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Outside Academia, Volume 9: Melissa Hurt

Posted By Sara B. Taylor, Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Please take the opportunity to peruse the latest installment of New Paradigms in Graduate Education’s: Outside Academia, a series of profiles on PhDs in Theatre and Performance Studies who work outside the academy.

Outside Academia

Volume 9

Melissa Hurt

Interview conducted on August 11, 2015 and transcribed by Haddy Kreie, a PhD candidate at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Melissa HurtMelissa Hurt has been a theatre artist for more than twenty years and considers herself a theatre educator as well as a certified yoga teacher, public speaking coach, and performer. After earning her MFA in theatre pedagogy with a concentration in directing from Virginia Commonwealth University and PhD in theatre with a focus on acting theory from the University of Oregon, she spent fourteen years accumulating university teaching experience while also working as an actor, director, dramaturg, producer, voice and speech trainer, and makeup artist.

A certified trainer in Arthur Lessac’s voice, speech and movement work and was the last trainer personally certified by Mr. Lessac before his passing, Hurt has taught Lessac workshops at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festivals in Regions I and II, at the University of Mary Washington, at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, and for The Actor’s Center in Washington DC. She was a guest teacher of the Lessac work at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney (Australia’s premier acting conservatory) in Summer 2011. She also teaches the Lessac work with Adult Continuing Education in Fairfax County, Virginia. The Lessac Institute has named Hurt as one of five trainers that is “the future” of the Lessac work. Check out her book Arthur Lessac's Embodied Actor Training.

Goals and Academia

While graduate training in the humanities tends to focus singularly on preparing its students for the professoriate, the paths that lead us here vary widely. I began applying to graduate schools shortly after I returned to the US from working in the Peace Corps. I longed for a career path that would help me merge the love I had of making theatre with the real world issues that had become so important to me, like equality, race and gender issues, and intercultural understanding. At first glance, an MA in Theatre Studies seemed to do just that. Upon entry into my program, however, I was also thrust directly into a teaching assistantship. Suddenly teaching became my focus, and to a certain degree continued to marry my two interests: it gave me a platform to go beyond thinking about the issues to try to change the way people thought about them. And in academia, theoretically, I had a captive audience! Within just a few years, however, the realities crushed my idealism; disengaged students, pressure to deliver grades according to the expectations of faculty mentors and entitled twenty-somethings, and constant reevaluation of self-efficacy left my teaching feeling empty and pointless. Last Tuesday, as I sat looking into my computer screen, listening to Melissa Hurt tell her story of finding fulfillment as a teacher outside of the academy. It became clear that her most valuable teaching moments have occurred beyond the walls of the metaphorical ivory tower. I think I will  always be a teacher, she revealed, I think its what Im meant to do. And Ive come to realize, as of the past year or so, that that probably means it wont be full time in academia.

But why not?

Melissa Hurt is, first and foremost, a teacher. Her first foray into graduate education took her to Virginia Commonwealth University where she focused on directing as she earned an MFA in Theatre Pedagogy. Upon completion, she immediately landed a teaching position in Dodge City, Kansas or, as she said, the first and only job that was offered. As a native Kansan, I was unsurprised to hear that, despite efforts of neighbors and new friends to welcome her and even to set her up with local cowboys, Hurt experienced a bit of culture shock in southwest Kansas. She quickly encountered a dilemma common to many academics: letting her life follow her career or letting her career follow her life. Believing in herself as a teacher, Hurt returned to graduate school, pursuing the PhD that might land her in an urban community more suited to her personal life choices. Looking past the dry plains of Kansas, Hurt could see the lush Northwest beckoning: I realized in Kansas that I had to have a fuller picture in my life. I had to have a place that had a culture that I could fit into, that had people that were like me, or similar. Beginning to allow her career trajectory to follow her life focus, she joined the Theatre Department at the University of Oregon, a place that allowed her to feel a little less isolated from city life. There, she completed her PhD with a dissertation she later turned into her book: Arthur Lessacs Embodied Actor Training (Routledge 2014).

Like many graduate students in the humanities, Hurt saw the doctoral program as the next move toward a career in teaching. She had her sights set on becoming a professor. However, graduate school ultimately offered her opportunities that led her away from the academy. She cites three major factors in her move away from the tenure-track professoriate: Lessac voice training, meeting the man who would become her husband (and later having her daughter), and encountering yoga. Nevertheless, she reassures me, my life couldnt be what it is without having gone through my PhD.

Today, Hurt works free-lance helping others discover and utilize their optimal expressive selves through her small business, Integrative Studios, LLC. She offers private voice, speech, and movement coaching based in Lessac voice training, private acting coaching, public speaking consultations, vocal yoga courses, family and prenatal yoga, and team building workshops.

Moving Away from the Academy 

In their book So What are You Going to Do with That?: Finding Careers Outside Academia, Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius comment that, retrospectively, many career paths present an identifiable logic, but the most common answer people gave to the question How did you get where you are today? was Serendipity. The harsh realities of both graduate school and the academic job market demanded that she give as much attention to self-care and personal fulfillment as she did to her career. Together, Lessac voice training and yoga helped her to soften the ego and learn to not judge herself. It provided a balance against the critical feedback of the academy.

With this idea of serendipity in mind, and knowing that many of the readers of Outside Academia are interested in intentionally following a career path beyond the professoriate, I asked Hurt how her goals changed before, during, and after grad school. In part, I wanted to know how, when every day is saturated with expectations of teaching, research, and little else, one begins to identify that a career outside academia may provide a more fulfilling (and perhaps healthy!) career path than one within its walls. She replied very candidly: The thing about grad school isand just put a grain of salt over everything Im about to sayit makes you very narcissistic, and you have to be narcissistic to get through it, because you have professors who are purposefully trying to tear you down to see if you have the grit to make it through the program . . . its really, really, really hard. Its really hard. and you can either crumble in that or you can really inflate yourself. Despite the struggle and fully aware of her love of teaching, Hurt continued to pursue the goal of becoming a professor. I didnt know any different, she revealed, being a professor was just what I knew, in my adult life.

For Hurt, a valuable teaching experience comes down to nurturing. “Everybody has an essential right to feel good and express themselves,” she explains. “I just want to be a part of that. There were times when teaching within a university setting that she found fulfillment. Hurt told me about leading a public speaking course: I love helping these students face their fears . . . and to see that they are proud and confident, she told me.

Sometimes, though, the bureaucracy of academia can get in the way of that focus on positive growth. As university professors in a discipline like theatre that often has faculty urging students to explore intimate and personal aspects of their inner life, we are caught between the pressure of being both friend and enforcer. Many of us as graduate students and young faculty find ourselves in the precarious position of being Facebook friends with our students after working together on a show and then being obliged to discipline them for being late or inappropriately dressed  when we suddenly have them in  class. 

Frustrated by the arbitrary distinctions between these roles, Hurt is now adamant that the university classroom is not the only place where valuable teaching takes place. She makes it her mission to foster growth and exploration in all of her interactions with young people, whether its while leading a course, directing a show, or raising her daughter. In fact, she draws strong connections between teaching, directing, and motherhood, which have turned out to be crucial to finding balance among her life and career. Teaching and directing are very similar to me. . . I thought, well this must be the closest thing I could ever know to being a mom, even though I wasnt a mom, because its that nurturing aspect of helping people come to understand a body of knowledge and then present it from an ownership position, like theyve worked hard and now they can show it.

But its clear from Hurts stories that her greatest fulfillment in teaching theatre comes from turning strong performers into stronger people. I teach acting … to women who are non-violent criminal offenders, whove just come out of prison who are building their lives to function outside of the prison setting. Ranging in age from their late 20s to late 50s, many of these women have suffered from addiction, sexual abuse, or other traumas. Hurt uses acting classes like life-coaching, employing the actor's toolkit to help identify goals and super objectives for life and test out new tactics.Teaching them for an hour is way more fulfilling than teaching college students for a semester sometimes. Because, theres a lot at stake for them, so theyre really eager students, you know, they really want to learn because they dont want to go back there. Hurts focus on nurturing becomes vitally important in this setting. The women begin to see that you are relating to them as people of value and they appreciate that, Hurt shares. They could see a woman who had her head together, who was intelligent and her life on track, and it was inspiring for them that it could happen for them as well . . . that never happens in academia . . . to be one small part of that puzzle to help them start over is way more rewarding. 

And of course, for Hurt, that same joy comes into motherhood as well: you have to teach your child, youre teaching them the steps, and then when they have the courage its really wonderful, Im teaching her all the time how to just, kind of, be a person, she laughs.

The Value of Graduate School

Still on my own pursuit of a PhD and interested in teaching, I asked Hurt to reflect on how her experience as grad student related to developing the skills that she values as a teacher. The first thing she mentioned was paying attention to the myriad examples you have in front of you as a student. You have a lot of different types of teachers. If youre paying attention, you’ll notice the nuances of their approach in addition to their presentation of the material. You notice their timeliness in getting assignments back, the quality of their comments, if they are kind or nurturing versus critical and mean.

Hurt drew upon things that worked for her and things that seemed to work for her teachers, but also paid attention to what definitely did not. “Sometimes I would totally model what my teachers were doing and think, is this going to be my style?  And so I was the really, really hard-ass teacher who took no apologies, just really hard on my students . . . and then after a while I thought, ‘well, that doesnt feel authentic, I dont think thats me, and I dont think its helping them learn anything. Its just making them afraid of me.’ So Ill try a different approach this year, just finding where you can soften but still hold the tenets that are appropriate for them to respect you as the teacher, and respect the material, and the discipline that you are teaching them.

Graduate school, of course, teaches us more than just how to teach. Hurt also attributes to graduate school much of the shaping of who she has become today. “Theres much more to it than just writing a dissertation,” she told me. The graduate school years shaped her thought processes: Before it was just so easy to jump to an answer, you see a question and you think, oh, well its this. But when you are getting your PhD, you are trained to really look at it from cultural standpoint of, what are the dynamics happening in this culture, and then how do you respond?’ And you really do broaden your lens and how you look at things. And that happens day to day.

