The Once and Future TAPS: A Conversation with Harvey Young

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): To start us off I wanted to see if you’d like to reflect on your own experience with Theatre Journal. I know you just had an article come out?

Harvey Young (HY): Yes, I’ve published a few times in Theatre Journal, but my first publication was a book review. I was the grad student representative back in the late [19]90s for ATHE’s Research and Publications division. That group appoints, I believe, the editor for Theatre Journal and you get involved in a very loose way with negotiating the contracts with John Hopkins University Press. So, I was in the room. That was my first introduction to Theatre Journal back in the late [19]90s. My first publication was in 2004; it was around my last year as a grad student, or my first years as an assistant professor. Theatre Journal has always been a pillar of the field, in my mind. I’ve published a handful of book reviews, a couple of performance reviews, and a couple of articles in Theatre Journal

CN: How have you found the editorial process? Having talked with a few of our other colleagues, it seems like there’s been an established process where even if you received a rejection, there’s usually quite a lot of feedback. And when you are going through the editorial process, there’s often quite a nurturing dynamic with the editor.

HY: Like I said, my first experience with it was reviews. I feel bad not remembering who the book review and performance review editors were [then]. But they spent a lot of time with me. I had never written a performance review before. I’d never written a book review. They sat down and did line edits and all that type of stuff. Even to this day, I tell my graduate students that writing book reviews and performance reviews is a way of truly being introduced to the field of publication. And I remember back then I used to celebrate all those publications. A book review would come out and I [would] get a bottle of wine, and be like, “Hey, publishing is awesome!”

I worked with Harry Elam for my first article in Theatre Journal, and that was great because it was just really deep feedback. That was on lynching. I’ve published two articles in Theatre Journal: one is on lynching, the other one is on whipping posts. Two things that aren’t really theatre-based but are performance at their core. I had conversations in both cases [with the editors] where, for the whipping post piece, I spoke with Sean [Metzger]; for the lynching piece, I spoke with Harry [Elam]. And we had phone calls about [them]. There was also substantial feedback from the reader reports. So, it’s been a really good experience. When I edited Theatre Survey, I remember I wanted to copy the model from Theatre Journal because it was focused on how you work with authors. How do you develop the piece and hopefully how do you get some of those pieces to win some awards? That’s been impressive.

CN: I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the discipline overall has grown and developed over the course of your career.

HY: I’ve been around theatre for what, twenty-something years now? It’s a little scary. As a graduate student in the [19]90s, it was really about the emergence of performance studies. And it was folks like Sean Metzger, Ramón Rivera-Servera, and Jen Parker-Starbuck; all of us were grad students. And we were like, “There’s this new thing called ‘performance studies’”—which wasn’t all that new, but it was only a decade old in terms of scholarship. We were all convinced that there was this fundamental battle that was going to exist between theatre and performance studies. And we also thought that every university would create performance studies departments. So we were working [across the divide between] theatre and performance studies. That was the late nineties. I think when you fast forward to today, you realize that performance studies as a set of methodologies has impacted theatre, but there really hasn’t been [the creation of] free standing performance studies departments in the way that we thought there would be. You’ve seen drama departments and theatre programs being rebranded, and journals like Theatre Journal and PAJ [PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art] have embraced more performance studies. But there really hasn’t been the whole new development of performance studies [programs] that I thought would occur back in the [19]90s. I think it’s actually an interesting thing; whereas I was really excited about the rise of performance studies back in the [19]90s, now twenty-something years later, I am aware of the fact that theatre studies seems to be kind of on the ebb. Where is theatre history [research happening]? Where is the theatre criticism? And I say this as a person who just published an article on whipping posts, right? I’m contributing to it [the focus on performance studies]. But that’s a thing that I’m mindful of. I think there’s an effort within our discipline to look at the expanded reach of theatre through the lens of performance. And the journals actually do a really good job of getting that work out there. But I also think that there’s really not a great homebase anymore for scholarship on theatre studies.

