Sara Warner
Associate Professor
Department of Performing and Media Arts

Cornell University
430 College Avenue
Ithaca, NY 14850

sara warner

I study the art of activism.  I look at the ways political actors use performance in experiments for social justice (e.g., Civil Rights sit-ins and AIDS die-ins) and the ways stage actors use the theater as a laboratory for creating new worlds, reimagining notions of community, citizenship, power, and justice.

I am an associate professor in the Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University, where I am a core member of the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay Studies Program, and an affiliate faculty member of both Visual Studies and American Studies.  In 2016, I was named a Stephen H. Weiss Junior Fellow, Cornell's highest teaching honor for a recently tenured faculty member. 

As an advocate for public humanities, for scholarship that engages society (not simply other academics), my work takes many forms, from a collaboration with climate scientists that explores the human impact of global warming on the Finger Lakes to the staging of "patriot acts" (political performances on national holidays) with the Bad (Hombres) and Nasty (Women) Collective.

In my research I attempt to articulate, through close readings of dramatic literature and live performances, archival research, and theoretical reflection, a series of questions concerning bodies and the modes of attachment that bind them into various forms of publics and counterpublics. Across a variety of genres and performative contexts, I examine the forces that mobilize and marshal individuals into constituencies and communities, audiences and electorates. Of particular interest to me are criminal intimacies and fugitive societies: the kinds of alliances that are branded as non-normative (i.e., alternative, aberrant, queer), but which offer productive ways to illuminate, explicate, and trouble ideas about emotions, politics, and art. To make sense of this generative relationship among the affective, the queer, and the performative, I take as my focus illegitimate theatrical forms (melodrama, camp) and bastardized modes of expression (agit-prop, performance art) whose illicit status stems, in part, from their excessive sentimentality; illegal performances that provoke moral outrage (burlesque, prostitution, homosexual acts); unlawful assemblages by political extremists (terrorist cells, riots); speech acts (manifestos, declarations, coming out narratives); and militant modes of protest (guerrilla theater, zap actions).

My first book, Acts of Gaiety: LGBT Performance and the Politics of Pleasure (University of Michigan Press's Triangulation Series, 2012), received the Association for Theater in Higher Education (ATHE) Outstanding Book Award, an Honorable Mention for the Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Book in Theatre History from the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), and was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. I have published widely in journals and anthologies on dramatic literature and performance studies, feminist and queer theory, prison theater, affect theory, and academic labor.  My writing is also published in a variety of maninstream media outlets, including Time and Huffington Post

I co-founded the "Performance Encounters" series at Cornell, which is dedicated to supporting socially engaged artists whose work expands the parameters of theatrical forms and traditions. Featured guests include filmmaker and counter-culture icon John Waters, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, Tony Award recipient Lisa Kron, GLAAD award winner Marga Gomez, NEA Four member Tim Miller, and many more.

An active member of numerous professional organizations, I have served as President of the Women and Theatre Program, Drama Division Delegate for the MLA, Secretary of ATHE, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS). Currently, I serve on the executive board of the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation and the Cherry Artspace