Christian DuComb is associate professor of Theater at Colgate University, where he teaches theater history, dramatic literature, and performance studies. He has previously taught at Haverford College and Brown University, where he received his Ph.D. in Theater and Performance Studies in 2012. His first book, Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia (Michigan, 2017), traces the deep roots of Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade through the city’s history of blackface minstrelsy and other forms of racial impersonation. His essays and reviews on a variety of topics have appeared in Theater magazine, Modern Drama, Performance Research, Theatre Journal, TDR: The Drama Review, and the Washington Post, as well as several edited collections.
All students of theater must learn to read plays as living texts, continuously reinvented through historically and culturally specific practices of theatrical performance. As a teacher, I endeavor not only to help my students grow as scholars and artists but also to broaden their vision of what theater can be. I design my courses to probe the boundaries of theater as an art form, and I select readings that emphasize race, gender, class, ability, and sexual identity as vital themes in the study of theater and performance.
Theater has a paradoxical capacity to highlight human differences while also exposing those differences as constructed and artificial, and this paradox animates my teaching interests in theater history, dramatic literature and criticism, and performance studies.
By using a range of pedagogical techniques—including group projects, student presentations, web-based research assignments, performance exercises, and excursions to see live theater—I strive to foster an inclusive learning environment in which students of all backgrounds and learning styles are encouraged to participate.
Courses taught at Colgate include Introduction to Drama (THEA/ENGL 266), Modern Drama (THEA/ENGL 267), Global Theater (THEA/ENGL 349), American Theater (THEA/ENGL 351), Introduction to Performance Studies (THEA/FMST 246), Carnival in Performance (FSEM 163), Challenges of Modernity (CORE 152), the Senior Seminar in Theater (THEA 495), and an extended study on Performing and Media Arts in Hong Kong (THEA/FMST 341 E). To see examples of student research from my Global Theater course, please visit the Global Theater course website.
Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017.
Traces the deep roots of Philadelphia’s annual Mummers Parade and the city’s history of blackface masking and other forms of racial impersonation.
“A persuasive blend of theory and archival research, combined with the author’s own ethnographic investigations . . . Haunted City illuminates the history of the community's engagement with racial performance in a way that no other works have done on this same comprehensive scale.”
—Heather Nathans, Tufts University
“DuComb draws not only on scholarly and primary materials, but also on his own experiences as a member of a Mummers club . . . Haunted City is a fresh and well-executed look at the American tradition of racial impersonation, grounded in thorough, original discovery research.”
—Susan G. Davis, University of Illinois
Refereed Journal Articles
- “Listening to Los Angeles in the Theatre of Anna Deveare Smith and Gabriel Kahane.” Modern Drama 64, no. 4 (Winter 2021): 419-441.
- DuComb, Christian and *Jessica Benmen. “Flash Mobs, Violence, and the Turbulent Crowd.” Performance Research 19, no. 5 (November 2014): 34-40. *indicates student co-author
- “Staging Violence in Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Anodyne.” Theatre Journal 64, no. 2 (May 2012): 197-211.
- “Present-Day Kutiyattam: G. Venu’s Radical and Reactionary Sanskrit Theatre.” TDR: The Drama Review 51, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 98-117. Winning entry, 2006 TDR Student Essay Contest.
Chapters in Edited Collections
- “The Wenches of the Philadelphia Mummers Parade: A Performance Genealogy.” In Performing Utopia. Ed. Rachel Bowditch and Pegge Vissicaro. London: Seagull Books, 2017. 155-191.
- “The Politics of Fetal Display.” In The Anatomy of Body Worlds: Critical Essays on the Plastinated Cadavers of Gunther von Hagens. Ed. T. Christine Jespersen, Alicita Rodríguez, and Joseph Starr. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009. 176-188.
Book and Performance Reviews
- Review of The White Album, by Joan Didion, directed by Lars Jan. Theatre Journal 71, no. 3 (September 2019): 367-368.
- “Embarrassing the Audience.” Review of Underground Railroad Game, written and performed by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott Sheppard. Theater 46, no. 3 (October 2016): 104-110.
