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Ellen W. Kaplan professor of acting and directing at Smith College, former director of Jewish Studies, a Fulbright Scholar (Costa Rica) and Fulbright Senior Specialist (Hong Kong). She performs and directs internationally: in Israel, she performed at Jerusalem’s renowned Khan Theatre; directed at Sherover and Jerusalem Theatres and Hebrew University; taught at Tel Aviv University; and worked with intercultural theatre companies.
Last year she directed and performed in a series of plays written by prisoners at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC; other recent directing credits include Circle, Mirror, Transformation at New Century Theatre; Pirates of Penzance at Smith; Bellow on Stage at The Egg, Albany, NY, and a New England tour of Gathering the Waters, a solo work by Teresa Whitaker. In summer 2010, she directed an English language version of Cao Yu’s masterpiece, The Wilderness, at Shenyang University in China, which then came to Smith on tour. (Currently she is contributing to a book, to be published in China, on directing Cao’s play.)
In Summer 2013, she co-directed a Global Engagement Seminar on Federico Garcia Lorca, in Spain with Estela Harretche. Other Spanish-language work includes directing in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, translating plays, and facilitating performances of Hablando Con Dolores – about suicide among elders in the Latino community - in multiple venues in Massachusetts.
She has written numerous plays, including Grain of the Wood, about Justine Wise Polier (Kaplan directs and also performs in this play); Sarajevo Phoenix, based on testimony from women survivors of wars in the former Yugoslavia; and Livy in the Garden, currently under development at Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Other plays include Soul of the City, a finalist for the Massachusetts Playwriting Fellowship (2009) which was featured at the Great Plains Theatre Lab in Omaha, Nebraska, performed by St. Fortune Theatre Company; With Dream Awakened Eyes, a one-woman show based on the work of Charlotte Salomon, which has performed in the US and in Bucharest, Romania. Her play about living in Israel during the second intifada, Pulling Apart, a finalist for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference, was produced in New Haven and received a Moss Hart Award. Ellen’s two short plays about prison life, adapted from original stories, were published in Tacenda, and won a BleakHouse award.
Translations include her adaptation of Cuentos de Eva Luna, which she directed at Smith College; it was staged in part by Amalgamotion Theatre, in Limerick Ireland, the following winter. Ellen’s plays have been performed at Theatre Matrix, LA; Cleveland Public Theatre; Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, and internationally, at the Jewish State Theatre of Bucharest and other venues in Romania; and in Israel.
She has published a book, Images of Mental Illness in Text and Performance, and is working on The Ties Don’t Bind, about Jewish-American identity in contemporary theatre. Other publications include essays in Our Voices: An Anthology of Jewish Women’s Writing; poetry in The Deronda Review and WordMyth; scholarly journals in Jewish History, Theatre Topics, Studies in Theatre and Performance, and a book chapter (in Spanish) on the work of Argentine playwright Nora Glickman.
Media work includes Mixed Blessings, a documentary about Jews and Gypsies in Eastern Europe; radio dramas, and a CD-ROM on writer Juan Rulfo. She stage managed TedX Pioneer Valley, a professionally produced 3-camera shoot that featured 14 local speakers and streams over the web.
Much of Ellen’s work focuses on theatre in zones of conflict, and the intersections between expressive arts and social trauma. Kaplan works with incarcerated women, elders, adjudicated teens, and ABE students, using theatre as a tool for developing literacy and creativity. Her Presidential Seminar combines Smith students with incarcerated women, in a study of women and violence. Ellen is on the Executive Council of OICD (Organization for Intra-Cultural Development) based in Kyoto, Japan; she is part of a network of artists, scientists and scholars, funded by the British Arts Council, which explores mental illness and the arts.
Her upcoming work includes development of a new play, about the experiences of men on death row.