This skill permeates her daily life, whether its reading news about events related to the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri or watching the ways children are raised and learning how to raise her own daughter. The hardest part, she says,  about leaving the academy is not having your intellectual circle. When youre living with a group of people for three of four years, sometimes five,  and you have that stimulus at your fingertips where you can just grab coffee and talk about bell hooks, thats really great, and when youre away from that, its very alienating. And it’s hard. . . But there, the research Im doing with the Lessac work is useful because its stimulating.

Hurt also re-wrote her dissertation into a book, into the book I wanted it to be, she laughed. And now I can move on from the PhD world! What struck me most about her graduate school progress though is that, rather than her PhD preparing her for a career outside of academia, her life outside academia trained her for her dissertation, and eventually this book. Becoming a Lessac Certified Trainer and a certified yoga teacher certainly contributed to her research.And she does continue to write. Shes published papers on her Lessac voice work and has a couple more papers in the pipeline. She also continues to adjunct, teaching voice class at George Mason University, for example, but most of her life and work now focus on different kinds of teaching.

Finding Balance

Finding teaching opportunities outside of the academy has helped Hurt find a balance between her career and her life. She currently works part time in various capacities as a freelance teacher, and has has the time to focus on her family and raising her daughter. But its not just about balancing her time, its also balancing within the work itself. Moving outside the academy has helped Hurt to cultivate a teaching style that suits her and that harmonizes with her own life philosophy. Her profound love of theatre and teaching, even through the harsh hears of graduate school, have led her to opportunity. Reflecting on her MFA research on the Federal Theatre Project, she noted you start to learn more about the cultural implications of performance, how theatre history and social history have been interwoven and shaped, that have affected lawmaking. Its just really profound the more you really study it. Studying theatre is so much more than  fun improv and painting a flat. Its so much more important to whats happening historically in everyday life.

For Hurt, graduate school has developed her ability to engage with those societal and cultural implications on a personal level. Theatre artists and teachers have the opportunity of spiritually lifting their communities” and having a direct impact on where they live. A “regular old neighbor” who happens to be a theatre artist can “have a really profound and special impact on someone,” she notes. “You dont have to be a celebrity to do it. You just have to be honest. Your job is to share a story and have the other person connect with it in some way. And with a PhD, she can inspire others with the vast knowledge she has to siphon into the stories that she shares and contribute to her community in ways that provide fulfillment for her as well. Earning her PhD has allowed Hurt to continue to work in theatre and teaching in more meaningful ways that she believes more greatly contribute to the well-being of her community. I cant promise that youll make a living at it, but you may not make a living as an academic! she laughs. But there is so much more you can do!

Learn more about Melissa Hurt and her company Integrative Studio, LLC at

Tags:  Alt-Ac  Careers  Melissa Hurt  New Paradigms  Outside Academia 

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Outside Academia, Volume 8: Kimberly Dixon-Mays

Posted By Sara B. Taylor, Monday, June 29, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Please take the opportunity to peruse the latest installment of New Paradigms in Graduate Education’s: Outside Academia, a series of profiles on PhDs in Theatre and Performance Studies who work outside the academy.

Outside Academia

Volume 8 

Kimberly D. Dixon-Mays

Interview conducted on March 26, 2015 and transcribed by Tiffany Trent, a PhD student at Arizona State University.

Kimberly Dixon-MaysKimberly D. Dixon-Mays frames herself as a writer and strategist in passion and practice. In title and in the language of corporate and business industries, what Dixon-Mays offers is brand planning.  She has a PhD in Theatre and Drama and Womens Studies from Northwestern University, and is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow as well as a Ragdale Artistic Fellow. Dixon-Mays has published two collections of her poems: SenseMemory, and More Than a Notion: snapshots from a marriage. Her plays appeared in performance and readings with companies such as Crossroads Theatre Company, Plowshares Theatre Company, and MPAACT. 

Professoriate: A Balance of Life and Theatre?

Theatre has always been part of Dixon-Mayslife.  A childhood of community theatre, childrens theatre, and church theatre embedded performance as a natural aspect of life, though not necessarily as practical profession. Of making the decision to enter a PhD program, Dixon-Mays says, “I believed that I wanted to be a professor, and I wanted to choose something where I was passionate.  I did ask myself, ‘Why a PhD? Why not an MFA?I wanted to focus on the literary criticism, on being the historian. I could envision myself more as a professor; that suited me better than being a practitioner.”

Dixon-Mays certainly had production experience. While she majored in psychology in college at Yale, additionally studying playwriting and criticism, Dixon-Mays was also an actor, mostly in shows outside the department. “So you were always interdisciplinary?” I ask. Dixon-Mays describes how integrating fields continued for her during her Master’s in African American studies at UCLA. The degree permitted a concentration, and hers was playwriting. Thus, Dixon-Mays had courses with MFA playwriting students and had plays developed into production in the same process as the MFA playwrights.

Even with theatre practice alongside her rigorous academic experiences, Dixon-Mays envisioned herself solely in the professor role, “for what I thought was a sense of security: you could know your job every day, where to go and do it. Also my parents were teachers, and so I thought, continue in the family business. Another PhD option had directing as part of the work, and I didn’t want that. But halfway through my program, I realized how limited a world the academy is, and even more than that, I realized how hard it is to have a balanced life. I finished the program, because I had already done all this work, and maybe it was a point of pride to say that I did. So I did finish it.” 

Dramaturgy of Living: Leaving the Academy

Through the immersive rounds of job talks and sending out CVs, Dixon-Mays found that the academic jobs didn’t appeal to her. She stayed in Chicago, since it is a large city and was likely to have some range of opportunities. Then, at a job fair for undergraduates, she “stumbled into branding…I went to someone and said, ‘I’m not an undergrad but I am looking for a job.’ And she said, well, this thing and this other thing may not be right for your skills, but there is this thing called brand planning, and because you have psychology in your background, and cultural studies, and creative work, this might be right for you.”

When I ask Dixon-Mays to say more about what brand planning is, the interview becomes a process of discovery for her as well as for me. “I came to understand it as kind of like being the dramaturg!” she says. “We are responsible for representing the target consumer to the client: the world that the consumer lives in, what they want, and we ground everyone in the truth of the product. And we use that truth to create strategies for a brand’s advertising, designs, products, events, etc.” I tell her how fascinating it is that she could make that connection, and she laughs. “Yeah, I began to see it with the copywriter as the playwright, client services as the director, and the art director as the designer. Brand planning was dramaturgy. It helped to see it that way. It was key for me to figure out how to explain the connection of my studies to brand planning—first to myself, so I could explain it to others. Articulating that these are the skills that I’m using was crucial. You have to educate people on what otherwise seems like a narrow collection of academic experiences.”

Given the diversity of experience and credentials in Dixon-Mays’ online presence, her concern of appearing “narrow” stands out to me. I mention the wide range of work on her webpage. Additionally, I ask her to share the logistics of working in brand planning. “When are you working project to project, and when are you on staff with a company?”

“I have always been on staff,” Dixon-Mays responds. “Companies may work on retainer for one company, or bid on jobs with a client. So I can have multiple clients while at the same company.” I point out how that allows for diverse experiences, and echoes her consistently interdisciplinary journey. “That is probably something that I was craving when thinking about being a professor. I was thinking that I wouldn’t be stimulated with thinking about the same thing all the time. Now I have to admit, back then I had a limited view of being a professor. Now I know that there are many who work on different projects, who find ways to stay stimulated and find ways to stay relevant.  Also, today, self-promotion and accessibility are more acceptable. You can be a biologist and write a really approachable book about anatomy for laypeople. At that time, I wasn’t aware of that type of academic.”

Keeping Up with Writing Outside the Academy

Dixon-Mays has numerous publications and writing fellowships to her credit. I ask if the writing experiences were parallel with her work in brand planning. She replies that while the academic chapters were generated when she was still in academia, the poetry compilations and anthologies are parallel and current. I encourage her to please share some of the structure of her life that preserves her creative time, and she laughs. Dixon-Mays says that she never thought about it before; she finds the question affirming, and it mirrors back to her that she’s doing something inspirational.

“When I first graduated, I walked away from any form of writing. I was grieving… mourning, I think. Then I got an itch.” She submitted applications and was accepted to a writing retreat. “In 2004, I came back from Amsterdam, where I was working as a brand planner. I had written there about the experience of living abroad. In order to share with family and colleagues what it was like, I got into the habit of regular writing. And when I came back, I submitted a poem to the Guild. The submission and selection meant that I had to perform, and it lit something in me.”

Dixon-Mays references the Guild Literary Complex, a respected, twenty-five-year-old, literary presenting collective in Chicago with the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, Ana Castillo, and Alex Kotlowitz in its legacy. Dixon-Mays has submitted work, performed, and served as a past Executive Director across her relationship with the Guild.  In 2004, however, the executive director role was still an unthinkable responsibility—Dixon-Mays still considered herself “just” a writer. 

“The then executive director approached me, and invited me to be the artistic director of the Guild’s new Poetry Performance Incubator Project.” Dixon-Mays explains that PPI brings poets together to write original theatre pieces. PPI has multiple objectives: to make the traditionally solitary practice of poetry more collaborative and to explore an alternative to the “slam” model of performing poetry. She continues, “I didn’t think I was capable of directing the actors and the piece, so I chose to be an incubate instead. That got me into writing consistently. There was expectation and deadline and the habit of writing new pieces to help populate this project.

Finally, in the phase I’m in now, I try to I write daily—I know I cant just wait for the weekend. Almost every morning I write something, on the train, or before I leave, and spend the weekend digging into it and polishing work. Im getting up earlier than I need to, so that I can write. Also in this new phase, Im more disciplined about submitting work.”

I asked how often she submits, and Dixon-Mays shares her practice. “Three times a month, for a couple hours, I look through all my listservs and check submission deadlines. I submit maybe two times per month.” She quotes herself: “This one is April 1st, theres April 7th...” Laughing, she says, “Its my guilt list!” However, now, Dixon-Mays also craves some balance between her written and spoken word experiences. “I would also like to come up with some sort of routine for myself to share work regularly through live performance.

