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“Birth Witches” connects students with professionals

During Block 2, a dozen visiting artists joined Cornell students and faculty to produce the world premier of Jennifer Fawcett’s play “Birth Witches.” The play, which satirizes the conflicts that arose in the early 1600s when British medical doctors began taking over for traditional midwives, ran Oct. 10 – 13 in Cornell’s Plumb-Fleming Studio Theatre and Oct. 18 through Nov. 3 at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City.

Birth Witches

Professional actors Tim Budd (foreground) and Jaclyn June Johnson ’06 (far right) join students Myra Duffour, Millicent Marter, Per Wiger, and Daniel Dempsey onstage during a scene from “Birth Witches.” View a photo gallery from the show.

Jaclyn June Johnson ‘06 is associate artistic director of the St. Croix Festival Theatre in Wisconsin, and she returned to campus to perform as the chorus leader in “Birth Witches.” She said that Cornell’s One Course At A Time curriculum helps make it possible for theatre professionals like herself to work with Cornell productions.

“Since the schedule was somewhat contained, I was able to plan with my place of employment,” she said. “A longer process might have made it difficult to consider accepting the role and position.”

Cornell’s theatre faculty are all working professionals in their own right, a point of pride for the department. But Associate Professor of Theatre Janeve West explained that Cornell students will have a higher level of career readiness if they have the opportunity to work with a variety of professional artists from beyond campus, as well.

Junior Millicent Marter agrees. “I feel like I made connections for after college that will help me to ultimately find a job as a theatre professional,” she said.

These connections are aided by the longstanding relationship between Cornell and Riverside Theatre, with “Birth Witches”  marking their 10th co-production. Riverside’s artistic directors, Ron Clark and Jody Hovland, played parts in the “Birth Witches” cast and have taught for many year at Cornell as artists in residence.

Two of the other visiting artists involved in this production are also teaching classes at Cornell this year. During Block 2, Fawcett taught the playwriting course Contemporary Drama, and scenic designer Paul Sannerud teaches Stagecraft during Block 7.

Senior Daniel Dempsey especially appreciated the opportunity to have playwright Fawcett backstage.  “Jennifer has been a blessing to work with in the rehearsal process,” he said. “And we Cornellians don’t just get her in the rehearsal room, but in the classroom as well.”