January 26, 2021 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Using the medium of live theatre to tell a little-known story from World War II, recent Department of Theatre Arts graduate Victoria Zisi (’20) wrote a play about undercover code-breakers that was recently selected by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) as a first alternate for the David L. Shelton Playwriting Award, given to original plays written by students.
Zisi is the first Liberty student to receive this specific award. Due to COVID-19 social gathering restrictions, she will be honored at a virtual ACTF Region IV Festival in February.
Zisi submitted her play while a student last fall. She graduated in December with a B.A. in Theatre Arts: Production and is currently interning with the theatre arts department.
“Blind to the Truth” is based on the true story of code girls during World War II, whose pivotal role in history has only been declassified for a few years. Under the guise of being secretaries in the United States Navy, these women worked to crack the code to German intel and encrypt Allied communications. In Zisi’s script, the fictional code girl protagonist, Betty Jo, must continue to decipher the enemy’s plans after the Battle of Midway while dealing with a fiancé potentially headed into danger and an unknown spy within her headquarters.
Zisi first heard of the largely unknown story of the code girls in the summer of 2019 when she picked up the book, “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II,” written by Liza Mundy. The idea of adapting it for a play came to her that fall when she was enrolled in a playwrighting course.
“I knew I wanted to do something to tell people about the code girls, but I didn’t know that that would take the form of writing a play until I had a dream one night and the dream was a plot of a play about them,” Zisi recalled. “I said, ‘God, I guess you want me to write about this because you just gave me the plot.’”
Throughout the semester, Zisi wrote the play with the help of her classmates and professor Linda Nell Cooper, chair of the theatre arts department. Coincidentally, other theatre arts students in the class who were involved in the department’s annual Writing Project at the time were also writing a true story set in World War II called “Bedford Boys.” Zisi was allowed to use their research materials and community contacts to write her own play.
“We’d write about six pages (of our individual plays) at a time, bring them in, and we’d have a few actors read the pages and give feedback on it,” Zisi said. “Professor Cooper would give feedback as well, and we’d use the process of writing the play as the means of learning about playwriting.”
The medium of live theatre, Zisi explained, is an effective way to tell true stories and connect audiences to actual people and events in history.
“You can read something in a history book and say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty awesome,’ but now you see it come to life onstage and suddenly you’re watching it unfold yourself, you’re a part of it,” she said. “It’s such a powerful medium that I’ve always been drawn to as a way of educating people on history because it’s not just names and dates; it’s alive and it’s real people. History is so much about real people like us with real struggles, and there’s a certain connection that happens when you’re seeing it acted out and performed.”
In December 2019, Zisi and her classmates performed short demo readings of their finished works. “Blind to the Truth” was later given a full dramatic reading in the Tower Theater to the general public in February 2020, after which she received feedback from the audience.
Last summer, Zisi worked with a local World War II historian named Kathy Jaberg to expand the play and add the finishing touches.
In addition to the Kennedy Center recognition, Zisi is in an ongoing conversation with a professional regional theater about possible production of “Blind to the Truth.”
Read Zisi’s script on the KCACTF website.