• Home
  • Faculty Profile: Jane Barnette, Theatre

Faculty Profile: Jane Barnette, Theatre

Friday, January 19, 2018


Muncie, IN

Have you always been interested in theatre?

As soon as I got involved with theatre (we had an eighth-grade Shakespeare production tradition at my middle school), I was all in. But before theatre, there was dance, and before dance, there was violin. Taking part in the National High School Institute (NHSI, or “Cherubs”) in Theatre between my junior and senior year of high school also solidified my commitment to make theatre.

What made you want to pursue teaching?

I love learning so much that the idea of being able to share that thrill of discovery and charge of curiosity with others through teaching seemed like a natural fit. Plus, there’s something performative about teaching itself, so being a theatre teacher is challenging and rewarding on a whole other level.

What classes do you teach at KU?

I teach theatre history and historiography, script analysis, dramaturgy and adaptation classes. I am affiliated with Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and will be teaching a graduate-level course cross-listed with them this semester.

What professional experiences and areas of expertise do you bring to the table?

I am a dramaturg who specializes in the adaptation of literature for the stage and the dramaturgy of theatrical adaptation overall. I call this practice adapturgy, and with Professor Darren Canady (English), a local playwright, I co-teach a class called “Authors and Adaptation” that’s based in this practice. I am also a director, an actor and a makeup artist.

What has been your proudest moment as a faculty member?

Well, those on social media will recognize my #proudprof over the last several years as an indicator of frequent pride in my students’ achievements. But for those of you who prefer not to search for hashtags, I’d say this: every Chautauqua I’ve hosted, there’s a moment of extraordinary pride and gratitude for my Theatre History students. The Chautauqua is the semester-long research project in my theatre history classes, culminating in public scholarship—the students present short papers that demonstrate a scholarly disagreement about the historiography (or, the construction of history) regarding a topic of their choice within the scope of the particular course. We invite other students, faculty and staff to attend, and many report that this event is the highlight of their semester.

How would you describe your creative process? 

It depends—with the page, I have to clean my space before I can begin the process of writing. With the stage, I like to begin rehearsals with some kind of core work (e.g. planks) followed by meditation. I approach creativity with what some might consider an excess of organization and planning—meaning, I like outlines, charts, and even (when necessary) spreadsheets. I tend to have detailed rehearsal plans and syllabi that are color-coded, and I stick to them. My philosophy is that discipline allows for creative freedom.

What do you hope your students take away from your classes?

The empowering recognition that they are emerging scholars who have earned a seat at the table for academic and artistic conversations. That skepticism, combined with optimism, is essential to sustaining our intellectual and creative curiosity.

If you could give your students one piece of advice, what would it be?

Put down your phones and look around you. Participate in the present; be present. Take notes using paper, not your laptop. Doodle. Savor these years—they go so much faster than you realize! 

Describe your favorite KU memory.

So far? Hearing the laughter, applause, and joyful conversation during the run of The Book Club Play, produced by Kansas Repertory Theatre (KRT) last summer. 

What was the greatest experience in the theatre you’ve ever had?

So far, seeing Indecent on Broadway, although a close second place goes to Sleep No More by Punchdrunk.

Where would you go if you could travel anywhere in the world?

I’ve had the advantage of traveling to several countries thus far, but strangely enough (for a theatre historian), I’ve not yet visited England, so that’s next on my bucket list! 

What research are you currently conducting? 

I am looking at the ways that witches are depicted on stage, specifically in terms of their faces. So that would include witch character makeup design, but also facial prosthetics and headgear.

What sparked your interest in this research topic?

I was a makeup designer in graduate school alongside my studies in theatre history, and when I was initially deciding what I would write about for my dissertation, I wanted to write about the history of theatrical makeup, but ultimately didn’t pursue that research path.  As I was close to finishing my first book, I started brainstorming what my next project might be, and I found myself returning to questions about makeup design. The idea of focusing on witches emerged organically, because of my focus on The Wizard of Oz, and the adaptation legacy of those stories, including Wicked. The idea of greenface led me to thinking about how witches have been depicted before and after the Wicked Witch of the West entered the popular culture.

How does it feel to have your first book published?

Surreal. Exciting, but scary, too—it’s such a public act, to publish a book! 

With your research about the stage make-up of witches, what is the most interesting piece of information you’ve come across?

Frankly, the fact that so many of the plays that feature witch characters do so without having them actually be witches. It’s one of the hazards of doing archival research: sometimes, in the process of research, you discover that what you hoped to find simply isn’t there, and your research path changes accordingly. That said, I did discover a cool adaptation of/prequel to The Tempest called Sycorax, written by Susan Gayle Todd in Austin that provides one interpretation of what Sycorax might look like. This play has only been produced twice (thus far), and in one of the productions, it was performed by an all-female cast, but the person who played the role of Sycorax also played the role of Caliban, and in fact the actor was in the midst of a gender transition while performing the role. They didn’t wear makeup at all as Sycorax (or Caliban), but the absence of makeup is significant, as is the choice to cast this role with a transgender individual.

How do you think your research will positively impact your field?

I hope it will help us add the witch as a character type to the roster of other theatrical types we discuss in theatre history. Doing so might allow us to recognize the ways that the witch has been marginalized—early research suggests that so-called witches are often women (more rarely men) of color, with sexual and/or gender identity that is outside of what society considers “normal.” In addition, because practicing witchcraft is linked to polytheism, studying the witch as a character type may also encourage the field to have deeper conversations about how we marginalize religious practices that are outside of Christianity, or at least those that recognize multiple gods instead of the expectation of monotheism as the religion practiced by characters onstage.