Entrepreneurship in the Academy and in Theatre

I re-visit the purpose of the Outside Academia interviews, and mirror to Dixon-Mays that how she describes becoming the Guild’s executive director exemplifies the push toward the entrepreneurial not just in theatre, and not just as a response in competitive job markets, but in any field or discipline today. “And, as executive director, it was a return to theatre: I was planning and putting on live events with performers, audience…it had the excitement of theatre and also the burden of it!” 

Dixon-Mays returns to the idea of self-promotion and offers an example. “That was a learning curve: self-promotion, building community, building connections. Just recently I talked with a professor in Race Studies and public policy about how to promote her projects and develop a communications strategy that would raise visibility for her work. She reflected back that having both academic and brand planning backgrounds is an asset. She said, ‘Its not just me. Several academics would welcome help and perspective on how to promote their work for the greater good.’”

The intersection of the academic and branding reminds me of language on Dixon-Mays’ “business” page of her website. “I see that favorite tools include ethnographic observation and co-creation! Say more about how you integrated those terms, because those are familiar to your theatre community.”

Dixon-Mays exclaims, with some surprise. “I hadn’t made this connection...!—Those are very common words in design! Wow. I use those words because of my most recent work in design strategy.” Dixon-Mays continues to marvel at the colliding of her worlds. “But right, they’re not just words that people use in design! Creating interaction; structures, spaces, experiences – that’s theatre and performing arts too. So I was drawn to that aspect of branding…how audiences connect with something and take something away with them.”

I thank Dixon-Mays for her time, and for transparency in sharing her unknowns, re-routings, inspirations, and routines. Dixon-Mays thanks me, with great sincerity, for the interview and how the reflection celebrates her path. Articulating the connections, she says, “Makes me feel a little taller.”

Tags:  Alt-Ac  Careers  Kimberly Dixon-Mays  New Paradigms  Outside Academia 

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Outside Academia, Volume 7: David Escoffery

Posted By Sara B. Taylor, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Please take the opportunity to peruse the latest installment of New Paradigms in Graduate Education's: Outside Academia, a series of profiles on PhDs in Theatre and Performance Studies who work outside the academy.

Outside Academia

Volume 7

David Escoffery

Interview conducted on March 25, 2015 and transcribed by Amanda Boyle, PhD candidate (ABD) at the University of Kansas.

David Escoffery

David Escoffery is currently the Senior Director of Higher Education Assessment within the Assessment Division at the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey. Similarly to other profiles, Escoffery followed a unique path from his time as a student to his current position. Escoffery earned his BA in English from Princeton University in 1995. From Princeton, he decided to pursue a joint MA-PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his PhD in Theatre History, Literature, and Criticism in 2001.  

Journey To and Through Graduate School

Like many theatre practitioners and scholars, Escofferys interest in theatre began through participating in high school theatre; he caught the bug. He was drawn to the collaboration and the ensemble that theatre rehearsals afforded him. I was going to be an actor. That would be my future. But I realized I was a bad actor in college, which is fine, Escoffery told me with a laugh. He acknowledged that if he spent the time training and working that there was potential for him to be a decent actor, but he was not willing to commit to it. He added, But I loved everything about theatre. I loved history and literature. So, Escoffery talked to his professors at Princeton, including Michael Cadden, about his future and career. There was some consideration of pursuing a DFA in Dramaturgy, but Escoffery realized he desired the option to teach while in graduate school and that the DFA would not provide the type of training he needed. It was then that he realized an academic career in theatre history would give him everything he wanted because, teaching is a performance, he noted. He found a way to do what he loved while he studied the topics he was interested in: theatre, history, and literature. Escoffery explained, In a way, it became a natural path to a graduate degree in theatre studies. The decision to attend the University of Pittsburgh was the right decision for sure, he told me.

The next decision was to commit to the two-year MA track or the MA-PhD track. Escoffery described the choice to take the MA-PhD path as being locked in, but in a positive way. I asked him about his first impression of graduate school. He answered, This may seem unusual, but I thought, Wow. This is exactly what I wanted. This is exactly what was looking for.’” As an undergraduate English major, he never took a theatre history course, but he did read a lot of plays. He said, I did not have a historical sweep of history, art, philosophy, and how that connected to plays in production, theatre buildings, audiences, and how all those things interact in interesting ways. Also, the program at Pitt requires the MA-PhD students to pick an area of special focus in acting, directing, dramaturgy, or playwriting. Escoffery chose playwriting and wrote a stage adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevskys novel The Double (1846). 

Escofferys other research focused on early twentieth-century avant-garde movements. A classmate and Escoffery proposed a course on avant-garde theatre from realism through theatre of the absurd and they were given the opportunity to teach it. He explained, Im intrigued by people who want to question the status quo and expand ideas about what makes something a work of art or a piece of theatre. He went through the standard comprehensive exams for the PhD, which included selecting a playwright, a time period, a theoretical approach, and learning all he could about that particular combination. Escofferys interest in the avant-garde led him to his dissertation topic, which investigated Luigi Pirandello and his affiliation (or lack of affiliation) with Mussolini and issues of historiography. He questioned, How do historians write the stories they are telling?  Why do they focus on this instead of that? What is in the historical record? When and how is it contradictory? Pirandellos story has been told by many historians and in very different ways. I was examining how Pirandello was a Pirdandellian character who refused to be one thing in a consistent way. He sort of lived what he wrote about, Escoffery explained. After five years, he completed his coursework and his dissertation and was ready for the next step.   

The Precarious Brink of Academia

I asked Escoffery if he considered work outside of academia while in graduate school, but he never really did. Non-academic work was not discouraged at Pitt, but it was not something he explored. He knew where he wanted to be and what he wanted to do. Escoffery graduated and found work as an adjunct. Teaching was what he hoped it would be, the life-style of adjuncting was not. He acknowledged, I knew I had to pay my dues, but I was often roped in with we are going to have a tenure track position soon. But the funding would not come or someone else was hired. Despite the exhausting schedule, it was a very good experience in terms of training to be a good teacher, to work on teaching muscles. One semester he taught theatre history to thirty actors in a conservatory in the morning, and in the afternoon he would drive forty miles away to teach the same material to four freshman girls in a small liberal arts school. That actually happened. That was my Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule one semester, he tagged on. Escoffery admits, he did not make much money and spent more on gas than he made, but he did build his CV.

After two years as an adjunct, Escoffery was offered a position as Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Missouri State University (formerly Southwest Missouri State University). Missouri State has a good-sized undergraduate theatre program and only a handful of graduate students. Escoffery told me, It was a great place to be. It has a large BFA program for actors and an even larger BFA musical theatre program. Escoffery was tasked with redesigning the theatre history curriculum. He came up with a new model and the department faculty and the faculty senate approved it. The challenge of the position was part of what excited him about the program. It wasnt just teaching. I got to take on other responsibilities: advising students, serving on committees, etc. I was learning all sorts of new things, he expressed.

While he enjoyed his role at Missouri State, he also had to consider his personal life and, for Escoffery, that meant trying to work his way back east.

I left a tenure track position with nothing in hand. No job to head to. But the best self-motivation is to be unemployed, Escoffery shared, lightheartedly. Once he returned to New Jersey he applied for every theatre history position that was open in the area, but quickly realized he would need to apply to anything and everything that might seem relevant. He laughed as he said, Yes, I could be Dean of the School of the Arts or an Admissions Officer, sure! He looked for jobs in academic settings although they were not directly connected to his training. Editor positions and other types of adjunct roles were among the ten to fifteen job applications he filled out daily. I was saved from teaching Composition 101 and editing/proofreading jobs by finding work at Educational Testing Service, he explained. In fact, he had applied for a job there while still at Missouri State and later found out that he was not considered since he was not living in the area. As part of his New Jersey job hunt, he found that ETS was looking for people to do ten-minute recorded lectures to use for listening comprehension as part of TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). After recording several lectures, he began grading TOEFL essays as well. He recognized, I wish I knew about this holistic way of grading while I was still teaching! If I knew that way of grading, I would have given more writing assignments. It was a challenge, but a great experience. Soon after, ETS posted a position for verbal and writing assessment, which Escoffery applied for. On subsequent days, Escoffery interviewed for the ETS position and a theatre history slot at a college, but took the ETS job. What I found out at ETS is that I really enjoyed it. I was somewhat surprised by this because I loved teaching and theatre history, he said. Escoffery explained that it had never crossed his mind to think that someone had to write those standardized test questions. He found it to be an interesting task to construct valid test questions, as he noted, You think when you are teaching you know how to do it, but its different when you have to write a question that 400,000 people have to answer. He described ETS as a half-way-house; half way between the academic and corporate options.

Finding Fulfillment at Educational Testing Services

At ETS there is more flexibility for advancement than in the academic tenure and promotion system. Escoffery moved through the ranks fairly quickly. Soon after Escoffery was first hired, he was handed the state of Texas licensure tests for teachers of theatre, speech communication, and dance, and within a few years he was managing people. He started at ETS in 2006 and by 2012 he was in the position he currently holds, Senior Director of Higher Education Assessment within the Assessment Division. In this position, Escoffery manages the work of around seventy test developers who work on a wide variety of assessments for writing, reading, literature, and other language skills. These developers are writing questions for the SAT, GRE, AP courses, and more. One element of ETS that he truly enjoys is that there are constantly new opportunities that come up and there is always a demand for people willing to take on new projects.

I asked Escoffery about skills that he acquired during his academic training that have translated to the work he does now. He told me that the two that stand out the most are critical thinking and the ability to write clearly. Those two skills will serve you well no matter what you do, and in the realm of assessment, they are essential, Escoffery noted. A lot of the work he continues to do at ETS is collaborative, therefore he is still able to be a part of what first drew him to theatre: the ensemble. He explained, Nothing is done in a vacuum at ETS. A lot of people touch each project, because it has to be right. In general, communication is vital to the work he does. The back-and-forth exchange between test writers, clients, colleagues, etc. is a large part of his work, and it is part of what he loves about the job.

