Home » Blog posts » BOWLING FOR BEGINNERS by Brigid Brennan, Eric Cho, and Maggie Feyrer

BOWLING FOR BEGINNERS by Brigid Brennan, Eric Cho, and Maggie Feyrer

Posted by on Monday, March 18, 2019 in Blog posts.

Bowling Promo. Photo by Joe Howell

Bowling Promo. Photo by Joe Howell

On Wednesday, February 27th, a full read-through of the play Bowling for Beginners was put on for the public in Neely Auditorium. The play, written by Diana Grisanti, told the story of Vanderbilt’s National Champion Women’s Bowling team and their place on Vanderbilt’s campus. The script was based off ethnographic interviews done by Dr. Christin Essin’s Fundamentals of Theatre class in the fall of 2018. The bare stage consisted of only a white board, chairs, and the actors themselves. The narrator sat off to the side and dictated the flow of the reading as the actors performed their lines accompanied by simple choreographed movements outlined in the script. The audience consisted mainly of Vanderbilt students accompanied by the the playwright herself and a few of Dr. Christin Essin’s theater colleagues from neighboring SEC universities. The reading was followed by a short panel session to facilitate discussion on the strengths and other possible improvements of the play. To discuss this performance, Maggie Feyrer, Brigid Brennan and Eric Cho met in the Rand Dining Center, at the high top tables, on a Wednesday night. The time was 7:35 pm and the discussion started amidst the bustling of busy students on a school night.


Maggie Feyrer is a sophomore majoring in Child Development and Human and Organizational Development. She currently works as a nanny to a local Nashville family and plans to pursue a career in the music industry upon graduation.


Eric Cho is a junior pursuing majors in Cognitive Studies and Cello Performance and a minor in Quantitative Methods. He is planning to attend medical school once graduating from Vanderbilt. In his free time he loves to work out and find new places to eat.


Brigid Brennan is a sophomore majoring in Human and Organizational Development with minors in Economics and Business. She is excited to be working in Nashville for the summer and having more time to explore the city and become more “southern” (she’s from Chicago).


BB: Ok, so, here we go. I guess how we can start it off is with some first impressions. What did you guys think when you sat down in the theatre for this formerly untitled reading?


MF: I kind of didn’t know what to expect. I’ve never actually seen a reading before, so I was a little thrown off when the actors were just sitting in chairs waiting to speak. I think that aspect of the performance made the production that much more interesting just because we were listening more to what they were saying and how they were saying it and not necessarily what they were doing with their bodies.


EC: I kind of came into this class not knowing much about theatre, but I have a music background and we do something similar to a read-through, called a dress rehearsal. I found that there are a lot of similarities, once being that everyone looks very casual. Also, it is really important to have a read-through, much like a dress rehearsal because performers need to have that audience aspect. You need to have that practice being on the stage where you are going to perform. I feel as though doing the reading is a very good idea because it is a very new play, and it is an essential part to the development of it because, obviously, it is not a final draft, so I thought that even being part of the reading process before it goes out to the public was an honor.


BB: Yeah, I agree. I was honestly shocked to see just how truly bare-bones it was of a production. I really had no idea what to expect, as I haven’t been to a reading before, but walking in and just seeing all the chairs lined up and a whiteboard as their only actual prop was quite surprising. I was immediately curious to see if and how they would be able to keep me engaged in just people speaking for over an hour. But, I did find myself actually getting into the play based on the performers’ excitement and energy because they were obviously looking forward to showing what they’ve been working really hard on it for a long time.


MF: I thought it was really essential to have the audience there, like you mentioned, Eric, because it is a new play and it helped the performers see what the audience responded. As we discussed in class, the audience has a lot of influence on performances, so the performers would be able to learn from these responses and maybe make any necessary edits to the play based on what the audience liked or did not mesh as well with. I remember there were some jokes that some of us really laughed at, and there were some jokes that ended up being missed by the audience. That is an example of something that can easily be adjusted as they move forward with the play.


