It’s Not the What, But the How: A Conversation with Patricia Ybarra

This interview was conducted in June 2023 at Yale University through the support and generosity of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, UCLA, and ATHE; it has been edited for clarity and length.

Carla Neuss (CN): Thank you so much for taking the time to come and talk about Theatre Journal and your experience with it, where it’s been, and where it’s going. I’d love to start off by hearing about your experience with the journal.

Patricia Ybarra (PY): So, I haven’t been an editor; I’ve been a contributing editor. And I’ve definitely reviewed manuscripts for Theatre Journal. But my experience really is as an author and a reader. I’ve published two full length articles with Theatre Journal. It was interesting, I have to admit, that as I was thinking about this interview I was going through in my head pairs of editors. And I thought to myself, can I remember all the editors in a row? And I couldn’t quite but I did have a sense of different editors and how they edited the journal. I guess for me, as someone who started grad school in the mid-[19]90s, Theatre Journal has changed a lot since I started graduate school to the present, but I also feel that that mid-[19]90s moment was when the beginning of questions of diversity, equity, and inclusion came into the journal. When I published my first article in Theatre Journal in 2003, when Harry [Elam] and David [Román] were editors, it seemed like a really amazing time to publish in Theatre Journal, in part because of their actual commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. So I had a great experience and I was really edited. So one thing I want to say, if there’s going to be a theme today, it’s really about editing and about the labor of editing and really wanting to give due congratulations and gratitude towards editors.

My first article at Theatre Journal was actually a chapter of my first book. I was one year into an assistant professorship and [the editors] really took their time and helped me make it a lot better. There were quite a few revisions. They were generous. There was a lot of back and forth with both David and Harry, who took a lot of time with what then would have been mid-career scholars taking care of a very junior scholar. They were great. And [the process] really taught me a lot about that article, but also a lot about how to edit my own work. I became a much better editor of my own work after having gone through the process with Harry and David, who not only dealt with content and big questions about what my claims were, but also real attention at the level of writing which was quite incredible. So that was my first experience with Theatre Journal. I hadn’t published a full-length article again in Theatre Journal until very recently, which was just almost a year ago now, which was my article with Patrick Anderson that we co-wrote, “Is This Ballroom A Bath House?” which was really about a queer genealogy of performance studies, but also as part of Laura Edmondson’s special issue on Pathologies.

And obviously, as two people who in very different ways, I think, write about the AIDS crisis and write about the pandemic and write about public safety, it seemed like the right thing at the time [for me and Patrick]. I think I was just as thoroughly and helpfully edited this time by Sean [Metzger], Laura, and the anonymous external reviewers [as I was twenty years ago]. But also this time it was being edited largely by my peers as opposed to people who were mentoring me. And it made me really think about how much we make each other’s work better because Patrick, Sean, Laura, and I are contemporaries and kind of career contemporaries in a very particular sense. Patrick and I were very well edited and I think incredibly taken care of by Sean and Laura. But also the power dynamics are very different. It’s a very different experience to be thoroughly edited by your peers. And so I spent some time reflecting on how different that felt.

CN: That’s fascinating. Having worked with Theatre Journal only recently, compared to the whole stretch of it, but seeing that ethos of careful, generous editing, I’m so glad to hear that’s been a longstanding characteristic of the journal.

The next question is on your thoughts on the state of the field and the role of research and publications within the discourse. What good work has been done, what other directions need to be probed into more?

PY: It is interesting to look at the history of Theatre Journal. Looking back, when did it become more inclusive? When did Theatre Journal start to do the work of really being globally focused, of really publishing work that was in theatre studies, but maybe about “minoritarian subjectivities” or artists? When did it incorporate performance studies? And a lot of that happened from the mid-[19]90s to present. Here’s what I think has really happened and is interesting and in good ways; I think that Theatre Journal and the field of what we might call theatre studies maybe has become much more inclusive of performance studies over the last twenty to twenty-five years. I think it has moved out of its largely, almost primarily European focus. In some ways I can look back now at that moment in Theatre Journal but it isn’t in my memory of using the journal and being a primary reader of the journal. It feels much more like an archival project…going back these moments maybe in the mid-to-late [19]80s when there was a great special issue on women in the theatre in which there’s only one female author published. And that’s funny because that could never happen now. 

