Grad Research: INGZ Collective curator Natalie Zelt produces “Sampling,” March 31 – April 2

Exciting news from one of our graduate students: Ph.D. student Natalie Zelt, a curator for the INGZ Collective, has curated a performance series entitled “Sampling,” where artists Tameka Norris (aka Meka Jean), Brontez Purnell and The Younger Lovers, and Kenya (Robinson) CHEEKY LaSHAE adopt personae culled from tropes and representation of musicians- exposing pervasive norms, pressing the boundaries of everyday identity, and reflecting on the relations between personae play, embodiment and power.

All are invited to attend, to participate, to engage!

Thursday, March 31
  • 10-11:30 am: Tameka Norris Become Someone Else Workshop I (Location: GWB Multipurpose Room) Email to sign up.
  • 5:30-6pmSampling Opening Reception (In Winship Building)
  • 6-8pm: Screening of Free Jazz & Performance by Brontez Purnell and The Younger Lovers followed by a Movement Workshop open to the public (location: Lab Theatre)
Friday April 1, 2016
  • 2-3:30pm: Tameka Norris Become Someone Else Workshop II (Location: WIN 1.148) to sign up
  • 4-4:30pm: CHEEKY LaSHAE gives a paper at New Directions in Anthropology Conference (Location CLA 1.302B)
  • 5:30pm-7pm: Meka Jean “Ivy League Ratchet” Happy Hour Performance (Location GWB Multipurpose Room)
  • 9pm-11pm: MONTH os SUNDAYS–CHEEKY LaSHAE Singes BLACK SABBATH with Meka Jean encore performance of “Ivy League Ratchet” and a opening act by The Younger Lovers (Location: Museum of Human Achievement)
Saturday April 2, 2016
  • 11am-12pm: Brunch Talk with Tameka Norris, Brontez Purnell and The Younger Lovers and Kenya (Robinson) (Location: CLA 1.302D)

Faculty Research: Dr. Randy Lewis’s Original Comedy, “My Dinner With Bambi,” to Premiere in Austin


Although our university won’t be back in session for several days yet, we couldn’t wait to post this exciting news about one of our faculty members. Dr. Randy Lewiswho we’ve featured in the past for his expansive work on topics from surveillance to media studies to public scholarship, has penned an original play that will premiere in Austin later this month. We asked Dr. Lewis for a few words about his new work, and how it relates to his broad interests in all that American Studies has to offer…

So a funny thing happened on the way to the lectern—I wrote a play, a dark comedy called My Dinner with Bambi (A Shocking Comedy) that is now in rehearsals under my direction. Is it funny? Outrageous? Insightful? You be the judge when it opens on January 22 at Austin’s FronteraFest.

The main character is a force of nature called Bambi Krill. She’s a media celebrity extraordinaire, a powerful woman with hints of Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Stephen Colbert, and Mephistopheles. The basic set-up is that she’s holding court with her two young acolytes, Sarah and Roger, one of whom is not yet converted to the dark side of big money punditry. Drinking heavily after a widely protested campus lecture, Bambi spars with her minions until an explosive encounter with Sarah’s parents brings deeper tensions to the surface. And no one—on the right or left—gets off unscathed. (I mean this quite literally: a real Taser is one of our central props).

As anyone who knows me can deduce, Bambi is another version what I often talk about in the classroom. For instance, last fall I was working on Bambi while teaching undergrads how to make documentary theater out of Internet troll comments (talk about tragedy!). I love this overlap between my academic and creative work. For me, it all flows together—especially when I’m teaching courses with titles such as “The Politics of Creativity.” Bambi also has many literal connections to UT: we auditioned actors at night in a seminar room in Burdine, we ended up casting several alums and one faculty member, and we’re working with a consultant from UT’s Drama Department, which is something I really appreciate as a first-time director.

