Sharrell D. Luckett, assistant professor of theatre at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), is helping her students in the Performance Studies and Arts Research Collective “harness their artistic ingenuity” while discovering their true selves through the study of others.
Established by Luckett when she arrived at CSUDH in 2013, the Performance Studies and Arts Research Collective in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance consists mostly of theatre and dance students, but also includes business, psychology, communication, education, mathematics, and music majors. Luckett said she designed the collective to engage students in opportunities that spark life-long learning as they investigate the ways in which the arts, humanities and the sciences connect. The program also encourages students to explore graduate school.
“The students in the collective come from different majors, so they are cross-pollinating,” said Luckett. “Some of them simply want to get involved in the arts, while others want to see how the arts intersect with their majors and what connections there are.”
To provide more time to work with her students in the collective, Luckett was selected for CSUDH’s Faculty Scholars Program (FSP), which awards faculty involved in undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity the funding to teach one fewer class each semester to continue their research with their students.
“With the help of the Faculty Scholars Program we are expanding our research in theatre and performance studies, broadly defined,” said Luckett. “Performance studies provides unique research opportunities; showing that research and creative activity are inextricably linked.”
After Luckett was selected for the FSP she further developed a research and creative activity agenda for the collective intended to enable the students to approach their creativity as research that is written, verbally expressed, and performative.
Students in the collective reflect on their work in and outside of the classroom and engage in discussions about forming research questions. They must also attend activities to remain active in the program, Luckett said, such as symposiums and conferences where they present their research and have open dialogue with other scholars.
The collective has submitted abstracts to several conferences so far: Hip Hop in the Age of Mass Incarceration at CSU Northridge; the Acacia Conference at CSU Fullerton; Fugitive Bodies at UC Santa Barbara; Doing Autoethnography at Angelo State University in Texas, and the African Theatre Conference at Loyola Marymount University.
“Our theatre and dance students also participated in Student Research Day on campus this year for the first time, which was exciting,” said Luckett.
Luckett enlisted the expertise of Jeb Middlebrook, assistant sociology professor at CSUDH, to work with the students in the collective on their presentation for the Hip Hop in the Age of Mass Incarceration conference.
“Jeb and I had an article accepted for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, which includes some of what the students wrote for the conference at CSUN. That’s very exciting and great for their resumes.”
During the Doing Autoethnography conference, theatre arts students Audrey Edwards and Megan J. Stewart presented an investigation of the power politics in Luckett’s one-woman show “YoungGiftedandFat,” which ran for three days last summer in CSUDH’s Edison Theatre. The show addresses the pressures of trying to lose weight and highlights prejudices against overweight people.
“Their research is about power-politics and how we negotiate between professor-student, mentor-mentee, and actress-stage manager/assistant director,” said Luckett.
After their research presentation, Edwards and Stewart were approached by Professor Stacy Holman Jones, a leading scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, who invited them to publish their research in a top peer-reviewed journal. They also received a special invitation to present more of their research at a conference in Melbourne, Australia.
“’YoungGiftedandFat’ was greatly supported by the university. Ten of my students worked on the show and did everything from costumes, makeup and music, to stage managing, assistant directing and working as assistant choreographers,” said Luckett. “That type of experience is invaluable.
“’YoungGiftedandFat’ is now being toured and I’ve been invited to perform the show Off Broadway in New York,” Luckett added. “Now that’s a huge deal! I’m really excited.”
This semester, the collective is working on identity in the arts, with a significant focus on how they “find themselves in the arts” through such methodologies as autoethnography, Luckett said. The students “explore their identities” through performance and literature by first “turning the gaze inward,” and then outward to study others’ behaviors and cultures.
“Autoethnography is an ever-evolving process. I’ve learned that my identity is intersectional. I’m a black female who is overweight and in college. I can’t separate those things because I’m all of those things at once,” said Stewart. “Other undergraduates don’t get a chance to do research-based performance. To be introspective helps me better understand others. Now I want to go to graduate school and get my MFA [Masters of Fine Arts] in interdisciplinary performance.”
Edwards also plans to pursue her MFA in acting, and a Ph.D. in performance studies.
“My grand plan is to open a center for youth that focuses on performance art,” she said. “I’m enjoying the process of exploring and finding my own identity. I’ve learned that most of my life I’ve viewed myself through other people’s lenses and have tried to live up to their standards. So now I’m trying to find my own identity and clarify my existence for myself so I can live for me.”