EC: Right, and I think that’s really important. I really enjoyed the whole minimalism of the performance because it allowed the audience to really focus on the script and how the actors interact with each other. I think this is essential because when you go to a play that has all the bells and whistles going on, the audience tends to get lost in the whole environment and sometimes it’s important to focus just on the story, especially for something that is just in the developmental stages like Bowling for Beginners. So, like you said Maggie, when they tell jokes or something may just go over the audience’s head, I think that is even more important and not having all the distractions around becomes a really important part of what a reading is.


BB: Yeah, I agree. It was really fun to watch the entire audience react to this play where no one knew exactly what to expect, as it is an original play. What I found the most enjoyable was seeing the entire bowling team sitting with the audience watching themselves being portrayed in such an intimate way. What did you guys think about when you observed the bowlers?


MF: I thought it was funny because, from my seat, I could clearly see where the bowling team was sitting so I found my eyes moving back and forth between the stage and the team. I ended up basing my responses on their reactions to the reading, just because it is a play about them and I thought there were some interesting storylines that I wasn’t sure was completely based on the team, like the romance. It would be such an interesting experience to have a romantic relationship like that revealed to the public and analyzed by so many different people that I didn’t even know. I found myself by watching the people performing play the performers, almost putting myself in the bowlers’ shoes and considering what I would feel like to have my life put on the stage.


BB: During the romance scene, I couldn’t help but keep glancing at the bowlers and hoping to maybe see their reactions and piece together who was being portrayed by whom on the stage. Especially during the scenes that were very emotional and intense, it was very entertaining to watch the bowlers’ reactions and excitement to the play.


EC: In that moment, I thought it would have been really cool to be a bowler. That’s all I really thought.


BB: Right, and that’s probably exactly what they wanted to leave the audience with. Making the women’s sports teams here much more relevant than they are at the moment was an important takeaway from this performance. Title IX, even though it was created to help women, ends up being a sort of challenge for them to deal with in the end.


MF: I thought it was interesting with the reading versus the actual performance seeing how the audience was engaged in the performance because of its relation to Title IX..


BB: I was shocked to see how they were able to grab my attention without the setting. All their movements were were standing up when they were talking and sitting back down and a few other movements. The one that was glaring in my mind was during one of the final scenes when the two girls were laying down next to each other and were chatting. If I am remembering correctly that was the biggest movement that there was the whole time. It was interesting that their words were powerful enough to keep the audience engaged without having the props and the lighting and the music to back it up.


EC: I think an element of the engagement I realized was that the scenes were very short. So someone like me that has a really short attention span would be able to watch that for an hour, an hour and a half, however long it ran. So going from one story to another story that’s completely different then going back to it later on. Even though it might be confusing at first it has a really good effect of being like ‘yeah let’s go go go’ and keeping the audience interested.


MF: With that, I thought it was also interesting how they developed the story line from the ethnographic process. Remembering when we in class did the ethnography where we said something we were good at and added movement to it, I wonder how they put together their ethnographic interviews into that performance. I think it would be an interesting process to look at. I wondered during the play how they were able to see and intersection between all the different interviews or if they had to make up that intersection. How much of the story line was true versus made up?


EC: And they actually had scenes were there were interviewers and interviewees so it was kind of like trippy I guess. It was like seeing something it was based off of occur in the story, it’s kind of hard to explain.


BB: Yeah, and what’s the difference? Why were those specific scenes chosen to be the interview scenes when there was definitely lots more information gathered in the interviews? I guess that is what makes the ethnographic process both so engaging and difficult to conduct. They must have had to sift through hours of interviews in order to pull together this cohesive story. Though this was lots of hard work, it was essential to making this piece both engaging and accurate.


MF: Another thing I thought was interesting is I went in thinking the play was going to be simply a collection of interviews. After watching Anna Deveare Smith’s Notes from the Field for class, I came to the reading expecting it to be an experience more similar to the movie. It almost made it seem fictional the way they portrayed it. I expected a lot of monologues of the interviews they experienced. It was interesting to see how it varied quite far from Smith’s movie, even though they both used the same process to achieve their goals. The ethnographic process is one that is clearly very dynamic.