- Review of Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Robin Bernstein. Theatre Journal 65, no. 2 (May 2013): 295-296.
- "Flash Mobs." Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media. Ed. Mona Baker, et. al. London: Routledge, 2021. 179-184.
- “Mummers.” In The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Camden, NJ: Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, 2016. http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org.
- “Meschianza.” In The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Camden, NJ: Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, 2015. http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org.
- "Philadelphia’s New Year’s tradition reflects our racist past – and may overcome it." Washington Post, December 31, 2019. Reprinted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 31, 2019.
- “Truth, Authenticity, and Yoga: Dipika Guha’s Yoga Play.” Virtual Wednesday@1 lecture, Syracuse Stage, Syracuse, NY. January 26, 2022. https://youtu.be/Ad9hQRM-4uc
- “Critical Afterlives in John Adams and Peter Sellars’s Girls of the Golden West.” Division of Arts and Humanities Colloquium, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY. November 9, 2021.
- “Parade Time.” Division of Arts and Humanities Colloquium, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY. April 11, 2017.
- “Place and Displacement: Staging Diverse Cultural Geographies in American Theatre.” Chair and Panelist. Syracuse Stage, Syracuse, NY. January 29, 2017.
- “Re-scripting Histoire de nègre at Colgate University.” Modern Language Association, Annual Convention, Austin, TX. January 8, 2016.
- “Graphic Art, Black Performance, and Orientalism in Antebellum Philadelphia.” American Studies Association, Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA. November 9, 2014.
- “New Works Symposium: Performance in Global Americas.” Panelist. Helen Weinberger Center for the Study of Drama and Playwriting, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH. April 24, 2014.
- “What’s New about Flash Mobs?” Co-presented with student co-author, Jessica Benmen. Performance Studies International, Conference 19, Stanford University, Stanford, CA. June 27, 2013.
- “Blackface Photography and Performance Remains.” Plenary Paper. American Society for Theatre Research, Annual Conference, Nashville, TN. November 2, 2012.
- E. Peter Mauk Jr. / Doyce B. Nunis Jr. Fellowship, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, 2022
- Working Group Grant, Central New York Humanities Corridor, 2014-2021. Co-awarded to Mary Simonson (Colgate), Amy Swanson (Colgate), P. Byron Suber (Cornell), and Amanda Eubanks Winkler (Syracuse)
- Dissertation Research Fellowship, American Society for Theatre Research, 2010
- Short-Term Research Fellowship, Winterthur Museum and Library, Winterthur, DE, 2010
- Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellowship, Library Company of Philadelphia and Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 2009
- Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, Thomas J. Watson Foundation, 2001-2002
- Colgate Research Council, Garrison Fellowship, 2020-2021.
- Colgate Arts Council/Lampert Global Partnerships Faculty Grant, 2018-2019. Changing Latitudes: Theaters of Resistance, a symposium of political theater with faculty from Colgate and the University of Cape Town.
- Colgate Arts Council, 2017-2018. Performance and symposium on the Wakefield Second Shepherds’ Play. Co-awarded to Lynn Staley and Susan Cerasano.
- Colgate Arts Council, 2016-2017. Workshops, class visits, and performance of One Way Red by Dani Solomon ’13.
- Kallgren Travel Grant, Colgate Faculty Development Council, 2016. Travel to Hong Kong to research heritage, media, and the performing arts with Padma Kaimal, Ani Maitra, Wenhua Shi, and Mary Simonson.
- Publication Subvention and Expense Grants, Colgate Research Council, 2014-2015. Funding for Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia.
- Colgate Arts Council, 2014-2015. Staged reading and roundtable discussion on a new English-language translation of Édouard Glissant’s play Histoire de nègre. Co-awarded to Mahadevi Ramakrishnan.
- Errol Hill Award (Honorable Mention), American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), 2019
- Cambridge University Press Prize, ASTR, 2012
- Joukowsky Family Foundation Outstanding Dissertation Award, Brown University, 2012
- Graduate Student Essay Award, Theory and Criticism Focus Group, Association for Theatre in Higher Education, 2009
- Student Essay Contest Winner, TDR: The Drama Review, 2006