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Spotlight Iowa City: National group honors UI professor

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | APRIL 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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For UI Professor Kim Marra, studying theater means digging deep into the past and finding correspondence, notes, and other ephemera that sheds light on the art centuries ago.

Marra, 52, is fascinated by American theater history between the Civil War and World War I — specifically, the identity of lesbians and gays in the theater at the time.

“The theater is a space where some of those identity issues are worked out,” said Marra. “So much of what American society became was shaped in that time.”

And for her seemingly tireless work in her area, Marra will be inducted this weekend into the College of the Fellows of the American Theatre. The organization seeks to “promote and encourage the highest standards of research and creativity in educational and professional theater” by honoring scholars such as Marra and others active in the theater, according to its website.

She will be inducted with playwrights Paula Vogel (winner of a Pulitzer Prize for How I Learned to Drive) and James Still, along with costume designer William Ivey Long.

“I’m very honored to be in the company of these folks,” the native of Cleveland said.

She first became interested in the theater as a child. Her mother was an actor before quitting to raise her children.

Marra, however, actually began her academic career in English as an undergraduate at Dartmouth. She attended the school in the late-70s, not long after it became a co-educational institution in 1972.

“[Dartmouth was] not a terribly hospitable place for women at the time,” the professor said. “The social world there was overwhelmingly dominated by the fraternities.”

But Marra had a lot of friends in the theater department, which “presented an alternative social space to the fraternities” — and that encouraged her to eventually switch her major to theater and drama.

The professor began her career at the UI in 1990, teaching in the theater department.

“She’s somebody who really does know how to lecture to a pretty large class. She uses projections, and slides, and all kinds of video very imaginatively,” said Alan MacVey, the head of the department. “She’s pretty rigorous in what she expects but is also flexible.”

In 2000, Marra began teaching part-time in American studies, and she became the department’s head in 2008.

“She thinks in interesting theoretical ways, but she’s also an excellent historian,” said Teresa Mangum, an associate professor of English and a friend of Marra’s. “As a scholar, she’s just outstanding.”


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