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Ellen W. Kaplan is chair of Theatre, former director of Jewish Studies, and professor of acting and directing at Smith College, a Fulbright Scholar in Costa Rica and twice a Fulbright Artist-in-Residence in Hong Kong. In Israel, she has performed and directed at the Khan, Sherover and Jerusalem Theatres and Hebrew University, taught at Tel Aviv University and worked with intercultural theatre companies around the country. In summer 2010, she directed an English language version of Cao Yu’s masterpiece, The Wilderness, at Shenyang University in China, which then came to Smith on tour. Recent acting includes the Clown in Antony & Cleopatra at Blackfriars Theatre in Virginia; directing credits include Pirates of Penzance at Smith; The Sisters Rosensweig at New Century Theatre, Bellow on Stage at The Egg, Albany, NY, and a New England tour of Gathering the Waters, a solo work by Teresa Whitaker.
Her plays include Soul of the City, a finalist for the Massachusetts Playwriting Fellowship (2009) which was featured at the Great Plains Theatre Lab; With Dream Awakened Eyes, a one-woman show based on the work of Charlotte Salomon, which has been performed in the US and in Bucharest, Romania. Her play about living in Israel during the second intifada, Pulling Apart, a finalist for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference, was produced in New Haven and received a Moss Hart Award. Ellen’s two short plays about prison life, adapted from original stories, were published in Tacenda, and won a BleakHouse award.
She has translated several plays, including her adaptation of Cuentos de Eva Luna, which she directed at Smith College; it was staged in part by Amalgamotion Theatre, in Limerick Ireland, the following winter. Ellen’s plays have been performed at Theatre Matrix, LA; Cleveland Public Theatre; Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, and internationally, in Ireland, Romania and Israel.
She has published a book, Images of Mental Illness in Text and Performance, and is working on The Ties Don’t Bind, about Jewish-American identity in contemporary theatre. Other publications include essays in Our Voices: An Anthology of Jewish Women’s Writing; poetry in The Deronda Review and WordMyth; scholarly journals in Jewish History, Theatre Topics, Studies in Theatre and Performance, and a book chapter (in Spanish) on the work of Argentine playwright Nora Glickman. Media work includes Mixed Blessings, a documentary about Jews and Gypsies in Eastern Europe; radio dramas, and a CD-ROM on writer Juan Rulfo.
Much of Ellen’s work focuses on theatre in zones of conflict, and the intersections between expressive arts and social trauma. She has worked with incarcerated women, elders, adjudicated teens, and ABE students, using theatre as a tool for developing literacy and creativity. Her Presidential Seminar combines Smith students with incarcerated women, in a study of women and violence.