As far as advice for current graduate students, Escoffery offered this, Dont discount non-academic careers outright just because it is not what you are trained to do or because you think it might make you look bad. All the skills youre gaining can be applied in many different places. Look around, perhaps before you are desperate. Just see whats out there. There could be fascinating work that you may have never considered. 

Although Escoffery is no longer working in academic theatre, he still finds ways to get his theatre fix. He still works on the licensure tests for theatre whenever he gets the chance, he attends New York productions whenever possible, and he recently took up improv performance.

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Outside Academia, Volume 6: Gary Genard

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Monday, November 10, 2014

Outside Academia

Volume 6


Gary Genard 

Interview conducted on October 14, 2014, and transcribed by Katherine J. Swimm, PhD Candidate at Tufts University.


Dr. Gary Genard is a public speaking coach whose technique, The Genard Method, provides public speaking training to corporations, government officials, and professionals of all types. His performance-based approach draws on his career as an actor, academic, and communications professor. Dr. Genard has published two books on public speaking success: How to Give a Speech and Fearless Speaking - Beat Your Anxiety, Build Your Confidence, Change Your Life. He is the author of numerous articles on effective public speaking, as well as the blog, "Speak for Success!"

After receiving an MA in Theatre at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Genard went on to complete the actor-training program at Webber Douglas in London. Once the training was complete, he worked both in New York at Classic Stage Company and around the country. He left show businesses and began his PhD Program at Tufts University in 1994. There he wrote his dissertation on the evolution of verse delivery as exemplified in three audio recordings of Hamlet, under the advisement of Dr. Laurence Senelick. I asked Dr. Genard what led him away from his career in performance and towards a career in academia. Dr. Genard answered, "
I came to that crossroads that a lot of actors do. Is this the kind of life I want to live for the rest of my life? Or is it a little too risky? A little too unsettled? Does it lack the kind of control that you would like, to be able to control your own destiny? Which is of course a significant issue for actors, you're always looking for work. I came to that crossroads, and decided I would get out of show business. So I came back to Boston and I decided that I would apply to the PhD Program at Tufts. I was fortunate enough to get a fellowship."


Dr. Genard reflected on the professors, courses, and opportunities that he was able to take advantage of while at Tufts, reflecting a wide variety of interests: "In my program, I took a lot of courses in the classics department. One of my interests has always been Ancient Greek drama...I took a course in the archaic period of Greece, which was amazing. One of the most interesting courses at that time was a course in theatre research, which was done at Harvard. We took courses in the Harvard Theatre Collection. We would indicate what we wanted to study - I did Edwin Booth - and put on our gloves and look at these documents, and you know it was great! I became knowledgeable enough about Booth that I was able to say, 'this is supposed to be his signature on this document and it's not his signature!' Before I got in the program I thought, you know, I've got my undergraduate degree, my master's in terms of scholarship I think I'm pretty good, pretty knowledgeable...then when I got into the program I realized, wow. I learned so much and there was so much I didn't know. This is an entirely new level of research. That opened my eyes to what a doctoral program really was."


At the end of Dr. Genard's time at Tufts, a unique opportunity presented itself that would open doors later in his career. "As I was nearing the end of my program at Tufts, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy contacted the department and said 'we have a diplomatic training program where we train diplomats from foreign services in a number of areas. We offer them a customized program and we are looking for someone who will teach communication. Is there someone in your department who could fill that bill?' My name was given because I was teaching public speaking. I talked to the Fletcher School and they hired me to teach in this program. This [opportunity] really opened up my thinking; I liked the communication and public speaking components."


Following the completion of his dissertation, Dr. Genard served as adjunct faculty at Tufts, Bentley University, and was hired at Emerson College in the communications department. "That's the point where I was thinking that I wanted to work in communication because I really liked voice and speech. I've always been interested in language and loved Shakespeare.  The position opened up at Emerson and they hired me. I was teaching communications courses to all the international students. The experience I had had at the Fletcher School, the foreign diplomats, with the United Nations...gave me the opportunity to work with a lot of international professionals, and that became a specialty of what I was doing as well."


Dr. Genard went on to teach in the English as a Second Language program at Harvard, as well as courses at Simmonds and Tufts. He said, "as it happened I had moved out of teaching theatre to teaching communication. I was perfectly happy doing it; when you're teaching public speaking you're helping people with their performance, rather than your own. I liked helping people perform well in situations where it mattered that they did: Giving presentations, speeches, keynotes, and appearing in the media. Sometimes they were standard business presentations, but sometimes they were high-stakes situations. I really wanted to work with people on the front lines rather than teaching a university course, which, as rewarding as it is, I liked working with working professionals who were giving presentations, making media appearances, in the world of business, non-profit, politics, government, diplomacy. I was looking to make that the core of what I was doing."


About thirteen years ago, Dr. Genard was able to make a complete transition to that kind of work.  He was given the opportunity to fill in for a friend on maternity leave, one who ran a public speaking training company. In 2001, after that experience ended, he established Public Speaking International, which was rebranded in March of 2014 as The Genard Method. Dr. Genard elaborated on the technique he developed: "The tagline is, 'Performance Based Public Speaking Training,' because its based on and informed by theatre based techniques. Everything that I do is grounded in the theatre and theatrical performance in some way."  The list of clients with whom Dr. Genard consults with ranges from for-profit and non-profit organizations and government agencies to those in the legal, healthcare, and financial fields.


Dr. Genard is still involved with the Tufts Fletcher School of International Diplomacy.  He remarked, "It's a specialized program, I'm not on the Fletcher staff, but we've trained folks from Qatar in the Middle East, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq. I went to Iraq in 2009 to train the Kurdistan regional government, which is the semi-autonomous region in the Northeast of the country. I went there with another professor who taught research methodologies and I taught public speaking and media training to their foreign service and the protocol office to the President and the Prime Minister. I've also conducted training at the United Nations. I've trained at the State Department since 2001."


I asked Dr. Genard what, in particular, he took away from his doctoral program at Tufts that he uses now in professional career as a public speaking consultant: “That's a very interesting question for me. What I'm doing now is at a tangent to what I was doing at Tufts. But of course, what one takes away from a program like that is the rigor of the work that you're doing, the research that you're doing and the absolute need for excellent writing skills.... those skills can be applied in anything you do...There's a practical consideration, too. That's the connection that occurred when the Fletcher School contacted the department. The reason that I started on that path is because I happened to be in the doctoral program at Tufts."


I suggested to Dr. Genard that his current career seemed to be a reflection of his cumulative experiences as an actor and communications educator as well as his time in the academy.  He agreed. Although he is not active in the academy, he still feels deeply connected to the theatre: "The techniques I use with my clients come from my work in the theatre. That's an extremely important connection. I didn't envision any of this. You never know."

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Outside Academia, Volume 5: Eric Rosen

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Monday, November 3, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Outside Academia

Volume 5

Eric Rosen


Interview conducted in October 2014 and transcribed by Danny Devlin, PhD Candidate, University of Kansas.


Eric Rosen is the artistic director at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, in Kansas City, MO. The theatre is attached to the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I had the opportunity to interview Rosen by phone on the morning of October 16th, 2014. Rosen was awarded his undergraduate degree from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and went right from his undergraduate program into the MA/PhD program in Performance Studies at Northwestern University in Chicago. Rosen completed his course work in 1995, and finished his dissertation in 1999. In between, Rosen founded the influential and well-known LGBTQ theatre company About Face Theatre in Chicago in 1995. He wrote his dissertation, entitled About Face: Case Studies in Theory, Aesthetics, Politics and Performance Practice, on the history of gay theatre, gender and queer theory, and how About Face’s work reflected queer theories and history through their creative work. This conflation of theory and practice would turn into a lifelong fusion for Rosen, between rigorous academic understanding, and high-quality theatre making. Between 1999 and 2003, Rosen continued to teach occasionally, lecturing and adjuncting at Northwestern and University of Chicago to “fill in the cracks”, but within five years, running About Face became a full time job. In 2008, Rosen left Chicago for Kansas City, and the position of Artistic Director at Kansas City Rep, where he is dual-appointed as the Hall Family Foundation Teaching Professor of Theatre at UMKC.

As we spoke, I noted that there didn’t seem to be much separation between his academic interests and his artistic work. “I really thought I was training to be an academic and in the meantime doing theater because I liked it, and have always done it,” he replied,  “and then when About Face started, it just took off so fast – much faster than any of us who started it thought it would – and became a really full time job within five years. And so…I can go onto the job market and try to find an academic job somewhere, outside of a major theatre city, or I can keep building my career here in Chicago, which seems like it’s going really well.”

I asked him what took him directly from his undergraduate program at UNC-Chapel Hill to the graduate program at Northwestern. “Oh, I don’t know,” he laughed, and placed the blame on his professors. “Honestly, I had wonderful, incredible professors at North Carolina who had all come from Northwestern. My undergraduate education was really, really incredible, and those professors started introducing me to Northwestern people, and by the time I graduated, I was offered a fellowship, and it was that…or go wait tables. I wasn’t thinking ‘gosh. What a great thing at 21 to start a PhD program.’ I got three years in and thought ‘if I had known how hard this was going to be, I would have taken a couple of years off.’ But thankfully I didn’t, because if I had taken a couple of years off, I would have started a theatre company…theatre was always calling me, and that was always what I really wanted to do, and I got that education early, and that was very fortunate for me.”

 I asked him about the difficulty of going ABD, and balancing the responsibilities of the dissertation against the necessity to live, all while launching a brand new theatre company. “Yeah,” he replied. He followed with an understated, “it was a crazy four years,” and later said that, while he was doing his performance work with About Face, and while the company was gaining success, “I didn’t do a single academic thing for three years when we were starting… I was lying awake, in a state of constant anxiety, like ‘How am I ever going to write a dissertation?” He paused, and laughed.  “Every now and then, I still have horrible nightmares: ‘Oh my god, I haven’t started my dissertation.”  I told Rosen I was having the same experience – recurring nightmares about never finishing my dissertation - being ABD myself. “Like any kind of major ritual in life, in retrospect [the dissertation] seems so easy… you watch people agonize over it for years. It’s best just to run and get it done.”