I feel like I don’t remember that iteration of this journal. But I understand that there are scholars who are senior to me who do very well remember that moment in the journal. I certainly look at articles from that earlier period, but because I’m using a search engine, I don’t always see, for example, that that really great article by Deborah Geis on Fornés is the top article. She’s a female and a feminist. And that every other article [in that issue] about women’s theatre after that is written by men. But I don’t think about it because I cherry-picked the Geis article, which was really important to me. But that’s a little bit of a tangent. But certainly, yes, less European focus, more dance studies, more looking at race, gender, and sexuality [recently]. I think in the last decade, Theatre Journal is looking much more at diasporic and transnational practices. Sean Metzger did a great special issue on that. And there was a great special issue on transnational indigeneity [edited by Ric Knowles]. So that’s happened. I think it’s great. Certainly more interdisciplinary than it used to be, with sometimes less of a focus on theatre.

But I say that with a caveat that I think that there’s a lot of anxiety about that—maybe not of the journal, but I see it at national conferences—there’s a little bit of anxiety about what happens if our central object is no longer theatre, it’s performance. Has it become too broad? What are we actually doing? What happens to people who are theatre studies scholars? I’m thinking about Esther Kim Lee’s plenary from last year’s ASTR. And then there are some things that are institutional that I think maybe are talked about less. There are more places to publish now than there used to be, which actually really radically changes the publishing landscape. When I was in grad school, there were other journals, but by and large, there was Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, TDR, and Theatre Topics. Those were the four journals in which one could publish. And there are a lot more places to publish now, which I think makes editors’ jobs harder, and makes questions of where you send your work more complicated. What’s the really specific audience for my piece? And in some ways that’s really great. And in some ways maybe there’s something complicated about not sending an article that imagines a very specific audience to a place like Theatre Journal, which is thought of as sort of universally theatre theory and history. But there are many more places to send one’s work, which helps us really think about what we’re doing when we’re editing specific journals. I also think—and I don’t know that I have a real giant statement to make—but when I first started in graduate school, the strength of theatre studies programs, particularly those that were more theatre history and less performance studies oriented, they were all in public schools. So there was the UC system, there were the Midwest Big 10s that always had support for doing theatre studies. There’s the legacy of the University of Iowa, of Wisconsin Madison, of Minnesota, of Indiana University, Texas. A lot of the prominent places for creating theatre historians were in public institutions. And I think that that has changed so that there’s more attention to that in private institutions, including my own, Brown. But there’s Brown and Cornell and NYU and Stanford. So those were programs that were coming into being or coming into prominence when I was in grad school. And so I don’t know if I have a real declarative statement about that except to say that I think it’s worth noting that theatre and performed studies, and particularly theatre studies when it’s really wedded to performance studies, now lives more in private, highly resourced, and elite institutions. That has changed the field in some ways we have to reckon with, including recruiting editors who are not at those types of institutions when it’s lopsided in terms of where the resources are. But I feel like the public school theatre programs have gotten less support than some of the private, very elite institutions. And all of those publics are actually kind of elite publics. What happens to a field like ours, as opposed to other humanities that I think was much more distributed in terms of excellence or top programs across public and private divides? That’s changed for us. And I think it changes how people edit. I think it changes how Theatre Journal can support editors, and I think it has to be reckoned with.

CN: I am curious about your thoughts on the tensions between theatre studies, theatre history, and performance studies and how you see that evolving.

PY: I’m not someone who comes out on one side of that divide. I still mostly write about theatre, although my first book has a lot of writing on pageants and things. Personally, I see myself as very much in theatre and performance studies, but probably more on the theatre studies side of performance studies. The tension is interesting. If I go back to 1996 when I started grad school, TDR is performance studies and Theatre Journal is theatre studies. And it’s not like that anymore. There’s regularly performance studies articles in Theatre Journal. And while TDR always did have some articles on theatre, especially articles on theatre that was avant-garde… I think the divide used to be pretty extreme actually in some ways, and I don’t feel that anymore. But now I think there’s a little identity crisis going on: what are we doing and what is the place of really writing deeply and critically about theatre and performance practice that calls itself performance? I think in my generation and younger generations, I don’t think people are so invested in the divide. At the beginning of the journal’s history, it was focused on theatre and literature. And now it’s theatre and performance studies.