CN: Yes. Joe [Roach] spoke to that a lot in the conversation I recently had with him. So you’re definitely in good company with that and thinking through the juxtapositions between the two fields and asking where do we see theatre history having continued relevance? One thing Joe mentioned is the idea that possibly a shortcoming of performance studies is a focus on the presentist mode. And as someone who works on the historical, whether in performance or theatre, I’m curious if you want to speak to that.

HY: Yeah. Well, a lot of what I do isn’t that old. I like to write about things that are in the twentieth century and maybe they go back a little bit more. I often joke that I work on one week in 1850, or the year 1890, and then it’s pretty much 1930 forward. The thing that really matters to me and interests me is the history of US race-based culture. But there are a lot of folks who would be like, “Well, you know, real history is the nineteenth century,” and then someone else would say, “No, no, no, no. Real history is the eighteenth century.” Or someone else, “Oh, no…the Middle Ages.” At a certain point, who cares, right? I think that’s always the issue: what’s the history we’re talking about in terms of writing about these things. What interests me as a scholar is how certain traditions repeat across generations, if that makes any sense. I’m interested in the way that you can trace the prejudices and racisms that exist today back two or three generations. So if you’re looking at public hangings, lynchings, or whipping posts in this most recent piece, the fact that you have kids who were there in 1930 or in 1950—that kid, who was watching someone being whipped in 1950, who was ten then, is now eighty or something like that. And so that person is the grandparent who tells their grandkids about how things used to be. So you’re wondering how there can be such desensitivity to the abuse of Black bodies in 2023. If you think about it, the fact is that when you’re looking at the abuse of Black bodies today in 2023, it’s the grandparents of folks today who were the kids then who were watching these things occur in a very normalized way. That’s what I’m interested in, a historical generational approach. But again, going back to theatre history, people would say, “Well, you know, that was 1950. In the long history of theatre, that’s just a blip and we need to do more than that.”

What I think is the challenge for the theatre historian is you’re always a bit of an anomaly within a department. Because people who study theatre often are going into it because they’re interested in acting or directing or playwriting. Within that population of creatives, you’re already kind of on the edge, because you’re not doing the thing that 90 percent of the students who major in theatre want to do.

Then within the world of scholarship at large, what is your obligation? Is your obligation to offer some sort of general type of historical survey? Or is it to tackle other questions that you might have? And then the more interested you are in the present, and the more interested you are in things that are not occurring on stage, then you’re even more unique and special, and even that much more of an outsider within traditional theatre studies. If you look at Theatre Journal, the title is its own challenge, right? What’s the responsibility to write about “theatre” or do we mean theatre in an extended sense, like the “theatre of war”? Or is there an obligation to actually be responsive and responsible for the discipline?

CN: I think that’s a really fundamental question. What I love about your piece, though, is [what you say about] the generation today that’s telling the story, getting the stories from their grandparents, from the [19]50s or the [19]30s. But you’re also citing laws from the eighteenth century.

HY: Yeah. It’s a long history. I was mindful of the fact that when Joe Biden became a lawyer and passed the bar and all that type of stuff in Delaware, public whippings were still on the books. And the history of public whippings at that point in time had been used mostly against Black people. So what does that mean? What does that mean when the sitting president has a history that’s already attached to this? Now, obviously, when you pass the bar in 1970, the last whipping hadn’t occurred for about twenty years, but it was still on the books. There were still people who were calling for it. That’s how recent this history is.

CN: I think it’s a real gift of our field as well [to be transhistorical]. My undergraduate training was in English literature, which really demands that you focus on only one time period.

HY: But that’s shifting, interestingly enough. English departments are having crises of identity right now. If you look at English departments, it used to be [about] periodization, right? You had a couple of modernists. You had a couple of Shakespeare people back in the day. And then you kind of got rid of drama at some point and you had that [periodized] structure. But enrollments in English have been on the decline for the last twenty years. And what’s been the lifeline of English departments has been creative writing. It varies how it manifests itself within departments across different doesn’t create the issues that English departments are currently having. When I was at Northwestern, when I interviewed for the job, I had to create a syllabus for a class that spanned from 1300 to 1900, which is no way near anything that I love. And I became that person for a stretch of time. Then later on I shifted away from that because it was, again, not my passion. But I think that in English departments, they’re still trying to figure out how to do that work.