We have an amazing cast and know that you’ll enjoy the show—especially if you have any connection to American Studies. After all, how many plays have jokes about Moby Dick, Thomas Kinkade, and turducken? (Not King Lear—I checked!). Even if you’re not part of the American Studies world, we hope you’ll come see Bambi in action starting January 22.

More information about the play can be found at its website and Facebook page, and tickets for all four performances are available here. We recommend you buy tickets in advance if you’re interested in checking the show out – they’ll sell out!

Five Questions with Rebecca Rossen

Today we’re pleased to feature an interview with another one of our incredible affiliate faculty members, Dr. Rebecca Rossen, professor of dance history in the Department of Theatre & Dance and Performance as Public Practice. Dr. Rossen has just published her first book, Dancing Jewish: Jewish Identity in American Modern and Postmodern Dance (Oxford). We recently sat down with her to talk about her scholarly and artistic background, her new book, and her future research and teaching.


What is your scholarly background and how does it motivate your current research?

Before I was a scholar I was a dancer and choreographer in Chicago. I did that for the decade after I graduated from college, my entire 20s. I went to graduate school to get a PhD, expecting to continue on making dance, but the experience ended up transforming me into a historian. I would say that as a scholar I’m a dance historian whose work focuses on identity, ethnicity, and gender representations in performance. Methodologically, I bring together my work as a dance historian with my experience as a performer. Those two threads are not only present in my research but are also present in the classes that I teach and how I teach them.

What has been your favorite project to work on so far?

As a scholar I’ve worked on one main project (with multiple side projects) for a really long time, which started as a dissertation–as many of our projects do–14 years ago. It was finally birthed as a book last spring. It’s both my favorite project as well as something that I have sometimes referred to as “the beast” because it was the project. Dancing Jewish has been an extremely involving endeavor. The book looks at how American Jewish choreographers, working in modern and postmodern dance, represent their Jewishness. I show how, over a 75-year period, dance allowed American Jews to grapple with issues like identity, difference, assimilation, and pride.

What projects are you excited about working on in the future?

Dancing Jewish considers various themes that are repeated in dances over time, like nostalgic depictions of Eastern European Jews or biblical heroism as a response to World War II or Jewish humor and stock characters. Because the book focuses solely on Jewish-American performances, it’s definitely an American Studies book. I’m interested in the next book in looking at representations of the Holocaust in performance, not focusing solely on American artists but including European and Israeli artists, and not just focusing on Jewish artists but also including non-Jewish artists who have responded to the Holocaust in interesting ways. The next project is a natural extension of the first one but takes a more global perspective and moves beyond considering just the work of Jewish artists.

How do you see your work fitting into broader conversation in dance history or American Studies?

Dancing Jewish is certainly an American Studies book, because when you are talking about Jewishness in America, you are talking about how a group of people balanced a very specific ethnic identity with their Americanness, which generally–especially in the earlier part of the century–was conceived as not-Jewish. There are some very interesting tensions that get worked out in these dances between Jewishness and Americanness and how choreographers are choreographically trying to balance these identities or converge them. It is ultimately a book about American identity with a specific lens looking at Jewish identity. But it is also a work of Dance Studies, so if you are interested in dance and performance, it’s a book that considers how identities are performed physically. Because of that, and because of my background as an artist, I think one of the contributions it makes is its use of embodied scholarship. I spent a lot of time in the archive, I did dozens of interviews, and there is analysis of photographic and video evidence and live performance. But I also use embodied methodologies, which means that at points in my research, I had physical and creative dialogues with my subjects. For example, I asked two of my subjects to “make me a Jewish dance,” and even though I didn’t have any money and they didn’t yet know me, they said okay. That process was a very interesting entre into my understanding of their work, because I didn’t just learn about their products on stage, but I also learned something about their processes and what Jewishness meant to them.

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Announcement: Performing Blackness Symposium Today!

