Spotlight on Graduate Student Scholars, Teachers, and Artists: February

February Graduate Student Spotlight Profile: 

Shelby Brewster, PhD Student, Theatre and Performance Studies

by Clara Wilch

PhD student Shelby Brewster has accomplished a great deal within her first year in the Theatre and Performance Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh. Brewster is a Provost’s Humanities Predoctoral Fellow, one of a handful of exceptional students on campus to receive the fellowship at the outset of her PhD studies. In her short time at Pitt, she’s taken many opportunities to involve herself in theatre production while immersing herself in academic study. This hybrid trajectory was already at work in her undergrad career at Marshall University, where Brewster was both an acting BFA and history BA, a scholar with an “artist’s soul.”

At the University of Pittsburgh, Brewster immediately began practical work as the assistant director to director Ricardo Vila-Rogers in the Fall production Water by the Spoonful. This Pulitzer-Prize winning 2012 play written by Quiara Alegría Hudes explores matters of family, society and self-definition through issues like addiction, grieving and forgiveness. Brewster summarized the work as an “important play that resonates on a lot of issues not just in the theatre but in the world and… in our current moment.”  During the same semester, Brewster acted as a dramaturg for the University of Pittsburgh Stages’ production of Good Kids, another socially engaged work based on the sexual assault and social-media scandal in Steubenville, Ohio.

This March, Brewster is directing a staged reading as part of the series Borderlands of History: Gender, Violence, Memory, produced by Dr. Lisa Jackson-Schebetta. Brewster’s contribution, Witches Vanish, is a work by playwright Claudia Barnett, a Tennessee-based artist who Brewster reached out to, and with whom she is excited to collaborate. Brewster summarizes the play as using “the Weird Sisters in Macbeth to talk about women across geographies and time who are disappeared,” including women from Juarez, the First Nations of Canada, and the United States. Brewster says the mixture of circumstances and theatrical motifs uniquely highlight these women, “invoking their presence while foregrounding their absence in a conjuring, magical way.”

All of Brewster’s collaborative artistic work speaks to a belief and conscious investment in theatre’s ability to reflect, rethink, and reform the real world of our everyday lives and society. This perspective also permeates her research, which focuses on intersections between performance and the sciences ranging from plays about science, to kinds of art-making informed by the scientific method, to studying scientific practices like surgery as performance. Her scholarship often intersects with gender issues as well, which have a particular relevance in medicine and the sciences, fields traditionally dominated by men.

Brewster’s interest in science in the arts is multi-faceted, motivated in part by an enthusiastic love of science fiction like the novels of Margaret Atwood, as well a serious concern that the dystopian futures of such works are very real possibilities that demand consideration. Performance, she feels, “can help us talk and know about these issues and… can politically intervene.” Brewster is careful to distinguish that she is not interested in “trying to dictate how the audience should feel about a particular piece,” but in interrogating representations of science and technology and how they communicate with audiences. Remarking on her scholarly and artistic work, Brewster notes, “What we do and research and write about as theatre scholars is really to tell stories about what it means to be human. That’s obviously always changing, but scientifically and politically things are changing a lot now what it will mean in ten years to be a human being.”

Graduate Student News

Maria Enriquez was invited to serve on the Latino Theatre Commons National
Steering Committee. She also serves on the Host Committee for the Latino Theatre Commons national convening that will take place in Seattle this April.

Upcoming Events

Maria Enriquez will present her article "Wetbook Crossings: Object Performance in the
Librotraficante Movement" as part of the articles-in-progress workshop at the Mid-America Theatre Conference (MATC) in March. She also will direct a staged reading of Marisela Treviño Orta's Woman on Fire, which will be presented at the Humanities Center (602) on March 22 and 23. The reading is one part of the Borderlands of History: Gender, Violence, Memory series. Maria currently is finishing a book review on Gad Guterman's "Performance, Identity, and Immigration Law: A Theatre of Undocumentedness" for Theatre Journal as well as writing an article for Café Onda on María Irene Fornés and her work and history in Seattle.

Christiana Molldrem Harkulich will present her research at the University of Pittsburgh Grad Expo on March 24.