Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events
   Date: 11/8/10 Bookmark and Share

At Smith, Good Chance for a Fulbright Fellowship

In the past decade, Smith has built a successful program of Fulbright Fellowship acceptances, ranking at or near the top each year in percentage of applicants granted the prestigious scholarship. More than 100 Smith students and alumnae have studied under Fulbright Fellowships since 2001.

This year’s Fulbright Fellowship application season opens on Tuesday, Nov. 16. The Fellowships Program will host a gathering that evening at 7 p.m. in the Smith Conference Center for students interested in the scholarship program.

Meanwhile, Fulbright Fellow Emily Mendelsohn ’01 is studying theater in Uganda this year. She directed a play by Ugandan playwright Deborah Asiimwe, which had its premiere last month at Uganda’s National Theater. Mendelsohn wrote about the experience for the Gate.

In Uganda, Using Theater to Deliver a Message

By Emily Mendelsohn ’01

Emily Mendelsohn ’01 (on left) with playwright Deborah Asiimwe.

I am sitting, safely tucked away from a torrential downpour in Kampala, following an afternoon production of Cooking Oil, a play by Ugandan playwright Deborah Asiimwe.

I have spent the rainy season at Uganda’s National Cultural Centre, directing this imaginative play about the impact of foreign aid on the “developing” world. The play reflects growing concern that aid policies have been detrimental to the development of sub-Saharan Africa by breeding dependence, connecting the powerful to a source of income that is not accountable to the people, and by forcing governments to adopt policies and practices that may not be effective for their particular situation.

We performed three weekends in October to more than 500 people in the National Cultural Centre’s gorgeous proscenium theater. It’s a small number compared to the thousands who attend film or music festivals hosted by the theater, but those who came expressed enthusiasm about the open address of corruption and the rigor of the production.

Cooking Oil tells the story of a community that receives humanitarian food aid, including cooking oil. A local bigwig and a teenage girl decide to sell the cooking oil, which was intended for free distribution to their village. The politician makes millions to fund his political ambitions; the young girl makes thousands (the equivalent of a couple of dollars) to support her going back to school.

A scene from Cooking Oil.

The play deals in a complicated morality that explores our capacity to judge an individual’s difficult choices without looking at the conditions that created those choices; and at the same time demands that individuals take responsibility for the choices they make.

The issue of choice is heated here. Once a week, we’ve invited professionals working in the humanitarian aid field to respond to Cooking Oil, moderated by Makerere University drama professor Dr. Jessica Kaahwa. There is a deeply entrenched view in Uganda that change can only come from effective leadership, either by donor organizations or government. Some panelists and audience members questioned this sentiment as an internalized dependence and wondered how aid systems can increase local communities’ agency to define and meet their own needs.

The play became mandatory for drama students at Makerere University. We are hoping to tour Cooking Oil regionally, to widen the conversation on aid’s impact, good and bad, on sub-Saharan Africa.

This work resonates with me as I look at the rhetoric surrounding the mid-term elections in America. Can a leader alone be held responsible for the fate of a nation?

Cooking Oil questions the efficacy of imported expertise or products, and a culture of dependency they reinforce. I’m conscious of this in the rehearsal room, where I’m imperfectly navigating an authenticity to my own sense of what’s beautiful and a fear of stepping into a didactic “expert” role. I work with a wide range of talented Ugandan performers, from professional actors, news reporters, radio producers, sketch comedians and musicians.

My aesthetic was deeply influenced by Paul Zimet [associate professor emeritus of theatre] when I was an undergrad at Smith, and has since followed other physically heightened, poetic ways of working. Performers initially balked when I suggested they crawl under a wheelbarrow or run in place for minutes on end. If I’ve found any land in this voyage, it’s the space of getting to know each other past comfort.


DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z