Sophia Swettenham '21

Sophia Swettenham

Major: Theatre Performance and English
Bio: Sophia Swettenham is a Junior Theatre Performance and English double major. Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Sophia has enjoyed performing in productions at Fordham Theatre, and with professional companies in Canada. She aspires to be a classical actor, and to perform with some of the greatest Shakespeare companies in North America.

Title of Research: From Page to Stage: Transforming Elizabeth Smart’s Poetic Prose into Theatre
Mentor: Mary Bly
Abstract: Elizabeth Smart’s poetic prose novella, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, is widely considered a masterpiece of its genre. Smart presents a fictionalized narrative of her real-life affair with George Barker, a married English poet. Through lyrical and metaphorical language, she conveys the depth of her love for George. She juxtaposes this with colloquial dialogue, referencing the stark reality of her material circumstances. This contrast between the ethereal and mundane heightens the emotional stakes of their controversial liaison.

Despite the intensity of Smart’s story, it has never been adapted into a dramatic piece. With this project, I sought to do so. Accordingly, I researched Smart, reading her journals and memoirs, academic essays on her work, and the poetry of George Barker. I closely read By Grand Central…, selected the most significant events and vocabulary, and using a selection of Smart’s words, merged them with my own writing. Thus, her poetic voice and my dramatic voice melded together into my play – The Passion of Smart. My play received a workshop and stage reading at the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival last summer, and I plan to workshop it further with Fordham students.

The scandal underlying the fiction caused Smart’s work to be overlooked for nearly twenty years, before it gained recognition. That stigma may have prevented it from being adapted into a play. That said, the story offers an uninhibited female perspective on love, sex, and social strictures. I am excited to help share Smart’s story with future generations.