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Susquehanna Theatre Professor to Address Portrayals of Black Females

Published on February 18, 2013

Susquehanna University Assistant Professor of Theatre Karen Gilmer will present a lecture, “Black Venus: The Black Body Onstage,” Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center meeting rooms 4 and 5.Karen Gilmer Sponsored by Susquehanna’s Medical Humanities Initiative, the event is free and open to the public.

Gilmer’s lecture will examine past examples of black female objectification in the theatre, as well as influences within contemporary culture. “This problem is rampant in our society. Music videos, TV, movies and popular culture all exploit the black female body in some way,” Gilmer said.

Gilmer’s presentation will address the 1996 play “Venus” by Suzan-Lori Parks, about Saartjie Baartman, a South African woman who was caged and exhibited throughout Europe in the early 19th century; and the life of Josephine Baker, the African-American entertainer who took Paris by storm in the early 20th century.

Edward Slavishak, associate professor of history and co-coordinator of the Medical Humanities Initiative, said, “The audience will learn how to gauge the influence of popular performers on public perceptions of race and gender, and it might teach us something about the modern emphasis on physicality as the root of identity.”

Gilmer holds an M.F.A. in theatre with an emphasis in costume design from Boston University. Her numerous theatre, opera and dance credits include productions at the Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theatre, Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, Walnut Street Theatre, Everyman Theatre Company of Baltimore, Boston’s Midsummer Opera, Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and Maine’s Monadnock Music Festival. In 2009 Gilmer won the African American Council of the Arts Award for best costume design, for August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars.”

Gilmer serves as costume and makeup designer for Susquehanna’s theatre department productions. She also serves as the costume shop manager, mentors student costume designers working on their own productions, and supervises costume and makeup run crews. Her research interests include costume and fashion history, fabric modification, millinery, and mask design and construction.

The goal of medical humanities is to explore how humanities disciplines illuminate the nature and practice of medicine; it includes art and medicine, bioethics, the history of medicine, literature and medicine, music and medicine, medicine in the performing arts, philosophy, psychology, theology, and medical anthropology and sociology.




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