CN: The next thing for us to consider is how do you see the role of journals like Theatre Journal functioning in our discourse? I think especially you can speak to that having served as editor of Theatre Survey.

HY: Articles are more important than they’ve ever been. At least, I’ll put it this way: open access articles are more important than they’ve ever been. Open access needs to be where journals go. Back in the day, I think at some point prior to twenty years ago, books drove the conversation. People would say the measure of great scholarship is the book-length monograph. But I don’t know anyone these days who reads a book cover-to-cover, and certainly no one who really assigns a book cover-to-cover in a class. I think that journals are efficient because they have a variety of articles. They’re short in length. They get right to the point. You can assign them quite quickly for a class. You can read them over coffee. I think that there’s just as much of an impact with that. And now, because of how searchable articles are, you can go online and search for whatever topic that interests you and find them. They’re at your fingertips. You’re seeing more articles cited today than [you] did fifteen years ago, because of accessibility. I think conversations that are article-based are really going to drive the field much more so than books, even though there [are] a lot more books being published. But the books are being published as e-versions and then they just die, right? But the articles are the things that will have life to them.

CN: Yes. When I was talking with Karen [Shimakawa] and Patty [Ybarra] the other day, it came up in both conversations: how do we use articles in our pedagogy? It seems that can really vary depending on your institution, the level of students you’re teaching. I wondered if you could speak to that. I think there’s something really exciting about using an article, even at the undergraduate level. I’m curious how you use articles in your pedagogy.

HY: Articles are great because they’re self-contained and they’re only about twenty pages. It’s a snack sized sort of engagement in an argument. And I think that’s the thing that you want to have. Because articles have to introduce you [to the argument] quite quickly. What’s wonderful about Theatre Journal is that the pieces are often somewhat conversational. So you’re reading an article, and there’s a hook that gets you in pretty quickly. Then there’s a summary three paragraphs in that tells you what the aims of the piece are or at least hope to be. And then you kind of work your way through. There’s something really satisfying about the freestanding article. I think what people don’t do anymore is read articles in volumes. I think you read articles individually. But what we’ve lost—and this is true for even newspaper articles as well—we’ve lost the ability to read articles in context, right? To think through, how does this piece sit next to the next piece? And then what does that tell me about the field in this moment? If [only] I could figure out some magical way of doing this, which really would require assigning the full journal to a student. But people don’t do that anymore. You almost want to have the material journal so you can say what does it mean to have these pieces in conversation. And unfortunately, in the online circulation of the articles, what we lose is the editor’s introduction, right? I don’t know anyone who cites an editor’s introduction anymore, and most editors’ introductions aren’t even read because you go right to the articles. That’s the part we’re missing because [journals] circulate digitally: why would you read a preface if you don’t need to? But I think that’s the utility of [the free standing article] in terms of being able to say, here’s a way of engaging this topic in a way that’s not scenic, not leisurely. It gets right to the point. I say that because there [are] many books out there where a chapter could have been made into an article much more quickly. But clearly someone’s writing for a word count, right? Someone’s like, “This has to be 18,000 words.” And you’re like, “This really should be 6000 words.” But you’re just stretching it because you’re trying to get to the end point at manuscript page eighty as opposed to page thirty or something like that.

CN: That makes sense. It feels similar to the fact that people don’t listen to the album anymore, they listen to the hit single. The keyword-ification of how we even encounter research is still something we’re wrapping our heads around.

