This semester, James Jelin ’16 has been writing and directing his own play, “Blackout,” for his independent study. Blackout will debut on Sunday, May 3 at 7 p.m. in 108 Memorial Hall.
Jelin’s play focuses on the relationship between two female first years at a liberal arts college much like Bowdoin. These women, played by Quincy Koster ’15 and Maggie Seymour ’16, have differing opinions about partying and drinking. Additional roles are played by Austin Goldsmith ’18, Ben Cumings ’15, Taylor Love ’16 and Charlie Campbell-Decock ’17.

“They both come into the school and feel a little bit lost, as many of us do,” said Jelin. “One of them...starts drinking a lot and sleeping around. The other one...isn’t really into the party scene and finds herself a little bit disgusted with some of the patriarchal stuff she’s seeing on campus.”

The girls’ friendship becomes strained when Koster’s character is sexually assaulted and does not want to report the incident.

This project stems from Jelin’s own interest in women’s studies, religion, and feminism. His experiences in Associate Professor of Religion Elizabeth Pritchard’s class, Gender, Body and Religion, inspired him to put his thoughts down on paper.

“When he approached me [for advising], I said sure,” said Pritchard. “He knew that I don’t write plays, I don’t generally teach that material, but he wanted a person to read the material and have some conversations about gender and religion.”

Jelin’s engagement in the issues of religion and sexual violence has moved beyond the classroom and into his extracurricular work.

“I wrote these two female characters because it felt like a more straightforward way of addressing the things I was interested in,” said Jelin. “It feels personal to me, like I’m working through stuff that occupies my mind very frequently.”

Jelin felt that the visual experience of the story would be a powerful way to discuss gender and sexuality issues. Therefore, he wanted to bring the story to the stage.

“It’s really important to explore the way these issues affect the other aspects in people’s lives,” said Jelin. “That’s something that theater especially can do because it’s such a visceral [experience].”

Last summer, he wrote a 30-minute version of “Blackout” at a playwriting program at Vassar College. This semester, he has adapted it into a longer performance with help from Pritchard and Professor of Theater Davis Robinson.

Jelin began to approach actors about the project in January. 

“I’m glad that he’s having these conversations,” said Koster. “I think a lot of people are hesitant to, and he’s just going all in, which is great.”

Jelin hopes that with his play he can help further discussions on gender issues and assault.

“With something like sexual assault, we have a very canned, scripted understanding of how it works,” said Jelin. “I was also very interested in taking two really specific characters and saying ‘how does this function in their lives,’ as opposed to writing a play about feminism or about sexual assault.”

Koster supports Jelin’s mission.

“I hope people aren’t going to be dissuaded by the fact that [Jelin’s] just another white guy,” said Koster. 

Incidentally, “Another White Guy” is the title of the opinion column that Jelin writes for the Orient.

“He’s put so much into it—it’s a fantastic project—and I’m proud of him.”