BB: I wonder how accurate the play was to real life and how much they had to change the stories, if at all, in order to make these interviews into a cohesive story. Obviously they are telling the stories of these bowlers, but how were they able to come up with a whole story based solely on conversations about so many different experiences?


MF: I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was. It was, what, almost two hours long? I loved that because we got to see the whole story, the whole development and it was impressive how much information they were able to put in there from these ethnographic interviews.


BB: Yeah, it makes you wonder how many interviews they conducted, how many hours of work they put in to make this play. This is especially relevant to us, as we are working on our own ethnographic studies. It seems like they were able to pull it off successfully from lots of hard work, which really showed on the stage.


EC: Going off of that and how it was based on interviews, what do you think makes this play different from a lot of the other plays that Vanderbilt Theatre puts on, since these interviews were conducted by Vandy students? And, since they interviewed Vandy athletes as well, what do you think this means for Vandy’s community as a whole?




MF: I think that Vanderbilt students watching it and seeing the issues they address will hit a lot closer to home. No matter what, even if Vanderbilt Theatre tries to put on a play that they think relates to what Vanderbilt students experience and issues that are common on our campus, there is nothing that relates as much to our lives as something that is actually happening on this campus. It would be interesting to see the conversations it brings up between Vanderbilt students, like we are having right now, about campus culture and campus life just because it does hit so close to home.


BB: Yeah, it’s just a lot more relevant to Vanderbilt students. The only other play I have seen here is Twelfth Night which is such a stark contrast to this play, which was in plain English, not difficult to follow like Shakespearean language, so Bowling for Beginners felt a lot easier to follow and more relevant to my life. And that also helped to keep me more engaged, where a reading of Twelfth Night probably would have been a lot more difficult to hang on to. I think it definitely has the potential to have big repercussions if they are able to pull it off on stage and get people to come and to understand on a deeper level the messages they are trying to get across. This play has the potential to affect the perceptions of athletes on campus, so I think that it is a powerful opportunity and a good message that they are putting across.


MF: I think it would be interesting to see how it affects the minds of the students that do come and see this play and how they perceive athletes, especially women athletes. It’s also important to look at the different women’s sports themselves. For example, for lacrosse, since lacrosse is so popular, they get a lot more recognition than the bowlers do. As they mentioned in the play, bowling is not a spectator sport, so it’s even that much more difficult to get people to come to games or have a deep understanding of the game. So if this play is repeated again and many more people on this campus see it, it would be interesting to see how the perception of certain women athletes will keep changing.


EC: It’s kind of funny to say this, but I would like to say that I knew the Vanderbilt bowling team before they were cool.


[Everyone laughs]


EC: When I was a freshman I went to the rec and as I bowled there I saw that there were cubbies for these athletes, so I assumed there must be athletes that bowled for Vandy. And so knowing about them, seeing that they won a national tournament, and hearing that there is going to be a play written about them, I was like, “of course I knew about the sport” even though most people didn’t. It was kind of cool how seeing something that not a lot of people knew about being blown up. Like, yes, this is Vandy and we have this team that’s extremely talented.


MF: For me, watching the play almost felt like we were being called out about something that we were supposed to do and hadn’t been. I feel that Vanderbilt students will also feel called out for not paying as much attention to the bowling team and women’s sports in general. Because of the Vanderbilt culture, I think that we will try to put forward the effort to change ourselves on what we are being called out for.


BB: So you think that being called out is a good thing?


MF: Yeah. I think that it hold students accountable. It doesn’t necessarily feel good to be called out, but it will help them realize that there are sports here other than men’s football and basketball that are impressive and important.


EC: Plus, winning a national championship is not a small deal and students should know about that. There is kind of a fault on the student’s side because we should be interested in our campus to a certain degree, so it is kind of an eye opener. I guess it is necessary.


BB: I quickly couldn’t help but think about how I haven’t gone to a single women’s event and, further, I have only been to maybe one basketball game and two football games. It is really sad because I grew up watching Notre Dame football, because my dad went to Notre Dame, and going to those games and seeing how starkly different they are to even Vanderbilt’s men’s games. We are even having trouble getting people to attend men’s football and basketball games, so I couldn’t imagine being a female athlete here and barely having anyone come to your games.


