Katt Lissard

Faculty, Goddard Graduate Institute
Residency Site: Plainfield VT

Email
katt.lissard@goddard.edu

Biography

Katt Lissard is a collaborative theatre maker – director, playwright and performer, as well as an essay and fiction writer. Since 2006, she’s been artistic director of The Winter/Summer Institute (WSI), an international HIV/AIDS & Theatre for Social Change project based in New York and Lesotho, Africa. She’s a two-time Fulbright Scholar to the National University of Lesotho (2005; 2012), where she taught, conducted research, and directed and produced shows for the Theatre Unit. She returns to Lesotho annually to conduct theatre intensives with students and to participate in WSI’s community residencies. Along with Goddard and National University of Lesotho, she’s taught at Long Island University, Nassau Community College, Smith College and Fordham at Lincoln Center. Katt has an ongoing teaching/project relationship with the State University of New York’s Empire State College, where she received one of the first James William and Elizabeth Hall Awards for Teaching Innovation. An Art Matters Grantee and MacDowell Colony fellow, her current New York/Lesotho project, “Memory of a Drowning Landscape,” is a multi-phased experiment in performance, resistance and environmental justice.

Education

MFA in Creative Writing, Goddard College
BA in Theatre and Performance Studies, State University of New York

Areas of Expertise

Creative Writing (playwriting, fiction, essay, creative non-fiction); Directing (theatre and performance); Applied, Practical and Devised Theatre; Collaborative and Community-Generated Theatre; Performance for/of Community Health; Performance and Performance Studies; Performance as Research; Cultural Studies; Insider/Outsider; Literature of southern Africa; Environmental Performance

Personal Statement

My family’s roots are in the deep South of New Orleans and rural, coastal Mississippi, but I was born in Chicago, raised in the Midwest and began theatre training at Northwestern University. The traditional educational structure combined with my growing political activism made it “difficult” to stay in school, and I began a peripatetic search for other ways to make theatre and other people to make it with – which took me from the Brechtian Epic West theatre in Berkeley, to a five-shows-in-six-months tour of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, to a feminist theatre collective in Minneapolis, to … – eventually landing, in the early 80s, in New York City’s off-off-(off) Broadway venues, like La Mama, Women’s Interart, BACA Downtown, Dixon Place, 8BC, NYU’s Experimental Theatre Wing, Circle Rep Lab and Mabou Mines.

I’m still based in New York, but for the past twelve years much of my teaching and artistic work/life has been connected to Lesotho, southern Africa. Since January 2005, when I arrived on a Fulbright to teach, research and direct shows at the National University of Lesotho, I’ve been navigating the tricky cultural terrain of the small, mountainous country and making collaborative theatre projects there involving students, colleagues, professional performers, NGO staff, and members of rural village communities.

I’m the artistic director of The Winter/Summer Institute (WSI) (maketheatre.org) launched in 2006, which grew out of my work at the National University in 2005. WSI is an HIV/AIDS & Social Change theatre project that brings students and faculty from three continents together with rural villagers in Lesotho to create collaborative performance about the pandemic and other pressing community issues (Lesotho has the world’s 2nd highest HIV infection rate). My time in Lesotho continues to challenge and transform the way I look at and understand the world. Much of my work is an attempt to take those disparate observations, stories, lessons, absurdities and incongruities and feed them into performance, writing and community projects.

I’ve taught at Goddard since 2002 and I’ve advised students in all Graduate Institute programs and concentrations. I interpret my role in our student-centered approach to learning as both guide and fellow traveler – an ally in intellectual adventure and active exploration. A crucial part of my job is to facilitate the defeat of the self-censor, to undermine the negative inner voice Schiller called the “watcher at the gates of the mind” that examines ideas too closely, stifling the creative or expressive or investigative process before it can even begin. I try to engage in our program’s interdisciplinary “conversation” with students in the most progressive way possible – to challenge, encourage and assist in the kind of discovery that leads to creation and then, hopefully, to action. I believe Goddard, through the students drawn to our programs and the work they take out into the world, is making a positive and essential difference.

Recent areas of inquiry and discovery include community collaboration in performance; the insider/outsider phenomenon; performance as research; and the tension between activism and aesthetics in the arts. My most recent work is about exploring the performance of “intangible cultural heritage” in the wake of the environmental and cultural destruction of dam building, in combination with the accelerating ravages of drought and flood due to global warming and climate change – in southern Africa, but also in post-Sandy New York City. My current project, Memory of a Drowning Landscape, is a multi-phased experiment in performance, resistance and environmental justice. I’m also finishing a “group memoir,” Red Heads / Red Tales, with several other “recovering” radical communists and I’m working on a New York-based performance piece set in the Weimar Republic.

My websites: www.kattlissard.org and www.maketheatre.org

Publications

  1. Viral Collaboration: Harmonizing to defeat AIDS in southern Africa South African Theatre Journal, Volume 27, Issue #22014