Dissertation Defended

I passed my dissertation defense! Since April, IU has required that all doctoral defenses be conducted online via teleconferencing software. The stipulation actually made my defense more convenient, as my committee and I were spread across four time zones and teleconferencing made it much easier to coordinate our schedules.

I spent hours upon hours prepping my presentation for the defense. The defense experience itself was nerve-wracking but constructive- my committee members asked sharp questions, which led me to reconsider the selection of some of the critical theories I used to describe aspects of Hong Kong theatre in general and my case studies in particular. Initially I was very nervous, but the question-and-answer part of the defense took on more of a conversational tone as it progressed, which relaxed me. The committee eventually kicked me out of the Zoom room for a minute, and they called me “Doctor” when I was invited back in! Passed with minor revisions!

From now on, you can call me Dr. Emerson.

Dissertation Delivered

Today I finished my dissertation and emailed it off to my committee. I’m so very very very relieved! After a few days of relaxing, I need to begin working on a good presentation of my research for the defense. But for now my top priority is to relax.

Fight Choreography for Little Women: The Musical

You may not associate Little Women: The Musical with stage combat, but in the script there are two distinct areas of conflict that I choreographed for the Southwestern College production. The first was a pseudo-boxing match between Jo and Laurie. Since the musical takes place during and after the American Civil War, I drew upon historical photographs of boxers to inform the character’s fighting stances. Boxers in the 1860s adopted more of a “side-on” stance, twisting the hips away from their opponent and leaning their head back for protection. Also, the fists were extended towards the opponent in a supinated position, creating a body posture similar to the “Fighting Irish” mascot of Notre Dame. It was a lot of fun to choreograph the scene and work with both the natural energy of the actor and the circumstances of the character. As the boxing match took place during a song, I made sure to drill the actors to sync the timing of the combat with the music. The two youngsters testing the limits of love and friendship lent the scene a bit of a comic feel, which suited the overall tone of the production.

The second fight in the show took place in the world of one of Jo’s stories. The villain, hero, and heroine face off in a pair of epic sword fights. Luckily, Southwestern had just purchased a new batch of theatrical single swords from Rogue Steel, so we had top-notch equipment for the fight. Also, I had been teaching single sword in my stage combat class, so the students had a good level of familiarity with the weapon. I built jumps, avoids, thrusts, and disarms into the melodramatic, swashbuckling fights, all executed in a safe manner by the student actors.

On the management side of things, I made sure that a fight captain was appointed to run fight call before each rehearsal and performance. I also developed a “best practices” stage combat guideline sheet for the stage manager and disseminated fight notation to everyone involved in the fight. At the end of the day, the student actors, student fight captain, and student stage manager all learned a lot from the stage combat in the show. Nobody got hurt and the audience was entertained. It was a pleasure to do and I can’t ask for more!

Unarmed Stage Combat Workshops at KC-ACTF

I had the opportunity to teach two unarmed stage combat workshops at the KC-ACTF Region 5 conference, just days after we performed the scene from Eurydice. I was placed in a ballroom with a 150 person capacity and I didn’t want to be flooded by many of the hundreds of students who attend the conference each year, so I made sure to limit the number of participants for both of my workshops to 40. The first workshop focused on the principle of escalation in fight choreography. When watching violence onstage, too many times the characters either explode into violence from a calm scene or all the energy from contentious argument is diffused in the first slow, cautious moves of what was supposed to be a slugfest. By organically building moments of increasing aggression onstage, I attempted to show how a scene can organically flow into moments of violence while still being safe for the actors. 

The second workshop drew about 14 students. The class built towards creating a few moments of violence on film. I emphasized the role of the defender in responding to an attack by blocking, redirecting, avoiding, and/or bracing. Each student left the class with a short video of themselves performing some unarmed moves and some basic knowledge of how to shoot combat on film.

Whit teach Stage Combat Workshop KC-ACTF 2020

Teaching an unarmed stage combat workshop at KC-ACTF 2020.

