Fulbright Scholars Program: A “transformative” experience

MU Professor David Crespy recently explored two countries through his research abroad, returning with seven new plays written and a plethora of fresh connections.

  • David Crespy
    Professor David Crespy recently returned from his second Fulbright trip — to Spain and Greece — where he worked to unite these two separate landscapes in the fictional stories of the Sephardic Jews. Photo by Hanna Caldwell.

Sept. 13, 2023

Professor David Crespy of the University of Missouri Department of Theatre has been awarded two separate opportunities in the Fulbright Program, an international academic exchange program that provides grants for people to study or research abroad. A prestigious program administered by the U.S. Department of State, alumni include Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, authors, physicists and heads of state.

Crespy’s opportunities came in 2018-19 and 2022-23. Both were part of a personal quest to discover his grandparents’ heritage and to connect with his own multicultural roots through playwriting. 

Crespy’s first trip was to Greece, where he began researching his family’s history in the Jewish community of Thessaloniki. Working with scholars at Aristotle University, traveling to museums and conducting interviews resulted in “Madre de Israel: Three Plays of Jewish Salonika”—a trilogy of plays about a fictionalized Jewish family. Crespy continued to refine this trilogy in the Missouri Playwrights Workshop at MU, and one of them was published in 2021. 

His second Fulbright trip, which he recently returned from, was to Spain and Greece to unite these two separate landscapes in the fictional stories of the Sephardic Jews. During this trip, Crespy wrote a six-play cycle spanning different historical eras critical to understanding the diasporic experiences of ordinary people. 

“The goal of all six plays is to connect these Sephardic Greek Jewish communities with their history in a wholly dramatic and theatrical way, touching upon some of the magic and mysticism of the Kabbalah—which emerged in the 12th and 13th centuries in Spain and migrated across the Mediterranean along with the Jewish community,” Crespy said.

Much of the research during the second Fulbright trip built upon the relationships Crespy made during his first trip. Traveling to Greece set him up for future research and travel so that he could expand his geographic and historical knowledge of the other two countries.

“It’s a diplomatic mission,” Crespy said. “Your job is to establish not just a one-time connection, but an ongoing connection, and one that benefits not just you, but benefits your colleagues so that they can expand upon this work.”

For Crespy, the experiences reinvigorated his whole approach to playwriting. He returned with a total of seven plays that he is workshopping. In October, as part of the Mizzou Theatre Fall 2023-24 season, he will share readings from the new plays developed through this project: “Mi Corazón Español Vive Ahora En Grecia: Six Plays of Sephardic Spain & Greece.”

In addition to the individual benefits for faculty who are accepted into the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program, it is only the beginning of a global partnership, an ongoing cross-cultural collaboration for years to come.

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