The Oberlin Stories Project

On writing and producing her own play

Maggie Keenan-Bolger ’06

“Without the tenacity and fearlessness of the staff at Oberlin, as well as the flexibility of creative exploration, From the Inside, Out would never have become a reality.”

Actors rehearse a scene.

My senior year at Oberlin I went on a quest to combine my two majors (Theater and Gender and Women’s Studies) into one final project. Thanks to the flexibility of Oberlin’s courses, I had been given a number of opportunities to explore the intersections between theater and feminism, politics and activism. I read the works of Tony Kushner, staged managed a play of his and heard him speak in Finney Chapel my junior year. I devoured Eve Ensler’s plays and saw three versions of The Vagina Monologues on campus. And after looking deeper into the roles of women in Shakespeare with Phyllis Gorfain, I wanted to write a play that dealt with an issue that needed some exposure in an accessible forum such as theatre.

When I established the proposal for my play, From the Inside, Out, based on interviews of real-life people dealing with the topic of self-injury (intentional harm done to ones self for the purpose of an emotional release), I expected resistance. The topic was scary, people talking about it was even more scary, and people performing about it seemed nearly impossible. Much to my surprise, both my Theater and Gender and Women’s Studies advisors jumped into the project with full force. As it turned out, they weren’t the only ones. I managed to conduct over thirty on-campus interviews of self-injurers and friends of self-injurers who were brave enough to step forward to talk about their experiences and in some cases even give me their journals to read for information. The cast and crew (some of whom were interviewed themselves), delved right into the material, asking questions, offering insights and starting to break away at the numerous pre-conceptions and stereotypes surrounding the subject matter.

When the play opened in the fall semester of my senior year, I was thrilled and heart-warmed by the reception it received from the Oberlin audience. Self-injurers revealed their personal stories to me, people who came in expecting to be put off went away informed and questioning, and suddenly this issue, which had been shrouded in such silence and secrecy before, was getting talked about.

Mere months after graduating from Oberlin and moving to New York with a number of Obie classmates, four members of my theater class and I started our own theatre company called 4th Meal Productions. Using the skills we’d learned from Oberlin student theatre organizations, we dove headfirst into creating theatre and art in New York that we cared about.

A year after our formation, From the Inside, Out was put up again, this time at the New York Fringe Festival in August 2008. During its run, we established numerous connections interested in putting the show up at various high schools and colleges around the country. From the Inside, Out is now touring, spreading awareness and defying stereotypes to New York, Rhode Island, and the surrounding areas.

Without the tenacity and fearlessness of the staff at Oberlin, as well as the flexibility of creative exploration, From the Inside, Out would never have become a reality. It’s clear that the skills and attitudes adopted at Oberlin extend far beyond the campus. Indeed, without the freedom and courage I gained as an artist there, I would never be working today to bring the issues of self-injury from the inside, out.