New HowlRound position offers student Jemma Kepner space to think
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Since theater major Jemma Kepner discovered HowlRound Theater Commons about 2 years ago, the online platform has become her go-to as a source for contemporary scholarship about theater. She’s used it to research topics for classes, and as a way of furthering her thinking about her own theater-making.
It comes as no surprise, then, that when HowlRound announced its newest slate of College Ambassadors, Kepner’s name was on the list. Her duties include curating lists of articles and sharing posts about the platform on her social media. In exchange, she gets access to HowlRound events, networking opportunities with fellow College Ambassadors and other HowlRound members, and hopes to eventually submit her own articles for publication.
“It's reached a moment right now,” Kepner said of HowlRound’s relevance. “When you're a bustling theater person, you're focused on getting from one place to the next all the time, and you don't get many chances to sit down and read. And right now, rethinking the status quo in theater is a general mindset that we're in. HowlRound presents a lot of progressive, new, radical ideas in theater that relate to the current moment.”
Although HowlRound began in 2011, the College Ambassador program is about a year old and was created, Kepner said, to better connect with college-aged students. The Ambassadors — who’ve met via Zoom several times — are charged with amplifying posts on their social media to reach fellow students and setting up pick-lists curated around topics that interest them. For example, virtual theater has become an interest of Kepner's both as a participant and observer: she is part of the department’s COVEN-19, and she advocates for virtual theater as both safer for artists and as offering new ways to approach performance. One of her curated pick-lists includes a slate of articles looking at these issues.
The work takes at most an hour a week of her time, which is part of the appeal for Kepner, as it allows her to be involved with something that matters to her without becoming overwhelmed.
“For someone who already scrolls on social media a lot, it’s nice that I can be involved in a positive way,” she said, “and advocate for articles that really resonate with my interests and beliefs. Plus, I've now got my name in HowlRound’s network.”
Kepner has long used HowlRound as a source in dramaturgy essays, and to strengthen her case when advocating for change, both in the department and in theater practice in general. Among the most impactful articles she’s read recently is Madeline Sayet’s Interrogating the Shakespeare System, which Sayet, a citizen of the Mohegan Tribe, looks at the oppressive role of Shakespeare’s work and legacy in our society.
“She addresses … how Shakespeare works in a larger system… and what it does to people when you idolize one artist to the point where they become their own genre,” Kepner said.
She’s also, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, been drawn to writings about health and safety in theater, whether that’s in articles that speak to accessibility issues, look at consent and physical contact, or re-examine the often punishing duration of typical technical rehearsals.
“There are many theatre traditions that need to end because they are ancient and don't serve us anymore,” Kepner said.
Kepner’s also mulling over these topics to eventually write for HowlRound herself. “I know that I've thought a lot about what the common sanitary practices were in the theaters I've grown up in. And due to the pandemic we now have this hyper awareness of public health,” she said. “In the theater community, we are going to be spending a lot of time reflecting.”
Kepner’s page in HowlRound, which includes links to her curated lists of articles: https://howlround.com/commons/jemma-kepner
For more about HowlRound’s College Ambassador Program, visit the website at: https://howlround.com/introducing-howlrounds-college-ambassadors