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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

2022 Sandy Moffett Award goes to Elle Lewis-Eme ’23


By Jane Hoffman

Elle Lewis-Eme `23 is no stranger to the stage, sharing her talents in venues that range from Bucksbaum rehearsal rooms to her dining room table to on-campus kitchens. Her abilities as a writer, actor and director led to her selection as this year’s winner of the Sandy Moffett Award, which is intended to fund opportunities for Grinnell theatre students to create independent projects and gain skills to enrich their educational and professional goals.

The Sandy Moffett Award is a monetary prize issued in honor of professor emeritus Sandy Moffett, who began working with the Grinnell Theatre and Dance Department in 1971. The Alexander “Sandy” Moffett Fund for Practice in Theatre and Dance was established in 2020 by a group of alumni who worked with Moffett during the 1970s.

Lewis-Eme said she has been involved with theatre at Grinnell since her first week on campus when she auditioned for and was cast in “The Burial at Thebes” during the fall 2019 season. During the production process, she also took on the role of assistant director, a position that gave her further insight into the multifaceted process of crafting a performance.

The pandemic and the 2020-2021 year of online schooling presented tremendous challenges and opportunities to student actors and directors. For example, Lewis-Eme did not have the chance to direct a traditional one-act play while taking professor Craig Quintero’s directing course. Instead, she developed and produced an original 10-minute piece on Jewish food and culture titled “The Smell of Cinnamon,” which she filmed in her dining room and is using it as the basis for her current project.

Lewis-Eme described the experience as one that helped her realize that theatre was the avenue she most wanted to explore. She shared how her time “writing theatre, doing really weird stuff in my childhood bedroom” during the earlier phases of the pandemic expanded her understanding of what theater could look like.

“Standing in my dining room, making matzah and monologuing to the camera was so outside of anything that I expected to do. I think that was sort of the moment for me when I realized that I could do more than what I was doing with theater.”

Months later, Lewis-Eme returned to “The Smell of Cinnamon” after hearing about the Moffett prize. Working off her original exploration of “how food and culture interact,” she hopes to ultimately produce “a collective experience” for herself and audience members, exploring “food and memory and culture” together, within and beyond a Jewish context. “What I would like to do is to give my knowledge, for lack of a better term, to people around me: to help them make food … and tell them stories that are important to me,” she said.

Students from all majors and class years were invited to apply for the award, a process that required submitting a project summary and timeline. Lewis-Eme is the second Grinnell student to win the annual award. Last year, seniors Ahon Gooptu and Conner Stanfield, both `21, received the award. Gooptu used the funding to produce “Taramandal! Ek Naya Safar,” which concluded its virtual run on Feb. 6. Stanfield’s project is still in progress.

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