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Research Overview

Dive Deep. The theatre faculty at Vanderbilt conduct a wide range of expertise in theatre and performance research and theatre production practices. Our faculty present research regularly at the conferences of leading organizations such as the American Society for Theatre Research, Black Theatre Association, International Federation of Theatre Research, Association of Theatre in Higher Education, United States Institute for Theatre Technology, and the Mid-America Theatre Conference. Faculty also produce theatre in a variety of Nashville-based and regional theatres as directors, designers, playwrights, dramaturgs, and technicians.

Faculty research interests include race and gender studies as they relate to theatre history and performance, theatrical production and labor, and performance methods. Faculty members’ creative pursuits include playwriting, directing, performance, design, and production.


Faculty Research | Student Research

Faculty Research

Christin Essin

Associate Professor of Theatre

Working Backstage: A Cultural History and Ethnography

In 2022, Essin received the American Theatre and Drama Society’s John Frick Book Award for her second monograph Working Backstage: A Cultural History and Ethnography (2021, University of Michigan Press). It was also listed as a finalist for the Theatre Library Association’s George Freedley Memorial Book Award, a finalist for the American Society for Theatre Research’s Bernard Hewitt Book Award, and a winner of CHOICE’s Outstanding Titles. The book “illuminates the work of New York City’s theatre technicians, shining a light on the essential contributions of unionized stagehands, carpenters, electricians, sound engineers, properties artisans, wardrobe crews, makeup artists, and child guardians.” The awards it received recognizes its contributions to theatre studies and labor studies, exploring the politics of the unions that serve backstage professionals by protecting their rights and insuring safe working conditions.

Ibby Cizmar

Assistant Professor of Theatre

Social Justice Acting Studio: Restructuring the Classroom Environment for Equity and Inclusion

In April 2023, the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center awarded scholar-artist Cizmar with a one-week residency, “Diversifying Acting Approaches for the Global Majority.” As part of her residency, she held a symposium titled “The Social Justice Acting Studio: Restructuring the Classroom Environment for Equity and Inclusion.” This research derived from Cizmar’s Junior Faculty Teaching Fellowship where she leveraged scholarship from the social sciences and critically analyzed her acting classes. Significantly, societal dynamics permeate inside the classroom walls where educators are just as much a part of the unjust world as the students. The symposium centered on performance-based classes, offering strategies for instructors to create a more equitable environment and establish effective grading methods to serve all students. With this work, Cizmar fundamentally encourages teachers to rethink course material and grading assessments to yield a more equitable and inclusive experience.  Cizmar also received the Santa Clarity Performing Arts Center’s EDI Impact Award for recognition of her book, Ernie McClintock and the Jazz Actors Family (Routledge 2023), and its contribution to equity, diversity, and inclusion in teaching and scholarship.

Kristyl Tift

Assistant Professor of Theatre

Kristyl Tift, assistant professor of theatre, and student Olutobi Akisanya wrote a paper titled “The Ever Present Narrative : A Comparative Analysis of Sally’s Rape and Confederates.” Ms. Akisanya was invited to present the paper at the Black Theatre Network’s conference in St. Louis in July 2023.


Student Research

Madison Good, BA’22

Madison Good took an exploratory approach to her year long thesis, that ended in this crafted question: “What skills do Vanderbilt theatre majors/minors gain from their undergraduate education that prepares them to enter any number of fields?”

Kicking off the year, Madison hosted a panel with Vanderbilt theatre alumni where she presented them with carefully crafted questions derived from her interviews with students. She also conducted a literature review on career and job market research, research on advocation for theatre and humanities, and key takeaways from previously conducted alumni interviews. During the spring semester, she developed a workbook designed to help theatre students at Vanderbilt tell the story of their transferrable skills that they gain from the major. Madison took her workbook and brought it to life by testing it out on students during an hour-long workshop, where students connected their theatrical stories to career competencies. Key takeaways from this experience are that students want formalized career development as part of the major, we’re in a unique position as a department that’s academically rigorous and passionate but doesn’t result in a BFA, and talking to alumni improves outlooks for students about the future.