A Visit From Cecily O'Neill by Marissa Porto
Before I even began taking classes in the Educational Theatre department at City College, I had heard several conversations about a woman name Cecily that came to school to run something called a process drama. All I knew was that it had something to do with young people, Lord of the Flies, and that everyone really liked whomever this woman was. Of course, it took me all of a week to learn just who she was and to become infatuated with her teaching philosophies. I was also instantly jealous of everyone that had the opportunity to see her lead a process drama in person!
One can imagine, then, how unbelievably excited I was to hear that she offered to come back! On March 1st, I finally had the chance to see Cecily O’Neill, who has inspired me since beginning my studies, in action! And even more, have the chance to participate in one of her process dramas, not just watch it!
I walked into the green room of Aaron Davis Hall and the first person I saw was Cecily and I was instantly star struck. I wanted nothing more than to go up to her and tell her what a big fan I was of her work, but instead I turned into a gawking schoolgirl who lingered in the corner, wishing I were brave enough to approach her. As soon as we began the workshop, however, I realized that she is one of the most approachable and humble people I have ever met.
The first thing we were instructed to do was pair up with someone and to describe, in detail, our bedrooms as we had left them that morning. The person listening was not allowed to ask any questions; just listen. She then instructed us to take out paper and a pen and draw the bedroom our partner described to us. To make it even more dramatic, we were to be graded on our drawing as well…
From here we moved into new pairs and played out scenes as reporters and the very wealthy people that were showing us their magnificent homes we were writing about. Seamlessly and without even realizing what was going on, we were in the midst of an intense rumor mill that led into an hour-long process drama about a mysterious family and the skeletons in their closet. When I look back on the day, I truly don’t know how we got from point A to point B, but what I do know is that every single one of us was 100% engaged. Cecily has this uncanny ability to hold a room and gracefully usher her students through various adventures.
At the end of our time together, we asked Cecily a million questions, which she elegantly answered. One of the participants asked “Did you have that all planned out? Or did you just have an idea of where you wanted us to end up?” To which she replied, “No. I came in here with an entirely different idea, but you all seemed so interested in the stories we were uncovering, that I felt I needed to follow you there.”
It is that ability to follow and honor her students that makes her so unbelievably great at what she does and what will continue to inspire me. I hope that Cecily plans another trip to New York and offers to work with us again, because you all deserve the opportunity to work with this master in our field. And I will certainly continue to seek out and attend any chance I get to work with her again!