Oberlin Blogs

On Taking the Interesting Classes

October 16, 2023

Natalie Frank ’26

My favorite class last semester was entirely a mistake.

On the first Monday of my second semester at Oberlin, I woke up at 8 a.m. to drag myself to a waitlisted Creative Writing class. I trudged from one class to another to another. By 3 p.m., I had attended four hours of classes already, but because of my waitlisted position, I needed another class–and fast.

I ate lunch with my friend Kiley.

“I only need one more class,” I lamented to her.

She told me about a class she had that night, a Playwriting class with a new professor I’d only heard of, Preston Crowder. I asked if I could join her. 

“You can,” she said, “But there’s a catch.”

"What could be wrong about Playwriting?" I countered.

“It’s three hours.”

A minor setback. Still, Playwriting.

“From 7 to 10 p.m.”

I went anyway, hoping that I could join the class. Desperation does ugly things to a first-year college student.

Playwriting was set inside a huge dance studio in Warner Center, which made our ring of twelve chairs feel small. Unlike my other classes, Playwriting was a group of twelve first- through fourth-year students, and most weren’t Theater majors. I sat beside Kiley as our professor led us through a check-in question. I glanced at the clock. Two hours and 52 minutes left.

After we reviewed the syllabus and the Honor Code (gasp) and summed up our expectations for the class, I wondered what else we could do to fill the three hours. 

Our professor led us through a free-write about Playwriting. Just when I expected a lecture, he turned our free writing exercise on its head and told us to write a monologue inspired by one of the prompts. We wrote two monologues and shared our pieces. I forgot to look at the clock for an hour, and by then, I began to lose myself in the class. 

I initially feared Theater 265 wouldn’t be relevant to my major or the “real world.” We read a play, Gloria, by the Black playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, about the lives of working Americans and their workplace dynamics. It was emotional, challenging, and more relevant than most other classes I had taken. In between readings, we led a discussion about what made the writing successful and how we interpreted the emotional depth of the piece. The class shattered my expectations. Before I knew it, the three hours were up.

You know that moment when you’ve taken a long nap and forgotten that the outside world exists? Or when you read a fantastic book that distances you from reality? In Social Psychology, the term is narrative transportation theory. Whatever you want to call it, it happened in Playwriting that night. When we left the dance studio, it felt like someone had paused life for three hours, and we were reemerging into it. What I chanced as a class to fill my schedule quickly became my most meaningful.

Over the semester, I developed friendships with everyone in my class as we shared scripts, read each other’s, laughed, cried, and discussed how writing and theater could change the world in impactful ways. I wrote a play about the emotional impact of repeated shooting drills and mass violence in American schools on young women. By the end of the class, I had written an entire play. I felt accomplished, and more than that, I felt like the class fulfilled my learning expectations.

I heeded online advice and followed my professor this year to Screenwriting: Television, and I am grateful that I continued with their classes. While I may not be a Theater major, I still find the class challenging and enriching. It offers a different mode of learning than my typical lectures or discussions. Nothing is more valuable than a professor’s and peers’ weekly reading and feedback on my writing. 

My advice to you (besides taking Professor Preston’s classes) is this. Search out exciting classes and attend them, even if they are not in your major. Especially if they are not in your major. What may seem like a credit filler has the potential to change the course of your education and empower your passions. 

You can find more about the play I wrote on my personal website here.

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