Rosen said that he had to withdraw from the academic portion of his life, “just because the professional theatre world” maintains a radically different schedule from the academy. “I taught at Northwestern as an adjunct and a guest lecturer, until about 2003, taught at University of Chicago for a couple of – about a year - …so, you know, filling in the gaps. I was teaching, but I’ve never even applied for a full time academic job. I stopped going to conferences…”

Still, Rosen is happy to be working within an academic setting again at KC Rep and through UMKC, saying that he felt connected to the university and the training program, but noted that “in no way is my role academic or professorial. It really is allowing students to access the highest level of professional theatre as part of their training, but not the purpose of their training.” Although he was invested in his academic work, Rosen reported always knowing that theatrical practice held a stronger allure for him than academic work.

“In school we kind of split off into the people who made theatre and performances and the people who wrote about theatre and performances,” he told me. “By my second year in grad school, it was really clear whose ambitions really were to mark work… it was certainly frowned upon when I would take directing courses over theory courses …there was a question of why we were in a program training us to be scholars when, by my third year, it was really evident, that at the very best I would be a scholar-practitioner, and that I was much more interested in practice than more academic pursuits…but the training was the same.”

Rosen said that the academic and theoretical training at Northwestern colored his practice, and continues to exercise a profound influence on him today, in all areas of his work. “It’s so much a part of how I think, and how I write, and how I administer, and how I think about education and how I think about theatre,” he explained.

About Face was an opportunity for Rosen to put his theoretical work into practice. “Our mission was to focus on new plays about queer stuff. What we were about was in response to Angels in America …we saw, in the post-AIDS literature moment, a seriousness of intent about gay theatre that had historically been more about protecting a marginalized community… theatre becoming a place where theatre was aggressively tackling culture and trying to change it, with a distinctly political agenda. At the same time, it was achieving that extremely high levels of artistry and rigorous innovation and that was really at the heart of what About Face was about…a very unified aesthetic and political impulse to reach broad and diverse audiences by specifically speaking about the particularities of LGBTQ experience. And that remains the mission of the company to this day.”

I told Rosen that his work with About Face sounded like the use of academic theory as a framework for creative production, and he agreed. “Yeah, and that’s what the decision was about, to try to show that making art – the actual practice – was rigorously engaged scholarship, and had a different kind of impact, and the history of what gay theatre has done to American political practices is enormous.” Rosen’s practice of rigorously engaged scholarship extended into all of the work About Face produced, with a certain intensity of feeling about the politics of the art form. “The history of what gay theatre has done to American political practices is enormous… The creation of a kind of dignity and visibility [from Angels in America] was really what About Face was following on the heels of, and we were saying, ‘okay, let’s be rowdy,’… Let’s take on some of the challenging things…not cheerleading…but stuff that examined extremely complicated and deeply human lives.”

Rosen discussed the rise and growth of About Face Theatre, from a “small store front” to producing the world premiere of I Am My Own Wife, and major projects by Mary Zimmerman, Frank Galati and Moises Kaufman. However, the work he remains most proud of was the About Face Youth Theatre, “which was and still is a program for the most at-risk and marginal LGBT kids in Chicago, finding a place to create with some of the best theatre people we could find, stories and plays about their lives based on their own writing, based on their own stories, and it became an example of a kind of an engaged performance ethnography, in which the point was ‘these lives are happening in real time, in front of us, and these performers are people whose lives are being described.’ So we’re turning kids who are supposed to be the most marginal into agents…in their lives, and the lives of their communities.”

Still, the work with About Face did not come without a cost. “A bitter pill we have to swallow in academics is that in the theatre you’re always at the beginning…the indignity I felt in 1995 after, you know, finishing my course work…of having to wait tables for eight years to support myself while I tried to run a theatre and write a dissertation, you know, and assistant direct, and do internships.” However, Rosen notes that theatre’s collaborative nature makes that bitter pill easier to swallow. “Theatre is so collaborative, that often the people who sweep the floors one day, a year later will be the person writing the play.”

I told Rosen that it sounded like his success stemmed from his drive to make his own opportunities. “Definitely,” he agreed, and our conversation shifted towards discussing graduate studies in theatre. “When I talk to young graduate students…if you want to be in the field, there are a bunch of roads you can take. You can have a career like mine… if there had been a tenure track job open in 1995 that I could have got, maybe I would have done that, instead. But it never seemed like a good idea to get a PhD in performance studies if what I was looking for was long-term job security.” I laughed at this. “There weren’t that many jobs then, and there aren’t that many jobs now,” he said. Another rueful laugh, this time from both of us “But I think being trained academically and artistically as people who want to write, direct or produce, is really invaluable.”

This became a recurring theme in the remainder of our conversation, and Rosen suggested the most successful artists are the ones who adapt to opportunities they create for themselves. From this, he drew an analogy to the academic field. “The way we’re wired in the academy,” Rosen told me, “is to think about a series of seemingly inconsequential steps that will lead to an unanticipated outcome, is really like anybody who is doing theatre. We’re always looking for opportunities to say or make something that will matter, and that is a great way to start a career.”

I asked Rosen what skills a PhD student in performance studies or theatre should be cultivating. Rosen argued that networking and staying involved in the theatre community was vital, and that doctoral programs ought to be requiring their students to be assistant directing, dramaturging, or even simply observing rehearsal. “I would argue that you double the chance of success by staying connected to the theatre world...And I think if someone is interested in writing about directors, one should be an assistant director a lot. If someone is interested in writing about playwrights, you should be interning at the O’Neill or Sundance, being around theatre people…you can’t get in the theatre if you’re not around the theatre…and I think we kind of forget that.

Rosen strongly encouraged graduate students to simply reach out to theatres, to offer services and attend whatever social function they can. “There are some of the best people in the country, if not the world, making work here [in KC] and graduate students who never even meet them, and who don't even come to the opening night party... So I wish that every doctoral program in which people are going to write about actual performance practice…should really have to go, participate, assist, dramaturg,” he said,  “do whatever it takes to build a second set of professional contacts so that they can move back and forth fluidly from academic jobs…the most successful academics in theatre practice in professional training programs know they have to do both,” practice and scholarship. “You’re not getting a PhD in English,” Rosen argued, “you’re getting a PhD in theatre, which is a practice, and you need to understand the practice and be inside it as much as possible. “

I noted that Rosen’s advice was especially sound given the numerous job postings in the field that require mastery of varieties of practice and theory. “One of the reasons people are going to have to have practical experience,” he answered,  “is that they have to justify these programs, and by not being able to teach from experience acting, directing, playwriting, dramaturgy, anything that students at the undergraduate level are going to need or want training in – how can you teach that if you’ve never done it? How can you be an exceptional teacher? The whole field is shuddering under the weight of these graduate programs producing so many graduate students that the pressure to be exceptional has never been higher… there are other ways to be exceptional.”

“The only way you’re going to write [a book about practice] is if you’re inside the process,” he said, “and that book is going to be a lot more interesting and more widely read, and a lot more academically appreciated than a distance study of ensemble based improvisational technique, for example. I would rather read the first book than the second one.”

            Another recurring theme that developed subtly during our interview, without ever being explicitly stated was the importance of the cohort. Numerous times, Rosen mentioned in passing folks he had worked with or knew who had also gone through the program at Northwestern, including Mary Zimmerman, Frank Galati, Martha Lavey, Jessica Thebus, and Derek Goldman. I understood this index of references to be a sign of the importance of making and maintaining your relationship with your institution and with the people you surround yourself with.

            As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Rosen if he had any final words of advice for graduate students heading onto the job market. “Remember what first attracted you to the theatre,” he suggested. “Remember what you loved about theatre, the collaboration, working together, instead of tearing apart. Remember why you fell in love with theatre in the first place.”






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Outside Academia, Volume 4: Fernando Calzadilla

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, October 31, 2014

Outside Academia

Volume 4


Fernando Calzadilla


Interview conducted on October 7, 2014 and transcribed by Rana Esfandiary, PhD Student at the University of Kansas.



       Fernando Calzadilla is a theatre designer, dramaturge, scholar, visual and performance artist with a multi-cultural background that weaves hands-on experience with theory to expand the scope of his art. His interdisciplinary practice comprises performance, theatre, ethnography, visual arts, and communication processes from a performance study perspective.


       Since receiving his BFA in Theatre Design from New York University, Dr. Calzadilla has been working as a designer for the past thirty years. He has designed for more than one hundred productions, ranging from theatre to opera to musicals and ballet. After attending Richard Schechner’s Performance workshop and with his interest in theory and performance, he started his PhD in performance studies at New York University in 1999 where he wrote his dissertation on social Scenario under the provision of Dr. Diana Taylor.


       I asked Dr. Calzadilla what encouraged him to get into the PhD program while pursuing a professional career in the theatre industry. Dr. Calzadilla answered, “I was working as a designer until about mid 1990s, designing mostly sets and lights but then I realized I wanted to do more so I started to design costumes as well along with sets and lights. This cost me some good design opportunities since many directors did not want to have a designer who designed everything. On the up side, I was able to form collaborations with some directors, developing a specific language and dramaturgy of design. The untimely passing away of one of those directors, however, motivated me to direct! It was then that I wrote a letter to Richard Schechner. I had first met Richard when I moved to New York City to study design and I saw his performance of Mother Courage at the Performing Garage. His performance impressed me deeply and led me to audit his class on Performance Theory at Tisch School of Drama. In his response to my letter, Schechner mentioned that he was doing a workshop during the summer and suggested that I join him in New York City, I did and about two weeks into the workshop, Richard invited me to pursue my masters in Performance Theory. I found the timing to be right since by learning to write academically, I was going to be able to write about my own works besides developing my own theories. In this process, I made the decision to pursue my academics beyond MA and entered the PhD program where I fell in love with theory as a means of facilitating new ways of thinking.”



