Physical distance hasn’t stopped the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House from bringing literature to life.
“The Writers House is the circus tent under which many performances happen,” said Kerry Sherin Wright, founding director of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House at Franklin & Marshall College.
While physically closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the house’s Social Distance Salon is bridging the distance. This digital series features video-recorded performances by current students, faculty, and visiting artists and writers. Videos are posted weekly on Facebook.
One such recording was a Q&A session with actor Jonathan Groff, a Lancaster native known for roles in Broadway productions “Spring Awakening” and “Hamilton,” as well as voicing Kristoff in the “Frozen” movies. Initially invited to lead an in-person master class, the Grammy Award winner opted to field student questions, including favorite roles, stage snafus and pursuing your passion.
Other salon guests include graduating seniors Coral Bello, Noah Williams and Samantha Friedlander, as well as English department prize winner Kyra Lisse ’22. The series has provided an alternative outlet for students to showcase their talents despite the cancellation of the annual Emerging Writers Festival, usually held early April.
“There are so many strong writers at F&M. Literary culture runs deep,” Sherin Wright said. “Some of the readings are scholarly, fiction, poetry. It’s been joyful to see the mix.”
Prior to his recording, the College spoke with Groff about literature, performance and Lancaster.
F&M: What elements do you look for in a screenplay when considering a new role?
Groff: The green light for me is primal, not intellectual. My imagination starts to run wild, I start sweating and I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I also love being surprised. And a great director.
If you could portray a character in any book, screenplay or other piece of literature, who would you choose and why?
Konstantin "Kostya" Dmitrievich Levin in “Anna Karenina.” It's my favorite book, his storyline KILLS ME and I relate to his feelings of both belonging and isolation in the city and the country.
Many struggle to convey emotion when reading their own writing aloud to others. Any performance tips to deliver a narrative with passion?
Great writing moves me even if it is not delivered by a brilliant orator. I would suggest just being honest and clear while you are reading and the writing will take care of the rest.
Students, faculty and staff find themselves front and center on video calls right now. Any performance tips to convey confidence when you’re the center of attention?
I would suggest being direct, clear, honest and succinct when you need to communicate. For me, I only speak in rehearsals when I feel I need to say or ask something. Otherwise, I'm happy to observe and soak in what everyone else is expressing.
When visiting Lancaster, where do you go for inspiration?
I love driving through the Amish fields. Spending time with my family. Seeing shows at EPAC [Ephrata Performing Arts Center] and The Fulton [Theatre]. Lightning bugs in the summer. Ice cream at the Creamery in Strasburg. Walking through [Central] Market in downtown Lancaster. I am inspired by so many people and places here!
"Great writing moves me even if it is not delivered by a brilliant orator. I would suggest just being honest and clear while you are reading and the writing will take care of the rest."