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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 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 (http://www.disneyonbroadway.com/) 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 (http://www.twoturns.com/) 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 (http://americantheatrearchiveproject.org/), 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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Tags:  Alt-Ac  graduate students  new initiatives  New Paradigms 

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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 bolandt2@illinois.edu.

Tags:  Graduate Student Assistance  graduate students  new initiatives  New Paradigms 

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