Feb. 2, 2010

Book traces Carlson's career, evolution of theater studies

The career of former Cornell professor Marvin Carlson, Ph.D. '61, is the subject of a recent book, "Changing the Subject: Marvin Carlson and Theatre Studies 1959-2009."

Edited and with an introduction by Joseph Roach, Ph.D. '73, the book collects new essays by eminent scholars to create a casebook of changes in the field over the past 50 years. Carlson mapped the issues, ideas and methods of the emerging discipline.

The book allows readers to trace the evolution of major paradigms in theater studies -- including the drive to document historic performances, the rise of radical theaters and artists and the application of theory -- while following Carlson's development as a scholar, teacher and mentor. He has written 15 books and more than 100 articles on Western European and Arabic-speaking theater; his 1993 Cornell University Press book, "Theories of the Theatre," has been translated into seven languages. He is a prolific translator, editor and reviewer who has inspired generations of students, many of them now eminent scholars.

"Marvin Carlson is, quite simply, the long-standing visionary leader in the international world of theater and performance scholars," said Gay Gibson Cima, Ph.D. '78, who contributed an essay to the book. "He has been at the forefront for decades and shows no signs of flagging."

Carlson joined the Cornell faculty in 1961 and taught for 20 years in what is now the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance with a joint appointment in comparative literature. He then taught for seven years at Indiana University and is now a professor of theater, comparative literature and of Middle Eastern studies at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

"When I was at Cornell, primarily my work was in theater history, especially European theater history," he said. "When I went to Indiana I began to be at least equally interested in theory. In New York, I got more interested in contemporary performance, experimental work and so on, and for the last eight or 10 years, in Arabic and Islamic theater."

"Changing the Subject" includes a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Yale drama department chair Paula Vogel, M.A. '76. The contributing scholars who studied with Carlson are Cima; Roach, professor of theater and English at Yale; Barry Daniels, Ph.D. '73; and Roger Herzel, Ph.D. '74. Other contributors include Judith Milhous, Ph.D. '74; Doug Paterson, M.A. '70, Ph.D. '72; and David Savran, Ph.D. '78.

"When Joe and I first talked about this three or four years ago, I thought this would be a wonderful idea," Carlson said. "I wanted to have people who were important in the field and had actually been my students. It does show that the students I have worked with have gone in a great variety of directions. That's one of the things that I'm quite proud of in my career."

In 2009, his former Cornell department introduced an annual prize in Carlson's honor -- the Marvin Carlson Award for Best Student Essay in Theatre or Performance. The deadline for the 2010 competition is Feb. 15. Information; http://www.theatrefilmdance.cornell.edu/theatrearts/academics/theatre/programs.asp.