Ellen W. Kaplan

Professor of Theatre

Ellen Kaplan

Contact & Office Hours

Theatre 105



M.F.A., University of North Carolina at Greensboro

B.A., State University of New York at Binghamton


Ellen W. Kaplan is professor of acting and directing at Smith, a Fulbright Scholar in Costa Rica, Fulbright Senior Specialist in Romania and Hong Kong, an actress, director and playwright. She performs and directs internationally and has been guest professor at Tel Aviv University, Hong Kong University (where she was a distinguished writer-in-residence in 2016), the Chinese University of Hong Kong, University of Costa Rica, and the University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest, Romania. In the past year, her play Someone Is Sure to Come, which brings together voices from men and women on Death Row, was presented at La Mama Annex in New York City; her play Livy in the Garden, begun when she was in residence at Sewanee Writers’ Conference, was produced and performed at the Robert Black Theatre in Hong Kong; and her children’s play, Out of the Apple Orchard, had a successful run at Orlando Repertory Theatre. Other plays have been presented in New York, California, Ohio, North Carolina, Connecticut and California.  Cast No Shadow, about the legacies of the Holocaust, premiered at the Jewish State Theater of Bucharest. Pulling Apart, about the second intifada, was a finalist for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference and was produced in New Haven, Connecticut, where it won a Moss Hart Award. Her plays were twice named as finalists for the Massachusetts Playwriting Fellowship. She has also written and performed plays about Justine Wise Polier (supported by Kenilworthy-Swift Foundation); Charlotte Salomon (supported in part by Haddasah-Brandeis Institute), and Anzia Yezierska. 

Kaplan has directed dozens of plays for professional and educational theater. Recent productions include Turn of the Screw for Silverthorne Theatre, Lungs by Duncan Macmillan for the Radical Interconnectedness Festival in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Slowgirl by Greg Pierce. Last year she performed with Argentinian actress and Smith College Professor of Spanish Estela Harretche in David de Sola’s La Nieta del Dictador, touring to Puerto Rico and the Midwest. Currently, Kaplan and Harretche are performing La Razon Blindada by Aristedes Vargas. This project is the most recent of many collaborations between Kaplan and Harretche, including working as co-leaders of a Global Engagement Seminar in Spain on Federico Garcia Lorca.

Kaplan has a substantial record of scholarly publications: a book, Images of Mental Illness on Stage; book chapters, including work published in China (translated into Chinese) and in Spanish, about Argentinian playwright Nora Glickman; an essay ("Unruly difference: the politics of stigma and the space of the sacred") in Jewish History, about contemporary Jewish playwrights; and upcoming chapters in Performing Psychologies (Methuen) about the relationship between creativity and trauma; and in Teaching the Israel-Palestine Conflict, ed. Rachel Harris. Her published works of creative nonfiction have appeared in anthologies (Anthology of Women’s Voices; Beauty of the Story) and poetry (Deronda Review; Songs of Eretz; MomEgg; among several others). She has recently written a memoir about shame and the body, The Violet Hours. 

For three decades, Kaplan has engaged in theater work with underserved communities and societies in conflict. She has taught and conducted workshops in prisons, with at-risk and adjudicated teens, with literacy and pre-GED programs, with elders and for the Arts in Special Ed program in Pennsylvania. She has written plays based on interviews with women survivors of the wars in Bosnia (Sarajevo Phoenix), with refugees in the United States (Homeland/Homeless), in Israel (Manic-cure), and made two short documentary films, including Mixed Blessings, about Jews and Roma in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism.


Processing Difficult Material in Acting

Professor of Theatre Ellen Kaplan discusses how she helps her students process the sensitive and difficult material that they may encounter in her acting classes and why she does not believe in the use of trigger warnings.

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