On Theatre & Performance

The casting of Broadway musicals reproduces aesthetic values from the dominant culture, especially the notion that thin bodies—ones that conform to these values—are superior to other bodies, especially fat ones. The aesthetic values placed on bodies are gendered, especially relative to size. Apart from a few roles (including Hairspray’s Tracy Turnblad), fat women are almost never cast in roles beyond the comedic sidekick or best friend in commercial theatre. Musicals embody how and where Broadway (and, by extension, U.S. society) expects fat women to sound, to move, to behave, and to labor; class, gender, race, and sexuality further impact these expectations.

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Through both her dances and writings Agnes de Mille explored what it means to be American. I argue that, in addition to the explicitly Americana-themed material de Mille chose, her choreography performs national identity through its use of gesture informed by de Mille’s interest in folk dance and the collective unconscious. When looking at much of de Mille’s choreography, one is visually struck by its Americanness. It is this act of recognition that begins this enquiry: how does one see de Mille’s choreography and recognize its intrinsic Americanness? How did de Mille’s choreographic process allow for the expression of national identity through gesture?

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Joanna Dee Das (Asst. Prof. of Dance, Washington University in St. Louis) and I guest edited this special issue of Studies in Musical Theatre, the first academic journal to devote an entire issue to dance and musical theatre. Articles address a broad array of topics including the politics of transnational transmission, the role of the auteur, and dance and prosthesis.

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Pippin (1972) made Broadway history when it became the first Broadway musical to use a filmed live performance in its television commercial. In this essay, I trace the evolution of marketing Bob Fosse’s musicals prior to Pippin, and argue that Pippin’s commercial cannily sold Fosse’s style as the real star of the musical. Fosse made style substantive—and profitable.

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What is at stake when disability in the text doesn’t match disability in the actor’s body? This is the question that came to mind after seeing the 2017 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and then reading the critical responses to it. Though Menagerie remains one of theatre’s most famous memory plays, many critics had trouble with the re-membering (some would argue dis-membering) of Sam Gold’s production and revealed themselves to be more comfortable with the playwright’s incorporation of disability than the director’s.

On Pedagogy

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I almost quit my PhD program to become a dog trainer. Spoiler alert: I didn’t become a pro dog trainer, but I did learn a lot about the ethical side of pedagogy as a result of learning how to work with dogs and their humans. It all starts with the idea that learning shouldn’t hurt.

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This is a reflection on implementing strategies and tools I learned as a student in the inaugural course offered by the Futures Initiative in Spring 2015 at The Graduate Center/CUNY, co-taught by Distinguished Professors Cathy Davidson and William Kelly. Creating a community in the classroom makes the learning environment more productive and empowering, and this blog describes how I consciously set out to achieve these goals.