Agnes Nixon Playwriting Festival and the 2015 recipient of the Judith Barlow Prize from History Matters/Back to the Future, a group focused on promoting female playwrights.

But she said she also has passion for another facet of the arts — acting. She acted in her first play in second grade and said it was at that moment that she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

“I fought it for a long time because I didn’t grow up with a ton of money,” Fillinger said. “The struggling artist trope held no romance for me. I was like, ‘I’m too practical to go into this.’ But I find that if it’s something you’re meant to be doing, it tends to find you anyways.”

Fillinger said she points to Communication Prof. Gail Shapiro as one of the most influential people in her life. Shapiro said Fillinger’s parallel passions for acting and writing allow her to make better connections between the two crafts.

“She’s able to see acting through the eyes of a playwright,” Shapiro said. “Both have made her stronger in both areas.”

Fillinger plans to audition for showcases in New York and Chicago and to keep working on “Faceless” and other projects until the show debuts in 2017. After that, it’s kind of up in the air, she said. She added that as long as she’s both writing and acting, she’ll be happy.

“I have so many things I want to try,” Fillinger said. “I want to write a Disney movie I have an idea for a Disney lesbian princess, but that’s another thing. I want to voice a villain. I want to do stand up. I want to try improv. I want to do Shakespeare. I want to do festivals. I also want to try doing contemporary television. I want to be a Bond woman.”

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