As a theatre and cultural historian, I focus on impoverished, disenfranchised, and immigrant communities and how they shaped and were influenced by the embodied and imaginative practices within theatre and performance. My work explores how theatre and performance functions within poor and migrant communities in several ways: as strategies for practical and imaginative community building; cultural institutions that express group identity as well as reinforce dominant social and cultural expectations and prejudices; and methods of social and cultural resistance, adaptation, and survival. I examine these interactions in relation to individual and group identities, including racial, ethnic, gender, class, and religious identity, within local, national, and transnational contexts. In my research, performance is conceived not only as a cultural form that reflects, constitutes, and challenges identity, but also as an active construct that disadvantaged or displaced populations used to serve their own needs. Considering these populations as participants and creators instead of passive observers of theatrical culture and performance is crucial for reconsidering questions pertaining to migration, identity, oppression, and the social justice.
My current research investigates nineteenth-century American and Irish popular performance. My peer-reviewed articles question the role of theatre and performance in everyday life for the Irish and immigrant poor in New York and the construction and transformation of cultural memory for Irish diasporic populations in North America and Australia. My first monograph, Irish on the Move: Performing Mobility in American Variety Theatre (forthcoming Fall 2019, University of Iowa Press) suggests that what I am calling “dramaturgies of mobility” -- repeated narratives, types, images, strategies, and performative practices -- participated in systems of meaning pertaining to mobility and informed systematic oppression as well as served as strategies for survival for migrant, ethnic, and racial groups. My future research projects will analyze the relationship between transatlantic Irish popular performance and the emergence of modern urban sectarian violence in Belfast as well as the intersections between theatre and post-Civil War laws created to disenfranchise poor populations.