College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Professor Blends Interests in History and Theatre for New Book

Rhona Justice-Malloy has built her career as a professor of theatre arts, but she’s really a history buff at heart.

The University of Mississippi faculty member recently combined her passions for her first book, “Enacting History” (University of Alabama Press, 2011), which explores the world of historical performances. The book is a collection of essays that delve into nontraditional theatre performances, including living history museums, battle reenactments, renaissance festivals and more.“So many areas have these amazing living reenactments,” she said. “As a historian, I found these stories and essays unique.”

Justice-Malloy, who is the immediate past chair of the UM Department of Theatre Arts, is editor of Theatre History Studies, the official journal of the Mid-America Theatre Conference, and past president of the conference. With fellow editor Scott Magelssen, she spent a year compiling the essays on these performances and performers.

“There have been a number of books on living histories, but never before has anyone gathered a range of inquires of how performances outside traditional theatre deal with the past,” said Magelssen, associate professor of theatre at Bowling Green State University and author of “Living History Museums: Undoing History through Performance.”

“Rhona and I felt that by bringing together these authors, we would be able to bring new light to the existing conversations as well as help push the discussion forward in classroom, scholarship and in the world of reenactments,” he said.

“Enacting History” features 10 essays by various authors on a wide range of historical performances.

Malloy’s essay, “Ping Chong & Company’s Undesirable Elements/Secret Histories in Oxford, Mississippi,” highlights stories from marginalized identities, based on a theatre production that originated close to campus.

“The Oxford production, written and directed by company member Leyla Modirzadeh, is about honesty, tolerance, intolerance and the many, many ways we share common experiences with people who are born in one culture, but live as part of another, by choice or circumstance,” Malloy said.

“‘Secret Histories’ are the stories from marginalized individuals that we don’t hear, tell or concentrate on,” Modirzadeh said.

Modirzadeh’s 2009 performance featured UM professor Joe Turner Cantu and Ole Miss student Brittany Ray, plus nonactors who used words, songs, rhythm, accents and other techniques for expression, Malloy said.

“Historical performances give a voice to the voiceless, but also share dreams, goals (and) histories common to everyone,” she said.

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