By Whit Emerson
There is a question that Dr. Sonia Velazquez attempted to answer in a new graduate level course this year: “What was Theatre?” The course might sound a bit mysterious but it covers medieval to early modern theatre in England, France, and Spain. New critical theory tools and contemporary ideas have lead many scholars to reexamine medieval texts, with the field being seen as wide open to new rules of interpretation. Most people think of theatre from the middle ages as dominated by the church and stilted in its performance. How can its study be liberating?
“So how do you approach a text? You look for your author. Well guess what? We don’t have an author and in the middle ages and there were no titles. By and large, these were concepts that were solidified much later. I’m fascinated when everything you thought you knew about how to read a text is no longer valid.” In a discipline with little concrete information to go on, a scholar must be either a good researcher or a good theorist. Which one is Dr. Velazquez? “I’m more into theory,” she laughs.
Dr. Velazquez holds a PhD from Princeton in Spanish Literature and Culture and has a background in comparative literature and world language education. She used theatre as a teaching tool for her students in Spanish language classes. “It was difficult for them to read the play out loud in Spanish so I made them imagine the play being produced. I asked the students to think about what they would do with [Calderon’s play] Life is a Dream.” Fluent in Spanish, English, French, and Norwegian, Dr. Velazquez tends to approach theatre from a literary analysis angle, but is quick to point out that text is just one tool in understanding theatre. “Another thing that I like about this time period is we see the emergence of theatre as a valid form of media.”
Dr. Velazquez splits time between teaching theatre and religious studies. Her forthcoming book, Promiscuous Grace: Rethinking Religion and Beauty with St. Mary of Egypt discusses the interplay of beauty and holiness and focuses on St. Mary of Egypt. In the spring, besides the theatre class, she also taught a religion class dealing with Greek myths and transformations.
So what is another course we can look forward to in the future? “I’d like to teach a course on adaptations, how a text can move through different media,” she says excitedly. Sounds like a great course to have, especially with the recent success of book-to-TV adaptations like Game of Thrones and book-to-play adaptations like Les Misérables. It’s something all young scholars would love to learn.