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Dr. John Gentile To Receive NCA’s Heston Award

By Keaton Lamle

Dr. John Gentile, Professor of Performance Studies in Kennesaw State’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, will receive the National Communication Association’s Lilla A. Heston Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Interpretation and Performance Studies. NCA will present Gentile with the award during its 103rd annual convention in Dallas, Texas this November.

The Heston award, which recognizes excellence in published research and creative scholarship, comes on the basis of Gentile’s essay, “Shape-Shifter in the Green: Performing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” (published in Storytelling, Self, Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Storytelling Studies). “Shape-Shifter in the Green…” builds on Gentile’s three decades of scholarship in arguing an inextricable link between the seemingly disparate tasks of performance and scholarship. To hear Gentile explain it, his goal is to illuminate the work of what he calls, the ‘scholar-artist,’ thereby, “show[ing] the work in scholarship that inevitably takes place behind the scenes in preparing a performance of a canonical text like Sir Gawain.”

Gentile has always been attracted to what he refers to as, “masterworks,” those canonical texts that are ultimately handed down and rediscovered across the distance of centuries. As a result, much of his work as a scholar and artist has centered on the concept of adapting and staging canonical works like Sir Gawain, Moby-Dick, and The Scarlet Letter for contemporary audiences. “I often wonder about the future of great works,” Gentile explains. “If they are not embedded in our education experience, when will people come upon them? And so I almost have a quest to ‘salvage’ works from a sense of loss, whereby a work of true power and significance is reduced— to contemporary students— to only a title they may have heard of.” According to Gentile, it is this task of cultural curation that ultimately necessitates a link between scholarship and performance. “Assuming the artist creating the adaptation of a major literary text for the stage has done his or her work in analysis and in research,” the professor explains, “and brings to it an effective vision, and makes it vital in the theatrical experience, then that performance can lead audiences back to the original text itself -- as readers, and that to me is the real benefit of doing the work I do.”

Given Gentile’s track record of both penning and staging engaging performances of famous texts, and his impeccable ability to articulate the theory behind this process in his work, it’s no surprise that Emerson College’s John Dennis Anderson called him, “the preeminent exemplar… of the scholar artist [in the field of performance studies]” in a nomination letter for the 2017 Lilla A. Heston Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Interpretation and Performance Studies.

Gentile’s celebrated scholarship and artistry will be on display on November 11, at the Jung Society of Atlanta’s, “The Green Knight and Other Stories of Magic and Transformation: A Storytelling Program with Music.”


Archived News

Margaret Baldwin Wins Teaching Award

Margaret Baldwin, senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, wins the Felton Jenkins Jr. Hall of Fame 2016 Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for Regional and State Universities.  The University System of Georgia Board of Regents review committee was impressed with Baldwin’s innovative approach to teaching, and wrote, “You stood out to the committee because you use theater to promote global learning and multicultural teaching, you grasp and apply the concept of assessing learning outcomes to promote success of students, and you serve as a mentor to both faculty and students at Kennesaw State University.” She was unanimously chosen as the award winner by the committee. We talked with Margaret about her award:

Q. What does this award mean to you?
A. I am honored and thrilled to receive this award and to see this testament to the power of theatre, and the arts in general, as vehicles for engaged learning. In the arts, we teach skills essential to prepare all students for successful work and civic life beyond college. We employ teaching practices seen as essential to prepare students for successful work and civic life beyond college: hands-on learning, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, global perspectives and community engagement.

Q. What advice would you give to educators?
A. Students learn by doing, so the big question is “how do you make the classroom a site for engaged learning?” The basic tools of theatre are really great for teaching and learning. We can take a written text––something hard for students to access––and by doing exercises that get the students up on their feet and into their bodies, they can learn those plays and and embody those concepts in ways that help them learn more deeply.  It’s a basic tenant of performance studies that I didn’t know about until I came to KSU; it is embodied learning.

Q. Would you like to recognize any mentors?
A. When I was at graduate school at University of Iowa, Erik Ehn, Anne Bogart, and Naomi Iizuka definitely inspired and influenced me. Karen Robinson has been a great mentor and collaborator at KSU. We work together to discover the connection between theatre and global learning, and those intersections where the theatre becomes the seed for conversation, dialogue, and mutual exchange that’s meaningful and cross-cultural. That investigation is something that we’ve done together over the last ten years, and it’s changed and expanded my vision of what theatre can and should do. We always ask, “How do you take it beyond the theatre? How do you take it into the world?” 

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