In her role as professor of English at Babson College, Mary Pinard encourages students to take creative risks and bring vulnerability and authenticity to their work, habits that will serve them well whatever their career path. Last summer, she saw her own creative risks pay off.
Pinard collaborated with Associate Professor Beth Wynstra, a theater scholar and director, in writing and producing a play, Heart/Roots: Wabaunsee County. Based on stories shared by residents of Wabaunsee County, Kansas, the production was performed on two sold-out nights in June.
Pinard got to know this cattle-ranching community in northeast Kansas several years ago, when she served as poet-in-residence at The Volland Store, a general store near the town of Alma built in the early 20th century. The refurbished building serves as an art gallery and cultural space, and the ruins of the 1917 family house on the property have been restored for outdoor theatrical productions. Pinard was invited to write the first play to be performed there. Although she had never written a play, she agreed as long as she could collaborate with Wynstra.
The professors visited Alma in August 2021 and began collecting stories of residents, from high school students to people in their 80s who remembered the store’s original owners. “One individual shared the story of an injury his father sustained while rustling cattle, and the poignancy of realizing his father was a hero but also vulnerable,” Pinard says. She used the stories to write the monologues, scenes, and sonnets that made up the play. Pinard received additional help from Professor Sandra Graham, an ethnomusicologist, who scored one of the sonnets so it could be sung in the play, and Associate Professor Joseph Ricciardi, an economist who translated another sonnet into Spanish.
“I ask my students to take a lot of risks as makers, and I would never ask them to do something that I
hadn’t already tried.”
English Professor Mary Pinard
Pinard and Wynstra returned to Alma in March for in-person auditions and cast all local residents. Wynstra held weekly rehearsals online, and they both returned to Kansas one week before opening night to rehearse in person. Pinard credits Wynstra, as director, for bringing everything together, including the local cast and crew. “Beth made it possible for those actors to take risks and come together in the most wonderful way,” Pinard says. “They brought a kind of texture to the play that made it very real and authentic.”
In September, Pinard’s latest collection of poems, Ghost Heart, was published by Ex Ophidia Press. Many of the poems refer to the Kansas prairie and were written while she was in residence at The Volland Store.
“I ask my students to take a lot of risks as makers, and I would never ask them to do something that I hadn’t already tried,” Pinard says. “I want to share stories of my own vulnerability and the ways that you doubt when you’re making something. I hope it’s encouraging to them. I know how scary it is to face the blank page.”
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