With the start of a new school year, the English and Drama Student Society is gearing up for a whirlwind of events and theatrical performances. As I sit down with the EDSS’s President Carl Kersey and his affiliates, VP Christina Khokhar and artistic director Muhaddisah Batool, they come off eager to facilitate change within the English and drama community at UTM this year.
The excitement mostly comes from the society’s new theatre season, mainly focused on completely restaging Susan Glaspell’s Trifles—a one-act play by the American playwright who is famous for works like Alison’s House. “It is definitely something that is kind of intersectional and brings upon a lot of fourth wave feminism,” insists Batool.
She’s passionate about the project and wants to get a conversation going between students about what it means to write in prose versus scriptwriting. To do so, she has planned a public reading where actors can get down to the core and analyze the differences between the two.
When I inquire about the drama department’s new theatre specialist program, the group tells me that the idea of dramaturgy is often overlooked. Kersey vocalizes: “There’s a lot to do with theatre and drama that isn’t acting. There’s dramaturgy, directing, playwriting […] not that acting isn’t academic, but there’s a lot to study in acting, theory wise.”
While many other top-tier schools have offered more dramaturgical areas of study, UTM has also embraced it. Batool tells me, “Yale offers a doctorate in fine arts in dramaturgy—how do you get this specialized education? It’s when you start here, when you realize there’s a wealth of information being overlooked in institutions.”
The new specialist program highlights how important the humanities are. When I ask them how they identify with the significance of the field, they’re perplexed. It’s winding and complicated; the humanities are a science that is often misread and follows a tricky, spiralling course.
Batool tells me that if she has to say one thing about it, it would be this: “Sciences, law and engineering is the how to live, and the humanities is the why.” She seems rooted in the idea that while other fields allow us to sustain life, it is in the arts that we find reason to live.
“I think we see science and art on two sides of the spectrum, which is often unfair,” Khokhar says. “By creating these two separate kinds of studies where you can only enjoy one, or only excel at one, you are denying other people the ability to grow.” She argues that the humanities are a foundation for understanding the human condition, and without it we wouldn’t know “who we are, and what we are.”
Kersey agrees with this notion and tells me that he believes the root words of “humanities” are enough reason to study them. Topics in humanities help us understand how complex we are as humans.
Kersey also outlines authors like Margaret Cavendish, who wrote scientific dissertations within her own poetry. He also credits UTM professor Liza Blake who has researched science within the works of literature and is paving the way for students to integrate both studies.
“In French, the humanities are referred to as the human sciences,” he finishes his idea, as if letting me in on a secret. “I think that’s a beautiful way of putting it because it’s just its own kind of science. It looks at what it means to be human.”
“Theatre happens because the world happens,” Batool finishes off. “We wouldn’t have anything to act about or feel about if none of the rest of it followed and vice versa. We’re a reproductive species because we want to live. There’s more than a biological reason for that.”
The EDSS is currently looking for submission for its 2019 academic and literary journal “With Caffeine and Careful Thought” due by October 26.