       While working on his dissertation, Dr. Calzadilla moved to Miami and took a job at the Miami Theatre Center as a dramaturge for the production of Alice in Wonderland. With his background in design, Dr. Calzadilla was invited to design for the Miami Theatre Center productions. “So I took the job although I knew it was going to be a setback in my dissertation. In fact, it turned out to be a five-year setback.” However, Dr. Calzadilla added that this was and is the perfect position for him since he is able to incorporate his knowledge from his PhD studies into his design works. He added, “This job truly combines everything that I was hoping for. The only part that I haven’t accomplished yet is writing about my own works, but I am hopeful. Kant started writing when he was 63 years old.”


       “My design focuses on revealing the structure and the theatricality of the event,” Dr. Calzadilla stated in his response to my question of how much of his design and the way he treats the space is informed by his PhD studies and how much of it is informed by the design practices he received during his BFA studies at New York University. He further explained, “I think it is similar to a chain, one thing leads to another. It was perhaps something that I had been developing during my BFA but then it continued to be reinforced with the theory during PhD. I would like to encourage the audience to think and complete the picture on their own. I am more of the idea to have the audience participate in the event rather than sit back and judge the event from the comfortable and detached position in the darkness of auditorium. This idea of forcing the audience to participate has to do with the performance studies and theory of performance that I received from Dr. Schechner and environmental theatre.”


       Dr. Calzadilla’s extensive experience in design led me to ask how much his PhD program let him to integrate practice with theory. He responded, the “Graduate School of Art and Science was very conservative in that sense. They wanted theoretical dissertation, 300 pages, double space, etc. And as a mater of fact, I didn’t resent these rules; I fell in love with theory as my dissertation was mostly about theory. My dissertation proposed a new tool of analysis, which I took from my dissertation director, Diana Taylor. In her book, The Archive and Repertoire, she proposes the idea of scenario, which she didn’t develop much since she was mainly exploring the idea of archive and repertoire. Thus, I took the idea of scenario as a way of analysis and applied it to a number of case studies. Since I was proposing something new that had not been tested before, I had to prove its practicality and that meant reinforcing theory with more theory which was more engaging and challenging for me than writing a historical dissertation.”


       While working outside of academia, Dr. Calzadilla expressed his interest in teaching by recalling his experience of teaching a performance class in high school for four years. He then added, “I would love to teach a class on American pragmatism and performance studies that is currently not being taught and I believe students are missing that relationship. Pragmatism is performance study, however, it has been looked down [upon] during the recent years as something not cool enough or too utilitarian. It has less to do with subjectivities since it is more about action, and performance is all about action, too. But this relationship has yet to be made and I would love to teach that class but in order to get there I have to put aside my theatre works.”


       When I asked Dr. Calzadilla how he describes working outside of academia, he explained that it is very challenging “since when outside of academia, one has to find

a way to guarantee a steady income. Most people with PhD outside of academia end up working for a not-for-profit theatre operating with a low budget. By working for such institutions, your salary is low compared to what you are able to make in academia.” Then as a piece of advice to the PhD students and candidates in Theatre and Performance Studies programs who are interested in pursuing a career outside of the academic world, he added “The only thing that I can say is to be true to yourself. If you really believe in what you are doing, it will eventually come true and people will see it and will be willing to pay for it. But if you compromise to please the market you will fail. Try to be true yourself.”









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Outside Academia, Volume 3: Martha Lavey

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Thursday, October 9, 2014


Outside Academia

Volume 3:

Martha Lavey

Interview conducted on 18 September 2014 and transcribed by Jennifer Goff, a PhD Candidate at Wayne State University.


I spoke to Martha Lavey, Artistic Director of Chicago’s flagship Steppenwolf Theatre on September 18, just three weeks before she announced the surprising news that she would be stepping down, moving long time company member Anna D. Shapiro into the lead artistic role that has been held by Lavey for nearly 20 years.


Dr. Martha Lavey grew up moving around the U.S., living in Lawrence, KS; Washington, DC; Kansas City; and Detroit before moving to Chicago to pursue her undergraduate degree in acting at Northwestern University. She commented on her early days in the theatre, at Immaculata High School in Detroit: “They didn’t have a robust arts program, but I could sign up for an elective and my mother said – you know, I thought she was quite prescient, but of course she’s been watching me since I was a little girl create shows in the basement – said, ‘you know, well why don’t you sign up for theatre?’  Which I did.” But her mother was not her only guide, as the theatre teacher there became a wonderful mentor: “She’s the one who took me to Northwestern to have a school visit my Junior year.” I could hear the knowing smile in her voice as she shared this common experience with me: “you know how it is.”


After her stint as an undergraduate, she stayed in Chicago for a few years, “and did all the things that actors do” – taking classes, performing, and working as a waitress. Not long after she married, she and her husband moved out to San Francisco for a couple of years, but the pull to return to graduate school brought her back to Chicago in 1985 where she joined the Performance Studies department at Northwestern. However, she admitted that a career in academia had never been in the forefront of her mind. I asked what spurred her return to graduate school: “To be honest with you, I was sick of living the marginal life of the performer,” she replied. “In addition to being in plays, I was working with a group of people – musicians and writers – and we were performing in sort of unconventional theatre spaces – galleries and racquetball clubs and so forth.” It was not just the “marginal existence” of an actor she experienced, but that of a performance artist as well – marginalized within the acting community. As her frustration grew with that marginalization, she assessed her next steps: “There was a combination of things happening in my own life that I thought, you know, I really want something that’s identity-conferring in that way. So that’s why I went back.” She had taken classes in the Performance Studies department in her undergraduate years, and “very much admired it. They had a spirit of inquiry that I really felt very alive in. So I elected to go back.”


Dr. Lavey was quick to outline the specific history and circumstances of Northwestern’s Performance Studies department, which is part of the School of Communications, not the department of Theatre. Performance Studies was in the speech department when she attended, and before that, had been called Interpretation, which had grown out of the elocutionary school. It was a department with a winding and dynamic history, helmed by people like Robert S. Breen (who literally wrote the book on Chamber Theatre), Wallace Bacon, Frank Galati, and Dwight Conquergood, all of whom had an impact on Lavey’s time at Northwestern. She made particular note of Conquergood, “whose interest was in cultural performance and performance in everyday life, and the kind of Erving Goffman school of thought that was really looking at ethnography as performance. That became much more an influence at the school.” Despite this cultural focus, however, Lavey said that creative work and performance making was very much a part of her experience there as well.


Lavey’s primary research was guided by Dr. Leland Roloff (until his retirement in 1991), a Jungian analyst as well as a Performance Studies scholar. “He taught Literature in a Therapeutic setting, he taught Performance Art, in addition to a host of other courses.” Though there was a time when she considered not even writing her dissertation, her work with Roloff coupled with her interest in feminist theory did eventually steer her to the project she ended up creating: “I pursued this idea of the performance of psyche. I was very interested in certain women performance artists and I was also very interested in feminist theory. My dissertation ultimately was about Rachel Rosenthal, Laurie Anderson and Karen Finley, using them as kind of exemplars of this intersection of performance theory and feminism as it represented itself in the performance of the body. So I was tracing an arc through performance art specifically with attention to these female performance artists.” But it was not the topic itself that most thoroughly defined the benefits of the dissertation process for Lavey, “I used it as a self-authenticating process. To me it was just, you know, I did this. There was no faking, there could be no shining on. I got up every day and did this. And I just think that as an act of identity making is really profound.” The self-discovery that happens in the process of writing a dissertation is every bit as important – if not more so – than the research itself. Lavey related some of her favorite advice, passed down from Dr. Roloff, “He said to me, Martha, the research is the me-search.” 


Even though she did make the decision to complete her dissertation (in 1993), officially earning that pesky doctorate, she has never held an academic appointment. I asked what had deterred her from pursuing a career in the academic realm. “You know it’s interesting because the kind of twin interests in my life have always been teaching and theatre, so you know, and sometimes, currently I’m thinking, ‘Gee, I would much rather be in a university. It’s a much better life to get old in, you know.’” But the hindsight comforts of a university job were not sufficient to drive Lavey into the classroom. As a theatre practitioner, she perceived a certain environmental disconnect: “There can be in the academic world a sense of closure around it,” she explained. She found herself much more interested in the somewhat unpredictable world of the professional theatre. “One of the things that being in theatre does very, very strongly is make one adaptable, responsive. One is always in contact with an audience, so the tendency for a conversation – and I use that in the large sense of conversation – to become hermetically sealed is a lot less possible.” Comparing the perceived constraints of academia to her earlier frustrations with the marginalization of the actor, it seems that there was a middle ground of professional stability and creative possibility that she was most interested in finding.


And find it she did, in the form of Steppenwolf. She had worked with Steppenwolf initially after her undergraduate degree, performing there and taking classes in the early- to mid-1980s. But it was her return in the early 1990s that cemented her relationship with the theatre. In 1993, on the heels of completing her dissertation, Lavey was in a production of Ghost in the Machine by David Gilman, at which time she was also invited to join the company. As luck would have it, it was also around this time that then Artistic Director Randall Arney decided to step down. The founders asked this newly-minted PhD and company member to step into the role on an interim basis, but, as history now shows, they had other plans for Lavey. “After a year they conferred the full status on me. And I think what they were doing was betting that the learning curve on the culture was steeper than the learning curve on being an artistic director. They wanted someone who knew the company for a long time and whom they regarded as having leadership potential. So I was the beneficiary of that great fortune.”


I asked Dr. Lavey what skills that had been cultivated in her graduate studies she found most useful in her position as Artistic Director. “Critical thinking,” she replied, without hesitation. “Really one of the real disciplines at Northwestern in Performance Studies was to observe performance and be able to talk about it in an informed way, so that was a kind of great skill vis a vis theatre and certainly vis a vis being an artistic director: Understanding something about the expressive power of the stage.” This critical approach has proven essential to her work with the company. And though she maintains that she is not a director per se, her graduate work helped to develop in her the skills to look with a directorly eye, to ask compelling questions of a performance, such as, “What does the geography of the stage communicate? What does rhythm communicate?” And she attributes her ability to approach a performance text in this way directly to her graduate study.


