Payne Banister

Payne Banister is a current PhD student.

What are you studying at Pitt?
My research broadly focuses on queer nightlife performance. I am still finding my way around what my work at Pitt will ultimately center, but as of late, I have been increasingly interested in nightlife’s complicated economies, the contexts in which queer spaces are made, contested, and lost, as well as the politics of sexual desire in queer spaces like clubs and bathhouses
How has the PhD program helped you move towards your personal and professional goals?
The PhD program and our graduate faculty has helped (and continue to help) me develop as a scholar, artist, and educator. 
This semester I am teaching my Global Stages course around the concept of queer nightlife. The PhD program’s Theatre Pedagogy and Professionalization seminar provided me with the structured time to design this class and, in the process, expand my own understanding of my research interests. Pulling together readings for the course helped me learn about the ways in which queer nightlife is situated in various geo-political contexts. While we will be examining specific case studies across the globe, students will apply their broader understandings of queer nightlife and create their own DIY nightlife space. I am especially excited by the opportunity to make space with the students and am grateful for the support I’ve received from the PhD program and the Theatre Arts Department. 
In addition to teaching, this program has challenged me to deepen my thinking and engagements with queer nightlife and the many forms it can take. Our seminars have given me the space to explore and experiment with different angles of my research, such as: sexual pleasure as activism, the (in)accessibility of bathhouse stairs, and the politics of sex workers’ representations in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. 
My research and artistic practice as a drag performer and theatrical director are mutually informed by one another. For example,I have been able to tie my experiences in drag to my research topics and have been able to use drag as a way of embodying my research interests (especially when I performed in drag at a MS ‘89 event with Pittsburgh Queer History Project). Likewise, this semester, I am Assistant Directing our mainstage production of Cheating Fate and will be directly involved with the direction of Diva, the play’s drag performer
Is there a research opportunity, production, internship, class, etc. that has been instrumental to your time at Pitt or in helping you form your post-graduation goals? If so, please tell us about the experience.
In the summer of 2023, I participated in the Humanities Engage Immersive Summer Fellowship and as a result, had the opportunity to work with Pittsburgh Queer History Project (PQHP). This opportunity was invaluable for my work. 
As part of my fellowship, I gathered metadata from archived photoalbums, researched potential funding opportunities, and assisted with PQHP’s MS ‘89 series. MS ‘89 is an series that invites the public to directly engage with the archive in fun, interactive events. Each MS ‘89 features materials from the archive through movie screenings, performances, listening parties and is hosted by a member of the community who helped create the showcased materials. 
My fellowship with PQHP was very influential for my research because I not only learned about archival practices, but also got the opportunity to experience firsthand how impactful sharing a community’s history can be. At each MS ‘89 event, I watched as people laughed, cried, and learned about intergenerational queer histories. Additionally, I got to learn and work with PQHP’s co-founder and co-director, Dr. Harrison Apple and continue to be deeply inspired by their commitment to archive and celebrate people’s lives while they are still living, rather than waiting until someone passes away to honor the legacies they left behind. Dr. Apple’s commitment to preserving and sharing Pittsburgh’s queer history is something I aspire to as a scholar, practitioner, and community member. 
What do you hope to do when you graduate?
After earning my Ph.D., I plan to pursue a career in academia and continue experiencing, researching, writing, teaching, and sharing my love for queer nightlife and queer performance! 
What do you enjoy doing outside of academics?
I enjoy going to potlucks and dance parties with friends. I also love performing, watching, and attending drag shows. When I’m not out with friends or working, I can typically be found wandering around my neighborhood or resting at home with my two beautiful cats, Butters and Sandy.
Is there something you would like to share that you wish we asked you about?
For anyone who was remotely curious, glitter and rhinestones can do a lot to elevate a look and you can never have too many of either.