Visiting Professors bring new perspectives and areas of expertise to TDPS, enriching both our curriculum and relationships with other universities. During 2013-2014, TDPS has welcomed the presence of Dr. Sharon Aronson-Lehavi, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Visiting Israeli Professor in Comparative Literature/Theater, Dance and Performance Studies. A tenured senior lecturer of Theater and Performance Studies at the Department of Comparative Literature in Bar Ilan University in Israel, she is teaching courses for both TDPS and Comparative Literature that have been quite popular with students.
This past fall, Aronson-Lehavi taught the Freshman/Sophomore seminar “Representations of the Holocaust in Contemporary Theater.” It was the first encounter for most of the students in the class with Theater and Performance Studies, and Aronson-Lehavi found the intimate format of the class invigorating. “A real bond developed between all of us,” she says. “Many students were a bit hesitant to contribute at first, but that quickly changed. It has been wonderful to be reminded about how significant classroom discussion can be.”
This spring, Aronson-Lehavi will teach “Performance Theory – Holy Theater: Medieval and Modern Paradigms,” a course born out of her current research (her book, Street Scenes: Late Medieval Acting and Performance, was published in 2011). The class will examine questions of ‘holiness,’ first in late medieval religious source materials, mystery and passion plays, before moving into modernity. Looking at a variety of 20th century avant-garde and experimental performance texts, students will explore questions of religious representations and social identity in the opposite context of secularism. In the Department of Comparative Literature, she will also teach “Gender and Identity in Modern Jewish and Israeli Drama.”
Preparing these courses specifically to teach at UC Berkeley was both exciting and challenging. “You want to be able to imagine your audience – their preconceptions and expectations – and you can’t.” That said, Aronson-Lehavi’s previous experiences in the U.S. have given her an insight into American culture many visiting professors do not have. She lived in the U.S. from ages 1-7, and she completed her Ph.D. in Theatre Studies from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
New to the West Coast and UC Berkeley, she was immediately impressed with her colleagues and students in TDPS. “To engage with so many inspiring and creative people has been amazing,” says Aronson-Lehavi. “The department really has such a supportive type of communal energy.”
Both the department and university’s larger emphasis on the arts and humanities as part of a well-rounded liberal arts education also resonates deeply with her. In 2012, she was appointed as a member of the Israel Young Academy, established by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. “I am strongly advocating for more cross-disciplinary learning in Israel,” she says. “It is our responsibility as educators to make sure our students get the most out of their educational experience.”
“Whether you are a scientist or an artist, people well versed in arts and humanities tend to be willing to accept situations with all their complexities,” says Aronson-Lehavi. After all, good art – in whatever discipline – always asks questions and rarely gives answers.”