Dear Wendy (can I call you Wendy?),
If it weren’t for you, I would not be where I am today.
While this statement sounds overly dramatic, it is not an exaggeration.
When I was 15 years old, I was about to go on vacation with my grandparents and I needed a book. I picked up a collection of three of your plays (The Heidi Chronicles, Uncommon Women and Others, & Isn't It Romantic) that I’d been assigned to read for my ninth grade English class, but never gotten around to studying. I didn’t know anything about you or the plays before opening the book, but I was soon transported to a world of women who didn’t necessarily know exactly what they wanted out of their educations, careers, and relationships, but did know they wanted a great deal. Suffice to say, it greatly appealed to me.
Uncommon Women and Others resonated particularly strongly with me. Maybe it did so because I was an overly mature fifteen year-old, already fretting about the future. Maybe it was because I had never seen a scenario where women had control over their lives in such a way and I was intrigued by the possibilities. Whatever it was that drew me to the world of Wendy, I found myself reading those three plays over and over again. Soon someone could pick any moment in any of your plays and I could tell you the act and scene number. I later found out that the play was based on your own experiences, friends, and professors in college, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Fast forward to the beginning of junior year, when we were expected to start thinking about where we’d be applying to college the next year. My parents and I met with my school’s wonderful college counselor, who named a few colleges for me to consider. I had a good idea of what I wanted in a college. I knew I wanted a small, liberal arts college like Grinnell College which my older brother attended. And I wanted to go somewhere on the East Coast, like Yale University where my parents met. Among the names mentioned was Mount Holyoke College.
“Wait a minute,” I incredulously interrupted, “Mount Holyoke is a REAL school?!” I was met with an odd glance from both my parents and from my college counselor, and told that Mount Holyoke was indeed real.
For whatever reason, it never occurred to me that the college portrayed in Uncommon Women and Others was a real place. And not only is it a real place, but you went there, Wendy! It was as if Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry had been a real institution all this time, and J.K. Rowling had studied there. And not only that, but an owl had dropped off my acceptance letter to Hogwarts, and my dreams were coming true.
Not only did I learn from you, Wendy, about Mount Holyoke, I learned about life. I read all those plays and I saw the choices your characters made and it greatly affected choices I have made. At the end of Isn’t It Romantic (sorry for giving away the ending…although you, Wendy, know how it ends), Janie has made the decision to not marry the nice Jewish doctor she’s been dating, but rather to live in her studio apartment in Manhattan and support herself by freelance writing. The play ends with her tap dancing in her own spotlight, while her friend rambles away in a voice mail about how her life is going nowhere and there are simply no men in New York. Janie doesn’t pay any attention, and instead she focuses on her dancing.
Today, I connect philosophically with Janie. I connect not only because I tap dance, but also because I am trying my hardest to set out on my own. Thanks to Janie, and you, I have the courage to not care too much what’s expected of me by my family, society, or anyone else for that matter. Janie showed me how to fully embrace my spotlight, no matter what’s happening outside of it. Since my graduation from our wonderful alma mater almost two years ago, I have lived in many places and had many life-changing and wonderful experiences. Who knows where my spotlight will follow or show me next, but I’ll be ready—tap shoes, a copy of your plays, and all.
Thank you for your brilliant and witty words and for continuing to be an inspiration to me and women everywhere. I think I speak for the worlds of theatre, women’s colleges, and everywhere in between when I say you are sorely missed.