But I don’t see a lot of that tension in my work. I think it’s a convenient rhetorical pose at times to define oneself. I don’t see a great tension in the sort of everyday life of it. I think there are these moments of polemicism around particular plenary talks or maybe particular articles that call it into relief. But I think there’s a lot more interesting stuff going on with live art. I also think that has to do with how theatre is funded. So if theatre qua theatre is less able to be produced and less able to be produced in a challenging and maybe resource-rich way, then there might be fewer of those really challenging artworks that people think of as really pivotal or paradigmatic to write about critically. So if we got out of our own scholarly reflexive mirror a little bit and really looked at the economics of the industry, we might see why certain kinds of live art or performance, which maybe isn’t as resource heavy, end up being more exciting and able to do some things that theatre can’t do. And then if we recognize that as what it is, as opposed to the sort of creaky dyad, maybe it would be easier to think through.

CN: I think that makes a lot of sense. It also strikes me that sometimes the theatre studies versus performance studies dichotomy occurs between our pedagogy and our research, in that we’re often teaching theatre history and theatre studies in the theatre department at the undergraduate level, even if we’re doing work that’s more performance studies oriented. So I’m curious if you had any thoughts on pedagogy in that regard.

PY: At Brown, we have a theatre and performance three semester sequence with theatre, dance, and performance in pretty equal measure, although probably a little more weighted to theatre. I think it just takes undergrads a little bit longer to understand the paradigm of performance studies. Students come into college from high school, probably not having taken a theatre history class, but having made theatre and maybe having literature surveys that included drama. So the jump from that to theatre history is probably smaller than the jump from that to performance studies. But the other thing, which I think this implicit in your question, is that we’re often teaching people who either imagine themselves to be artists or for whom the primary frame of theatre and performance is making and practice. Thinking through how the kind of work that we might do as scholars can intersect with young makers, and I think I’m much better at doing that than I was twenty years ago. Although I will say, in the past I have felt anti-intellectual push from young artists who are coming into theatre and performance studies departments. I feel that less now, interestingly, and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s sort of living through a decade of political crisis, but I don’t find so much of a pushback.

I don’t know that I’ve told this story publicly, but to just put a piece of pedagogy out there that might be instructive. So I taught what we call the first semester of theatre and performance history, which I think in a Eurocentric frame would probably be taught from Greece to medieval Europe. But we don’t do it that way. I sort of think of it as Egypt to the Rabinal Achí. And it’s interesting because even when you try to be global, there’s always a sort of triangulation with the West, and it’s hard to learn how to not teach that way. But this year, for the first time, I had a Narragansett Indian undergraduate student who became very interested in [classical] Noh theatre and did a presentation where they were talking about native ceremonial regalia in relationship to Noh theatre regalia, costumes, and gender. And the student was like “I totally understand what’s going on with costume and Noh theatre and it being an artistic practice. But it’s also Noh being a religious practice.” They did this whole comparison, but with no Europe. And I felt I waited twenty years for this moment. And I held it together. And then I went up to my office and I cried. That’s the kind of work I want to see. Comparativism, I think, has a really bad rap because it’s always seen as sort of facile and not local enough. And you look back at the old comparative work and it was often like, “Here’s this amazing object in the West and here’s this other exceptional, amazing object that’s non-European, and let’s think these two exceptional objects together in a way that might be illuminating.” And while it’s sometimes lovely to read those essays on a formal level, I think what hasn’t happened as much, although there have been some strides with this with work on transnational and diasporic theatre, is what happens when you do compare Native American performance and Japanese performance? What happens when you do the comparative work between India and Mexico? That’s the kind of comparative analysis that I think is really illuminating.

CN: Yes, absolutely. And that connects really well with the next question, which is what you’d like to see more of going forward in the field as a whole.

