Spotlight on Graduate Student Scholars, Teachers, and Artists: December/January
Written by Clara Wilch
Vicki Hoskins is a fourth-year Theatre and Performance Studies PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh. This means she has had a very busy year teaching, completing her comprehensive exams and currently, working toward the defense of her dissertation prospectus.
Hoskins described her dissertation as “looking at marketing in Broadway musicals from 1930-1975, specifically how gender and sex are playing in those moments.” Her research involves examining scripts, film and playbill imagery for “how the idea of romantic love and sexuality has trafficked over these 45 years, especially how images reflect or contradict what’s actually happening on stage.” The Curtis Collection at the Hillman Library has proved an important resource for her research, which has revealed no shortage of dynamism and change to discuss. Briefly outlining some her work thus far, Hoskins describes, “In the 30s you have the shift from the Ziegfeld Follies to Musical Comedy, in the 40s and 50s you get post-war definitions of gender roles and a huge focus on the domestic sphere- women coming back home, men back to work- in the 60s and 70s, the sexual revolution, the Stonewall Riots, queer voices, less distinctly defined gender roles…” Far from exhausting Hoskins, she is inspired to continue this study beyond her dissertation, with aims of producing a book that will extend into a discussion of contemporary theatre.
The roots of Hoskins’s indefatigable enthusiasm for both gender studies and musical theatre reach back to the days of her childhood in Southern California. “Ever since I can remember I’ve been a feminist,” she said. “I was raised by feminists and was a baby feminist.” Her excitement for live, musical expression began shortly thereafter, when she was ten years old and saw her “very first big, professional show in Los Angeles, The Phantom of the Opera. At the time it was spellbinding, and everything of which I wanted to be a part.” She’s been on a journey to remain a part of theatre ever since, beginning as a performer, then a dramaturge, now a scholar. She acted in community and regional theatre, majored in drama as an undergraduate at the University of California at Irvine, earned an MA in history and criticism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and has continued to grow at the University of Pittsburgh.
“My scholarly voice showed up when I started at Pitt,” Hoskins explained, citing the influence Professors Granshaw and Jackson-Schebetta have had in shaping her feminist methodologies, and the program’s openness to her interests. “Prior to Pitt, I had really been told that I couldn’t do scholarship in musical theatre, that it was really a devalued field, and that was very disappointing… I thought I would be a professional dramaturge. Now I feel I can study the things I care about and dramaturge within the academy.” With the support of Pittsburgh’s faculty, Hoskins has come to articulate the importance of studying mainstream and commercial theatre as the theatre to which certain large audiences are exposed, as well as the unique power and role of musical expression down to its distinct cognitive effects on audiences. Hoskins found the University of Pittsburgh’s Theatre and Performance Studies Program via an interest in the cognitive-based work of Professor Emeritus Bruce McConachie. She was further enticed by the balance of scholarship, teaching and practice offered, such that “you can do all of them. I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself into one thing.”
Hoskins has taken full advantage of these many opportunities in her time at Pitt as a scholar, dramaturge of Avenue Q, director of Gruesome Playground Injuries, and teacher of a variety of classes, including this semester’s World Theatre History (1900-present.) Hoskins has found great value in her experiences as a teacher, including the opportunity to work with first-years and non-majors: “It’s always an interesting challenge that I enjoy. You might be their first introduction to the theatre; they might have never seen a show. Bringing that to them, and seeing the joy of discovery is really special.” In her current history course, Hoskins has centered artists who are historically marginalized, for example in focusing on the Black Arts Movement and (her hometown company) the East West Players. This reflects her own interests as a theatergoer and has resonated with her class. “I did have a student approach me and say it was really special that I was highlighting those moments and demonstrating history as a narrative… students don’t have to give you feedback but it’s one of the most fulfilling moments when a student does share that they’ve learned from you.”
In addition to her dissertation studies, Hoskins is developing research into the phenomenon of fandom, including questions of cosplay and community building. Beginning as a die-hard fan of certain sub-genres and franchises herself, Hoskins has highlighted an interest in exploring “how people perform their fan obsession or celebrity worship,” how fans are created by art and media, and how strong communities derive from mutual interests. She says these questions may be the focus of a second book, after the expansion of her dissertation work.
Hoskins’s path has been clear to her since the curtains rose on that early production of The Phantom of the Opera. While the specifics of her next step remain undecided, she’s approaching the job market with the aim of continuing her praxis and teaching within the academy. She’s also interested in the possibility of dramaturgy in professional theatre for an interim period. Besides all of her on-going work and dedication, Hoskins has nurtured a marriage with her husband Andrew, who works in information technology and majored in film studies (a field similar but not too similar to her own, she remarked.) Hoskins says her husband has been “extremely supportive throughout my academic career,” including moving with her to two academic institutions and locations. “He’s also a giant dork,” Hoskins explains, smiling and adding, “I am a dork.” Dork, enthusiast, passionate all-around theatre-person, Hoskins knows that she is lucky in the focus and drive she’s derived from what she’s loved all her life; she aims to continue helping students in finding their own passions and voices for years to come.