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Jessica Brater

Associate Professor, Theatre and Dance

Life Hall
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Dr. Brater’s research aims to bring attention to art, artists, and audience communities, especially women, who have been underrepresented historically by theatre critics and scholars. Her work emphasizes the relationship between theatrical performance and social and political engagement.

Her current book project, under contract with Methuen Drama, engages in a close reading of 21st Century American social justice campaigns through the lens of theatre, and aims to elucidate the parallels between advocacy and theatre and suggest ways to exploit these parallels for progressive change in both disciplines. Case studies include examples of faith-based social justice campaigns, youth led movements March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter, theater for social change courses and training programs, and pandemic virtual advocacy. And what happens when right-wing advocates employ these techniques? Finally, the January 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol is explored as a transgressive event that falls outside the limits of advocacy as theatre. By looking at ways that advocacy as theatre can provide an apparatus for strengthening our democracy, we can establish a more just and equitable country and inspire sustainable engaged citizenship among the theatre community.

Her first book, RUTH MALECZECH AT MABOU MINES: WOMAN'S WORK, was published by Methuen Drama in 2016. Chapters on Mabou Mines appear in WOMEN, COLLECTIVE CREATION, AND DEVISED PERFORMANCE and in CONTEMPORARY APPROACHES TO ADAPTATION IN PERFORMANCE, both published by Palgrave Macmillan. Other writing has appeared in publications including AUJOURD'HUI/SAMUEL BECKETT TODAY and THEATRE JOURNAL. Recent publications include chapters and articles in the CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO AMERICAN THEATRE since 1945, AMERICAN THEATRE ENSEMBLES 1970-1995, and THE JOURNAL OF AMERICAN DRAMA & THEATRE. Forthcoming publications include "Nora, Lucia, and Lear: Gender and Performance at Mabou Mines" for ANALYZING GENDER IN PERFORMANCE (Palsgrave MacMillan) and a chapter on Lee Breuer for the new series GREAT NORTH AMERICAN STAGE DIRECTORS (Methuen Drama).

Brater was the founding Artistic Director of Polybe + Seats. Over the company’s fifteen-year history, they partnered with other Brooklyn cultural organizations including the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge, and the Old Stone House to create socially engaged work. Most recently, Brater directed Sarah Badiyah Sakaan’s THE ART OF HIJAB, KOHL BLACK, AND THE RIGHT WAY TO PRAY, a new play that explores Muslim feminist identity. The project was supported by a 2014-16 residency at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, several Creative Space grants from ART/NY, and a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council. The production was presented at the Bay Ridge Brooklyn Public Library and in a performance residency at the Obie-award winning gallery FiveMyles in partnership with the Arab American Association of New York.

Recent directing work includes the Turkish American Rep Theatre & Entertainment's WE THE WOMEN at the Tank NYC in 2023, Doc Andersen-Bloomfield’s LITTLE DID I KNOW for Jersey City Theater Center’s 2022 New Play Festival and FLORIDA! by Amanda Sage Comerford for Luna Stage’s NEA-granted Voting Writes project in 2020 and a protest performance as part of a demonstration against mistreatment of incarcerated immigrants at the Essex County Correctional Facility on the steps of the Newark Hall of Records in 2019. She was the recipient of a Loving Leadership award from Faith in New Jersey for her advocacy work in 2019.

Brater’s teaching encourages students to map connections between theater literature, history, and theory and their own stage practice, challenging them to excel both intellectually and creatively and to examine connections between the performative and the political. She teaches courses in theater history, theater for social change, and site-specific performance and is excited to be embarking on a teaching/directing collaboration with Jersey City Theater Center and New Jersey Playwrights Lab:

She is the program coordinator for the BA and MA in Theatre Studies and the Graduate Certificate in Theatre of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Change. She served as a 2018-2020 Community Engaged Teaching and Learning Fellow, served on the University Senate from 2018-2021, and is the current vice chair of the Graduate Council. She is a leader with the multifaith advocacy organization New Jersey Together, the recipient of a Loving Leadership award from Faith in New Jersey and was recognized as a 2022 NJ 11 hero by Rep. Mikie Sherill for her community organizing work. Brater holds a Ph.D. and M.Phil from the CUNY Graduate Center and a B.A. from Barnard College.