Charissa Menefee

Associate Professor

Research Areas

Writing for Stage and Screen, New Play Development, Dramatic Literature, Historical Drama, Comedy, Performance Studies, Directing and Leadership

About My Teaching

Close reading, analysis, and interpretation of texts—whether they are literary, performance-oriented, or improvised—are all key to my approach as a teacher, writer, and director.  In my teaching, I strive for a balance of experiential, practical learning and grounding in history, theory, and literature.  I stress critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, and communication.  The ability to advocate for ideas confidently, imaginatively, and responsibly is essential to success in any field.  I am especially passionate about developing new plays and encouraging playwrights; I love working with students to expand their understanding of dramatic literature and to develop their scriptwriting skills.

How I Came to Teach Writing, Communication, and Theatre

I have always been a reader, writer, and performer.  Throughout my professional career, I have continued to integrate the areas of writing, communication, and performance.  My bachelor’s and master’s degrees were focused on both English and theatre, and my doctoral studies included intensive focus on dramatic literature, scriptwriting, and speech communication, as well as the analysis and performance of poetry and prose.  Early in my career, I taught public speaking, oral interpretation, debate, and theatre at the College of Charleston.  Before coming to Iowa State, as a professor at Prescott College, I taught playwriting, screenwriting, dramatic literature, acting, directing, communication, and children’s theatre, as well as interdisciplinary courses in theatre and social change, writing as performance, and comedy acting.  I also directed many plays and served in several leadership positions, including Chair of the Arts & Letters Department.  I am the co-founder of Tomorrow’s Theatre Tonight, a new play reading series in Arizona, and I was the artistic director and producer of the annual One Day Plays festival at Prescott College.

Recent Publications (Playwriting Honors and Productions)

The Figurehead.  Finalist, Julie Harris Playwright Award, 2013.
Check Your Ticket.  In Five Stages, Herberger Theater Center’s Lunch Time Theater, 2013.
Lydia’s Plan.  Stage Door Productions’ Original One-Act Festival, 2013.
Just Another Mourning.  Pet Plays Festival, Theatrics, 2013.
Meet Me Halfway.  Prescott College Theatre, 2013.
Pretty Lucky.  ThrifTheatre Festival, Theatrics, 2012.

My scripts have also been honored by the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s New American Playwrights Project, Pandora Festival of New Plays, Smithsonian CultureFest, Arizona Theatre Conference, Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, American College Theatre Festival, Arts & Letters Prize in Drama, Theatre Oxford Play Contest, and City of Charleston Literary Arts Awards.

Selected Productions Directed

Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, David Mamet’s The Water Engine, Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, Sara Israel’s (touch.), Edward Albee’s The American Dream, Lee Blessing’s Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music, Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, Aurand Harris’ Androcles and the Lion, Susan Nanus’ adaptation of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero.

Current Research

My dissertation was both a creative and analytical examination of historical drama—including three full-length scripts (two plays and a screenplay) about King James I of England, as well as essays on Stuart history, dramatic construction, and the playwriting process.  In my current work, I draw upon the strategies I developed to create historical scripts to analyze and dramatize more contemporary issues. My recent plays illuminate private and public events that define characters’ futures in ways they may or may not have chosen.  In the spring of 2013, I revised and directed Meet Me Halfway, a collection of short plays that examine the compromises necessary in relationships. I have also completed a cycle of short plays entitled Eavesdropping; each is a glimpse into a seemingly simple yet crucial moment in a character’s life. The reader or audience is dropped into the world of the play without traditional exposition and asked to intuit the circumstances and stakes involved. My current full-length play, How Long is Fifteen Minutes?, expands and complicates this new direction in my work, as I explore the lives of women who have been affected by instant—and often unwanted—notoriety, as well as the conflicts that arise when our personal lives intersect with our culture’s insatiable need for fresh stories, new scandals, and sensational headlines.  In addition to writing, directing, and producing new plays, I am in the early stages of two book-length projects: a collection of essays by contemporary playwrights on the craft and process of playwriting and a book that applies the models and practice of effective stage directing to leadership.

Outside of the University

I am an actor, director, singer, improv comedian, community volunteer, and arts advocate.

Ph.D., Theatre and Speech Communication, Southern Illinois University—Carbondale
M.A., Interdisciplinary Studies, West Texas State University
B.A., English and Theatre, West Texas State University
359 Ross Hall Iowa State University