From Crimson writer Elizabeth X. Guo:
Harvard senior Mitchell B. Polonsky ’19 has been named one of this year’s twelve George J. Mitchell Scholarship recipients, after being chosen from a record pool of 370 applicants. Sponsored by the non-profit U.S.-Ireland Alliance, the Mitchell Scholarship gives twelve U.S. citizens the opportunity to complete one year of graduate study in Ireland. The program identifies “future American leaders… on the basis of academic distinction, leadership, and service.”
“I’m extremely, extremely, extremely grateful and surprised that I was selected,” Polonsky said. “I would encourage anyone interested in studying in Ireland to apply. They really, I think, are looking for good people, not just good students.”
Polonsky will use the scholarship to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Theater Directing at the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin starting next fall, according to a press release. During his time at Harvard, Polonsky directed over a dozen “site-specific” productions, which are staged outside of traditional theater venues.
In an interview, Polonsky said he looks forward to studying in Ireland and finding “new spaces to make come alive.”
“I’m really interested in looking at some of the growing political tensions in Ireland, especially post-Brexit,” Polonsky said. “I would love to do some site-specific performance piece near or relating to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are so many incredible historical architectural sites in Dublin that I would love to create theater in and around.”
Polonsky is currently pursuing a joint concentration in English and Theater, Dance, and Media at the College. His first site-specific production — which he directed during his sophomore year — was a rendition of “The Room” by Harold Pinter in the basement of Adams House.
“At first, it was difficult to get spaces to direct, which is how I started doing site-specific work,” Polonsky said. “But for me, it’s always been about finding ways that performance can create or alter a sense of community.”
Driven by a newfound passion for site-specific work, Polonsky continued to push the boundaries of theatrical spaces. In 2016, he helped found The Goat Exchange, an experimental Harvard ensemble centered on the idea that “theater is a fundamental social service.” Working with the Exchange, Polonsky directed “Cabaret” in the Queen’s Head Pub in 2017 and “Antigone” in Harvard Stadium for an audience of 6,000 in April 2018.
For Polonsky, staging theater performances in non-traditional locations is one way of making arts culture less exclusive and more approachable for the general public. “We were really interested in creating theatrical experiences that felt not only accessible but truly welcoming to the broader Harvard and even Cambridge and Allston communities beyond,” Polonsky said. “It was really an attempt to create theater that brings together a full cross-section of our community.”
A resident of Quincy House, Polonsky said he first learned about the Mitchell Scholarship from Lowell A. Brower, a Quincy fellowship tutor. Written applications were due in September. After a round of semi-finalist Skype interviews in October, Polonsky traveled to Washington D.C. with other finalists for in-person candidate interviews on Nov. 16 and 17.
Polonsky found out about his status as a scholarship recipient while waiting in the airport, just a few hours after his interview.
“In general, I think the Mitchell Scholarship process is a little bit more casual than some of the other fellowships,” he said. “They really try to make an effort to make it a personal experience.”
After his year of study in Dublin, Polonsky said he hopes to pursue a career as an international theater director.
“Ideally, I’d love to continue The Goat Exchange and make it an international touring ensemble that develops new work and site-specific work and brings it around the world,” he said.