Teaching Spotlight: David Crespy

For the next installment of our Teaching Spotlight feature, we're intervewing Dr. David Crespy. Dr. Crespy is a professor of playwriting, acting, and dramatic literature here at MU. He and his students visit Special Collections for his course, Digging Lanford Wilson: An Archival Approach to Drama.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your interests.

I am a professor with a focus on playwriting, acting, and dramatic literature in the MU Department of Theatre, where I have served as the Artistic Director of the Missouri Playwrights Workshop and as founder and co-director of the MU Writing for Performance Program for the last 18 years. My major scholarly interest has been in the work of American playwright, Edward Albee, and most recently, in the work of Lanford Wilson, who was his protégé in dramatic writing. Wilson was a Missouri native, and was a prolific dramatist on and off Broadway in New York, some of his most famous plays include Burn ThisBook of Days, Fifth of JulyThe Hot’l Baltimore, and many, many other plays. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Talley’s Folly, and was the major dramatic voice of his generation of American playwrights who came into the scene in the 1960s as part of what has become known as Off-off Broadway, which I wrote extensively about in my book, Off-Off Broadway Explosion, which documented the work of Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, John Guare, Maria Irene Fornes, and many others. Lanford was a co-founder of Circle Repertory Theatre in New York City, which was at the heart of off-Broadway theatre in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and produced countless well-known playwrights including Paula Vogel, Jon Robin Baitz, Michael Cristofer, Charles Evered, Jules Feiffer, A.R. Gurney, William M. Hoffman, Albert Innaurato, Corinne Jacker, Arthur Kopit, Jim Leonard, Jr., Lucas, David Mamet, William Mastrosimone, Marsha Norman, Robert Patrick, Joe Pintauro, William Missouri Downs, Murray Schisgal, Sam Shepard, Milan Stitt, and Tennessee Williams. Lanford was at the heart of it as its resident playwright, and I brought Lanford here in 2006. 

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In Spring of 2012 the University of Missouri in Columbia, where I teach playwriting, was informed that Lanford Wilson had donated all his papers, 52 linear feet—47 boxes of manuscripts, photographs, letters, poetry, fiction, theatre artifacts—The Lanford Wilson Collection—to the Special Collections and Rare Books department of our beautiful Ellis Library on Lowry Mall on the MU Campus. It is an historic bequest, and one that will permit MU faculty, students, and scholars from around the world to explore the work of Missouri’s own Pulitzer prize-winning playwright in extraordinary detail. Lanford had visited Mizzou at my request back in October of 2006, and we had a delightful visit with him – he had managed to fit in the visit between his teaching work at the University of Houston and his busy writing life in Sag Harbor. I directed a concert reading of Lanford’s play The Mound Builders with his assistance and guidance in our Rhynsburger Theatre, and later he and I had a wonderful onstage discussion about his life and work. It was an amazing experience—Lanford deeply connected with our Mizzou theatre students.  

It is hoped that in the Fall of 2017, the University of Missouri Press will publish Lanford Wilson: Early Stories, Sketches, and Poetry, which I have co-edited with Jonathan Thirkield. The volume will have a foreword by Marshall W. Mason, who was Lanford’s long-time director, and who just won the 2016 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as a tribute by Edward Albee.  All the material in the book will come from MU Libraries’ own Lanford Wilson Collection, and I am so proud that the University of Missouri libraries has made that all possible.  It is because of the incredible efforts of our archivists, Mike Holland and Anselm Huelsbergen, who took this rather massive collection, and organized it into a useful archival resource, that I was able to even find this material and bring it to light for scholars, theatre artists, and readers to explore.

How did you use Special Collections in your teaching?

During the summer of 2013, I did research in the new Lanford Wilson collection for the production of Wilson’s play Fifth of July for a production of the play I directed in Fall 2013 in the Rhynsburger Theatre, and while I was doing that research, I discovered that Wilson had left an extraordinary number of different versions of each of his plays.  It was a fascinating experience to explore how Wilson, who was a meticulous writer and dramatic craftsman, would change entire sections of his play – reworking plot, character, and dialogue. Each of his plays started off with handwritten notebooks where you can see the characters starting to take shape, and then you can see Wilson wrestling with each moment from iteration to iteration of the scripts until he was satisfied. The plays keep changing from production to production—from off-Broadway at Circle Rep to Broadway, and after later productions in the Regional theatre. It is really an amazing writer’s process, and there is so much there that a student of playwriting or dramatic literature can learn from Lanford’s explorations in his beautifully crafted plays. I decided that I wanted my students to experience Wilson’s work first hand, and was inspired to design a course that I called Digging Lanford Wilson: An Archival Approach To Drama.

In the Fall of 2015, I approached Kelli Hansen about developing this archival research course, using the Lanford Wilson collection as resource to teach students how to use manuscripts, photographs, programs, correspondence, theatrical posters, and other archival materials to discover how a playwright wrote, developed, and had his plays produced. Kelli used the first hours of the course to teach the students how archives are archived, how to work with archival materials, how to actually make sense of a writer’s cursive hand (particularly in correspondence), in other words, the nuts and bolts of archival research. We would spend the first hour or more of each class in the collection working with these actual materials—some of which had never been seen except by Lanford Wilson and our University archivists!  The second hour of the course, we read and discussed Wilson’s plays; exploring each play’s production history and interpretations and scholarship about the scripts.  