HY: Right. And no one reads things sequentially anymore, right? You just dive in wherever you want. I think that’s actually changing book publishing. I don’t think anyone reads a book cover to cover. I’m not sure if anyone ever really did, but there’s a way in which you get a book, you read the chapter that matters to you [and perhaps more]. Whereas for journal publishing, I don’t think we have that tendency as much. What I worry about in the field today is that for things that aren’t open access, people will limit their engagement to whatever’s publicly available. And that might be access to pages two, four and seven before [hitting] the paywall. I worry a little bit about excerpting out of context in terms of how people gauge these pieces. But it’s also the world we live in, right?

CN: Yes. I actually have this thought that as a society, everyone is reading text more than ever; our conversations are now in textual form, but in these reduced bite-sized, 130 character [messages]. But that larger question—there’s so much to unpack there. What would you like to see publications develop and engage in more? And this is sort of combined with the question about more rigorous intersectional anti-racist practices within the field. So, it’s a two-parter, but feel free to speak to any of those things.

HY: I don’t know, to be completely honest. I don’t know anyone other than Ric Knowles who has that sense of commitment to read every journal cover to cover. When I was the editor of Theatre Survey, I read everything that came in. I had a sense of what the integrity of the journal was. What’s the argument being made across articles one through four? And then it was always based upon the issue because I never actually thought about the overall volume. At no point did I [think about that], and I don’t know any editor who does it, who thinks, “What’s the story I’m telling across three issues over a year?” No one really does that. Richard Schechner might have done that with TDR, I suspect. But even that I doubt. I say this because there’s a lot of variety that exists in Theatre Journal. And there’s the same thing for Theatre Survey. You pick up any issue and there [are] articles that are unlike one another sitting in close proximity. I think sometimes our preconception or our understanding of what the journal is or what the limits are is defined by our own limits [that] we place upon the journal. So it’s not that the journal doesn’t do these things, it’s that we don’t look for them. I think that in many ways we need to shift our reading practice so that we make the leap and read things that are unlike our own scholarship. Which is going back to the Ric Knowles’ practice of sitting down and actually reading the journal cover to cover. Because, in a given issue, there may be nothing at all that speaks to your current research, but everything there will expand your worldview. That’s the thing that I think we should aim for. But I can’t think of any concrete suggestions in terms of how the journal should change its practices because I suspect, knowing all the different editors over the past twenty years, I know that everyone is looking for variety. No one wants to have the same issue. There’s been special issues on a variety of topics from ecological theatre to other things. And I know that in recent history, there’s been a commitment to inclusion, getting more voices that were underrepresented, having more work related to anti-racist practices within theatre and performance. I see that occurring. So I can’t think of anything missing per se, although I’m sure that someone will be like, “Why is there a piece about whippings in this journal? This is Theatre Journal. There should be the lost text of Sophocles or something.”

CN: It speaks to the fact that the journal has shifted away from being exclusively about theatre to incorporate all these other aspects of performance. Is there a loss there? Or, rather, where is the theatre history journal housed? That’s a question, an anxiety, I think for some about this. On the flip side, like you said, it’s great to have a performance piece next to a theatre history piece.

HY: The way I think about the work that’s not [focused on] theatre is, how is it impacting fields that are other than theatre? That becomes the measure for me. This is where I’ve been very fortunate with my first piece I published in Theatre Journal on lynchings. That piece has been picked up and cited across a variety of different disciplines. My hope of actually bringing a frame of theatre and performance to talk about everyday events reached its goal. That was the target. I was able to say that this methodology of performance, this frame of theatre, applies to social racist violence and is helpful as a way of unpacking and understanding what was going on in terms of history. I think it justifies a methodological approach that’s anchored in theatre and performance studies. But it also shifts the conversation in other fields. I think that’s the goal, it’s the dream. We’ll see what happens with the whipping post article. I don’t know, but I’m hopeful that it gets picked up [more broadly].

