Cathleen Freedman knew before she set foot in college that her future involved playwriting. She’d graduated from Houston’s prestigious Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and knew she wanted a college where she could hone her craft and get a well-rounded education. Four years later, her career as a playwright is well underway.
Deciding on Fordham involved a bit of serendipity. A fellow Kinder alum, Chandler Dean, FCLC ’18, was already enrolled at Fordham College at Lincoln Center and loving it. But Freedman also had her eyes on Georgetown. Her father suggested she visit the Lincoln Center campus to help her decide, and after a tour, they took a break on the Plaza.
Taking in the scene, her father noticed for the first time the name of the Lowenstein Center. Leon Lowenstein, the man for whom the building is named, also funded a scholarship that allowed him to attend University of California at San Diego. The moment felt like fate.
“That was one of those moments where I believe everything kind of happens for a reason,” she said. After that, she and Dean spoke at length, and his recommendation convinced her to enroll in the FCLC honors program. On May 21, she will graduate as a dual political science/film and television major.
But the serendipitous moments didn’t end with that afternoon on the Plaza.
Freedman’s senior project, which was supported by an FCLC Dean’s Senior Thesis/Capstone grant, is a play titled “Self Portrait of a Modest Woman,” about the life of the artist Adélaïde Labille-Guiard. A staged reading of the play directed by and acted out by theatre students was held in front of a small audience at the Lincoln Center campus on April 25.
Freedman’s play was inspired by Labille-Guiard’s painting “Self-Portrait with Two Pupils,” and takes place in 18th-century France and the present-day gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the painting resides. Freedman said became fascinated with the work during an art history course, and in the process of writing a paper on it, was dumbfounded by how little research there is about Labille-Guiard.
“I was only able to find one biography about her, and I adored it. I kept it in my bag for several weeks and I would pull it out and take notes. While reading it, I was like, ‘This would make such a good screenplay. It’s such a good story,’” she said.
It turns out that the biography, titled Artist in the Age of Revolution (Getty Publications, 2009), was written by none other than Laura Auricchio, Ph.D., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center.
“It’s so incredible for me to be able to know the only biographer of this French 18th-century artist, and to be able to ask her what she thinks about certain people and their lives,” she said.
Like her classmates, Freedman had spent a year and a half mastering in-person learning before having to pivot to remote learning in March 2020. Living in Houston added another wrinkle, as her home was one of the thousands whose water pipes froze and burst in February 2021 when the Texas power grid failed. Her family ended up living in a hotel for nearly six months during the pandemic, a period in which her dog went half blind and she needed to visit the hospital several times.
“It was such an intense experience. I jokingly refer to this as my study-abroad time in Houston, because this also would’ve been the time that I would’ve potentially been studying abroad,” she said.
A Potential London Debut
Freedman still made the most of her time. During her sophomore year, her first full-length play, The Wilde and Rambling Consequence of Being Virginia, was a finalist in a playwriting competition sponsored by the Questors, a theater company in London helmed by Dame Judi Dench.
That in turn led to a partnership with a director at the theater to have Freedman write a new play, which may be staged at the theater company’s stage in the future.
She said the honors program has been everything that she hoped it would be, both because of the academic rigor and the camaraderie she developed with her 20-member cohort.
“I just really adore every single person in my class. The honors program is kind of like a sorority, because you have what’s like an intense hazing process your freshman year, where you have four honors classes,” she said.
“But that’s exactly what I wanted.”
Karina Hogan, Ph.D. a professor of theology and director of the FCLC honors program, had Freedman in her Sacred Texts of the Middle East.
While some students arrive their first year with a ‘deer caught in the headlights’ look in their eyes, Hogan said that Freedman stood out from the beginning as knowing exactly what she wanted.
“She is just an outstanding student and is really happy to volunteer and help out with things in the honors program, like mentoring other students,” she said.
After graduation, Freedman is going to take a few months off to travel with her roommate Gabby Etzel, with whom she started the website Absolutely Anything.—which chronicles their adventures in New York and beyond. At some point, she expects to travel to England, to help shepherd the play to completion.
“Joan Didion has a wonderful quote that I always whisper to myself: ‘I don’t know what I think until I write.’ I think that’s so true,” said Freedman, who also writes screenplays.
“Playwriting and screenwriting is a way of understanding the world, how you feel about it, making sense of all of the insanity, and trying to find cohesion in a theme.”