Geneseo hosts first resident playwright

This past week Geneseo played host to Marjorie Chan, a Canadian playwright, librettist and teacher, as part of an event called "Playwright-in-Residence."

In December, GenSENG - Geneseo's Asian performance group - will present Chan's "Nanking Winter" - a two-part play that follows Iris Chang, the young author of "The Rape of Nanking," as well as the events of the 1937 event that she was struggling to expose.

Chan's visit is part of the celebration of GenSENG's 10th anniversary season. Throughout the week she worked with the actors of the Geneseo production, giving them a rare chance to work with the playwright.

In addition to a reading and lecture, Chan attended dinners in the dining halls and provided constructive feedback to each aspiring writer and actor she spoke with. Chan also visited literature and creative writing classes, making time for one-on-one talks with students.

"Write, write, write," was Chan's main advice. "Ideas are easy because we think about them all the time," she said. "I can't be objective about it when it's still in my head." She also cited writer Wyson Choi's mantra, "AIC" or "Ass-in-Chair." In other words, just sit down and write.

Chan began her theatrical career as an actor, and still occasionally performs in her own plays such as "China Doll," a historical play about foot-binding. She started writing when she was about nine because she "just thought people in their spare time wrote things."

"What attracts me to the theater is that I enjoy being in that room and I share the experience with the people in that room," Chan said, adding that she attends two to three plays a week.

In her Monday talk, Chan discussed her many projects, which range from "The Madness of the Square," a play about students in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, to her various youth programs.

When she's not writing, Chan runs Crossing Gibraltar, a theater program that pays immigrant and refugee children to learn performing arts, as well as Loyal T, which reaches out to children at risk from gang violence.

According to Dean of Residence Life Celia Easton, Chan is the first writer-in-residence that Geneseo has hosted in 20 years. Her visit was a collaboration between Residence Life and the School of the Arts, specifically Writer's House and GenSENG.

Easton described Chan as "very giving and willing to work with us," and said she was thrilled at the response to Chan's visit. "She's been incredibly generous." Easton said, adding that she hopes students will be less shy when the next writer comes, possibly in the spring.

"It's been really great," Chan said regarding her visit to Geneseo, describing the students as "optimistic, hopeful and practical."

Chan intends to return to Geneseo for GenSENG's production of "Nanking Winter," which starts on Dec. 3.