Playwright professor

Award-winning playwright and arts educator Sheri Wilner joins the Boston College Theatre Department this academic year as the Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., Professor in Theatre Arts.

Wilner has authored more than 20 full-length and one-act plays, most recently the musical Cake Off, which premiered in October 2015 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia and received a Helen Hayes Award nomination for Outstanding Musical Adaptation.

2016 Monan Professor in Theatre Arts Sheri Wilner
Sheri Wilner

Her plays have been published in more than a dozen anthologies and have been performed at major regional and national theatres. She is currently director of the Dramatists Guild Fellows Program in New York City, which provides a year-long professional development workshop to a select group of emerging playwrights and musical theater writers.  

“Sheri Wilner’s expertise extends well beyond her highly acclaimed body of work as a playwright,” said Crystal Tiala, associate professor and chair of BC's theater department.  “She has made it her mission to advocate for gender parity in her field.  Her participation in research and subsequent publications bring to light how biased choices made by producers have resulted in significantly fewer opportunities for women.  Her presence in our department will fuel some fascinating discussions of both gender and racial parity in the entertainment industry.”

Wilner was master playwright for the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs Playwrights’ Development Program, where she conducted a series of weekend workshops over a two-year period with a class of professional Miami playwrights. She has taught playwriting at Vanderbilt University, where she was the Fred Coe Playwright-in-Residence, and at Florida State University, where she was head of the playwriting division of the Writing for Stage and Screen M.F.A. program.  

Venues at which her plays have been performed include the Old Globe, the Guthrie Theater, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights’ Conference, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre. Wilner’s work also has been produced in Australia, Denmark, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

At Boston College, Wilner will teach two Theatre Department courses: “Writing Wrongs: Writing the Issue-Based Play,” which will explore the process of transforming emotional responses to social and political “hot topics” into complex, engaging works for the theater, and “Contemporary Female Playwrights,” which will address the lack of gender parity in American theater through the lens of work by a range of female playwrights.

Wilner, with Huntington Theatre Company playwright-in-residence Melinda Lopez and Boston Playwrights Theatre artistic director Kate Snodgrass, will write a new, short play to accompany the opening production of BC’s theater season, Waiting for Lefty directed by BC Assistant Professor of the Practice Patricia Riggin. In conjunction with that production, Wilner will lead a panel discussion on gender parity in playwriting.

In March, the Theatre Department will produce her play Kingdom City, directed by BC Associate Professor John Houchin. The play—which follows a female theater director’s struggle to produce a provocative play in a conservative, religious town in the mid-west (based on a real event in Fulton, Missouri).

Wilner has received several prestigious fellowships including the Howard Foundation Fellowship in Playwriting, the Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship, The Playwrights Center’s Jerome Foundation Fellowship, and the Dramatists Guild Playwriting Fellowship. She has twice been a co-winner of the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Heideman Award for her plays Labor Day and Bake Off, both of which premiered at the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Cornell University and an M.F.A. in playwriting from Columbia University.

Wilner is the 11th visiting Monan Professor in Theatre Arts, a position established in 2007 by a gift to Boston College in honor of University Chancellor and former BC President J. Donald Monan S.J. The position, which also commemorates the late University trustee and benefactor E. Paul Robsham, enables the Theatre Department to bring nationally and internationally known professional theater artists to Boston College to teach and work with undergraduate students. Previous professorship holders includes director/singer Michelle Miller '98, director/actor Tina Packer; actor/playwright Robbie McCauley; director Paul Daigneault '87, and Broadway music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell, among others.

 —Rosanne Pellegrini | News & Public Affairs