What is your field of study?
I work in Theatre Studies and Performance Studies with an emphasis on contemporary international performance and interdisciplinary art. Much of my writing addresses work that I see in person, but I also grapple with larger theoretical questions that concern the arts more broadly conceived. From time to time, I perform and direct for the theatre.
What drew you to this field?
I started acting when I was about ten years old, and performed in a lot plays and musicals throughout my high school and college years. At the time, I grew a bit frustrated with script-based theatre and decided to major in creative writing and English, with a focus on poetry, instead. Nonetheless, I kept returning to the theatre and during a junior year studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland, I saw a lot of performance work that challenged my expectations about what was possible onstage. These encounters troubled me long after the fact. My search for a sufficient response to what I had experienced lead me to ask more philosophical questions about the nature of performance, about how performance is a way of thinking through problems that could not be expressed in other media. And so, after finishing my undergrad degree, I decided to apply to some Ph.D. programs to follow these thoughts further.
On what topic was your dissertation? Why did you select that topic?
My dissertation looked at how live events function differently from mediated or recorded events, particularly how our experience of attending a live performance is fraught with expectations and worries about what will happen next. In the theatre, we anticipate the future and sometimes the performance satisfies us by playing out as expected. But something could always go wrong—a mistake or a break in the action, a forgotten line. I've been interested in how artists use performance to play with the future's expected and unexpected courses. I've since revised the dissertation into a book that will finally make its way into printed form later this year.
I'd been thinking about this since my earliest days in the theatre, though it took me some time to discover the nature of that concern. I remember sitting in an empty theatre as an adolescent—maybe ten or twelve—staring at the lowered curtain and feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the countless worlds that could be hiding behind the curtain. Its this sense of inaccessible potentiality, the anticipation of what's to come in the initial blackout, for example, that keeps me coming back to the theatre.
What do you see as the potential or value of your work/research?
We're living in a time of increasing mediation and greater separation from one another—Its important for us to recognize the lasting value of live arts, where we share a common time and space with one another. I think that such performance forces us to face one another, to be present, and to collectively worry over what's to come. My work tries to come to terms with that experience and to express the continued significance of these very old, but very present ways of making sense of our world.
Why did you accept the position at UMass Amherst?
Coming to UMass Amherst is a homecoming of sorts. From 2010-2012, after I'd finished my Ph.D., I held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship where I taught in the English Departments at Amherst College and UMass Amherst. It was an important time for me, and I truly appreciated my colleagues, students, and the surrounding area. The Five Colleges represent a unique opportunity for students and faculty to access a host of extraordinary institutions, each with its own community of scholars and artists. It really is like five campuses in one. I was offered a position at Florida State University and spent two years there and, while I found a great deal to appreciate about that university, I couldn't help but think of UMass as my home. Having New York City and Boston a drive away provides me with great access to the performances about which I write.
What honors courses are you teaching? What other courses are you teaching?
Beginning in the Fall I am offering a new course called "All the World's a Stage: an introduction to performance studies", that will look at performance in the theatre and in everyday life, asking questions about what it means to perform socially and artistically, what it means to be "live" in this day and age. Alongside theatrical performances, we also consider political protests and speeches, social media and self-portraiture, and roleplaying in the workplace. It should be of interest to students from a wide array of backgrounds. This course and other courses I teach involve creative and critical assignments, viewings of live and recorded performances, and even the possibility of making performance as part of the curriculum.
In the English Department, I teach courses on Performance Studies, Modern Drama (nationally and internationally), and Performance Art. I'm also developing some other classes that incorporate creative writing and critical analysis in a single course.