MF: And especially a school like Vanderbilt, an SEC school, which isn’t even a Division III school where you don’t necessarily expect people to come. We have such a competitive atmosphere and so little people go when it is so hyped up. Like, it’s SEC sports!


BB: Also, bowling looks hard!


[The group’s eyes light up and everyone exclaims their agreement]


I’m so glad that they had that explanation scene. I had no idea about the finesse and the hard work that went into bowling. The scene with the spares test and several other parts where they explained the time commitment and hard work the team required baffled me. I couldn’t believe that they were working so hard: lifting and traveling and more. We didn’t have a bowling team in my high school so I didn’t know what it takes to become a competitive bowler. Those girls are working incredibly hard and I’m glad that they have this platform to get recognized for all the work that they’ve been putting in on top of their rigorous courses.


MF: I agree.


EC: I think we have a lot of ideas, so do you guys have any leaving comments?


BB: Off of what I said, I am glad that these girls are getting recognized for the work that they are putting in and excited to see where it goes from here. This is a piece that is definitely relevant to Vanderbilt now and will continue to be relevant until people start getting the message. Bowling for Beginners is clearly trying to get that message to the student body in an exciting new way that will hopefully take hold. I would like to see the final production and how they will translate all their ideas onto the stage. Everything from the costumes to the lighting, music, and props will be extremely important to the success of the production. I am excited to see where they go from here, and really enjoyed my time at the performance.


MF: I agree, it will be really cool to see what happens with it. Also, I’m happy that we were able to understand this issue in its beginning stages, so we can see how it develops.


EC: I think I am definitely going to see the final product. We were kind of in the process of making the play so I feel like we’re obligated to see the play.


BB: Which is really cool and I’m excited to be a part of that.


MF: Me too, and I guess I’ll see you guys there!


EC: Yay!






12 Comments on “BOWLING FOR BEGINNERS by Brigid Brennan, Eric Cho, and Maggie Feyrer”

Just like the authors, I thought it was cool and interesting to be able to witness part of the play development process. After the play was over, I also felt “called out” (as the authors put it) by the performance; it made me want to attend more women’s sporting events. The performance also called out Title IX, the NCAA, and Vanderbilt by exposing how these entities marginalize different groups of people. In doing this, the performance served what I consider the best use of realistic theater: to highlight inequities in familiar situations.

David Ward on March 24th, 2019 at 10:09 pm

Do you ever have instances where you experience something in life and when it’s over, you feel like you singlehandedly possess a new outlook on something in life? That was me, albeit less dramatic, after seeing this reading of Untitled. It’s true that the audience does play a major role in how the production plays out. Like Maggie said, taking note of those cues that were picked up on, as well as missed, are things can be easily adjusted as the play continues to be developed. I too appreciated how raw the reading was. It truly afforded audience members the opportunity to follow the actors and internalize what they were saying as well as the underlying message. I was able to take a step back and realize all of the hard work that our bowling team puts in. Winning a national championship is no easy feat. At the conclusion of the play, I realized that more awareness needs to be brought to issues like Title IX, the NCAA, and how Vanderbilt as an institution upholds policies. More than anything, it was amazing to see that theatre was serving as a medium for that attention. Furthermore, it made me appreciate the practice of ethnographic ethnography.

Jordan Lee on March 25th, 2019 at 12:37 am

I found that this ethnographic play got the reaction out of the audience that they intended too. I agree with everything above; that they were trying to create a sense of urgency to show us all how important these issues are and also how overlooked they can be. As a Women and a Vanderbilt Athlete myself, I was really interested in seeing how this all unfolded. I remember last year, I was interviewed by somebody that was in this class as well. They were asking me questions about what it was like to be a women playing a sport on this campus and more about my background of how I got into it. I found that even though I don’t do Bowling, I play Soccer, there were a lot of overlaps with some of my responses to the ethnographic transcript I gave a past Theater student. We all go through similar problems being a women that plays a sport on campus. But, I think it has been even harder for Bowling because it is a “less popular” sport in our overall media. They brought up some of these issues about how other people don’t see it as legitimate, when in reality that put in the same amount of work as any mens football or basketball player. I thought the show did a tremendous job of raising awareness for our bowling team specifically, but the underlying issue of women in sports. This group did a great job summing it up.

