Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club president Aislinn Brophy '17 speaks about the future of Harvard theater and her role in fostering a supportive organization.
By Ian Askew ‘19
This semester, college junior Aislinn Brophy '17 kicks off her first full season as the president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club. Brophy has been deeply involved in HRDC since coming to Harvard, first as an actor and then as a designer, director and playwright. Her dedication to student-driven theater has gained her a reputation among her peers and the greater community as an eager and effective community leader. With her election to the presidency, Brophy is poised to bring new energy to HRDC with a mission of inclusivity and support.
I sat down with Brophy, an Artist Development Fellow, last semester while she was transitioning into her role as president. At the time, she was in Harvard BlackC.A.S.T’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and still formulating the spring 2016 season with vice president (and fellow Harvard Arts blogger) Jake Stepansky '17. We spoke about her involvement in HRDC, her approach to leadership and her vision for the future of the organization. The following are excerpts from that conversation.
Approach to arts leadership
One of the most important things about arts leadership is being willing to be involved in everybody’s projects, even just a little bit. Not necessarily that I’ll be able to work on everybody’s show, but making sure that I reach out to everyone to know that I’m a resource for whatever project that they are doing and that even if I don’t know how to do what they’re asking for, that I can find somebody who does. Having a really strong network of people around you is one of the most important things about arts leadership. Also just be nice to people. Being nice to people is important. It gets downplayed sometimes, but people make art to be, hopefully, happy. That’s important.
HRDC as a community
Because we have so many shows, everybody gets divided up into their own separate groups and then spends all their time with the same people during the semester. Technically it is an overarching community, but we don’t have many events that are for everybody to go to. One of the things I want to create is a sense of a unifying community rather than one that has lots of little separate parts. We’ve already started working on that. We had an end-of-semester party that ended up being successful. I was excited about it because it was one of the first times that I‘ve actually seen that many different groups of people in a room together. It's the only time I’ve been able to see that, especially socially. It
was really nice.
Shifting to Theater, Dance and Media
I was doing what most people were doing at the time to sort of fudge their own theater major, which was be an English concentrator or a humanities concentrator and then do a secondary in dramatic arts. It was a roundabout way of doing what I’m doing now but with more constraints. Once the concentration was announced, I was like “I’m definitely doing this. I’m changing my concentration.” The resources we have here for self-directed work is incredible. The infrastructure the HRDC has in place is one of the most amazing things that you would ever want to have as an undergraduate theater major. You have so much freedom to put together your own projects and actually get them off the ground. You can literally direct a show on the stage where the A.R.T. does their productions. That is a real space. There’s a huge range of diverse possibilities. You can design, produce or direct a show in any number of spaces.
The future of TDM
What excites me [is] being able to say, “Yes, we have this department. But, no matter what, we still have this other network of undergraduate theater-making that gives you this extraordinary freedom.” And the department, as they are crafting TDM, is really trying to build upon it. It’s adding opportunities by adding exposure to professionals, adding more classes and adding more opportunities for real training. It’s going to strengthen our community of technicians and actors, and give people more experiences and exposure to professional things.
One of the things that Jake and I are looking to focus on most is diversity. We’re looking to support crafting a season that has a diversity of perspectives on gender, race, accessibility and other issues. When we announce our season, you’ll see that we’ve actually made a lot of strides in crafting a season that does look like that because, especially when I first got here, I got really frustrated. It was my first entrance into the world of theater, and I became really frustrated by the lack of roles for people who were like me, who were women and people of color. It felt very frustrating to see that, on the mainstage one year, it was Conspiracy, which is a cast of almost entirely men and the only roles for women are maids. They were almost not present in the entire show. There is definitely merit to those shows, and they’re incredible shows to be able to put on. But I also feel like, on a campus where there are so many opportunities for men and people who are white, that it’s really important to make an effort to put narratives on stage that embrace other kinds of people, because our community definitely has those resources, and has people of color, and has women who want to be onstage. We should be creating spaces for them to put their perspectives on stage and to be able to share their voice.