When I asked her for any advice she might have for up-and-coming PhDs emerging from academia, she referred me to sources that discuss the myriad ways advanced study in the arts prepare graduates for rewarding and successful careers. While we were on the phone, she sent me a link to a report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services on 21st Century Job Skills (, with critical thinking right at the top of the list. As a scholar of the arts, Lavey says, “just understand that you have a really valuable skill and you’ve been immersing yourself in thought and practice that is very much a 21st century job skill.” We discussed the contemporary career trajectory as being far less one-track than it has in the past, and how thoroughly theatre study in particular addresses the skills needed to adjust to change: “The basic rhythm of your life as a theatre practitioner is you create something, you do it with the highest level of expressiveness and craft, and then you go on and do the next thing. I mean there is an adaptability and a resilience that you purportedly are also inculcating along with the craft.”


She also referred me to Steven Tepper’s report for the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP - “He’s accumulated a tremendous amount of research on precisely what you’re talking about, which is to say, how do degrees in the arts – what does that mean for job skills. And PS,” she added, “it was cheering.” Lavey continued, “It’s very social, it’s collaborative, you know, which is a huge necessary skillset now. And to me, one of the most kind of radiant skills that we as theatre practitioners hope to have is emotional intelligence, which is profound in terms of making judgments and decisions and problem solving. And the fundamental thing is that we purportedly think creatively and work creatively with others.” She paused for a moment and added one more thought, “And that we innovate.”


Of course, it is unsurprising that we and any number of researchers might agree in the importance of these skills, but one of the difficulties is marketing one’s skills – being able to talk about experiences from advanced education in the arts in a way that effectively illustrates the benefits. I posed a conundrum to Dr. Lavey, noting that arts scholars can encounter resistance from artists who think they are too much of a scholar, and scholars who think they are too much of an artist. Lavey observed that a number of academic theatre departments require their faculty to be practitioners as well, all but demanding a world view from outside academia, even as a part of it.


As our conversation wound down, Dr. Lavey asked about my own research, and my own perceptions of graduate education. I told her about my work, adding with a chuckle that, “I’m in the dissertation stage, so I go back and forth every day between whether or not I should have been doing this.” She immediately sympathized with my frustrations, “Oh yes, listen, you’re in the thick of it right now. You’re going to really be glad you did, and you know, we all know about the dissertation.”


Thanking her for her time (and encouragement!), I asked Dr. Lavey for any final thoughts on pursuing a PhD in theatre or performance studies, and she responded quite simply, “I’m very glad that I went and did that for a host of reasons. Most of them personal.” The 21st century job skills were, of course, of great value to her, but the personal accomplishment was something that shaped her as an artist and a person in a profound way. “I – just that, I think it’s really worth it. I really think it’s worth having gotten it.”

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Outside Academia, Volume 2: Loren Mayor

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Monday, September 22, 2014
Updated: Monday, September 29, 2014

Outside Academia Volume 2:

Loren Mayor

Interview conducted and transcribed by Rita Kompelmakher, PhD Candidate at the University of Minnesota, September 2014.

Loren Mayor received a PhD in Theater History from Northwestern University in 1999. She taught at the New School for Social Research and served as Visiting Assistant Professor at Northwestern prior to joining the business-consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2000. For the past ten years she has held executive level positions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR). She currently holds the position of Senior Vice President of Strategy for NPR in Washington D.C.

At NPR Loren is part of the senior leadership team and in charge of working with the CEO and Board of Directors to chart the strategic vision for the organization. Part of her job involves research analysis and meetings with department heads at NPR to discuss operational activities that feed into that larger strategy. The other part of her job consists of acting as an internal consultant for the company on longer-term projects that align with NPR’s strategy. In our interview, I ask Loren to describe what her typical day looks like at NPR. She answers: “I am literally in meetings with colleagues in my company or industry from the minute I get here until the minute I leave.” She shares that following our call she has one meeting to analyze radio program pricing and another meeting to discuss the implementation of a new software system for the company. Prior to our interview she met with the senior team to discuss the upcoming fiscal year and to clarify strategy, metrics and deliverables.

While terminology such as ‘metrics’ and ‘deliverables’ might seem odd for a Theater PhD, Loren explains that many of the skills she needs on the job she acquired in graduate school. In our interview she aptly code-switches between business-world lingo and academic lingo, mentioning that when she prepares for meetings she is leading she relies on deep reading and critical skills in order to convey complex technical information in a way that will resonate with all audiences, no matter what their backgrounds. These are skills she honed in graduate school. She reminisces that one of the things she loved most about teaching was crafting a lesson plan that would organically bring students to an “aha moment” in class, adding, in parallel, “I strive for that in conversations I am leading in the corporate world.”

Even though her teaching experience became a significant asset in the corporate world, Loren acknowledges that she did have a “tiny half step up” from some of her colleagues in graduate school. Her dissertation examined the impact of the arts in economic redevelopment and her research analyzed trends in urban planning. She highlights that even in graduate school she was interested in the “macro-economic view of the world.” To support her graduate research she took classes at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and she credits this with helping her acquire a “bit of (business) vocabulary” that proved useful later down the road. Additionally, after graduate school, she got involved in a civic initiative aimed at making the arts part of the city government’s planning agenda. However, even this work was inadequate preparation to make the switch from academic to media executive.

Loren’s transition from academic to media executive required an additional step. While holding a position at Northwestern she heard from friends about a recruitment opportunity at McKinsey & Company, a leading consulting firm. McKinsey & Company recruited “non-traditional candidates” and required recruits without an MBA to go through a three-week “mini-MBA” program that included courses in macro- and microeconomics, marketing, and strategy. McKinsey served as a “major training ground” for Loren. She describes her three years with the firm as a “trial by fire” that was “very rigorous and quantitative” and allowed her to hone the analytical skills needed for her career.

Bearing in mind that Loren spoke very fondly of teaching, I feel compelled to ask why she pursued the job at McKinsey & Company in the first place. She responds that in her career the “through line has always been a desire to make an impact” whether in academia or elsewhere. She described this impact as the ability to personally exert influence on activities in the world and to see a change in how things work. Although Loren saw the influence of her teaching in the classroom, at some point she started to wonder: “Am I having enough of an impact?” The bureaucratic aspects of the university frequently made it difficult to get things done. With the McKinsey offer she saw an opportunity to work with major companies that were making an impact in the world. On her current job she makes decisions every day and these decisions are implemented: “Things change and I love that.” This desire for impact also constituted one of the major reasons Loren left McKinsey & Company and went “in-house” to work for a public media company, explaining that working as a consultant did not permit her to “see the implementation process through from start to finish” as her current job now allows.

Loren confides that the transition from professor to analyst was not necessarily an easy one: “I went from being the expert in the classroom to someone pretty junior in a big system where I was fairly unprepared. That was a big change.”

I ask Loren to address the accusation of ‘selling out’ in regards to her new career since the transition to a nonacademic career entails not just a transfer of skills, but also a re-evaluation of principles that can emotionally and intellectually bind academics to a certain way of life. Loren responds that “you can turn corporate America into some big boogeyman,” but that she has “been in the public media for a decade” and found places with a strong sense of mission and meaningful work. “It’s about making a civil society. This company [NPR] sends reporters into Iraq and tells people about the Ebola crisis.” In describing her role in the company she says that “yes, I look at a lot of spreadsheets, but I feel that the work I contribute to makes this country better.” When she came to NPR the company was in a budget deficit and during her leadership this month they “are passing a balanced budget for the next year.” She sees this as one of her proudest moments on the job. Additionally, Loren touches on some myths about non-academic careers such as the fear of losing one’s sense of self and intellectual community. Although she concedes that “right after I left academia I felt a part of me was not getting expressed,” she now finds that her life “feels well integrated.” She sees commonalities between her new job and many of the things that made her love academia, especially “being with people and problem solving.” “I have a very intellectually satisfying job. I come home every day pretty energized by the things that got done.”

Academia positively influenced Loren’s sense of fulfillment and success in the media industry. “Pure passion” led her to pursue a degree in Theater History where she fostered her fascination with “how cultures craft stories about themselves.” She believes her ability to exercise her passion and to understand cultures made a difference in her new career. When she interviewed for McKinsey & Company she received feedback that they were impressed by her “passion and joy” for the things she was doing in her life. Her ability to speak in expert fashion in front of small and large groups of people has also been an asset.  “Public speaking is not a skill that all business professionals are trained in,” she says.  “Being in front of a classroom every week hones your ability to be a good communicator.” The training she received in academia as a professor –that required the crafting of new courses every 10 weeks –made it possible for her to “parachute into a foreign culture” at her consulting job and “process a tremendous amount of information in a very short time frame.” Although lacking the traditional MBA training of many of her colleagues at McKinsey, Loren felt that the wealth of experience she brought from academia made her stand out from “everyone else coming off the queue.”

I ask Loren to reflect on the most important factors that made possible her transition from academia to a non-academic career. She told me that she had a positive role model of someone who started in academia but did not end up there: her mother, who received a PhD in American Studies and left academia to work in non-profit management. In graduate school “everything is leading you toward being an academic. They do not bring in professionals who have the degree and do something else.” This sort of mentality can frequently make graduate students feel like only one path is available to them, but perhaps because of her mother’s influence Loren did not regard academia as her only option. “I never assumed I would end up in academia; I assumed I would start there.”

Toward the end of our conversation I ask Loren if she has any advice for graduate students who are considering non-academic careers. Although a “strong advocate” for the idea that “if you follow your passion good things will come,” she also believes in her mother’s motto that “chance favors the well-prepared mind.” Reflecting on the classes she took at the Kellogg Business School while pursuing a PhD, she suggests that taking classes in other departments will “give credibility to why you are interested in this new thing.” She advises graduate students to take advantage of the campus to gain information about things of interest to them: “Find a professor, find a graduate student and talk to them.” These are things that you can potentially “talk to prospective employers about and add as a line in your resume.” Similarly, she believes it is important to “build out your network and meet people from different [non-academic] backgrounds.” For the most part “people are thrilled to talk about themselves” and it is “a whole lot easier to have a conversation” than to “approach someone when you need a job.”

