2018 Session: "Public Humanities"

The 2017 session of the Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research, "Public Humanities," was held from June 11-22, 2018 at Harvard University.


Following up on our 2017 focus on activism, the 2018 Mellon School will explore the public humanities in relation to theater, dance, and performance. Live performance has long been an occasion for thinking about the public: what does it mean to assemble, address, inform, entertain, challenge, and transform the public, as represented by the audience?

The discussion about the public humanities has proceeded by and large without drawing on theater and performance studies. During the 2018 session, we want to ask whether the public nature of our object of study—live performance—should inform our scholarship (and vice versa), and if so, how? Topics will include theater journalism, performance reviews, press releases, and op-eds; social media, publicity, communications, and podcasts; dramaturgy, talk-backs, and practice-as-research; academic "performances" such as books and lectures; theater pamphlets, manifestos, and more.


Sarah Bay-Cheng (Bowdoin College)
D. Graham Burnett (Princeton University)
P. Carl (Emerson College & ArtsEmerson)
Stephen Greenblatt (Harvard University)
Ju Yon Kim (Harvard University)
Luke Menand (Harvard University)
Carrie Preston (Boston University)
Martin Puchner (Harvard University)
Andrew Sofer (Boston College)
Alexis Soloski (The New York Times)


Aurélien Bellucci
Jaswinder Blackwell-Pal
Rachel Bowditch
Lucy Caplan
Ryan Claycomb
Vineet David
Carla Della Gatta
Eylem Ejder
Kyle Frisina
Katharina Gerund
Leon Hilton
Yizhou Huang
Nesma Idris
Rasheed Ismaila
Lily Kelting
Hyewon Kim
Natalia Klimova
Bryan Markovitz
Andrew Martinez
Maureen McDonnell
Reza Mirsajadi
Shondrika Moss-Bouldin
Kimberlee Pérez
VK Preston
Laissa Rodríguez
Olga Sanchez Saltveit
Rosa Schneider
Karen Schupp
Hesam Sharifian
Cassandra Silver
Shubham Singh
Clio Unger
Monica Viharo



Theater artists, performers, researchers, and fans tend to celebrate theater as one of the more public-facing and therefore continuously relevant of the arts. Theater is typically performed by an artistic and production team before a live audience. Many theater companies have a publicity office, and audience appeal, even marketability, is an influential factor in the company’s artistic goals. And yet, theater is decidedly absent from the NEH’s much-lauded “Public Humanities Projects.” Although “audience” appears everywhere in the extensive information provided at neh.gov, “theater" and “performance" are decidedly absent. None of the many examples of successfully funded projects concern theater or performance, unless you count the one about Lincoln’s assassination in a theater. Are theater and performance researchers less engaged in public humanities work than scholars working in the fields of literature, history, or the visual arts? What are the publics of theater? Does theater establish new and unique publics? 

This seminar will engage such questions by considering the publics associated with different theater industries, from community theater to the avant-garde and broadway. We will explore how dramatists and theater artists imagine and attempt to reach their publics. Ultimately, we will interrogate how we as scholars understand theaters’ publics and engage, or fail to engage, possible audiences for our own work. 


This is a workshop in Public Humanities meant to explore how we can use our research to reach different audiences. What forms, media, and genres—existing and emerging—from podcasts and social media to experimental humanities--are suitable for this task? What existing outlets and opportunities are there to be used? How to write in ways that communicate our ideas effectively to different publics? The workshop will include research and readings, but also practical exercises in how to pitch ideas, how to write book proposals for a general audience, and how to structure essays, performance reviews and book reviews. Participants are asked to contribute their own experience as consumers and (if applicable) producers of public media. No prior experience required.