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Marlis Schweitzer

Faculty Profile Image

Theatre

Marlis Schweitzer

Professor

schweit@yorku.ca

Education

BA, BFA - University of Victoria
PhD - University of Toronto

Biography

Dr. Marlis Schweitzer is a theatre and performance historian who works at the intersection of material culture, visual culture, business history, and feminist historiography, with an emphasis on Anglo-American performance cultures from the eighteenth-century to the present. She is an award-winning author and co-editor of six books (three monographs, three edited collections); past editor of two peer-reviewed academic journals; recipient of numerous research grants and fellowships; and author of articles and essays on such wide-ranging topics as shipwreck narratives, American Girl Dolls, chorus girl suicides, and the Merry Widow hat. Inspired by the interdisciplinary dynamism of performance studies, her scholarship traces the migration and subsequent transmutation of theatrical objects, repertoires, performing bodies, and political ideas across boundaries of time and space.

Her first two books, When Broadway was the Runway: Theater, Fashion, and American Culture (Penn Press, 2009) and Transatlantic Broadway: The Infrastructural Politics of Global Performance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) collectively examine how advances in communication, technology, and display culture shaped Broadway theatre in the first decades of the twentieth century, from the department store showroom and magazine page to the decks of transatlantic ocean liners and the offices of theatre managers. Moving back in time, her most recent book, Bloody Tyrants and Little Pickles: Stage Roles of Anglo-American Girls in the Nineteenth Century (U Iowa, 2020), traces the theatrical repertoire of a small group of white Anglo-American actresses as they reshaped the meanings of girlhood in Britain, North America, and the British West Indies during the first half of the nineteenth century. In 2021, Bloody Tyrants and Little Pickles received the George Freedley Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association.

Dr. Schweitzer’s current SSHRC-funded project, "Decoding the Lectures on Heads," follows the exhibition of human heads on scientific and theatrical stages between the mid-eighteenth century and mid-nineteenth century. Beginning with George Alexander Stevens’s solo performance piece Lecture on Heads (1764) and continuing to the phrenological lectures of George Combe (c. 1817-1840s), this project investigates the material, dramaturgical, and ideological use of human heads (paper, wax, wood, papier mâché, plaster, bone, flesh) in performance during a period of ongoing crises and catastrophe marked by revolution, world war, imperial expansion, slavery, genocide, and the consolidation of scientific racism.

Beyond these solo-authored projects, Dr. Schweitzer has demonstrated research leadership as an editor. In 2018, she and co-editor Laura Levin received the Patrick O’Neill Prize for best edited book from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research in recognition for their collection, Performance Studies in Canada. Between 2019-20, she was the first Canadian to serve as the Editor of Theatre Survey, an international theatre and performance history journal published by Cambridge University Press. Looking ahead, Dr. Schweitzer is a co-editor on a 2023 issue of Canadian Theatre Review on the topic of “Casting and Race.”

Dr. Schweitzer’s major research awards include multiple SSHRC Insight and SSHRC Connection Grants as well as fellowships from the Library of Congress, the Harry Ransom Center (University of Texas, Austin), the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Lewis Walpole Library (Yale University). In 2019, she became a member of the Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, and in 2020, she was named a York Research Chair (Tier II) in Theatre and Performance History. In June 2022, she completed a four-year term as chair of the Department of Theatre & Performance.