- Mind Readers: Imagining Research-led Practice in Doctoral Education
Our Origin Story
In the summer of 2014, four of us, three PhD candidates and one professor, gathered around a table to discuss an increased demand from graduate students and the academic market to find innovative ways to merge scholarship and theatrical practice within the doctoral education experience.1 While in many ways our discussion focused on how to develop us as in-demand products for an over-saturated job market—a market that was increasingly seeking production experience of doctoral students in theatre history, literature, and criticism—we also knew that, through performatively approaching our research, we gain insight into our work and become better teachers and thinkers.2 Like many graduate students in theatre and performance studies, we first fell in love with our fields through production work. Some of us entered grad school with professional acting, directing, or stage-management experience. Yet the more we specialized in our respective areas, the more performance became something we only read about. Even though we know that the division between research and practice is false, many doctoral programs, including our own at University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), continue to indirectly reinforce this dichotomy. In response, we formed a graduate directing collective we called Mind Readers that sought to enliven the space between practice and research in our program. We envisioned a student-driven initiative that promoted equitable collaboration and leadership among its participants while reimagining the relation between theatrical practice and graduate education.
Mind Readers had three goals: to provide practice-based opportunities for graduate students to explore research; to support undergraduate theatre studies curricula with practice- and performance-based approaches to texts; and to provide a more comprehensive experience to theatre students in the bachelor of arts program, whose opportunities for staging works were limited when competing with BFA actors. To fulfill these goals, each quarter Mind Readers would solicit project ideas from the faculty member teaching the large lecture course. We would hold auditions for BA theatre students and students from other departments. Finally, we would present the show to the relevant class and any other interested parties. At first we lacked departmental support, in that they could not provide us with a theatre space to perform, which is why our first show, held in the Graduate Student Association lounge, was described by one collaborator as “one part scholarship, one part art, and one part ‘lounge’” (King 13). As the club developed, we eventually were featured in the department’s “second stage” season and received set calendar dates in the smaller campus theatre. However, the unique challenges of the location in the first show left us with a taste for disruption. We continued to boldly challenge the spatial, curricular, and disciplinary boundaries of theatre. As Dwight Conquergood wrote in describing the mission of performance studies, our discipline is uniquely placed and must continue “to refuse and supersede this deeply entrenched division of labor, apartheid of knowledges, that plays out inside the academy as the difference between thinking [End Page 127] and doing, interpreting and making, conceptualizing, and creating” (153). We are adamant that this refusal to accept the bifurcation of research and practice is necessary to future developments in doctoral education in theatre and performance studies.
While certainly not the only attempt to meld practice and research at an institutional level, we offer the UCSB Mind Readers experience as one successful example of reimagining doctoral training in theatre—specifically, student relationships to pedagogy, digital humanities, and inter-disciplinarity. We achieved this by infusing Mind Readers’ productions with research techniques like dramaturgy, translation, and adaptation. In addition to our attempt to suture the gap between research and practice, Mind Readers also provided unforeseen outcomes in collegiality that helped prepare us for both academic and alternative-academic careers. These outcomes went beyond our department’s extant professionalization support, providing long-sought-after opportunities for us to participate in curriculum design and cross-disciplinary collaboration, as well as allowing us to deepen our relationships to undergraduate students, fellow graduates, and members of the faculty. And it all started...