In terms of citation, it would be meaningful to get a person who’s in the social sciences to cite Theatre Journal and legitimize the methodological work that we do. But I think that sometimes if the work is more oriented around performance studies and not impacting disciplines other than our own, then I worry a little bit about it. Because we’re not necessarily shifting the conversation in theatre per se. You’re not shifting the conversation to these other disciplines. I think that needs to be the test or at least the question we ask ourselves, so that when we’re not writing about theatre in a very traditional way: who is our audience, who are we, what conversation are we trying to push for, to catalyze, to make happen? And if we can’t identify the audience, we can’t identify the conversation, then I would worry a little bit about it. 

CN: Yes. We need to ask ourselves what is our research doing? Who are we talking to? The same goes for when practitioners put on plays. Who’s my audience? Who am I talking to?

HY: Yeah, absolutely. Because you generally want to avoid vanity, right? “I’m writing about this thing that no one cares about.” One shouldn’t write to get people to care about something. But you also want to be able to make the steps, that bring an audience to a point, to open a door of interest or curiosity. If you can’t do that, then it probably should not be published.

CN: That’s a great point. It’s that question of what are the stakes? I’m thinking about that right now as a first time author writing my book proposal. You’re asked, what are the stakes?

HY: Yeah. I remember talking to David Krasner, who used to be here at Yale, at ASTR one year. David said, “Harvey, if half the people here at ASTR had your book, would you be happy about that?” I said, “That’d be amazing.” And he said, “There [are] only six hundred people here. So that’s only three hundred copies. You need to figure out how you’re going to reach people beyond this group.” So I think in some ways, the luxury of a journal is that it’s serving a core field. And it’s evergreen, because the articles live in the archive. But I do think part of the work [we need to do] has to be thinking about who are we speaking to as an audience, in an expanded sense.

CN: Yes, absolutely. For my last question, and this may be redundant, but what hopes would you have for the next seventy-five years at Theatre Journal?

HY: I hope theatre exists! I honestly do hope theatre exists. I mean, theatre will always exist on stage, right? But I do wonder what the critical academic study of theatre will look like in seventy-five years, against a backdrop in which people are having a harder time justifying the importance of the liberal arts. You’re seeing smaller theatre programs within smaller schools collapsing; more contingent faculty, who do not have teaching reductions [for service] and that sort of thing. I used to be the ATHE president and one of the issues we had was around creating stipends for the editors so that no matter who you were, you had resources to support your ability to work on the journal, whereas in the past, universities used to give resources, teaching reductions, money, graduate assistantships, that type of thing, to support the journal. I do wonder in seventy-five years, what [will be] the structure that allows a person to be the editor, or book review editor in particular? Because I think book review editors are the unsung heroes of journals. It’s a lot of work without much recognition. What is the structure that allows them to do that work? And if there’s not a structure in place, then how do we avoid the rotation of editors becoming just folks that are at elite universities who have the privilege of having less teaching and have personal resources, either because of their pay packages or because of the research support that they get through the university? That’s one thing that I’m aware of: how do we create more diversity and variety among the folks who are editing the journal?

The second part, as I was saying before, relates to what does the field of theatre look like. What does scholarship look like in theatre? I do wonder if Theatre Survey will remain Theatre Survey or will there be a name change at some point? I mean, I would not be surprised if [the nomenclature of] theatre shifts in some manner, especially [with] this trend of doing more and more performance work. I wouldn’t be shocked, in the same way we’ve seen theatre departments change their names [to theatre and performance studies]. I can imagine that Theatre Survey’s name could change. TDR changed, right? It was the Tulane Drama Review, then The Drama Review. Now, it’s just TDR, right?

