Esther J. Terry

Esther J. Terry is a educator, and scholar. From 2014–2015, Esther was one of the department's Mellon Pre-Doctoral Fellows. While at Pitt, Esther has taught Introduction to Performance and Introduction to Dramatic Art. In 2014, she designed and taught the first iteration of Contemporary Global Stages as Performing African Diasporas.

Her dissertation, "Belonging While Black: Embodying Fugitivity and Enacting Historiographic Kinships in African Diasporas," re-maps sub-Saharan presence within global performance practices. With theoretical grounding in Performance Studies and Atlantic historiography, she explores Afro-Iberian dances, enslaved fugitives in the Americas, and Jim Crow and Sally Hemings. From the contested blackness of southern European dances, like the guineo and zarabanda, she argues for trans-Mediterranean influences by sub-Saharan dancers. She also shows how sub-Saharan Africans understood European dances and rhythms, prior to Atlantic crossings, and manipulated global performance practices to escape. Throughout, she reveals how Jim Crow’s broken body and Sally Hemings's silence mark a late historiographic forgetting, and grounding, of both athletic choreographies and performed fugitivity.

Esther has presented papers at the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), Mid-Atlantic Popular Culture Conference (MAPACA), the Comparative Drama Conference (CDC), and the Global Queerness conference at Wooster. She currently serves as the Vice President of Academic and Career Support for Duse, the Theatre Arts graduate student organization at Pitt. In 2011, she organized and chaired an ATHE multidisciplinary roundtable on historiography, performance, and pedagogy of Blackface minstrelsy. That same year, she organized and co-chaired an ASTR working session that explored the marketable currency of minoritarian identities in theory and performance. In 2013 and 2014, she served as the Graduate Assistant to the Conference Organizers for the Theatre History Symposium of the Mid-America Theatre Conference.

In 2012, Esther received a departmental summer fellowship for prospectus research. In the summer of 2011, she was honored to be invited to participate in Northwestern’s Summer Institute on Black Feminist Studies, “solo/black/woman” with E. Patrick Johnson and Ramón Rivera-Servera. She then co-chaired a committee to bring E. Patrick Johnson’s “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South” to Pittsburgh. From 2010 to 2012, she worked as an Associate Editor for Featured Articles for ASTR Online. In 2010, she received a Fulbright Hays Group Project Abroad grant as part of a summer intensive on Swahili language, history, and culture in Tanzania. She also received a Thomas Marshall Grant from ASTR in 2010, and an Honorable Mention for the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program in 2011.

In her spare time, Esther serves as a dramaturg and executes outreach campaigns to increase diversity in audiences and auditions for department productions. In 2011, she helped direct Funnyhouse of a Negro for the UP Stages lab season.

Representative Publications

Chapters in Edited Collections

“Land Rights and Womb Rights: Forging Difficult Diasporic Kinships in Ruined.” In A Critical Companion to Lynn Nottage, ed. Jocelyn L. Buckner. New York: Routledge, forthcoming.

“Musical Storm and Mental Stress: Trauma and Instability in Contemporary American Musical Theatre.” In Mental Illness and Popular Culture. Edited by Lawrence Rubin. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2012.

Journal Articles, Peer-Reviewed

“Rural as Racialized Plantation vs Rural as Modern Reconnection: Blackness and Agency in Disney’s Song of the South and The Princess and the Frog.” In Journal of African American Studies. 14(4), 469–481.

Open-Access Articles, Peer-Reviewed

“Class, Race, or Ethnicity Apart? Changing Whiteness and Counting People of Mexican Descent.” US History Scene, October 2013.

“Performance Pedagogy and Blackface Minstrelsy: Confronting Racial Performance History in the Classroom.” US History Scene, October 2013.

Book Reviews

Under review by Theatre Survey editors: The Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy. Edited by Magda Romanska.


American Society for Theatre Research

Presented paper: “Not that he loved Shakespeare less, but that he loved Swahili more: Julius Nyerere’s Swahili Editions of Julius Caesar,” Nashville, 2012.

Organizer and Co-Chair of “Trading (on) Minority Stock: Changing Identities within Theatrical Markets of History, Theory, and Performance,” Montreal, 2012.

Presented paper: “Corporate Corporeality and Choreography: Hybridizing “African” Movement to Market the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” Seattle, 2010.

Association for Theatre in Higher Education

Organizer, Chair, and Moderator, “Blackface Haunts in Bodies of Research, History, Performance, and Culture,” Chicago, 2011.

Comparative Drama Conference

Presented paper: “Let the Dead Speak: Reviving Sengbe Pieh Onstage for Sierra Leone,” Los Angeles, 2011.

Presented paper: “Against Whitewashing: Race and Rebellion in the Amistad Narrative through History, Film, and Theatre,” Los Angeles, 2010.

Duke Collegium for African Diasporic Dance

Organizer and Chair: “Dancing the Diaspora through Histories, Nationalities, and Trans-Ethnic Choreographies,” Durham, 2014.

Presented paper: “Choreographic Epistemologies: Towards a Diasporic Historiography of Black Performance in the Early Modern Atlantic,” Durham, 2014.

Atlantic Coast Conference Meeting of the Minds

Presented paper: “Graduate-Level Dramaturgy for In the Heights: Diasporic Exchange and Broadway,” Pittsburgh, 2014.

Global Queerness

Presented paper: “Disciplining the Neo-Colony: “Kill the Gays” and The Book of Mormon,” Wooster, 2012.

Modernist Studies Association

Presented paper: “Black Theaters of War: Divisive Democracy and Ideas of Abraham Lincoln as Marxist,” Pittsburgh, 2014.

Society for Historians of the Early American Republic

Organizer: “Appropriating Difference: Performing Indigeneity and Blackness in the Early US Republic,” Raleigh, 2015.

Presented paper: “Rhythms of Difference: Diasporic Mobility in Atlantic Archives,” Raleigh, 2015.

Research Interest Summary

African Diasporic performance and theatre, from the rise of Sufism to contemporary times; Swahili-language theatre; Hip Hop as African Diasporic Orature

Education & Training

  • PhD - Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Pittsburgh, 2017
  • MA - Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Pittsburgh
  • BA - Theatre Arts, University of Richmond