UCI Professor Profile: Drama Professor Tara Rodman
When I asked Professor Rodman if she would do this interview, I told her that part of the goal of this story was to “humanize the professors.” To that she responded, “Oh, I am very human.” And she is, in the best way.
I went to her office on the Arts Campus, and we chatted about life and her class for about twenty minutes before we started the actual interview. She is easygoing and fun to talk to, but I feel like I also inevitably learn a lot from whatever she says.
I asked about her hobbies, and it took her a minute to respond. She has a two-year-old, so there’s not much time for hobbies, but she does enjoy cooking (Japanese food in particular) and baking. We bonded over our love of small children and laughed about how crazy and crawly they tend to be.
I asked her “If you could have breakfast with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?” She liked the change from dinner to breakfast, noting that breakfast is her favorite meal. “Breakfast is great,” she mused, “lunch is a waste of time, and dinner has too much pressure on it.” She thought about the question for a full minute before asking if we could come back to it at the end. I always appreciate when people take those sorts of questions seriously. It makes the answers so much more exciting.
I don’t have a ton of experience doing interviews, but this was by far the most entertaining and laid back interview I’ve ever been a part of. We went in and out of conversations about acting, race, and life in general.
The class I take with her is called “Performing Whiteness”. It was created out of a realization Rodman had while participating in a dance workshop called “Undoing Racism” led by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. All of a sudden, she realized that “if we’re only talking about race when we’re talking about racialized subjects, racialized people, we’re somehow sort of still perpetuating white supremacy, even as we undo it in other ways.” Performing Whiteness acknowledges whiteness as its own racial category, and does not allow it to be seen as the absence of race; a blank slate.
Rodman was drawn to academia because of the research, “but I would never do the research without teaching,” she said. “I understand my research work and also my teaching as having a pretty important political component to it, and I think the reason we make performance art and then also study it is because it is key to understanding how the world works.” She uses her teaching to make a positive impact on the future of performance and the future in general. “You guys are the ones who can hopefully take stuff from this class, right? And make theatre differently, or write different play reviews, or just have a conversation with people, you know? There’s a ripple effect. That’s why I do this.”
I asked her about how she liked UCI, and she chuckled and said, “I really love it, and I’m from New York.” She enjoys Southern California, and though I am under strict instruction to edit out the cheesy sentiment (“It’ll seem fake even though it’s honest!”), she said that her favorite part about teaching at UCI is the students. We laughed as I joked about the ways I could spin it- “Professor Rodman shed a single tear as she spoke of her amazing students”- but really, I think her students are the lucky ones (and now I’m being cheesy). Her class is enlightening and enjoyable despite the fact that we talk about really tricky and devastating subjects. I feel really lucky to be in her class.
And finally, before I left, I asked once again: Who would you have breakfast with? She finally landed on Ito Michio, the dancer/choreographer about whom she is writing her book. “He is known as this important modern dancer and choreographer, and he is and was, but I think he actually was also pretty funny… And then I wouldn’t have to do my research, then I could just ask him!”