The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Student Spotlight: Graduate student playwright opens historical theater gallery

Eli Campbell is a graduate student playwright at the University of Iowa and their gallery “In This Sepulcher, We Are Fed” opens Oct. 13. Campbell shares their inspirations, experiences in the theater program, and what makes playwriting such a unique medium.
Jordan Barry
Eli Campbell poses for a portrait at the Theatre Building in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.

When writing a work of historical fiction, it can be challenging to make contemporary themes palatable for all audiences. This is a challenge University of Iowa graduate playwriting student Eli Campbell has tackled with enthusiasm.

Their upcoming performance, “In This Sepulcher, We Are Fed,” takes place in 1790s Versailles, France. Opening at Alan MacVey Theatre from Oct. 13-15, the story follows two siblings living as servants on a wealthy estate. The show is part of the UI Theatre department’s gallery series.

Campbell shapes a straightforward historical story with a genre they could only describe as “not quite realism.” When a mysterious skin-changing disease threatens the lives of the wealthy, the siblings are forced to confront their relationship with their upper-class lords and each other.

Campbell’s inspiration originated with questions they wanted to explore, which drew them to playwriting in the first place.

“I had a lot of questions about love and wealth and capitalism,” Campbell said. “[I had] questions about what it means to be taken care of and what a person needs to feel secure in a relationship.”

More contemporary themes of gender and sexuality have roots in history, so Campbell considered the setting of Versailles the perfect canvas to paint their story.

“I think it got shoved into 1790s Versailles because their performance of wealth I think is just extraordinary,” Campbell said. “It was also sort of tied up in their performance of gender because men would wear kind of just as much makeup as women. That’s how those kinds of questions match up with the time period.”

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Performing a script while it is still in progress is an opportunity for playwrights to get real-time feedback. Campbell said the theater department’s willingness to produce galleries is a big reason why they chose to pursue playwriting at the UI.

“I came here as an English and theater double major,” Campbell said. “I took a Playwriting One class and within two weeks I was like, ‘Never mind, that’s what I want to do instead.’”

Campbell soon found the right medium to pursue the questions that would eventually inspire their scripts.

“Plays have this unique quality of being like poetry and prose and performance, all of these things kind of mashed up into one,” Campbell said.

With opening night approaching, Campbell hopes their gallery can inspire audiences to think deeper about the questions their story presents.

“I love watching other theater that makes me think about things or unsure about things or second guess myself, and I think that’s what I aspire to leave people with,” Campbell said.

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About the Contributor
Charlie Hickman
Charlie Hickman, Arts Reporter
Charlie Hickman is a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He is majoring in English on the Pre-Law track with minors in Political Science and Cinema.