Since Loren has experienced a professional life in both worlds, academic and corporate, I ask if she would hire a PhD in Theater and Performance Studies. She replies, “Yes.”  The skills one gets in a PhD program, “everything from rigorous analysis, good writing skills, and, in theory, good communication skills if you have also been teaching,” are all capabilities she wants in a colleague. The degree also demonstrates to her one’s ability to finish a task, since it is a “mountain to get a PhD.” When she meets with people who have started a program and didn’t finish it, she underscores that it is “their misfortune to talk to her” because one of the qualities she respects most in her colleagues is perseverance – “that you can start it and finish it.”




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Outside Academia, Volume 1: Ken Cerniglia

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Updated: Monday, September 22, 2014

Please take the opportunity to peruse the first installment of New Paradigms in Graduate Education's newest initiative: Outside Academia, a series of profiles on PhDs in Theatre and Performance Studies who work outside the academy. 

Outside Academia

Volume 1


Ken Cerniglia


Interview conducted on July 22, 2014 and transcribed by Amanda Boyle, PhD Student at the University of Kansas.


Ken Cerniglia is the Dramaturg and Literary Manager at Disney Theatrical Group in New York City.  He is also the Artistic Director at Two Turns Theatre Company, the Co-Chair for the American Theatre Archive Project, and on the board of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA). 


Ken received a BA in Psychology and Theatre in 1995 from the University of California, San Diego.  He then went on to earn a MA in Theatre History and Criticism in 1998 from The Catholic University of America.  Ken also earned a PhD in Theatre History and Criticism in 2001 from the University of Washington. His dissertation focused on race theory, casting, and the performance of ethnicity in nineteenth-century popular theatre, and the effect of these concepts on American identity formation.  “My programs [MA and PhD] were about scholarship and how to be a scholar,” said Ken, but he got involved in production when possible. 


As his focus was on research and writing, I asked Ken if while in school he knew that he wanted to work outside of academia.  Ken answered, “I liked research and I liked teaching.  I’ve always liked school and the university.  I felt very comfortable in the university.  I stayed active in production and really enjoyed that as well.  But I also knew there were other things to do.”  Ken explained, “ My professors were training us to do what they did – be scholars.”  He also acknowledged that the university does not always allow for professors to be able to teach, research, write, publish, conference, and work outside the academy.  “You just can’t do everything at once,” he said.  Ken recognized that he was gaining a skill set that he could use outside of the academy.  He said, “I never had it in my head that I would only teach.”  While many of Ken’s professors did not have much experience outside the academy, “they were open” to the idea of him finding work elsewhere.  “They didn’t have the experience to support that in any kind of direct way.  But I had support from mentors when I found a job outside” the university system. 


Although Ken now works outside of the academy he did hold two adjunct teaching positions after completing the PhD.  During 2001-2003, Ken worked at Cornish College of the Arts, a conservatory that focused on BFA students in acting, stage management, theatre history, and design.  He said that working there was “thrilling.”  He was able to teach theatre history through dramaturgy while “igniting curiosity and encouraging critical thinking.”  During that time, he also taught at University of Puget Sound, a liberal arts college where he mostly worked with BA students.  There he taught theatre survey classes, which allowed for him and his students to engage in critical discussion.  Ken explained, “But it was semester to semester.  Not full-time work.  You are trying to make a living, which is hard, but people do it.  I loved it.” 


            Ken took the first major step towards non-academic work while attending the LMDA Conference in 2003.  While there, Ken ran into a former colleague from La Jolla Playhouse (where Ken had worked while attending UCSD) who had been working as a dramaturg with Disney Feature Animation and the Disney Parks and had just moved to New York to work in the theatre business unit.  “He told me that Disney Theatrical Group ( was looking for an Associate Dramaturg in Creative Development to help develop new stage musicals. He encouraged me to apply… but I had no interest.  I was in New York later that summer for the ATHE conference, and he asked me to come by the office to meet some people… which turned out to be an application and interview.  I got the job.”  Ken had friends in New York City and now a job, so he made the move.  One of the things that intrigued Ken to take the plunge was Julie Taymor’s production of The Lion King (1997).  It has “international roots, and I would be working with a global entertainment company on a production that was artistically and commercially successful.”  Since then, he has worked on dozens of projects, most recently the Tony Award-winning productions of Newsies, Peter and the Starcatcher, and Aladdin.  Ken added, “I thought I’d do this for a couple years and keep applying for a university jobs.  But it’s been almost eleven years and I still love it.” 


Ken also works as the Artist Director for Two Turns Theatre Company, which ( creates “intimate theatre in unique spaces with a historical bent,” explained Ken.  The company was formed to produce Jeffrey Hatcher’s stage adaptation of The Turn of the Screw in the Merchant’s House Museum in New York.  The company is planning to remount the production in Louisville next year and is in early development on a few other projects. 


Ken is an active member of several professional and academic organizations, including LMDA, ASTR, ATHE, and IFTR, where his is a Historiography Working Group member (and former convener) and recently attended the conference in Coventry, UK.  “I’ve been attending conferences for over fifteen years now, so I know people. I have friends there, and I care about them and about their work.  Sometimes I bring something I’m working on, sometimes not.  For me, it’s about staying active in other people’s scholarship, which allows for me to stay ‘ready’ for going back to university if I decide to pursue it.  It’s about keeping doors and relationships open,” explained Ken.  He still reads widely and enjoys opportunities to visit universities and engage with students.  This past spring, Ken visited the University of Kansas as a Guest Scholar.  Conferences and guest speaking engagements allow for Ken to “keep networking.  And it’s good for me to take a break from my job.  It allows me to recharge and come back refreshed.”


In Ken’s role as Co-Chair of the American Theatre Archive Project (, he is helping ATAP become more integrated into the ASTR conference this year in Baltimore.  ATAP was “conceived as a way to bring together theatre scholars, archivists, and dramaturgs in order to help theatre companies archive their process and product in order to preserve their cultural legacy.”  Ken describes it as a “great project with big goals.  I’m very proud of it.  And I’m glad ASTR has taken it on.”  He explained that public service can and should be apart of our scholarship in ASTR.  “We should also be looking at the skills we are building and what we are offering to the world,” Ken noted.  ATAP provides ASTR scholars a great opportunity to work with theatre companies. “In a concrete way, we can get theatre scholarship out of an ivory tower and help theatre companies to think about their legacy.” 


Many of the ideas and skills that have allowed Ken to be so successful he acquired during his academic training, like “getting to know a subject within a deep historical context and then applying that knowledge prudently and practically to production.”  His academic work got him interested in the development process – how productions come to fruition.  At Disney Theatrical Group, Ken has become a kind of resident historian as well as archivist.  He said, “DTG is now twenty years old. And the Disney Company has a long history – ninety-one years now – so the historical training helps.”


With his many roles, balance is important in keeping Ken on track.  “Deep diving into a project means that other things are pushed to the side and email builds up. I don’t have a secret.  It is always a struggle to keep an eye on my calendar and keep up with family.  It’s modern life,” Ken said.  But somehow it all fits in.  He went on to say, “You get it done, you figure it out.”  Ken also explained that he has found a way to say yes to the things that interest him and that he’s getting batter at saying no to the things he doesn’t want to do, but mostly “it is a big soup of interesting creativity, which I find invigorating.  Then when I’ve checked that box, I move on.” 


When I asked Ken how current graduate students can market themselves for non-academic job, he suggested that graduate students should create a resume that is not an academic resume and to “focus on job skills – classes you’ve taught, projects you’ve finished, publications.”  Students will often realize skills you have gained, such as writing and project management.  He also said, “Look at your topic. It will most likely have some kind of relevance in the world.  Learn how to frame your work in the market place.  And know how to structure your skills and resume.”  Ken explained that when looking for jobs, it is important to recognize that your PhD may not need to be at the top of the resume.  He said, “My degree has an indirect benefit to the work I do here [at Disney Theatrical Group].  I’ve had other jobs where my specific education was more of a footnote.”


I asked Ken what advice he has to offer PhD students and candidates who are interested in pursuing a career outside of the academy.  “Keep an mind open and keep options open, which is difficult to do.  It’s hard.  This is what you are doing for now and it doesn’t mean that this is what your doing forever.  Finish it.  Finish your program, finish you dissertation.”  He also acknowledged, “You’ll have that degree forever, and no one can take it away from you.  It’s really good for you, and your life, to finish.”  In order to finish strong, graduate students have to pick something they are passionate about and think about what other things might they like to do and consider those options. “If you have time, spend it in internships or jobs in which you could be happy,” said Ken.  Writing this dissertation takes discipline and gives you transferable skills.  Lastly, he said, “Enter the job market and make connections beyond academia.” 


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Call for Participants: Alt-Ac Profiles

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Thursday, June 5, 2014

Call for Participants:


The New Paradigms in Graduate Education Committee is seeking participants in a new initiative to highlight additional career options for doctoral degree holders. New Paradigms seeks to develop a series of profiles on Ph.Ds. in theatre and performance studies who have either chosen a career outside of academia (in private and non-profit sectors), or a non-traditional route to faculty and non-faculty university positions. We are looking for three or four graduate students who are interested in seeking out and interviewing suitable candidates for these profiles. This is an excellent way to network and forge relationships!


Graduate students will be provided with a sample list of questions, as well as further instructions and recommendations as this initiative develops. These profiles will be disseminated via the ASTR email listserv, the New Paradigms in Graduate Education Facebook website, and other forms of social media. If you would like to suggest a Ph.D. who fits the above description, and/or are a graduate student interested in interviewing potential candidates, please contact the New Paradigms in Graduate Education graduate student representative: Sara Boland-Taylor at

Tags:  Graduate Student Assistance  graduate students  new initiatives  New Paradigms 

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