Photo by Beylie Ivanhoe
Professor Jim Crawford of the Theatre Department grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, then went on to receive a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. from the University of California at San Diego. After receiving his Masters, he spent several years in New York City as a professional actor. It was during this time that he discovered his love for teaching, which led him to a sixteen-year stint as a professor at Southern Methodist University.
Fortunately, Crawford decided with his husband, a Nashville native, to relocate his family and take up a position at Sewanee. “We were just sort of ready to live somewhere beautiful,” said Crawford about the move. He was also allured by Tennessee Williams’ legacy here at Sewanee, as Williams has “always been one of [his] heroes. To be able to work in a building that’s built with the royalties of A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie is so wonderful.” The last play that Crawford acted in was, in fact, A Streetcar Named Desire at Nashville Repertory Theater, and the show closed just a few weeks before COVID-19 shut down theaters. He recently began to audition for on-camera work, which he hasn’t done in many years.
Crawford, in his time at Sewanee, has taught a variety of studio acting classes, but this semester he has ventured into the realm of the traditional classroom. He explains, “I only occasionally teach classes that are a little bit more traditional, in a more traditional academic structure… I am an actor at heart.”
His new seminar, Queer America on Stage and Screen, is a class entirely of his own design. “I really credit the University for creating this [General Education requirement] about diversity, equity, and inclusion and asking us all to think outside the box,” he says, and was inspired by Professor Elyzabeth Wilder’s course on race and representation in theater. “I thought, what could I teach? And I started to envision this course about queer representation in film and theatre and I started to get very excited about it.”
Crawford plans on teaching Queer America on Stage and Screen again, so don’t worry if you weren’t able to get a spot this semester.
He’s also renewing his Sewanee-in-England program, which he co-founded with Professor Chris McDonough of the Classics Department. The program had only one run before COVID-19 made international travel too risky.
“I have always loved London theater,” Crawford shares, “and I was aware that there wasn’t a program like that here. And I just sort of dreamed up a program in the way that I think it should be.” In the program, students study at Sewanee for about two weeks before traveling to England to see their studies reflected in the theaters of cities all over England. Since the program has not been available for the last two summers due to the pandemic, Crawford says that he and professor McDonough are “determined to make it happen this coming summer.”
As a final thought, Crawford reflected on the implications of teaching the history of queer representation in media. He said that he is “trying to be really upfront about the fact that [Queer America on Stage and Screen] makes [him] a little nervous.” He elaborates, “there’s something about teaching on LGBTQ issues that made me so aware that some of my terminology is out of date. And I just wanted to say how glad I am that I jumped in the pool. There are so many ways to get it a little bit wrong, but I think the worst thing you can do is not jump in the pool. To not find a way for us to successfully talk about these subjects is worse than making a mistake. I’m really trying to create an environment where we all know that the language keeps changing, and that’s ok… we are all responsible for doing our part to create an environment that fosters that conversation.”