Q&A with Shonda Rhimes '91

by Kate Sullivan | 11/4/12 11:00pm

Since leaving Dartmouth, Shonda Rhimes '91 has established herself as a successful showrunner, producing and writing the Emmy Award-winning medical drama series "Grey's Anatomy" and its spinoff "Private Practice." At the College, she was heavily involved with the Black Underground Theater Association and was a creative writing major. Although "Private Practice" will come to an end after this season, Rhimes has recently been enjoying success with her new show "Scandal," as well as the announcement of a new series, "Mila 2.0."

Kate Sullivan: You have a lot of shows currently on the air. How is that going?

Shonda Rhimes: Everything is going great we're very busy over at "Private Practice." It's been busy!

KS: Do you have any other projects in the works? What is your main focus right now?

SR: No, I feel like I'm pretty focused on finishing up "Private." I also have a new baby, so it's been a very busy schedule, but I'm used to it at this point.

KS: How do you think your time at Dartmouth has informed your career in entertainment today?

SR: I was really active in BUTA, and we did a lot of our plays in the Bentley [Theater]. Directing plays is very much running a show, in that sense. We did it sort of large scale and really enjoyed it. It taught me a lot about storytelling. I was a creative writing major and wrote about half of a novel for my senior thesis, but other than that I spent most of my time in the theater department.

KS: This year marks the 40th year of coeducation at Dartmouth. Does this landmark have any relevance for you? What was your experience as a woman at Dartmouth?

SR: No, I have to say coeducation was not even an issue I didn't feel it. I never felt like because I'm a woman, there were things that I couldn't do. It didn't really exist for me, by the time I got there.

KS: There always seems to be a dialogue about passions and what inspires us. Were you able to cultivate your passion for storytelling at Dartmouth, and what does the College mean to you?

SR: Dartmouth was great for that it was a very safe place for us who were working creatively. I have really fond memories. To me, it was a happy place.

I lived in the River [residential] cluster for a while. I remember spending a lot of time there, time spent hanging out on the Green. Those were some of the best times I ever had. I still have very close friends, and those friendships have endured.

KS: I read several articles this summer about the concept of "having it all" and what that means for women. Did you ever see yourself limited at Dartmouth in terms of choosing a career or interests?

SR: No what is your definition of "all?" I don't really worry about that. I'm too busy living that.

KS: Do you see the arts as relevant for all undergraduate students?

SR: I think so. I think it was as relevant for me to take all the astronomy classes offered as it is for physics majors to spend time in theater department. I think that we're trying to make well-rounded people. With a creative job, the technical part, the dreaming, all of that is relevant, and if you limit yourself, then you're losing out on so much. To me, college is your chance to try all that stuff.

KS: Do you have any advice for those looking to pursue a career in arts and entertainment?

SR: First of all, my response is think of something you like maybe 60 or 70 percent as much, but if you can't imagine anything else but being a writer, then you should do it. Everybody who goes to Dartmouth is an overachiever. It's about getting yourself used to the idea of failure.