Dr. Drew Shannon, Ph.D. and associate professor of English at the Mount, co-wrote and acted in a virtual play for the 30th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf in the presence of a supportive academic community.

3 actors in zoom smiling at camera

As a writer deeply concerned with the distribution of power, wealth, education, privileges, and opportunities, 20th century modernist novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf remains a relevant and sustaining voice on issues of social justice, politics, equality, pacifism, the dangers of fascism, totalitarianism, and all types of inequality. She is recognized as one of the most important women writers in history. 

During June 10th to June 13th 2021,  Dr. Drew Shannon, Ph.D. and associate professor of English at the Mount, participated in the virtually held 30th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf where he performed in a play called, Can One Really Say It?: Based on the Letters of Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and Lytton Strachey that he co-wrote with famous playwright and actor, Ellen McLaughlin.

The play’s audience debuted amongst the conference attendees, and was designed to provide a new angle on the private writings of the Bloomsbury Group members (a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century) via Zoom.

“McLaughlin is devoted to the works of Virginia Woolf, so we collaborated on this script, which consists of extracts from letters by Woolf, her sister Vanessa Bell, and their friend Lytton Strachey to form a lively dialogue,” says Dr. Shannon. Thus, Dr. Shannon played Lytton, Ellen played Vanessa, and they were joined by Kathleen Chalfant as Virginia Woolf.

According to Dr. Shannon, Ellen McLaughlin is famous for having played the role of the Angel in Tony Kushner’s landmark play Angels in America in all of its American productions, including Broadway. Additionally, Kathleen Chalfant also appeared in the original Broadway cast of Angels in America (for which she was nominated for a Tony Award) and originated the role of Vivian Bearing in Margaret Edson’s Wit Off-Broadway.

“The play was very well-received,” Dr. Shannon adds. “Many viewers replied that they were moved to tears at Lytton Strachey’s death in the play.”

Having attended the Annual International Conferences on Virginia Woolf since 1990, Dr. Shannon began attending them regularly in 2003, and hosted the 29th Annual International Conference at the Mount in 2019. Each conference consists of four days of panels, papers, seminars, and performances all dedicated to Woolf and her work; the conference usually attracts between 200 and 400 participants. 

“The Woolf community is the warmest and most supportive academic community I’ve ever encountered, and the annual conferences have often felt more like a cherished family reunion than a professional obligation,” says Dr. Shannon. “It’s my academic and intellectual home.  One of the greatest things about hosting the conference at the Mount was welcoming a whole group of new, up-and-coming graduate students into the fold – a very good sign that this community continues to thrive.”

As for his other previous Virginia Woolf play endeavors, Dr. Shannon has participated in one other play at a Woolf Conference. In 2019, he did a performance of Leonard Woolf’s 1938 play The Hotel, directed by Ellen McLaughlin. The play had never been performed before, so they were technically the world premiere of this work.  The play is set in an international hotel which attracts a large number of guests of various political persuasions who clash in the hotel’s close confines.  Each Woolf Conference generally features one performance – a play, a musical recital, a dance, etc. 

 Visit the Mount’s Department of Liberal Arts and Theatre Arts Program to learn more about MSJ programs.