Top three texts to take to a desert island: If we think about texts broadly, then I would choose Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness, the entire television series Steven Universe, and the Off-Broadway cast recording of The Fortress of Solitude.
Q. Summarize your research in one sentence…
Figuring out how contemporary American audiences, critics, and producers take pleasure in and profit off of theatrical productions that espouse racial progressiveness but also socially reproduce systemic white supremacy.
Q. Is there a key question that you are trying to answer?
How does theatre represent race, and reinforce, challenge, or change racism?
Original playbill for “The Great White Hope,” which Donatella analyzes in her book, “America in the Round.”
Q: What are you working on now?
I recently published two articles on race and musicals: “Being in ‘The Room Where It Happens’: Hamilton, Obama, and Nationalist Neoliberal Multicultural Inclusion” argues that this hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton mobilizes a multiracial cast and bootstraps narrative to advance a centrist political project. “Feeling Yellow: Responding to Contemporary Yellowface in Musical Performance” theorizes how racial hierarchy and identity shape emotional reactions to musicals, specifically how Asian Americans deal with performances of stereotypical Asianness by non-Asians. My first book, a critical history of the first professional regional theatre in Washington, D.C., comes out in March 2019!
Q: What does the experience of teaching teach you?
I always ask my students to connect epistemology with power: How do we know what we know? That being said, students point out my own gaps. Last fall, a Pacific Islander student told me that they took my Asian American Theatre class presuming that I would teach a PI play–but I didn’t. I’ve been thinking about AAPI linkages and my ignorance. I just read Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance by Stephanie N. Teves.
Q. How does your theatre background inform your methods or your approach to research?
My theatre training (and theatregoing) taught me to think of performance beyond the page: How do design elements from the staging to the costumes to the space tell the story? What do audiences and critics make of the performance? How do aesthetics, politics, and economics shape theatre production?
Q. If someone could only see one play in their lifetime, what show would you recommend?
Soft Power, book and lyrics by David Henry Hwang and music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori. I saw it three times within one month. It’s everything. But it has more meaning if you are familiar with The King and I.