PY: I would love to see more comparative work. I want to see more deep historical work on non-European peoples. The fear is sometimes, when we’ve been global, is that we’ve been presentist without necessarily wanting to be. There’s often incredible work on global performance. But I would say a lot of that work—not all of it but a lot of it—is 1950 to the present. So what I would like to see, and this is my bias, is sort of more historical range depth for non-European performance practices. 

CN: It strikes me, coming from some of my own work, that when we stop being as presentist and Eurocentric, we’re contending with topics—like your student’s project—that involve ritual or undo some of the assumed secularity of Western modernity that can characterize a lot of our discourse.

PY: What that presentation undid was the idea of costume as decorative. What it undid was this idea of a European commercial setting. I think what that moment did in some ways, even though it was looking at a contemporary indigenous practice and in some ways an earlier “medieval” Japanese practice—what it did was denaturalize commercial European theatre production, which would think of costume as either decoratively aesthetic without a relationship to religion, or perhaps indicating historical period in a more traditional way. Because I think the student’s point was “I do understand what costume is doing and it is not decorative.” It’s actually regalia. So I think we’ve decentered that. There are ways that I would want to see that longer historical breadth. And, in some ways, I wondered what topics haven’t been covered? And without just being congratulatory to Theatre Journal, a lot of topics have actually been covered over the seventy-five year history. I think the last ten or fifteen years have been quite successful in terms of global representation. I worry more about the how, meaning what I worry about is support for editors, support for scholars to do deep work and frankly, support for people to take two years from submitting to getting an article published. People complain, “Oh, it’s so slow now to get an article published.” But maybe editorial processes actually need to take this long. So how do we build a world in which people can deal with the longer timeline of a true editorial dialogue? I can do that now because I don’t have another promotion. But how do we make a world in which that’s possible for people who are either junior or do need another promotion? How do we make it possible for people have a long process and for that to be okay? And how do we support editors to do that work? Financially, in terms of additional editorial support—that’s what I worry about actually. The time to edit.

CN: I think that’s very valid. It’s already been an issue in finding peer reviewers, and the questions about uncompensated labor. But what you said reminded me of that we live in a wider society of hot takes, right? When something happens, spit out your opinion. And there’s a radical slowness to our praxis as scholars that is important. And maybe we have a little more patience for that with book projects than we do with articles.

PY: I’m not a big believer in the hot take. I will be honest. I’m not good at the hot take. I think the hot take is for the bar. But let’s call it a lukewarm or a warm take. I think that there are ways in which journals can do forums with shorter pieces that can have the time sensitive take. Time helps. The article that Patrick and I wrote would have been a disaster if we would have written with the emotion that we had at the moment that we started to conceive writing the article.

CN: I was talking to Karen [Shimakawa] earlier today and we both were thinking that the real artistic responses, the creations and the plays and the performances that are going to be coming out of pandemic, they haven’t neccessarily happened yet. I think we’re still in a gestational moment. 

PY: Yeah, absolutely. I remember the Theatre Journal issue that came out post-9/11 with a roundtable piece. I remember how important the short take was or it seemed important to process Islamophobia, the sort of radical othering with all these senior scholars who write about this. So I get the importance there. But it’s not a blog post. And ultimately, you might have something smarter to say in a decade. And I think that we need to hold on to that instead of being ashamed of it. I think sometimes people are like, “Oh, it’s so slow. We’re such dinosaurs.” And I think sometimes it’s good to be a dinosaur. Sometimes you need a little processing time. So I think that’s a benefit. I think that’s something good.

CN: I think that’s really insightful.

PY: So yeah, I’m not of the generation of the hot take. That’s one of those moments where I decidedly feel old. I don’t have a blog. And if someone pisses me off at a conference, I don’t put it on Twitter. Some people I really love can. And I understand that. In a world that seems so radically screwed up without accountability for the worst actors, I understand the urge to crowdsource accountability on some level, but I’m just constitutionally unable to do it. I also don’t believe in sort of mollifying those moments that are really problematic and pretending it’s just disagreements between friends, because sometimes it’s not that.

CN: And maybe a question coming from this is how do you see theatre and performance studies speaking to questions in the public sphere, now or moving forward? Even regarding the growing discourse about public facing scholarship and the crisis of the humanities: are we relevant? And I do think our colleagues, through the broadness of performance studies, can speak to that in ways that I think other disciplines are more limited.