The Department of Theatre and Dance’s Performance as Public Practice program and John L. Warfield Center’s Performing Blackness Series will host a discussion today of Charles O. Anderson/dance theatre X’s TAR, with conversation about Black dance, producing Black art, and the role of art in generating social change. The symposium will take place in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre in the Winship Building on the UT campus from 1:30-5:00p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Thomas Frantz, Professor of African and African American Studies/Dance/Theatre Studies, Duke University

Featured Panelists:
Ms. China Smith, Founder and Executive Artistic Director, Ballet Afrique, Austin
Dr. Omise’eke Tinsley, Associate Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies, UT Austin
Dr. Michael Winship, Professor, Department of English, The University of Austin


The symposium is in conjunction with two public performances of dance theatre X’s TAR on April 12 and 13 at 8:00 p.m. in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre. Both performances are free and open to the public.

Hope to see you there!

Announcement: Symposium This Week on “Creativity in the Face of Death”

This week, the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies and Texas Performing Arts will be hosting a 3-day symposium called “Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín.” The symposium will include performances, panels, lectures, and a photography exhibition. A number of the events feature AMS Professor and Director of the Schusterman Center, Dr. Robert Abzug, as well as AMS affiliate faculty member Dr. Rebecca Rossen.

The following is a description of the event from the Schusterman Center’s website:

“Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín,” a three-day symposium, will explore the enduring influence of music and art created by prisoners at Terezín (Theresienstadt), the “model ghetto” near Prague designed by the Nazis as a sham showcase to mask their murderous campaign against Europe’s Jews. The inmates, mostly Jews from Germany and Czechoslovakia and among them many notable artists, writers, composers, and musicians, acted out their parts for unsuspecting visitors even as, in the shadow of death, they raised the spirits of their fellow prisoners. Only 12 percent of the 140,000 Jews originally sent to Terezín survived. Virtually all of the members of the artistic community perished in the death camps or at Terezín itself.

Their heroic example has served as a haunting challenge for later artists to create what Kafka declared books must be—“an axe for the sea frozen inside us.” “Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín” will bring together world-class musicians, dancers, choreographers, photographers, and scholars whose work has been touched by the legacy of Terezín.

The following events feature Dr. Abzug and Dr. Rossen in conversation with artists and scholars on the symposium theme:

Wednesday, October 10

Creativity in the Face of Death
Daniel Hope | Jeffrey Kahane | Donald Byrd
Moderated by Robert Abzug and Rebecca Rossen
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. | Harry Ransom Center, Prothro Theater

Thursday, October 11

Veronika Tuckerova and Robert Abzug
History and Memory: The Emergence of Terezín in Historical Artistic Consciousness: Czechoslovakia and America
4:00 – 5:30 p.m. | Garrison 1.102

The Theater of Needless Talents
Donald Byrd, choreographer and director

PRE-PERFORMANCE LECTURERebecca Rossen and Robert Abzug
7:00 pm | Bass Concert Hall, Lobby Level 4

8:00 p.m. | Texas Performing Arts’ Bass Concert Hall

Spectrum Dance Theater’s The Theater of Needless Talents, an evening-long work choreographed by Donald Byrd, pays homage to the Jewish artists who, though imprisoned in Nazi death camps, managed to create, perform, and bring hope to themselves and fellow inmates. The work is a series of powerful and eloquent sequences comprising modern dance, theatrical vignettes, cabaret, and commentary drawn from the words of artists and others of the time. These searing and evocative segments resonate with the horror and the absurdity of the situation in which these artists found themselves. The dance is set to the music of composer and death camp victim Erwin Schulhoff. The Theater of Needless Talents strives to make connections between the Holocaust and present-day sufferings brought on by prejudice, oppression, and persecution.

More information and a complete schedule can be found here.

Stories from Summer Vacation: “Too Big to Frail: My Banjo Summer,” by Dr. Randy Lewis

Enjoy this piece from Dr. Randy Lewis, who writes about playing the banjo this summer:

I consider myself a rather dusty, low-rent semi-professional musician. I’ve been paid to play in clubs over the years, but seldom enough to buy a new pair of shoes, and usually not enough to buy a pair of socks at the Dollar Store. I once played nine straight shows at an outdoor medieval fair with a Pirate band in sweaty nautical attire, which, if you look in the dictionary, is the definition of stupid. However, I learned an important life lesson that day: you can’t please an audience hell bent on mixing funnel cake and beer.

