Kristin O'Malley

Kristin O'Malley (PhD, 2018)

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? 
I love theatre history and I knew I wanted to do everything I could to learn as much as I could about it. During my undergraduate program, I became preoccupied with understanding the ways in which theatre and Catholicism intersected in contemporary theatre, and I wanted the opportunity to better understand the interplay between faith and theatre in an increasingly secular society. I saw graduate studies in theatre history as a means by which I could more fully study and understand this relationship between the Catholic church and theatre throughout history. 
I entered graduate school knowing that I would ideally love to teach theatre history at the collegiate level. However, from my previous experience as a middle school teacher, I also knew that the stronger my background was in theatre, the stronger I would be as a teacher at any level, and this attitude has served me well. While people often claim that their studies aren't relevant to their current job, I can proudly say that I incorporate what I learned in my undergraduate and graduate studies of theatre into my career on a daily basis. 
Why did you choose to pursue your degree at Pitt? 
When I started looking at graduate programs, one of the first things that attracted me to Pitt was the Special Options program which allows students to pursue and hone their skills in both research and a practical area of theatre. At the time that I applied to Pitt, I was teaching Middle School English full-time during the day and directing K-12 theatre in the afternoon. Although my goal was ultimately to teach older students, the one thing I learned in my four years of teaching middle school is that the more versatile your skills, the better a teacher you are. Thus, I was excited by the opportunity that Pitt offered graduate students to continue honing their craftsmanship and artistry as well as their research skills.  
I also knew that I wanted to pursue theatre history in further depth, and I was particularly interested in the relationship between theatre and Catholicism in contemporary society. As I was exploring my options, I came across Dr. Michelle Granshaw's profile. While her research is in many ways different from my own, I felt that she could guide me and help me grow in my research interests. In retrospect, I can safely say that this was the right decision for me, and Dr. Granshaw's guidance as a teacher, mentor, and a scholar was invaluable in teaching me who I want to be as a teacher, mentor, and scholar. 


How did the degree program help prepare you for your career?
The program at Pitt helped prepare me for my current career in a variety of different ways both inside the classroom and out. One of my most helpful experiences at Pitt was serving multiple years on the Curriculum Committee. Having entered graduate school with four years teaching experience, I already knew I loved thinking about curriculum development, but that experience has been incredibly useful in my current position where I have spent a significant amount of time examining and rethinking the curriculum. 
Having time at Pitt to continue to study a wide variety of theatre histories has informed the histories that I present in my own classroom. Because I have spent and continue to spend a significant amount of time rethinking my curriculum, I continue to think about what moments and players in theatre history are not currently included in the curriculum and how I can incorporate them in various ways throughout the curriculum. 
I was also pleasantly surprised that I have been able to take a lot of the research that I did for my comprehensive exams on Medieval theatre and bring it into my 7th grade curriculum. Last year, my school sought to work on strengthening cross-curricular connections. Seventh grade studies medieval history in their history classes, and a group of teachers got together to discuss how they could strengthen the ties between curriculum across disciplines. As a result of these conversations, students are drafting to-scale cathedral renderings in math class, drawing stained glass windows in art, singing Gregorian chant in music, and reading stories based in medieval culture in literature. In theatre, the students will be learning about and performing cycle plays close to the feast of Corpus Christi in keeping with medieval tradition.  
With regards to practice and performance, I greatly respected Pitt's commitment to thinking about what was performed and who was represented onstage. As an educator at an all-girls school, one of the things that I have become frustrated with is the lack of shows that are all-female or even predominantly female. My time at Pitt definitely challenged me to think about what was and was not being performed and to think about how I can work to expand performance opportunities for my students. As a result, as a director, I constantly re-evaluate our production selection to further enhance the opportunities offered through our performances. For example, our performance of The Female Quixote, was the debut performance of a script which I discovered via the New Play Exchange and which I chose because it provided a variety of strong roles for female actresses. During the production process, I worked closely with the playwright, and last year, my school commissioned the playwright to write a second piece that featured a cast that better represented the makeup of our student body. 
Lastly, prior to Pitt, I did not have any experience with dramaturgy. At Pitt, I was introduced to the practices and was able to serve as dramaturg for two productions. While thinking about the ways in which I could expand my current program, I took these experiences, and I developed the school's first dramaturgical team which began with our production of Antigone. The experience was a huge success for both the students and the wider school community as the students reached out to classroom teachers in History, English, Greek, and Art to develop program and promotional materials that highlighted the connections between classroom curriculum in other disciplines and the production.
What is your current position and what does it involve?
I am currently the theatre teacher and director at a private all-girls school in Virginia. In my current position, I teach theatre classes for Middle School and Upper School, including classes in Acting, Beginning Theatre Arts, Playwriting, and Design. During my time at the school, the middle school program has expanded from a half semester to a full semester, and I have rewritten all of the curriculum for the middle school and upper school programs.  
I direct three shows a year - a mainstage production for Upper School, a mainstage production for Middle School, and a smaller spring production for all students. For each of the productions, I coordinate the adult production team - a team of teachers from multiple disciplines who assist with various production elements - and I recruit, instruct, and supervise all of our student dramaturgs and designers. I also coordinate a Shakespeare Monologue competition every year that is open to the entire school body. 
In addition to my duties as a teacher and director, I also serve as the Master Teacher of the Visual and Performing Arts Program. In this position, I am responsible for mentoring new and returning teachers, performing teacher observations, guiding curriculum development, aiding in departmental hiring, and overseeing the budgets for each area of the Visual and Performing Arts program.
One of my favorite non-theatrical duties in my current position, however, is helping mentor the senior theses. Seniors at my school spend their last year of coursework working with a faculty advisor to develop a senior thesis as their capstone project. Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to advise a number of theses, which has been a wonderful opportunity to work with high school students on developing their research skills and discussing meaningful questions. In recent years, students that I have worked with have explored topics such as the role of the woods in theatre, the role of the artist in modern literature, and the performance of women's mental health in contemporary stage plays. 
Thoughts and/or advice for current graduate students?
First, in graduate school, you are being formed not only as a scholar and a practitioner, but also a person. Don't forget to take this time not only to develop your intellect and your art but also yourself as a person. Second, it is hard to predict how the lessons and skills you acquire in graduate school will inform your post-graduate life. Look at every opportunity—both inside and outside of the classroom—as an opportunity to learn, because many of the most important lessons take place outside of the classroom.