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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Grinnell Artists: Dru Greenwood ’18

By Ahon Gooptu

When Dru Greenwood ’18 came to Grinnell, he had never been cast in an actual production. Now, however, he can boast of an unbroken streak of getting called back for every production he has auditioned for in college.

“When I came to Grinnell, I had a track — I was going to major in English and go to law school when I had graduated. The most off-track thing I did was thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll be a GWSS major!’” Greenwood said.

As a sophomore, Greenwood wanted to direct web series and short films, but the only course offered by the College even remotely close to that focuses on directing a one-act play on stage.

“I took that course and honestly, I knew that I [could not] do the things I said I would. [I told my] mom and dad that it’s not going to work, I’m not going to be happy,” Greenwood said.

Prior to taking “Directing,” the intensive 200-level course taught by Professor Craig Quintero, theatre and dance, Greenwood had not taken any introductory courses in the theatre department. Even though he had not completed the prerequisites for the course, he managed to convince Quintero to let him be a part of the class in his second year.

“Seriously, I was in his inbox like every other day about it, because he wasn’t responding to me at first,” Greenwood said. “But he finally did … and I met with him … and he said, ‘Okay cool. Go for it! It’s going to be rigorous and I’m going to have high expectations.’ And it was a lot of work and it was really challenging. … The process, the end result, having that moment of pride, creating something collaboratively, was great.”

Besides acting and directing on stage, Greenwood has also been involved with developing and acting in a web series, “Velvet,” which will have its official opening on March 28 in the Chicago Cultural Center. This project originated from the short stories that he and his friend wrote about the funny things that they did in Grinnell. They had considered it a “fun thing to do” and had not thought much about it. However, later, thanks to connections with young filmmakers who thought the stories were hilarious, they evolved into a web series. Greenwood plays a character based on himself. 

“What came of the project was a story about Black friendships and the process of becoming friends, navigating white spaces and making new friends in your twenties, which is a little difficult as you’ve graduated and you’re out there in the world,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood had tried to get involved in theatre in high school, but faced significant challenges in the casting process. Directors refused to cast people of color for characters that had originally been written as white. He auditioned for the part of John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” but the director wished to be “true to the character.”

“My drama teacher and director of the play said that he wasn’t going to cast me in the part because he wanted to ‘maintain the accuracy,’ which was complete bullshit. You don’t tell high school students something like that,” he said.

Thus, much of Greenwood’s work as an artist stems from his longing to see more people like him represented on stage. Sterling K. Brown’s acceptance speech at the 2018 Golden Globes resonates with his beliefs. As the actor became the first Black man to win for his category, he spoke about being appreciated for playing a role actually written for a Black man, as “that makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me, or dismiss anybody who looks like me.”

This provided Greenwood impetus to take on the project of directing “The Royale” in his last semester at Grinnell. He got hold of the script thanks to his friend Sophiyaa Nayar ’17, who he had collaborated artistically and had “opened [his] eyes to all the endless possibilities” of theatre.

“There hasn’t been a play about Black identities, written by a playwright of color, staged in Grinnell in ten years. … I think it’s really, really important for all students of color … to see ourselves and our identities portrayed on stage,” Greenwood said.

So far, he has been grateful to have the support of the theatre department and his friends and classmates, “who were really excited to take part in it.” However, directing the play and making sure it turns out good, while still keeping up with other responsibilities, comes with its fair share of challenges.

“I’m crazy stressed out all the time about it,” Greenwood said. “It’s really important to me that it’s done very well and that it looks professional and people come and see it and say, ‘Wow!’ This isn’t just, ‘I wanted to have Black people on the stage finally and I did it.’ … This is of the caliber of the mainstage plays that professors are directing — that’s my goal.”

Dru Greenwood ’18 has been heavily involved in theatre during his time at Grinnell and is directing “The Royale” in his last semester. Photo by Helena Gruensteidl.
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