Yet I keep plucking away at all things musical in my few moments of freedom, occasionally adding something new to the mix. I’m passable on mandolin, guitar, piano, bass, walking dulcimer, accordion, clarinet, and sax, but only recently came into possession of an old Harmony banjo that became a little summer project. Even for a guitar player accustomed to finger picking, banjo is a strange but wonderful beast. While I was able to teach myself the classic three-finger roll that Earl Scruggs made famous in the 1940s, I really wanted to learn the older technique of “clawhammer” banjo, also known as “frailing”. I quickly realized that I needed lessons to learn how to shape my hand into a “claw,” before striking down on the strings with my fingernails, alternating melody, rhythm and drone attacks to produce the classic “bum-ditty” pattern. When you do it right, it feels like your fingers are dancing on a tambourine covered in baling wire—and you understand why clawhammer banjo propelled so many rural dances across the American South more than a century ago.

A wonderful bit of Steve Martin demonstrating clawhammer

After some lessons from one the best old-time banjo players in Texas (Jerry Hagins at Fiddler’s Green), I discovered that even at my age, I wasn’t too big to frail. With Jerry’s help, I’ve been clawing away at “Cluck Old Hen,” “Big Leg Ida,” and other musical relics that Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga will never cover. Also, somewhat dementedly, I’ve also been working on frailing versions of Led Zep, Jimi Hendrix, and The Meat Puppets. I’m hoping the video of me playing “Kashmir” will go viral and thus immortalize me on Youtube alongside the Segway-riding Chimpanzee and other luminaries of the digital age. (I’ll post it soon).

I should share one other bit of summer news. I was pleased as punch that a new CD was released from my freak folk band Anvil Salute, a small ensemble that plays somewhat “difficult,” droning, experimental music. I play a rather spaced out accordion with this wild improv band, whose members range across the southwest from LA to Oklahoma. You can hear a sample of the new album on the website of our distributor, Pennsylvania-based Deep Water Acres, which is promoting our new CD entitled “Black Bear Rug.”

So that’s something non-bookish that I did this summer. Perhaps it doesn’t connect directly to my work as an American Studies scholar, but maybe it has an indirect connection of some sort. As someone interested in the role of artists in American society, I love to try on various hats and see what can be learned from inside a particular creative process. It’s an experiential kind of learning that I relish, and in the case of frailing, I’ve already started to ask questions that come out of my old time banjo playing: Where did the songs come from? Why these tunings? Why an open back banjo? How much does frailing connect to African banjo traditions? (the answer: A LOT!) Why the drone string? Did women frail? Why did frailing almost disappear? Why are people recovering this style today? Once you start asking a million questions about the deep weirdness and haunting beauty of old time Americana, you’ve probably started doing an organic form of American Studies—and that’s a pretty cool thing.

Announcement: Interview with Kelli Schultz, AMS Senior and Dean’s Distinguished Graduate

Today, we’re pleased to share with you an interview with one of our undergraduates, Kelli Schultz, who was recently recognized as one of only twelve Dean’s Distinguished Graduates in the College of Liberal Arts at UT. Congratulations to Kelli on this very prestigious honor!

What was/is your favorite class in American Studies?

I loved Prof. Ware’s AMS 310: Intro to American Studies course. I have taken a lot of specialized AMS 370 courses which I loved but I’m intrigued by how each professor teaches the whole story of American History in one semester. Her underlying mission, it seemed, was to tell the untold accounts of US History, the ones you weren’t told in high school. We learned about the Carlisle Indian School, Japanese Internment and Coney Island. This was the first class I took in the Department and it sparked my interest in the pedagogy of social studies, which I ultimately ended up writing my honors thesis on.

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