Open access is key, having paywalls is not good thing. There’s [also] got to be a way for journals to exist independently from the associations. Academic associations are struggling these days. Look at ATHE and the conversations around whether there should be conferences [at all]; when you lose conferences, you lose members. There’s not really as much of a reason for a person to have a membership because many times people can access a journal subscription through their home institution, if they’re lucky enough to have a home institution. So I think that figuring out a way for the journal to exist apart from being overly tied to academic associations is going to be important. And if I remember correctly, I think Theatre Journal is owned by Johns Hopkins [University Press]. It’s really a conversation with that press. This happened with University of Michigan, where it became a presidential priority to invest in libraries, which oversees the publication wing. And then they began to make a lot of their books open access. I think it becomes imperative for someone—whether the ATHE president or Theatre Journal’s editor, to make a case to Johns Hopkins to say, “This is a premier journal that’s been around for seventy-five plus years. Would you consider making the investment to allow Theatre Journal to be forever open access?” I think that’s the thing that would truly give it longevity and more of an impact upon the field. And, the last thing I would say is: I think as we move toward more digital publication, where people are accessing the journal through portals online rather than the physical copies, the issue structure doesn’t make any sense. Like the fact that I published this most recent article in the March issue, because of management changes, it didn’t come out until June. If people are accessing the articles individually, why not make it a nine-month structure, right? We could have nine issues a year that exist digitally and are open access. Then every month, Theatre Journal publishes two articles, a handful of book reviews, a couple of performance reviews; so the journal overall might have more content, but maybe not dramatically more content than the current four issues a year model. You could stretch it out that way. Then I think more people will read it, because if you get an email and it’s open access, you’re more likely to sit down and read it because it’s being delivered to you in a portion size that you can tackle in a week. I think that’s what I would like to see. That’s the future of journals. And then of course, on the flip side, the future gets a lot harder if academic associations go away, if you can’t make a move toward open access, if there becomes this weird war in which performance studies and that type of framing gets removed entirely, because I do think that performance studies does drive a lot of the readership outside of the core readership within theatre.

CN: That makes sense. A perennial question I have is, how long are we going to still do print?

HY: Yeah. It’s a weird thing. I will admit that when I read Theatre Journal, I read it online, but receiving the print issue reminds me to read it online. So, it’s there, and it’s wrapped in clear plastic, and it’s at home. But then rather than reading it in that moment and taking it with me, I think, “Okay I need to read these articles,” but I always read them online because it’s just easier that way for me. There’s a high cost [for print] and yes, it’s not sustainable. But there is also something about the integrity of feeling like a collector. I feel like the person with the record player, the vinyl.

CN: Right. Then it becomes, how much real estate on our shelves are these journals taking up?

HY: Oh, I don’t save them. That’s the thing. I don’t save them, I toss them, but I use them as a prompt to read. But I’ve met many people who’ve had bookshelves for hundreds of journals. There were four years where I moved every year, and I did full house moves. After the second time, I was like, “This is ridiculous. I’m only keeping them on the shelf as some sort of sign to other folks that I’ve read all these things.” I don’t have that much of an ego, or maybe I don’t have that much back strength to carry the print journals.

But I will say this, I think the skill set that we’ve lost as an academic community is the experience of looking at something in its totality. We’ve lost the ability to look at a newspaper, and then sort of see how the pieces work together. An overall view and portrait of what’s happening today. We don’t have that ability anymore. Yes, newspapers still exist, but people access them individually in terms of articles, and I think for the journal, we’ve lost the ability to see the field. Even if you look at academic associations, where there used to be all plenary sessions, where the whole field would come together, and you would hear things. They usually had papers speaking to different areas. When I first started going to conferences, rarely did I ever hear anything that remotely related to what I was interested in, but I felt like I was seeing the field as a whole. Now it gets splintered into focus groups and working groups and that type of thing. So you just follow the trail to find your subcommunity, and you’ve lost the ability to actually see how the field is moving, how the field is evolving and changing. I think that causes a lack of dialogue and a lack of understanding about who we are and where we’re heading, so you get a fair amount of discontent. People will say in an uninformed way that the journal is not doing enough of these things, or the association is not doing enough of these things. And if you actually zoomed out, you would see that things have shifted and changed. The journal is doing those things, but people aren’t reading the articles. You have to commit at the very least to read the abstracts for the articles in the issues. You don’t have to read the whole article, but if you just do that your worldview will be expanded.

CN: I think that’s a good tip for the trade for going forward. Thank you for the conversation.