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Passings: Theatre scholar Lisa Wolford Wylam was a specialist in contemporary performance

Passings: Theatre scholar Lisa Wolford Wylam was a specialist in contemporary performance

York is mourning the loss of Professor Lisa Wolford Wylam, who died suddenly on Sunday, Oct. 9 while visiting family in Knoxville, Tennessee. The University flag will fly at half-mast in her honour from 9am today until 1pm on tomorrow.

Left: Lisa Wolford Wylam

Prof. Wylam came to York from Bowling Green State University in 2006, joining the faculty in York’s Department of Theatre as associate professor. At the time of her death, she was graduate director of the MA/PhD Program in Theatre Studies.

A passionate and widely respected scholar, Prof. Wylam was a specialist in performance art, theories of acting and directing, and performance ethnography, with a particular interest in the work of groundbreaking theatre director Jerzy Grotowski. She was best known for her involvement with the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards in Pontedera, Italy and her ethnographic work with US-based performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and his company, La Pocha Nostra. A founding vice president of Performance Studies international (PSi), she served as program chair for the 2010 PSi conference, Performing Publics, held in Toronto.

“Lisa had a brilliant mind and contributed so much to the development of contemporary performance research,” said her friend and department colleague, theatre Professor Laura Levin, who directed the conference jointly with Prof. Wylam. “There has been a tremendous outpouring of grief within the theatre and performance studies community following her passing, as scholars from around the world recognize the importance of her contributions to the field.” 

Prof. Wylam’s publications include Grotowski’s Objective Drama Research (University Press of Mississippi 1996) and The Grotowski Sourcebook (Routledge 1997), co-edited with Richard Schechner. In 2008, she co-edited (with Mario Biagini and Antonio Attisani) Doorways: Performing as a Vehicle at the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards (Seagull Press) and co-edited with Kris Salata a special issue of The Drama Review that examines Grotowski’s lingering influence on artists and scholars around the world.

Prof. Wylam’s scholarship was informed by her extensive experience in devised theatre and as a dramaturg, including her work with La Pocha Nostra, the Workcenter, and Cleveland’s Theatre Labyrinth. In 2010 she brought Pocha Nostra’s co-artistic directors, Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes, to York as artists-in-residence for the Summer Institute in Theatre Studies (see YFile, June 29, 2010). This past summer, she was instrumental in bringing Mario Biagini from the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards to York for an intensive Summer Institute (see YFile, July 25).  

Alongside her professional accomplishments, Prof. Wylam’s faculty colleagues note above all her deep commitment to her students, her collegiality towards her peers, and her personal integrity and compassionate spirit. She was a beloved teacher and a tireless advocate for students and junior faculty. She brought to her classes tremendous critical insight, warmth and humour, and instilled in her students a passion for merging theory with practice. Working closely with her graduate students in theatre studies, she helped to create a rich, challenging and forward-thinking environment for advanced study.

"Lisa was incredibly generous and supportive, always willing to step in to help students and colleagues when the need arose,” said theatre Professor Marlis Schweitzer. “Her passion, conviction and dedication to our students were evident in everything she did – from classes and committees to one-on-one meetings. We will deeply miss her."

Prof. Wolford Wylam is survived by her husband, John Wylam. An on-campus memorial event celebrating her life is being planned; details will be forthcoming soon. Meanwhile, condolence cards and messages for the family may be directed to Professor Elizabeth Asselstine, chair, Department of Theatre.

Republished courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.