Jacqueline Welch on March 25th, 2019 at 10:25 am

One of my first thoughts upon entering the theatre was the feeling of uncomfortableness that was associated with the chairs on the stage and the whiteboard serving as one of the only props. Yet, I agree with Eric in the sense that this atypical setting communicated a sense of minimalism, but also think that this minimalism served as a primer for us to engage with the performance. The unusual setting forced us to focus on the reading, the characters, and even the audience (especially the women’s bowling team) as we had the time/ability to engage with more than the stage/music/performers/lights that are typical of a normal performance. By having the ability to redirect our focus and take in more than just the stage, the performance became more than just the reading, but the combination of all the different parts of the theatre.

Alexander Grant on March 25th, 2019 at 10:36 am

Maggie made a really great comment about the audience being essential to the performance because it is a new play and “it helped the performers to see what the audience responded” too.” Brigid echoed that comment when she talked about watching the bowling team’s reactions to the show. Similarly, I really enjoyed watching playwright Diana Grisanti’s reactions to both the show and the audience. We talk so much about the audience as a part of the performance, but I never fully grasped that until I got to see how the playwright even accounts for the audience in developing the show. I definitely think there are bits that will be cut or stories that will be expanded based on how we responded to them as an audience. As a person who regularly produces shows or works backstage, it was really neat to see more of the front-end development process, and I’m glad that this analysis talked about that. I also think this show was super valuable to see as we prepare for our performance ethnography and helped me see what will be helpful in structuring my interviews.

Madison Lindeman on March 25th, 2019 at 9:17 pm

With Eric’s question about what this reading and play means for the Vanderbilt community, I personally thought that it showed a wonderful collaboration between Athletics and Theatre. There’s this persistent idea that the two are mutually exclusive, and I loved that the work that everyone poured into this play proves otherwise. This script seemed like a mix of Nottage’s “Sweat” and Deavere Smith’s “Notes from the Field” to me. All three plays relied on information gathered from interviews. Unlike the two we saw in class, “Bowling for Beginners” showed some of the interviews as they were, but also created or recreated scenes I think were talked about in the interviews. I think it’s a clever way to portray actual interviews gather for a performance that we hadn’t seen in class before. I found it helpful with our own performance ethnographies approaching soon.

James Owen on March 25th, 2019 at 10:45 pm

Being quite unfamiliar with the play making process I had absolutely no idea what a play reading entailed and decided to come in with no expectations. I was interested to see that the play reading functioned as a method for the cast to feel out their audience in terms of the play content. The minimalistic nature of the reading was quite striking as it allowed the cast to achieve their goal of conveying the play’s content in particular. Overall I, much like Eric touched on, felt very honored to be able to be allowed to be a part of the process of the refining of the play just by being in the audience, engaging with the play’s material. Much as Maggie described, due to the lack of there being a stage and costuming and a bunch of movement in the production, I found myself either being very focused on the lines of the actors or my attention falling to what other audience member’s particularly the bowling team who were in attendance reactions to the play were. I actually enjoyed the ambiguity concerning whether what was being portrayed on stage was all real events or if there was some embellishment. This added an element to the storyline that made it even more interesting. This is an aspect of ethnographic theatre that makes it unique and more fascinating to audiences versus a purely realistic or fantastical theatrical production.