PY: Yeah, I think we do that. Do I want to see a world in which many of us would have a more solidified public forum? I think it happens in a lot of different places. But for example, it’s pretty rare that one of us writes for the New York Times, although Robin Bernstein is really brilliant. Her New York Times op-ed is a wonderful exception to that.1 But I really wish mainstream journalism had the resources to have us be public in that way. It happens very exceptionally, and it’s usually done incredibly well when it’s done, but it doesn’t happen very often. I think we have things to say about the climate crisis. I think we have things to say about sustainability. We clearly have things to say about performance and public speech and performativity that are not using the word performance as just a synonym for fake. So I just wish mainstream journalists would support that kind of word in a way that I think some other kinds of digital publications and forums do. But it’s rare. There was that really beautiful piece on the African Theatre company that finally recognized Marvin McAllister’s amazing book from twenty-five years ago. And people were like, “Oh my God, who knew?” And I thought, “Well, all of us who read Marvin McAllister in graduate school knew, actually.” That being said, it was great that the New York Times published on it.2 But that article should have been written when Marvin wrote the book. 

CN: Right. I think we do often find ourselves in these twenty to twenty-five year trickle down time frames. Even the current public conversations on gender, ideology, and trans discourse—we, as scholars, been having these conversations for decades. The world is just now trying to catch up.

PY: I was thinking about what are the paradigmatic articles that have changed my life. Or what did they do? So there were a couple of moments that were very specific to my field. I completely remember David’s special issue on Latino performance in 2000. I was in grad school and I distinctly remember thinking, “Oh my God, there’s a whole issue on Latino performance in Theatre Journal.” I remember that as this incredibly important moment. And what we didn’t know then but what we know now is the very early José Muñoz essay on affect and brownness that became, sadly posthumously, his book on brownness. And there was Jean Graham-Jones’s Latin American theatre issue. So those were incredibly important moments in grad school in my early career that these particular issues laid out what my field was doing. And there was a great forum in Jean’s issue with a bunch of scholars of Latin America. And there were these really polemical essays I still teach or teach, with some caveats. I still teach that theatre historiography article by Tom Postlewait from 1991 as a way to actually understand how to do theatre history and archive in a fairly traditional sense. But my students always appreciate it. And that really amazing—and probably the most polemical thing I could think of—is Sue-Ellen Case’s essay on Medea and drag from the mid-eighties. It’s a really important moment. And even now when I teach it to my students, I tell them that this is going to be a gender binary and you’re going to freak out about that. But this is an article from 1985, and we’re going to sit with what this article did at that moment, which is to actually look back at Greek drama and say there aren’t women. And what does it mean to take that stance at that moment and to think through everything else that we think through now? So those were these really important moments. But there is just more writing out there and more ways to get one’s writing out there now, so I wonder if the drop of one particular article probably will splash less large. But there were these important essays that I still think have to be grappled with. I still ask my students to grapple with that essay in relationship to reading great drama in relationship to gender.

CN: I’m so glad you brought up these questions of pedagogy because it was something Karen [Shimakawa] and I were thinking through earlier about how we use journals and these articles, from the “canon” or more recent ones, in our pedagogy, especially for graduate students. I feel like less so for undergraduates. But maybe my undergraduates could learn how to write papers better if we actually expose them arguments written over fifteen to twenty-five pages. That’s something I’m thinking through.

PY: I just think it’s taking longer and really pulling apart an argument and then historicizing what the arguments are. My colleague Leon Hilton says this and I think he’s drawing it from elsewhere, but I really believe it. He said before you say no to an article, you need to say yes three times. And I think there’s a way in which before we tear it apart, we’re going to really take it and give it the benefit of the doubt, or say yes three times, to really try to understand what it’s doing. I teach at a very elite institution, in which students do read academic articles from their first year. Not every school can do that. Not every school has students who are prepared to do that when they start. Although I think that you train students no matter where you are. There are great students everywhere. People want to learn everywhere. So that’s not it. But I’m in an elite institution where that kind of throwing people into the deep end is normalized. That’s not always good, actually, because everyone needs help in the deep end. You just take more time pulling apart the argument. You just spend more time understanding the argument.

