Courtesy of the Cornell Performing and Media Arts Department

April 29, 2021

Questioning Power: An Interview with Gloria Oladipo ’21

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Gloria Oladipo is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, majoring in Government with a minor in English. She has previously written for PMA’s “24 Hour Festival” and “10-Minute Festival,” and her first play, “The Forever War,” received 2nd place at the Heermans-McCalmon Competition for Dramatic Writing. Gloria’s journalistic work has been published in Wear Your Voice magazine, Teen Vogue, B*tch Media, The Guardian, Bloomberg’s City Lab and other publications, and she also works as a professional script reader, both freelance and for the Public Theater. 

I had the pleasure of sitting down with her and discussing her upcoming play, The Good Victim, which uses the story of a college relationship to explore sexual assault, racism and accountability among peers.

Mira Kudva Driskell ’23: We can start with a pretty broad question: what inspired The Good Victim? How long have you been working on it?

Gloria Oladipo ’21: At Cornell, it’s based on this atmosphere — the instances of sexual violence that routinely happen at this school and specifically impact Black women. It’s been in the works since about last year — there was supposed to be a showing in September but that obviously didn’t happen. 

MKD: Do you think that the process of working on this play in quarantine, and really having that isolation, has impacted your process and had an influence on the final project?

GO: I don’t think so. I think that there’s a myth that the isolated artist creates better work, but I don’t operate like that. I find a lot of inspiration and rejuvenation in being around and with other people. Being isolated and in quarantine at home made things a bit more difficult, in a way. But working at home, in a lot of ways, was a nice change of pace, since I didn’t have to be on campus and doing the bulk of this writing while here. 

MKD: You’ve talked about how this play was inspired by the environment of Cornell. In terms of these themes of accountability and justice, can you talk about how your experiences on this campus have inspired the discourse present in this play? And how it fits into this broader discourse of #MeToo and how we conceive of justice?

GO: #MeToo has a lot to do with understanding and dissecting power relations, and how power tends to fixate and materialize through sexual violence. So I think that the play is an explanation of that — this question of power. Not to mention that MeToo was specifically started with Black women in mind, and so there’s a stronger link in remembrance of that heritage and tradition. 

With my personal experience, I think unfortunately many Black women can personally relate to how this violence materializes, but I’ll also say that the play is fictionalized in a lot of ways, which is important to highlight its universality. I can recall a specific relation to it, but it’s really about injustice, in the bigger ways that can make up 140 pages of a play and in the smaller ways that we feel every day.

MKD: And, sort of along those lines and tying into these larger narratives, I’m curious: who were, or who are, your influences as a director and a playwright?

GO: As a playwright, there are a lot of people whose work I find inspiring and enjoyable. I really love the work of Taylor Mac, Dominique Morisseau, Annie Baker and legends like August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry are really important to me. I think that they have a way of capturing life which has always been so refreshing.

MKD: How do you see The Good Victim fitting into that canon, of really authentic ways of capturing life? 

GO: I think that any good play is about capturing life, but I would be remiss to say that I’m in the same league as Lorraine Hansberry. I hope that what the play achieves is using specific examples to speak to a larger narrative or pattern in the ways that we see power — but also thinking through these definitions and positionalities of victims and people in power. 

MKD: Another general question which I have is just — what has that process been like? Of directing your own material?

GO: You know, in a way it’s been really liberating. It’s been really nice to have unilateral control of the whole thing, from casting, to writing — I’ve been working with a cast that is just so on it when it comes to taking changes and just going with it. You know, there’s been 13 drafts, including one today.

I think that directing it has been fun in a way, but the whole idea of doing it via Zoom has been a learning curve. I do have an amazing assistant director who I want to shout out specifically: her name is Mardiya Shardow ’23.

MKD: Do you have any other cast members or people behind the scenes who you want to give a shout out to?

GO: I’d like to thank the whole cast — they’ve all been really amazing. For a lot of them, this is their first time, or after a long hiatus it’s their most recent experience with acting. 

MKD: You’ve talked a little bit about the difficulties of doing a play reading on Zoom, and I’m curious how you’ve been adapting to that?

GO: I mean, it’s really been sad, since in person theater is so amazing. But the other option is for people to get sick — and that’s not what we want, ever. We want people to be safe, and happy and comfortable, so we’ve just been taking it in stride and trying to limit our practice. But also, working with a cast which is so malleable and really willing to be on Zoom for 2 hours and 50 minutes. Especially our lead actress, who’s basically in every scene except for one — both of us are in Zoom rehearsals about four times a week. But really, being around people who make it easy makes it easier.

MKD: I guess that’s all the questions I have, so let’s go full Nardwuar: why should people care about The Good Victim?

GO: I think people should care about The Good Victim because I would hope that people are interested in diving into these questions of sexual assault and sexual violence, especially on a campus like our own. I think that people should show up to support a majority Black cast, and an all-Black creative team. I think that people should want to engage in art that’s challenging. 

And also, there have been a lot of really important efforts in putting this together. Beyond myself, there have been helping with casting — Carley Robinson ’21 is another person I want to shout out, and also Professor Beth Milles.

The Good Victim will premiere on Friday, April 30th at 7:30PM with a one-time screening. Tickets are available at schwartztickets.com; buyers can watch the play any time afterward until Monday, May 3rd.

Mira Kudva Driskell is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at mdriskell@cornellsun.com.