Isaac Donkor on March 25th, 2019 at 11:06 pm

As a few others mentioned, the experience of going to a reading was completely different for me. Seeing a play before it reaches it’s final form provided a completely new perspective of the theatre world for me. It reminded me of stage rehearsals and dress rehearsals back in my competitive dancing days. The fact that the performance was such an early version of the play allowed me to focus more meticulously on the script and the impact it was seeking to make. I enjoyed the role the audience played in this performance, as Maggie mentioned. It felt like they were really interested in getting feedback from the audience and ensuring that the play is and will continue to be engaging. I could appreciate how short the scenes were, like Eric mentioned. I have a short attention span, so the shorter scenes made it easier to follow and actually pick up on the different cues and aspects of the performance. It was so interesting to see processes we have discussed in class play out in a real performance. This felt like the ethnographic performances we discussed. The chairs on the stage and simple, minimalistic setting reminded me so much of the Anna Deavere Smith film. The use of interviews made the play seem all the more real to me. It was clear they gathered so much information from so many people and used all of that to create the perfect picture. I enjoyed the recreated scenes as well as the ones that remained in interview format. I remember the second semester of my sophomore year, I had a class with a member of the Bowling team. It was shortly after they won, and my professor made an announcement to the class. Prior to that, I didn’t even know we had a Bowling team. It was interesting to see their perspectives on this entire situation and to gain more information on the role they assume here as women and athletes. I know I am not the only one who was unaware at the time, so I feel like this play is coming at the right time and will give Vanderbilt students a newfound appreciation for the less “popular” sports and also for female athletes.

Courtney Smith on March 26th, 2019 at 5:28 am

I definitely agree that this performance was very eye-opening. The intimacy of the setting, being that it was just the actors reading through the script, allowed the audience to focus more on the words and the actual storyline. I love to people watch, so being able to look back and forth at the performers and the actual bowler whose role the actors were assuming was super interesting for me. The whole romance thing threw me for a loop and I loved it. As a woman on this campus who has experienced being overlooked on numerous occasions, I thought it was crucially important for this play to not only be entertaining but to serve a purpose of bringing light to issues that others may not even know exist. I think the play did an excellent job of calling issues with Title IX, the NCAA, and sexism in sports. Throughout the reading, I kept thinking ‘something like this would NEVER happen to the baseball/football/men’s basketball team. I can’t wait to see the final production and am glad I got to be a part of this production process.

Camille Hurt on March 26th, 2019 at 8:12 am

I’m not going to lie; I hardly pay attention to any of the sports on this campus regardless of the gender. I’m pretty sure the last time I went to a game of any sort it was a football game my freshmen year. However, I also didn’t know that the bowling team or the lacrosse team, or really any of the women’s teams really existed. The lack of publicity these teams receive especially when considering how much we, Vanderbilt, hype up the men’s football team and the men’s basketball team is extremely ridiculous. I wasn’t even aware of this issue until watching this play. I 100% agree with Maggie’s comment that even though it doesn’t necessarily feel good to be called out, it does hold students accountable and make us realize that they are other sports besides the two we always seem to hear about and get emailed about. I really do hope that this play does get performed at some point in the future at Vanderbilt and allow even more students to gain some perspective.

Shreya Karak on March 26th, 2019 at 7:30 pm

As an athlete on Vanderbilt’s campus i can relate to some of the feelings that were portrayed in this play reading; because of this relation i found reading about “Bowling for Beginner” far more interesting than that of “twelfth night.” The issues that the athletic population have to deal with specifically those of the women’s bowling team are not that different from those in the general Vanderbilt community. I think it was a great idea to demonstrate some these issues through an ethnographic performance. I think that the fact that the bowling team was actively a piece of the production and were bale to be there for the reading is extremely important to be able to accurately tell their stories.

Temidayo Odeyingbo on April 11th, 2019 at 5:48 pm

I loved being a part of this performance as I was able to learn more about how sports are perceived in college and how women and men sports teams do not have the same resources and opportunities. While portraying Riley, a freshman on the Bowling Team, I learned how many students and faculty did not know anything about the team, their wins and losses as they did not receive any notifications. I was also very surprised to learn how the football players were the only ones to get breakfast, sponsors and other rewards. The team players are subjected to practicing hours on end but are not given the same rewards or opportunities and have to constantly deal with people undermining them and their skills. The athletes have to deal with constantly being perfect and making strikes while also keeping up with their school work and social life. This performance has made me appreciate female athletes, their work ethic and their motivation to do better in life.

Hassatou Diallo on April 27th, 2019 at 4:29 pm

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Back Home   


Recent Posts

Browse by Month