Theater for All

Five questions with Sara Freeman ’95, professor of theatre arts

As a theater historian, Sara Freeman ’95 studies the intersection of art, politics, and gender through the lens of contemporary theater companies. In her role as professor and chair of the theatre arts department, Freeman is active on campus, serving in the Faculty Senate, co-chairing a committee to recommend principles for renaming buildings, and helping to organize the Race & Pedagogy Institute’s national conference. Now, she’s thinking about how theater will evolve after the COVID-19 pandemic to embrace new technology and reach a wider audience.

Q: A lot of your scholarship is focused on the political dimension of contemporary British and American playwrights. Do you think theater is inherently political?
A: Theater's fundamental job is to bring people together to reflect upon themselves and their society. If you’re going to do that, then it’s going to be political by its very nature. Even if the locus of the story is about a family, it’s also about how that family figures into the culture and what’s at stake in their microcosmic choices that reflect the wider society—that’s political. I’m interested in how different playwrights approach that, but also in the revisionist histories that treat these works as somehow not political when they’re clearly commenting on existing systems and structures. That’s the power of theater, and it always has been.

Q: You’re a graduate of Puget Sound. How did your experience as a theatre arts major influence you?
A: It completely formed me. I was in the Honors Program, I wrote for The Trail, I studied abroad in England, and I was involved in theater. When I started, I thought I wanted to be an actress, but then I discovered the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker. I directed one of her plays for my senior thesis. I really don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t done all of those things. A whole life of scholarship, teaching, and directing opened up to me because of studying here.

Q: The theater department’s spring production of Machinal was unique in its use of technology in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you think the pandemic will change theater going forward?
A: I hope this year and this pandemic time has a permanent impact on theater. It’s already made us value the intimacy and the directness of in-person performance, and I know there’s a hunger for that. At the same time, we have to reckon with issues of equity and providing more access to more people. So, I think we’re going to see more performances specifically designed for virtual spaces that take advantage of what streaming live performance can do with the overlap of liveness and technology. The other thing I hope changes is our society’s attitude toward the arts and recognizing the value of the arts. There has to be economic support for artists and venues so we can continue to be in this space doing this meaningful work together.

Q: What do you hope your students take away from your classes?
A: Often in theater we talk about presence—you have to be there. It doesn’t matter if it’s in person or virtual, you have to be an active participant in whatever you’re doing. Even if you’re an audience member, you have to be engaged. I hope they take away how important it is to be an active learner, to be an active creator, and to be an active collaborator, because collaboration is transformative.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your life off campus?
A: I love fashion, both its history and as a medium for self-expression. I’m a shoe person; I worked in a high-end shoe department during graduate school and got hooked on collecting shoes. I have an Instagram account where I posted a different pair of shoes every day for 365 days, and now I post highlight and new acquisitions. I also spend a lot of time with my two daughters and—in the absence of live performances—I’ve been watching TV. Right now, I’m very deep into a French show on Netflix called Call My Agent. It’s fantastic.
 
Author’s note: You can follow Sara Freeman’s shoe adventures on Instagram at @sarafree73.

 

By Jonny Eberle
Photo by Sy Bean
Published March 24, 2021