Playwright, television writer alumna to speak at commencement

For many of us, returning from spring break means graduation is looming just around the corner and the nerves are starting to set in. This year’s commencement speaker, however, might help to put all our minds at ease—at least a little bit. The 2017 graduating class will be addressed by alumna Molly Smith Metzler ‘00, writer, editor and comedic playwright.

Since graduating from Geneseo, Smith Metzler has written numerous plays, including “Close Up Space,” “Elemeno Pea,” “Training Wisteria” and “Carve”––which have been presented in the Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights’ Horizons, The O’Neill Theater Center and even The Tristan Bates Theatre in London, among many others. Recently, she made the move to television, writing for the one and only “Orange is the New Black” as well as the Hulu series “Casual.”

Smith Metzler’s writing often comes directly from her experiences growing up, making them not only incredibly relatable and straightforward, but also captivating and entertaining for the viewers. 

One of her most successful plays, “Elemeno Pea,” was inspired by her experiences waiting tables at a club in Martha’s Vineyard. “Elemeno Pea” features main character Michaela, who is based off a particularly difficult customer that regularly gave Smith Metzler trouble at the club. Following Michaela’s posh vineyard life and laughable antics, the play has a sense of real-time comedy that’s simply irresistible. Her family shaped her comedic voice so much that after hearing a reading of “Elemeno Pea,” her sister said, “You owe me a 10 percent commission.” 

Her most recent play, “Close Up Space,” is about a ruthless editor who is known for tearing apart the manuscripts of fresh-faced writers with red ink. The inspiration for this play came from Smith Metzler’s familiarity with the publishing world––the title itself is actually proofreading jargon. 

In addition to being a playwright, Smith Metzler is also the Playscript Editor for American Theatre Magazine. She admits, however, that she is often her own biggest critic and that she is thankful for the supportive environment that surrounds her. 

“As a community of writers, we are all in this together, and you have to celebrate your friend’s success as much as your own,” she said.  

Smith Metzler’s commencement speech is sure to touch upon her successes and experiences as a writer; but, funnily enough, it was Geneseo that piqued her interest in playwriting to begin with. Smith Metzler was originally an English major planning to get a Ph.D. in English literature, but after taking a playwriting class at Geneseo, she “fell desperately in love with playwriting,” and shifted her plans accordingly. 

“I signed up on a lark,” she said, “and it really just changed my entire life.” 

The play she started writing in that class became “Training Wisteria,” which went on to win three Kennedy Center American College Theater awards.

After Geneseo, Smith Metzler completed graduate writing programs at Boston University, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and Juilliard. This is just one example of how having the ability to explore many areas of knowledge and culture makes a SUNY education invaluable. 

“You have to be lean and sharp and hard on yourself. It takes forever just to write one good page of dialogue, and I love the challenge of every sweaty, horrifying, exhilarating moment,” Smith Metzler said.  

Ask any Geneseo senior: that sounds a little bit like college. Based on her career, her success and her comedic flare, Smith Metzler is sure to give this year’s commencement ceremony a sense of warmth and excitement.