Dr. N.J. Stanley
Assoicate professor of theatre
When did your interest in
theatre begin?
I am the youngest of five children,
and when I was a little girl, two of my
older siblings constantly played records
of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals
and taught me to sing along with them.
Then they choreographed a number from
Flower Drum Song,
“Grant Avenue,”
which we performed in the inaugural
Dickinson (Texas) Talent Show. I think
we won second place!
Dancing and singing in my emerald-
green taffeta dress, homemade by my
grandmother, was the official beginning
of my lifelong love affair with the
theatre! Ironically, my sister became a
pharmacist and my brother an art history
professor, but I never wavered. I have
vivid memories of performing all through
grammar and high school as well as
What has been your most
rewarding show to direct at
I especially enjoy directing what
are sometimes called “high-concept”
productions, which usually means that
the play is written in a style other than
realism, so the challenges are very
different. In 2008, I directed
by Sophie Treadwell, an expressionistic
work that called for many of the actors
to perform their characters in a robotic
style. Because the play was about how
mechanistic and impersonal our society
has become, the scene designer used steel
to create all the set pieces, and the actors
moved everything around the stage at
lightning speed. It was a very spectacular
show to watch, with dynamic lighting and
sound effects as well.
This season’s
The Threepenny Opera
was a high-concept show because it is
an example of Epic Theatre, which I
find intriguing to interpret as a director.
Playwright Bertolt Brecht believed in the
theatre’s power to educate and serve as a
vehicle for social change, so he created
techniques to disrupt the audience’s
absorption in the world of the play.
Actors speak directly to the audience;
the action takes place all over the theatre,
not just onstage; and nothing is hidden—
everything happening backstage can be
Do you have a favorite play?
I guess I’m not very inventive in this
regard, but I must say that Arthur Miller’s
Death of a Salesman
is one of the most
powerful plays ever written. I have taught
it dozens of times and seen it twice
on Broadway. The story of a middle-
class family coping with their failure to
achieve the American dream confronts
values that are imbedded in the American
psyche. I always tell my students that I
personally go to the theatre to be moved,
Death of a Salesman
is an incredibly
poignant work that touches me deeply
over and over again.
As coordinator of the College’s
Women’s and Gender Studies
Program, how do your
interests in this field and
theatre intersect?
The feminist in me is always searching
for plays to produce that have complex
female protagonists. That is part of the
reason why
and dozens of other
plays through the years have appealed
to me. I consciously select plays for all
my theatre courses that address issues
of gender in political, social and cultural
spheres. I have taught my Modern Drama
course by choosing plays that address
the theme “women who kill.” I always
change the course theme and at least
some of my play choices every year, but
this one may return!
What do you enjoy about
teaching theatrical arts?
I am passionate about the theatre
and its unique ability to enlighten
human beings about themselves—their
understanding of their own personal
behavior as well as what it means
to perceive and recognize their own
worldview. Theatre exists because human
beings have an insatiable desire to
and the theatre is a live,
of the human condition. I want the
theatre to live forever as a facet of human
experience, and I consider my goal as a
teacher to inspire my students to keep it
alive far into the future.
About Stanley
Dr. N.J. Stanley is an
associate professor of theatre and
coordinator of the Women’s and
Gender Studies Program. She
teaches acting, directing, theatre
history and dramatic literature.
Research interests include
women in American theatre and
contemporary American drama.
She has published numerous
essays and directed more than 55
productions across the U.S. She
earned an M.F.A. in directing
from Florida State University and
a Ph.D. in theatre and drama from
Indiana University.
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