Drama Students to Perform Play Written by Alumna
Categories: General, Upper School, Fine Arts, Alumni
Posted: 2/21/2018

Whitefield alumna and writing student Brendan Thomas (’17) has a new addition to her resume: professional playwright. The college freshman recently wrote her first full-length play and sold her work, entitled “Murder Doesn’t Feed the Hungry,” to her alma mater for production.

Taking six English classes in her four years of high school, Brendan always stood out as a student, demonstrating a stunning command of the English language and keen intellectual wit to boot.

“She just blew me away with her skills,” says Whitefield Upper School English teacher and play director Jessica Bonnem. “When I read her first writing response to an assignment early in her senior year, it sparked an idea in me to really watch her. All year, I watched her work ethic, her ability to write in different genres, her incredible skill with words. Last spring, as she was about to graduate, my gut kept telling me she should write a play for Whitefield. Rather than buy the rights to one of the many plays available for high school productions, I wanted to see what she could create for us. So I sent her a message: Brendan, I have a proposition for you.”

The play, Thomas’ first foray into playwriting, is called “Murder Doesn’t Feed the Hungry.” It is a full-length drama, heavy on sharp-witted humor, much like Thomas herself. Bonnem calls the play “a parody of a traditional British murder mystery that explores the mercenary nature of modern relationships and how money runs through them: Why do we relate to one another? Who gets what from whom? Who’s paying whom?”

"Murder Doesn’t Feed the Hungry" is set against the backdrop of an “ambiguous” English country manor house wedding in an “ambiguous” era. The “ambiguous” descriptor is key, as the real story is unstuck in time. Though the costumes and feel of the drama might suggest early 20th Century, the modern sensibilities of the characters, modern diction, and modern themes are not at all old-fashioned. Throughout the play, which begins with the shocking discovery of the murdered bride, the audience gets to know each of the characters in depth – and they all have dark secrets to hide.

As a student at Whitefield, Brendan was involved in theater throughout middle and high school. A member of the Whitefield Dramatic Society, she enjoyed acting in numerous plays and theatrical productions, as well as entertaining her peers with her quick wit and flair for sharply-composed writing. Writing a play was a natural fit for this college freshman now majoring in English at Hope College in Michigan, where she won a scholarship known as the college’s Distinguished Artist Award.

Playwriting did not flow easily at first, however. As Brendan wrapped up her high school career to prepare for college, she began writing per her agreement with Whitefield. With a signed contract and deadlines just like any professional writer, Thomas applied herself and worked with great dedication over the summer. Like many writers, after 30 to 40 pages of her first attempt and a long conversation with Ms. Bonnem about her struggles with it, Thomas trashed her work and started over.

As Bonnem notes, “Her passion, talent and worth ethic showed all summer. We spent hours in the coffee shop, reviewing her efforts, discussing character development, even doing roundtable readings with strangers. She was so professional and hard working. She really was amazing.”

By the end of the summer, Thomas delivered her completed script – ahead of her deadline.

With the February 23 debut of "Murder Doesn’t Feed the Hungry" presented by the Whitefield Dramatic Society, Thomas will notch a new achievement on her writer’s resume: professional playwright. Whitefield’s student actors are excited, too – this is their opportunity to create these characters. Normally, actors watch numerous videos of other productions of a show to see how other actors have presented a character. When a new show is developed for the first time, the actors who are first to play a character are thereafter credited with forming the “standard” for that character. As the debut actors for each of the roles in "Murder Doesn’t Feed the Hungry," students are creating the interpretation of the characters that will be followed by others in future years, an exciting prospect for the young performers.

Thomas herself has been assisting with the development of her debut show, attending rehearsals during her winter break from college and assisting with casting via video conference in January.

“This has been an incredible process,” said Bonnem. “Brendan is not just a former student of mine – she’s now my colleague.”

Guests are invited to attend the show and meet its creator February 23 and 24 in the Louise Owens Theater at Whitefield Academy. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.