New theatre professor investigates society and culture in dramatic texts

By Victoria Gill-Gomez

Opinion Editor

The discovery of artistic interest begins with curiosity, and that was no different for Visiting Professor of Theatre Laronika Thomas.

Thomas joined Washington College’s Department of Theatre & Dance, filling in the teaching role of previous department chair Dr. Michele Volansky. 

“I knew that Michele taught here and always spoke very highly of the students here, and I was really excited when Laura [Eckelman] reached out and said we are looking for someone to teach those courses,” Thomas said.

Thomas met Volansky in 2003 when beginning her dramaturgy internship at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Ill. 

Thomas comes from the Midwest and attended Indiana University. After taking an Acting I course, she decided to double major in both theatre and anthropology. She later received her Master of Arts in Dramaturgy, the literary theory of dramatic structures, at Purdue University. 

“Initially, I thought I was doing an Arts Administration Masters because I was in a program where I could design my own M.A., and I realize that if I am doing this, [dramaturgy], is the thing that interests me,” Thomas said. “I love researching, I love thinking about why people do what they do, and I love being in the rehearsal room and talking to the other artists and collaborating with them. So, dramaturgy gives me all of that.”

Because dramaturgy applies research to the historical, social, and psychological context of a show, Thomas enjoys that with each production, her research makes her a temporary expert.

“I think some of the misconceptions about dramaturgy . . . is that dramaturgs are like task-masters. Know that the history is this and can only be this and you have to get this particular detail right,” Thomas said. “I am part of the conversation, and I have creative mind, and I am interested in your creative mind and what we can do together.”

This semester, she is teaching Theatre 102: Drama, Stage, and Society II, as well as a new special topic course: Societal Changes in Theatre. 

Concurrently, she is obtaining her Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Thomas’ dissertation uses performance theory to examine everyday life, applying the dramatic structures of a text to social and civic systems.

She previously taught courses about script analysis, dramaturgy, and communication studies at institutions such as Micha, Loyola University Maryland, Community College of Baltimore County, and Towson University.

Despite never imagining herself as a teacher, she said that she loves it, especially the experience of talking to students. 

“I hope students feel empowered by both classes and I hope at the end of the semester — as a result of what we read and what we talk about — the students come out of the classes feeling like they gained those skills and have this capability to dive into any sort of new idea and contribute to it,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, every classroom is an opportunity to create a community. She believes this is a key component to teaching.

“What I see in students is how curious they are and that is what I want to cultivate in the classroom,” Thomas said. “How can we get the most out of each other and have good conversations and ask important questions.”

Thomas said she must remind herself of the differences between feeling excited versus anxious. 

She believes it is normal to be nervous while working with a new group of people, but she is excited to teach this new class, because of how theatre helps people view the world.

“It is not only an innate human activity, but I think it can help us be better humans. It is powerful. Storytelling can change people’s minds,” Thomas said.

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