In the Spotlight: Professor Shannon Walsh, School of Theatre
Graduate Faculty Spotlight, October 2017
1. What factors influenced your decision to work at LSU?
I had dear colleagues who were already employed here, and I made a deal with my husband that I would only apply to places within a commutable distance to Trader Joe’s (where he works). Two weeks prior to applications closing for the position at LSU, there was an announcement that Trader Joe’s would open a location in Baton Rouge. I had been on the job market for three years, and this was my first bite. What made me really excited about the possibility of coming here was my experience with the students who I taught in the guest lecture. The students had a refreshing lack of entitlement and a passionate drive that communicated an intense work ethic. I felt like these were the types of students who I want to work with.
2. What is your current involvement with the LSU graduate student community?
I was co-head of the PhD program in Theatre for two years, and will become director of the new resident’s college. I teach graduate student seminars, advise students and supervise independent studies, and I serve on multiple committees, particularly in Women’s and Gender Studies.
3. Tell us about your primary research interest at the School of Theatre.
My research interests broadly include topics in women’s and gender studies, critical race theory, performance studies, and physical fitness. I am currently working on two books. The first, Watch Whiteness Workout: Fitness, Gender, and Performance in the Progressive Era, is looking at women’s physical fitness during the Progressive Era during the early 19th and 20th century. Looking at physical fitness through the performance lens, exercising and dieting were significant ways in which whiteness became invisible but performed, particularly strengthening the white race.
The other book is an anthology of sports and performance, looking at sports through a theatrical and performance lens. Sports is one of the most popular forms of live performance, and it’s been too long for us to not see how this is similar to theatre. Student athletes are a lot like theatre students, where there’s this expectation for them to do labor without compensation. At one point, there was a big push for students to major in sports, and it was proposed that the field be modeled after theatre studies. I think about all of these things together through the lens of the arts.
4. Tell us about a cause you’re passionate about in higher education?
I’m working really hard for both graduate and undergraduate students, and LSU as a whole to create a strong bridge between our school and the Baton Rouge arts community. In the contemporary moment where the arts are in a precarious position, it is important to consider and protect artists, many who are part of marginalized communities. We need to recognize this is an opportunity for them to express themselves.
Last fall, I started an organization called the Baton Rouge Theatre Coalition. We try to figure out ways to promote dialogue amongst theatres so there is a broader sense of community amongst theatres in the community. We share the same talent—actors and designers—so it is important that we communicate to ensure we are taking the best care of them by creating spaces of acceptance and inclusivity.