Performance Studies Takes Center Stage at the Lewis Center
(Princeton, NJ) The Lewis Center for the Arts is pleased to announce the expansion of its faculty with two of the most highly regarded leaders in the field of theater and performance studies.
Stacy Wolf has been been appointed an Associate Professor in the Program in Theater and Dance, while Jill Dolan has been made a joint appointment as Professor in the Program as well as in the Department of English. “In one fell swoop, Princeton has become a leader in Performance Studies,” said Michael Cadden, Director of the Lewis Center for the Arts Program in Theater and Dance. “I’m especially delighted because Stacy and Jill are known for, among other things, their interest in theater as it is practiced today. They’ve done a lot to bridge the divide between the academic study of dramatic literature and the world of theater makers.”
One of the foremost scholars of musical theater studies, Stacy Wolf comes to Princeton after serving eight years on faculty at the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to UT, Wolf spent five years on the faculty of George Washington University and two years at Florida State University. “I am really excited to be at Princeton!” said Wolf. “Unlike many other universities, Princeton values the arts in the context of a sound and complete liberal arts education.”
Wolf, who holds a B.A. in English from Yale, an M.A. in Drama from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, “I was an English major in college and also a performer in musicals and a capella singing groups. I became a musical theatre scholar through my teaching. I approach the study of musicals analytically. For example, we study the lyrics of a song the same way one would study a poem. At the same time, we are always aware that musicals are meant to be performed and only fully realized in performance.” Wolf’s strength as a scholar and teacher stems from her passionate curiosity about and engagement with theatrical performance as a multi-disciplinary art form.
While working with students, Wolf often hears them say they love musicals. “Although many students grew up going to musicals or participating in musicals in high school, few consider it a serious art form or even a part of the American culture.” Wolf would argue otherwise. “Musical theatre never stops being fun or pleasurable, but it is much more complicated than that. It is based in theatre but draws upon dance, music, and design. Musicals necessarily reflect and shape social history and cultural history, and are engaged with the politics of their time. In that respect, musical theatre is a part of the culture in which we live.” Whereas opera had its origin in Italy and the operetta its origin in England, the Broadway musical is truly an American genre – arguably the nation’s greatest contribution to world theater.
Wolf is the author of A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical (Michigan) and numerous articles on theatre spectatorship, performance pedagogy and musical theatre in many journals, including Theatre Journal, Modern Drama, and Women and Performance. She was the editor of Theatre Topics: a Journal of Pedagogy and Praxis in 2001-2003. Her current work expands on her interest in the American Broadway musical, including critical studies of Sweet Charity and Wicked. Her essay, "'We'll Always Be Bosom Buddies': Female Duets and the Queering of Broadway Musical Theatre" in GLQ [Gay and Lesbian Quarterly], won the award for Best Essay in Theatre Studies from the Association for Theatre inHigher Education in 2006. Her forthcoming book, Defying Gravity: Gender and Genre in Musical Theatre from the 1950s to the 21st Century (Oxford), will examine how women have shaped the postwar American theater. Wolf also has experience as a director and dramaturg.
Wolf will begin her tenure at Princeton this fall with a seminar in American musical theatre history, but has plans to eventually present a full range of courses in dramaturgy, dramatic literature and play analysis, performance theory and possibly even a course on the American musical composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. “Musical theatre studies is a very young field and in many ways is still figuring out its mission.” Wolf plans to further explore and define that mission through her work with Princeton students. “As classes offered by Tamsen Wolff and Michael Friedman have indicated,”said Cadden, “Princeton students are committed to making the musical a thinkable form. Stacy will be a major player in that arena.”
Jill Dolan, Wolf’s partner, also comes to Princeton from the University of Texas at Austin, where she held the Zachary T. Scott Family Chair in Drama and headed the Department of Theatre and Dance’s MA/PhD program in performance as a public practice from 1999-2008. She was inducted into UT’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers in fall 2006. During her six years on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1988-1994), Dolan won the William Kiekhofer Award for Excellence in Teaching. Dolan is a past president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), and a past president of the Women and Theatre Program, also of ATHE. She is also the former Executive Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where she taught for five years in the PhD Program in Theatre.
Dolan is the author of four highly regarded books: The Feminist Spectator as Critic (Michigan, 1989) Presence and Desire: Essays on Gender, Sexuality, Performance (Michigan, 1993), Geographies of Learning: Theory and Practice, Activism and Performance (Wesleyan, 2001) and Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theatre (Michigan, 2005). Dolan’s current projects include a study of the plays of Wendy Wasserstein; a critical handbook on theatre and sexuality; a critical history of US lesbian feminist culture in the 1970s and 1980s; and a history of LGBTQ theatre in the US since 1960.
When asked why she chose to come to Princeton, Dolan said she was attracted by the liberal arts model which she believes is ideal for performance studies. “Liberal arts students are more wellrounded than the typical student in a specialized conservatory or art school. Their interest in the arts often complements interests in other disciplines, such as science, math or engineering.”
Dolan’s teaching philosophy is to encourage students to consider themselves as “citizen/scholar/artists,” people whose artistic skills should be matched by the eloquence of their critical skills and their ability to apply what they know to their participation in democracy. She challenges students not to ask questions that result in right or wrong answers, but rather to ask the probing questions of “why,” “how” and “what” of contemporary and historical artistic practice and critique. Why should we produce a play at a particular theater at a particular time? How can we intervene in common-sense understandings of theater as an “elite” art and persuade spectators that performance can be as vital and accessible as sports? What does any given play, production or performance mean at this historical moment? What do an actor’s gestures convey about social arrangements? What does a regional theater’s production season tell us about what it thinks is important to its community at this time?
She describes her classrooms as interactive, respectful sites of discussion and debate. “I don’t hesitate to state my own views and beliefs,” said Dolan. “I model passionate engagement for my students, often leaving a classroom feeling a bit spent and a bit vulnerable. I also expect them to bring their whole selves to our discussions and debates, so that our meetings move on an electric current of faith in the value of our work and our mutual desire to make it better, make it available, make it mean more.”
Dolan will offer “Criticism Workshop” in the Lewis Center’s Program in Theater and Dance this fall. The course will emphasize criticism and arts advocacy and teach students how to deepen their knowledge about the arts so that they can provide a well-informed analysis in their writing. Students will be taught the fundamentals on critiquing all aspects of the creative and performing arts, including dance, theatre and film.
“As I teach,” said Prof. Dolan, “I keep an eye on the future, reminding myself that I’m training the next generation of theatre and performance audiences, aficionados, artists, advocates, funders, scholars and critics, as well as potential colleagues who will go on to teach their own generations of students.”
Dolan believes that university theater programs should push at the envelope of cultural expectations about the arts. “If we defy conventional beauty and body image standards; if we routinely commit to color-blind or cross-race cast our productions; if we teach students to critique representations of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and other identity markers in our own and mainstream productions, along with their aesthetic and ideological values; and if we teach students to reach outside conventional theatre to form their own companies and to create their own plays and performances, then we’ve truly added something to the national dialogue not just about the arts, but about citizenship and democracy. Supporting the status quo is untenable.”
Director of Communications
Lewis Center for the Arts