Theatre and Performance Ph.d. Alumni Find Bigger Stages
After teaching theater and performance studies online during the pandemic as a visiting professor at Governors State University, alumna Alison Walls (Ph.D. ’20, Theatre and Performance), got back into the job hunt. This September, she returned home to New Zealand to become the education and outreach manager at the largest theater company in the country, the Court Theatre in Christchurch. “It's an opportunity,” she said, “to bring the creative side of things, which has always been really important to me, and the scholarship and teaching into alignment.”
In her new role, Walls is responsible for building relationships with schools, organizations, and diverse communities in Christchurch to promote the Court’s productions, education programs, and workshops. She also manages the Youth Company, a training and performance program for actors, from ages 17 to 21. She says she is well prepared for the job, based on the broad range of experience offered at the Graduate Center in theater history, dramaturgical analysis, performance, and research, and in understanding both repertoire and representation. Those, she said, “are very important to this theater, and how to work with young people.”
The Ph.D. Program in Theatre and Performance at the Graduate Center makes a point of readying graduates for a variety of careers within and outside of academia. “The diversity of research training offered in our program is about meeting the needs of the next generation of scholars and lecturers in theater and performance studies while also offering opportunities to apply this training in related fields of employment, including arts education, creative practice, dramaturgy, arts and cultural development, administration, and cultural policy work,” said Professor Peter Eckersall, executive officer of the Theatre and Performance Ph.D. program. “It also recognizes the value of research to the future of the performing arts, itself an interdisciplinary and innovative field of practices that advance creative thinking and world-building.”
Eckersall himself brings experience from beyond academia to his faculty role. He has worked as a dramaturg, or literary adviser to theater companies, for more than 30 years, beginning in Australia, where he co-founded the contemporary performance group Not Yet It’s Difficult.
In addition to feeling ready for her new role, Walls is excited about it. She said that the Court Theatre has “a robust program, a youth company that puts on its own productions as well as classes for adults and children, and they are well connected with a couple of the universities here.” She added, “One of the advantages of being a theater person is that you're pretty accustomed to wearing lots of different hats. You jump in and do it.”
Walls’ résumé reflects the many roles she has taken on as an actor, director, and critic. At the Graduate Center, she enhanced her scholarship and teaching credentials. For her dissertation, which she summed up at the Graduate Center’s 2020 Dissertation Showcase, she looked at why heroines who figured as substitute or “surrogate” mothers were so prominent in U.S. theater, musical, and film productions between World War II and the early 1960s. She also taught at Baruch College, was a CUNY Humanities Alliance Fellow, and supported faculty and students in their research and teaching as a fellow at the Teaching and Learning Collaborative at Macaulay Honors College.
Like Walls, recent Graduate Center alumnus Andrew Kircher (Ph.D. ’21, Theatre and Performance) is finding success in the theater world as a creative producer, dramaturg, and scholar of live and new media performance.
Even before pursuing his Ph.D., Kircher worked at the Public Theater and other companies primarily as a production manager, general manager, and producer, responsible for, as he explained, the “logistics, financial, contractual, and technical dimensions of theater.” He said that his studies at the Graduate Center “precipitated a shift toward creative producing, which is still heavily involved in logistical visioning and planning of a work of art, but working much closer with the artists dramaturgically and creatively in constructing a work of art.”
He explained, “My entire practice now is one of research-driven creative development. I work with artists through their process of researching and clarifying their questions so that the art-making process becomes an attempt to understand on a deeper level the full dimensions of something.”
He is currently working with a large roster of artists, including the group 600 Highwaymen, whose participatory production created during the pandemic, A Thousand Ways (Parts One, Two, and Three), received critical praise. The New York Times, for example, called Part Two, also titled “An Encounter,” “a work of inquisitive humanity and profound gentleness, which over the course of an hour buffs away the armor that lets us proceed through our days brusque, numb and antagonistic.” He also works with the artist Flako Jimenez on his immersive theater experience Taxilandia.
In his time at the Graduate Center, Kircher said, “I learned how to be inquisitive and how to be curious, and that that itself is a craft, rather than just a quality. This deeply changed my relationship to artists. The level of rigor and expectation at the Graduate Center changed how I work because it made me realize I needed to carry in me a higher expectation. It was a big journey. But one that I would do all over again in a heartbeat.”
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