Faculty Shout-out by Dr. Jordan Schonig: “I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Cassandra over two courses, and she has astounded me on multiple occasions. Cassandra is a talented and award-winning playwright, but she’s also demonstrated a flair for theoretical inquiry. She savors the challenge of picking apart a difficult passage, not only striving to understand complex ideas, but also demonstrating an intellectual generosity with those ideas. There’s also a creative dimension to her classroom contributions, be they in the form of writing or speech or visual presentation. She’s not afraid to test out a thought, to play with its possibilities. This playful creativity is contagious. It clearly inspires her friends and classmates, and it has inspired me as well (as Cassandra knows, I’ve been moved to create entire lesson plans based on things she has written). I have no doubt Cassandra will continue to inspire people with the words she writes and the things she creates.”
Faculty Shout-out by Dr. Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai: “Dear Cassandra, thanks for shedding light through your commitment and creativity, as emblematized by your humane and wonderful screenplay Mayflower, on the possibilities of writing to overcome loss, to keep our hopes alive, and to sustain and heal. My hearty congratulations.”
Faculty Shout-out by Dr. Juliet Guzzetta: “I knew Cassandra when she was Cassie, back in her first year, and already then she exhibited more than just potential, but the realization of some of that potential. In that introductory playwriting class, I watched her connect with some of the authors whose work we read (Annie Baker comes to mind), and saw her grow and experiment in her own writing. Remembering the eager and dedicated Cassie has made knowing the confident and eloquent Cassandra all the more special. The sophistication with which she has confronted her complex and really quite daring full-length play, on which she has been hard at work all year, has been both impressive and poignant. It is a special thing to know firsthand that somewhere out there is Cassandra, writing plays and other works, thinking about universal issues from intimate perspectives, moving her audiences and challenging them too. She is in for a journey with great heights. May she soar.”
How would you describe your time as an English or Film Studies major at MSU?
I have had a joy taking creative writing, literature, film, and theatre courses. I have two majors: Theatre and English with a concentration in CW. My primary focus has been in playwriting, but I have also created profound memories and creative pieces in my advanced screenwriting and poetry courses. I have been a three-time finalist in the MSU Creative Writing Awards in the Playwriting/Drama category. My interest at MSU has revolved around how mental illness and suicide is depicted on stage and on screen. I am currently working on a playwriting Honors Thesis, writing and editing a full length play that tackles these issues and proposes a change for how the language of mental illness will be discussed in the future of entertainment.
Which classes, instructors, or experiences particularly stand out for you and why? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?
Advanced Screenwriting with Swarnavel Eswaran Pillai: This class was so memorable for me because the class was composed of a small, supportive group of students who were talented and dedicated to the craft of screenwriting. Professor Pillai gave us constructive notes, inspirational talks, and invaluable advice that made me walk out of the class feeling supported and fearless. Not only was the focus onhow to write our respective stories, but Pillai gave us the tools and information we needed to take our scripts into the film industry after our semester.
Advanced Poetry with Divya Victor: This class was where I learned that I was dedicated to the art of language, in all of its corruption and beauty. Like many of my professors, Divya encouraged us to pursue and tackle topics that held the most meaning for us. At the end of the semester, we had a tearful class with Divya, where she announced what she had learned from each of us. From me, she had learned the power of labor, effort, and hard work in writing; from her I had learned so much more, but perhaps at the foundation of her teachings was the simultaneous control and innovation that a writer can possess.
Multiple classes with Juliet Guzzetta: My experiences with Professor Guzzetta bookended my experience at MSU, as I worked with her the first and last year I was a student. There is so much I could say about Guzzetta, but the most important lesson I received from her was that you had to write to learn. I experienced my biggest writing blocks while writing pieces under her supervision. I’m sure I am going to have many bigger frustrations in my career as a writer, but she taught me that to push through the blocks, you have to write to learn more about your characters, your story, and yourself.
Multiple classes with Jordan Schonig: Classes with Jordan always turn my day around. Not only am I learning among truly intelligent film students, but Jordan has some of the most intelligent, entertaining lessons I have attended in my time at MSU. My classes with Jordan have been film theory classes, but often learning about film theory involves learning about important figures and philosophers that have tried to dissect the way the world operates, not just cinema. Before taking his classes, I didn’t believe theorizing could be fun, but now I do, and it’s likely to shape how I read and research any media of art post-graduation.
What advice would you give future English or Film Studies majors, based on your experiences in the department?
Take classes from a wide variety of areas and professors.
Take advantage of opportunities your professors give you.
You will undoubtedly get critiques in your workshops and on your assignments. But remember and cherish all of the praise and support your professors and peers give you as well.
You won’t have the opportunity to workshop your writing after you graduate unless you seek it out. Use your workshop time wisely. The time is invaluable (and technically, you’re paying for it!).
What coursework-related projects were/are you working on this year, and what interests or excites you about them?
This year, I have been working closely with Professor Juilet Guzzetta to write a full length play of my own for an Honors Thesis in a writing intensive project. The play is a culmination of my most important work and research I have tackled in my time here, which involves how mental illness is displayed on screen and on stage. I often find myself analyzing controversial elements in film and theatre that are used for shock value, narrative twists, or unsupported plot structures, especially in regards to suicide, depression, and anxiety. While depicting mental illness in entertainment is good for representation and awareness, it is not always welcome as an offensive, insensitive way to heighten entertainment value. Like many of the pieces I have produced during my time at MSU, this play,Carnations, tackles big questions about the language of mental illness, but does so through a narrative of time travelers who meet their past and future lives.
What are your hopes and aspirations, post-graduation?
I hope to work for a theatre in the US, ideally as a literary manager for a theatre company. For the rest of my life, undoubtedly, I will continue to write plays.
Please reflect a bit on the strange experience of being a graduating senior during this moment of local and global crisis. What resources have been most useful to you in navigating this unprecedented situation?
I do my best writing in coffee shops, so this time has been particularly unwelcome.
However, this period has opened up more time for me to do what I have always enjoyed: reading books, watching movies, and writing stories! As a student in the arts, it’s always beneficial to seek new forms of entertainment and find new stories that speak to you and inspire you. Sometimes, it can be hard to do in the fast pace of a typical semester. My professors who make their lessons accessible as video lectures have been my saving grace during the past few weeks because it feels like normalcy is being maintained through them.