CN: Absolutely. In my seminars in grad school, we weren’t allowed to critique the article until the last twenty minutes. First you need to ask yourself, do you understand it? Are you fully apprehending what any piece of theoretical writing is saying? It’s much easier to critique than to actually understand complex arguments.

PY: I think that’s right. I think definitely when I was an advanced grad student and pretty early in my career, I remember getting the journals and reading them right away. And I still read new articles fairly regularly near the time in which they’re published. But I do things differently now. I’m working on a textbook. And often I am thinking, for example, what have people had written about the Restoration in the last ten years? And then I will go to the major journals, including Theatre Journal, and think about what people are saying. So I feel like I’m working much more longitudinally. With looking at individual articles, things feel less like journal editions and more like the journal writ large. So I think I use journals differently now. And part of that is we’ve moved out of paper journals being the primary mode. And the other thing is just being later in career and doing different kinds of work.

CN: Yeah, absolutely. I’m from the keyword generation where we access journals through search engines and databases.

PY: Yeah. I had this little moment I was thinking if I had enough time, it would be so interesting to write the article length essay on the historical change of the issues over the course of Theatre Journal. This would actually be something I would want to do. I don’t have time to do that. But some part of me thinks it is really interesting. Even just looking at all these different versions of Theatre Journal over the years, let’s try to deal with feminist or gender performance. What would it mean to look at how those issues were differently framed over time and try to understand historically what was going on with the field, to do that kind of deep reading. Or just deep reading of the editor’s prefaces to the article as much as the article.

CN: It’s an amazing idea if you ever get around to it. Did you want to speak more to this question about the need to push more into intersectional and anti-racist approaches in publishing?

PY: I thought about that. And I think the first thing that people think of when they think about how the journal can be more intersectional, more anti-racist, is always content. And sure, absolutely, but actually I’m less interested in content than the how. Yes, we should be publishing more content that’s not European, or that refuses to default to European paradigms, and less that is explicitly or implicitly racist. But even more than that, we need to be taking the time to develop scholars of color, people who work on the Global South, people who work in these fields and take the time to support those articles as they develop over time and maybe do things that are more complicated. It takes much more time to undo an existing paradigm and to adequately explain that for people who grew up with the existing paradigm. But I think that’s something that articles and Theatre Journal can do. And so for me, it’s about compensating people, compensating editors of color. All of these sort of mid-career on maybe even later career scholars of color are so overburdened with all the work they’re doing in their own universities that there’s no way they can take on editorial work. And that’s exactly what we need them to do. So to my mind, it’s not a content question. Yes, there’s content. But to be more intersectional and more explicitly anti-racist would be to change the paradigms of support such that editors and scholars of color and or people who are doing work on non-Eurocentric modes of thinking are given the support to do their work with the time and the fullness of time that their research and their writing necessitates. And when you look back to the bad old good old days, for lack of a better term, whether they were from public or private institutions, I think that those editorships moved amongst well-resourced institutions. It used to be that a lot of what we would call flagship or elite public schools had more resources. So editorial positions weren’t so heavily weighted towards private institutions or only the very, very most elite public institutions. But now they pass around mostly elite institutions. The problem is when they move out of a very small set of elite institutions in terms of infrastructural support, they move to scholars who are not supported when they try to do the work of editing the journal, who have institutions that won’t provide them with course releases or additional salary, or graduate proctorships or TAships to do the editorial work. So that is what would be necessary. I’m also a director of graduate studies, and I have to tell you, it’s great training for a graduate student to get their funding from doing this kind of editorial work. There’s no better training for writing articles, for peer reviewed journals, than editing and watching faculty edit peer-reviewed journal articles. It should be a part of every single grad student’s training. In my opinion, every single grad student should have a semester at least of a proctorship of doing some kind of editorial work. If we could make that happen, then we could support our journals.

CN: It’s a great idea. I was lucky that was part of my graduate experience because Sean [Metzger] was the editor and he was able to set that up for UCLA grad students. But it is incredibly rare.

