It is an honor to announce that our September Global Engagement Champion is Professor Misty Anderson, James R. Cox Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, head of the Department of English, and adjunct professor of theatre and religious studies. Anderson’s work focuses on 18th-century studies with an interest in gender studies and the history of religion. She has been honored this year with the Angie Warren Perkins Award, which acknowledges a woman who has made outstanding contributions to the university.
Q. How did you get started in higher education?
A: “I chose the route of higher education because I had great professors early on at Yale and Vanderbilt whom I found compelling. I knew I was passionately interested in the way that ideas about gender and sexuality started to change and look more like the modern world. My scholarship is primarily on 17th and 18th-century theatre; my first book was about the first generation of professional female playwrights and my second book was about Methodism. Methodism doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with theatre, but it was a performance studies book – thinking about how styles of being in the world are performances that make up our sense of identity.”
Q. What made you want to get involved internationally?
A: “I’ve been in 18th-century studies for about 20 years and over time you develop relationships with the scholars whose work you read and loved. The R/18 Collective started at an international conference in Edinburgh when a small group of us decided to use our energy to bring more 18th-century plays to the stage, thus creating the R/18 Collective. The R/18 Collective is an international group with scholars from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
While we have each written multiple books on this period, we were hungry to see the plays. Plays from the 17th and 18th centuries are not performed much; people tend to jump from Shakespeare to the end of the 19th century. Our international collaboration connects people, resources, and scholarly archives across our three countries as we help theatres do the scholarship of performance. The R/18 Collective believes these plays have a sense of urgency for us now, these plays tell us how we got to the modern world through ideas of empire, race, gender, and sexuality.”
Q. How has international collaboration impacted your research?
A: “The Global Catalyst grant from the Center for Global Engagement (CGE) has helped transform my international research. It allowed my Ph.D. student Ziona Kocher and I to travel to the UK and present our work at Oxford, where we met with two major theatre directors, Phillip Breen, one of the associate directors at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and Colin Blumenau, the director of more 18th-century plays than any other director on the planet. This grant allowed us to sit down with them and to say, ‘We want to help you do more; how can we help?’ The goal behind my work with the R/18 Collective is to bring the scholarly conversation to the theatre-maker conversation.”
Q. What are some of your current projects?
A: “We’re producing the play, The Convent of Pleasure, in conjunction with the Red Bull Theater, which is the major off-Broadway classical company in New York. We are excited about our collaboration with the Red Bull Theater, which includes Carnegie Mellon University and their theatre program. It is going to help us expose our project to a much larger audience. This theatre is one of the biggest platforms for classical language plays. We are in the process of talking with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London about a future collaboration as well. The goal is to find where the conversations are and see what we can do to add to this period’s work.
There are several projects we are working on that involve international collaboration. We have an international event on the horizon; we will be hosting a conference at Oxford in September of 2022 that will include a production of an Elizabeth Inchbald play. There is also a stateside event coming up that involves international participants at the Newberry Library in Chicago. As we’re moving towards bigger things as we’re continuing to pursue grants for our work. Ultimately, we want to help theatres produce these types of plays and do more collaborative scholarship about the history of performance.”
Q. There has been a lot of change in academia this past year; how have you been adapting your research?
A: “During the pandemic, I was able to do three Zoom productions with A-list casts of BIPOC actors, two with the R/18 Collective and one on my own with some of our Clarence Brown actors. That play was called The Country Wife, which was the brainchild of Jude Vincent, a graduate of our MFA. program. The R/18 Collective went on to do two Zoom productions including Aphra Behn’s The Emperor of the Moon, which ended up being reviewed in two international journals, and R.B. Sheridan’s The Critic.
It was a great way to help actors who were out of work during this pandemic. We also pivoted to a website a lot sooner than anticipated because of remote learning, but together we gathered every piece of footage from plays during this period and got agreements to be able to share them virtually with scholars. The website, r18collective.org, has a lot of video resources, teaching resources and research resources, as well as a new series of online author interviews. We are in the process of launching a database on that website that will catalog every professional production in the last 15 years as well as all of the actors involved.”
Q. Have you worked with the Global Research Office? If so, in what capacity and how was your experience?
A: “The grant we received from the Global Research Office helped us get our foot in the door and sit down with some of the best directors of 18th-century plays. I understand that stage two of that grant may be open and the R/18 Collective and I will be pursuing that to help us further our work.”
Q. Do you feel global engagement needs to be a valued part of the university culture and why?
A: “Absolutely! Our students are fantastic, and I believe in the Volunteer difference. They need to be engaging with the world, and there’s nothing that takes the place of international travel to give you the experience of another culture. It makes you appreciate your own culture and understand yourself better, all while expanding your horizons. When I take students overseas for our theatre program, I get to see first-hand how transformative that experience is. It is also fundamental to scholarly research, so global engagement is something we need to be focused on incorporating into the Volunteer experience.”
Q. How have you incorporated global engagement into our university culture?
A: “One of the beautiful things about Zoom is that it allows forms of engagement that would otherwise require a plane ticket and days of travel. I’m enjoying connecting this international community to our graduate students here at the university, in the English department as well as our M.F.A. acting and design graduates. These conversations have enlivened my work and my heart during the pandemic. It’s been a silver lining.”
Q. What has been your most rewarding experience thus far?
A: “An exciting and rewarding experience during my project with CGE’s seed grant was an extensive sit-down meeting at Oxford with director Philip Breen at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) in Stratford, to talk about his sold-out performance of The Provok’d Wife, written in 1697. Breen is very keen to do more work that traces the roots of gender, nation, and race from our own moment back to this formative period. He was electric with excitement about doing more smart work from this period, and we look forward to partnering with him as theatres start to reopen.”
Q. Once traveling is back to normal, where would you like to go?
A: “I’ll be in the U.K first, but I really am interested in Italy and a particular playwright, Goldoni. There is a Goldoni center in Venice and so much of his work is formed by ancient folk, north African, and European traditions, so I would love the chance to work with theatre professionals in Italy who specialize in Goldoni.”