November 2016 Faculty Spotlight: Julia Fawcett

Julia Fawcett, Assistant Professor and Performance Studies/History scholar, is the newest member of TDPS’s faculty. She comes to UC Berkeley from Ryerson University in Toronto.

Picture a venn diagram. If the circle on the left is Theater History and the circle on the right is Performance Studies, the overlapping section in the middle is the research home of Julia Fawcett, the newest member of TDPS’s faculty. Julia, who comes to UC Berkeley from Ryerson University in Toronto, self-identifies as a “Performance Historian” and her research interests focus primarily on theater history and performance studies in the context of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Says Julia, “I’m interested in what was happening onstage during this time period, but I am also interested in performances that were taking place outside of the theater.”

Julia’s research requires her to be part researcher, part detective, and part investigative journalist. For example, her current research project examines ideas of personal space in late 17th century England after the Great Fire of London. “When I first came to this topic, I thought, there are no explicit records on this subject and I can’t travel back in time, so how do I even begin to investigate? And that methodological question intrigued me,” Julia shares.

She eventually identified multiple angles that combined to demonstrate society’s growing awareness of how urban planning and architecture affects people moving through the city. “People were starting to consider how space impacted inhabitants, partly because the fire left a relatively blank slate and partly because a growing immigrant population was beginning to cause tension,” Julia explains. “So I am looking at this subject by analyzing things like architecture treatises, maps, and medical records and court documents that touch on personal space for women and what was considered a violation. I can also learn a lot from the developments in theater architecture and set design at the time. When you put everything together, it’s clear that people at the time were thinking about space in new ways, both in the theater and outside the theater.”

Julia, who holds a PhD in English from Yale and a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Harvard, did not always see her career path in performance studies. In fact, she didn’t even know that the field existed! As an English major at Harvard, she was involved in theater extracurricularly and took several classes with Beth Lyman that introduced her to the concept of studying performance as an academic subject. “But I didn’t know at the time that it was called Performance Studies,” Julia explained, “and I had no idea that I could combine English and theater.” It wasn’t until she began her PhD program at Yale and met performance studies scholar Joe Roach that she realized her interests had a name. “I started talking to Joe and realized that what he was calling performance studies was exactly what I had been doing and exactly what I was interested in. I finally had a name for it, and a vision for a career that incorporated all my interests.”

After graduating with her PhD in 2011, Julia completed a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Yale and then moved to Toronto to teach Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture at Ryerson University. She was motivated to accept the job at Berkeley because of TDPS’s integrated approach to performance studies and welcoming atmosphere. “When I came for the interview,” Julia recalls, “it was such a warm environment. The faculty were very supportive and seemed to enjoy each other. I remember that, at one point, Gail [De Kosnik] said something that made Shannon [Steen] almost fall out of her chair laughing — and I thought, I want to work here! The graduate students were also very impressive; they asked such great questions and everyone was doing really interesting research. I didn’t get to meet any undergraduates during that first visit, but the faculty and graduate students all said great things about the undergraduate students. That isn’t always the case in top-tier universities, and it was very refreshing.”

Julia is settling into her first semester with TDPS; she is currently teaching a graduate course on Performance Methodologies as well as the undergraduate course Theater 125: Community Theaters, which explores how practices of performers in medieval York, Restoration London, and twenty-first-century San Francisco use unique performance practices and settings to get around the dearth of space and the price of real estate in their cities. She is also busy settling into life in California. “It’s strange, I never pictured myself as a California person,” Julia laughs. “I always told myself that I liked winter, in that way that people from the East Coast, and also people from Canada, say that they like winter. It’s a pride thing. But California is beautiful and, as of now, I don’t think I’ll miss winter! Ask me again in January.”