– Scholarship –

As a scholar, I am deeply invested in understanding how the stories people tell themselves—through drama, film, performance, and history—shape human behavior and thought. My research focuses on cross-cultural avant-garde, cognitive science, popular culture, and gender within the US, Europe, and Japan during the 20th and 21st centuries. I have presented work on the shared corporeal topography of Butoh dance and live zombie performances and the cognitive effects of certain kinds of dramatic language. My publications include works on gender representation in theatre (Into the Woods) and film (Aliens), as well as performance and book reviews.


My first book, based on my dissertation, looks at the often-ignored period of the Living Theatre’s first 13 years. I examine the history of the company’s development as well as deploy Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of capital to interrogate how and why various myths about the company and its history arose—myths that are sometimes in conflict with archival and historical evidence. I then explore what those conflicts reveal about symbolic capital and the production of theatre. I am especially interested in the lessons we can then apply to how current theatre organizations navigate between artistic and financial concerns.


My other major area of research examines how playwright Mac Wellman’s poetics often disrupt certain cognitive processes. Using language processing studies and theories from neuroscience and cognitive linguistics, I demonstrate that such disruptions often give rise to negative feelings because they produce an experience of losing control over one’s cognitive environment. Based on reader-response, I am currently revising an essay on the subject for resubmission to Modern Drama. This essay forms the beginning of a larger research project on reception and the avant-garde theatre of Dada and Futurism, the works of Gertrude Stein, and more contemporary productions by companies such as The Wooster Group.


I have presented research at a number of conferences, including the American Society for Theatre Research Conference, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference, the American Drama Conference, the Comparative Drama Conference, and the Mid-America Theatre Conference. In 2014 I was one of twenty recipients of the New York Public Library Short Term Fellowship and in 2015 I was awarded a Mellon Predoctoral Fellowship to complete work on my dissertation.


Click on the titles below for brief descriptions and links to my publications.

  • Redressing Ripley: Undoing the Female Hero

    This paper argues that while Ellen Ripley is the undisputed hero of James Cameron's Aliens, the film also essentializes Ripley in ways that reinforce a patriarchal world-view and that frame Ripley within a narrative of redemptive motherhood. I first examine how the film's fictional word reifies gender stereotypes by focusing on a number of details, scenes, and shots. I then map Laura Mulvey's psychoanalytic theories from her influential essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" onto the film. My use of her work is no strictly about theories of spectatorship, and I would agree with those who have concerns about the mythical "male spectator." However, a return to her work is warranted here because many of the narrative and visual structures that Mulvey outlines in her essay are apparent in the film. Even if there is no singular, intrinsic, or uncomplicated male gaze in operation for the actual spectators of Aliens, the very fact that it can be mapped so closely to Mulvey's theories is evidence that the writing, directing, and editing are in service to a particular kind of male gaze.


    Amazon Link

  • Back(lash) Into the Woods: Putting Women Back in Their Place

    Working through the lens of backlash discourse as outlined by Susan Faludi in her book Backlash, this essay argues that the Lapine & Sondheim musical Into the Woods is part of that same backlash pattern that emerged in the 1980s. My focus is on how representations of the Witch and the Baker's Wife represent the "perils" of feminism and female desire, as well as how the Baker's journey mirrors a desire to reassert himself as a patriarchal head of the household. Setting the characters, plot actions, and lyrics within a context of this backlash discourse demonstrates that the play uses the magic of musical theatre and fairy tales to normalize gender relations in many of the same ways that Faludi identifies  in her examination of 1980s entertainment and media.


    Amazon Link

  • Behind the Bars: Performance Review of the Living Theatre’s The Brig

    This essay reviews the Living Theatre's 2007 revival production of The Brig.


    Journal Link

  • Book Review: Theatre & Cognitive Neuroscience

    Review of Theatre and Cognitive Neuroscience for the Journal of American Drama and Theatre.


    Review Link

    Amazon Book Link

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Peter C.

Wood, PhD