A Commitment to Theater

May 16, 2018

Professor Jean Graham-Jones on her recent appointment as the Lortel Chair in Theatre

Professor Jean Graham-Jones (Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures; Theatre), who is considered one of the foremost U.S. scholars of Latin American theatre and performance, was recently named The Graduate Center’s Lucille Lortel Professor of Theatre.

Jean-Graham-Jones-4 headshot
Professor Jean Graham-Jones

Her book Exorcising History: Argentine Theater Under Dictatorship, first published in 2000 and recently released in a Spanish translation in Argentina, is viewed as a seminal work exploring the tangled relationship between the stage and politics during the Junta dictatorship. She is currently working on two book-length projects: an edited volume of performance scripts, interviews, and other texts on the work of Buenos Aires theater artist Lola Arias; and a monographic study of the challenges in contemporary performance translation, based on Graham-Jones’ experiences as a scholar, translator, director, and actor.

She recently spoke to The Graduate Center about the meaning of her appointment, the “porosity” of the GC, and combining scholarly and artistic pursuits.

GC: How has your appointment as the Lortel chair impacted you professionally or personally?

Graham-Jones: Miss Lortel (as she insisted on being called) and I share a love of hats, but more importantly a commitment to theater. Mine is more evident in the Off-Off-Broadway scene, where I’ve worked largely as a translator of Argentinean plays. Miss Lortel supported both artistic production and arts education; I consider my work as a translator to bridge both. 
To hold the Lortel Chair means the world to me professionally and personally: as a woman working in the academy, where we have not achieved enough representation as full professors, upper administrators, and endowed chairs; as a scholar working in a field that does not enjoy a high-enough profile in theater and performance studies programs; and as a scholar and artist who considers American theater to be hemispheric and not bound by borders with Canada and Mexico. But perhaps most importantly, I know the appointment is meaningful to my students, former students, and colleagues who recognize themselves in these self-identifications.
GC: What do you particularly enjoy about your work as a teacher and scholar at the GC?

Graham-Jones: I love the porosity of The Graduate Center. I work in multiple programs, my students take classes throughout the building and beyond, and my own classes benefit from the dialogue created by such a spirit of interdisciplinarity. I feel wonderfully supported both as a scholar and as a teacher, which for me are inseparable. There is a camaraderie in our program like none I’ve ever encountered elsewhere, and I cherish my exchanges with colleagues and students, whether it’s about the latest show we saw or a recent lecture or a provocative theoretical reading.
GC: Among your many contributions to your field, of which are you the most proud?

Graham-Jones: My Ph.D. is in Hispanic Languages and Literatures and my first academic appointment was in a modern languages department; yet I came to graduate school as an actor and, ever since, I have worked to weave together my scholarly and artistic practices. Latin American theater is still on the margins of most theater studies programs and is often included only in Spanish and Portuguese programs, where most of my fellow Latin Americanist theater scholars work. I’ve spent much of my career insisting that Latin American theater merits inclusion in any theatrical canon we might invent and that theater departments should hire specialists on theater throughout the Americas. 
My translation of Argentinean playwrights is part of that larger project of circulation and awareness, as was my decision, made years ago, to publish more in theater journals and with presses specializing in theater- and performance-focused texts. As past editor of one of our field’s leading journals and as current president of the largest international theater research professional organization, I’ve had the opportunity to help shape the larger field of theater studies, something for which I’m exceptionally grateful