Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lisa Heineman (History and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies) and Kim Marra (Theatre Arts and American Studies) formed one of the inaugural 2011 Obermann Working Groups in order to explore how scholars might communicate their academic interests through performance and artists might use researchers’ methods to explore issues they usually address before live audiences. As scholars, Marra and Heineman each had projects that they could envision on the stage. Perhaps there were also playwrights and actors with projects that might have a more scholarly life?

The Working Groups provide faculty and upper-level graduate students with space and time in which to explore a shared interest. The program was inspired by one of the core principles of the Obermann Center—the conviction that great discoveries result when diverse, creative people meet regularly to share resources, question disciplinary assumptions, and support each other's work. "Intergenre Explorations: Crossing the Scholarship-Creative Work Divide," which will meet at the Obermann Center for a second year beginning fall 2012, is already garnering successes for its members. 

This June, Marra starred in her one-woman play, Horseback Views, at Links Hall in Chicago. Written by Marra and directed by Meredith Alexander (previewed here in the Chicago Reader), the piece interweaves her personal experience as a former equestrian competitor and her scholarly work on nineteenth-century American actresses and thoroughbred horses. Heineman's project derived from a more intimate life event, far removed from her work as a historian on Germany and Europe in the twentieth century. Heineman (pictured above) had a stillbirth several years ago. When academic prose proved inadequate to express the emotions she and her family experienced, she turned to a creative nonfiction genre, the memoir. She also met an MFA student in the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, Jen Silverman, and the two collaborated on a play, Still, which was read in front of an audience for the first time in April 2012 here in Iowa City. 

In an interview between Heineman and Silverman regarding their collaboration, the historian explained her interest in bringing the work to the stage: "I was open to anything that would extend my time with Thor and confirm his existence to the wider world—and theater fell into my lap. Once Loyce [Arthur] suggested it, and especially once I started talking to you, I realized theater would allow Thor to come to life in a way that was very different than my own memoir writing would allow. "

This summer, an essay from Heineman's memoir, Ghost Belly, which is forthcoming from The Feminist Press, won first place in The New Millennium nonfiction writing competition. “Still Life with Baby” can be read in full here. [link removed]