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Several of the students in the course then presented their research on Lanford Wilson’s plays at the Undergraduate Research Forum last Spring, and I was especially delighted to discover that one of them, Leslie Howard, who was presented on Lanford Wilson’s play The Sand Castle, was selected as the winner of MU Libraries Undergraduate Research Paper Contest.  The course was one of the most successful that I have taught at MU, and what made it special was the experience of working in Ellis Library’s Special Collections and Rare Books.  The hands-on experience of working with actual archival materials was amazing, and to have a theatre collection at the University of Missouri like the Lanford Wilson Collection is just a miracle.  Most theatre students would have to travel to New York City to access such an extensive archival resource, and here it is, right at Mizzou!  I look forward to teaching Digging Lanford Wilson again in the Fall of 2017, when we will hopefully have Lanford’s collection of short stories and poetry published, and simultaneously, I’ll be directing one of his plays in our Rhynsburger Theatre.

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What advice would you give faculty or instructors interested in using Special Collections in their courses?

If a faculty member hasn’t worked with special collections, they should get started now – especially if your own research takes you there. And if they haven’t used special collections, it’s time! I was thrilled with resources that Kelli Hansen made available to me, including a wonderful website https://libraryguides.missouri.edu/lanfordwilson, that allowed my students to learn about archival research the Special Collections, discover the resources of the Lanford Wilson Collection, and how to work with finding aids and primary sources. My feeling is that students are becoming less and less likely to walk in the doors of the library, beyond using it as a study hall. Working with Special Collections gives students a better understanding of how important our libraries are, as well as the thrill of scholarly research—working with archival resources and doing original research that may change how we understand our world. Working with manuscripts, photos, correspondence, theatrical programs, and having an opportunity to physically touch materials that were part of New York’s Broadway theatre was a life-changing experience for my students. Give your students that transformative understanding of scholarship by teaching a course in Special Collections!

home Cycle of Success, Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books All About Alecia McLean, Special Collections social media intern

All About Alecia McLean, Special Collections social media intern

Hello, everyone!

My name is Alecia McLean and I am the newest social media intern for the Special Collections portion of Ellis Library. I am a senior english and anthropology major here at MU. Here's a little bit more about me:

1.) I am an avid reader. I've been enthralled with literature since I was a little girl, so much so that I chose to study it at university. I have an expansive reading list that I am trying to amble my way through. I'm currently reading Far From the Madding Crowd which is a novel by 19th century British novelist Thomas Hardy. My favorite genre is fiction and my favorite book is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. 

2.) I love writing! My ultimate dream is to one day become a successful novelist. I used to write short stories in my childhood and I still write a few today. In eighth grade, I did a project on J.K Rowling because she was and continues to be one of my biggest inspirations.

3.) I aspire to see the world. The premature anthropologist in me is desperate to explore Earth's every corner. I am originally from Kingston, Jamaica, and having relocated to the United States as a child I got exposure to two cultures. My love of world cultures grew from that initial exposure and had just become bigger and bigger as a grew older! Some of my most desired places to visit are Italy, Greece, Thailand and Ireland. 

4.) Music, music, music. I love listening to music. It's my main inspiration when I write and for life in general. My favorite genre is alternative but I will give anything a try. Top 5 bands are The Black Keys, alt-J, Arctic Monkeys, Mumford and Sons and Coldplay. Honorable mentions: The Killers, Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers and The War on Drugs. 

The featured imagine is "selfie" I took in the car before going to a Mumford and Sons concert. 

P.S. I really look forward to my semester interning under the wonderful staff of Special Collections!

Staff Spotlight: Amy Spencer

For this Staff Spotlight, we sat down with Amy Spencer.  Amy recently graduated with a double major in linguistics and theatre design and a minor in Russian, and she's been our Special Collections undergraduate assistant for four years.  She's moving on to new adventures at the end of next month, and we will miss her!

tumblr_o2ayrgqAri1tutadzo6_1280What are your plans after graduation?  
Spend the summer in Columbia, working with the MU Theatre Department, then off to the University of Illinois in the fall to start grad school for Library and Information Science.

What type of work do you do in Special Collections? 
I do a lot of different things around the department.  I do a lot of reshelving of materials after patrons and classes use them.  I answer questions at the desk and occassionally write posts for our blog.  Every once in a while I'll design a display for our reading room, but mostly I just help out with whatever needs done that day or what the librarians need me to do to help them. [Editor’s note: The librarians would like to suggest that Amy’s job has been to come up with new and inventive solutions for any and all vexatious problems that have come up during her tenure here.]

What is a typical day like?  
I usually start off my shift at the reference desk in our reading room.  While I'm there, I'll do some blogging or another computer-based project.  Once I'm off the desk, I'll do something like reshelving or pulling books for a class.  Recently my big project has been going through our Spec-M collection and straightening items on the shelf and pulling things that need re-housed.  So that's something I've put a lot of time in on when nothing else needs done that day.

What has been your favorite project since you've been here?
A couple of years ago, the annual display we do in conjunction with the Life Sciences Symposium was themed "The Science of Superheroes," and I got to help with a big part of that display since I like comics so much.  It was a lot of fun to get to help with that and really get to dive into our comics collection.

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Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen is a librarian in the Special Collections and Rare Books department. She teaches information sessions in Special Collections, does reference work, and maintains the department's digital presences. Contact Kelli