Eurydice Performs at KC-ACTF

A scene from Eurydice was selected for performance at the KC-ACTF Region 5 festival in Sioux Falls, SD! Everyone from Southwestern bundled up and headed north to perform. It was my first time attending the conference and I was surprised at the high quality of the workshops and student performances. I also found the time to get trained as a KC-ACTF respondent.

Teaching Stage Combat and Modern Theatre History at Southwestern College, KS

I have been hired as an adjunct professor of theatre at Southwestern College, KS to teach Stage Combat and Modern Theatre History. I am excited for the opportunity to teach these two classes, as they speak to my strengths as an instructor. I am familiar with my students, as I shared the stage with many of them in Eurydice last fall. I can’t wait to get started.

Eurydice Performs


Though I had a cold and a cough, the opening night of Eurydice went well. The performance in the Little Theatre at Southwestern College was sold out so we added a few chairs to accommodate extra patrons. The director embraced a method of devising movement developed by the UK-based Frantic Assembly theatre company to incorporate non-realistic physicality into the show. We also did ensemble lifts and falls to bring the moments of “flight” to life. I was impressed with the energy that the student actors brought to the performance, something that undergraduates often seem to lack when approaching non-realistic work. The result was a show which was fun, dark, whimsical, deep, and light at the same time, mirroring the tone of the writing.

Whit as Father in Eurydice 4

Whit as Father in Eurydice 3

Whit as Father in Eurydice 2

Whit as Father in Eurydice 1

AAP and ATHE 2019 Orlando

The annual conferences of the Association for Asian Performance and the Association for Theatre in Higher Education were held in my hometown of Orlando this year. It was hot (not as hot as Boston last year) but the heat was worth it to hear all the new scholarship, reconnect with colleagues, and meet new friends.

I presented a paper pulled from a chapter of my dissertation (pic below). The paper focused on how the characters were depicted in an opera Zuni Icosahedron commissioned and produced in a Jesuit chapel in Hong Kong called The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. The depiction of both character and music asked the audience to critically reconsider their relationship to performance. Interesting stuff!

Some of the panels I attended focused on new pedagogical ideas for teaching theatre history, discussions of new directions in immersive theatre, like Sleep No More and I made a special point to attend two workshops on the emerging field of stage intimacy direction. The conference was a great experience.

Presenting at AAP 2019 Orlando

Presenting at AAP 2019 Orlando

Summer 2019 Research Trip to Hong Kong

Instead of celebrating the 4th of July with barbecue and backyard football, I hopped on a plane and headed to Hong Kong for a month to finish up the fieldwork for my dissertation (and managed to get started on a few other projects). It was difficult for our schedules to align, but finally, on my second-to-last day, I was lucky enough to score a 2 hour interview with Danny Yung. Yung is the founder and Co-Artistic Director of the avant-garde theatre company that my dissertation focuses on: Zuni Icosahedron. Running the gamut between collectively-created performance art pieces, site-specific video installations, and experimental interrogations of traditional Chinese opera, the only constant in Zuni’s eclectic performance style seems to be creativity. The interview helped to enrich the record of Zuni’s early years; after the first hour Yung remarked “This is turning into a kind of oral history!” Hopefully, this oral history will serve to bring more scholarly interest to theatre created by Hong Kong artists.

In addition to research, I also found the time to take in the sites, even getting a first hand chance to observe the anti-China extradition law protests that have rocked the territory for the past 2 months. I made sure to visit the beautiful new Xiqu Chinese Opera Center in the West Kowloon Cultural District (check the picture below), and did some hiking on the hot and humid Lamma Island.


Xiqu Center, West Kowloon, Hong Kong

Xiqu Center, West Kowloon, Hong Kong

On the Boat to Lamma Island

On the Boat to Lamma Island

Tin Hau Temple, Lamma Island

Tin Hau Temple, Lamma Island