PY: There has to be a different way to either train a different professional to do that work or, God forbid, letting people work with graduate students not at their own institution and find a way to make that appropriate to the labor conditions that students need in their own institutions. That’s complicated. I’m not saying it’s not complicated, but it’s not impossible if we think it through. I really think it’s graduate training at its finest. My institution does support this work. It takes work to get them to support it, but they do. But there are a lot of places that just won’t.

CN: Right. It’s an incredibly valuable skill set.

PY: And I’ve certainly met and started to have scholarly relationships with graduate students in that capacity. Not at my own institution. Not every scholar is gracious with criticism. And so you have to be careful, but a lot of us are. And we’ll very happily take that opportunity to have a conversation with someone who is our emerging colleague. 

CN: I think it requires real thoughtfulness and generosity; that is what our field has to preserve.

PY: Don’t be a jerk. That person’s going to be our colleague in three years.

CN: For the final question, and I’ve spoken a bit to this, but is there’s anything else you want to add about your hopes for Theatre Journal or journals more broadly in our field moving forward?

PY: Some of it is to continue the work that we’re doing, meaning continuing the work of being global, thinking transnationally, thinking diasporically. I think this has changed a lot in a positive way. But what you can see, if you look at the history, there are still places not like that. I think the continued move to not have special issues be the place that non-European or non-traditional performance happens is a continual work to be done. That being said, I think that in the last ten years that tendency is much less present than it used to be. Again, when I look back to the eighties and early nineties, you see the nonspecial issues all focused on European theatre, primarily written by scholars who are cis-gendered, often cis-gendered male, who are well established in the field. And then the special issues are these moments in which scholars of color or scholars who work on global theatre are allowed to come into the journal. I think that has gotten a lot better. I think that there have been many strides that for Theatre Journal has made in that regard. But there should be a continued commitment to thinking about what’s really a special issue and what really should be an issue that’s not a special issue. And again, I think what we need is support for the editorial process, support for peer review. I think we’ve all seen what happens when there’s not peer review. It’s not good. And actually journals do much more in terms of careful proofreading and editing than any book publisher at this point. What I would hope is for our journals to continue to have those standards and actually fund them and make them possible. But also, I worry about the journals and I worry about academic presses and their bottom line and how they’re much less able to do the editorial work that I know people at those presses want to do. So I think we need a reinvestment in editing, fact-checking, in time to develop ideas and actually hear a critique and think about it and not have to react to it very quickly to solve it, but really sit with it. That’s what I would wish. But that would mean thinking about tenure clocks. That would affect tenure expectations in terms of publication. That would require thinking about realistic timelines for people, for tenure and promotion too. But that’s what I would want. It would just be much healthier. When you think about the olden days, it wasn’t weird in the eighties and nineties for a really prominent scholar to maybe come up for tenure without a book or just getting a book done, but also with two or three really high impact articles and having taken the time to write those articles very carefully. We’ve just kind of accelerated pace in a way that I think is incredibly unhealthy. And if there’s anything we could do for the next seventy-five years, it would be to decelerate pace.

CN: Yes. To rebalance towards quality over quantity.

PY: Exactly. Absolutely. And to really sit in a dialogue. And as you said, there’s a crisis of peer reviewers. So what do we do to support peer reviewers of essays? And I’m guilty of it, too, because I’m now at a point in my career where there’s peer review for journals and there’s tenure cases, and there’s been an escalation in how many letters people need for tenure. Obviously with my time, I’m always balancing should I review that article? It might be more important for me to read this tenure file. That’s where I think I feel my pull.

CN: I so appreciated this conversation. You just have such clarity and cogency and practical senses of what we need. I love the idea that it’s not just about the content, it’s about the how.

PY: It’s about the how. I look forward to the next—I won’t say seventy-five years because I will not be here—but I look forward to the next, let’s see, thirty years of Theatre Journal and I just look forward to reading and seeing how the field changes.



1. Robin Bernstein, “Let Black Kids Just be Kids,” New York Times, July 26, 2017, available at

2. Maya Phillips, “Black Theater Flourished in New York. 200 Years Ago,” New York Times, September 22, 2021, available at