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

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

November Graduate Student Spotlight Profile:

Claire Syler, PhD Candidate, Theatre and Performance Studies


As an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, Claire Syler majored in Theatre Performance with a concentration on acting. Unbeknownst to Syler, her scholarly interests were sparked when she enrolled in a directing course. Syler’s passion flourished and her curiosities shifted leading her to obtain a M.F.A. degree from the University of Memphis in directing. Through assistantships assignments, as a graduate student, Syler loved the art of teaching and honed her interest in pedagogy. Pedagogy, for Claire, is about being vested in students’ learning processes and understanding how the culture impacts learning. Connecting her passion for theatre and learning, Syler rigorously investigates how theatre students learn in performance courses.

As a graduate student in the University of Pittsburgh’s Theatre and Performance Studies program, Syler merges performance practices and learning sciences. Learning sciences, as an academic field, examines through scientific study how learners learn in unconventional learning environments. Performance courses are unconventional learning spaces because they primarily rely on an instructor’s verbal coaching and the student’s application through corresponding physical movements. Syler states, “the classroom as a laboratory to examine the processes involved in learning in order to design an effective curriculum” (173). It is in these classrooms where the relationships between language and body movements are critical to the learning process. Ultimately, Syler argues the empirical merit of enacted curriculum. Learning through performance expands discourse beyond feelings and affect to consider cognitive processes and development.

Syler considers how students alter and or correct their behaviors based upon their instructor’s coaching. In learning by doing, students solve problems through performing, which directly connects with Syler’s teaching philosophy: “my perspective on theatre teaching is aligned with Paulo Freire’s ‘problem-posing education,’ in which the problems of humans (in relationship to their world) are posed to students for the purpose of learning” (173). To conduct research for her dissertation, “A Register of Actor Coaching: Performance Knowledge, Thinking and Learning,” she attends performance classes and observes the students’ responses to the instructor’s coaching. Her ethnographic observations are filtered through her guiding question: Sociologically, how can learning experiences be qualified in acting/performance spaces? In addition to observing the class, Syler interviews the students about their experiences in the course and places her observations of the students in dialogue with theories linguistics and embodiment.

Looking at the learning process through the transaction of linguistics, cognition, and embodiment, Syler interrogates how language and embodied practices produces knowledge and learning. Although language operates on a social level, embodied gestures and movements reveal learning on an internal level. After observing the site, she transcribes, codes, and groups her findings. Although her research examines performance courses specifically, her scholarship explicates for the epistemic benefits of enacted learning. Syler’s work is a critical intervention into how performance spaces are empirically studied and effective curricula are developed.

As she thinks beyond her dissertation research, Syler plans to continue in the field of Applied Theatre Research and expand to include intercultural performance spaces. She is interested in how learning happens in cultural spaces with different languages, such as Peking Opera. To learn more about Syler and her research, check out her article, Syler, Claire. “Personal Narratives: A Course Design for Introduction to Theatre.” Theatre Topics (Fall 2012): 173-81.  


Congratulations to

Nicholas Barilar for receiving the Outstanding Thesis by a Master's Student award from the University of Alabama for his thesis entitled "Howards End as a Heartbreak House:  E. M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, the Great War, and the Condition of the Empire."


Graduate Student News

During the first week of November, three PhD students participated in the American Society for Theatre Research’s annual conference in Portland, OR. They presented and discussed their research on the following topics:

  • Christiana Molldrem Harkulich, “Representational Politics / Politics of Representation: Indigenous Performance as Activism in Princess White Deer’s Vaudeville Act”
  • Vicki Hoskins, “Māo: China’s Transnational Adaptation of Cats
  • Peter Wood, “Deep Time and Digital Archives: The Limits of 1s and 0s”

On October 22, the Department of Theatre Arts hosted its fall semester Teaching Colloquium, which focused on trigger and content warnings. Fifteen Theatre Arts graduate students and faculty discussed and debated classroom strategies as well as shared resources for supporting our undergraduate students. The Teaching Colloquium was organized and led by the department’s 2015-2016 graduate student teaching mentor, Vicki Hoskins.

Vicki Hoskins was elected Graduate Student Representative to the American Society for Theatre Research’s Committee on New Paradigms in Graduate Education.

Amanda Olmstead directed a staged reading of Pins and Needles featuring Pitt undergraduate and graduate students at the “Spectacles of Labor: Performance and the Working Class” symposium on October 2.  In late October, she presented her paper "Disney's Cinematic Adaptations into an Environmental Theatrical Stage" at the New England Theatre Conference.