Mary Jo Lodge, associate professor of English (theater), has received a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to lecture at the University of Roehampton in London and to conduct research on musical theater theory and structure for her book project during the fall semester.
On leave the entire academic year, Lodge will spend the spring semester in New York City to conduct research and develop several directing projects. As a Fulbright Scholar, she will teach a course on American musical theater at Roehampton and deliver a public lecture on the subject. She also plans to construct a more global narrative about the history and structure of musical theater. Lodge is particularly interested in how both British and American musicals cope with the inherent challenges of the form, such as characters who spontaneously burst into song, an interest that lends itself to the title of her book, On Bursting Into Song and Other Perils of the Musical.
Musical theater scholarship
“Musical theater, as a focus of academic study, is relatively new. It’s only recently that musical theater scholarship has grown more sophisticated, and research and publications have emerged in the field that, like my current project, go beyond biography and history to explore the structure and function of musicals and their theoretical underpinnings,” explains Lodge, who led a semester abroad course in London last year. “My work deals with current developments in the field, a challenge in an art form that is constantly in flux, but I believe it is important as it offers a more in-depth examination of new directions in musical theater than reviews or awards can provide.”
Lodge is embracing the challenge in her research just as she encourages her students to take risks and challenge themselves in the classroom. Theater, she says, is not only a tool for entertainment, but a means for critiquing the world and creating social change. She pushes students to nurture their curiosity and grow as artists, but also recognizes that not every student who passes through her classroom will be a performer. She strives to help students appreciate theater in whatever capacity they prefer, whether that is as a performer or as an engaged audience member.
In addition to her book project, Lodge also is researching the role of the director/choreographer, including well-known director/choreographers like Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, and Susan Stroman, and working on another book about the musical on television. She often includes students in her research and projects at the College and has directed and choreographed a number of professional, college, and summer stock productions including College Theater’s Arabian Nights, Rent, and A Thousand Cranes.
A Thousand Cranes
The production of A Thousand Cranes, a true story about a 12-year-old Japanese cancer patient folding 1,000 paper cranes to gain a wish according to Japanese folklore, inspired a Easton, Pa., boy with neuroblastoma, David Heard, to begin his own crane-folding project to donate to local pediatric cancer centers. Lodge and her students donated the 1,000 cranes from their production to launch what became known as The National Crane Project. David’s story gained traction in local media and eventually went national, with folded paper cranes pouring in from all over the country. David, the son of Tom ’91 and Susan Heard, lost his battle with the rare cancer in 2011 but the National Crane Project continues. Lodge remains the campus liaison for the project.
It is that kind of inspiration that makes theater so special, says Lodge, whose own love of theater began as an audience member and then matured from performer and director to scholar: “I believe that live theater can move and inspire like no other medium, that the theater can offer a more immediate and profound experience than any other art form.”
About the Fulbright
Fulbright scholars are chosen through a rigorous application and interview process. (Lodge’s final interview had to be postponed due to poor phone reception in Bali, Indonesia, where she was leading a short-term study abroad course.) Created by treaty in 1948, the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission is the only bilateral, transatlantic scholarship program, offering awards for study or research in any field, at any accredited American or British university. Founded by Senator J. William Fulbright after World War II to promote leadership, learning, and empathy between nations through educational exchange, the Fulbright program is funded by the Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills in the U.K. and the U.S. Department of State, with additional support from a variety of individual and institutional partners including many leading U.K. universities and an annual contribution from the Scottish government.