- ASECS at 50:Interview with Joseph Roach
Joseph Roach is Sterling Professor of Theater and Professor of English, Emeritus, at Yale University. A theatre historian, stage director, and performance studies scholar, Roach is the author of The Player's Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Delaware, 1985; Michigan, 1993), which was recognized by the Barnard Hewitt Award in Theatre History; Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (Columbia, 1996), which was awarded the James Russell Lowell Prize from the MLA and the Joe A. Callaway Prize for the Best Book on Drama or Theater from NYU; and It (Michigan, 2007). He is also editor, with Janelle Reinelt, of Critical Theory and Performance (Michigan, 1992, 2nd ed. revised 2007), and, most recently, with Margaret K. Powell, of A Cultural History of Hair in the Age of Enlightenment (Bloomsbury, 2019). His essays on theatre and performance history have appeared in journals such as Eighteenth-Century Studies; PMLA; MLQ; Shakespeare Survey; Modern Drama; Theatre Journal; Theatre Survey; The Drama Review; and Theater; as well as in edited collections such as The Global Eighteenth Century; The First Actresses; Bluestockings Displayed; Henry Fielding: Novelist, Playwright, Journalist, Magistrate; From the Royal to the Republican Body; and Politics, Transgression, and Representation at the Court of Charles II.
Roach has chaired the Department of Theatre at Sweet Briar College, the Performing Arts Department at Washington University in St. Louis, the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Theatre at Northwestern University, the Department of Performance Studies at NYU, and the Theater Studies Program in Yale College. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Antiquarian Society, he was Principal Investigator on a sequence of three grants from [End Page 181] the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that funded the World Performance Project at Yale and the Performance Studies Working Group (2003–16). He is the recipient of a Lifetime Distinguished Scholar Award from the American Society for Theatre Research and the Oscar Brockett Outstanding Teacher Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education; and he has directed over fifty plays, operas, and musicals. In 2012 he gave the James L. Clifford Lecture; in 2013–14 he served as President of ASECS.
First, let me say that it is an honor to speak with you as a leading scholar of theatre and performance studies for this ASECS 50th Anniversary interview series. In addition to your many scholarly accomplishments, you are a widely respected colleague and mentor, and I have no doubt that anyone who opens this ECS volume and sees your name will be eager to read your reflections on your career and on your work in long eighteenth-century studies.
You are very kind to say that, and to do this interview.
Not at all. It's a true pleasure. I thought we might begin at the beginning?
Your initial foray into theatre began as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, where you acted mainly in modern and contemporary plays. You went on to earn a master's in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in the U.K. and a Ph.D. in theatre arts at Cornell, which included theory as well as practice. Since graduate school, you have directed plays from every period, and have taught an introductory survey of theatre history that your students called "From Caves to Cats." Given such wide-ranging interests, what is it that drew you—and continues to draw you—to Restoration and eighteenth-century theatre?
If you care for the theatre at all, you love eighteenth-century theatre.
I agree, of course! But why do you think so?
Because the brilliance of the performers so thoroughly irradiated the artifacts of the period that they still glow. You can read by their light. The many treasures left behind include but are not limited to plays, libretti, scores, prompt books, prologues, epilogues, notated dances, paintings, prints, costumes, machinery, memoirs, reviews, and eyewitness accounts. Other ages of theatre have good sources, but none can produce a diarist who excels Pepys, a portraitist who rivals Reynolds, or critics who can...