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CSB senior honored for her original play, ‘The Women of Cheboksary’

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February 5, 2016

By Megan Flynn '17

Emily Schoenbeck '16

Photo by Tommy O'Laughlin '13

When Emily Schoenbeck started acting in plays when she was 5 years old, she never dreamed she would be an award-winning playwright before graduating from college. 

Schoenbeck, a CSB senior from Watertown, South Dakota, is an English major. Her original full-length play, "The Women of Cheboksary," was awarded honorable mention at the Region V Kennedy Center Association of College Theater Festival (KCACTF) Jan. 17-23 in Bloomington, Minnesota. Her play was honored from 12 submissions written by both undergraduate and graduate students from all over the Midwest. 

Turning a thesis into a play

The play, which was originally written for her senior thesis, takes place in 15th century Russia and tells the story of a Katenina, a young woman who attempts to evade a "bride show," a kind of beauty pageant in which the winner becomes the wife of Ivan the Terrible, czar of Russia. The plot is based on the real bride show that Czar Ivan ordered during his reign. 

"In broad terms it's a fairy tale," Schoenbeck said. "It's inspired by an actual historical event but I made up the story as it happens in Cheboksary. I used history as kind of a springboard into the story." 

Thesis adviser plays key role

Schoenbeck's play has been a year in the making. She received a research grant to work on her thesis over the summer with the help of her thesis adviser, Kaarin Johnston, a professor of theater at CSB/SJU. Johnston, who has been involved with KCACTF since she was in graduate school, saw potential in Schoenbeck's writing and helped enter her play in the festival. 

"Emily is the first student I have worked with who had the talent and energy to write, rewrite and keep plugging away and finish an entertaining play that I thought should be entered," Johnston said. 

"It takes a student who is willing to do the hard work. I'm here to help, but the student is the one who really decides if they want to follow through." 

In addition to her award, Schoenbeck had the opportunity to participate in the Journalism and Criticism workshop at the festival, where she wrote daily critiques of plays performed at KCACTF. She was one of only six undergraduate or graduate students from the Midwest selected to participate in this, which was sponsored by the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy. Schoenbeck's critiques won first place at this workshop, giving her the chance to be selected with three other students to travel to Washington, D.C. for the National Conference in April. 

"The festival definitely opened me up to the possibility of doing more theater criticism," Schoenbeck said. 

"I had never tried it out of a classroom setting before, and I really enjoyed being able to evaluate the work of other people in the theater community." 

Schoenbeck has been an active member of the CSB/SJU theater department. She has acted, written and designed for several major productions including "The Country Wife" and "The Good Woman of Szechwan." 

Post graduation plans

After finishing her senior year at CSB, Schoenbeck hopes to volunteer teach for two years, then get her doctorate and become an English professor. The festival was a stepping-stone toward refining how she wants to achieve that goal. 

"I spent a lot of the conference in critique sessions with professional critics and I got a lot of great feedback on my pieces," Schoenbeck said. "But the highlight for me was getting to talk with all the other reviewers my age who were learning right along with me."