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New Faculty Profile: Shannon Jackson

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted November 4, 1998

Shannon JacksonShannon Jackson, new assistant professor of dramatic art and the first faculty hire in the department since 1986, has come to campus to help bridge the theory-practice gap and be a key member of the new graduate program (see page 6).

On the English and literature faculties at Harvard for the past three years, Jackson says she chose Berkeley because "there's a renewed commitment here to the study of performance and theater. It was too intriguing an opportunity."

Jackson gravitated to her life's work as an undergraduate at Stanford. "By day I studied modern thought and literature, by night I went to rehearsals as an actress and director. I wanted to combine those two worlds," she recalls.

She felt the best place to do that was Northwestern University, where she earned a PhD in 1995. Her thesis was on the role of performance at Chicago's Hull House, a turn-of-the-century social movement founded by Jane Adams to integrate middle class Americans with immigrants and workers.

This semester Jackson is teaching performance theory in the graduate program and an undergraduate dramatic art major requirement, "20th-century Theory and Performance."

Of Berkeley's new graduate program in dramatic art, Jackson says, "what they've put on paper is incredibly exciting. Many people in my field are watching to see what happens.

"Interdisciplinarity is trendy now, but performance has always been interdisciplinary -- a combination of words, sound, space, bodies, image, collectivity," says Jackson. "Art history, literature, music, rhetoric, anthropology, sociology -- all these fields have something to say about performance. At Berkeley we're tapping into and extending that potential."

Next year Jackson hopes to teach a theory and practicum course on solo performance work, culminating in a festival of one-person shows. She has plenty of experience in them herself, including one based on letters and diaries of Hull House women that she's performing at the Chicago Humanities Festival this week, and "White Noises," her original one-woman show about growing up white.

Jackson's research and teaching cover not only traditional Western theater, but also pageants, festivals, carnivals, dance, performance art, protests, rallies, story-telling and culture as performance. One of the texts for her graduate course, for example, is "Tango and the Political Economy of Passion."

Jackson's book, "Lines of Activity: Performance and Hull-House Historiography," will be published by the University of Michigan Press next year.

Now she's writing another book -- an historical and theoretical analysis of current debates in theater and performance studies. Entitled "Performance as Predicament," it will be published by Cambridge University Press.

Berkeley is something of a return home for Jackson. Her parents, grandfather, cousins, and uncle all graduated from Cal.

"I love the students here," she says. "They're very curious and willing to take risks. They also bring a diversity of experience to class that will help develop critical thinking."

Dramatic Art chair Mark Griffith says of Jackson: "She's tremendous, brilliant, exactly what we were looking for. Her work combines the history, theory and practice of theater. She's an extraordinary symbol of what the department is all about."


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